Broadchurch – A Few Thoughts

My in-laws recommended that my wife and I watch Broadchurch–we’re glad they did!

Originally a British mystery series, Broadchurch is a fictional seaside town where two detectives, Hardy and Miller, must solve three brutal mysteries over the course of three seasons.

David Tennant plays Hardy, a troubled detective who has moved to Broadchurch out of necessity. Olivia Colman plays Miller, a local detective who knows every nook and everyone in the small town. If that seems like an incredible pair of actors, you’re right. There is no doubt that they are the reason Broadchurch shines so bright.

The first season centers upon the murder of a child. There are eight episodes and they do a masterful job of finding a way to make many, many people possibly guilty of the crime. Jodie Whittaker brilliantly plays the child’s mother. I now understand why so many people were excited when she was cast as the new Doctor Who. Arthur Darvill, also a Doctor Who alum, plays a local priest who works hard to offer comfort to everyone involved. (I think the entire cast appeared in Doctor Who at some point in their lives. Must be a British thing.) Again, the actors in this series are excellent. The first season’s conclusion truly surprised us when they revealed the murderer.

The second season builds upon the first while introducing a new story line. It can’t quite match the novelty of the first season, but it does flesh out the first season as it also explores the very crime that sent Hardy to Broadchurch. The second season, in my opinion, is the best in terms of acting, story, and pacing.

The third season is largely disconnected from the first two with lots of new townspeople coming into focus. While I liked it well enough, it just didn’t compare to the first two seasons in terms of plot cohesion or pacing. I also didn’t care for some of the directions they took with established characters. However, Tennant and Colman are a FORCE in the third season. They are mesmerizing together with each also having a firm hold on their respective characters. Seeing them act so well more than made up for any of the third season’s shortcomings.

If you’re looking for a quick mystery series to watch, I absolutely recommend Broadchurch. It deals with very heavy plot points that can be frankly quite depressing, but the acting and the very (mostly) tight storytelling make for a thrilling experience. You can currently find Broadchurch on Netflix.

The Kind Worth Killing By Peter Swanson – A Book Review

A friend recommended this book to me after I requested a fast, action-packed read. The Kind Worth Killing did not disappoint.

The story is centered around Ted and Lily, two strangers who meet in an airport bar. During conversation, Ted reveals he’d like to kill his cheating wife, and Lily is more than happy to assist.

From there, things get very complex as their pasts become interwoven with the present. The author, Peter Swanson, also alternates perspectives from Ted to Lily with each chapter. As the book progresses, however, new perspectives enter the fray, which offers fresh insights into the overall story.

Swanson absolutely knows how to write a fast-paced story. The chapters are short, the plot races forward, and the dialogue flows smoothly. The twists and turns were very entertaining, and the book as a whole proved quite fun.

My only complaints are that the characters tended to sound the same to me. The men all seemed to have the same voice, as did the women. Their plots and circumstances set them apart, but their voices did not. None of their personalities were unique.

I also found the very last two pages of the book unnecessary. A revelation occurs that is executed in a manner inconsistent with the rest of the style, and this revelation really serves no purpose other than to suggest a sequel. As it stands, those last two pages usurp an otherwise satisfying ending.

This is a slight grievance, however. Overall, the book thrilled me for several days as I truly enjoyed it. If you’re looking for an exciting mystery or thriller, I recommend The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson.

Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – A Book Review

A good friend recommended The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, and though it’s been in publication for almost 100 years, I’ve never read it. In fact, I’ve never read a single Agatha Christie book.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it! I’m often not a fan of mysteries because I feel that they usually don’t lay the serious groundwork needed to provide the reader with actual clues, but Christie more than satisfied me in that regard. She gave all of the characters a possible motive for the murder, and had them all in the vicinity of the murder near the time of death. Her details were quite meticulous. Furthermore, finding the answer to the mystery was quite possible. 

On that note, I also appreciated that Christie wrote quite a bit of this book using dialogue. She provided only the most necessary of description, which made for a very quick read. Many of her clues were revealed through characters talking to one another, which proved a pleasant experience. 

My only complaint is that the detective, Hercule Poirot, seemed to be an almost secondary character. Because he was not the narrator, we only got to know Poirot in a limited way. This was necessary due to the structure and narrative style of the book, but I’m curious to know if all of Poirot’s books feature someone else as the narrator.

I’ll find out soon enough! I am absolutely excited to read more Agatha Christie. She writes my kind of mystery books. 

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane – A Book Review

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A friend recommended this book to me, and it marks the first time I’ve ever read Dennis Lehane.

For some reason, I envisioned this book involving some kind of international war and intelligence officers, but that’s not the case at all. The title actually refers to a gang war breaking out in the Boston area. Patrick Kenzie is a PI hired to find a missing woman who has stolen documents from an important politician. Those documents are fueling the gang war, and Kenzie has found himself right in the middle of it all.

The book takes place in the early 1990s, which is very apparent due to  several references to music, TV, and major news events of that era. Kenzie, the PI, narrates the book and at times I found his internal dialogue cliched and trying too hard to be clever. I found the first half of the book a bit of a struggle to read because there isn’t much character development–it just keeps plugging away at the plot. Eventually the suspense of the story gripped me and I finished the last half of the book quickly, but I can’t say I ever connected with Kenzie or his partner, Angela Gennaro, on a personal level.

If you read this–be warned. The book fully embraces the racial tension that existed in Boston in the 1990s. The language is harsh, the characters are harsh, and the depictions are harsh. Some may find this “realistic,” but, in this day and age, it was deeply uncomfortable to read. On the one hand, I have to give Lehane credit for not shying away from his characters’ racism. On the other, some of the characters seemed overtly stereotypical.

I asked my friend for a quick, action-packed read, and A Drink Before the War definitely fits the bill. I was surprised to discover several other titles by Lehane that I recognized such as Shutter Island, Live By Night, Mystic River, and Gone, Baby, Gone.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – A Book Review

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Where the Crawdads Sing is a fast-paced, potent, concise book that has a little bit of everything which will likely satisfy any reader.

The story centers around Kya, a young girl growing up alone in the marshes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When I say alone–I mean alone. Everyone has abandoned her–her mother, father, brothers, sisters, people in the nearby town–everyone. This forces her to fend for herself in a primitive shack that has neither indoor plumbing nor electricity. Though initially a child, and despite lacking any formal education, she learns to observe nature’s lessons, and that becomes the key to her survival into adulthood. Unfortunately, though the town completely shuns her, its sins will not leave her alone and she is eventually accused of murder.

Where the Crawdads Sing accomplishes so much in such a short amount of time. It delves deeply into issues of domestic abuse, abandonment, discrimination, elitism, and hypocrisy.

However, it is also a love letter to nature as it beautifully describes the vibrant activities occurring in areas most people deem uncivilized. Owens’ writing is compressed, but extremely effective. She will make you feel like you’re living in the marsh, coexisting with nature, right by Kya’s side.

Furthermore, there is a captivating murder mystery present in this book as well. Though it may sound out of place, it’s not. Owens weaves the murder mystery into the overall plot perfectly. It never feels forced nor contrived. Between Kya’s story, the murder mystery, and the convergence of the two, I couldn’t put this book down.

No matter what your taste, I highly recommend Where the Crawdad’s Sing. I believe anyone who enjoys fiction will like this book.

The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins – A Book Review

I picked this book up based upon a considerable amount of buzz in my community.  I have to be honest, I nearly didn’t make it past the first chapter.  Our main character is Rachel, and in the beginning, the story is told solely from her perspective.  Because I found her so boring and, frankly, pathetic, I didn’t know for sure if I could continue.  But then It became very clear by the end of the chapter that she is a drunk, unreliable, and possibly deranged.  Though slow at first, once these characteristics arise, the book suddenly became very interesting and Rachel transformed into a figure I’ve never quite experienced in books.

In fact, I became so engrossed in the book I could hardly put it down.  Rachel is seemingly stalking her ex-husband and his new wife, has constructed a fantasy world for the people she sees in their homes as she rides the train, and is generally falling apart as she makes one awful, drunken decision after another.

A mystery begins, though, concerning some injuries she suffered during a blackout.  Plus, a very violent crime arrives, one tied to her ex-husband and a specific couple she fantasized about from the train.

The book is addictive in that it plays with timelines, revealing tidbits of information at different intervals and demands the reader put them together chronologically.  As the book progresses, it also offers other perspectives, specifically from Megan, the woman Rachel fantasizes about, and Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife.  Through these various perspectives, you learn that none of these women are completely honest, and some of them are downright dangerous.

Near the end, however, the book completely lost me.  I won’t spoil too much, but Rachel, one of the most unconventional and original female characters I’ve encountered in quite some time, becomes totally beholden to the men in the story.  In fact, the entire story line hinges upon her ex-husband and the man Rachel fantasizes about from the train.  The women suddenly serve only to propel the plot, to act as tools of the men, and that’s a real travesty considering the magnificent characterization unfolding up to that point.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – A Book Review

I promise to reveal nothing secretive about this book during my review, for to give away even a single detail will likely ruin the experience as a whole to the new reader.

I will simply say this: the first half of the book is utter genius.  I can’t recall of late a time I found myself so riveted, so completely engrossed, so eager to turn the page.  Flynn set everything up perfectly.  Perfectly.

As I read that first half, I actually found myself thinking, “Where will Flynn take it from here?  What direction is this thing ultimately going?”

And then, I reached the book’s halfway point, and Flynn blew my mind.  I’m talking my jaw hit the table.  The book completely changed direction and I loved it even more.

Sadly, however, the last third of the book did not delight so thoroughly.  Without being too specific, I found Flynn tossing in characters and details that, compared to the earlier installments, felt poorly conceived and even flat.  I hate to say that because this is a really well written book.  Flynn has a great style and proved herself skilled at constructed interesting, varied sentences.  It seemed almost as though she pinned herself into a corner and didn’t quite have the best exit strategy.

Honestly, the first half of the book was so good that there really was no place to go but down.  It would have been nearly impossible to deliver a satisfying ending to a story that broke out of the gates so hard.  I’m okay with the ending, don’t get me wrong, I just didn’t find it as masterfully plotted.

Would I recommend this book to a friend?  Absolutely.  I haven’t read anything quite like it—period.  I love Flynn’s characters, her style, her themes, her dialogue, and most of all, I love her plot.  I simply didn’t love the immediate events leading up to the ending, or, obviously, the ending itself.

In Regards To The Final Solution, My Apologies To Michael Chabon

I’ve deemed this summer one in which I will reread several books, and one of those book is in fact Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution.  I originally read this novelette sometime in early 2006 and subsequently wrote a scathing review (found here).  During the past seven years, I’ve remembered the book negatively and would not recommend it to others.  This hurt my heart because I tout Michael Chabon as one of America’s greatest living authors and hated to say anything disparaging about him.

I am a fool.

As I reread this book, I am embarrassed, ashamed, and, perhaps most importantly, humbled.

You see, though I’m only half finished with the slender book, I’ve already come to a startling realization about the book’s protagonist, one I never before realized and one that is incredibly significant.  How I didn’t make this deduction seven years ago is beyond me, especially considering I deal with literature and writing regularly in my professional life.  Were I a prouder man, I wouldn’t even reveal this to you.

But wait, let’s see if you can figure it out: the story takes place in 1944 England and features a very old, retired detective.  This detective was once the toast of England, renowned for his brilliance and adventures.  He smokes a pipe, wears an Inverness, and uses a magnifying glass.  Have you solved it?  Yes!  Though only referred to as “the old man” throughout the novelette, he is clearly supposed to be Sherlock Holmes!

I have no idea why I didn’t consider this out upon my first reading, but the book is so much more enjoyable if making this assumption.  So, though I’m not quite done with my rereading, I assure you, it’s thus far a wildly entertaining read if you keep “the old man’s” true identity in mind!

 

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton – A Book Review

I recently discovered Steve Hamilton and read his work entitled The Lock Artist, a book I thoroughly enjoyed.  So when the opportunity arose to procure an advance copy of his latest, a thriller called Misery Bay, I jumped at the chance.

Misery Bay stars a character called Alex McKnight.  McKnight has, apparently, appeared before in previous Hamilton works, but my unfamiliarity with McKnight proved inconsequential.  Hamilton eased me into McKnight’s world by utilizing an organic, smooth narrative style that subtly revealed the character’s history.  In fact, so seamless was Hamilton’s introduction of McKnight that I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if this was the character’s first appearance!

McKnight is a former Detroit cop who now resides in Paradise, a frigid little town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  McKnight has a long history of tragedy, one I won’t spoil here, but the man keeps a good sense of sardonic humor about him and is, by all accounts, a capable protagonist.  He doesn’t particularly want to be a hero, however, and is very much at ease hanging out at his favorite bar and drinking his favorite beer.

Through a series of gruesome events, though, McKnight finds himself ensnared in a case involving multiple suicides and murders, all involving state police officers and their children.  Honor and duty binds him to the case, and while he doesn’t necessarily want to take on the role of “detective,” he can’t turn his back on those in need of help.  In the end, it’s a grisly affair, one that will shock you and keep you on the edge of your seat.

Hamilton’s writing style is fluid and conversational with a special emphasis on realistic, dynamic dialogue.  Though there’s a mystery in Misery Bay, I’m not sure I would classify it as such.  I would be more comfortable calling it a thriller.  There’s plenty of action, humor, gore, and even a touch of drama which all come together to form a true page-turner.  Michael Connelly and James Patterson offer favorable quotes in regards to Hamilton and his McKnight, and after reading Misery Bay I can understand why!

X-Files: I Want To Believe – A Movie Review

I loved this movie!

I enjoyed the X-Files television program.  I wouldn’t say I was a diehard fan or anything, but I liked it quite a bit.  So when I saw the commercials X-Files: I Want To Believe, I made a note to check it out on DVD, but didn’t get worked up enough to go to the theatre for it.

X-Files: I Want To Believe has virtually nothing to do with the previous X-Files movie.  And it also thankfully didn’t demand expert knowledge of the television show, either.  A few terse lines of dialogue pretty much caught everyone up to speed.  Sure, there were a few moments for the devout fans, but by and large, anyone could come into X-Files: I Want To Believe and simply enjoy a good movie.

Speaking of which, I just had a great time watching this film.  Mulder and Scully are such cool characters, and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have such wonderful chemistry, I just really can’t get enough of these two on screen.

The plot is devoid of aliens or monsters; rather, it’s a murder mystery that takes on a slight science fiction element, but nothing supremely outlandish.  The crux of the story revolves around Billy Connolly playing a former man of the cloth who has visions related to missing women.  Scully, of course, doesn’t believe a word of it, but Mulder, as you would expect, gives Father Joe (Connolly) the benefit of the doubt.

In true X-Files fashion, the movie ends with just as many questions as answers, but hey, that’s what makes it an X-File, right?  Even with that being said, Anderson and Duchonvy offer fine performances and the movie is well made and very exciting.  Some of the acting is a little below par, specifically in regards to Amanda Peet and Xzibit-yes, Xzibit plays an FBI agent in this movie.  Also, they used the phrase “I want to believe” so many times it got to be a distraction.  I got it when it was first said-I caught the connection to the title.  No need to drive it home over and over again.

Instead of trying to create a garish, monstrosity of a movie, Chris Carter and the gang deliver an enigmatic, tense mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and felt more like a really long episode of the TV show-and that’s a good thing!

Oh, and by the way, the subplot featuring Scully’s patient brought tears to my eyes.  Seriously.  If you’re a parent, keep the tissue nearby.