book: An Absence of Light (1994) by David Lindsey

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David Lindsey is one of my favorite crime novelists. His A Cold Mind (1983), almost his first novel, represented a remarkable coming-of-age for the serial-killer genre. Mercy (1990) made him famous. But for me it’s his 1992 novel Body of Truth that’s most imprinted itself on my mind: although it fits the bill as a murder mystery, it’s the novel’s lifting off the lid of the Reagan-backed dirty war in Guatemala that makes it without a doubt the most harrowing crime novel I have ever read. It achieved this effect on me not through torrents of grue, or whatever, but through its slowly built-up recreation of the atmosphere of (wholly justified) paranoia that must have existed in Guatemala and other countries in Central and South America at the time, where a word out of place — or simply the whim of some moronic bully — could have you “disappeared” overnight, possibly a plaything for the torturers for the hours before the mercy of death. And maybe not just you: maybe your whole family.

I read Body of Truth within a few years after its publication, about a quarter of a century ago, and, although most plot details have obviously drifted out of memory, I still find that, every time I think about the book, I re-enter that state of paranoia.

Lindsey’s novels tend to be strong meat (though that’s not a universal rule), and so I generally space them out a bit. I realized the other day that really quite a while had passed since last I’d read one and that I’d accumulated three on the TBR shelves. So I picked off the fattest of them, which was An Absence of Light, and settled in.

Houston, Texas, and an investigator for the Houston PD’s Criminal Intelligence Division (CID) is found in his car with a bullet through his head. The initial verdict is Continue reading

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The Road from Erebus (2000 TVM)

US / 97 minutes / color / Short End, Silverline Dir & Pr & Scr: David Sporn Cine: Ben Wolf Cast: Brenda Price, D. James Reynolds, Morton Hall Millen, Paige Balitski, Jeff Paul, Bob Brown, Lesley Morris, Keith Miller, Robert Pemberton, Evan Lai, Christine Murray, Keely Barr.

According to Wikipedia, “In Greek mythology, Erebus . . . was often conceived as a primordial deity, representing the personification of darkness.” There’s obviously symbolism going on here, because the only appearance of the word in this movie (aside from the title) is in the name of the street in New York City where the villain lives, Erebus Street. Yet the plot as a whole could be seen as tracing the protagonist’s escape from “the personification of darkness”—or at least from darkness.

D. James Reynolds as Barry.

Books editor Barry Atman (Reynolds) picks up advertising exec Helen (Price) in a restaurant and has the night of his dreams with her. But in the morning she flees from his apartment, apparently in terror. Trying to track her down, he encounters sculptress Roxanne Continue reading

book: Murder in Mimicry (1977) by Anne Morice

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A mystery that’s tremendous fun to read even if, as a mystery, it’s not the greatest of shakes.

Actress Tessa Crichton, Morice’s series detective, is recruited for the US run of a stage comedy that’s been a big hit in London’s West End, and accordingly travels to Washington DC. There she finds the production riven by old dislikes and feuds, with the various cast members and crew bitching amusingly at each other. (From my limited knowledge of the theater, this all seems very realistic — quite nostalgic I got, dearie.) But then the old friend whom Tessa is lodging with gets hit over the head by Continue reading

Hat, Coat, and Glove (1934)

US / 65 minutes / bw / RKO Radio Pictures Dir: Worthington Miner Exec Pr: Pandro S. Berman Scr: Francis Faragoh Story: Ein Mantel, ein Hut, ein Handschuh (1933 play) by Wilhelm Speyer Cine: J. Roy Hunt Cast: Ricardo Cortez, Barbara Robbins, John Beal, Dorothy Burgess, Paul Harvey, Sara Haden, Margaret Hamilton, David Durand, Murray Kinnell, Frederick Sullivan, Gayle Evers, Samuel S. Hinds.

Hotshot NYC lawyer Robert Mitchell (Cortez) and his wife Dorothea (Robbins) have agreed to a trial separation, even though he loves her more than ever. She, on the other hand, has taken up with a boytoy (“Oh, nobody has the right to be as young as you are!” she tells him in a moment of unconscious honesty) in the shape of struggling Greenwich Village artist Jerry Hutchins (Beal), who, unlike other struggling Greenwich Village artists, appears always immaculately besuited, betied and begloved.

Ricardo Cortez as Robert Mitchell.

One night Jerry’s old girlfriend Ann Brewster (Burgess) invades his studio and tries to persuade him to Continue reading

Farewell, My Love (2000 TVM/DTV)

US / 90 minutes / color / Frontline, Montage, World International Dir & Scr: Randall Fontana Pr: Deverin Karol, Eric Weston, William Ewart, David Peters Cine: Rex A. Nicholson Cast: Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Phillip Rhys, Brion James, Ed Lauter, Mark A. Sheppard, Steffen Gregory Foster, Sarah Wynter, Adam Baldwin, Robert Culp, Hamilton Mitchell, Constance Zimmer, Craig Aldrich, Kimberlee Peterson, Catherine McGoohan.

Years ago, the criminous Russian Karpov family—Peter (Foster), George (Mitchell), Natalya (Wynter) and patriarch Sergei (Lauter)—paused in their journey across Europe at the small Pyrenean vineyard of the Fauré family, where they murdered M. Fauré (uncredited), gang-raped and murdered Mme. Fauré (McGoohan) and left the Faurés’ adolescent daughter Brigit (Peterson) severely injured. Brigit was saved by the timely arrival of a neighbor, Renault (James, who is surely rocker Richard Thompson moonlighting; wrong accent, though).

Brion James as Renault.

Now the Karpovs live a life of organized crime in LA, which is where an older, harder Brigit (Fitzpatrick) has just arrived, athirst for vengeance. Renault is Continue reading

book: The Long Fall (2009) by Walter Mosley

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I’ve read a couple of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books over the years — I loved Devil in a Blue Dress, which is the one just about everyone’s read, and quite enjoyed the other one, title now forgotten — so I was enticed when I tripped over a copy of The Long Fall by the prospect of a new Mosley detective, PI Leonid McGill, and a new Mosley setting, present-day New York.

And what a lucky discovery it has been. I’m not much of a one for series novels, but I may very well delve further into the Leonid McGill books, of which I see there are now five.

Leonid — “LT” to many of his acquaintances — has, in true Chandleresque fashion, three cases on the go. The main one involves Continue reading

book: The Roman Hat Mystery (1929) by Ellery Queen

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An unflattering remark about this novel the other day by a crime blogger whose judgments I generally enjoy reminded me I should read the book again: it’s been a very long time indeed since last I did so, my copy then being one of those old Victor Gollancz yellow-jackets (borrowed from the St. Bride Library, just off Fleet Street, London, if you need the full particulars). I don’t know if it was the very first Ellery Queen novel I read, but it must have been close to it; although my love affair with Queen’s work really began some years later, when I came across Calamity Town in a secondhand bookshop in Edinburgh (see? extraneous details — I gottem!, it was one of these early outings by the cousins that got the ball rolling for me.

In the middle of a performance of the latest Broadway sensation, Gunplay!, a man is found murdered in the auditorium, and Inspector Richard Queen of the NYPD is called in to investigate. He brings to the case with him his affected detective-novelist son Ellery, and it’s no surprise to learn that between them they crack it — most of the essential ratiocination being Ellery’s, as you’d expect.

The dead man proves to have been Continue reading

book: Gangway! (1973) by Donald E. Westlake and Brian Garfield

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I was saddened to learn the other day that writer Brian Garfield died at the end of last year at the fairly modest age of 79. Back in the day, I read quite a few of Garfield’s crime novels, and by and large very much enjoyed them. (The one about which I had reservations was, oddly enough, the one that brought him the greatest fame, Death Wish, although I liked the novel a lot better than I liked any of the violence-glorifying, pro-vigilante screen adaptations I saw.) I got the impression, too, that Garfield was a thoroughly good egg, someone I’d have loved to have known.

Hearing of his death prompted me to dig out one of his books to read as a tribute, so to speak. The difficulty was finding one I was pretty certain I hadn’t read decades ago during my Garfield reading frenzy. And so it turned out that I found myself not only reading an extremely atypical Garfield book (surely I’d have remembered a Garfield/Westlake collaboration, since Westlake was another favorite author!) but also realizing after a few chapters that in fact I had read it. Still, it was about forty-five years ago, give or take, so I forgive my flawed memory.

It’s 1874 and young New York enforcer Gabe Beauchamps has been “advised” by his criminal boss that he might choose to continue his career as far away from New York as he could possibly get without drowning in the Pacific — in San Francisco, to be precise. By the time he gets there, Gabe has teamed up with beautiful pickpocket and con artist Evangeline “Vangie” Kemp. The two form the kernel of a tight little group that has all the requisite skill sets to perpetrate the heist Gabe has dreamed up: Continue reading

book: A Sight for Sore Eyes (1998) by Ruth Rendell

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Brought up in an affectionless, distanced family, young Teddy has become an aesthete, a craftsman, an emotional cripple and a sociopath. Having as a child seen her mother murdered, Francine has had her life since then dominated by her controlling, obsessional, quack psychotherapist stepmother, Julia. Harriet still lives in a past where she was a rock socialite celebrated for her pre-Raphaelite-style beauty, subject of an iconic painting; now, married to a far older man who bores her rigid, she whiles away the time by seducing plumbers and electricians. One day she lures Teddy to the house on the pretext that she needs new shelving. By now Teddy has become obsessed with the pure-seeming Francine, who’s responsive to his approaches because she’s never had a boyfriend before and perhaps also because Julia disapproves of the liaison . . .

That’s the setup, and by all counts it should have led to another Ruth Rendell classic.

And yet somehow it . . . didn’t, or at least Continue reading

Bad Samaritan (2018)

US / 110 minutes / color / Electric Entertainment, Global Pictures Media Dir: Dean Devlin Pr: Dean Devlin, Marc Roskin, Rachel Olschan-Wilson Scr: Brandon Boyce Cine: David Connell Cast: David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon, Carlito Olivero, Jacqueline Byers, Tracey Heggins, Robert P. Nagle, Lorraine Bahr, Jacob Resnikoff, David Meyers, Tony Doupe, Lisa Brenner, Sofia Hasmik, Delpaneaux Wills, Hannah Barefoot, Danny Bruno, Austin Fullard-Leo.

A movie that I didn’t expect to enjoy much—oh, noes, another serial-killer chiller, yawn, yawn—but ended up enjoying quite a lot. The premise is interesting, if not entirely unfamiliar, and the movie’s thrills derive from threatening situations rather than gratuitous grue—in fact, although there’s a fair amount of biffing and bashing, any sadistic violence is kept off-screen. As a result, the movie feels fresh even as it replows an already thoroughly tilled field.

David Tennant as Cale Erendreich.

In Portland, Oregon, impoverished young Irish photographer (Sheehan) and his best mate Derek Sandoval (Olivero) have a part-time job burgling houses. One night, Continue reading