Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The World's a Small Place


As I wove through the streets of Antigua, sidestepping trash and leaping onto the curb just in time to avoid a motorcycle shooting through traffic, I wondered why I didn't feel disoriented. Over the scene loomed a mist-haloed volcano - it wasn't active, but the other volcano on the other side of town had been spewing lava down its side all day, a track of glowing orange in the distant night sky. The smell of frying meat and melted cheese (mixed with the ubiquitous Diesel fumes) made my stomach grumble. Musical Spanish voices crowded the night air; I had to focus to pick out my meager vocabulary from the jumble, respond, and then shell out a few Quetzales for a meal. 

And bizarrely, I felt right at home.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Detective News - 2016/2017 - Sherlock, Endeavour, Grantchester, and more...



Coming soon (Endeavour, Inspector Lewis):

Endeavour's belated third season will finally be coming to the United States, with the first episode - Ride - airing on June 19, and the three successive episodes on June 26, July 3, and July 10. The series will see Morse coping with the dramatic aftereffects of the second season's finale, as well as trying to figure out what course his future will take. I watched the show when it came out it England, and you're in for a treat.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Man Named Moore Opposes King With Many Wives


Satire                                                                                                                                                         

Once upon a time there was a king who knew what he wanted. Bombastic, paunchy and orange, the king was born with a silver spoon in his mouth—a classy spoon, a whole set of cutlery, in fact, the best spoons. The orange king was flexible, changeable, a really strong man. If the king didn’t get what he wanted, he didn’t care if it meant splitting the Christian world in half, he’d get it done.

The king had a difficult relationship with his wife, largely because he was tired of just having one. “We’re gonna split up,” he said. “Maybe we’ll build a wall between us—it’ll be a yuge divorce, I mean, really big, a great divorce. We’re gonna make divorce great again.” So that’s what the king did, discarding his first wife and marrying his mistress. Even then, the king was not satisfied and sought a third, model wife. “I can’t help it, they like me. Alpha males have lots of wives,” said the king. Classy!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

An Introduction to Hamilton

Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, John Laurens, and Alexander Hamilton


You've probably heard about Hamilton in some form or another. A musical, its opening number was performed at the Grammys, for the Obamas at the White House, and the show in its entirety is performed every week on Broadway. It's ridiculously hard to get tickets, but you can still enjoy the story from the cast album: this article is a how-to on getting started.

First of all, what is it? Hamilton is the story of the founding father, Alexander Hamilton, told through rap music. Sounds ridiculous, you say - but believe it or not, hip hop is a perfect medium to tell the story of America's youngest founder.

A poor immigrant from the West Indies, Hamilton was the illegitimate son of a penniless nobleman. The musical's first line is deliberately provocative, but also a fairly accurate description of the man: "a bastard orphan, son of a whore, and a Scotsman, born in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by Providence impoverished, in squalor." His career saw a meteoric rise to the top, culminating in disaster, the first sex scandal in American politics, and ultimately, violent death by the hand of his friend, Aaron Burr.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Vera Series 5 - Muddy Waters - Episode Review

My review of the previous episode, Old Wounds.

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.
My reviews of the fourth season of Vera.

And it's back to the country - now Vera and Aiden investigate a death on a farm. We have a chilling body discovery in a slurry pit - the workers are trying to remove a blockage when up he bobs from the black goo. Whoever he was, his body was weighted down, which means this was no accident (or else a very creative suicide).

Monday, March 28, 2016

Vera Series 5 - Old Wounds - Episode Review

My review of the previous episode: Changing Tides.


"Don't blame the times; blame yourself."

This is Vera’s second shot at a historical murder (first was Crow’s Trap). Carrie Telling was dumped in the woods in the 80s, when Vera was a young W.P.C. At the time, miners and coppers were at odds, resulting in several violent confrontations. The dead girl’s father, Bill, still carries a lot of bitterness from the period: not only did the police fail to find his daughter, but he was a miner. He’s quick to expect the worst of Vera and Aiden, and his temper is strong enough that Vera thinks a bout of rage may have resulted in his daughter’s death.

Vera Series 5 - Changing Tides - Episode Review





My review of the previous season finale.

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.
My reviews of the fourth season of Vera.

The beginning of series 5 finds Vera returning from holiday. Because it's Vera, our workaholic, obsessive heroine - the holiday was occasioned by the death of a distant relative in Galway. Back at home, some things have changed. Shep has disappeared, replaced by Bethany Whelan - a returning supporting cast member from season 2. Kenny and Marcus remain, and as in series 4, have expanded roles. Most significantly, David Leon's Joe Ashworth has departed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Atticus Finch, Donald Trump, and Dragons




“It’s like being a caterpillar in a cocoon, that’s what it is,” [Jem] said. “Like somethin’ asleep wrapped up in a warm place.”
~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
There have been times in my life that I thought a fire-breathing dragon would be the best thing that could happen to my hometown. At a young age, I was more ambitious, desiring outright invasion, nuclear war, or perhaps a nice plague, just to shake things up. Of course, my conception of these disasters remained mostly in the abstract, literary plane. Once North Korean nukes had eradicated all the cities (not much of a loss), we Appalachians would be left to survive by our wits and discover adventure apart from the conveniences of civilization (think Red Dawn, but with Southern accents). What I really wanted was for someone to take our sleepy, complacent town by the scruff of the neck and shove its face in reality.

Vera Series 4 - Death of a Family Man - Episode Review

My review of the previous episode: The Deer Hunters.

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.

Despite the frightening title, Joe’s final episode doesn’t really focus on him. The most interesting change in dynamic comes from Robert Glenister’s Owen Preece, who is guesting as a rival and possible love interest for Vera. The latter half of that sentence doesn’t quite work. It’s certainly interesting to see the sparks fly when Vera encounters another authority figure (unlike Morse or comparable detective heroes, Vera has never embraced the underdog, anti-authoritarian hero storyline), but any romantic chemistry is firmly in Joe’s (and Celine’s) imagination.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Vera Series 6 - The Sea Glass - Episode Review

My review of the previous episode: The Moth Catcher

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.
My reviews of the fourth season of Vera.
My reviews of the fifth season of Vera.

Vera has spent plenty of time around the ocean, so I suppose it was inevitable that an episode finally move the investigation off-shore. Vera even gets to strap on a life-jacket and head to sea - surely, one for the memoirs.

The body is that of Tom Stonnell, and it's dredged up with a load of fish by a group of very alarmed trawlermen. It's uncertain whether the bloody wound to his head was an accident or a deliberate attack, but it's certainly suspicious enough that Vera can cackle delightedly - she has a murdah, pet.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Vera Series 4 - The Deer Hunters - Episode Review



My review of the previous episode: Protected.

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.

British detectives - as a class - tend to be aristocratic and city-based (from Wimsey to Holmes). True, there’s the occasional working class plodder - Lewis and Frost, for example - but Vera’s the first detective I’ve encountered with her feet firmly in the country earth (photographed incredibly, in what, I think, is the first use of drones filming Vera). Poor citified Joe looks pained as she scoops up a handful of animal droppings and smells them deeply. They’ve just discovered a body - and the droppings tell Vera they should be looking for poachers.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Vera Series 6 - The Moth Catcher - Episode Review


My review of the previous episode: Tuesday's Child.

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.
My reviews of the fourth season of Vera.
My reviews of the fifth season of Vera.

This is the second time this season Vera has employed the imagery of a girl running in the darkness - this time inter-cut with images of a glowing pyramid full of moths. Investigating the hit-and-run death of the girl, Alex Gartside, Vera and Aiden stumble onto a setting a bit out of their usual oeuvre of rugged plains and modern architecture: a stately home. As Vera's commented before, if it's a stately homes, there's always been a murder - and sure enough, Vera and Aiden stumble across another body - this one male.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentines for Nerds



Valentine's Day has arrived - the central day of the romantic year. It's the day we commemorate the death of St. Valentine, a Roman priest who (probably) got in trouble for marrying Christian couples in the reign of Claudius Gothicus in the 200s. Failing to convert the Emperor, he was then beaten to death and beheaded (still a better love story than Twilight).

Friday, February 12, 2016

Vera Series 4 - Protected - Episode Review

My review of the previous episode: On Harbour Street.

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.

This episode begins with somewhat of a repeat of the season 3 finale’s trick opening - a gaggle of glamorous girls are dancing on the beach, observed by a sleazy looking guy. One of the girls is separated from the others. Walking alone in the darkness, she stumbles. It’s the body of the watcher - he’s been bludgeoned to death. The man, not the woman, was the prey.

What's Up With Me - 2015/2016


I've been so busy that the only time I update this blog is usually for whatever British detective show I'm reviewing at the moment. I'm hoping to change that with a few non-detection-related posts coming down the pipe. These last four or five months have been absolutely crazy. Among the things that have happened:
  • I had an article on Twin Peaks and The X-Files published in The Weekly Standard. You know, published. Like, in an actual magazine. A magazine I read when I was a kid. I still can't quite believe that it happened.
  • On the first of the year, I was, through no virtue of my own, in an award-winning photograph, taken by my incredible sister, Sarah.
  • I wrote an article on The Lord of the Rings for the good folks over at Torrey Gazette. It's probably the closest thing I have to a spiritual testimony.
  • We've been keeping up with the podcast, and have added a new guest star to a vlog series, Mamaw Reviews: June Long. We've covered The Return of the King and Star Wars: A New Hope, so far, and as soon as sickness and snow abate, we'll be moving on to the rest of a galaxy far, far away.
  • I've been watching a lot of The X-Files (and contemplating a Best Of list, though this would probably be of interest only to myself) as my various social media timelines will attest, but an even better show (if, like me, you love British TV, Brenda Blethyn, and murder mysteries) that I've kept quiet about: Vera. I've been reviewing it, and you can watch the first three seasons here for free.
  • As usual, my reviews of Endeavour are my top-performing posts, shooting this blog's usual three or four thousand pageviews per month up to around sixteen thousand. The season was a bit uneven, but still very entertaining. Read my reviews here, but first, watch Inspector Morse.
  • Bonus: we've been discovering the wonderfulness of silent movies. Here's one to watch. And you should. Because it's great, and funny, and there are awesome stunts.
Longish

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Vera Series 6 - Tuesday's Child - Episode Review



My review of the previous episode: Dark Road.

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.
My reviews of the fourth season of Vera. 
My reviews of the fifth season of Vera.

When two teenage boys stumble into a cave, they have little idea that they're about to discover a body. Wrapped in plastic, it turns out to be the corpse of Jamie Thorne, a young man estranged from his family. Over Christmas, he'd stayed with Reverend George Haleford and his family, while working at Pevensey's fair, a local carnival, which provides a colorful setting for this episode of Vera.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Vera Series 6 - Dark Road - Episode Review

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.

My reviews of the fourth season of Vera. 
My reviews of the fifth season of Vera.

Bleak but gorgeous moors? Crows? A crowded pub? A girl running alone in the dark? No depressed Swedish detective in evidence? Must be Vera, and so it is. The girl in particular had just discovered the body of a woman, Anne Marie Richards, left in the wilderness for two weeks.

Marcus the Pathologist, who's looking rather older, hesitantly diagnoses a violent death. She'd been scheduled to have supper with her two daughters several weeks ago. A history of drugs and desertion meant they weren't particularly surprised when she was a no-show. But is that the only reason they refused to seek her out? Could they be responsible for her disappearance?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Vera Series 4 - On Harbour Street - Episode Review

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.

My review of the third season of Vera.

So: the first episode of series 4 finds Joe and his suddenly older daughter, (played by a different actress, Olivia Armstrong) Jessie, boarding the train after church. Among the crowd is Margaret Kraszewski, a do-gooder that the camera’s lingering gaze implies is not long for this world. Sure enough, when the crowd vacates the car, Jessie finds the old woman dead - stabbed in her lower back.

Vera - Series 3 - Review



My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.

Vera - Series 2 - Review

 My review of the first season of Vera.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Vera - Series 1 - Review






















Vera starts out slow. She's a hard sell is Vera Stanhope - tough, insecure, fearfully intelligent, and afraid of placing confidence in others. Joe Ashworth, the dishy sergeant to end all dishy sergeants (sorry, Hathaway), is, however, a patient man. He's prepared to wait, to chip away at her walls, to take her moods and temper. I think they're my favorite detective duo of all time.

What I offer here are the impressions I jotted down after each episode - minireviews, if you like, and more of a rough diary than anything, but here they are. You can watch the first three seasons free here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Top Books of 2015



Neil Gaiman's simply one of the best storytellers in the market right now. Mixing the whimsical and macabre, he uses an uncomplicated story to convey a powerful, understated effect. My dad described his writing thus: "It's like you're walking down an ordinary street and then you take a left turn and there's Faerie." The Graveyard Book is close to my favorite of his novels (Coraline might be the winner), and in it he sets us into a small world with a supernatural twist. Bod is an ordinary boy, raised by ordinary parents, who just happen to be ghosts. 

I read My Antonia once before in what was probably Middle School, but I obviously didn't get it. This was the time it finally clicked: the atmosphere, the untamed prairie, the romantic realism of it all. Also, that epilogue was about the most winsome portrait of a huge family that I've ever read.

Endeavour Season 3 - Coda - Episode Review

 My review of last week's episode: Prey

After last week's hijinks, Coda returns to more familiar territory. In many ways, this has been a wildly different series of Endeavour - so much so that it's been difficult to establish a status quo. Coda suffers from this, but in all the chaos, there are moments of pathos.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016

Endeavour Season 3 - Prey - Episode Review

 My review of last week's episode: Arcadia

The first Inspector Morse episode aired in 1987. Over the last twenty-nine years, we've seen death in many shapes and forms, from run-of-the-mill stranglings to murder as performance art in a recent Lewis. Murderers of all varieties passed across our screens, from adulterous wives to blackmailed college dons. But don't expect anything like that in Prey: this episode, Morse goes on Safari.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Endeavour Season 3 - Arcadia - Episode Review


My review of last week's episode: Ride

I don't suppose we could have plausibly continued the Morse-as-tourist-in-great-literature trend into the rest of the series, but I'm a little sad that this week doesn't find Morse as the mild-mannered Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited (I had my hopes: after all, this episode is called Arcadia) or snobbish Pip in Great Expectations, or any number of other literary middle-class hangers-on observing the enchanting world of the upper classes.

Of course, I kid. Morse in The Great Gatsby was a neat gimmick episode, but not a sustainable conceit. Even so, Morse as a character has always found himself an interloper in the world of others, and never more so than in Arcadia, an overstuffed episode which rather clumsily tries to get back into its usual groove.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Endeavour Season 3 - Ride - Episode Review


My review of last season's finale: Neverland

Well, that was unexpected.

After a few seasons, TV shows tend to sink into a comfortable rut, doing what they do best, refusing to stretch their limits. Endeavour did the impossible by pleasing fans of Inspector Morse with a nostalgic but courageously new pilot and first season. In season two, they tried to deepen the story a bit by hinting at the darkness creeping into Morse's life, and while the finale was gripping, the season as a whole lacked the freshness and verve of the early episodes. But Ride, the first episode of season three, gives the entire show a rehaul, both thematically and aesthetically. Endeavour is back, and it's better than ever.

[SPOILERS]

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sherlock - The Abominable Bride - Review


My review of the season 3 finale

Objectively speaking, The Abominable Bride is quite bad. It’s the sort of mess of fan service, self-indulgence, and petty delay which has become a hallmark of Sherlock since The Empty Hearse. But that’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable, in all its illogical absurdity.

The episode begins with a lightning recap of the first three seasons which reminds long-time viewers of a few series high points but does little to enlighten new fans. It then gives us a “what if” transition into an alternate universe. It’s 1895, post-Reichenbach, and Watson and Holmes are returning to 221B from a case. They’re just in time to meet Lestrade, who needs Holmes’s assistance on a murder.

It all began (he informs them) when the titular bride, Emelia Ricoletti, went mad and started taking potshots from her balcony at passersby, before blowing a hole in the back of her head. Later that evening, on his way to identify her corpse, her husband was stopped in the street by a creepy-looking woman in a wedding dress.

You can see where this is going. Emelia removes her veil and plugs her husband full of lead before evaporating into the mist. A series of similar murders crop up around the country, meaning Lestrade and Watson immediately think ghost rather than copycat murderer. Thankfully, Holmes is here to remind us several times ghosts don’t exist, and poetry is never true unless you’re an idiot. Hashtag the Enlightenment. Neil deGrasse Tyson would be proud.

Coroner Hooper (Louise Brealey with a stache) confirms that the Bride is most certainly dead, so it’s even more puzzling when Holmes and Watson are referred by Mycroft (satisfying canon with extreme girth), months later, to a wife who reports her husband, Sir Eustace Carmichael, is seeing the Bride. First of all, he receives orange pips in the mail, obviously a threat (Sherlockians will recognize the reference to The Five Orange Pips), and then begins to ramble on about seeing the Bride, who has come to exact revenge for some secret sin. When Holmes and Watson visit Sir Eustace, however, he denies the accusations, dismissing his wife’s story as female hysteria (hashtag misogyny).