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Sunday, 15 June 2014

My Favourite Mystery -- A Guest Post by Adi Rule


I’m a big fan of mysteries. And I’m a firm believer that the heart of a good mystery story has to be, well, the mystery. In the best examples, all the clues are there, the characters’ actions are believable -- even inevitable -- and yet, somehow, the solution takes me by surprise. I love that feeling!

If the story’s voice also stands out for some reason -- it’s quirky or darkly atmospheric or witty -- then you’ve really got something special.

So it’s hard to choose a favorite mystery. The genre is full of wonderfully strange detectives and clever plots. But I think, for me, if it’s a combination of surprising plots (that you should have been able to guess, but completely didn’t!), great characters, and pitch perfect writing, I have to go with Sarah Caudwell. (Hers is also a name that I don’t see tossed around as much as some of the giants, so I won’t miss a chance to send up some hurrays in her honor.)

Sarah Caudwell (the pen name of Sarah Cockburn) was a British barrister who published three devilishly ingenious mystery novels in the 1980’s and a fourth in 2000, the year of her death: Thus Was Adonis Murdered, The Shortest Way to Hades, The Sirens Sang of Murder, and The Sibyl in Her Grave.

Although the stories are contemporary, the wry humor and tongue-in-cheek literary sophistication is more reminiscent of Margery Allingham and Agatha Christie than it is in line with some of today’s grittier mystery stories involving things like Forensics and Cell Phones and Dirty Cops. Caudwell’s detective, of unknown gender, is Professor Hilary Tamar, supported along the way by a cast of young barristers, and the details of the plots often center on things like tax and inheritance law. I’m not sure there’s a bigger discrepancy anywhere in literature between how boring a thing sounds and how utterly hilarious and entertaining it actually is.

So if you haven’t read it, here’s the very beginning of The Sibyl in Her Grave:

The two men struggling on the floor of the Clerks’ Room differed widely in appearance: one young, of slender build, dressed in cotton and denim, with honey-coloured hair worn rather long and a pleasing delicacy of feature; the other perhaps in his sixties, tending to plumpness, wearing a pinstriped suit, with the round, pink face of a bad-tempered baby and very little hair at all. They rolled this way and that, as it seemed inextricably entwined, uttering indistinguishable cries and groans, whether of pain or pleasure I could not easily determine. A ladder was also involved in the proceedings.

Thanks for having me over! I look forward to hearing about others’ favorite things.

Adi

Adi Rule
@luciferadi

Castle, suspending disbelief, and our love of amateurs -- A Guest Post by Rewan Tremethick


Castle, suspending disbelief, and our love of amateurs

After finally getting the season 1-6 box set, I'm currently blitzing my way through Castle. It's not hard to see why it has legions of fans, including myself, across the globe. Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic have the perfect chemistry; the show blends humour and drama perfectly, and the murders it depicts are suitably unusual to set it apart from other crime dramas on TV, of which there are many.

For those of you that haven't yet had the pleasure of Castle, the show is about a bestselling writer - Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) - who draws inspiration for his latest character from a talented and driven New York detective - Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). Thanks to high up connections, Castle is allowed to team up with Beckett for research purposes and together they solve murders ranging from the ordinary - someone getting shot - to the extraordinary - a man being sliced in two by a Samurai sword.

All stories require us to suspend our disbelief, but Castle requires something very specific. As much as I love it, if I'm honest, on paper the premise shouldn't work. Bestselling author helps cops solve crimes? Then again, it's no more ridiculous than Agatha Christie's little old lady crime-fighter, Miss Marple, is it?

In fact, Castle is just one of a long list of shows in which the cops are helped, shown up, or invalidated, by a total amateur. Which begs the question: if we know the idea of a crime writer being a better crime solver than the professionals is totally unrealistic, why do we buy into Castle so readily?

What's meant to happen is boring

As the Joker so aptly explains in The Dark Knight, 'You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go "according to plan." Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all "part of the plan". But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!' (Source: IMDB)

Basically, things that happen the way they are meant to are boring. A cop solving a murder is uninteresting (I'm generalising, of course), because that's what cops do. Brazil winning the World Cup won't cause much of a splash - Nigeria lifting the trophy, on the other hand, would be an event. Or Atlantis. Perhaps it is because we wouldn't be prepared for it. If you know something is going to happen, and it does, you've had time to plan your reaction. Everything has been rehearsed subconsciously and set in motion. But when something unexpected happens, there's more scope for reaction.

Is Castle the underdog?

Nothing illustrates our love of flaunting convention better than an underdog story. We all know the rules of the world in which we live. We know what we can and cannot do and what our limitations are. That's why we like to escape into novels, films, and television. And while some of the biggest books and films have been complete fantasy, we don't always require a story to take us to a world where the grass is pink and badgers make ice cream. Sometimes we just want a world that is the same as ours, but with a little more hope.

Which is where the underdog comes in. The school nerd getting together with the most popular pupil; the amateur sports team winning the major league; the single woman or man out to expose corruption, fighting to survive against the combined force and resources of a tyrannical government. All of these stories are based on something that shouldn't happen. Part of what makes Lord of the Rings such a popular book is the fact that Frodo is a scared little Hobbit, completely alien to danger, horror and heroics. If he had been a professional ring-destroyer - with the business cards, uniform and branded horse to prove it - the story would have held only a fraction of the power it does.

Amateurs remind us of ourselves

Ask anyone who's favourite superhero is Batman, and they will probably give their reason as being the fact that he doesn't actually have any superpowers. He never fell into a vat of radioactive soup, or got bitten by a rare breed of polecat on Friday the 13th. He's just a man with a lot of money and a strong morality. That makes him easy for us to identify with. And while Richard Castle may be a multi-millionaire, Ferrari-driving, bestselling author, we can identify with him because he's a civilian.

Of course, Castle's success is down to many different factors. The spot-on 'will they, won't they?' relationship between Castle and Beckett, the purity of Castle's relationship with his daughter Alexis, the comedy, the strong supporting double act of detectives Ryan and Esposito.

Castle won our hearts for many reasons. It takes us to a world where a mystery writer has a better understanding of mysteries than the cops. Because in the real world, cops solve murders. Why would we want the world to which we escape to be the same?

About the author

Rewan (not pronounced ‘Rowan’) Tremethick is a British author who was named after a saint. St Ruan was invulnerable to wolves; Rewan isn’t. Rewan is a fan of clever plots, strong woman who don’t have to be described using words like ‘feisty’, and epic music. He has dabbled in stand-up comedy, radio presenting, and writing sentences without trying to make a joke. He balances his desire to write something meaningful by wearing extremely tight jeans.
Rewan’s paranormal detective noir novel, Fallen on Good Times [link: www.rewantremethick.com/fallen-on-good-times-novel], is out in paperback and on Kindle now.

Monday, 27 January 2014

80 great 80's films

For no good reason other than it just popped into my head, I thought I’d compile a list of what I like to call classic 80’s films.  No, not films based on the antics of people in their 80’s (well, apart from one), but those films which were released during that halcyon cinematic decade known as the 1980’s.  Here we have a list of films perfect for those with a sense of nostalgia, or who were perhaps a kid during that decade (like my good self), or perhaps for those who were born in later decades and would like to do some historical research on the time.  

Anyhoo, here’s the list, grouped loosely under vague and, in some cases, debatable headings, and in absolutely no kind of order whatsoever.


Comedy

  • Caddyshack (worthy of a listing just for Bill Murray’s performance)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (a great slacker movie)
  • Police Academy (good film but do not watch any of the sequels -- the film series that proved the ‘law of diminishing returns’)
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation (what holidays are all about)
  • Trading Places (Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd trade, er, places)
  • Coming to America (Eddie works at a burger joint)
  • Twins (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny De Vito are twins... I know, crazy idea)


Horror

  • The Lost Boys (horror-lite, but filled with some great lines and a memorable soundtrack)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (Freddy wears a stripy jumper and yet somehow that’s scary!)
  • The Shining (Jack goes crazy and loses his comb... probably needs some sleeping pills too)


Action

  • Top Gun (Tom Cruise flies, sings a bit, plays volleyball, gets all maudlin, then flies some more)
  • Die Hard (Bruce Willis in a manky vest and barefoot against a bunch of terrorists who take over a building)
  • Aliens (technically a Sci-Fi film, but I’m placing it under Action because - frankly - there’s a lot of action)
  • Terminator (again, technically a Sci-Fi film, and arguably horror, but there’s a lot of action so...)
  • Mad Max (Mel Gibson gets mad)
  • Lethal Weapon (Mel at his best, before... well, difficult times and possibly real madness)
  • The Karate Kid (ok, not massive action by any means, but when I saw it as a young kid, there was action enough)
  • Commando (Arnie getting mighty pissed with some people who kidnap his daughter)
  • Predator (Arnie covered in mud and getting mighty pissed at some badass hunter-alien dude)
  • Total Recall (Arnie getting... I forget what happened in this one... I’m sure it will come back to me...)
  • Rocky 4 (East versus West in a film held together by a great soundtrack, umpteen training montages and a barn-storming fight)
  • Tango and Cash (a silly film, but entertaining in a brain-dead kind of way)
  • The Untouchables (Sean Connery plays an Irish-American with a Scottish accent)
  • The Hunt for Red October (Sean Connery plays a Russian with a Scottish accent)
  • Highlander (Sean Connery plays an Egyptian/Spaniard with a Scottish accent, and a Frenchman plays a Scot with God only knows what kind of accent -- great soundtrack though)
  • Raging Bull (De Niro ate a lot of ice-cream between the two parts of this film...)
  • Scarface (brutal and crazy)
  • Beverly Hills Cop (Eddie Murphy talks very quickly, a lot, and solves a crime while breaking several laws himself)
  • Full Metal Jacket (the drill sergeant guy is awesome, but at times quite a harrowing film)
  • Platoon (one heck of a war film)
  • Escape from New York (Kurt Russell wears an eye patch and doesn’t say very much)


Science-Fiction/Fantasy/Adventure

  • The Last Starfighter (notable for some very early computer-generated effects)
  • Tron (notable for some very very very early computer-generated effects)
  • Krull (a bit like a cheap Lord of the Rings but with a bunch of strange aliens)
  • ET (I saw this at the cinema back in 1982 and I remember a lot of people crying)
  • Back to the Future (first thing I did once I passed my driving test was take my crappy old car up to 88 mph - metaphorically-speaking, officer...)
  • Labyrinth (David Bowie in spandex and big Tina Turner hair - genius)
  • The Princess Bride (nearly every line is quotable)
  • Big (Tom Hanks before he got, er, too big a star)
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (lying can be a good thing)
  • Time Bandits (an anarchic romp through history)
  • Indiana Jones (1 to 3, although if you don’t see 2, you’re not missing too much)
  • Cocoon (oldies on drugs, basically)
  • The Goonies (has a bit of everything and should be watched at least once a year)
  • The Dark Crystal (the first film I ever saw on video - and surprisingly scary for a young kid too!)
  • Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?... Do they, Mister Ford, do they??)
  • Ghostbusters (should have placed this under True Stories really...)
  • Teen Wolf (Michael J Fox becomes a fox... should have been, but no, he becomes a wolf)
  • Crocodile Dundee (the film that single-handedly boosted tourism in Australia)
  • Robocop (ultra-violent, and the scene where the dude is melting is pretty grim)
  • Empire Strikes Back (paternal issues abound)
  • Running Man (like an early version of The Hunger Games, except it’s Arnie and he gets mighty pissed at a lot of people... again)
  • Big Trouble in Little China (Kurt Russell has a thing for a girl with green eyes, but he’s not the only one)


Romance

  • Poltergeist (ha - I’m kidding - horror)
  • When Harry Met Sally (more of a rom-com than an out-and-out romance, but then I don’t think I’ve knowingly watched an out-and-out romance so I wouldn’t know!)


Drama 

  • Wall Street (everything that happens in this film is still going on today - nothing ever changes)
  • Rain Man (I don’t think it rains once during the film...)


Others (basically being ones I haven’t really seen myself but which the good folk of Twitter have brought to my attention)

  • Breakfast Club 
  • Dirty Dancing (have seen this one actually, but not a personal favourite of mine - well-loved by a lot of people though)
  • Pretty in Pink
  • 16 Candles (I’m not sure this is even a real film, but someone assured me it was...)
  • St. Elmo’s Fire 
  • Airplane (was this even released in the 80s...? *after copious research turns out it was*)
  • Top Secret
  • Dragnet 
  • Field of Dreams
  • Class of 1999
  • Heathers
  • The Thing
  • Footloose


I’m quite sure I’ve missed out some really good films from the list. So, in the interests of fairness, if you’ve got a burning desire to give air to a favourite 80’s films, please feel free to leave a comment.

Cheers for reading and happy watching!