a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Mystery’

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

Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” Her First or Second Novel?

Harper leeEveryone in the reading world right now seems to be obsessed with Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And the question of why did she write only one book?

A Southern novelist to the core, the same question can be applied to that other great Southern writer of one,  only one highly successful novel,Margaret Mitchell. And that novel, of course, was “Gone with the Wind.”

I never thought it was a particularly confusing question. The international acclaim, critically and monetarily would be hard to top. They said what they had to say, and that was that. Same question as why did Greta Garbo retire so early? She wanted to.

But now another NEW book by Harper Lee has purportedly been discovered and will now be published in July. The suspense is mounting. Is it any good? Will it be the caliber of “To Kill A Mockingbird”?

How can it be?

It’s an impossible mountain to climb, and the fact that it was written a long time ago, maybe a VERY long time ago makes me feel that Harper Lee, being the wise woman that she was/is, just didn’t want it to be seen or read.

This may and I emphasize MAY have been the first book she wrote BEFORE “To Kill a Mockingbird” made her a literary sensation.

The book that she shopped around to publishers when she was an unknown first novelist in New York struggling to make her name. And it was rejected by everyone. I know the feeling.

And THEN she wrote “Mockingbird” plainly and simply and it, like “Gone With the Wind” really did not need a follow-up.

“Go Set a Watchman” – What an awkward, collegiate writing class title! Is probably not a patch on “Mockingbird.”

I think this whole thing is a literary stunt of the first water. Maybe she needs the money in her twilight years. Maybe, it’s been suggested, she doesn’t really know, cognitively, what really is going on with her unheard of, silent second book. Or was it her first surpressed one?

We’ll find out very soon. One thing’s for sure. It will be an international best seller. Interest in it is very, very high. But will it be any good? Or will it be very bad? That remains to be seen.

I, for one, can’t wait. And “Hey, Boo!” is a great documentary on Lee and is coming up soon on PBS. Don’t miss it.

German”Crime Stories”(Verbrechen) Grisly but Good

VervbrechenCrime Stories 1“Verbrechen” is German for “Crime Stories”. Famous lawyer turned author Ferdinand von Shirach has penned the short stories of the real life crime cases he was prosecuted to great acclaim in Germany and now they exist as a hit TV series. And a six-episode DVD set of three discs by MHz.

You have to be in a really blood-thirsty mood to enjoy these six grisly, but good episodes, which vary wildly in quality.

Josef Bierbichler plays Friedrich Lionhardt with a stoicism that makes his French counterpart Inspector Maigret seem absolutely flamboyant in comparison. Bierbichler is a focused mountain of a man best known in the US for his role as the sadistic Steward in Michael Hanneke’s frightening thriller “The White Ribbon.” With a voice like thunder, when roused, his intelligent, omniscient eyes see through all comers.

I was really gripped by Episode 1, wherein a mild-mannered husband Friedrich (everybody seems to be named Friedrich in this series)Fahner finally turns on his vicious wife Ingrid played with memorable relish by Annette Paulman, and murders her with his gardening tools. Based on, as I noted, a true story, you totally root for Friedrich to get off.

This is a neat reversal of the battered wife story, and in this case,it’s the long-suffering husband who is constantly brow-beaten, insulted and humiliated by his overbearing, vulgar wife. They are first shown as a deliriously in love young couple. As newlyweds, there seems nary a cloud on the horizon, and Ingrid is charming and sexy as a young girl.

But over the years, she has turned into a harridan he hardly recognizes, and can barely stand. Now 60, Friedrich maintains he has married her. He’s her husband and feels he cannot violate his marriage vows to her. So he kills her. German logic.

And Friedrich Leonhardt( Von Shirach’s alter ego) enters the scene as Friedrich Fahner’s defense lawyer determined to get him off. For as he states over and over, “a lawyer does not always want to know what really happened.” It is his job to get his clients freed and he pursues this goal with a single-minded intensity that powers each 44 minutes episode. It’s not a whodunit at all, but the suspense is always “Will Leonhardt prevail and get his client off?” which is an interesting twist in this overworked genre. A character describes Leonhardt as “the brakes on the carts on justice.”

Leonhardt doesn’t feel he has to like or even understand his clients, which are as varied as Germany is today.

Ripped from the headlines, “Crime Stories” when it works is riveting. I also particularly liked Episode 3 where Phillip Von Nordicke, a young student played with a burning intensity by Vladimir Burlakov, kills, blinds, and dismembers sheep. Stabbing each “victim” 18 times in a signature way that the local Polizei immediately know it’s him. But can you imprison someone for simply killing sheep argues Leonhardt. Then a young girl goes missing and of course, the young Phillip is the lost likely suspect. So in jail he stays, until Leonhardt enters the scene.

Some episodes don’t work at all and are merely confusing like Episode 2 “Tanaka’s Bowl.” But when it works, it really really works and loving crime stories and murder mysteries and film noir as you know I do, these German ones are a dark treat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just finished”The Girl With the Snake Tattoo”

It looks like a lovely fall day outside in New York…Ah, Autumn in New York…Supposedly the best season…When I was living in London, I always used to fly back to New York in Sept./Oct, missing the heat and humidity of the summers and leaving before the blistering cold of the winters…

Just finished reading “The Girl With the Snake Tattoo”! Phew! My first complete Steig Larson novel experience, and yes, it’s a terrific read. “Unput-downable” as  a colleague  of the late Larson says in the upcoming FOURTH volume. And it certainly is…

So tragic that this brilliant writer is dead. He could’ve gone on and on giving us more Lisbeth Salander/Mikael Bloomkvist thrillers…but at least we have the three he lived to complete…

According to a mention in the upcoming FOURTH volume, which is a collection of articles about him and essays AND HIS EMAILS! That there was an uncompleted three-quarters of a FOURTH volume and an outline for a fifth in his computer…when he died of heart attack at 50. And the tragedy of his early death just overwhelms me…He never lived to see this all happen. So sad…And the emails between him and his editor Eva Gedin are frustratingly few and brief and end sooo abruptly…He sounded like he was working himself to death before these books came out…

Why is this all so gripping?

Well, Lisbeth Salander is just this GRRRRRRREAT literary creation and her outrageous, rage-filled character is dropped right into the middle of a VERY traditional formula= the crime or suspense novel.  Or for mystery fiction  She’s a great detective. Which is what this really is and why this really works so well. It’s a whodunnit in the great Agatha Christie style. Miss Marple is now a punk rock hacker.

the eccentric,brilliant bisexual biker/hacker, Lisbeth, with her nose and eyebrow piercings and her spiky hair, COULDN’T be more unique in this type of genre. Or any genre really. She just JUMPS off the page at you and GRABS your attention and holds it for the duration. Just as the equally brilliant and intense Swedish/Icelandic/Spanish actress Noomi Rapace does in the movies.

And she’s balanced by her Sherlock Holmes, the banal, middle-aged investigative reporter Mikael Bloomkvist, who is the stolid, plodding alter ego of the late Larson himself, I’m guessing.

 So the audience has HIM to identify with, if they can’t wrap their heads around the quirky, surly Lisbeth, whose personality is as spiky as her hair-do. She’s a punk Dr. Watson, who keeps stealing the stage from Mikael Bloomkvist, her unlikely partner-in-crime solving…

Having seen the THIRD movie FIRST(I do everything backwards) this is beginning to make much more sense.

There’s a vast cast of supporting players and that did confuse me for a bit in the “Hornet’s Nest” movie. I didn’t “get” Bloomkvist and his relationship with his ex-wife, his teen-aged daughter and also the married co-publisher of the magazine he writes for who is named Erika Berger, who he has this very Scandinavian on-again, off-again sexual relationship with.

In the movie, she’s played by the great Bergmann actress Lena Anders, and I thought it odd that she took such a supporting role, but now I see why. She’s a major character in “Snake Tattoo” and obviously  continues that way through all the films and all the books. So it’s the middle one that I still have to try to finish before I interview Noomi Rapace on Wed.

But I’m doing  my homework!

And being gripped by “Snake” which is in the end quite quite sick and shocking….I just COULDN’T STOP reading it!

Well, Steig Larson was re-inventing and expanding a very tried and true formula, the  detective murder mystery and putting a very mod, Swedish gloss on it. And Sweden itself is a delightful, major character here. In the third movie “Hornet’s Nest”, Stockholm looks like an amazingly new, refreshing romantic locale, and nothing at all the like Stockholm of Ingmar Bergmann’s movies. It’s like some place we’ve never seen before. It’s enchanting…and also frightening.

Mikael Bloomkvist, when we first met, in the first several chapters, is actually quite boring. I almost didn’t make it any further – then BLAM! Lisbeth Salander enters the scene and she just TAKES over the book, as she does the movie, in her intense, fascinating way.

So I look forward to reading Book 2 “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and to interviewing Noomi Rapace herself on Wed.! I’m having a Stieg Larson week, for sure! It’s like a trip to today’s Sweden, and I can’t wait to go back!

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