Thursday, November 26, 2009

"You Can't Hide" by Karen Rose

Tess Ciccotelli is a psychiatrist whose patients are dying in mysterious circumstances - and she looks like the prime suspect. Detective Aidan Reagan thinks she's a cold-hearted bitch, but slowly comes to change his mind the more he gets to know her. It doesn't take long for the police department to figure out that Tess is being set up. And she's being set up by somebody who obviously really, really hates her. Soon, not only are her patients targets, but so is anybody who knows her - friends, family, mere acquaintances and those who simply have the misfortune to say hello to her.

This being a romantic thriller, much of the focus is on the developing relationship between Tess and Aidan, but I have to admit that it was handled quite well here. The main barrier to their happiness lies in a previous case where Tess gave evidence in court that let a child-killer live out the rest of his life in a psychiatric institution, as opposed to rotting on death row. Aidan discovered the body of the last victim, and can't believe she could help effectively set a killer free. This sort of material is deeper than much of what you find in this genre, so it helped the two characters feel like real people, as opposed to two people who simply get together because that's what's supposed to happen.

The plot is also well-constructed. While there are a few plot strands that simply feel like filler, Rose for the most part delivers a twisty suspense tale. I'm happy to announce that I didn't figure out the identity of the killer - the clues are there, and I was pleased that it all went right over my head.

"You Can't Hide" arrived earlier in Rose's career, and I suspect that might be why it is of a much higher standard than her current work. Since she's now churning out a couple of thrillers a year these days, the quality has slid. Nevertheless, it's always a pleasant surprise to come across something much better than you were expecting it to be. Refreshingly clear of many of the cliches found in the romantic suspense genre, "You Can't Hide" is one that should be hunted down.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Close Enough To Kill" by Beverly Barton

This is another one of those romantic suspense novels where the lead characters spend as much time thinking lustful thoughts about each other as they do hunting a serial killer. The culprits this time around are Sheriff Bernadette "Bernie" Granger and her new deputy Jim Norton, who was once a big-time football player. She had a big crush on him when she was a teenager, so she tries to keep her feelings in check whenever he's around. As for him, he's taken the job to be closer to his son, whose mother has spent a lot of energy on keeping the two apart. Although a lot of effort is spent on establishing that Bernie is a plain woman, Jim slowly develops feelings of attraction toward her (despite taking a couple of cracks at her sister first - what a guy!)

Oh yeah, and they're hunting a serial killer. He's called The Secret Admirer, as he first seduces his prey with innocent notes and gifts. Then he proceeds to send them kinky S&M sketches, before kidnapping, raping, torturing and murdering them. Quite a few women become victims, and the finger points at all the handsome, eligible bachelors in the town. I figured the killer the moment he was introduced. I kept thinking: "Oh come on, it really can't be that obvious! I'm not THAT clever!" Seriously, the killer's identity was meant to be a surprise?

"Close Enough To Kill" works fine on a trashy level. There's lots of sex, rape and death to keep you occupied, all delivered with a complete lack of class. The writer has a curiously blunt approach to her descriptions. My favourites were: "After raping her in the anus with a wooden phallus..." and "Damn, what a pair of tits!", the latter being Jim's internal response when he finally gets Bernie out of her bra. But to be fair, Barton generates at least a little suspense in the sequences where the women are being initially stalked - one woman's car breaks down, and another woman is nabbed despite having police protection.

Fairly indistinguishable from much of the genre's output, and I doubt romance readers are going to appreciate Barton's unimaginative, crass descriptions of rape and murder.

"City Of The Sun" by David Levien

Nearly two years after their son disappears, Paul and Carol Gabriel are forced to get the help of private detective Frank Behr when the police appear to be doing nothing. Behr is haunted by the death of his own son, so this latest case hits closer to home. He's eventually convinced to let Paul accompany him in the investigation, which opens up leads that suggest the boy is still alive.

"City Of The Sun" has rave reviews from other writers, amongst them being quote-whore Harlan Coben, but also from Michael Connelly and my own favourite - Robert Crais. So I did hold out hope that this would be a dark, suspenseful experience. And while it is a dark story, there just wasn't enough going on for me to be truly gripped. Behr's sources, which help him in developing new leads, conveniently pop up when needed. And the answer to the "mystery", when it comes, is pretty by-the-numbers, with a pretty outlandish climax.

With precious few plot twists (if any) to ratchet up the tension, it's pretty much the reader wallowing in the misery of depressed, burnt-out characters. A follow-up has just hit the shelves, but I might pass on it.

By the way, the long absence between posts is due to a faulty laptop, and a lack of funds in obtaining a new one. In that time, I've also read "Life Sentences" by Laura Lippman. But it was a boring, pointless pile of shit that doesn't really warrant a review - and is the first book I've ever taken to a second-hand bookstore. Both that and "City Of The Sun" were simply too easy to put down, so that's why I've done little reading in the last couple of months.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"The Darker Side" by Cody McFadyen

This is the third book to feature Special Agent Smoky Barrett, coming after "Shadow Man" and "The Face Of Death". The former was a solid serial killer thriller, but the latter is one of the best entries in the genre. Despite a pretty awful beginning 40 pages, "The Face Of Death" developed into a fast-paced, genuinely scary and even moving thriller. It comes highly recommended.

When an author's second book vastly improves over the first, I take that to be a good sign. So I was very much looking forward to "The Darker Side". Alas, with greater expectations come greater disappointments, as "The Darker Side" is a very by-the-numbers affair, with the curious lack of drive in the proceedings exposing some of the author's more annoying traits - ones I was able to gloss over in previous outings because the stories were so involving.

Agent Barrett's case this time is to chase a killer who seems to be using his victim's deepest, darkest secrets against them. He'll get them to reveal their worst sin before murdering them. The first victim turns out to be the transexual son of a Senator. Although much is made of this political connection for the first part of the novel, it's basically forgotten about by the time the book is over - just one of the many faults to be found here. But, moving on....the second victim is a reformed drug and sex addict, which leads Barrett and her team to the woman's church and Father Yates, the priest she made her confessions to. From here, Barrett realises there's a very strong religious undertone to the murders and that the numbers 142 and 143 found on each victim means that her killer has actually been in operation for a very long time....

"The Darker Side" just has everybody - the author and the characters - going through the motions. It's clear McFadyen has run out of ways to move these people along. Smoky Barrett has endured being raped by a madman and watching as he murdered her husband. Same madman also mutilated her face. In the previous books, we learnt Smoky shot and killed her daughter while aiming to shoot and kill the madman, who used the daughter as a shield (these events all took place before "Shadow Man", so I'm not spoiling anything). In this book, we learn a couple more horrible truths about Smoky that she's had to endure. I mean, it's getting a little ridiculous. We're up to the third book here. It seems McFadyen only seems to be able to develop and define Smoky through the tragedies she has endured. Well, buddy, you're running out of credible ways to do this. Time to create new characters, or move the focus primarily to the plot, and further away from the characters we already have.

The other thing that really bugged me here was the way people talked. Callie, a member of Smoky's team, calls everybody "honey-love". Bonnie, Smoky's adopted daughter, calls her "Momma-Smoky". Kirby Mitchell, a character from "The Face Of Death" (who, realistically, doesn't even need to be here) calls Callie "Callie-babe". I mean, ugh! Enough! It was really irritating, and was highly noticeable because the plot here was so lacking. The religious theme to the murders was pretty ho-hum, the motive a real non-event, and the killer himself wasn't terribly interesting.

The fact that "The Darker Side" was a bit of a bomb doesn't mean I'll be giving up on the author. "The Face Of Death" was an excellent book, and I'm of the belief that somebody who can turn out a winner like that deserves a second chance.

"City Of Fear" by Alafair Burke

Generic title for a generic crime story in which homicide detective Ellie Hatcher comes across the dead body of a party girl while on a morning jog. She has cuts on her body and some of her hair has been hacked off. The investigation quickly leads to a prime suspect, Jake Myers, who hooked up with the dead girl at a club shortly before she died. The evidence against him is pretty tight, and all involved think they've got their man. But Ellie is then alerted to three old cold cases by a still-grieving father of one of the victims. All were young girls. All were snatched after being at popular clubs. And something has been done with their hair.

Ellie isn't sure whether to forge ahead with the case she has, or investigate further and see if she can make any links. The reader already knows that the same killer is behind all murders, so it's basically a matter of waiting for the book's characters to catch up. This is one of those books that's happy to just coast along without any surprises or originality. So much time is spent on Jake Myers - first building the case against him, then uncovering the conspiracy he hatched with buddies and lawyers to get somebody else to confess for him - that it simply becomes dull. We know that Jake isn't the killer! Give us a little something to keep us involved! The revelation that Ellie is connected to the case, and in the killer's sight - something that would happen much earlier in a better book - doesn't come until well into the third act.

"City Of Fear" is easy to read and does deliver some of the requirements of the genre. But just because you're not covering any new ground in the crime genre is no excuse to deliver something so lacking in suspense. Burke has got police procedure and law down pat - but so what? Just because it seems accurate doesn't make it interesting. This one needs far more surprises, to be more suspense-driven, to be more interesting, to even compete with the big names in crime.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Road Kill 2: Dead Ahead"

The original "Road Kill" was a great thriller starring Paul Walker and Steve Zahn as two brothers who play a trick over a CB radio against a trucker by the moniker of "Rusty Nail". Of course, a pissed off Rusty Nail sought revenge, relentlessly stalking the brothers.

In this day-and-age of endless direct-to-DVD sequels, it's quite astounding the variation in quality you can find. "Wrong Turn 2" was gorier, funnier and more entertaining than many theatrically released films. "The Grudge 3" and "Boogeyman 3" were fairly blah. "Pulse 2" was pretty darn awful.

Luckily, I felt "Road Kill 2: Dead Ahead" was well above average. And it actually brings back Rusty Nail, rather than just being an in-name-only sequel. This time around, two sisters (Nicki Aycox, Laura Jordan) and their boyfriends (Nick Zano, Kyle Schmid) break down in the desert on the way to Las Vegas. After a bit of hiking, they come across an abandoned house with a 1971 Corvette inside. They decide to borrow the car until they can find a rental car. Then they'll return with the Corvette - and some cash. But the car belongs to none other than Rusty Nail, and that pisses him off. He kidnaps Zano, and puts the other three through various mental and physical tortures in an effort to save him.

This one really sucked me in. It builds up the suspense at a steady pace, before finally letting loose with a gruelling torture scene, a couple of exciting car-chase sequences and a couple of other suspenseful scenarios. Director Louis Morneau has been behind many a direct-to-DVD venture, and he's had more than his share of duds, but he really seems to be in his element here. He also gets good performances out of his actors - the torture scene is actually largely free of gore, but the two actors involved look so frightened, and in so much pain, you really buy into it.

"Road Kill 2: Dead Ahead" seems to have received largely negative reviews on-line. But I found it to be well-crafted schlock, with a cast and crew who actually seemed invested in how the final product would turn out.

"The Haunting Of Molly Hartley"

Although I love the made-for-TV domestic/stranger-from-hell thriller, I'm not overly fond of the made-for-TV supernatural/ghost-story thriller. "The Haunting Of Molly Hartley" - which doesn't actually involve any haunting - plays a lot like something you might expect to see on cable TV. I've already been disappointed by such fare as "Devil's Diary" and "Deadly Pledge", and this flick, which was released theatrically in America, barely rises above the level of those two movies.

The plot has Molly (Haley Bennett) rapidly approaching her 18th birthday. She's experiencing nosebleeds, panic attacks and weird visions. Perhaps understandable, since she recently survived being stabbed in the chest with a pair of scissors by her own mother. Her mother, now locked up in an asylum, was of the belief she was trying to save her daughter from a terrible legacy. One that would come to fruition on....oh my God....her 18th birthday!

Kind of like "The Uninvited", this one covers up the fact that absolutely NOTHING is happening by throwing in plenty of Molly's aforementioned nosebleeds, panic attacks and weird visions. There's about five in the first twenty minutes. Add to that plenty of false scares - a few of which admittedly got me. And that's what's so annoying about this uninspired hack job. Director Mickey Liddell clearly knows how to set up his shock scenes. If he actually had a script to go along with his budding directorial talent, there could be a decent movie to be found. Unfortunately, what we're left with here (after a pretty decent prologue) is a series of boo scares leading up to an amazingly flat, "who cares" finale. It's like everybody involved didn't care how it ended either.

"The Haunting Of Molly Hartley" looks good, moves along quickly, has a solid cast, and certainly isn't boring. But it is one of the emptiest so-called thrillers I've come across in a long time. Wait until it comes to television - where it truly belongs.


I must admit it's good to see these sorts of domestic thrillers back in the mainstream again, since they've pretty much been relegated to the realm of TV movies and direct-to-DVD releases. We've had "Disturbia", "Lakeview Terrace" (which I keep meaning to see) and more recently "Orphan". This time around it's "Obsessed", which made a crapload of money at the box office in America, but curiously bypassed theatres here in Australia. It stars Idris Elba as an ad exec with a beautiful wife (Beyonce Knowles), a young child and a big new house. But when temp Lisa (Ali Larter) shows up at work, trouble starts brewing. It's clear she's got a thing for him, but he's clearly not got a thing for her. This doesn't stop her from mauling him in the bathroom at the Christmas party, or letting herself into his car and flashing him a glimpse of her in bra and panties. He keeps on rebuffing her, which only seems to make her more and more determined.

I love TV movies, so I've already seen this plot at least 1600 times. But I'm still not bored of it yet, and I appreciated the fact that "Obsessed" didn't pretend to be anything it wasn't. I turned my brain off, went with the flow, and wasn't insulted with any ridiculous last-minute plot twists, as is so apt to happen in thrillers these days. I expected certain things from this movie, and I got them. Sometimes a generic product can be a liability, but in this case I think there's something to be said for a movie that delivers pretty much what you're wanting from it. Crazy hot woman? Check. Douche bag main character unable to make a smart decision? Check. Domesticated stay-at-home wife who suddenly turns into Chuck Norris in big climax? Check! I was a little disappointed we didn't get the best-friend/colleague-who-figures-out-what-psycho-is-up-to-and-cops-it-good subplot (who can forget Julianne Moore getting sliced to ribbons by the rigged greenhouse in "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle"?), but was able to let it slide.

The acting is on-the-ball. In particular, Idris Elba makes for a likeable lead, even if his character is a bit of a dolt. Beyonce Knowles lacks the acting chops of her co-stars, but she's not nearly as bad as people make her out to be, and she's certainly no worse than any of the actresses who take on similar roles in similar TV movies. Ali Larter is a stand-out - she's an absolute stunner and seems to be having a really good time with the role. In fact, I wanted to know more about the character. What made her this way? What's her motive? In the script, she's just a nutjob, end of story.

You won't be surprised by anything in this movie. You'll nitpick at all the plot holes. You'll marvel at the ridiculous, over-the-top catfight that caps things off. But secretly you'll love it. I certainly did. Every predictable, manipulative minute of it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


One of my favourite horror movies is "High Tension", a French flick with an utterly stupid twist ending. So why is it a favourite? Because what happens after that twist ending is so over-the-top and bloody you can't help but love it. So I didn't have any hesitation in plonking down money for "Inside", another French horror movie that has received praise from horror fans for being uncompromising and, of course, outrageously gruesome.

"Inside" focuses on Sarah (Alysson Paradis), a pregnant woman right on the verge of giving birth. She's somewhat apathetic about the whole thing, as her husband recently died in a car crash. However, she's forced to fight for her life, and the life of her unborn child, when her home is broken into by a mysterious woman (Beatrice Dalle) who makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she wants Sarah's baby. And she's willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get it. Anybody who ventures into Sarah's home, whether it be to visit or, later, to try and rescue her, they are typically subjected to a violent, gruesome demise.

For the most part, "Inside" seemed to me to be your typical post-"Saw" horror movie. Lots of gore, bouts of brutal violence, some genuine suspense amongst the unpleasantness. I was thinking "yeah, it's a good movie, nothing special". Then along comes the final 5-10 minutes, which basically made me fall off the couch, whilst watching the screen through the gaps in my fingers. Yikes. Wow. Just when I thought I'd seen everything....

I'm now in the process of making sure everybody I know who can handle a flick like this watches it. Anybody else should be very wary....


Killer kid movies are nothing new. "The Bad Seed" back in the 50s started it all, and in 1992 there was the minor cult classic "Mikey", which starred the little kid from TV's "Family Ties". It was a cool direct-to-video release (way back before there were DVDs), with Mikey proving to be quite adept at dishing out vicious punishments to those who cross him. I actually own it on video, as I'm not aware of any DVD release as yet. Starring Josie Bissett before she went on to "Melrose Place", Ashley Laurence from the "Hellraiser" movies and Mimi Craven, wife of horror director Wes, it's worth a watch.

Anyway, 1993 saw "The Good Son" released, which was Macauley Culkin's attempt at breaking out of kiddie roles. It didn't work - he stopped acting the following year. Another decent movie. 1994 had the direct-to-video offering "The Paperboy", which starred Alexandra Paul during her stint on "Baywatch". And 1996 gave another direct-to-video killer kid in "Daddy's Girl", probably the weakest out of this lot. If there have been any other killer kid flicks since then (other than the "Children Of The Corn" movies), they don't immediately come to mind, which means they probably weren't very memorable in the first place.

So it's good to see the sub-genre get another work-out in "Orphan", which I saw at the movies a couple of nights ago. Yes, it even got the big-screen treatment! Here, a married couple (Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt after an upsetting stillbirth. They settle on Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a 9-year-old from Russia. She wears old-fashioned clothing, is very well-spoken, and wise beyond her years. The eldest son (Jimmy Bennett) doesn't take to her, but Esther seems to bond with the youngest child (Aryana Engineer), who is deaf. Of course, the viewer knows Esther is batshit crazy, but it's fun watching as the family members eventually catch up. Only Sarsgaard remains hopelessly clueless.

"Orphan" really goes for the jugular and doesn't hold back. Although not fast-paced like a slasher flick or action movie, this one still had audience members literally running out of the cinema when they needed a toilet break, just so they didn't miss anything. Esther doesn't bat an eyelid, whether it be dropping the "f" bomb, or killing a nun with a hammer and making her poor deaf sister help hide the body. It just gets more and more crazy as it goes along, culminating in a loopy twist that, while deliciously over-the-top, somewhat undermines the jaw-dropping audaciousness that had come before it. Nevertheless, I had a blast. "Orphan" has strong acting, decent boo scares, genuine suspense (Esther's new siblings are frequently on her hit list), and wacky surprises.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Genesis" by Karin Slaughter

Along with Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Gardner, Karin Slaughter's books are ones I always look out for each year. The interesting thing about it is that her books are both very good - and very exasperating. Most of them follow the lives of medical examiner Sara Linton, her husband police chief Jeffrey Tolliver and his deputy, Lena Adams. In the first novel, "Blindsighted", Sara is still trying to forgive Jeffrey for cheating on her. Other events that transpire involve Lena suffering a brutal rape. The novels that followed explored Lena's psyche after such an ordeal, as well as Sara and Jeffrey's relationship. Most of the books have been of a very high level, with twisty plots, psychological depth and strong characterisation. The exasperating part - the series achieved a state of equilibrium. No matter how much personal growth Lena would go through in one book, by the next one she was the same, bitter rape survivor. Similarly, no matter what sort of new level of trust Sara and Jeffrey would achieve in their relationship in one book, by the next one they were back to bickering and being distrustful. Slaughter admitted just as much on her website when apologising to her readers for killing off Jeffrey in "Skin Privilege", the sixth book featuring the characters.

"Genesis" brings back Sara Linton, three-and-a-half years after Jeffrey's death. But she's really only a side character, as the focus is on detectives Will Trent and Faith Mitchell from "Fractured", Slaughter's last novel. The action this time around involves a naked woman being hit by a car. After being taken to hospital, it's apparent she's escaped from a madman who had been holding her prisoner and torturing her. Clues eventually lead to the underground cave she escaped from, as well as the dead body of a woman who was being held captive at the same time. When another woman disappears, leaving behind her young son, Will and Faith must figure out if the case is related (we the reader know that it is), whilst dealing with evasive witnesses, lying witnesses and their own myriad personal demons.

Slaughter is one of those authors who does their research and likes their novels to be accurate. Whilst never boring, this tale is a little long in the tooth. While I'm certain an investigation is laborious and getting lab results do take time, a little poetic licence to move things along won't make me take the novel any less seriously. This one is over 430 pages in a small font. Luckily, the plot here is a real ripper. Whilst "Skin Privilege" and "Fractured" were quite disappointing, "Genesis" makes up for that with its shocking crimes and frequent plot twists. For me, it was a lot like an episode of "SVU", which is always a good thing. Whilst I spotted the madman the moment they were introduced, getting there was still an absorbing, consuming experience and definitely one of Slaughter's best.

And because it was so good, I was able to forgive the book's one major flaw: Sara Linton herself. She didn't serve much purporse in being here. Each time a chapter is devoted to her, the narrative grinds to a complete stop whilst she pines endlessly for Jeffrey. Seriously, it's ALL she does. And considering that, in all the previous novels, she spent most of her time hating him, all her ruminations about him being a wonderful man and the love of her life and that she'll never get over him (etc etc) don't really come across as believable. To be honest, I thought Jeffrey was a bit of an ass, and was glad when he got offed at the end of "Skin Privilege". Whilst I would have preferred that Lena Adams - the most annoying character ever in fiction (though my mum would tell you that honour would go to Robin Castagna in the Alex Delaware series by Jonathan Kellerman) - was the one who died, at least she was nowhere to be seen in "Genesis", probably another reason why it was so good. If you're a fan of Slaughter, check it out. And it's probably a good place to start for first-time readers too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Deep Freeze" by Lisa Jackson

Jenna Hughes is a former Hollywood actress who has retired after an on-set accident killed her sister and resulted in her last movie never being released. She moves to Oregon for a new life as caring mother, but daughters Cassie and Allie aren't terribly pleased with the decision. It's a decision that Jenna herself will come to regret as she is targeted by a madman obsessed with her and her movies. He's kidnapping women to use as molds for recreations of Jenna's most famous film characters, setting up a twisted shrine for her. When Jenna receives threatening notes and eerie phone calls, it attracts the attention of Sheriff Shane Carter. He's quickly attracted to Jenna while investigating the case, and knows the culprit is somebody close to her.

It's a pity that so many female crime writers start off in the world of category romance, because while it obviously teaches them how to become good writers, they simply can't shake off the need to incorporate a cliched romance into their story. Lisa Jackson has a unique ability to conjure up a spooky scenario - being stalked in a snowy forest, checking out a dark, empty house - without mincing words. Most writers will spend ages describing every little thing, sapping away the suspense. But I'll admit there were a couple of times during "Deep Freeze" where I got mildly spooked - and for me, that's saying something.

However, when it comes to the romance side of things, Jackson simply cannot find enough words. What could have been a tight, fast-paced story about a woman being stalked is spread out over 500 pages. And, I'm not kidding you, most of the word count is devoted to Jenna and Shane's musings about each other.

Jenna: What was she thinking? She shouldn't be having these fantasies about the rugged, good-looking lawman! She had too much on her plate! She was being stalked by a madman!

Shane: What was he thinking? He shouldn't be having these fantasies about the sexy, vulnerable Hollywood princess! He had too much on his plate! He was tracking down a kidnapper and killer!

The book is permeated with variations of these statements over and over and over again. Did this thing even have an editor? To make things worse, the romance doesn't even come across as genuine. It's more than obvious these two are only getting together because the plot dictates it. We're told over and over again how great these two believe the other to be, but never actually shown. Shane seems to determine that Jenna is an "intriguing" woman simply because she comes into the station to report a stalker. I determined Jenna to be an uppity, judgemental cow. She eyes every single male character with distrust and decides most of them to be weirdos, without sufficient reason (except for Shane, that is). I understand that this would partly have to do with making sure there are plenty of red herrings, but it's a little ridiculous. In the real world people would be telling her to get over herself. And besides, I picked out the bad guy the moment he was introduced.

I'm not going to recommend "Deep Freeze". Thanks to Jenna and Shane being such drips and unable to come to any quick decision regarding their feelings, the narrative meanders far too much. In fact, the same fault can be found in our killer. He's endlessly musing: "I'll come for you soon, Jenna!" Well, buddy, hurry the hell up! What's keeping you? Sheesh.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I'm not smarter than a 5th grader

Last night I was watching "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?", despite the fact I totally loathe Rove McManus. And while I'm not smarter than a 5th grader, I'm certainly smarter than the dumbasses who are contestants. And at least if any 5th grader tries to mock me because I'm dumber than them, I'm certainly a lot bigger than them and can knock them flat on their precocious little asses.

In any case, while trying to restrain myself from throwing something at the TV screen every time some lame joke dropped from Rove's mouth and feeling sorry for poor Dylan (one of the 5th graders), who never seems to get picked, I noticed just how creepy one of the 5th graders, Lilly, was. She's always got this massive smile plastered on her face. But not a happy smile. More the smile you'd expect to see on the face of a child who has just set their house on fire with the rest of the family still inside. It's really disturbing.

But it made me think that the show would be much more entertaining if it were re-named "Are You Smarter Than The Children Of The Corn?". So, instead of some dimwitted "celebrity" swimmer dropping out at the $10 000 point with all that cash to give to their charity, they instead suffered some gruesome fate at the hands of the demonic corn children. In particular, there's a scene in "Children Of The Corn II: The Final Sacrifice" where the cult leader takes his wooden voodoo statue into church and makes one of the church members suffer the most disgusting nosebleed you're ever likely to see. Witnessing something like that would make it much more easier to sit through Rove's dire attempts at comedy. Seriously, does he have a picture hidden away of Channel 10's executive getting down and dirty with a goat? Why is he still on television?

And if you don't know what I'm going on about when I talk of the "Children Of The Corn", shame on you. Part 1 came out in 1984 with Linda Hamilton! Part 2 came out in 1993. Part 3 was the film debut of Charlize Theron (she gets dragged underground by some stop-motion monster). Part 4 gave an early lead role to Naomi Watts and co-starred Karen Black. Part 5 was the film debut of Eva Mendes, and in my opinion the best one in the series! Part 6 was shit, but it did co-star Nancy Allen. I haven't seen Part 7, so shame on me. Luckily, a made-for-TV remake of the original is on its way very shortly.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"The Unborn", "The Uninvited", The Underwhelmed

"The Unborn" stars Odette Yustman as a pretty co-ed with tight underwear (I think her name is Casey) whose world goes haywire when the neighbourhood boy she's baby-sitting knocks her on the noggin and declares: "Jumby wants to be born now". Things get sinister when she discovers that she had a twin who died in utero - and the parents' nickname for him was....oh my God....Jumby!

Well, as it turns out, this haunting has little to do with the dead twin and more to do with what's called a "Dybbuk", a malevolent entity that is constantly seeking to re-enter the world of the living. Casey's family has had this thing on their tail since the days of Auschwitz, where Casey's grandmother and her....oh my God....twin were subject to Nazi experiments to change eye colour. The grandmother's twin died and the Dybbuk took over his body.

Casey decides the best way to deal with her situation is to have an exorcism, and calls upon priest Gary Oldman to help out. In the meantime, the Dybbuk takes it upon itself to bump off everybody in Casey's life. My biggest beef here is that the Dybbuk seems to possess people at will. It apparently wants to possess Casey - so what exactly is stopping it? I don't think it's explained why it can possess other people and not its main target. Other than that, I have to give "The Unborn" props for at least trying to come up with something original. When 90% of mainstream horror releases are remakes, it's refreshing to see a studio take a punt on a script a little different. While not scary and ultimately not successful, "The Unborn" does boast an original idea, which is more than can be said for most movies.

"The Uninvited" is a remake of the Asian horror movie "A Tale Of Two Sisters". Emily Browning plays a girl who is released from an institution after the death of her mother. She returns home to her father (David Strathairn) and his new girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), who just happened to be her mother's nurse. Along with her sister (Arielle Kebbel), the suspicion is that Banks wants to kill them both so that she can have daddy all to herself. They even believe that she was responsible for the murders of three children from years ago.

This is one of those movies that doesn't have much to say until its "twist" ending, so everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in here to try and make us believe something is actually happening. Scary visions, nightmares and false boo scares make up the running time until the big reveal. And let me just say, it's now been ten years since "The Sixth Sense" and scriptwriters REALLY NEED TO FIND A NEW TWIST ENDING! To be honest, the previews alone were enough to make me suspect what the ending would be and I wanted to see if I was right. I like being right, obviously, but I like an entertaining movie more. I'm going to make a movie where every single character has been dead all along and call it "The Underwhelmed". Or maybe "The Unsurprised". Or maybe "The Unentertained". And so on....

"The Alibi Man" by Tami Hoag

This is a follow-up to "Dark Horse" a surprisingly good private eye novel set in the world of horse-riding. Our main character is Elena Estes, a former narcotics cop now working as a groom, trying to forget the life she used to live (a screw-up resulted in the death of a workmate). While riding her horse, she comes across the dead body of Irina Markova, another groom and sort-of friend. Unable to shake off her cop instincts, Elena decides to do her own investigation, much to the delight/anger of detective James Landry, whom she recently just broke up with. Her plate soon gets very full. Notorious Russian gangster Alexi Kulov wants to get info from her. And her ex-fiance Bennett Walker becomes a prime suspect when it's revealed Irina went to an after-party with him and other rich guys, who call themselves "The Alibi Club", as they like to provide each other with an alibi whenever one of them does something naughty. Bennett and Elena's past is very rocky, since all those years ago he asked her to provide him with an alibi when he raped and beat another woman. Obviously, he looks good for this latest murder.

"The Alibi Man" is a solid crime thriller that holds attention. Good plot twists, edgy violence and a refreshing lack of romance cliches (Hoag used to be a category romance author, and that element could often overwhelm other novels). The main fault here is characterisation and dialogue. The latter is flat-out awful. The former leaves a lot to be desired. Basically, our main characters are really unpleasant! Det Landry is a hot-headed racist, and Elena is a flat-out bitch to everybody she meets. It was hard to understand why everybody found her "intriguing". If I found myself at the receiving end of her snotty attitude I'd tell her to f*** off and bury herself in a deep hole. I don't understand why the criteria for a "complex" character is to have them being world-weary, self-loathing and angry with the world. I'm sure there are plenty of complex people out there with wonderfully sunny dispositions. Why can't I spend 350 pages with one of them?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"The Death List" by Paul Johnston

Matt Wells is a crime novelist in a bit of a career slump. Life gets even worse when he is contacted via e-mail by the White Devil. The e-mails at first seem to be from a fan, until one of them instructs him to go around to his ex-wife's home, where he discovers a murdered dog in his daughter's bedroom. His tormentor wants Wells to turn his crimes into a novel and, in between sending him notes to use in said novel, is also committing several murders. He starts off with people in his own life who have wronged him, before moving on to everybody in Matt's life.

At first, I thought I was onto a winner with "The Death List" thanks to a quick-moving plot and some inventive, nasty murders. I was ready to believe that a twisty, exciting thriller was about to unfold. Unfortunately, the above plot description is about it. It would appear the White Devil aka Leslie Dunn really is doing this just for the hell of it, as no real link is established between him or Matt Wells, despite early revelations that they were both adopted. I had just over 100 - 150 pages to go before I simply fell out of interest with this book. The subplot involving three SAS members with their own agenda against White Devil never did anything except get in the way. They tail him, then show up at the end and kill him. Oops, is that a spoiler? Well, why did I plough through 400 pages just for random, undeveloped characters to pop in and save the day? It pissed me off.

Next rant: the police on the case are always two steps behind. The reader knows more than they do thanks to several different view points - Matt Wells, the killer etc. It doesn't contribute anything! Like "The Neighbour" that I read recently, you could remove the police element from the book entirely and lose nothing.

Next rant: Matt's ex-wife is yet another typical bitch-on-wheels without any redeeming features. Why does she hate Matt so much? It's not adequately explained. She's a never-ending stream of bitterness and unpleasantness. To call her one-dimensional is being very generous.

Next rant: with the main character being a crime novelist, there are all sorts of jibes and in-jokes about crime fiction, crime writers, crime readers etc. I'm guessing it was supposed to be clever, but it wore thin to the point where you suspect Johnston has his own personal bitterness about the whole thing. I don't like being told repeatedly that I'm some sort of ghoul for liking the crime genre, or that I'm reading crass commercialism. It's a bit rich, considering I forked out good money to pick up this particular book by this particular author. Get over yourself, buddy!

Next rant: I was under the impression that the situation Matt finds himself in (having everybody in his life threatened, being stalked, being framed for murder etc etc) evokes suspense because how on Earth does one remove themselves from that sort of situation? I mean, if it were me, I'd be well and truly screwed. So, naturally, you'd expect lots of suspense in seeing how Matt - a crime writer but otherwise ordinary guy - manouvers himself out of a very tight corner. Wrong. Matt used to be a rugby player and his former team members include an ex-SAS member, a computer hacker specialist and a guy who owns a high-tech security-laden mansion, each who conveniently pops up when needed. In the final 100 pages or so, amongst tracking White Devil, they sit around and call each other "lad". Blech. Then, as they race from place to place (White Devil owns quite a few properties), and discover victim after victim, we get ten different versions of "this guy's a mad bastard!" and "is nobody safe?" You know, we have spent THE LAST 300 PAGES ESTABLISHING EXACTLY THAT! YES, WHITE DEVIL IS A MAD BASTARD AND NO, NOBODY IS SAFE! Sorry, had to get that off my chest.

Golly, was there anything right with "The Death List"? Well, considering I really had to force myself just to finish it, I guess not. I certainly wasn't bored to begin with, but when you get more and more irritated with each page, it quickly erodes any good-will that had built up before it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Boneyard" by Michelle Gagnon

Ever read a book where there's nothing particularly wrong with it - good pacing, strong characterisation, never boring - but is simply let down by the fact that there is nothing original or surprising to be found within its pages? That's the main problem with "Boneyard" by Michelle Gagnon, which has all the prerequisite elements in place for a good crime thriller, yet fails to do anything remotely interesting or remarkable with them. The plot follows Special Agent Kelly Jones from the FBI being called in to supervise on the discovery of a mass site of bones. Because some of the bones have crossed borders, the FBI gets to be involved. She's up against jurisdictional spats between detectives Bill Doyle and Monica Lauer, a trail that has gone cold, and the fact she's had to give up vacation time to work on this case.

As it turns out, the discovery of the bones is largely thanks to a man by the name of Dwight, who has a grudge against the real killer (whom he calls Captain) and wants him to be caught. He's dispersing the bones so that they'll be found by the authorities, and even trying some murders of his own to pin on Captain. How he actually discovered who the real killer was is never actually explained. And the reason for his grudge is only ever touched upon very lightly and very briefly, and therefore falls short of satisfaction.

"Boneyard", to its credit, zips along quite entertainingly for the most part, but starts piling up massive contrivances as it limps to its unsatisfactory conclusion. Halfway through, Kelly's lover Jake shows up to provide light romantic tension. Then, for some reason, he's allowed to come along on official FBI business - being let into crime scenes, bashing into suspects' homes - the whole deal! WTF? It's utterly ridiculous. Without trying to spoil anything, he's then largely responsible for the capture of the bad guys, while Kelly - the character we've been following for most of the book and supposed to believe is an intelligent, take charge woman - sits around on her ass.

As for the main killer - Captain - was his identity supposed to be a secret? It's perfectly obvious who he is the moment the character is introduced. It doesn't seem like Gagnon even tried to make it a mystery. And his actions at the end don't make a lot of sense. Why did he kidnap that particular person? What was he trying to achieve? Gagnon attempts to give a motive, but it's pretty thin and unconvincing.

If "Boneyard" had made an attempt at something just a little different, a little surprising, the outcome would have been enormously different. But Gagnon seems happy to deliver a crime novel pretty much indistinguishable from the hundreds that have come before it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Bad Things" by Michael Marshall

Before I thoroughly trash this terrible novel, please don't let that dissuade you from picking up Michael Marshall's "Straw Men" trilogy - "The Straw Men", "The Lonely Dead" (aka "The Upright Man") and "Blood Of Angels". It's a terrific trio of novels - well, the second one is a bit all over the place - packed with action, genuine creepiness and thrills. So it's a pity that he's never matched those books since. "The Intruders" was okay, but the book cover itself tried to sell it as a crime novel, when it was actually more a supernatural/sci-fi story. I'm a big fan of most genre writing - crime, horror, sci-fi - so I don't understand why the publishers couldn't simply be upfront about their product.

It happens again with "Bad Things", which the book cover describes this time as a psychological thriller. Yeah, right. It's another supernatural story. I say "story" because there's absolutely nothing thrilling about it. Marshall can't even be bothered to fully explain what exactly is going on. It's basically 300 pages of metaphysical rambling with some attempt to tie it all up at the end. Not one of the more exciting books I've come across.

The plot has John Henderson returning to the town of Black Ridge some time after the death of his son, Scott, who died under very mysterious circumstances. Despite having another son, John headed off into a life of feeling sorry for himself, leaving said son and wife behind, which didn't make me like him a whole lot. Anyway, John returns to Black Ridge after receiving an e-mail from a woman who says she knows the mystery behind Scott's death. The woman is Ellen Robertson, and she appears to have more than a few screws loose, never actually revealing much about what she knows at all. Nevertheless, John hangs around in town and notices that many of the residents behave very strangely indeed. Amongst endless internal monologues, John finds the time to help out Becki, the daughter of a friend, who is having trouble with her drug-dealing boyfriend, Kyle. A deal gone bad has resulted in some thugs on their tails. And what does this have to do with the main plot? Nothing! I would give an example of just how ridiculously rambling the narrative is, but I don't want to get penalised for breaching copyright over a piece of junk like this. Just take my word for it.

So what are the bad things? I'm not sure even the author knows. In the end (SPOILERS), it appears all the strangeness is a result of the townsfolk being indebted to Brooke Robertson - Ellen's stepdaughter - who acts as a broker for a witch. But since the witch (as far as I can tell) is the owner of the town's motel, I'm not entirely sure why people who want spells done just couldn't go straight to her. This is a stupid book where nothing much really happens, and what does happen is never adequately explained. The only "Bad Thing" around here is the time you'll waste reading it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"The Neighbour" by Lisa Gardner

I was actually searching the bookshops for Karin Slaughter's latest (to be called either "Undone" or "Genesis"), since it's been released in the rest of the world. Of course, Perth being the pimple on the ass end of the world, we'll probably have to wait a couple more months. Just to demonstrate, I discovered "The Neighbour" by Lisa Gardner at Dymocks - just the one copy. Absolutely no copies at Borders. This is an author with 10 previous Top 10 bestsellers under her belt. You'd think the release of her latest would be a little better stocked. Maybe publishers think people in Perth don't read. In any case, I was very excited, since I knew that was the next couple of evenings stitched up for me.

"The Neighbour" focuses on the disappearance of Sandra Jones, a young mother in a seemingly perfect marriage to news reporter Jason Jones, with 4-year-old daughter Clarissa. As the book progresses, we learn that things were not as they seemed in this family. Another plot strand follows Aidan Brewster, a convicted sex offender who knows he will become a suspect. Then there's Sgt. D.D. Warren, who has been a secondary character in Gardner's previous novels "Alone" and "Hide". She's the lead investigator who hopes to follow up on some leads before the inevitable media firestorm.

Lisa Gardner is one of my favourite authors, so I was a happy chappy in the two nights it took me to finish this one. She's a good writer and a lot of this book kept me guessing. It's one of those books you devour yet don't want to end. Nevertheless, once it was all over, some issues did bug me. I'm not going to spoil anything, but elements of the ending are more than a little contrived. If Gardner wasn't such a pro, you could lable it very soap opera-ish. Luckily, actually getting to the ending provides most of the fun, so it's an easy sin to forgive. The biggest issue has to do with the "investigation" angle. Once all is said and done, D.D. Warren and her partner Det. Mitchell come across as pretty stupid. All the other characters have remained five steps ahead of them, and their inclusion in the plot feels very unnecessary, since they can't seem to figure out a single thing for themselves. They're even outsmarted by a thirteen-year-old boy! You could have removed them from the story completely and not lost any of the plot's momentum. Not good, really!

To a lesser degree, I was bothered by links to Gardner's previous book "Say Goodbye". By incorporating parts from that book, which belongs in one series, and then including D.D. Warren, who belongs in another series, the timelines don't quite match. I could be wrong, however, since I don't fully remember "Say Goodbye" (other than it being a good read). In the end, "The Neighbour" is definitely worth picking up, because it does keep the truth neatly hidden, and is very hard to put down. And if you enjoy it, hurry off to the bookstore/library and read "The Killing Hour" and "Hide", two of Gardner's best.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Boogeyman 1, 2, 3"

Since I already own "Boogeyman" and "Boogeyman 2" on DVD, I thought I'd re-watch the first two before watching part 3, which I hired. I purchased part 1 because it was only $10 and I'm typically a completist when it comes to movie franchises. "Boogeyman" is a pretty lame ghost story. Even though I've seen it before, all throughout the movie my most recurring thought was "I don't remember any of this". Barry Watson plays a guy traumatised by witnessing his father supposedly being murdered by the boogeyman. He returns to his hometown for the funeral of his mother (Lucy Lawless, who has about 5 minutes screen time - if that - in a totally pointless role) and quickly discovers he needs to face his past fears.

Now, I'm no MENSA member, but I like to think I'm not a complete dumbass either. Yet "Boogeyman" made absolutely no sense to me. None! First of all - why is the Boogeyman killing people? To collect souls? To become more powerful? For shits and giggles? The movie never bothers to explain. A subplot suggests the Boogeyman has been offing young children for decades. So why does he kill Watson's father? Or his girlfriend? And if he has been up to this for decades, why does it all link back to Watson's childhood toy? The Boogeyman had been killing kids long before Watson saw daddy dragged into the closet.

The worst sin of all is boredom. The movie isn't much more than this: character sees a door swing open/shut. Character SLOWLY approaches door. Repeat over and over AND OVER AND OVER again. Yawn. What a pile of shit.

So how do I explain the fact that "Boogeyman 2" is totally freaking awesome? Only very loosely linked to part one - a throwaway line explains the connection and also provides a quick explanation that helps to make the movie actually make SENSE - we instead get a straightforward slasher flick here. Danielle Savre is the main character, who checks herself into an institution due to her fear of the Boogeyman after witnessing the gruesome murder of her parents. Her brother has already successfuly tackled his fear through therapy at this institution, so she figures she has nothing to lose. Wrong. Her co-patients are a gaggle of disturbed young folk with phobias of their own. Her doctor is a weirdo (played by "Saw" alum Tobin Bell) with unorthodox approaches to treating phobias. Plus, a Boogeyman-style killer is offing everybody based on the fears they've been institutionalised for.

I loved this movie. I thought it was pretty darn good the first time I watched it, and the second viewing only confirmed that. Strong atmosphere, character development that while not terribly deep, has you wincing at some deaths and cheering at others, and best of all, some jaw droppingly good gore scenes. A girl trying to dig maggots out of her arms with a scalpel. A girl being force-fed food through tubes and subsequently exploding. A guy getting his heart forcibly removed. I'm pretty convinced this was made by and for those who love horror movies. Because it's a damn good one - better than many theatrically released features (the same can be said about "Wrong Turn 2: Dead End").

"Boogeyman 3" unfortunately returns to the supernatural theme. Our killer looks a lot like The Gatekeeper from those old "Nightmare" board games and comes complete with a hokey laugh. And the blood looks too much like red paint to generate any sort of stomach unease. The story has the daughter of the doctor from part 2 at college and convinced that the Boogeyman is after her. Except she's of the opinion that the Boogeyman can be evoked through a group's collective belief in him. In itself, I find this theory quite fascinating - it's been used to theorise the existence of God. Because collective conscienceness can be a very powerful thing. Anyway, the doctor's daughter proves the theory right by going and getting murdered, and it's up to her roommate (Erin Cahill) to find a way to stop the Boogeyman's murder spree. Of course, all she really does is drum up extra belief in him and cause several more murders....

"Boogeyman 3" wasn't dull, but after having such a great time with part 2, I expected a little more. That being said, this franchise is turning out to be one that reinvents itself with each new installment - a trend to be admired in a day and age that is usually happy to churn out one identical sequel after another. I'd be quite excited to see how "Boogeyman 4" turns out, should it be made.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Everything comes in 3s

After being off work for a couple of days with a chest infection, I was hoping it would be the last in a run of bad health luck - first the chicken pox, then a nasty bruise that won't go away, and now a chest infection - because of that old saying: "everything comes in 3s". I'll have to wait a while to see if it pans out, though.

However, I was back at work today and since I managed to survive, I figured I'd treat myself to some DVDs. And what a nice surprise it was to be totally spoiled for choice! I mean, normally it's a struggle to find just one movie I want to watch, but I was walking up and down the aisles, twiddling my fingers nervously wondering what I should choose. And since I'd been thinking in 3s lately, I grabbed "Boogeyman 3" as my first choice. This was quickly followed by "The Grudge 3". I already knew about these movies and had been waiting a while for them to be released here. Then I came across "Legally Blonde 3", which I had no idea had been made. I thought how appropriate that my three movie choices should be the third instalment in three different franchises.

Luckily, my sane inner voice stepped in at that moment with the powerful cry of "Ew! Ew! Ew! Surely you'd rather have your fingernails forcibly removed with pliers that sit throught that? What the hell are you thinking?" So I chose "The Midnight Meat Train" instead, and my evening was set. However, I was hovering over such titles as:

"100 Feet", in which Famke Janssen is terrorised by her dead husband.

"The Unborn" in which Odette Yustman is terrorised by a fetus-style ghost and some very tight underwear.

"The Uninvited" in which Emily Browning is terrorised by ghosts and a dastardly mother-in-law.

"Lakeview Terrace" in which Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington are terrorised by neighbour Samuel L. Jackson.

I believe there were more that had me interested, but I was overwhelmed as it was. I figured I might do a double feature in the near future with "The Uninvited" and "Passengers" (starring Anne Hathaway), as the previews and plot sypnoses have me convinced I already know how they'll end, and I want to see if I'm right. In the meantime, I have to figure out how to fit in "Boogeyman 1, 2, 3" and "The Grudge 1, 2, 3" around tonight's "Law & Order: SVU" which guest stars Hilary Duff and simply can't be missed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"The Brutal Art" by Jesse Kellerman

Jesse Kellerman is the son of popular authors Jonathan Kellerman and Faye Kellerman. But let me say straight out that I believe this guy would have been published no matter who his parents were. I've read his book "Sunstroke" and while not outstanding, it was a decent noir-ish tale that deviated from your typical crime novel. The same could be said about "The Brutal Art", which may disappoint those after a standard crime tale.

In any case, "The Brutal Art" is leagues ahead of "Sunstroke" and a very absorbing read. The main character is Ethan Muller, an art dealer, who follows a tip from his estranged father's close friend, Tony Wexler. It leads him to an apartment in one of his father's buildings, which is full of fantastic, intricate drawings. The artist is a man by the name of Victor Cracke, who has disappeared. Nevertheless, Ethan takes the drawings, puts on an exhibition and the drawings are a big success, fetching hefty prices. But the publicity attracts the attention of a retired police officer, whom Ethan is eventually convinced to meet. It would appear that many of the cherubs in some of the drawings are eerie lookalikes to a score of young, murdered boys.

I'm not going to reveal any more than that, because the less you know the better. The plot also goes into a lot of detail about Ethan's family's past (perhaps a little too much, which is probably my only complaint about this book), slowly revealing the family secrets that have led Ethan to the situation he is currently in. Kellerman throws in a lot of tantalising elements to broaden the plot, but the resolutions are refreshingly down-to-earth and believable - a lot like real life, actually. And once we get some insight into the artist behind the drawings, your heart will break.

And in Ethan Muller, we get a character with depth and believability. Kellerman gives him both good and bad characteristics, but he's likeable from the get-go, ensuring we're in his corner as he uncovers the truth about the missing artist and his own family. With "The Brutal Art" you get a twisty mystery, interesting characters, a bit of humour and it may even bring a tear to your eye. The ending, especially, I found very satisfying. It's not your typical mystery/crime novel, but I think it's well worth a read, and I reckon Kellerman's mum and dad could take a couple of writing tips from him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"The Dark Tide" by Andrew Gross

Andrew Gross used to be one of James Patterson's co-writers, most notably on parts 2 and 3 of the "Women's Murder Club" series, before Patterson hooked up with Maxine Paetro and the series turned to shit. But now Andrew Gross has struck out on his own, first with "The Blue Zone", which I haven't read and now "The Dark Tide".

The plot has Charles Friedman, loving husband and father, seemingly perishing in a terrorist attack on a train. His devastated wife Karen tries to get on with her life, but finds herself and her family threatened by people whose motives and backgrounds aren't too clear. Then, a year after Charlie's death, Karen is certain she sees his face in a TV documentary about the terrorist attack. Now suspecting her husband is still alive, her path crosses with Lt. Ty Hauck, who is investigating some mysterious hit-and-run deaths. From there, they discover links to off-shore accounts, fraud in the shipping industry - and fledgling romance. And there are some nasty people out there also interested in finding Charlie Friedman who are not afraid to kill to get what they want.

"The Dark Tide" reminded me a lot of a James Patterson book from the old days, when it took longer than two hours to read one. It moves quickly, with short chapters, and is never dull. But, when all is said and done, not a lot really happens. Several chapters simply consist of drippy Karen rabbitting on and on about how deceived she feels by Charlie's actions and blah, blah, blah. Many chapters will introduce a character, kill them off, and never mention them again. And the characters are beyond two-dimensional. I was never convinced that Ty and Karen's romance was anything more than the author's desire to have a romantic subplot. It's hard to see what anybody would see in a woman like Karen, who's on a constant crying jag and never really seems to do anything useful. Ty often ruminates on how clever and strong she is, but maybe he was reading a different book than I was. Karen's uncovering of clues is nothing a trained monkey couldn't achieve. As for Ty, he was just....there. He simply wasn't the slightest bit interesting. I imagine Karen fell for him because he was the only guy out there who didn't want to slap her.

It's not a waste of time if you decide to read "The Dark Tide". I'm pretty picky, and derive much more enjoyment out of criticism than praise. But there's a lot worse stuff out there and, like I said before, it zips along nicely to its obvious conclusion.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Trial By Blood" by John Macken

"Trial By Blood" by John Macken is a sequel to "Dirty Little Lies" and you probably need to read that first before tackling this one, as the two are closely related. The first book was a decent read, nothing special, but good enough for me to pluck this one off the shelf at the library.

Reuben Maitland, the main character of this series, is a forensics officer who has created some brand new process called "predictive phenotyping", in which DNA can provide not only an identity, but an identikit as well (i.e. what the person looks like). In the first book, Reuben lost his job at the police for misuse of his skills - he used predictive phenotyping to find out who his wife was having an affair with - and now works for himself as a kind of private eye who specialises in DNA. He doesn't like the fact he now sometimes works with the very criminals he used to put away.

The plot here has Maitland being anonymously informed that a man named Michael Brawn has been imprisoned on false DNA evidence that Maitland himself approved. Or so it would appear. His signature was forged! The Michael Brawn in prison is an alias. What is his real identity? Why is he there? Through contrivances too long-winded and silly to go into here, Maitland is the one sent into prison undercover to get a swab of Brawn's DNA. Huh? They couldn't have just launched an official inquiry? Obviously, being an ex-crime fighter behind bars, Maitland has to look out for himself....

"Trial By Blood" is all over the place. There's a subplot about a serial offender dubbed "The Thames Rapist" that the police are tracking. There's another subplot about a footballer client of Maitland's who winds up killing his wife and himself after obtaining DNA evidence from Maitland proving his wife's infidelity. The former links in somewhat to the main narrative, yet is resolved "off-scene" without much fanfare. The latter is so inconsequential that you wonder why it was even included in the first place. There's also the matter of Reuben's son Joshua, who is suffering from leukemia. However, he's not 100% sure Joshua is his son, as his wife had an affair, after all.

As the book nears the finishing line, it throws in twist after twist, each one a bit more ridiculous and desperate than the last. While everything is tied up at the end, you come to realise that none of the characters' actions or motives made a lick of sense. And there are plot inconsistencies and holes that you could drive trucks through. For example, when Maitland is put into prison "undercover", they don't bother changing his identity! He's put on remand for the (false) attempted murder of his wife. When he's forced to break out of prison (ridiculous in itself), and on the run, all of a sudden he's wanted for the flat-out murder of his wife! Couldn't a moment of research reveal his wife is alive and well and a HIGH-PROFILE LAWYER???

And, as for said wife - who's name is Lucy - could you find a more one-note character? She's portrayed as nothing more than a self-centred rampaging bitch. While you could hardly call the characters here fully-rounded and three-dimensional, her non-stop unpleasantness really grates after a while.

"Trial By Blood"s final sin is padding. Lots of it. About 150 pages could be shaved off this thing. Maitland's journey to prison to get Michael Brawn's DNA - the crux of the story - doesn't occur until well after 100 pages. The book has nice, short chapters that are handy for when you're reading on the bus, but it means an odd 3 pages of Lucy going "wah, wah, wah, my husband's a prick", or an odd 3 pages of Maitland's old boss pondering OVER AND OVER AGAIN whether he should be trusted or not. It contributes little to the narrative other than upping the word count.

So, no, I can't say I'd recommend "Trial By Blood". The idea of a DNA expert working outside the law would make a great television series, where subplots about bitter custody battles, tracking rapists or going undercover would be more acceptable and more entertaining. But in this book, even with so much going on, Macken still struggles to expand it over the length of the novel.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eeeeeeek! Eeeeeeeeeek!

You can either interpret that as the cry of the "Blood Monkey", or cries of terror in general after sitting through both that movie and "Captivity". Having a kind-of last-minute movie marathon to watch all the movies I hired a week ago that are now due back.

"Blood Monkey" stars Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham as a slightly mad professor who wants to find a tribe of monkeys. Six students are along for the trip. The reason behind the expedition was probably explained at some point, but I was bored about five minutes into this tripe, and some early bits were missed because the disc was skipping. Nevertheless, barely anything happens until at least an hour into the movie, when the unseen monkey finally starts screeching and slaying. There's a bit of blood and gore, but why do we barely see the monkey? What's the point of making a killer-monkey movie if it's never actually going to make an appearance? It could actually be an ape or a chimpanzee, but we'll never know because the idiotic filmmakers couldn't be bothered (or maybe didn't have the money) to provide proper glimpses of the monster they were making the movie about! Tack on an ending that feels like they ran out of film, and the only thing you're left to wonder about is why anybody would care that F. Murray Abraham won an Oscar more than twenty years ago. He hasn't done anything worthwhile since and should probably give it back. Yet they can still advertise their movie as starring an Oscar winner! Let me tell you now - you don't hire a movie called "Blood Monkey" because it stars an Oscar winner. I was expecting some blood and some monkeys. I got a bit of the former and none of the latter.

The story behind "Captivity" is much more interesting than the piece of disgusting, worthless garbage I put in my DVD player. Originally devised as a "Saw"-like thriller, this has supermodel Jennifer (Elisha Cuthbert) kidnapped and imprisoned in a dungeon. She eventually discovers another prisoner (Daniel Gillies), and the two must band together to survive the mind games their captor is playing on them. Preview screenings of the film were so disastrous that the movie had to go back for re-shoots. They dropped about 90% of the cops-investigating-the-case subplot and replaced it with gory torture scenes. You see, apparently the original version of "Captivity" was a psychological thriller with not much gore. The movie I just watched had a woman receiving an acid bath. Another person gets their tooth pulled out. Elisha Cuthbert gets strapped down to a gurney, a funnel forced into her mouth, and fed a blended concoction of human body parts. She's also forced to shoot her dog.

The studio was obviously jumping on the torture-porn bandwagon, but far too late. "Hostel 2" and "The Hills Have Eyes 2" had already failed at the box office. Nevertheless, they put up billboards all over the city advertising their movie, with Elisha Cuthbert in various stages of degradation and torture. There was a massive outcry and the studio was forced to pull the billboards down. The publicity thankfully didn't equate to box office dollars, because this piece of shit doesn't deserve it.

Now, I've said before I don't mind what they call "torture-porn". It's actually a term I don't like, because many of the films unfairly labelled as that were simply trying to provide a more intense, visceral horror experience than the many light-weight horror flicks that had been flooding the market at the time. But when you watch something like "Captivity", there really isn't any other way to describe it. We don't learn a single thing about Jennifer before she's abducted and tortured. Are we supposed to assume she deserves to be force-fed human body parts, or gassed, or nearly buried alive? Maybe if the script had taken a couple of minutes to provide some, oh I don't know, CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, maybe I would have cared a little more about what was going down before my eyes. Director Roland Joffe has been nominated for an Oscar twice, for 1984's "The Killing Fields" and 1986's "The Mission" and writer Larry Cohen is the mastermind behind many cult movies, in particular the mutant baby movie "It's Alive". The studio should take some of the blame, but they're all responsible for delivering a movie that's made it onto my Top 10 Worst Movies list. It's a torture movie that's torture to sit through.

I hire movies and never watch them

Last Tuesday, while still on holidays, I dropped by the video store. I couldn't find anything interesting in the new release section, so I went to the weeklies. My Civic Video store in Maylands is pretty darn decent - stuff hits weekly quite quickly. I grabbed "Blood Monkey", "Vipers" (starring Tara Reid, no less), "Taken", an action thriller starring Liam Neeson that is still playing in US cinemas, "The Insatiable", "Hybrid", some ghost story called "Driftwood" and "Captivity", a torture-porn thriller I've tried watching at least twice already and failed, but since it was weekly figured I could give it another try.

And how many have I watched? None! I started watching "Blood Monkey", but as is typical when you hire movies from the video store, the disc started skipping after about 15 minutes. Every time this happens, I always wonder - WHAT THE HELL DO PEOPLE DO TO DISCS THEY HIRE? Do they find some olive oil in the pantry and rub it all over the disc? Do they spit on it? Piss on it? Stick it in the microwave or washing machine? How hard is it to slip your finger through the hole in the disc and put it in the DVD player? Instead, 90% of discs I hire have greasy fingerprints all over them, and God knows what else. It really pisses me off. And, when you think about it, really quite gross. You don't know where the hell these discs have been. Touching some icky DVD is probably how I caught chicken pox. It will likely be the explanation when I inevitably catch swine flu. At the moment I'm blaming work, and that will always be my "official" reason, but sometimes I wonder.

In any case, when "Blood Monkey" started skipping I just couldn't be bothered. I ejected the DVD and slapped in Season 5 of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit". Since I own it, I knew there were no scratches, no greasy fingerprints, no reason for the disc to skip. I watched four episodes in a row. By the way, if anybody knows where I can buy Seasons 6, 7 and 8, let me know.

The weeklies from Civic Video are due back today. Yet another late fee is coming my way. I'll try to watch a couple. I mean, Tara Reid in a made-for-TV snake movie? How can I look at myself in the mirror if I don't at least give it a try?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Home Before Dark" by Charles Maclean

Ed Lister is some sort of property magnate who is obsessed with finding the killer of his daughter. One year after daughter Sophie's murder, new evidence comes to light thanks to Sophie's friend Sam Metcalf, who has discovered some material on her computer, which Sophie used to borrow frequently. This leads Ed to a website called Home Before Dark and its sociopathic webmaster Ward. Ed hires cyber-detective Campbell Armour to track down Ward, whom he believes stalked Sophie over the Internet and finally killed her. Campbell's digging into the past uncovers Ward's haunted past, plus a possible connection to Ed, which makes Campbell suspicious of his client. Meanwhile, Ed is becoming increasingly obsessed by Jelena (aka Jelly), a girl half his age he chats with on the Internet.

"Home Before Dark" was a good book. It was never dull - the pace was fast, there were moments of genuine suspense, I kept questioning the true intentions of the characters, and I was gulping down Coke well into the night in an effort to stay awake long enough to finish it. While the solution to the mystery was much less interesting than what the set-up suggested, I can't deny this one kept me hooked. But where this book truly got it wrong was in the characters. First of all, I'm tired of male authors in this genre constantly painting the father as the one who truly cares for his kids, the one who will go to any lengths to protect/avenge them, while portraying the mother as uninterested, unsupportive and uncaring. I can't back up my claims with specific examples right now, but this is a blog entry, not a research paper....and besides, I'm right.

Anyway, Ed Lister isn't an engaging protagonist. He falls head over heels for someone he's never actually met. He and his wife actually have another child - a son, George - who gets mentioned a couple of times in the first half of the book, then basically disappears. Even the other characters describe Ed as pompous and unlikeable. So why should we, the reader, give him the time of day? Campbell Armour, the cyber-sleuth, is much more likeable. He obviously cares for his family, has a self-deprecating sense of humour, and comes across as plucky and intelligent. I cared about what happened to him. Finally, Jelena/Jelly is the most badly defined character to be found here. Maybe it was a male author inaccurately trying to create a complex female character, but I just found Jelly to pretty much be a prick-tease. She lies to Ed about every aspect of her life, keeps telling him that she can't talk to him anymore, only to egg him on a little more because she can't make up her mind, even pretends to be someone else so she can meet him. By the end of the book, I was hoping Ward might buck genre traditions and just cut off her head.

Even more pugnacious, and I'm going to get a little spoiler-ish here, but by the end, Ed's wife Laura admits she's been having an affair since before their daughter was even murdered, further pushing her into "uncaring bitch" territory and consequently justifying Ed's seeming abandonment of his family while creepily and obsessively pursuing Jelly. I don't know if the author has some sort of dislike of women, or is simply useless at writing about them, but it was certainly a huge drawback here. Anyway, I did enjoy "Home Before Dark" - if Maclean can work on his characterisation, the next book could be a real winner.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Vodka Doesn't Freeze"

"Vodka Doesn't Freeze" by Leah Giarratano is an Australian entry in the crime genre and although not as bad as anything written by Australian crime author PD Martin, it's certainly nothing to get excited about. Just like "Devil's Peak", this has a serial killer targeting child abusers and child killers, and our main character Sgt Jill Jackson isn't sure she wants to find the murderer. After all, isn't he doing the community a favour?

As the genre dictates, your lead cop needs to have a Haunted Past. Although Jill isn't an alcoholic (like what you'd usually find in a crime novel), she was kidnapped and raped for three days when she was twelve. This is a little more extreme than the Haunted Pasts you usually get for your main character, and it just doesn't quite work. Jill is still (understandably) deeply traumatized by this event, suffering frequent flashbacks, nightmares and panic attacks. It kind of made me wonder how she managed to pass any police psychiatric exams before being allowed into the force, especially since she acts like a fruitcake half the time.

To help her deal with her demons, Jill likes to run obsessively (where have I seen that before?), and has tight control over her life. Giarratano is a psychologist in real life, and indeed presents a complex, believable portrait of an abuse survivor. But, like I said, it seems difficult to believe Jill would have ever been allowed into the police force, and she doesn't exactly come across as a particularly cluey detective. It wasn't terribly fun spending time in Jill's headspace. In fact, it wasn't much fun spending time in any of the other characters' headspaces, as most of them were paedophiles.

Giarratano has done her research, and it shows. She also strikes an appropriate balance between demonstrating this research and keeping the story moving (something PD Martin fails miserably at). But in her effort to be gritty and believable, things just go a little too far. By the time the story is over, Jill has been physically assaulted by a bikie, breaking some of her ribs, sexually molested by a prisoner, urinated on by a killer, temporarily blinded, and beaten a little more. The assault by the bikie in particular is ridiculously gratuitous nastiness, as it has little to do with the rest of the plot, and Jill is up and doing her obsessive running again within days, despite apparently having broken ribs!

I'm not one who typically balks at a bit of nastiness in books or movies, but even I have my limits. With Jill's frequent degradation, her presentation (intentional or not) as a not-very-effective detective, and frank depictions of child abuse, it's very difficult to recommend this one. TV's Law & Order: SVU deals with the same subject matter - in a visual forum, no less - with tighter plotting and better characterization.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Devil's Peak" never actually peaked, despite Michael Connelly's promise

Having finished "Devil's Peak" this morning, I was quite underwhelmed. The subplot with the prostitute divulging her secrets to the minister barely amounted to anything at all. I'm impressed by author Deon Meyer's ability to stretch a plot where barely anything happens over 400 pages, but that's about it. No suspense, no real surprises in a book with a non-linear narrative that doesn't confuse, but certainly annoys. Apparently this won a literary prize in South Africa, so maybe it has really well-constructed sentences and a sense of style that completely flew over my empty head. All I could tell was that it was BORING. I know I've bagged James Patterson out in the past, but even if he and his co-authors are lousy writers, appealing on a lowest-common-denominator trashy entertainment value, at least their stories move. There was a very interesting interview with him in a Sunday Times lift-out, where he openly calls himself a "brand" and admits he's not terribly good a writing or constructing sentences. He comes up with the plots and the co-authors write the novels. If he can pick some better co-writers (chiefly, PLEASE get rid of Maxine Paetro), he could actually put out some decent books.

Anyway, after putting down "Devil's Peak" in disappointment, I noticed a quote on the cover given by Michael Connelly, one of the best writers in the genre. He says: "With Deon Meyer, you can't go wrong." And I realised, this wasn't the first time I'd seen an endorsement on the cover, or within the pages of, a crime novel. In fact, I see quotes from Michael Connelly an awful lot. Same with Tess Gerritsen and Harlan Coben, two other great crime writers. These three certainly show up with favourable quotes more than all the other authors. I've come to think of them as "Quote Whores". Do they get a little payment for these? Once, while on Gerritsen's website, there was a blog entry on how she gets sent manuscripts for all these unpublished novels for her opinion. So I'll give all these authors the benefit of the doubt and assume they read the novels they're championing, but surely when your name pops up again and again on the cover of a new book stating how wonderful it is, you start losing a bit of credibility? Or at the very least, your word starts counting for less? Celebrities cop a lot of crap if they start endorsing everything under the sun, so why should it be any different for authors?

"The Devil's Star" and "Devil's Peak"

These two books have a few things in common. They've got "devil" in the title, obviously. They have both been translated from other languages, and both feature a lead detective who is an alcoholic. "The Devil's Star" is from Norwegian author Jo Nesbo and is actually the third book in a series featuring detective Harry Hole, but it was the first one to be translated into English. Therefore, much of this book makes reference to events from a previous novel in which Hole's police partner was murdered, and he suspected co-worker Tom Waaler of the crime. In "The Devil's Star", Hole is forced to get over his alcoholism and learn to work with Waaler, since they have both been pared up to investigate a rash of murders in which the victims have been found with a diamond pentagram on their bodies, and one of their fingers removed. It's a fairly standard mystery, and I wasn't all that interested in the subplot about whether or not Waaler was a dirty cop, but it kept me reading. I don't know if I liked it enough to track down the other books in the series, which have subsequently been translated and released (out of order), but you never know. Maybe I'll check the library.

"Devil's Peak" is from South African writer Deon Meyer. I'm actually only half-way through this one, and it's been very difficult to get into. The plot has alcoholic inspector Benny Griessel having to get over his alcoholism or risk losing both his job and his family. There have been a number of murders committed by a killer nicknamed "Artemis", and he is only targeting people who have abused or killed children. He's on this rampage because his own child was gunned down in a drive-by and the killers are still on the lam. There's also a subplot in which a prostitute tells a minister about her life, but as yet this element has not revealed its relevancy. I'm hoping it will all weave together into something interesting and surprising, but the pacing so far is not what you'd call zippy.

Having an alcoholic cop/private investigator as your book's hero/anti-hero really is becoming an over-used cliche. Lawrence Block has had the alcoholism-as-personal-demon thing covered since the 80s with his character Matt Scudder. There have been plenty of other novels with this sort of character, but they're not coming to mind right now. A similar cliche is found with female detectives/investigators in that they all seem to love cooking and going for a run. Inspired, obviously, by Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta character. I know that, being a popular genre, crime novels are inevitably going to have their own list of cliches, but would it really be that bad if your main cop/investigator came home at the end of the day, enjoyed a couple of beers, watched TV and fell asleep at 8.30?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

No Man's Land: Rise Of The Reeker

Another day, another sequel. A few years back there was a horror movie called "Reeker" which involved a group of friends on their way to a rave getting stuck at a run-down gas station and stalked by a strange entity who always comes accompanied by an atrocious stench. It was actually the script that stank so bad - as it happens, that mild car accident that occured early on in the film was much more serious than originally thought and the friends are all in a state of limbo. There is no creature called the Reeker - it was literally the stench of death coming after those who didn't survive the car wreck. That's right, most of them were DEAD ALL ALONG. God, I'm sick of that ending.

For some reason, a studio let director Dave Payne take a second shot at the concept in "No Man's Land: Rise Of The Reeker". And guess what? It's not too bad. Somebody must have told Payne that almost ten years on from "The Sixth Sense" that the whole they-were-dead-the-whole-time twist is not so terribly surprising anymore. Instead, he immediately creates a legend, if you will, that explains the creation of The Reeker (usually the soul of someone who was very evil while they were alive i.e. a serial killer). He then introduces a motley crew of characters including a sheriff and his son, a waitress, a doctor and a couple of casino thieves who, after a big shoot-out and explosion, find themselves caught in a bizarre state of limbo. But this time around, the characters slowly manage to figure out that they are indeed caught between the living and the dead and are being targeted by some sort of soul collector - he's come to get the ones who are supposed to be dead. So instead of trying to surprise the audience with an overused twist ending, things zip along nicely until the end, which wraps everything up neatly. There's the inevitible set-up for a sequel, but it's in keeping with the mythology set up at the beginning of the movie.

So there you have it. "No Man's Land: Rise Of The Reeker" isn't a great horror movie - it wasn't remotely scary or suspenseful. But it contained a couple of original ideas, likeable characters, and a few gory moments. Which at least makes it a cut above a lot of the stinky competition.

Monday, June 1, 2009

An analysis of the Poison Ivy movies. Yes, they deserve one.

The "Poison Ivy" franchise has, if nothing else, been remembered as the one that got soon-to-be-famous actresses out of their clothes and simulating sex with male co-stars much older than them. Drew Barrymore was the first to do it at just 17. The first "Poison Ivy" came out in 1992, around the same time as other sexy movies like "Basic Instinct", "Body Of Evidence" and "Sliver" hit the big screen. There really wasn't all that much to it, other than the future "Charlie's Angels" movie star pushing former "Charlie's Angels" TV star Cheryl Ladd off the balcony. Oh yeah, and 17-year-old Drew simulating sex with 59-year-old Tom Skerritt. Ew. And don't think I'm spoiling anything, because you've had 17 bloody years in which to watch the thing!

"Poison Ivy 2: Lily" popped up a few years later, this time going direct-to-video. Alyssa Milano was post "Who's The Boss?" and pre "Charmed". She was trying to ditch her goody-goody image and had also just completed "Embrace Of The Vampire", a nudie classic that also starred Martin Kemp from 80's rock band Spandau Ballet and - wait for it - Cheryl Ladd's daughter Jordan! "Poison Ivy 2: Lily" was only vaguely linked to the original, as Alyssa finds Ivy's diary and lets it lead her on a journey of sexual discovery, including simulating sex with a pre-fame Jonathan Schaech. Or something. The movie was a heap of shit and I can't remember much of it. If you're after some Milano mammaries, "Embrace Of The Vampire" is the much better movie anyway, plus it includes a foursome.

"Poison Ivy 3" I cannot comment on, because I'm pretty sure the bloody thing hasn't even been released in Australia. Because believe me, if it had, I would have seen it already. Any movie title with a numeral after it, I've generally seen. Anyway, part 3 was the movie debut of Jaime Pressly, who's now winning awards (and deservedly so) for her role as Joy in TV's "My Name Is Earl". Some research on the trusty Internet Movie Database tells me she played Violet, apparently the younger sister of Ivy. She seduces Greg Vaughan, who would later be a regular on TV's "Charmed" and Michael Des Barres from 80's rock band Animotion. My God, the coincidences just don't stop!!!

The reason for this brief history? I was lucky enough last night to sit through "Poison Ivy 4: The Secret Society". Now other than the flower motif, there's no connection to the previous films. If anything, this should have been called "The Skulls 4", because it far more resembles those movies. Except with a lot more tits. This time around, naive Daisy (Miriam McDonald), fresh from the farm, arrives at University and because she is so attractive and smart, immediately attracts the attention of Azalea (Shawna Waldron), head of The Ivies, the secret society of the title. Except they're not so secret, because everybody knows about them. Azalea actually sees Daisy as a threat to securing some internship, and is simply following that old adage of "keep your friends close and your enemies closer". Azalea desperately wants that internship, not to mention some better grades, and does the usual sex trades in her attempts to score them, then resorting to murder when the sex doesn't work. She tries to frame Daisy for all her bad deeds. Daisy, despite being told that The Ivies are all-powerful and have been for decades and simply can't be stopped - achieves just that by simply recording Azalea's confession on a cassette tape. Wow. Pure genius.

This movie, unsurprisingly, was shit. Pathetic plot, pathetic dialogue and pathetic sex scenes. The Internet has some mild buzz about the movie, as star Miriam McDonald is one of the leads on TV's "Degrassi: The Next Generation" (which I've never watched), and she gets her boobs out a couple of times here. Although it's not her fault, I hated the character. At the start of the film she tells her boyfriend she's not ready for sex, but once she's at university, she gives it up to the first greasy, unattractive poon-hound who looks at her twice. It's hard to like a film when your main character is a complete wet blanket. No wonder her idea to bring down The Ivies was something an untrained monkey could have conceived.

Co-star Shawna Waldron was a child star back in the mid-90s and also goes topless, but she's the far better actress. She plays the murderous vixen well, conveying both sexiness and menace. Considering that what was on the written page was utter garbage, that's quite an achievement. Should she go onto bigger things (and she deserves to), the "Poison Ivy" franchise's legacy of undressing future stars will be maintained and all will be right with the world.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Lethal Legacy" by Linda Fairstein

You can usually rely upon Linda Fairstein for an entertaining, if forgettable, mystery thriller. This time around, sex crimes prosecutor Alexandra Cooper, homicide detective Mike Chapman and sex crimes detective Mercer Wallace are drawn into a mystery involving the scrupulous folk who collect rare books. And rare maps. It seems somebody is willing to kill to get hold of the 12 parts of some ancient map.

The funny thing about Fairstein's books is that although two of the main characters work in sex crimes, the novels are never about that. The word count is usually padded out with some of Alex's cases, but they have nothing to do with the central plot. The central plot is generally an excuse for Fairstein to show off her knowledge of New York history. This is particularly evident in "Lethal Legacy" as just about every other page has one of the main or ancillary characters sounding off about some historical factoid. It gets to the point where you feel like saying: "just get on with it, already!" Of course, you don't actually say that, because talking to yourself would make you look strange....

The other thing that irks me about Fairstein's books is the relationship between Cooper and Chapman. Some of the things he says to her are downright vulgar and sexist and border on sexual harrassment, yet she never seems terribly bothered by it. She never has a go at him, yet he is constantly on her back with a ridiculously harsh putdown. I'm stunned that an author who so obviously is a champion of women's rights could create a main character that would put up with this behaviour. And I'm sure even the most loutish slob would cringe at some of the things Mike Chapman says. To be fair, it seems toned down in "Lethal Legacy", so maybe someone finally pointed out to Fairstein just how out-of-touch she was when it came to creating a male-female friendship.

Give Linda Fairstein a go if you like your crime on the lighter side. It's not quite as tame as Mary Higgins Clark, but generally shies away from the gore you find in most crime fiction.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Crater Face

I really, really wanted to vote in the Daylight Savings referendum in WA today. I wanted to proudly say NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. As it happens, my "no" vote has even more relevance considering my current appearance is more like what you'd expect to find in the dark corners of the night.

I have Chicken Pox. I never caught it as a child, but I kinda figured that since I'm nearly 30 that I'd avoided ever having to worry about it. Not the case. After surviving a busy day at work on Monday (I can't believe I did - I'm obviously a strong, virile near-30-year-old) where my whole body was aching and I was alternating between shivering and sweating, I took Tuesday off. I can't remember much of the day amidst the feverish dreaming and sweating, but I was sufficiently coherent on Wednesday to organise a doctor's visit where I discovered the terrible news.

At that point, I still looked human. I was able to walk amongst the general public and appear like I belonged. Now, that didn't last long. By Thursday, I was resembling something out of a David Cronenberg movie. Totally gross. Redness, spots, leaking fluids, you name it. My parents arrived on Friday to "look after me", but the veracity of this statement was somewhat undermined by the fact they'd brought with them enough anti-bacterial material to survive an apocalyptic George A. Romero opus. Not to mention they'd back away in horror if I came within metres of them.

So you understand my apprehension in going out in public to cast my vote. Although it would have given me great joy to leave the house and scare small children, I am what you call a "human monster" with (according to my mum) 35 spots on my face, so I remain inside to keep the general population safe. And hopefully, if the "no" vote succeeds, I can be left to live out the rest of my existence in the dark, or at least as the basis of the scary stories that keep children awake at night.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Those long-promised reviews

Actually, I lie. Do you really expect me to remember what happened in "Until It's Over" and "8th Confession" nearly a month after I read them? Especially since neither were particularly good? With "8th Confession" it's all my own fault, really, because James Patterson hasn't put out anything resembling decent in years and years. And yet I keep on getting the next installment of his Women's Murder Club and Alex Cross series. I even get a few of the stand-alones, although I thought "The Quickie" and "Sail" were at least trashily entertaining.

I seriously need to overcome the temptation to get the Women's Murder Club books. They are so lazily written that they typically combine about three or four storylines that have nothing to do with each other. Well, they've followed that path since about part 5. It really shits me because that's one of the reasons I turn my nose at the CSI franchise on TV: they always have two separate storylines, as if they don't trust the audience has enough intelligence or patience to follow just one story. That, and CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATORS DO NOT QUESTION SUSPECTS OR SOLVE THE CRIMES!!!!!! They collect the samples, give the results, then go home for coffee. It annoys me so much that I always change the channel in disgust and try to find something else to watch. Except it's always one of those 1207 different "Animal Rescue" or "Crash Investigation" shows. So I just turn the television off a book. Which brings me back to....

"8th Confession" was so by-the-numbers that I can't remember one storyline, much less three. "Until It's Over", written by Nicci French, was undoubtedly a much better written book, but hindered by a device that simply didn't work for me. The storyline involved bike messenger Astrid having the unlucky distinction of being present at numerous murder scenes, making her one of the suspects. Could the culprit be one of her six (six???) housemates, who are all about to be kicked out their current stomping grounds? The situation does generate suspense and interest....until halfway through when the culprit is revealed, and the remainder of the book is events seen through their eyes. It was much like reading the same book twice, without much new information to make it worthwhile. Although the fact I actually remembers what happens should probably be a recommendation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sometimes I read books

I finally finished reading "Scream For Me" by Karen Rose, the follow-up to "Die For Me", which I reviewed a few weeks ago. It took me a little while to read it. Karen Rose falls into that section of mystery/thriller writers who got their start in romance fiction. So, while there is plenty of gruesome goings-on, there's also a lot of fragile heroines breathing in manly scents and alpha-males holding said fragile heroines to their furry chests. Therefore, sometimes I need to take little breaks so that I don't put the book down and vomit into my nachos.

All in all, it wasn't a bad read. I always find it ridiculous in these sort of books when the demure heroine, who's usually somewhat scared of sex, suddenly transforms into a modern-day Jenna Jameson as soon as the new hunky man in her life decides he wants to sleep with her. In this case, we have Alex Fallon, who's still haunted by the death of her twin sister, who was gang-raped and murdered fifteen years ago. She hasn't had much luck in the sex department, but when Special Agent Daniel Vartanian is called in to investigate the disappearance of Alex's foster sister, she can't rip her clothes off fast enough. As it turns out, this disappearance has links to the past gang-rape (plus several others), a spate of current murders, not to mention the evil activities of Daniel's brother Simon, who was the serial killer hunted down and killed in "Die For Me". Confused? Well, you could actually read this book without reading "Die For Me" and still follow what's going on, which I guess says something positive about Rose's abilities as an author. In fact, she manages to wrap up the various goings-on in this novel and yet still leave a couple of threads dangling to be resolved in the next installment, which I believe is titled "Kill For Me".

After finishing "Scream For Me", I moved onto "The Passenger" by Chris Petit, which is basically a "what-if" scenario centred around the plane crash in Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. A father is devastated by the death of his son on that plane - until he learns of the possibility that his son never boarded the plane. The book goes on to involve real-life spy James Angleton and his meetings with Kim Philby and Graeme Greene, the political climate between America and Palestine, and numerous other factors, to provide a multitude of conspiracy theories as to why the plane crashed. It's fascinating reading, but is saddled with a bizarre "twist" ending that pretty much renders everything that preceeded it as non-sensical.

After "The Passenger" I've since gone on to read "Until It's Over" by Nicci French and "8th Confession" by James Patterson, but I'll provide my illuminating and heart-thumping opinions on those for another occasion.