Glass Houses

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I enjoyed my first taste of Louise Penny’s work, Glass Houses. Set in a small Canadian town, this police/detective with hero Chief Inspector Gamanche break the most basic rules o policing in hopes of combatting two drug cartels, one Canadian and one US. Woven into this story is a spooky storyline with a mysterious character shrouded in black robes. Gamache soon learns about the legend of the Cobrador, the dark figure who stalks and scares those with guilty consciences. In Spain a Cobrador was a dramatic means of scaring people who were guilty of something or who owed a debt, i.e. a way to shame someone.

While Gamanche is trying to catch the drug runners in his questionable way, a Cobrador comes to his small town and is soon found dead.

Penny crafted characters I enjoyed. Her plot was daring and well-paced. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was superb. I can’t imagine reading the paper version and having a better experience.

There were portions where I wish the style was tighter, but all-in-all I recommend Glass Houses for any mystery fan.

The Kennel Murder

With William Powell of The Thin Man movies, I was looking for a suave, witty detective story. If The Thin Man is an A movie, The Kennel Murder is a C+.

The film opens with detective Philo Vance, played by Powell, at a dog show where his dog loses. At the show there’s a rich man, Archer Coe, with plenty of enemies. His niece resents his control over her, his cook, who’s Chinese, resents his Coe for selling his collection of ancient Chinese porcelain, his secretary resents Coe for forbidding him to marry his niece, his lover’s been cut off after a jealous Coe finds her with an Italian lover, who was supposed to buy the Chinese porcelain collection . . . . No one seems to like Coe.

When Coe is found dead in his bedroom with the door locked, the inept, comical police sergeant assumes it’s a suicide. But Vance doesn’t buy it. When Coe’s hapless brother’s found murdered, murder is suspected, but who did it?

Powell is clever and stands head and shoulders above the police force who all provide comic relief. It’s an entertaining movie but not as witty as The Thin Man films and better 1930s films. With Myrna Loy, Powell had an equal to engage with; here he was the lonely brain. The other characters were stereotypes; and there are some flaws in the murder.

So I’ve seen better films and wouldn’t recommend this strongly, but The Kennel Murder did entertain.

Neruda

Until I saw Neruda, I had no idea what a selfish jerk poet cum senator Pablo Neruda was. I just thought he wrote beautiful romantic poetry. He was also a senator for the Communist party and gave a controversial speech against the Chilean president. In response, the president orders Neruda’s arrest and the libertine churl goes underground.

The film isn’t exactly a biopic as it’s told completely from the point of view of  Oscar Peluchonneau, a police officer played by Gael García Bernal, who’s the Ahab to Neruda’s white whale. This police officer imagined that his real father was a legendary police officer and he wants to prove himself by capturing Neruda. Throughout the film the officer narrates and comments on Neruda and waxes eloquently on the pursuit’s significance.

I had no interest in Neruda who had no concern for his friends who were risking their lives to keep him safe. If he felt like a walk to the local brothel, he’d go no matter how that might expose both him and his friends.

I found the central character obnoxious and the voice overs were soon annoying. I so disliked Neruda, who was full of hot air in his political career, with little real concern for the poor people he grew up with that I’m not sure anything could make me like the film. However, it did win the 2017 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film so some writers did like it.

Grantchester

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When it first was broadcast, I didn’t bother with Grantchester. I’m not a fan on the Father Brown series and I thought it might be of the same ilk. (Also, I’ve been watching Downton Abbey at my aunt’s rehab center. Visitors must leave at 9pm.)

I’ve seen the lead actor in Happy Valley, where he plays a rapist, kidnapper, drug user and murderer. So seeing James Norton as a vicar, even a vicar who drinks and is quite a stretch.

But I’ve seen 4 episodes so far and I like this show. It’s not a top of the line must-see series, but it’s better than most and watching the young vicar grapple with war memories and pine for his true love, while trying to do the right thing by Hildegard, a lovely widow whom he’s dating does capture my interest.

The big problem with a detective series set in the country, and not the drug infested modern country town we see in Happy Valley, is how many murders do you expect occur in such a place? In the town I grew up in there was one. One murder in 30 years. In the town I’m in now I don’t think there’s been even that. Still so far the show has managed to be convincing and one of the cases took place in London and was plausible in why the vicar would have to solve it.

After getting hooked on Downton Abbey, The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge, I’ve gotten to a point where I think post-WWII is quite modern. Almost too modern for my liking, still Grantchester has been well worth watching.

I wonder if Amanda will call off her wedding or if Sidney will declare his love for her. I think Sunday’s episode is the finale.

Broadchurch

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I finally saw the last episodes of Broadchurch, the detective mystery about the murder of a young teenaged boy Danny in a small coastal town in England. Alec (David Tennant Doctor Who #10) is a brooding detective, with a secret past, who arrives in Broadchurch when Danny’s body is discovered. Ellie (Olivia Colman of Rev) is the local detective who expected to get the job Alec got. For the most part they get along well, it’s not oil and water. Colman’s a patient positive woman so she handles her disappointment with grace and tries to draw out and educate Alec to the ways of this closed, small town.

It takes 8 episodes to discover the murderer. At times the story drags. A lot of time is devoted to the emotions of Danny’s family and the intrigues and secrets of the town. Most are dead ends, but pursuing them destroys some lives and relationships. While I did feel the characters seemed like real small town folk, the dialog at times seemed written, rather than real.

I saw the first episodes on a flight a year ago. It’s not on Netflix and I wasn’t so wrapped up in the story that I wanted to buy it. I liked the actors especially Tennant and Colman, but the program doesn’t have the writing of Luther or Spiral. While it was better than a CBS detective program, it wasn’t worth buying. Finally, the library got the DVDs. The ending was a surprise but the last episode was padded big time. I’d have to rematch the series to determine whether I feel it was well plotted. As it is, I just don’t care enough to invest the time.

Broadchurch is getting translated to “American” on Fox and will be called Gracepoint. The story seems the same, too similar and will be 10 episodes. I guess viewers are in for more padding unless the extra episodes will just make up for the commercials. Tennant will play the American version of Alec, by donning a bad haircut and speaking with an American accent. Colman’s been replaced by a tall blond woman. What would you expect from an American network? If they’re bold and smart, they’d make the murderer someone different. I wouldn’t invest 10 hours to see the same result.

The Woman in Green

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Last week I had trouble blogging as the Chinese seem to be keen on blocking VPNs. So I have been catching up on old movies for my New Year’s resolution, I just haven’t been able to blog about them.

I enjoyed The Woman in Green, a Sherlock Holmes movie starring Basil Rathbone ad Sherlock and Nigel Bruce as Watson. The pair set the standard for Sherlock and Watson and I appreciate a Sherlock who consistently shows his good humor towards his sidekick’s foibles.

In The Woman in a rich older man, Sir George Fenwick meets and alluring younger woman. After a night out with her he awakes in a cheap hotel room unable to recall how he got there. When he finds a severed finger of a woman in his pocket, he fears that he’s involved in a series of murders. He’s soon blackmailed.

The police are perplexed by the murders and call in Holmes and Watson, who happened to see Sir George out with a beautiful blonde. Sir George’s daughter brings the finger which she dug up after she saw her father burying something suspicious in their yard. When Holmes and Watson go to interview Sir George, they find him dead. Soon Holmes suspects Moriarty’s involved.

The movie still entertains without getting quite as gruesome as a more modern depiction might. Rathbone portrays Holmes as a sophisticated genius, who may be a trifle arrogant, but has the social skills to smooth problems over as needed. It’s a classic mystery, still fun to watch.

The Voice of Terror

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This week I watched The Voice of Terror for my weekly old movie selection. The Voice of Terror is a Sherlock Holmes film with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. In this film Nazi’s are predicting and broadcasting them minutes before they occur. Trains are getting derailed, factories are getting blown up, and the government is completely ineffective. Time to call in Sherlock Holmes.

While this 1940s film lacks the slick appeal of the new Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, it’s still highly satisfying. Rathbone is Sherlock and Bruce is Watson, a delightful one to boot. They have a good rapport and can be witty and compelling as a scene requires. I think you have to watch and think a bit more carefully to appreciate the humor here, but even if you miss it, you can enjoy this detective flick. There’s a memorable scene at the end that takes some lines from Doyle’s “The Last Bow.”

It was rather relaxing to watch an exciting drama that doesn’t need to take its viewers to the edge.

Sherlock: The Sign of the Three

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Warning, readers: Spoilers below.

John Watson marries Mary Marston in this episode. Yet Sherlock in many ways overshadows the couple, as one would expect. While the secondary characters like Mrs. Hudson are excited for the couple most are worried about Sherlock. How will he handle this change in his friendship with Watson? I’d rather the big question surrounded solving a crime and capturing the criminal.

The episode did have its bright spots: the costumes were splendid as were the settings. I really liked the bright yellow walls in the place where the reception was held.

The episode started with Lestrade desperately trying to capture three elusive bank robbers. A series of scenes shows the police’s near misses over the course of a year. (Why wasn’t Sherlock brought in to help?) Just as Lestrade and his officers are about to make their arrest, he gets a text from Sherlock. “Help!” Though capturing these robbers is crucial to Lestrade, he decides to race over to 221 B Baker Street to help Sherlock. Since he thinks this plea indicates a dire emergency, Lestrade calls the station to send loads of officers over to 221 B.

But wouldn’t you know it was a big misunderstanding? Sherlock just needed a question about John’s wedding answered. If we hadn’t seen this sort of joke before it would be funny. The show’s done this before with John racing to Sherlock’s aid for a false alarm. While Sherlock’s behavior wouldn’t change, those around him would learn and would think twice before sounding the alarm or racing to him. Why didn’t Lestrade call first? He’s not an idiot.

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The show was uneven to me. Because of all the attention paid to the wedding and how Sherlock would cope, I felt the show was off kilter. The first crime we see involves the murder of a Royal Guard and that was undertaken mainly as a diversion to get the boys out of the house.

There were some scenes with Mycroft which seemed superfluous. Since the episode is entitled “The Sign of Three,” and does borrow characters’ names from “The Sign of Four, I’d hoped we’d see some version of the annoying, and humorous Abernathy Jones, whose in that novel. A modern Abernathy Jones could be hilarious or vexing and intrigue us all. We don’t need Mycroft in every story.

The crimes seem tacked on as if its a bother to deal with them, which shouldn’t be the case. They are the crux of the series. Jonathan Small, the murderer, has a personality and back story that’s paper thin. In the original there’s much more dimension to him.

The writers fill the time with sequences that wore out their welcome fast. I didn’t need to see a protracted stag party/pub crawl with Sherlock and Watson getting plastered. Sure, if you must, show them getting drunk, but do it quickly. The humor of the drunk stumbling around is of the lowest order. I can do without the cliché. Also, the wedding speech dragged on. Though it was interspersed with lots of flashbacks, it still dragged. The speech contained some touching moments and did provide some exposition, but it went on far too long.

After last week’s episode, “The Empty Hearse,” which was weighed down by nods to fans and fan fiction, this episode made me long for Jeremy Brett‘s Sherlock Holmes. While I’m fine with the idea of deviating from tradition, I do still want a good story and not a potentially good story hidden amongst easy gags. It seems like writers Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson, are drunk on the show’s popularity and have taken to writing to the giddier fans. I could excuse a fluffy episode like this if we weren’t limited to three Sherlocks a year.

Not to harp too much about the original, but in the novel, we do learn why John so loves Mary. He worries about whether he’s too poor for her as she’s the heir to a fortune. He describes her character and in the end he is able to propose. I have liked the character of Mary Marston played by Amanda Abbington does a fine job, but she doesn’t have much background. She’s a beautiful cheerful woman who doesn’t try to divide these friends, but there’s no sign of why John’s marrying this beautiful, cheerful woman rather than another. In the book, that was clear.

The Empty House

English: Second of the four illustrations incl...

English: Second of the four illustrations included in the edition of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by AC Doyle published in 1894 by A. L. Burt in New York. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sherlock, season 3 begins on PBS tonight. In anticipation, I’ve read “The Empty House,” the Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD) short story that the episode is based on. It’s been years since I’ve read a Sherlock story. When I was in high school, I was in the Sherlock Holmes Society and read several. Doyle knows how to tell a good story. His style is direct and compelling. His hero, Sherlock is brilliant yet flawed and he captures the friendship between Holmes and Watson very well. They’re able to speak frankly, though Watson sometimes refrains from commenting because he feels he won’t be listened to or in other cases, is in awe of his friend’s mental prowess.

“The Empty House” was the first story of Holmes’ return or resurrection. Fans will remember that Doyle grew tired of his popular character. Apparently, ACD suffered more than Watson from being overshadowed by Sherlock. Try as he might, he wanted Sherlock gone, but the public clamored for more and after 10 years, ACD relented and wrote, “The Empty House” in which Sherlock returns to solve the case of the murder of Ronald Adair.

Highlights include Sherlock explaining how and why he cheated death and fooled Moriarty and Watson holding what might be the first literary intervention when he voices disproval of Sherlock’s use of (the then legal) cocaine. Like the modern Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the original Sherlock used stimulants to stave off the boredom of ordinary life.

I delighted in how often Sherlock quotes Shakespeare and recommend getting an annotated book like The Oxford Sherlock Holmes, which illuminates all the references and quotations.

Reading the story this time around, I was struck by how much screenwriters Moffat and Gatiss borrow from the original. I’m not complaining. In fact I applaud them for their faithful, clever adaptations.

Tonight American fans  see what the duo has done to explain Sherlock’s death. How could he fake his death so convincingly? The YouTube video above provides a thoughtful analysis. If it’s correct, Moffat and Gatiss would have closely followed what happened in the original story. Folks in the U.K. already know what happened. In North America we’ll soon find out.

Do read the originals. They’re well written and you’ll gain insight. For next week I’m finishing The Sign of Four.

The High Window

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[Chandler] wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered.
The New Yorker.

I just love Raymond Chandler and can’t believe I didn’t read his novels till this year. The High Window has Philip Marlowe working for a nasty, rich, cold-hearted widow whose ex-husband’s rare gold coin has been stolen. The story starts simply enough, but soon the body count piles up. First a rookie detective who was following Marlowe is killed. Next an expert Marlowe spoke with, then a third body appears. All are connected to Marlowe, though not closely.

The best thing about Chandler’s writing is the prose. His style is one of a kind. Here are some examples:

“I have a damn fool of a son,” she said. “But I’m very fond of him. About a year ago he made an idiotic marriage, without my consent. This was foolish of him because he is quite incapable of earning a living and he has no money except what I give him, and I am not generous with money. The lady he chose, or who chose him, was a night club singer. Her name, appropriately enough, was Linda Conquest. They have lived her in this house.  We didn’t quarrel because I don’t allow people to quarrel with me in my house, but there has not been good feeling between us. I have paid their expenses, given each of them a car, made the lady a sufficient but not gaudy allowance for clothes and so on. No doubt she found life rather dull. No doubt she found my son dull. I find him dull myself. At any rate she moved out, very abruptly, a week or so ago, without leaving a forwarding address or saying goodbye.” (p.12)

He held an empty smeared glass in his hand. It looked as if somebody had been keeping goldfish in it. He was a lanky man with carroty short hair growing down to a point on his forehead. He had a long narrow head packed with shabby cunning. Greenish eyes stared under orange eyebrows. His ears were large and might have flapped in a high wind. He had a long nose that would be into things. The whole face was a trained face, a face that would know how to keep a secret, a face that heldthe effortlessness of composure of a corpse in the morgue. (p. 76)

Each sentence is flawless.