Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Fall of Man

 

The Bridge, Episodes 5-8

***May Contain Spoilers***

Oh Martin, no! How disappointing. All it takes is for a bird to lop off their wig and touch your hand and you’re anybody’s, it seems. Even slightly creepy Charlotte.  And after knocking up your wife with twins as well. Tut, tut.

So it was Martin’s turn to have a bit of a frolic this week, perhaps out of jealousy that his son was staying with Saga. Though they didn’t have sex, as she clarified to the entire murder squad, just to avoid any awkwardness. Personally, I could’ve done without Martin’s marital difficulties but I’m enjoying the way Saga’s character is developing. Her little white lie to Anja in the hospital was especially touching. We also got to find out a little more about her background, with a tragic bit of backstory made all the more poignant by her matter of fact rendition of it. It will be interesting to see how her relationships develop with both Martin and Anton in the final episodes.

The plot moved on very rapidly in these episodes but there was a subsequent loss of the tension that the writers have managed to create so well in the first few episodes. To be honest, I felt these episodes were just a bit flabby with too many characters and scenarios introduced, then just thrown away without proper development.  In part, this might be down to watching all four in a big, hungover lump but we’re a boxset generation and that’s how many, even most, people watch things.  Both the schizophrenic and the immigrant killings seemed a bit wasted and would’ve been better served with a couple of episodes each of a proper build up.  12 or 15 episodes might have worked better but we’ll see how things come together in the end.

The moments of real tension we did see just served to highlight what was missing elsewhere: Anja, wandering in the car park; Stefan in the flat with a corpse while Martin hammers at the door. Fair play to Stefan though – ironing always makes me feel like that, too.  The idea of the children being held to ransom until members of the pubic set fire to various companies was interesting and fresh, but again, rushed through and squandered.

I was totally confused as the ending of episode 8 was drawing nigh as I had it in my head that there were only eight episodes in the series.  The cop suspect turned out to be just a common or garden variety sexual predator and was shot in a ferry queue and now we’re onto the headless horseman of Copenhagen as our chief suspect, discounting the fact that he’s dead, of course. I’m pleased we have another two episodes to see how  things pan out with that one.

The climax comes next week and I’m looking forward to seeing how many loose ends will be tied up. Will Martin sort things out or will Mette be seduced by the sleazy software rep? Will August learn that people on the internet mat not be who the claim? Will Saga learn how to be a real boy? Can’t wait.

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Bodies Interrupted

I have fallen into a hole of hen night organisation and I can’t get out. I should have my grappling hook in order at the start of next week with a bumper crop of TV and book reviews. See you on top.


Introducing … The Bridge on Sundays

The Bridge, starts Saturday 21st April on BBC4

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I’m starting to get excited about the upcoming BBC 4 series The Bridge. The initial premise looks pretty intriguing: a woman’s body is found on Oresund Bridge, on the border of Denmark and Sweden. What seems at first to be a single, albeit gruesome, murder turns out to be more complex as the corpse is revealed to be the remains of two women, a Swedish politician and a Danish prostitute.  

The location of the murder means that the Danish and Swedish police are obliged to share jurisdiction. Undoubtedly, much conflict and friction will ensue as the international investigators are forced to work together to solve the case. I look forward particularly to getting a glimpse of how these two very different nations view one another. My outsider’s perspective is that the Danish view the Swedes as staid, conservative, and even dull whereas the Swedes perceive the Danes as being too easily influenced by the countries around it, for good or ill.

 Unless the initial episode turns out to be a disappointment, my plan is to blog along with the series, posting reviews of each double episode usually on the Sunday after they are first shown.  Feel free to pull up a chair, have a glass of wine and join me. Don’t forget your knitting – but make it something simple so you can keep up with the subtitles. 

 


Beginnings (2)

Review: Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas

I stumbled across Will Thomas’ Some Danger Involved whilst searching for information on the lives of Jewish people in Victorian London – quite random I know but it turns out researching possible future novel projects is a lot more appealing than getting on with redrafting the current one. Anyway, allowing myself to be distracted from my distraction, I picked up this novel and emerged blinking some two hours later, having devoured the whole thing.

Some Danger Involved is the first novel in Thomas’ mystery series featuring the Scottish detective Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn.  We meet Llewelyn, our first person narrator, on the day he is hired by Barker. No sooner is he starting to get a handle on his mysterious employer than the pair are drawn into an investigation of a particularly gruesome murder in London’s Jewish community.

This is a steam-punk vision of Victorian London, full of exotics and absinthe, monocles and corsets, and overlaid with just a Patina of grime. It’s rather light on the real bone grinding filth and poverty that made up much of life in Victorian London but that’s fine and in keeping with the tone of the piece.  Oddly, despite the horrifying nature of the crime at the centre on this novel, it’s a relatively jovial read and we feel instinctively that good will prevails. If you want darker meat, can I suggest Michael Cox’s The Meaning of Night or the even more salty The Fiend in Human by John MacLachlan Gray

Llewelyn is a satisfyingly stolid everyman, full of awe and indignation. He is an excellent contrast to the peculiar and mysterious Barker about whom we only discover fragments as the narrative unfolds. There is enough edge to both characters, however, to promise conflict and crises in future instalments.

The plot, too, works well with religious prejudice and sexual jealousy underpinning a satisfyingly traditional whodunit.

In his afterword, the author makes mild complaint about the ‘cosiness’ of historical mysteries especially those by women. Well, I’m not sure if Thomas fancies himself as some sort of Victorian Brett Easton Ellis or perhaps I’m just jaded but this seemed a fairly lightweight confection and I intend no insult by this. It’s a fun read that sets the narrative up nicely for further instalments. I look forward to them.


Beginnings (1)

Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King

I started Laurie R King’s novel The Beekeeper’s Apprentice with more than a little apprehension. You see, Sherlock Holmes was my first detective love. My dad read me the stories and I would walk around my village with a tablespoon as a meerschaum searching for baddies. So I can be a bit protective of the canon. Much as I adore Martin Freeman and Stephan Moffat, Sherlock was a slightly uncomfortable experience. In its own right, it was enjoyable but as Holmes… it just hadn’t got the nuances quite right.

Plus The Beekeeper’s Apprentice seemed a bit high-concept for me. After too many American crime shows where, say,  the hero’s a FBI agent with a counting dog , I had decided that the fewer words needed to sum up a premise, the less I wanted to have anything to do with it. So ‘Sherlock Holmes is brought out of retirement by a feisty young American (and she’s a girl!)’ was not especially appealing.

But despite my resistance and the ever-so slightly clunky framing device at the start, I found myself drawn in.  It’s an immensely enjoyable novel, with all the simple satisfactions of a well-wrought, traditional mystery.

Mary, as a narrator, grates on some but I found her exuberance and arrogance entirely fitting for someone of her age, blessed with her gifts of intellect and aptitude. Passivity or self –effacement would have called Holmes’ previous companion too quickly into mind and it is clear from the start that Mary Russell is to be a foil for Sherlock, not a mere sidekick. Anything less abrasive would’ve made the whole confection rather too sickly for my tastes.

The characterisation of Holmes himself is well done too. He’s more richly characterised that in the Conan Doyle Stories, in the sense that he is more emotionally accessible to us as readers. This, however, is not a betrayal of the canon but the logical extension of having a narrator who can more clearly see the workings of his mind.

As is to be expected of an origins-type story, the first third of the novel is taken up with the burgeoning friendship between Holmes and Russell, and her induction into the ways of detection. Soon enough, however, (and it will be soon as the pacing is impeccable!) we are thrown into a full-throttle mystery plot that see our protagonists dodging bombs and tearing round Europe in their quest to hunt down a satisfyingly nefarious nemesis.  For all King’s novels are categorised as ‘cosy’ mysteries, there is a real sense of peril here, something that is too often missing from the work of authors who pride themselves on their edginess.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is conventional and perhaps even a little old-fashioned. But it is a well-crafted novel by a writer who knows and loves her source material. Unlike so many other Holmesian homages, it fits well with the original works, never seeking to undermine or mock. In its own right, it’s a cracking read and a lot of fun. On finishing it, I immediately looked up Laurie King’s website to see which book was next; what more do you want from a series opener?


Bloody Valentine

It’s not everyone’s idea of the perfect Valentine’s Day activity, starting a blog about crime and mystery fiction, is it? But I suppose it kind of works. After all, not many holidays can claim their very own massacre.  And what do most people do today? They present loved ones with stylised representations of internal organs, inscribed with sinister messages: you are mine; I carry your heart with me; we will always be together. That, or they give bouquets the colour of gore. Now, that’s weird, if you ask me.

My life of crime began with Holmes, of course, and more of that later, but stories about crime always been a thread of my life, an intrinsic part of how I shape the narrative of my life. When my primary school peers were obsessed with the machinations of the Saddle Club or the Babysitters’ Club or any of the other fictional clubs that seemed to spawn a host of novels during that era, I was pouring over the exploits of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot.   It’s to my parents’ credit that they didn’t freak out when, aged about 9, I started working my way through the true crime section of my local library.

I read other things, too, devouring the recommendations of my teachers like the voracious, precocious  little monster I was.  That was, I suppose, when I learned that not all books were equal. Why was my teacher impressed by me reading Crime and Punishment and Great Expectations , both novels that take as their centre point crime and guilt, when mention of Murder on the Orient Express or The Long Goodbye made him wrinkle his nose in disapprobation?

There is an anxiety about crime fiction, that it is cheap and too easy to read and write or that it is somehow distasteful and vicious. When I first started an MLitt in Creative Writing, I was nervous and, I’m afraid to say, ashamed of working on a crime novel. I felt I should be doing something more worthy, more literary. But like a poorly weighted body decomposing in a lake, crime and mystery keep popping up in my own work. You can’t help but tell the story that wants to be told.

The more I read, too, the more I feel that categorising novels into genres is less to do with writing and writers and more to do with marketing and sales. It’s not what’s most important. Writers like Elmore Leonard, Fred Vargas, Susan Hill, Henning Mankell take the conventions of the crime genre and twist them to their own splendid ends: creating strange and wonderful stories.

 This blog is a way for me, as both a reader and a writer, to think deeply about startlingly good and unusual fiction and film which happen to contain an element of crime or mystery.  I hope too, dear reader, you might find some suggestions for reading  or viewing  in these pages and I would love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.