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.