Tag Archives: mystery


I wonder if I’ve reviewed a Darren Aronofsky movie before? I know I’ve seen one, so… oh, hey, I could check![1] And, there it is. Black Swan. Which a) I liked quite a bit, and b) I successfully predicted Natalie Portman’s best actress Oscar for that one. Go me!

To get it out of the way: Jennifer Lawrence is not going to win an Oscar for Mother! This is not a slam on her acting ability in general (which in fact is long since demonstrably solid), nor her performance here; it’s just not the kind of movie that I expect to be an Academy darling. It’s also not the kind of movie I can say virtually anything about. Here’s the blurb from imdb: “A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.”

That is an incredibly accurate description of the movie, that leaves aside the… I was going to say rising tension, but it’s more like ratcheting dread. A thing I thought during the first half of the movie that I still agree with now: Lawrence is basically portraying an introvert’s hell.

The surreality grows on a logarithmic scale (which to be fair is certainly a similarity to Black Swan), and I think I have no way to predict who might or might not like this movie. Me: it was nothing like what I expected, and I think its writer/director is entirely too impressed with it, but all the same, I thought it had its charms. (For one thing, both Lawrence and Javier Bardem were solid leads, despite what I said earlier about acting awards, and Michelle Pfeiffer was nearly perfect.) Mary, on the other hand, loathed it. So, y’know. Watch at your own risk?

Super annoying-to-me coda to this review: I saw the movie on Wednesday night, in a moderately exclusive Alamo Drafthouse preview showing. And then I’ve been so busy working that I couldn’t review it until post-release. Which is at least only today, instead of a week ago like usual. But: argh!

[1] Okay, inside baseball: yes, I realized I could check before I typed that faux realization, BUT, I realized it after I asked the question. So that counts, right?


The biggest problem with Firewatch is that I don’t really know what the genre is. Walking simulator is a really bland descriptor, indie is not a type of game, it’s a type of studio, and it felt a lot less interactive fictiony than other games I’ve used that tag on before. So, what kind of game was this?

One kind of game it was is “pretty great”. After a series of unfortunate life events, this guy Henry takes a job with the 1980s Wyoming forestry service on firewatch. Which, if not self-explanatory, is when you sit in a tower all summer looking for fires before they become uncontrollable. And over the course of the summer, a story unfolds!

The story is fine, too, but mostly what I loved was the haunting atmosphere. You’re wandering around the woods, no company, virtually no human contact, just the voice on the other end of the radio that is your supervisor between you and utter isolation. Which is I think what Henry was going for, but it gets really hard to take after a while. I am an introvert, in that I want to spend only a small amount of time interacting with people; but I guess I’m a soft introvert in that it comforts me to know that if I needed a person, it would be really easy to find one. I’m pretty sure a summer spent not seeing another person’s face and only hearing another person’s voice at their whim would leave me pretty dang bonkers.

Or maybe it was only haunting to me, because, see above? Either way, there was nothing I didn’t enjoy, even down to the  emotional discomfort. The one bummer was trying to figure out the controls. There was Steam controller support, but not in the sense that the game’s instructions matched them; purely keyboard driven, alas. Having a gated ecosystem is the better way to console in terms of support, but significantly limiting in terms of what games are available. So, definitely worth the trade-off! But still.

Dexter Is Delicious

Apparently, the last Dexter book I read was over five years ago, when Dexter Is Delicious had only been out for a year. I could have caught up, belike! In the nonce, the series has concluded entirely, which is kind of weird for a popular mystery novel character. Usually those get milked for decades.

I have a lot of jumbled, unrelated things to talk about. Like: the show. I have seen all of the show, and I have not read all of the books. But I think that the show is better than any of the books at its very best, while being not nearly as good as the books are on average. So, if you liked the show for a while, an only seven book series is probably a good investment.

And: Dexter’s narration. I can’t tell if I was so dazzled by the show that I missed it in earlier books, or if it subtly changed over time. But I’ve read lots of versions of unreliable narrator, and usually they’re lying to the reader to protect something, maybe a secret, maybe some part of themselves they don’t think belongs to you? But this is the only one I can think of that is just self-deluded, and certainly the only one where that fact is played primarily for comedic effect. It’s not that Dexter is dumb; he’s very successful, both professionally and in his personal life, and he has to be both smart and careful to achieve either. But he’s also not a god walking amongst men, and the only thing funnier than seeing the mistaken belief in action is seeing when he, very occasionally, has the belief shaken by outside events.

Lastly: the series’ end. I haven’t said much about the book itself. It’s about what you’d think from the title plus cover: Dexter vs. cannibal. And there are twists along the way, like the infant daughter that he wants to be a better man for, and other expansions of his extended family besides. One of those twists has longer term implications, though. The thing that’s weird is, as a standalone book, it felt like a combination of an unwanted and unnecessary plot development and a cheap gimmick; but as the fifth book of only seven total, it instead feels like an indication of the end’s beginning.

I of course have no idea if this was true when the book was written, nor if it will turn out to be true when I finish the series. This is why I hate meta-spoilers, though; it’s basically impossible to avoid them.

End of Watch

81rLDztUK7LThere was a time when I claimed that Finders Keepers was not a sequel to Mr. Mercedes. Likewise, I can now claim that End of Watch is not a sequel to Finders Keepers. Sure, they’re in the same continuity and with mostly the same characters, but except for acknowledging that those things happened in the past: not a sequel.

But: End of Watch is a sequel to Mr. Mercedes. So, y’know, there’s that? Now that I’ve clarified the interactions between the books, though, how am I supposed to review the third book of a trilogy, absent massive spoilers? I’ll say these things:

  1. It was good, and I liked it.
  2. I liked it less than either of the other two books, but not enough to dim my enjoyment of them; all of the characters remained meaningful and important to me throughout. (Holly Gibney, especially, is pretty much the best.)
  3. I think the main reason I liked it less is because after two books of solid mystery detectivey stuff, throwing in a supernatural element just did not seem to belong anymore. If you read this as a standalone book, which it would be maybe barely possible to do, you would not have this problem. All the same, I had it.

So, yeah. That was definitely a book I liked reading, and I hope King keeps writing new books like usual. The fact that they cannot all be the best in no way detracts, y’know?

Finders Keepers

81EJz58T3CLStephen King books seem to be coming out faster than ever these days! It’s been two a year for… well, a while anyway. But the thing is, mysteries are shorter, so maybe that’s why? Like, these are his “chill out and procrastinate” novels. Of course, now I’m making Finders Keepers sound lazy, which it wasn’t.

I think I remember reading that Mr. Mercedes was the first book of a trilogy. I could be wrong, but if so, it’s because it’s the first book of a series instead. Honestly, if Finders Keepers has a failing, it’s that it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a sequel or not. Two-thirds of the story is a game of cat and mouse between a murderer and a high school kid, but what it’s really about is literature and obsession and maybe a Salinger/Updike hybrid? And it’s pretty good! The other third is a sequel to Mr. Mercedes, and except for where the two stories mash up against each other, that third is a “Where are they now?” slice of life, which was fine but ultimately unnecessary.

Except for the part where there’s a guaranteed additional sequel that is the actual sequel to the first book, and which I very much want to read. But this book was good too. I just kind of wish it had gotten the chance to be completely its own thing.

Mr. Mercedes

81b6KKuWQ3LBack while I was only reading comics because the site was down, I remembered that a new Stephen King book was being published in November. But when I went to buy it, I learned that a different, slightly less new one had been published over the summer, completely escaping my knowledge. So, like, oops?[1]

Mr. Mercedes is basically a crime novel. It portrays the game of cat and mouse between a retired police detective and a locally infamous mass murderer who was never caught. Obviously I cannot say more about it than that, because the rest is deep into spoilers territory. But King has not lost the voice that keeps me coming back year after year for more, and I’ve always said it doesn’t have to be horror to make it work. I started to add dark fantasy or dark science fiction, but then it occurred to me that mysteries are dark by their nature[2], so maybe it does have to be dark. Maybe it doesn’t and just always is anyway? It’s not for me to recommend the man fight against a formula that obviously works.

[1] This is the kind of thing that very few people would judge me for.
[2] Well, adult mysteries are, anyway. Encyclopedia Brown and (usually) the Three Investigators[3] are allowed to be less dark, because, kidbooks.
[3] Oh, man. Why aren’t those on Kindle? Or are they? I’m torn between a Wikipedia / Amazon investigation and the urge to run the other way and keep my memories delicate and precious.

Powers: Cosmic

71DwWGj1SOLHonestly? I kinda got nothing here. This Powers collection has retroactively justified my recent acceptance of Captain Marvel into my personal Marvel comics canon, since it is about the death of Earth’s Cosmic guardian and what that means for the planet’s future. (Because, you see, that’s what Kree-born warrior Mar-Vell’s story has eventually metamorphosed into.) But otherwise, it is by and large standard Powers fare, with murders to solve[1], heroism to be performed, and major plot-points to be incrementally moved forward.

If I could talk about said plot-points without big spoilers for previous parts of the series, maybe I’d have more to say. Because there’s definitely a building theme over the course of the series, one that I could not have predicted before being an unregistered superhero got outlawed and which now seems unavoidable in retrospect. But, yeah, major character and story arc spoilers lie in that direction. Next book, when things come to what I assume is an inevitable head, I’ll just have to duck behind the spoiler cut and talk about it anyway, but since both character arcs were in set-up mode this time, I can safely wait one more time.

Meanwhile, a structural discussion. Every issue in this collection started with a coffee-house-looking open mic night, with a different random character from somewhere in The City(tm) doing a different not-quite-comedic stand-up routine. It’s not that they were bad, by and large. It’s that they felt like they were supposed to be making some kind of thematic resonance, either within the current plot or maybe even issue by issue. And, I flat out did not get it. I have no point here, I just wonder if that’s on me or on Bendis.

[1] Notably, the one I already alluded to.

Powers: Psychotic

At the end of the latest Powers collection, in time to commemorate the 50th issue of the comic that rounds out the book, there is an extensive interview with author Bendis and artist Mike Avon Oeming. It is sometimes funny, often insightful, and constantly vulgar in exactly the way you’d expect from a series that has prominently featured a monkey’s vagina, and I recommend it to anyone who is reading the series or is interested in the nuts and bolts of the modern (ie, the past decade or so) comics industry. But it also makes the point that Powers is a series which constantly re-invents itself. If I have not made this point myself over the previous eight reviews, I certainly should have.

Psychotic does not precisely mark a re-invention (as the plot is still firmly centered around the consequences of outlawing the use of superpowers), but it certainly picks up a new theme: cops who commit crimes, cops who shield those cops, and cops who work to prove the wrongs that were done by those cops. And of course it does this in ways you would not expect, because Bendis is good at what he does.

Mostly though, the book is a placeholder while we all wait for Deena Pilgrim’s evolving circumstances to settle into a dramatic revelation of some kind. I’m not saying I’ve been waiting forever to see how this turns out or anything, though it has been kind of a while. But the sudden steep jump in the stakes? Definitely dropped my patience level.

Also, I said something about contrasting Powers and The Boys, as their worlds are somewhat similar in scope? Well, maybe I only thought it. Either way, it’s impressive that the two books I’ve just read do share an overlapping type of event, and it’s even more impressive how, even though the one in Powers was objectively the worse on an ethical scale, it also resulted in my feeling no resentment for the character involved.

Powers: Legends

I knew it had been a while since I last read anything in the Powers series, which is why I scanned my last couple of reviews. I thought (while I was reading this volume) that I still had a good grasp on what has happened lately, but one likes to make sure. What I would not have been able to guess is that it’s been significantly over a year. I guess if you do something for nine months, eventually the stuff you were doing before is more than a year ago, but still. Shocking!

But also prescient. Actually, scratch that. Terrible segue. I was prescient during those year-old reviews, is what I meant to convey. Because, see, well, let me quote myself: “Powers [are] basically outlawed altogether. (Which only makes a limited kind of sense in a world with supervillains, but roll with it.)” And sure enough, Bendis was able to spot that flaw just as quickly as I was, which is where Legends picks up some significant period of time after the events leading to that outlawing I mentioned. Cops such as our protagonists Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim are facing super-powered mobsters, and with a toolset to deal with them that is limited at best. And that’s fair enough, I like it when bad choices have consequences.

Of course, I like it less when bad choices made by other people have consequences to the common wash of humanity (and not incidentally characters I’m invested in) instead of to themselves. But it’s cool, the book is also about that, at least a little. No, you know, it’s about that a lot. The common folk see the consequences their politicians have forced upon them, the exiled Powers see the consequences, certainly the powered villains have seen the opportunities long since, and the only remaining question is how each group will react to their new-found knowledge.

All this, plus: three characters have shocking secrets!, and one character meets a shocking end! Yeah, okay, look, it’s not a perfect series by any means, but I like it alright.

Jack Reacher

Okay, admission time. Tom Cruise is one of those people you’re just supposed to not like, and considering the way he turned Katie Holmes from an actress into a birthing pod for a few years while simultaneously trying to do the most damage to the mental health industry since we elected an actor to the presidency, well, I get why it would be fair not to like him. But Katie Holmes has been set free and there haven’t been any bizarre mouthpiece moments in a while, and pretty much from the scenes where he made fun of himself in Tropic Thunder until now, the man hasn’t made a bad movie. Which is still probably not enough reason to like him, but dammit, the man has charisma on the screen.

It was my mom who picked us going to see Jack Reacher though, not me. Since I retroactively consider this to be a good decision, it’s probably not fair to disclaim the choice, but, y’know. So, I don’t know much about those books and I didn’t know much about the movie except that action would occur and also that some people were pissed about casting a wiry dude who is probably shorter than me to play a 250 pound slab of giant on the page. (Which, incidentally, has anyone read those? Are they any good? Because my unread bookshelf is not already groaning under its current load or anything.)

…I suppose I’ve given away, by now, that I liked it? Because yeah, if this turned into a franchise, I would keep watching. There’s this guy who has very obviously, with evidence all over the damn place, just sniper-murdered a group of five people walking around on their lunch breaks at the waterfront, but he says he didn’t do it and asks them to fetch along Jack Reacher. Reacher shows up, and, under unlikely circumstances, starts investigating what really happened. And instead of punching his way through everyone involved like the previews kind of implied, there’s a smartly written mystery to be unraveled, with lots of tension and comedy to break the tension, and you know, I laughed frequently and all the characters worked, and what more do I need? Plus, Tom Cruise makes for a pretty great PI type. Also, no worries, there is in fact a lot of the gunplay and car chases and judo that you’d expect from an action movie after all, but there’s a lot more here than what I expected is all I’m saying.