Sunday, December 30, 2012
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Christmas Is Murder
by C.S. Challinor
"Do you think Henry might have choked on his dentures? He said they were always coming loose."
I read and reviewed one of Challinor's Rex Graves mysteries a while back. I hadn't planned on reading another one so soon but the premise of Christmas Is Murder reached out and grabbed me. I have to admit to a special fondness for those mysteries in which the author strands his/her characters in some remote location and turns a murderer loose in their midst.
Challinor does this to great effect in what is actually the first mystery to star barrister Rex Graves. A motley crew is stranded by a blizzard at a remote Scottish hotel and one of the unfortunate characters goes down for the final count before Graves even arrives. He won't be the last, unfortunately. There's a fairly sizable body count before it's all over.
The author really lays it on thick all the way throughout with clues and red herrings. Perhaps I'm not so good at sorting these things out because I had to admit that even as the end was nigh I wasn't quite sure what was up. My only minor quibble with the whole affair is that the motivations of the killer seemed a bit shaky. Aside from this point, I give this book high marks.
Monday, December 24, 2012
The Thin Man Goes Home
Based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett
The consensus seems to be that the Thin Man movies went downhill after the first one. I'm on the fence about that. I don't know that I completely agree but I can see how the argument could be made. For my money the six films of the series adhered closely enough to a formula that if you like one I'm not sure what there is not to like about the others.
While it would be nice to read and watch these series type books and movies in order, for me that rarely happens. This is the fifth of the Thin Man movies I've watched and I still have number four (Shadow Of The Thin Man) to go. There's no false advertising in this title, mind you. Nick and Nora (and dog Asta, of course) really do go home - to Nick's home town, where they take up residence with his loving mother and mildly disapproving father for a short time.
Which is a rather bucolic way to get away from it all, but of course there's no way that can possibly last. And it doesn’t, now that you mention it, given that someone is bumped off right on the Charles family doorstep and the crime-solving couple are forced to spring into action.
From here things take a somewhat familiar route to the end. Which consists of Nick gathering what seems like everyone in the town and perhaps even a couple dozen others for the summing up to beat them all. All of which would have been rather long and tedious if it wasn't handled so well and if there weren't a few great comic moments tossed in for good effect.
All in all, a rather down home affair, if I do say so myself. It could have just as easily been called Murder in Mayberry, but of course that fictional town wouldn't appear on any maps for about another decade and a half.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Adventure Of The Disappearing Scientists
Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are probably best known for playing Holmes and Watson in a number of films but they also appeared in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which kicked off in 1939 and ran for almost eight years. This episode, like many, was written by Dennis Green and Anthony Boucher. It concerns what for Holmes would have been a relatively new substance known as radium and the disappearances of a number of scientists working with it.
CBS Radio Mystery Theater
Nightmare in Gillette Castle
I reviewed a few noteworthy episodes of CBS Radio Mystery Theater recently, a show that also ran for about eight years, starting in 1974. This episode doesn't deal directly with Holmes so much but rather with William Gillette, an actor best known for his stage portrayals of Holmes around the turn of the twentieth century. It concerns what happens when a young husband and wife break off from a tour group in Gillette's castle and find that the going gets decidedly weird.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
By Christopher Fowler
Well, I'll be damned. Someone's been reading Agatha bleeding Christie. (Raymond Land)
The first thing I noticed about Seventy-Seven Clocks was how whopping big it was. I've ranted (rather mildly) about long mystery novels on a number of occasions thus far and, as a general rule, once they pass the 200-page mark my interest begins to wane with each additional page. Normally I wouldn't go near a book that clocks in at just under 500 pages but since it was a Bryant & May book I forged bravely on ahead.
And I'm glad I did. Of the four of Fowler's novels that I've read and reviewed thus far, I'd rank this one at the top of the heap - by a longshot. Which is not to say that any of the others were particularly shabby, because they certainly weren't.
I'm not generally keen on conveying much of the plot in my reviews. I'll say even less about this one for the simple reason that Fowler has really outdone himself this time around and to spell anything out would really spoil the fun of discovering it all for yourself.
About all I'm going to say is that it takes place in the Seventies, the body count is rather high, the murders tend to be quite bizarre (and one comes from so far out of left field that I almost dropped the book) and the motivation for it all is very farfetched. And yet Fowler handles the latter so skillfully that you find yourself thinking that just maybe it could have happened. Or maybe not.
Enough said about this one. Highly recommended. Go read all 496 pages for yourself and see if you don't agree.
Friday, December 14, 2012
Before it was all said and done there were a total of 1,399 episodes (really, they couldn't have done just one more?), many of which are available right out there on Al Gore's Internet. You can probably find these in half a thousand places, but for now I'm sticking with CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which looks impressive enough to be an official site but is apparently the work of a very dedicated fan.
Of the four episodes of the series that I've sampled thus far there were two that didn't really do it for me. Tom Sawyer, Detective, sounded promising and it wasn't a bad story but was bogged down by too much dialogue that sounded like a cross between a Stephen Foster song and a Gunsmoke rerun. Murder On the Space Shuttle also seemed promising and it was even based on a story by Jacques Futrelle, but I'd also rank this one in the so-so category.
The Old Ones Are Hard to Kill
This episode kicked things off way back in 1974 and it was a pretty decent debut. It starred Agnes Moorhead as an older woman who runs a boarding house and who hears the deathbed confession of a boarder, one that might clear someone else of a crime. Rather than let well enough alone, she decides to do something about it and the plot thickens considerably. Not an absolute gem as far as the story goes, but nicely done even so.
Blizzard of Terror
I liked this one the best of this small bunch. It features a bickering couple who are stranded in the mountains in a blizzard and who find their way to shelter in a cottage. Oh, and there's a mass murderer on the loose. Which is the cause of no small amount of concern on their part when they find the kitchen spattered with blood and a suspicious type character already in residence.
Friday, December 7, 2012
From a story by Charles Belden
It was a dark and stormy night. Of course.
Maybe somewhere along the line I've run across an old dark house movie I didn't like. But nothing comes to mind right now. Director Frank Strayer actually made The Monster Walks about two years before The Ghost Walks and though I have yet to see that one it's apparently an old dark house flick as well, though the two don't seem to be linked in any other way.
As The Ghost Walks gets underway, a hotshot Broadway producer, his nerdy (male) secretary and a playwright have a minor accident and are forced to take refuge at a foreboding house of the old and dark variety. There are already several people on hand and it's not long before things start to go awry, with some rather nefarious deeds taking place, but there's a pretty interesting twist early on that I won't spoil.
Which colors much of what follows and before it's all said and done a number of the people who have gathered at the house have gone missing and a lunatic has escaped from a nearby asylum and there's a picture with eyes that move and a number of other gimmicks common to movies of this breed. And plenty of comic relief, not the least of it provided by the hotshot producer and the nerd, who spend a great deal of their on-screen time bickering.
Alas, there is no killer ape. But life is full of disappointments and the movie doesn’t suffer too badly for it. All in all I'd rank this one a little bit higher than average as far as this sort of thing goes.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
by R.T. Raichev
"Lord Remnant was shot through the back of the head by a giant rabbit," Antonia said.
If you're looking for contemporary authors who set their mystery fiction in the modern day while still imparting something of a traditional feel to it, then be sure to R.T. Raichev to your list. The Bulgarian-born author wrote a dissertation on English crime fiction and it shows, not only in the way he tells a story but also in the way his characters frequently make sly references to various aspects of crime fiction.
If you know Shakespeare better than I (which wouldn't take much doing) you might know that The Murder of Gonzago is a play within a play that takes place in Hamlet. When wealthy old Lord Remnant and a few guests at his private island of Grenadin stage their amateur production of this curiosity he ends up rather deadish. While circumstances suggest that there might have been some suspicious goings-on, it doesn't help much that the old bat's body was hastily hustled off and cremated.
As it turns out the Lord was not a particularly likable sort, to put it mildly, and thus there was the usual cast of relatives and acquaintances who might have done him in. Which is the cue for mystery writer Antonia Darcy and her husband Major Hugh Payne to get involved and try to unravel this tricky case, which is full of a fair number of twists and turns.
Having reviewed two of Raichev's books now (here's the other), I'm still not quite sure what to make of them. I find them to be very well-written and entertaining to read but for me they're lacking that little bit of something that would put them into the must-read category along with the likes of someone like Christopher Fowler or C.S. Challinor. I can't quite figure out what it is that's missing. But I suspect that I'll be checking out another in this series at some point down the line. Perhaps it will come to me then.