Tag Archives: mystery

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

We saw Death on the Nile as one of our rare theatrical outings last year, which inspired me to want to see Murder on the Orient Express[1], but then also to very promptly forget all about it, until Mary suggested it last weekend. Irony: now that we watched that one, she is getting Agatha Christie books to read.

I wonder if chronology bears out my theory that this movie is a sequel to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby? Anyhow, Hercule Poirot, after hilariously solving a priest, rabbi, and imam joke in Jerusalem (I think), gets on a boat to Istanbul[2] to look at art, but then instead gets on a train to London, because he’s been summoned to solve something or other. The Orient Express is like five cars long, and that counts the food car and the engine (and probably the coal car), so you can tell that the super-luxury compartments for the multi-day journey are also extremely exclusive.

We never do get to find out what important business Poirot was called away from his vacation for, because an unexpected avalanche in (let’s say) Carpathia derails the train, upon which they find that one of the passengers has been murdered, and Poirot must determine who, you know, dunnit. Obviously that’s all I can say, but I do wonder if the books are as funny as Branagh makes the screen version be.

You guys. The mustache sleeping mask! Also, an unrelated thought: why was there a random The Last Supper callout?

[1] Or for that matter really anything Branagh has ever done. That man is acting gold.
[2] Which they did not call Constantinople, but for some reason did call Stamboul.


‘Tis the season, by which I mean autumn and time for the annual (or more) Stephen Kjng book. Like the other books written in which Holly Gibney solves (or helps to solve, the first time out) mysteries, this book is not a mystery for the reader to solve, but rather, to watch the characters solve. Usually, the tension to a mystery novel where you already know whodunnit is in watching your hero (or heroes) work it out. Yes, they’ll solve it, but how? And will it be in time to save… well, no, too late for them, but what about… okay, but surely in time to save, well, whoever you want to see survive after the halfway point of the book.

But this is Stephen King, and he has named the book after its main character. So in this case, the tension is in whether Holly will solve the mystery before the mystery solves her! … Alright, that one got away from me. But seriously, I was nervous on page 1, and I was nervous on page 301[1].

I suppose I’ve said nothing about the plot. The book opens on the very worst night of a Hispanic literature professor’s life, and proceeds forward over the course of several years and several victims of a pair of undetected serial killers, in parallel with Holly’s present-day travails in the age of Covid, until, inevitably, they cross paths via a missing person’s case her detective agency is hired to solve.

Which reminds me of something I’d already suppressed over the last few days since I finished the book, which is… King is maybe too political for my tastes here. And I say this as someone who shares his politics, but, wow, fully justified, pre-established viewpoint character or not, this was the most polemical work of fiction I’ve read this side of Terry Goodkind. I wonder if it will hurt his sales. I also wonder if it will read differently with the passage of time, by which I mean, will it hit the same when people aren’t still being constantly infected by this thing? Maybe it won’t feel quite as cartoonishly diatribical when people aren’t still glaring dismissively at each other in real time.

I feel like I’m complaining here. Ultimately, this did not hurt my enjoyment of the book, it just started out so strongly positioned, in a way I’m not used to thinking about his fiction ever being. And I don’t want to be complaining, particularly when I don’t know how many new King novels I have left to read. Which is I suppose an appropriate mix of maudlin and morbid, for both the subject matter and the season which I so recently ’tissed.

[1] Pagination simulated for effect

Glass Onion

Knives Out was probably the last movie I saw with Mary in the theater before Covid happened.[1][2] This is apropos of nothing in particular, just a memory from the before times. For example, here in modernity, we did not see Glass Onion in the theater at all, though it got to Netflix with surprising rapidity[3].

So there’s this tech billionaire guy, who like all tech billionaire guys on film in the past five years is probably a riff on Elon Musk. And he invites all of his friends to his private Greek island for a murder mystery weekend by way of an incredibly fancy puzzlebox. (A literal puzzlebox.) Plus he also invites the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc, which is to say Daniel Craig.

It’s hard to say more (even if it’s easy to intuit more) about the plot. What I can comfortably say is that it’s every bit as clever and as funny as its predecessor, and I would happily watch Craig and Rian Johnson make these movies until the end of time.

[1] Not the actual last movie I saw in the theater, that was The Invisible Man
[2] (Also, it wasn’t even that; we saw three other movies in between Knives Out and lockdown. Huh.)
[3] Joke’s on me: apparently it is a Netflix original that had a one week theatrical release. Huh.

Dexter Is Dead

I have cleared an entire series from my to-read shelf. This comes with a pretty huge sense of satisfaction, since I’ve done such a poor job of reading almost anything over the past few years. (Well, okay, a lot of comics.)

The problem is… I really wanted to like Dexter Is Dead. I’ve liked the previous books generally, and I really liked the TV series quite a lot. And I even kind of fancy myself capable of understanding the feeling that accompanies when TV bypasses what you’ve written in your book series, or takes everything in a completely different direction or (and this is the especially tricky one) comes up with so many ideas about how to proceed that they get stuck in your head and now you’re constantly thinking, what if I write the Oops All Plagiarism book on my next attempt.

So, and here’s the thing. This book felt like it was written mainly to close the door in the character, rather than because there was a really solid idea for a story here. Dexter is no longer a serial killer taking care of the murderers of the world that slip through the American justice system, and hasn’t been for a couple of books. I don’t even see this as a noble failure, just a “there, now nobody will bother me about writing more of these”, and it’s really disappointing. I think I would have been happier if his story just petered out instead of coming to a definitive end in this particular manner.

Oh, well.

In positive news, I can say this: cliffhanger from the previous book was entirely resolved.

Double Dexter

A couple of months ago, as you will no doubt recall, I read the wrong Dexter book. Since these are not 100% episodic, this presented a bit of a problem for me in terms of going back to right myself. Because, you know: yes I always know how the book is going to turn out at least mostly, but I don’t usually know how the incidental incremental advances in Dexter’s domestic and professional life will turn out? Except this time I did.

Anyway, Double Dexter chronicles the time Dexter got caught in the midst of pedophile clown slaughter, and then the witness got away, and then (let’s be honest, somewhat implausibly) got obsessed with the idea that maybe he, the witness, could start murdering bad guys, and then he sets his aim on the main bad guy he (still the witness) knows about, which is to say: our hero.

The main thing I got out of this book is that it’s probably good Lindsay decided to wrap up the series, because Dexter’s “look how smart I am” but clearly he isn’t so smart as all that schtick only works if the author, on some level, believes Dexter is in fact pretty smart, but just misses small tricks now and again. Whereas in this book, I felt like Lindsay was making fun of his creation, and, that is just not the series I want to read.

So, after whatever my next brief palate cleanser turns out to be: the finale! And I will have gotten another series off my to-read shelf, woo.

Ahem. This makes me sound like the series is a task, and therefore why am I even reading them? It’s not as bad as all that, even if this book was for certain the low point of the series. But the weight of that shelf (mostly metaphorically) has been holding me down for some time, and my greatly-reduced incidence of book-shopping over the last few years does make it feel like accomplishments are possible. So you see.

Death on the Nile (2022)

I have never read an Agatha Christie novel. I do not think this counts as a moral failing. Particularly because I just haven’t read that much out of the mystery section in the first place, you know[1]? It is my understanding, however, that she is kind of a big deal.

So she has this one character, Hercule Poirot, who is a great detective. Possibly the second character ever to be bestowed with that title in the annals of fiction? And although I never thought about it[2] before Kenneth Branagh’s performance, I guess it must be true that all detectives in the Holmes / Poirot type, who can become (or possibly always are) hyperfocused on specific details and make deductive leaps based on the tiniest shreds of evidence, all such detectives fall somewhere pretty deep into the spectrum.

So, while not knowing the plot meant that I showed up for Death on the Nile to be interested in the details of the murder[s], who did what to whom and when and why, what I left with was a renewed respect for Branagh’s craft, portraying someone who felt very deeply while hating to feel anything at all. It was very subtle, and very moving because of how subtle it was, and I’m sad I missed his Murder on the Orient Express from a few years ago. I shall perhaps eventually do something about that.

[1] What does perhaps count as a moral failing is that what I have read is mostly chosen based on “I liked the TV show they made later.” …then again, if I started reading Christie, it would be because I liked this movie, so.
[2] at least in part because, how much have I thought about this character at all, sure

Dexter’s Final Cut

A really long time ago, when I bought Dexter’s Final Cut (at Half-Price books per uzh, back when I went book shopping just for fun, since I hadn’t yet bought all the Deathlands books and also there wasn’t a multi-year global pandemic yet[1]), I remember thinking that it was, you know, the last book. There’s a clear implication! Later, there was one more book which had an even more final title, and a new one hasn’t happened since then, so I accept.

Anyway, those two books, the only ones of the series I bought in hardback, have been staring at me for many years now, and I finally thought to myself, self, start finishing your serieses that are sitting on your to-read shelf. Like, take advantage of the lack of making it get bigger to make it get smaller! And that seemed like pretty good advice, so I grabbed it after all those years, and I read it, and haha it’s actually a pun on him being attached as advisor to a new cop show being filmed in Miami. Characters include the really annoying popular actor, the salty comedian who hide darkness behind his jokes[2], the impossibly, ethereally beautiful actress who is nevertheless just a smidge past her Hollywood prime, oh, and the serial killer who has been stalking her for months.

The intersection of Dexter with these new characters went in a very different way than I expected, and in fact some latent humanity that has never before been present was awakened, and under other circumstances I think I’d very much want to talk about these things in a spoilery fashion, because they made a lot of sense despite being unexpected, and that kind of emergent character development is of great interest to me. (Plus I’d get to riff again on how he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, aspects of which make the series a lot more comedic than I’d have guessed it would be, back on day one.)

But instead I’m just sad, because while pulling up the link on Amazon, I saw an unfamiliar title, and goddammit, I skipped a book. So I’ve just read the next to last book in the series, which ended on a pretty badass cliffhanger to boot, and… I need to go read book six instead.

Ugh. This has never happened to me before, I swear. (…except for the time I read Wishsong of Shannara not realizing it was the third book in a trilogy, but I was like 12 then.)

To recap: ugh.

[1] One of these is no longer true, and the other one is sort of semi-over, except for, you know, small children (of which I have like one and a half) who are not presently capable of immunization.
[2] You know, like every comedian. Also, he wasn’t very funny? Which I blame on the author, who is good at situational humor but not good at spoken humor. (Or maybe the comedian wasn’t supposed to be funny? But the remainder of the text doesn’t bear out that reading.)


It’s not really clear to me what Kevin Feige is going to do when he tries to introduce the X-Men into the MCU. Not only has Hugh Jackman refused to play Wolverine again, but he apparently got the mutton chops in the divorce with Fox. Seriously, bro looks within an approximation of no differently than he did in 1999.

Okay, dumb mutton chops joke out of the way. Moving on…

Reminiscence is not really the movie I expected it to be, but in a good way! See, what I expected was a riff on Inception but memory instead of dreams. What I got was future noir, every bit as dark and gritty[1] as the stuff from eighty or ninety years ago when the genre arose, wrapped up with a neat little sci-fi bow. Hugh Jackman is the detective, even though that’s not quite his actual job, it’s something more like memory tour guide? And he has a secretary (again, not really, she runs the memory machine in real life) and a femme fatale nightclub singer in a red dress walks through his front door as the first act opens. Someone knew what’s what.

I’ll save you some trouble and say that the story is almost entirely told from a linear perspective, even though the nature of delving into memories again and again makes it feel like that’s not the case, at times. So, call it linear with flashback digressions? And if you like the genre[2], this is a pretty fantastic example of it.

[1] Well, less grit, more water, but “dark and wet” isn’t going to work as a replacement catchphrase.
[2] I don’t actually know whether “future noir” is a genre, or something I made up just now, or what? But what I have in mind is traditional noir, but less sexist than that, set in a no more dystopic future than original noir was set in a dystopic version of its present; just a future that is predicated on the outcomes of our own moderately dystopic present.

Powers: Gods

This is the last book in the Powers series!

Okay, it actually isn’t, but at the same time, if you’re going to figure out a way to wrap up the apparently third run of your series before rebranding it as something slightly different, and your series started out as “What if cops had to investigate when superheroes get murdered, and also what if one of those cops used to be a superhero but lost his powers?”, then it stands to reason that you have to end bigger.

Bigger, in this case, is solving the murder of a god, Damocles. Which… okay, it felt a little cheap, and here’s why. If you’re going to have had Greek (in this case) gods hanging out throughout the history of the series, there in the background all along, then you can’t wait to mention it until one of them is going to be your plot device. You especially cannot have your commentary track TV show that everyone (or possibly no one) watches, Powers That Be, talk about said gods and whether people believe in them as gods or as fancier heroes or not at all, like it’s a whole big theological issue, and also never have mentioned them in the previous thirteen volumes of your ongoing series. It’s a problem!

BUT: if you can ignore all that, which I was able to do until the composition of this missive you see before you, they act as a good plot device to reveal a lot of closely held character secrets and catapult the series into its next phase, which I will no doubt discuss next time, whenever that may be.

Fairest in All the Land

The last Fables story was also a Fairest story, I guess? Also, the last actual Fables story was kind of a big deal, with repercussions still echoing around the margins. (These are the margins, since this wasn’t a main sequence story, you see.) Downside being, I read that a year and a half ago and only barely remember what happened. Which beats not remembering at all, don’t get me wrong!

Anyway, echoing repercussions aside, Fairest in All the Land is a murder mystery in which a certain mirror that may be evoked by that phrase and Cinderella (who has previously been the star of her own Fables spin-off spy series) square off against… and here we run into a wall called What Exactly Do You Think a Murder Mystery Is, Anyway? But the victims are a who’s who of, er, the fairest… in all… you know what, I’m going to pretend like I didn’t just get that reference.

Plot and plot arcs aside, this book was weird. It’s not that every story segment was drawn and colored by different artists. It’s that the story segments on average lasted three pages each, which… it’s just too many hard corners, is the thing. Whiplash, I’m saying. But the plot was fine, as was the plot arc progression. (And whoever was the artist for the bits that included the Page sisters is good at drawing the Page sisters. Sexy librarians equals best trope.)