book: Nine Times Nine (1940) by H.H. Holmes/Anthony Boucher

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This novel, the first of Boucher’s duo (bilogy?) featuring amateur detective Sister Ursula, both written as by H.H. Holmes (a moniker of a prolific 19th-century serial killer), is quite openly an homage to the work of John Dickson Carr: it’s dedicated to Carr and the best part of one of its chapters is devoted to an analysis of Carr’s famous “locked-room lecture” in The Hollow Man (1935; vt The Three Coffins). It reads rather like a Carr novel too, although it lacks some of the sprightliness, the sense of the Gothic and the constantly threatened iconoclasm — in fact, it’s percolated with a heavy dash of Catholicism.

Wolfe Harrigan makes a profession out of exposing religious charlatans and cultists. His principal current targets are Continue reading

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book: A Voice in the Night (2012; trans 2016 Stephen Sartarelli) by Andrea Camilleri

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It’s Inspector Montalbano’s 58th birthday, and he’s trying to use what we might call the Sicilian equivalent of GOP economics to persuade everyone — especially himself — that it’s really only his 57th.

Meanwhile, he’s got two cases to solve — three, really, though two seem obviously to be part of the same case. One involves the apparent suicide of a supermarket manager whose mob-owned supermarket has just been robbed of the day’s takings; a nightwatchmen who worked for the next-door premises is later found murdered in a traditional-style mafia “execution,” presumably because he saw the burglary in progress. The other case is that of a brutally murdered young architecture student whose live-in boyfriend just happens to be the son of a prominent local politician.

I much enjoyed this book, as I generally do when reading Camilleri’s Montalbano novels. At the same time, Continue reading

Ég Man Thig (2017)

vt I Remember You
Iceland / 106 minutes / color with bw sequences / Ape&Bjørn, Icelandic Film Centre, Norsk Filminstitutt, Nordsk Film & TV Fond, Sena, Scanbox, RÚV, Zik Zak, Sighvatsson Dir: Oskar Thór Axelsson Pr: Thórir Snaer Sigurjonsson, Sigurjón Sighvatsson, Skúli Malmquist, Chris Briggs Scr: Oskar Thór Axelsson, Ottó G. Borg Story: Ég Man Thig (2010) by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir Cine: Jakob Ingimundarson Cast: Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Anna Gunndís Gudmundsdóttir, Thórvaldur Davíd Kristjánsson, Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir, Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, Arnar Páll Hardarson, Ragnheidur Steindórsdóttir, Thröstur Leó Gunnarsson, Thór Tulinius, Elma Stefania Agustsdóttir, Júlia Hannam, Theodór Júliusson, Jóhann Sigurdarson, Sveinn Geirsson, Bjarni Kristböjdrsson, Jóhanna Vigdis Arnardóttir, Gudni Geir Jóhannesson.

Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson as Freyr.

An old woman hangs herself in a church after having vandalized the place and repeatedly scrawled ÓHReINN (“Unclean”) on the walls. The woman’s body is found to be etched all over with crosses. A local hospital psychiatrist, Freyr (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), is called in by the investigating detective, Dagny (Ásgeirsdóttir), to see if he can help explain things.

Elma Stefania Agustsdóttir as Sara.

Together they establish that this death and a bunch of other accidents/suicides seem to be tied to a decades-old cold case in which a small boy, Bernódus (Hardarson), disappeared. Bernódus had been the victim of Continue reading

snapshot: Date Bait (1960)

US / 72 minutes / bw / Marathon, Filmgroup Dir & Pr: O’Dale Ireland Scr: Robert Slaven, Ethelmae Wilson Page Story: O’Dale Ireland, Robert Slaven, Ethelmae Wilson Page Cine: Larry Raimond Cast: Gary Clarke, Marla Ryan, Richard Gering, Carol Dawne, Jon Lindon, Gabe De Lutri (i.e., John Garwood), Michael Bachus, Mildred Miller, Steve Ihnat.

A rock’n’roll exploitationer that’s light on the exploitation—unless the sight of baby doll pajamas floats your boat—and indeed on the rock’n’roll (despite Reggie Perkins singing the title song, “Date Bait,” and Johnny Faire singing “Purple Pleated Bermuda’s” [sic]), yet works rather well as a minor, borderline film noir.

Teenagers Danny Logan (Clarke) and Sue Randall (Ryan) are so in love you can practically hear them squeak when they walk. They hang out and dance at the burger’n’jive joint Sanchio Pancho’s (I know, but that seems to be the intended spelling), which is where all the cool kids in this particular Continue reading

book: The Last Night at Tremore Beach (2014; trans 2017 Carlos Frías) by Mikel Santiago

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A white-knuckle thriller, the most gripping I’ve read in quite a while.

Drained of inspiration and indeed almost the will to live by the desertion of his wife, popular composer Pete Harper ends up abandoning the bright lights for the remoteness of a Donegal beach, miles from a small town/village that is itself miles from anywhere. There, with the company of only the crashing waves and the elderly couple, Leo and Marie, who live two miles down the shore, he hopes he can restore his inner self and write that masterpiece.

But, of course, inspiration fails to strike.

What does strike him, one dark and stormy night, is lightning. He survives, the only immediately apparent consequences being Continue reading

book: The Crow Girl (2010, 2011, 2012; trans 2015 by Neil Smith) by Erik Axl Sund

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Several mutilated corpses of pre-adolescent boys turn up in and around Stockholm, and Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg and her team mount a hunt for what’s obviously a serial killer. As part of her effort, she ropes in the assistance of psychologist Sofia Zetterlund, and, even as the two women realize they’re falling in love, it becomes clear to them that there’s far more going on than just this single string of killings. The consequences of a host of past pedophiliac crimes are finally coming home to roost, with a terrible vengeance being enacted upon the perpetrators. Continue reading

Crush (2013)

US / 95 minutes / color / Intrepid Pictures, FilmNation Dir: Malik Bader Pr: Trevor Macy, Marc D. Evans Scr: Sonny Mallhi Cine: Scott Kevan Cast: Lucas Till, Crystal Reed, Sarah Bolger, Caitriona Balfe, Reid Ewing, Holt McCallany, DJ Kemp, Camille Guaty, Michael Landes, Isaiah Mustafa, Leigh Whannell, Ashleigh Craig, Cody Hamilton, Dan Metcalfe, Preston Davis, Mariah Buzolin, Melissa Young, Nikki SooHoo, Meredith Salenger.

A surprisingly neat little movie that hovers somewhere between dark comedy and twisty psychological thriller, with a bit of coming-of-age drama thrown in. The performances are uniformly very good to excellent; almost all of them manage to be convincing while at the same time retaining something of the tongue-in-cheek. I was expecting a ripoff of—sorry, homage to—The FAN (the 1996 piece, not the 1981 one), but what I saw was a far more original and certainly far more entertaining movie than that.

By way of prologue, we see a little girl (Craig) and a little boy (Hamilton) sitting on a high roof. When the little boy admits with a chuckle that “I kissed Emily,” his companion hisses, “You kissed the wrong girl” . . . and shoves him off the roof to his death. And she does this so sweetly you just know no one will ever believe it was anything other than a tragic accident.

Ashleigh Craig as the junior psycho.

Cut forward a decade or more, and Continue reading

snapshot: Berlin Correspondent (1942)

US / 70 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Eugene Forde Pr: Bryan Foy Scr: Steve Fisher, Jack Andrews Cine: Virgil Miller Cast: Virginia Gilmore, Dana Andrews, Mona Maris, Martin Kosleck, Sig Ruman, Kurt Katch, Erwin Kalser, Torben Meyer, William Edmunds, Hans Schumm, Leonard Mudie, Hans von Morhart, Curt Furberg, Henry Rowland, Christian Rub, Walter Sande.

Dana Andrews as Bill.

November 1941, and US radio journalist Bill Roberts (Andrews) broadcasts regular reports home from Berlin. Despite being heavily scrutinized by the Nazi censors, these contain coded messages telling the truth about how (badly) things are faring in Germany, and revealing Nazi plans. At the New York Chronicle Bill’s colleague Red (Sande) interprets the codes and writes the stories, to the perplexity of the Gestapo.

Erwin Kalser as Rudolf Hauen.

Bill has been getting his information at a philatelical shop from elderly Rudolf Hauen (Kalser), who has picked it up over the supper table from Continue reading

snapshot: The Pace that Kills (1935)

vt The Cocaine Fiends; vt Cocaine Madness

US / 60 minutes / bw / Willis Kent Dir: William A. O’Connor Pr: Willis Kent Scr: uncredited Cine: Jack Greenhalgh Cast: Lois January, Noel Madison, Sheila Manners, Dean Benton, Lois Lindsay, Chas. Delaney, Gaby Fay (i.e., Fay Holden), Maury Peck, Nona Lee, Gay Sheridan, Frank Collins, Eddie Phillips, Frank Shannon, Dick Botiller, Marin Sais.

Lois January as Jane/Lil.

Mobster Nick Provin (Madison), on the run from the boys in blue, takes refuge in the small-town diner run by comely Jane Bradford (January). Believing he’s an oil-company executive who’s fleeing racketeers intent on stealing company secrets, she hides him. He rewards her by hooking her on cocaine, taking her to the Big City and debauching her.

The mob madam (Holden) explains the situation to Jane:

Madame: “Marry? That’s a laugh. They don’t marry girls in this racket. You be thankful Nick likes you well enough to want you to be his . . . otherwise.”

Jane’s kid brother, gas jockey Eddie (Benton), follows her to the Big City, hoping to rescue her from her Life of Vice. Trouble is, Continue reading

book: The Last Thing I Told You (2018) by Emily Arsenault

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One of my favorite books of the past few years’ reading is Emily Arsenault’s The Broken Teaglass, a quirky puzzler — set in the world of lexicography, no less — that had me grinning whenever it didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, and vice versa. It’s one of those relatively few books that I’ve read first from the library, then gone out and bought for myself.

Trouble was, I enjoyed it so much it made me nervy of reading more books by Arsenault for fear of being disappointed. Silly me.

The Last Thing I Told You is a more orthodox psychological thriller, but it has a great deal to interest nonetheless. Psychological counselor Mark Fabian has been murdered, found sprawled in his office with his skull bashed in. Investigating cop Henry Peacher soon finds out that two among Fabian’s past patients were Peacher’s old high school classmate Nadine Raines, sent for therapy years ago after impulsively knifing a teacher, and Johnny Streeter, currently incarcerated for perpetrating a massacre in an old folk’s home. Nadine has been back in town over the past few days but seems now to have gone on the lam.

What’s really happened? Did Nadine kill her old shrink for reasons unknown? Or was Fabian the victim of, in effect, a passing tramp?

The tale’s told in alternate sections from Henry’s and Nadine’s viewpoints. Henry’s sections comprise a fairly standard police-procedural detective story, but Nadine’s contributions, told primarily in the form of unwritten letters or soliloquies to her deceased counselor, play a dancing game in which Continue reading