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Posts tagged ‘Murder’

Poirot’s Back! Sophie Hannah Works Her Sly Magic Again in “Mystery of Three Quarters”


Well, “Mille Tonnerres!” As Hercule Poirot is wont to say, “Sacre Bleu!” but Madame Sophie Hannah has worked her sly magic once again in the continuation novel “The Mystery of Three Quarters,” out and at bookstores on August 28th.

Of course, reviewing mystery novels is always a problem for the reviewer because you can not give any of the plot away. “You CAN NOT!” I am again using Hercule Poirot’s unique voice and intonation here.

But I can say that is the literary legerdemain that Ms. Hannah practices so well. And the Christie Estate was so astute in choosing HER as the inheritor and author of now THREE delicious Christie continuation novels. “The Monogram Murders,” “Closed Casket” and now “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

The first quarter of “Three Quarters” is undiluted joy for Christie fans because it is all Poirot, all the time. He is front and center as his usually adept self in handling the perplexing question of who is sending these poison pen letters to various random people and signing his name, accusing them all of the murder of Barnabus Pandy. (LOVE that name!) Hannah is wicked good with her choice of her characters’ names.

The first character to accuse Poirot of this outrageous slander by snail mail (It is set in 1929. No emails here. Can you imagine Poirot sending an email? Or even going online! ) is the aptly named Sylvia Rule. And  a more vivid, angry introduct-ress to a murder mystery you cannot imagine. And Poirot cannot imagine it either!! He, Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective of all time (he calls himself, modestly) accusing others of a crime and signing his name to letters he did not write.”It is an outrage!” he tells the implacable  Sylvia Rule, and the other characters who turn up, in rapid succession, with identical letters. In various stages of discomfiture with Poirot..

This all happens in front of and inside his historic flat in Whitehaven Mansions. Hannah has preserved that from the Christie originals. New is the favorite place of Poirot’s to retire to, and figure out what to do with this perplexing situation with his “little grey cells”(Yes, they are here, too.)And that place is a pleasant café called Pleasant Café and run by Euphemia Spring. Who everyone calls “Fee.” (Once again Hannah’s marvelous choice of character names.) And Fee Spring has a large part to play.

She has graduated from “the waitress with the fly-away hair” in “Monogram Murders” to a full-blown character, the proprietress of the Pleasant Café,now also returning as Poirot’s favorite Hannah-named haunt. George, his always perfect valet is on hand here, too. And of course, Poirot, the ultimate foodie, is always eating. And it is Fee Spring, who  first raises the title of “Three Quarters,” through one of her delectable dishes, a cake that is shaped like a stained glass church window. The church window pane cake plays a major, major role in solving the mystery and the fact that Poirot keeps devouring all of its quarters so quickly made me think of how sweet and delicious this tasty treat must be. Just like this book.

This novel will make you hungry, I’m telling you. That I can reveal. And not just Window Pane Cake.

The Mystery of Three Quarters 4

And I also can tell you that you will not be able to PUT IT DOWN! It will possess you like you’re on a runaway train, maybe The Orient Express. Or a cake you can’t stop eating late at night.   The train metaphors and the food metaphors continue to abound in Hannah’s delicious tale of malice and murder. She’s so expert at this, the seemingly impossible task of recreating Agatha Christie’s unique, rotund Belgian detective with the great moustaches. Poirot is the only fictional character to ever get an Obit on the front page of the New York Times when he passed away in “Curtain.”

I never realized how deeply in love with this character I was until he rose from the dead so brilliantly at Sophie Hannah’s command in “Monogram Murders.” It was like encountering a long-lost friend! And you’ll feel the same way and be able to continue your own rapturous re-union with Hercule Poirot in “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

 

 

 

Louise Penny Has Done It Again!”A Great Reckoning” Is Great!

A Great REckoningI admit it! I’m an unabashed Louise Penny fan! And I’ve read every single one of her terrific mystery/crime novels about Quebec’s former Chief Inspector of the Surete, Armand Gamache, but with her newest one, “A Great Reckoning” she’s done it again! “A Great Reckoning” is great! The best so far. She’s really topped herself! I haven’t been able to do anything since I picked up this 12th book in her Gamache series.

I could not put it down!

And neither will you! It’s what a page-turner should be. Suspenseful, taut, fast-paced, totally absorbing and thrilling with a capital “T”.

I’ve read an early critic’s edition, as it were, so there are limits to what I can and can’t say. I can’t quote from it, but I can say there are beautiful descriptions of her beloved Quebec and the irresistible village of Three Pines. You really want to move there and retire, just like Gamache & his devoted, smart, beautiful wife Reine-Marie have. Except of course, it’s a fictional location where corpses and murders abound. And it’s in Quebec, where it’s almost always snowing.And her descriptions of the food Olivier & Gabri prepare in their adorable bistro ~ MOUTH~WATERING!

Also writing about a thriller like this is difficult, because you can’t reveal any of the mysteries, or you’ll spoil it. And suffice it to say that there’s a LOT to spoil. There are twists upon twists, and a really bang-up unguessable conclusion. And all your favorite characters, the colorful Quebecquois townspeople, are all back, Clara, Myrna, Ruth Zardo and her pet duck, Rosa. And the gay couple to end all gay couples, Olivier & Gabri, and their wonderful bistro/B&B, that you’ll wish you could dine at and stay at. But alas! They’re all fictional! But that’s the sign of great writing. It all comes alive for you, Penny tells her stories so well.

Taken altogether as one massive novel, it reminds me of “War and Peace”! That’s how the Gamache series  deepens and grows on you.Throughout the twelve preceeding novels(and you really should read all of them, in order, if you can), the characterizations just build and build and build til you feel you know Clara & Myrna & Ruth etc.,etc. It’s like visiting old friends, in their loveliest of homes. But you can read the Gamache series of mysteries and enjoy them as stand alones, too.

This mystery is set in the Montreal Police Academy, which has made Gamache its’ head and lured him out of retirement, and the scenes shift between the school and Three Pines, but I will say no more than that. No spoilers here! “A Great Reckoning” hits stores August 30. But you can pre-order, mais oui!

And as strong and suspenseful as “A Great Reckoning” is, it’s even MORE amazing how quickly after Penny’s last Gamache book ,N.Y. Times bestseller “The Nature of the Beast”, came out. Less than a year! How does she do it? But then that’s the timetable Agatha Christie kept to and Louise Penny is nothing if she’s not a modern, French-Canadian Agatha Christie. Miss Marple had St. Mary Mead and Gamache and co. have Three Pines. Murder mysteries set in small, cozy, seemingly idyllic villages.

And when you read her acknowledgements at the end, she heart-breakingly reveals that her much-loved husband Michael has gotten dementia. And they live together in a small village in Quebec’s townships. but it’s not Three Pines. So her writing this wonderful, complicated thriller so FAST and so WELL is even more amazing! That she wrote this great book in the middle of all this personal sorrow and tragedy is astonishing. All my best to Louise and to Michael, too.

#Louise Penny # Three Pines # Inspector Gamache # Murder Mystery#Agatha Christie #Canada # Montreal # Quebec

“People Vs. O.J. Simpson” TV Movie Series Very Well Done

OJ Cast 1I wasn’t going to watch it and then, I did, and after a few false starts, I was gripped. So kudos to all involved with the new TV Movie series “The People Vs.O.J. Simpson”. Based on the book by Jeffrey Toobin, it’s very well done. And smart, too. I was gripped. Even though, we all know how it turned out.

No spoilers are necessary, as this was the first court case that was turned into a TV series already when Judge Ito allowed cameras into the courtroom. It crackles. It’s sharp and it’s right on the money Writtten by .Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewki and directed/co-produced by Ryan Murphy “The People…” sizzles and burns up the small screen in just the right way. I was surprised. And delighted. Smart TV is always welcome.

And the casting is phenomenal. Cuba Gooding, Jr. FINALLY lives up to his Oscar potential (He won Supporting Actor EONS ago, it seems, for “Jerry Maguire” opposite Tom Cruise and a very young Renee Zellweger.)Yes, Cuba Gooding IS O.J. in this, although he is a man of much smaller stature. He has the bravado and the charm and the impatience of a super-star-football-hero-jock, which is what he was.

And Sarah Paulson, always a personal favorite, gets the role of HER career as the prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark. She is depicted here as a harrowed, over-worked single mom, and a feminist, who is appalled by the case she’s just been handed. It seems to her like it should be open and shut, except it isn’t at all.Sarah Paulson 2

Strangely, “The People…” doesn’t take sides and depicts the LAPD as the bumbling bunch of key stone cops that they probably were, in this instance.

Sarah Paulson really delivers here and puts her in the realm of leading lady roles where she’s always belonged. And David Schwimmer, of all people, is just grand as the compassionate heart of the O.J. side of things as Robert Kardashian. Yes, the father of all those Kardashians who now reign supreme as the Queens of Reality TV. And yes, Kris Kardashian Jenner is depicted, too. Although she only has a very small part to play in Episode One. She was a very close friend of the murdered Nicole Brown Simpson.David Schwimmer 1

He was a lawyer and one of O.J.s best friends who is just bewildered by the unbelievable events he sees unfolding around him. O.J. hides out at Kardassian’s house and we see him even attempting suicide in “Kimmy’s” bedroom, as the stricken Schwimmer, pulls him out of it.Before he disappears from the Kardashians hideaway starting his infamous White Brono chase.

In sharp contrast, there is ANOTHER lawyer, Robert Shapiro, who is played again at the top of his A-Game by John Travolta! Another shock. And a shockingly good performance. One of the best of Travolta’s career, and he is the super slick lawyer, a legal shark, if ever there was one, who knows that his client is guilty, probably,  and goes for it, takes the case, anyway.Schwimmer & Travolta 1

People forget now, but it was on TV EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR MONTHS! I watched the entire proceedings unfold with the rest of America. I was living alone in the Bronx after my mother’s death. I wondered what she would’ve thought of all of it. I was as gripped then. As I am gripped now by this exciting, insightful news series that is going to be on at 10pm on the FX channel on Tuesday nights for nine more weeks. And even though I thought I knew everything about it, “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson” is constantly revealing new and startling aspects and yes, it WAS the birth of reality TV. Kardashians and all.

 

Oscar Buzz continues at TIFF for Gerard Butler & “Machine-Gun Preacher”! And Tilda Swinton, too!

Now as one  film’s career rises and another falls, it’s fascinating to watch the ups and downs that one screening can lead to at TIFF. It’s like a thumbs up and/or a thumbs down from the Romans in the Colosseum.

And TIFF is giving a definite big THUMBS UP to both “Machine Gun Preacher,” which shocked and surprised me in all the right ways and “We’ve Got to Talk About Kevin ”  “Preacher”‘s got HEAVY Oscar potential. Gerard Butler is in a career-redefining role as the title character. And it seems very much like this year’s “Slumdog Millionaire.”

It’s a thoroughly griping action-er as well as being an amazing true story of this former alcoholic/drug addict/jail-bird (Butler) who totally gets his life under-control through the help of his devoted Christian wife(Michele Monaghan of “Trucker”) and ends up, like “Book of Mormon”s hapless elders in Uganda. And a very different Uganda from the one that’s selling out on Broadway.

It’s a desolate, lawless, hell-on-earth, where children routinely are dismembered and forced to kill their family members. And director Marc Forster(” Finding Neverland”) keeps the adrenaline pumping and the danger level high as the reformed Butler barrels through the African wilderness like a born-again Rambo, trying to save all the children, and there seem to miliions…who are desparately in need of medicine, schools, orphanages. And Butler tries to build and re-build all of them. AND HE DOES!

The incredible arc his character goes through addiction, jail, murder, reformation, then heroics in the African wild are catnip to Oscar. And Butler hits all the right notes, and is utterly believable all the way through and back again. His scenes with the children will make audiences world-wide cry and stand up and cheer. He and this powerful film and its’ timely topic are definitely going to be part of the Oscar conversation.

Another to be hotly debated Oscar topic is going to be Tilda Swinton’s career best performance in “We’ve Got to Talk About Kevin”, an extremely disturbing and powerful look at another difficult and timely theme. What is it like to be the mother of a school shooter? A la Columbine. Swinton is magnificent but will audiences and Oscar voters be able to turn out to watch this? As great as it is, that’s the Oscar topic that is Tilda’s stumbling block here.

The handling of both these films by their campaigners and distributors will determine whether or not “Machine Gun Preacher” and “….Kevin” will be in the forefront of voters minds and DVD piles come this Christmas. They certainly SHOULD be, IMHO.

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