Monday, November 30, 2009

Traditional Mysteries - A Request for Lists (TV and Books)

Last night in Houston, there was no Masterpiece Contemporary aired on our local PBS station. The previous two weeks had the riveting "Collision" by Anthony Horowitz, creator of the always fascinating "Foyle's War." I have to admit, I was seriously hankering for a traditional mystery, British or not. I scoured my local Blockbuster and found hardly any. When I tried to explain what I was looking for to the helpful Blockbuster employee, he thought I was referring to shows aired in the 50s and 60s.

Which brought me to a quandary: what is the "official" definition of "traditional mystery"?

Here's my take: I've always taken it to mean there is a murder, usually off screen (or off page). A detective is brought in to solve said murder. The detective can be a police official or a private detective. Usually there is more brain power used rather than bullets. The creators of said traditional mysteries give the reader/viewer all the clues at the same time as the detective and the reader/viewer can solve it ahead of time, given the right amount of deduction.

While I struggled over that definition, I wanted to know what other kinds of TV programs were available. I checked the Masterpiece Theater's website and only got previews. Hulu doesn't have much. So, my next question:

What are some good television shows and books that fall under the definition of "traditional mystery"?

Regarding TV, it seems the British have a lot going for them, what with "Prime Suspect," "Foyle's War," "Inspector Morris (?)", and others. Oh, and, of course, Periot and Marple. What are some other good ones?

Regarding books: I know about Christie, James, and the like. What are some other good authors and titles? And I don't mean just British ones either. I'd like to know some American authors/books, too.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts (2nd Game) - Haiku

First half beautiful.
Went shopping for second half.
Should have stayed longer.

Enjoyed first half.
Got worried as game went on.
End not surprising.

Genius in Football -
One name stands above all else:
Sir Peyton Manning.

Indianapolis Colts - 35
Houston Texans - 27

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Five Favorites from 2009

I'll be posting later in December about my favorite things of the decade (yeah, I'm a list maker) but I think I'll follow Patti Abbott's lead and list five things I loved this year.

TV: "Castle" - If I have to pick a Favorite Among Favorites, this is it. I have not been as entertained as I am with this show in a long time. The chemistry between the leads is gold and clearly the star of the show. That the sophomore season is tightening the writing is so much the better.

Honorable Mention TV: PBS's "Little Dorrit" - While not new for 2009, it was new for us Americans. I considered "Bleak House" to be the quintessential modern Dickens presentation. Well, it now has company.

Books: Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity by James Reasoner - I haven't had this much fun reading a new* book in a long time. Well, in at least a year (since Don Winslow's The Dawn Patrol and Christa Faust's Money Shot). Highly entertaining with its whimsy on its sleeve, the adventures of Gabriel Hunt is my favorite new* book of the year.

Honorable Mention Books: Trust Me by Jeff Abbott - Like I wrote in my review, sometimes summer blockbusters arrive in bookstores. This thrill-a-minute roller coaster of a book propels you from page one to “The End” faster than pretty much anything. Of all the books I read this year, this was the one I couldn’t wait to start reading again.

*This was the year when I finally read some classics: Treasure Island and Tarzan of the Apes. Reading these books made me feel twelve years old again. They have already vaulted into All-Time Favorites status. I also read The Man of Bronze (Doc Savage #1) and saw how much fun it is to read his adventures. Together, these books have already had an influence on my writing.

Comics: Wednesday’s Comics - A 12-issue mini-series, this title was published in the summer and was printed on paper the size of newspapers. The art and writing talent alone was enough to bring in readers (Azzarello, Gaiman, Bermajo, Kubert). The presentation, the tactile feel of newsprint under fingers, made it a joy to read.

Movies: Star Trek - When I saw the first trailer, I, a Trekkie, went “meh.” I saw the second one and I thought the show would be pretty good. By the third, I was making plans to take off work a half day and see this thing on the IMAX. Yowza what a movie! It didn’t bother me in the least that it screwed with all that we knew before. This new cast was stellar, the show highly entertaining, and I laughed so much more than I ever expected.

Honorable Mention Movies: Sherlock Holmes - Yeah, I know I haven’t seen it but it’s the movie that’ll make me break my Don’t-See-Movies-On-Christmas-Day Rule. I know I’m going to love it. It’s just a matter of time.

Music: Since I’m limiting myself to things released this year, this category, ironically, is the most challenging. Thanks to NPR’s survey of the best music of the decade, I’m currently digging in a huge way The Bad Plus’s 2003 CD “These are the Vistas” but it’s an old record. The year started with Andrew Bird’s “Noble Beast,” one of the most intellectual albums of the year. It’s opening track, “Oh No,” makes me want to start whistling better. In a year when Springsteen releases a record, he’s usually the default winner. “Working on a Dream” is a good record but not the best of his 00s releases. This was the year The Decemberists followed up their spectacular album (“The Crane Wife”) with “The Hazards of Love.” It’s a good CD but not my favorite.

Late this year, I’ve got a strong contender from an unlikely source: classical. The Orange Mountain Music (free at Amazon) samples some of the best (?) works by Philip Glass (see Honorable Mention #2). Glass has been a mystery to me for almost his entire career. I love this collection and have already scoured my local libraries to find two full albums of material. I especially appreciate that he writes for saxophone.

The one CD I can pretty much cast my ballot towards is Roy Hargrove’s first big band CD, “Emergence.” This record, eleven tracks in all, is a rich blend of old and new. On certain tracks, “Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey,” you’d think you were in the 1940s. Other tracks, like “Tschpiso” and “Requiem,” remind you that you are firmly in the 21st Century. Hargrove, however, never forgets when he comes from, as you can tell in the opening track, “Valera,” that pays homage to Miles Davis’s “Nefertiti.” I don’t usually listen to instrumental music on the daily commute and I almost always listen to my music on random. This CD changes things. I let it play. And play. And play.

Honorable Mention Music #1: Radiolarians II by Medeski, Martin & Wood - David Cranmer posted a link to “Amber Gris” on his blog and I was hooked. The odd time signature leaves you off-kilter with a beat that pushes you towards the end. The rest of the CD is a smorgasbord of rhythms, sounds, and textures sure to suck you in and leave you wanting more.

Honorable Mention Music #2: John Adams “City Noir” - If you needed the reason I actually downloaded that Philip Glass compilation, this is it. I happened upon an episode of PBS’s “Great Performances” when they showed the debut concert of the LA Philharmonic conducted by the exciting Gustavo Dudamel. The second piece was Mahler’s First Symphony. The piece that got me listening was the work Dudamel commissioned from Adams. “City Noir” is that wonderful type of modern classical music: melodic, with rhythms that were born in the 20th Century, and yet different enough that you know you’re not listening to Mozart. I recorded the rebroadcast of “Great Performances” and have watched it a couple more times. I eagerly await the release of the John Adams portion of the concert (oddly, not available but the Mahler part is). If it’s released in 2010, I already have a strong contender for Best CD of 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CSI: Miami - "Kill Clause" Review

My recap of last night CSI: Miami episode, "Kill Clause," is available over at BSCReview.com. See if you don't think it's a step in the right direction for storytelling and new guy, Jesse (Eddie Cibrian).

Houston Texans vs. Tennesse Titans - Haiku

One, simple vic’try
Is all we ask for in games
That go national.

Wide left. Wide left. Twice!
We sure Kris Brown’s not kin to
Norwood? Is Brown gone?

Vince beat us again.
Why the hell do we have to
Play him twice a year?

Tennessee Titans - 20
Houston Texans - 17

Monday, November 23, 2009

Variations on a Theme

In the music world, composers often take one theme--be it theirs or the melody of a previous composer--and write a new piece. This new piece that emerges can be a variation on the original theme. Sometimes, the new composer enjoys the theme so much that he creates more than one new variation. Here's The Source of All Truth (Wikipedia) on "Variations."

Last night, while watching the conclusion of the compelling "Collision"* on PBS's Masterpiece Contemporary, an idea struck me. Hey, what if...and I got Idea #1. I put it on a notecard and finished the program.

Afterward, while getting trounced in Scrabble by my wife (you don't want to know the score. Really.), I scribbled down a few more thoughts on Idea #1. That, of course, led to a modification of Idea #1, thus creating a new, separate notecard containing Idea #2. Both are decent and, undoubtedly, a third idea could emerge.

Thus my question: is there, in literature, a series of works that take the same basic premise and create variations? Variations on a Mugging? Variations on a Robbery?

Just wondering...

*"Collision" was created by Anthony Horowitz, the man who gave us "Foyle's War." I can't recommend "Foyle's War" highly enough. I've written about it before (here and here). Get thee to your local library and see if they have any of the seasons available. Or, of course, you could just buy it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Forgotten Books and Upcoming December Events

I'm currently reading the second Doc Savage novel, "The Land of Terror," but didn't finish it by yesterday. Look for that review next week.

And tune in on Fridays in December when, in honor of two things (Mystery A and Mystery B), I'll be reviewing a special four-book series. I don't think it takes a huge leap of logic to let you know what they are.

And check back on 2 December when I'll throw up a Christmas-related book for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Batman/Doc Savage - First Wave

I'm a newcomer to Doc Savage. I've only read the first story, "The Man of Bronze," (my review) and I'm reading the second story, "The Land of Terror," right now. Me and Bats go back a long way.

Still, this pairing has got me drooling. And check out the writer for this one-shot: Brian Azzarello. Yeah, it just got better.

Head on out to your nearest comic shop. I am...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CSI: Miami - "Bone Voyage" Recap

My recap of the first part of the CSI Trilogy is now posted at BSCReview.com. See if you picked up a musical reference from "The Dark Knight" and let me know what you think of this November sweeps event.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts - Haiku

I'm sick of almost!
Good drives killed by penalties.
Now, a loooong fortnight.

Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap!
Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap!
Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap!

Indianapolis Colts - 20
Houston Texans - 17

Non-haiku thoughts:
They say that the Texans can play good against anybody any given Sunday. And we can. Just look at today. Someday, we're going to have prove it on the scoreboard.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Lone Ranger: Now and Forever

(This is my latest entry for Patti Abbott's Forgotten Books Project.)

Reboots can be a tricky thing. When you get it right (Batman Begins, Casino Royale, Star Trek), it’s fantastic. When you get it wrong (Terminator 3; Terminator: Salvation, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull [not a true reboot but it keeps with my thesis]), it’s horrible. Thus, when I learned that Dynamite Comics was re-introducing The Lone Ranger, I was hesitant. This is one of the longest and storied franchises in pop culture.

Most everyone knows at least one thing about the Lone Ranger, even if it’s tangentially. Would the writers and artists update this beacon of goodness with a bunch of violence and language (in short, would they “Deadwood”-ify it) or make it too cheesy? Curious, I bought volume 1 trade paperback and cracked it open.

Boy, was I worried for nothing. I haven’t read anything this entertaining since Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity or Tarzan of the Apes. As Geoff Johns writes in the introduction, this new comics adventure of the Lone Ranger and Tonto is an updating to the legend but all the aspects of the legend remains intact and in place. What writer Brett Matthews has done, however, is give order and an origin to just about every aspect that we know about the Lone Ranger.

This is an origin story, plain and simple. Texas Ranger John Reid is the lone survivor of an ambush. Fellow Rangers perish including his older brother and father. Reid himself is barely alive before Tonto, a Native American Indian, nurses the dying Ranger back to life. Here, Tonto’s origins are merely hinted at in off-hand references and stoic silences. You get the sense that Tonto is older and wiser than the young Reid who has to come to terms with what happened and his desire for single-minded revenge.

One by one, all the elements that make up the whole of the Lone Ranger legend gets a spotlight shined on it. Why Reid wears a mask. Check. Where he gets the silver. Check. How he finds his horse, Silver. Check. And, in a touching moment, why he says “hi-yo Silver.” It’s all here. Oh, and Butch Cavendish is here, too. Of all the things changed, Cavendish is the one. I can’t quite remember what he was like in the old radio shows or the TV show but, suffice it to say, he probably wasn’t what he is here. There’s also a hired killer and he’s a bad ass.

The relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto is the best part. Tonto keeps prodding the young Reid to be the man he knows the west needs. He does it by teaching, sometimes with words, sometimes with fists. There’s a lot more light-hearted banter and comedy than I expected but it doesn’t detract from the sobering themes of revenge and justice and finding one’s place in life. A nice touch in the dialogue bubbles is the use of smaller text to indicate whispering or off-hand asides. It brings the entire story that much more into realism.

The art by Sergio Cariello is fantastic and quite detailed. There are whole pages and panels where you can see and feel the dirt and grit of the old west. Others are the mark of subtle artist, displaying all the emotions in the eyes. The giant splash pages and covers are magnificent and really evoke that old-school charm of the Lone Ranger.

I only started reading westerns last year and already I’ve been bitten by the western bug. I’ve read a few since then (I’ve even written one with more to follow) but I’d have been reading westerns for a couple of years now had I read The Lone Ranger when it debuted in 2007. Do yourself a favor: pick up this trade paperback and return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review Club: Heat Wave by Richard Castle

(This is the November entry in Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list, head on over to her blog.)

The concept of the ABC television program "Castle" is straight-forward. Richard Castle, world famous mystery novelist, pulls strings and gets himself assigned a tagalong role with the NYPD, specifically Detective Kate Beckett and her squad. Beckett, in turn, serves as the inspiration of Castle's new book series starring Nikki Heat. As season two opens, the first Nikki Heat book, Heat Wave, is on the shelves and making waves.

In a clever bit of meta-promotion, ABC hired someone (createor Andrew Marlowe?) to write the actual Heat Wave book and attribute it to Richard Castle. Nice, huh? Being a huge fan of the show (my #1 favorite show on TV; send me an e-mail and I'll wax poetic on why I love it so), it was a no-brainer that I'd buy the book via Audible and give it a listen.

In Heat Wave, Nikki Heat and her squad have Jameson Rook tagging along. Rook is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is doing some background research on the NYPD and Nikki's squad drew the short straw. The rest of Heat's squad is Detectives Raley and Ochoa, mirroring Detectives Ryan and Esposito on the show. When Heat refers to or thinks of her partners together, she gives them the nickname "Roach." Dang clever again. The one thing you don't have in the book (with Rook) is the father/daughter dynamic that is one of the most charming aspects of the television show. Rook's a bachelor, a "doable" bachelor as Heat's friend, Lauren, later tells her. And, just like Fillion says in the pre-credit sequence, Rook is "rougishly handsome."

Like any good police procedural on television, the story starts right off with a death: a real estate tycoon who met death via the pavement under his sixth-floor window. For those of y'all in the back row, he was thrown out the window. In the pages that follow, Heat, Rook, and her squad investigate a myriad of clues, some unreleated, and we get a parade of suspects, colorful and ordinary.

The mystery wasn't earth-shattering although it did involve a few interesting turns. What drives the book and the television show is the chemistry of its two leads. In this case, Heat and Rook have their various tete-a-tetes in situations that are funny and irritating. The book is entirely from Nikki's POV so we get her internal thoughts on why her stomach flutters when Rook's near, the likelihood of her and Rook acutally getting together, and her utter exasperation when Rook doesn't listen to her orders and gets himself into one dire situation after another. It's a nice addition to the what we get on screen with little looks, eye rolls, and awkward moments. In a sort of reverse extrapolation, I now see TV's Beckett in a new light.

Middle way through the book, there's a scene of genuine tension. I don't want to give too much away but let me just paint the scene. Nikki's alone in her apartment, naked, having just taken a bath. An intruder's in her apartment. He's after her. What follows is a great scene, full of tension, action, and gumption. Very truthful, if you ask me, and I was roundly happy for how the writer ended the scene.

In a nod to what everyone wants to know about the TV show--will Castle and Beckett get together or won't they--Heat Wave answers the question for Nikki and Rook. And I'm not telling which way it went, either. You'll have to read the book to find out and make your own conclusion on what happened.

I've read on various websites (best one is CastleTV.net) that the novel is doing quite well, As of Tuesday, it's #23 on the Amazon bestseller list, #2 on Barnes & Noble's website, and #6 on the New York Times Bestseller list. That's got to be good news for the series and it's staying power. I can't help but think if it'll spawn another book. I'd read it in a heartbeat.


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Tuesday, November 3, 2009