book: Snowdrops (2010) by A.D. Miller

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English lawyer Nick Platt, working in Moscow during the early years of this century as a facilitator for western bank loans to dubious Russian projects, rather thrives in the cutthroat, amoral society he finds there.

One day he encounters two sisters, Masha and Katya, and soon convinces himself he has fallen in love with Masha. Almost immediately they’re in the throes of an affair, with Katya as the close friend who seems always in tow. When the two young women suggest Nick should Continue reading

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book: Crime of Privilege (2013) by Walter Walker

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A roman a clef, a mystery story, a legal thriller, a travelogue? Crime of Privilege doesn’t really fit fairly and squarely into any of these genres, although it has aspects of them all — and, indeed, more. What it is is one of the most engrossing, involving novels I’ve read all year.

No-longer-quite-so-young George Becket is among the lowliest of the lawyers working in the (presumably fictitious) Cape & Islands DA’s office on Cape Cod, his standard fare being OUI cases. The only real friend he has in the department is his office-mate, Barbara Belbonnet. Both are aware that they got their jobs only because of their social connections: Barbara because the Belbonnets are old Cape Cod bluebloods, George because, years ago, he witnessed a borderline rape committed by two scions of the politically powerful Gregory family and, although he didn’t lie about what he’d seen, his failure to volunteer information ensured that charges were never brought.

The victim was, though, the daughter of Continue reading

I’ll Name The Murderer (1936)

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Silenced songbird!
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US / 68 minutes / bw / Puritan Dir: Raymond K. Johnson (i.e., Bernard B. Ray) Pr: C.C. Burr Scr: Philip Dunham, Edwin K. O’Brien Story: Philip Dunham Cine: James Diamond Cast: Ralph Forbes, Marion Shilling, Malcolm MacGregor, James Guilfoyle, John W. Cowell, Wm. Norton Bailey, Agnes Anderson, Charlotte Barr-Smith, Mildred Claire (i.e., Claire Rochelle), Gayne Kinsey, Harry Semels, Al Klein, Louise Keaton, Miki Morita, Karl Hackett.

Gossip columnist Tommy Tilton (Forbes), author of the popular daily “Tattle-Tales Along Broadway” column, is tonight attending the recently opened niterie Luigi’s. While there he runs into his old varsity pal Ted Benson (MacGregor). The latter is out celebrating with his just-announced fiancée, Vi Van Ostrum (Barr-Smith), who’s not just unthinkably hot but a millionaire’s daughter—an ideal combination, in other words.

Charlotte Barr-Smith as Vi Van Ostrum and Malcolm MacGregor as Ted Benson.

But there’s a fly, it seems, in the ointment of Ted’s life: Nadia Renee (Anderson), resident chanteuse at Luigi’s:

Tommy: “Nadia? Oh, yes, that was the amazing interlude of your freshman year. I thought that was past history.”
Ted: “So did I, but Nadia has different ideas. You see, I wrote some letters . . .”

Nadia wants $10,000 for those letters or she’ll show them to Vi’s father, Hugo (Bailey)—that’s about $180,000 in today’s terms, so they must be Continue reading

snapshot: When the Bough Breaks (1947)

UK / 78 minutes / bw / Sydney Box, Gainsborough, GFD, Rank Dir: Lawrence Huntington Pr: Betty E. Box Scr: Peter Rogers Story: Moie Charles, Herbert Victor Cine: Bryan Langley Cast: Patricia Roc, Rosamund John, Bill Owen, Brenda Bruce, Patrick Holt, Leslie Dwyer, Cavan Malone, Torin Thatcher, Catherine Lacey, Edith Sharpe, Muriel George, Jane Hylton, Noel Howlett, Sonia Holm.

Lily Gardner (Roc), recovering in hospital after the birth of her first child, Jimmy, receives the unwelcome news that her husband is a bigamist—legally Jimmy has been born out of wedlock. She decides to go it alone, reverting to her maiden name of Lily Bates, forswearing men and getting a job at a department store. There she’s befriended by scent-counter colleague Ruby Chapman (Bruce). During the day she leaves Jimmy at a childcare center, where he’s tended by rich Frances Norman (John). Eventually it all gets too much for Lily and she allows Frances and Frances’s husband Robert (Holt) to adopt the lad.

Patricia Roc as Lily Gardner/Bates, getting the bad news about her marital status.

Eight years later, though, she meets Continue reading

book: The Queen of Bedlam (2007) by Robert McCammon

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It’s 1702 in the fledgling city of New York — still a small town, by today’s standards — and young legal clerk Matthew Corbett takes it upon himself to weasel out the mystery of a serial killer who’s been nicknamed the Masker, because of the way he mutilates the faces of his victims. Before he knows it, Matthew has been recruited as one of the world’s first private detectives by the indomitable Katherine Herrald, and Continue reading

o/t (and late): leisure reading for June

I’m late posting this monthly listing because of

(a)   this goddam deadline I’m facing;
(b)   some computer shenanigans (which, after great expenditure of time and money, proved to be the responsibility of the mouse—sounds as if it should have been obvious, but in fact it was far from so); and
(c)   er, forgetfulness—it was only when I unearthed my To Do list just now, some while after the delights of (b), that I realized I hadn’t done this post.

’Way fewer books than usual in June because I’ve been deliberately opting for longer books (the Lucarelli’s the big exception here) in order to cut down the amount of time spent writing up my book notes. Yes, I know, but, when you have a deadline as tight as the one I’m under, it all helps. The links are to those notes’ appearance on Goodreads; most but not all have been cross-posted here.

Souriante Madame Beudet, La (1922)

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Bang, bang, the joke’s on you!
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vt The Smiling Madame Beudet
France / 38 minutes / bw silent / Colisée Dir: Germaine Dulac Pr: Charles Delac, Marcel Vandal Scr: André Obey Story: La Souriante Madame Beudet (1920 play) by Denys Amiel and André Obey Cine: A. Merrin Cast: Germaine Dermoz, Madeleine Guitty, Grisier (i.e., Yvette Grisier), Jean d’Yd, Paoli (i.e., Raoul Paoli), Thirard (i.e., Armand Thirard), Arquillière (i.e., Alexandre Arquillière).

The title’s ironic, because Madame Beudet doesn’t normally smile . . .

Somewhere in a small French provincial town, the artistic, sensitive Madame Beudet (Dermoz) is trapped in a loveless marriage to an obnoxious, philistine boor (Arquillière).

Germaine Dermoz as Madame Beudet.

Their latest argument is over a cultural event but, oddly enough, this time it’s Beudet who’s on the side of culture. A friend has sent him four free tickets to a performance of Faust, but Madame doesn’t want to go: she’d rather stay at home playing the piano and reading her book. So off Beudet trots to the theater with Continue reading

book: If You Were Here (2013) by Alafair Burke

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A mystery thriller that constantly entertains yet somehow never quite detonates.

Ten years ago McKenna Jordan was a bright young up-and-coming Assistant DA. Then two things happened in quick succession: she got involved in a controversial case where a white cop had killed a black man, and her best friend, Susan Hauptmann, disappeared. McKenna, now a journalist, has never really thought about the fact that there might be a connection between the two incidents.

But now an amateur phone video of a woman saving someone’s life in the New York subway convinces McKenna that Susan is alive after all these years. As she tries to work out where Susan might be and what actually happened, she becomes aware that powerful, unseen forces are putting into gear a mighty cover-up, and they don’t care if people have to be killed to keep the secret.

People like McKenna . . .

That’s the setup in brief. But then Continue reading

reblog: The Black Legion (1937)

***Over at Silver Screen Classics, Paul Batters has produced a great write-up (complete with clips) of a splendid movie that has great relevance to our own times. In The Book, where obviously I had space for only a brief account, I concluded of The Black Legion that “Politics and noir often don’t mix well, but this succeeds admirably as both ripping yarn and exposure of the basic rottenness of such organizations.” It’s a movie that merits more attention and, as I say, Paul Batters does it proud.

Silver Screen Classics

by Paul Batters

poster_-_black_legion_02Cinema has always been used as a medium to outline social issues and concerns and bring them to the attention of audiences. Of all the major studios, which produced ‘social message’ films, Warner Bros. perhaps did them best during the classic era and certainly produced some interesting social message films during the 1930s. Films such as Mervyn LeRoy’s I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932) were so successful that they became influential in challenging the penal system’s use of chain gangs. Even the gangster genre would step into the realm of the message film, examining the shaping of the mobster and the social ills that created crime in films such as Dead End (1937) and Angels With Dirty Faces (1938).

What made them successful, particularly during the 1930s, was that the stories were often drawn from real events (or at the very least inspired by…

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Postmortem (1998 DTV)

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Single-malt embalming fluid?
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US / 101 minutes / color / Imperial Entertainment, Filmwerks Dir: Albert Pyun Pr: Gary Schmoeller, Tom Karnowski Scr: John Lowry Lamb, Robert McDonnell Cine: George Mooradian Cast: Charles Sheen, Michael Halsey, Ivana Mílíčevíć, Stephen McCole, Gary Lewis, Dave Anderson, Leigh Biagi, Phil McCall, John Yule, Ian Hanmore, Ian Cairns, David Walker, Zuleika Shaw, Hazel Ann Crawford, Pauline Carville, Rab Affleck, Suzanne Carlsson, Lisa Earl, Carol Findlay, Erin Mooney, Alan Orr, Jenny Hughes.

This is not, let’s say it at the outset, a good movie. It’s a movie in which the lead actor, despite having built up an international reputation for spending much of his time falling over while under the influence, fails to convincingly portray falling over while under the influence. He portrays sobriety even less convincingly, which I suppose says . . . something.

Charles Sheen as James MacGregor.

James MacGregor (Sheen), after a stellar career of tracking down serial killers, has dropped out of the San Francisco PD because of acute depression and general burnout, and has written a bestselling true-crime book, Mind Crash, about an especially vile serial killer of children, Albert Smith. Now MacGregor is living in a cottage on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland, hoping to find himself at the bottom of a Continue reading