Tag Archives: mystery

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.)

Reminiscence

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.)

Peace Talks

The first thing to say about the new Dresden Files book is, unfortunately, damned near the only thing to say about it. Peace Talks is half of a book.[1] I don’t mean that it ends on a cliffhanger, although it does that. (And I think it may be the only book in the series that has ever done that, including Changes.) I mean that things I want to talk about, although they would be spoilers, I can’t. Well, I could in person, if it were a TV show and we were on the same episode, or if the person I was reading along with was on approximately the same chapter.

But I can’t say that Harry’s actions lack [spoiler here] in a review of the book, because maybe they stop lacking that spoiler a few chapters from now, in the second half of the story. That’s what I mean when I say it’s half a book. The main plot advanced to a cliffhanger, which is fine, and one interpersonal plot actually found resolution that has been waiting for something like sixteen books, which is, uh, pretty awesome. But the mystery of the week plot is just as big of a mystery as it was when it came onto the scene, and the other interpersonal plots are just as half-baked, and how do I review the book when I don’t know whether my complaints will be addressed in the second half of it or not, until I’ve read that half?

[1] The good news is, less than 60 days until the second half is released.

Gwen

So there’s this movie called Gwen, in which Gwen and her sister and her mother, and also her father (in flashbacks mostly), wander around the hills of 1850s Wales, either being happy when they’re all together or moody and atmospheric and brooding when they aren’t. Also, some other things happened?

The sad part is, I’m not even joking. I watched this movie a day or two ago[1] and kept trying to pay attention to it, but realized at the end that I legitimately had no idea what had happened, outside of my description above and one or two specific events untethered from any ongoing narrative, like, oh, those neighbors died of cholera, or, huh, all the sheep are dead.

So instead of writing a probably unfairly empty review saying that, I watched it again this afternoon. This time, I felt like I really had watched the whole thing, and I for sure picked up a lot more. Is it all a land grab? Is the mother crazy? Or possessed? Is there a mysterious third party causing all these problems? Like, there was nearly enough plot there to mix in with the moody atmosphere[2], but then I watched the climax of the movie, and, uh… what?

So I went and found the Wikipedia summary of the movie, and sure enough, I missed nothing at all. The stuff that happened is just the stuff that happened. Which is to say there’s a subplot I did not mention above because it did not seem to be the main driving force of the film, but then haha surprise I guess it was.

I think I’m trying to talk myself into having hated the movie, which I did not do. I’m not even unhappy I watched it twice. But it is for certain not the movie that I wish it had been. Because what I understand this to be is a tripod of beautiful and unsettling and prosaic.

[1] I don’t even know which. Time, man.
[2] Folk horror, they’re calling it. The Witch is another such example, and at least there I understand why that appellation applies? This was also a limited cast, moody photography, and minimal dialogue, but I’m not sure that makes it “folk”, in the sense of folk tales I had previously assumed.

Summer of 84

I watched another movie this week, which was Summer of 84. This is a pretty basic horror movie which combines Gen X childhood nostalgia for the summer of our youth with Rear Window. And now I have to come up with more to say.

It is not a complaint that I can sum up the movie that succinctly. There’s something to be said for nostalgia, especially when it’s nostalgia for what other people had. I never really made friends in my neighborhood, the way I read about in Stephen King novels or see in kid movies from the 1980s and earlier. Like, I definitely had friends, but private school through elementary (or, and this is plausible, most of the kids my age in my neighborhood were just assholes) meant that I never made close local bonds with those people. So any hanging out was a carefully scheduled affair, not just going outside on a summer evening for a giant game of hide and seek, or constant contact via walkie-talkies no matter how late at night. Also, the suburbs are different from small towns.

Anyway, that’s really the movie. Teenage newspaper boy and friends in a cluster of small towns where a serial killer has been murdering tween and teenage boys, even though tween was not a word that existed at the time. And one of them (guess which one!) thinks he saw something suspicious happen across the street, at the home of the bachelor cop on the cul-de-sac. And either the kid has an overactive imagination, or the cop is legit terrifying, which all depends upon your perspective and your expectations about how the movie will go, and I wish I could add something I found offputting, but it would guaranteed be a confirmation spoiler about which movie they’re making. Maybe in a comment, if anyone cares. (Note that this being a horror movie does not inform that tension’s outcome, because there’s definitely a serial killer, no matter whether it’s the neighbor cop or not.)

Death Masks revisited

So, uh, massive spoilers for not so much this book but for the entire series through Peace Talks, which is not yet published as of this review. Don’t read farther unless you don’t mind.

Without yet having checked my previous review of Death Masks, I assume that I liked it quite a bit[1], since all of the Dresden books have hit me pretty favorably. And yet, reviewing the audiobook relisten in my head, mostly what I think of it is… well, that’s not fair. It’s still extremely positive. The war with the Red Court is really heating up, we get the first real glimpse of the Denarians, Marcone is humanized[2], there’s some big movement with the Knights of the Sword that, if I remember my timelines correctly, has only recently paid off. Plus, they finally introduced Molly, who appears to have set off the chain of events leading to Harry’s procreation. A lot of really important things happened!

The problem, if there is a problem, is that everything I’ve said (or almost everything) is groundwork for future books. Whereas my actual experience of Death Masks as a book was: you know, it was fine. Butcher has already written better single book mysteries and anyway it only reached half-resolution, and only via deus ex missourian at that. I mean, unless you care how the Shroud of Turin thing turned out, which I suppose is fair enough. The problem, briefly expressed already a paragraph above, is that this makes me sound sour on the book, and I’m not! It was, y’know, fine.

Anyway, the by far more important part, my timeline update. The book occurs in February of year 3, seven months after the book prior. And various events lead me to conclude that okay, probably Harry’s daughter was conceived during this book, rather than being 6 months old already. Which makes her birthday in November of year 3 rather than Augustish of year 2. (Because, see, I’m still making this calculation easy on future me. Woohoo!)

[1] Guess: correct! Shockingly.
[2] Which has stuck with me ever since even if the details of how it happened had not.