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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Recently read: "Moonlight Mile" by Dennis Lehane

Moonlight Mile

Moonlight Mile

The newest novel from Dennis Lehane, and a return to his detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie (Gennaro) Kenzie.  The two, after being reunited as partners (and lovers) in the previous book (Prayers for Rain), are now married with a four year old daughter.  Angie is in school, and Patrick is attempting to keep the family afloat with his detective work in a rotten economy, doing temp jobs for a big agency while they dangle the possibility of a permanent job.

Twelve years before (in Gone, Baby, Gone), the two had found missing four year old Amanda McCready, and the act of returning her to a neglectful mother drove a wedge between them.  Patrick still doesn't know if he made the right decision, and when Amanda's aunt asks him to find the girl (now a brilliant 16 year old) he finds himself forced to rethink his previous actions.

We get Russian mobsters, the usual violence, and some ruminations on nature vs nurture.  We also see how important family is to Patrick, and how much young Gabriella means to both of them.  The years, and particulary the violence, has worn down Kenzie, and the choices he makes gives the book it's emotional heft. 

We may not see another Kenzie/Gennaro book, and if so, that's ok.  I'd like to think that the two could finally live a live away from the violence and stupidity that they so often have had to deal with.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Recently viewed: "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex"

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex

Wow, another great movie from 1939!  Bette Davis plays Queen Elizabeth, who must deal with her love for the Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn) and his desire to rule England (either along side her, or alone).  Davis was only 31 here, and plays the much older Elizabeth through makeup (shaving her eyebrows and hairline) and actions.  Flynn plays the much younger Earl (though he was only a year younger than Davis) as hot tempered and eager to achieve military fame.

Like many movies around historical figures, this one plays loose with facts (painting the Earl much more favorably, and adding in a conspiracy preventing Elizabeth and Essex from receiving each other letters) but the acting is marvelous.  The interior scenes are great, with the color being very vivid, but the exterior battle scenes are clearly on a sound stage and suffer a bit.

This DVD version is one of the "Warner's Night at the Movies" designed to stimulate a typical movie night from the time.  We get a preview (Davis in Dark Victory), a Newsreel, a musical short ("The Royal Rodeo") and a Chuck Jones directed cartoon ("Old Glory" with Porky Pig).  It makes for a fun viewing experience.

Recently read: "The Fall" by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

The Fall

The Fall: Book Two of the Strain Trilogy

The second book in the vampire trilogy by del Toro and Hogan (following The Strain) .  Here, the vampire virus has basically taken over New York City, and is quickly spreading to other parts of the country and world.  CDC doctor Eph Goodweather, with his wife already a vampire, must protect his son and try to fight the spreading threat. He is aided by coworker Nora Martinez, exterminator Vasiliy Fet and Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian, who has been fighting vampires since his time in a concentration camp.

The fight opens up here, and we see that it is a struggle between "the Master" and the other original ancients.  The ancients employ their own vampire hunters, including gang member Gus and former wrestler/actor Angel.  At the same time, Setrakian believes that the key to destroying the Master lies in a 17th century book, which is being put up for auction.

The authors take on vampires is a bit different, though they have some of the usual weakness (silver, and light--particularly ultraviolet).  There are no fangs (instead there is a "stinger" that comes out of their throat).  The virus is passed along through "blood worms".  There's a lot of fighting and destruction, with the book being in many ways a story of civilization crumbling.  It's definitely the middle book of a trilogy, with a "lull" in the story, but no ending. 

If you like del Toro's movies, there's a good chance you'll like this, since his vision seems to driving the book (though I'm not familiar with Hogan's other work).  With a collaboration like this, I would assume that Hogan did most of the actual writing, though I don't know that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Recently viewed: "Shutter Island"

Shutter Island

This is the Martin Scorsese adaption of the Dennis Lehane novel, set in 1954, with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the main character, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels.  I read the novel (and am rapidly catching up on Lehane's entire back list) and thought it was quite good as a psychological mystery, with a twist ending that I didn't see coming.  The plot has Daniels and his (new) partner taking the ferry (the book and movie opens with them on the ferry, with Daniels being sea sick) to Shutter Island, where there is a penal institution for the criminally insane.  There is an escaped patient (disappearing from a locked room, and trapped on an island with only a single way off), and the marshalls are called in to find her.  Daniels has an additional reason to be there, since he believes that one of the patients is the arsonist that was responsible for the fire that killed Daniels' wife.

The movie ends up being disappointing to me.  Scorsese makes it appear as Gothic horror, with Daniels seeing visions (his dead wife and a child, memories of his war experiences in liberating Dachau), and the institution appearing menacing (including an isolated lighthouse, where Daniels believes experimental surgeries are taking place).  It's quite clear early that Daniels has problems, where the book seemed to draw out the suspense a bit more (though I don't think you could figure out the final twist in either book or movie).

Both book and movie do address some of the issue with treatment of mentally ill patients (the head psychiatrist, played by Ben Kingsley, believes that with the right care he can possibly cure patients, instead of using lobotomies or drugs)

Recently read: "Devil Red" by Joe R. Lansdale

Devil Red

Devil Red

The newest (eighth) book about Hap and Leonard, we find Hap having what appears to be a crisis of conscience as he wonders if what he and Leonard do (they're now working as investigators for former policeman turned private detective Marvin Hanson, and the first job we see has them beating up two petty criminals for payback after the robbery of an elderly lady) is any better than they scum they do it too.  After investigating an older murder (with hints of a vampire cult), they start to realize that there may be a viscous assassin (who leaves a red devil head at the scene of the murders) operating around the country.  Finding one of their leads murdered (after he was questioned by the boys) leads to Hap having a nervous breakdown.

Following Vanilla Ride, I thought that this book might be falling back on the mass murderer/assassin plot too quickly, but the story really centers on the relationship between the boys (Leonard has taken to wearing a deerstalker hat, which drives Hap crazy).  They are getting older, and I wonder how long Lansdale can come up with plots where the two can handle the violence while staying semi realistic, but the book is as funny as ever.

Recently read: "Dream Park" by Larry Niven and Steve Barnes

Dream Park

Dream Park

This is a re-release of the original Dream Park novel (the fourth book is scheduled to be released this summer) so I grabbed a Kindle copy to see how well it holds up.  Set in "Dream Park", a California amusement park, where one of the major attraction is role playing games (what we now call a LARP--Live Action Role Playing Game).  There's holograms and tricks used to make the experience seem realistic, and "game masters" running the game behind the scene.  I'm assuming this was the first book mention of this sort of thing, though LARP are supposed to have started in the late '70's.

The book itself is a mystery, as a Dream Park security guard is found murdered while the "South Seas Treasure Game" is ongoing.  The Game is a major event, basically a duel between a Game Master and the player's "Lore Master".  Set in the South Pacific, its basis is Cargo Cult mythology, which makes a marvelous setting for the game.  After the guard is found murdered, the Park's security chief, Alex Griffin, is inserted into the game as a player, since it looks like one of the gamers might be the murderer.

As a mystery, I'm not sure it's that good (I suppose you could figure out one of the criminals before Griffin, though with this reread I had not remembered).  What I did remember was how much fun the game itself was, and how much joy Niven and Barnes provided (this harks back to the best of early Niven, which always seemed to me to be about the joy of ideas).  I do miss the original cover art (a marvelous scene with the gamers in boats, fighting a sea serpent)

There are two sequels, both of which I've read but don't remember that well, but I may go ahead and try them again.  The Moon Maze Game will be released in August.