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Friday, 8 February 2019

Mini reviews #26

The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944) by Edmund Crispin. Crispin’s debut is a good place to start. A marvellous meta locked room mystery  featuring the eccentric academic sleuth Gervase Fen and revolving around the death of a promiscuous actress in an Oxford college.

The Mousetrap (1952) by Agatha Christie. There’s a reason Christie’s play is the longest-running in West End (and theatre) history: it’s bloody brilliant. I’m pretty much unique in thinking it is Christie’s best play, but I just think it’s perfect. And it features at least two LGBT characters, which is always a plus. A perfect balance of suspense, humour, familiarity, and fresh, contemporary horror, this story of a snowed-in post-war guest house visited by a murderer out for revenge remains relevant in most contexts. I must have seen at least a dozen productions (the West End cast changes each November) and it never gets old. The current incarnation is the best yet, so go and see it if you’re in London. If not, catch the UK tour or one of the regular amateur productions done in other countries. You won’t regret it.

Lord John and the Private Matter (2003) by Diana Gabaldon. Outlander, the TV series based on Diana Gabaldon’s time travel romances, is one of my guilty pleasures (and pretty much confirms me as a middle-aged woman in a dashing young buck’s body). This historical spy novel takes one of the supporting character from the Outlander universe, the gay-or-possibly-bi Lord John Grey who is a spy. I’m not generally a fan of historical fiction but found this engaging, and the research not too overwhelming or besides the point. It’s a surprisingly fun novel, too. You probably need to care about the characters to enjoy it, though.

The Widow (2016) by Fiona Barton. A stunning debut psychological thriller. Barton seamlessly inhabits a range of different voices, with the most effective being that of the journalist, Kate Waters, determined to solve an old case.

The Child (2017) by Fiona Barton. A very good second novel. Barton’s writing style is as engaging as ever. However, there is a big twist which I saw coming from the midway point, and it became increasingly difficult to believe that none of the characters could see it coming or at least think of it. It was a disappointment to have this twist be the big reveal and the end of the book.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Mini reviews #25

Today’s mini-reviews, the twenty-fifth set brining the total number of this pithy summaries to 100, are all television productions!

Case Closed (YTV, 1996-present). Also known as Detective Conan and based on the manga series of the same name, this is a fun, long-running murder mystery anime with a ragged bunch of child detectives and plenty of allusions to Golden Age detective fiction. If you like anime or classic crime, if you’re a child or an adult, Case Closed is worth a watch.

How to Get Away with Murder (ABC, 2014-present). Overblown, preposterous, and compulsively watchable series about illogically sexy postgraduate law student and their intense relationships with barrister-cum-law professor Annalise Keating (played by Viola Davies, who singlehandedly elevates the programme from utter rubbish to must-see television).

You Get Me (Netflix, 2017). Frothy, silly teen psychological thriller from Netflix. You Get Me owes a great deal of its plot to Swimfan (2002) following a young couple whose relationship descends into bloodshed with the arrival of an obsessive Other Woman. Interestingly, I recently read an upcoming novel by a bestseller (not to be reviewed on this blog), which routinely rips off this rip-off TV film. Half the cast are Youtubers, which should tell you enough.

You (Netflix, 2018). Engrossing ten-part Netflix adaptation of the novel by Caroline Kepnes, charting a bookseller’s obsession with a young writer, as it descends through social media stalking into very dark places.

Agatha and the Truth of Murder (Channel 5, 2018). In my December post, I mentioned that I thought this drama was not terrible and some of my friends let me know that I was wrong. But I stand by what I said: while the budget is clearly not great, Tom Dalton’s script mishmashes real events in a bizarre way, and Ruth Bradley’s performance as Christie is underwhelming, I thought the whole thing was fine. Agatha Christie as detective — especially in those missing days in 1926 — has been done to death, and this Channel 5 drama doesn’t offer anything particularly new. But it’s relatively inoffensive, and the plot is structured along the lines of an Agatha Christie novel of the period. That is a first for one of these projects, and makes it worth watching. Bradley has indicated that she might reprise the role. With Andrew Wilson’s series along similar lines expecting a TV home soon, that would be interesting.