Another book club read, this time a crime novel by an author with a perfect crime writer name (imagine if she wrote romance instead; Forbidden Love, a new luscious bodice-ripper from Karin Slaughter).
The book is about a family destroyed by the unsolved disappearance of the eldest daughter, Julia Carroll, who went missing near her University of Georgia dorm when she was 19. Her father Sam became obsessed with his own investigation, retreating from the rest of his family and ignoring his two remaining daughters, and eventually committed suicide. Sam’s anguished diary entries introduce the central mystery, and serve as one of the three points of view used to tell the story.
I was a true Agatha Christie obsessive in my teens, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read every single novel and short story she’s ever written, in Russian translation. Even now that I can see the flaws in her writing more clearly, her knack for plotting and the ability to construct an elegant puzzle of a mystery – and doing it fifty times over – is pretty phenomenal. When I’m in between books and don’t feel like digging into something brand new, I’ll often reach for an Agatha Christie detective novel for a quick and easy detour. It’s hard to pin down exactly what, among all the other crime fiction I’ve read, makes them so uniquely re-readable despite knowing the identity of the murderer. It’s part nostalgia, part the very simplicity of Christie’s writing, uncluttered and efficient and not without its own charm and wry humour. Hers is a cosy, old-fashioned world that is just nice to visit from time to time.
This movie is just as entertaining and smartass as its title suggests. Penned and directed by Shane Black, who did The Nice Guys, another highly entertaining buddy/neo-noir comedy from last year, it similarly dances on the right side of knowing and snarky, and features another odd couple and much riffing on the noir detective tropes. It’s also a sign of being on the other side of 35 that this movie turned out to be twice as old as I thought it was. I could swear it was maybe six years old, but nope it was released in 2005.
I quite enjoyed the previous P.D. James murder mystery I’ve crossed paths with, but I didn’t have as much success with this last entry featuring Commander Adam Dalgliesh. Though seeing that it’s the 14th novel in the series, it’s not enough for me to cool down on them altogether. After all, a series this long-running is bound to produce some duds.
Good thing about terrible movies is that they make you appreciate well-made movies so much more. After sitting through the cinematic travesty of Catwoman, it was a pleasure to watch a film made by a director who knows exactly what they’re doing. I’m a huge fan of David Fincher and Zodiac was one of the two films of his I still haven’t seen; while I don’t love every single of his movies I always find them worth watching. He’s a marvellous stylist with an obsessive attention to detail, every shot in his films drips with confidence, he knows exactly where to point the camera in order to achieve this or that effect and make even a simple conversation scene feel thrilling, and I find his rather dark view of the world quite compelling. Zodiac is probably not going to be one of my favourite Fincher movies, simply because I naturally prefer character-based stories over the procedural ones, but I can still appreciate its excellence.
Another stylish Martin Scorsese classic about a bunch of horrible people you can’t help but be fascinated by. It’s based on a true story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), an Irish-Sicilian born in Brooklyn who started working for the Mob as a kid in 1950s and stayed on until involvement in drug trade got him into trouble with his employers. As a teenager, Hill is utterly besotted with the tough guys of his neighbourhood, envying their swagger, confidence and freedom from the usual paycheck-to-paycheck existence, and he wants nothing more than be a gangster himself. At first he runs small errands for Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino), a local don with a deceptively slow, bulky frame; then he rises through the ranks, meeting among others Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro, quite restrained here), a man who gets a kick out of stealing, and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), who seems like a faintly comical character until he explodes with psychotic rage.
This was one of those mystery/thrillers where you go, hmm I think I can see where the story is going, but there are still plenty of pages left, so hopefully there’s some totally unexpected juicy twist in store… oh wait there isn’t. So then the remainder of the book is just waiting for the main character to connect all the dots and for the story to roll out, which is rather tedious. I don’t usually play Sherlock and try too hard to solve the crime or predict the plot of the books and movies – in most cases I prefer to sit back and go along with the story, and I rather like being surprised. Here though the red flags are so obvious I couldn’t help but guess the culprit long before the heroine does.