The Suspect

suspectWhen two high school graduates, Alex and Rosie head to Thailand for a gap year, they’re looking for fun, for escape from the pressures their suburban parents put on them. Yet they land in a seedy guesthouse. The girls go missing and British journalist Kate Waters is assigned to get the scoop on what happened.

Kate’s your average intrepid reporter and is gung ho about getting the story right and first. She’s married with two sons, one of whom dropped out of university and went off to Thailand to save the turtles. When the two teens disappeared, Kate volunteers to do the reporting hoping to make a side trip to the Thai island where her son is volunteering.

Alex and Rosie are found dead in the cold storage of a sleazy guest house. Kate’s world is further rocked when it turns out her son isn’t volunteering and never did. He’s implicated in the girls’ murders. He’s been floating around Bangkok doing drugs and working at the same guest house where these girls stayed.

While this was a quick read and I enjoy stories set in locales the world over, The Suspect’s characters didn’t appeal to me. Alex was rather whiny and should have parted ways with her travel companion early on. Kate’s son was a wimp and a waster, who was good at manipulating his mother. Mama, who owned the guest house was the stereotypical “Me speak English good” dodgy foreigner.

I pity anyone who hasn’t been to Thailand who reads this book. In my book club today a few people fell into that group and they were repelled by the idea of going there. Thailand has its seedy side like many countries, but that’s not all there is.

The Upturned Glass (1947)

Part of a DVD set with three great British thrillers, The Upturned Glass stars James Mason as an ultra serious neurosurgeon who tells a college class about a case of a sane man murdering in cold blood. We soon figure out that Mason’s Dr. Michael Young is the “sane” murderer he believes exists. Dr. Michael Young meets Emma Wright whose daughter has a condition that will lead to blindness unless this talented surgeon can operate right away. As the case progresses and the girl improves, Michael and Emma grow close. Both have spouses far away and they continue seeing each other after the girl’s treatment ends. Of course, they fall in love.

So why the need for murder?

Emma is found dead and Michael attends the inquest. He can’t believe it’s an accident. He notices some strange glances between Emma’s daughter and her jealous, greedy sister-in-law, who learns that Emma has cheated on her brother. The two were never close and this was the sister-in-law’s reason to get even.

This superstar surgeon is soon taking matters into his own hands.

The film had lots of unpredictable turns and kept my attention from the first scene. Hitchcock drew upon it for some of his later films. It’s sure to entertain.

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.

A Beautiful Blue Death

bluedeathI learned about Charles Finch’s A Beautiful Blue Death at Citizen Reader’s blog. Again her recommendation was spot on. Finch’s first novel, a mystery introduced me to amateur detective Charles Lennox. Lennox’s friend Lady Jane asks him to look into the death of her former maid Prudence Smith.

Lennox is very much cut from the same cloth as Sherlock Holmes, though he’s polished his social skill more than Benedict Cumberbach’s Sherlock. His right hand man is Dr. Mitchell, these amateur detectives are shrewd to have a close friend who can analyze poison, dead bodies and such. Graham is Lennox’s butler who’s willing to go to the ends of the earth for his boss.

Strong, fascinating female characters include

“Pru” is an interesting victim. She entrances me and as Lennox investigates he keeps learning of yet another lover. She appears to have been a strong woman who spoke up for herself and for what’s right, which is how she wound dead.

Following the Holmesian path, Lennox must deal with an inept Scotland Yard and that’s lead by Exeter, who’s about 5 steps behind Lennox vis-a-vis science and logic.

A Beautiful Blue Death has a smooth style and kept surprising me till the very last pages. Though Finch is American, his tone and style were very British. I’ll read more in this smart, delightful series.

Le Poison

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The comedy in Sacha Guitry’s La Poison (1951) is trés noir. In fact, I’m unsure if I should like it. In this guilty pleasure, La Poison gives us Paul Bracconier, a husband who can’t take his wife. Generally, I can’t stand jokes that put wives or husbands in a bad light, or that are just a series of complaints. But Blandaire Bracconier, the wife in question, is such a mean-spirited drunk with no redeeming qualities and it does seem that with a nicer woman, Paul would be a-okay, so I made an exception.

Also, since the wife has purchased rat poison to do her husband in, it seems they’re on equal footing.

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Played by Michel Simon (Two of a Kind , Port of Shadows and many other classics), Paul has a redeemable side. He doesn’t rush to murder his wife. At the start of the film he visits the local priest for sympathy, mercy and perhaps some advice.

When he hears a radio interview with a lawyer honored for getting murderers off, he goes to meet the lawyer. The conversation with the unethical lawyer convinces Paul that, yes, he can get away with murder so he is emboldened to try.

Scenes with the neighbors and their children add to the humor. One of my favorite scenes involves Paul’s neighbor visiting him in jail and recounting how grateful the neighbors are to Paul because his crime has increased tourism and business in the hamlet.

An entertaining film, La Poison is a dark, old-fashioned comedy that does show the problems in the legal system. According to the background commentary, Guitry made it as a commentary on his own incarceration when he was wrongly accused of collaborating with the Vichy government during WWII.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

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Starring Dennis Price and Alex Guinness, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) is a black comedy of revenge. Louis Mazzini’s mother’s upper class family disowned her when she married an Italian musician. After she dies, Louis seeks revenge. Using a different weapon or means for each subject, Louis plots to kill all eight of the relatives ahead of him in line for the family fortune.

Louis falls in love with his childhood sweetheart, but she throws him over for a rich man, whom she finds as dull as dishwater. She’s clearly mercenary, but then so is Louis as he’s reptilian in his ability to murder relatives one after another without feeling any remorse.

One quirk of the film is that Alec Guinness plays each of the eight relatives that kills. He plays young and old, male and female. It’s a clever technique.

The Criterion Collection DVD includes the American ending. The Hays Code prohibited films from showing a situation where crime paid.

Before I saw it thought it would be a much weaker ending, but they just added a few seconds with an action that I imagined would follow the end of the film. The British version led me to expect that action to occur. Nonetheless it’s interesting to see how the Hays Code influenced filmmaking.

Laura (1944)

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Laura

After seeing something on Twitter about the film Laura, I was intrigued. With a hard-boiled detective, a beautiful, dead woman, a load of suspects to sift through and lots of plot twists, Laura held my interest. It’s about a notch down from a Raymond Chandler film. It starts with a wiry, old snob typing away in his bathtub. He’s narrating and telling us about Laura’s disappearance. Soon we learn more about this beautiful woman, who’s about to marry a hick from high society, played by a young Vincent Price. Her maid discovered her dead body. She’s got a great apartment and job and every Tuesday and Friday she dines with this snobbish radio personality who’s obsessed with her.

Enter Detective McPherson who’s cut from Philip Marlowe’s cloth. He’s sent to do a job, but before you know it he’s smitten with the victim.  He’s also aggravated Laura’s fiancé, who it turns out has no money, and the old snob. Both look like good candidates for the culprit. Yet a 180° plot turn pops up as McPherson’s daydreaming about Laura and the plot keeps getting twisted.

The story’s not on the level of a Raymond Chandler film starring Bogart, but it moves along and kept me guessing.

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