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Tag Archive: crime drama


Review by C.J. Bunce

Crime novels tend to include an element of mystery.  Usually the attraction for the reader is going along for the ride with the detective, the cop, the private eye, or the wrongly accused.  Some novels have variations on the theme, but few are purely character studies that begin with the reveal of the murderer and then take readers on the pathway of whydunit.  That’s not 100% what’s going on in Oakley Hall′s So Many Doors, but it’s close.  First published in 1950 and reprinted by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 60 years, So Many Doors centers around Vassilia Baird, a teen girl who, despite her father’s best efforts, ends up in the arms of a bad boy, resulting in a downward spiral that leads to her death.  Hall’s writing has a storytelling quality that may make it a good study for writers, but, despite his quick prose, it is bogged down with ugly characters in the obscure world of Depression era bulldozer operators.

At first Baird is the obvious character whose cause needs championed–an innocent.  But without explanation, she’s transformed overnight into a femme fatale.  Hall does not give the reader enough access to her to understand anything personal, any motivation, any reason other than she’s in the position of the novel that a reader should ordinarily be sympathetic toward, until she isn’t.  Hall never gets into her head, instead choosing to provide access to others who were part of her life, including an odd father, a would-be friend, a creepy much older neighbor, and her murderer.  Readers will not likely find those characters as particularly real either, or follow common sense (or decency toward others in many cases), or participate in the average person’s experience with the human condition.  And the single twist is predictable.  It’s unfortunate, because the set-up is brilliantly introduced upfront: A public defender is assigned to the bad boy, who refuses his services and admits to murdering Baird (known throughout the story as “V”).  But that’s followed by 300 pages of waiting for something exciting to happen and the action never again matches the first chapter.

The fact that So Many Doors saw acclaim in 1950 is unfortunately telling about the era, a story full of shockingly smarmy or cowardly men on the one hand and stock naïve and stock evil women.  It wants to be Vera Caspary’s Laura, but isn’t.  Instead the leads are caricatures of characters with little chemistry out of The Great Gatsby, embedded in a setting from The Giant and East of Eden and unpleasant interactions and relationships like those found in On the Waterfront and Dangerous Liaisons.  That kind of tale may very well still have an audience out there, but the sum of the parts may not add up for modern readers.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It may have the strangest of any television series’ opening credits, but Hinterland is one of the best mystery/crime dramas around.  All three seasons of the British series can be found on Netflix.  Similar to another solid British crime series, Shetland, the series Hinterland is more introspective, focusing on troubled Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Tom Mathias, a man trying to escape his past.  He does this through a form of distraction, immersing himself in each new murder or missing persons case.  His fatal flaw may very well be his inability to remove himself from each situation, and as each new case is presented, we learn more about DCI Mathias and his investigative staff.  Richard Harrington (Requiem, Bleak House), plays Mathias in a role that would have earned him major accolades on American television (it was nominated and/or won more than 70 awards, including dozens of BAFTA awards).  Harrington’s Mathias has a unique persona with reserved understated mannerisms impeccably performed in the style of a real police officer like you might find in Wales or here in the States–he created a character that is conscientious, intelligent, sympathetic, and yet also flawed.

Subtitled “y gwyll”–Welsh for The Dusk, Hinterland was the BBC’s first production broadcast in both English and Welsh.  That’s right, each scene is filmed twice, once in each language.  Filmed on location in rural Aberystwyth, Wales, the cinematography is striking, cold, and strangely beautiful.  Often rainy, windy, and desolate, the series is not as creepy as it could be.  Sure, you’ll see the crime scenes of any modern television police procedural, but the slow pacing and thoughtful artistry of every camera angle never seems used for ill effect.  The quaint, insular community provides all kinds of personalities, rarely anyone all that likeable, but viewers will get the feeling that what seems like an obscure, faraway locale is a town with all the modern problems of any metropolitan city.  And even urban Englanders will likely learn new and local rules and procedures of law along the way.

DCI Mathias works closely with Detective Inspector (DI) Mared Rhys, played by Mali Harries (Doctor Who, Being Human, Midsomer Murders), a 33-year-old mother who can never seem to connect with her daughter, but she’s masterful at her job.  Mathias and Rhys form what is probably the most realistic working pair on television.  Never getting that close to each other, and often uncomfortable sharing any of their personal lives with each other, they follow the rules of their profession to the letter, only straying where a higher morality is warranted.  Their trust with each other is implicit, and their detective work second to none.  The crimes are often complex, and DCI Mathias’s sleuthing techniques are always on-the-ground, personal, detailed, and his pursuit of truth and justice is always a passionate one.

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The movie-going world first met Anna Paquin when she co-starred in Jane Campion’s The Piano, which earned her the Academy Award for her supporting role at age 11–the second youngest Oscar winner in history.  As the New Zealand actress gained experience in her craft she went on to star in True Blood, which earned her a Golden Globe Award.  These days she’s best known as Rogue in the X-Men series, appearing in four X-Men movies so far.  This past fall she starred as a murder victim in Netflix’s 19th century historical drama series Alias Grace, and this month U.S. audiences were introduced to her performance as a cop in one of the better episodes of season one of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.  This week she returns to television in a starring role again as a cop in the new series Bellevue on WGN America.

Paquin continues to show her Oscar and Golden Globe wins were deserved.  The actor has a command of the stage, and consistently her presence in a scene brings authority to her characters.  In Bellevue we meet a down-to-Earth side of Paquin as she plays Detective Annie Ryder, a local institution in her small town, whose brash personality and working class roots put her at odds with other officers in her department and every other faction in the town of Bellevue.  Her new case is locating a missing young man, a local hockey player and celebrity of sorts who we learn had a transgendered lifestyle and possibly was being counseled by a priest at a local church.  Paquin’s Ryder has her own odd sense of humor as she makes the best of handling a daughter, a sad sack ex-husband, and the residents of a mining town with a newly closed mine and a newly opened brewery.  The first episode really kicks in as we watch Ryder find a connection between the recent crime and strange messages left to her after her father’s suicide when she was a child.

You can see bits and pieces of a myriad of dark-murder-mystery genre TV and film in Bellevue, everything from the dark creepy vibe of Haven, Grimm, Twin Peaks, The Returned, The X-Files, and Wayward Pines–minus the supernatural elements–along with the serious crime material of Broadchurch, Fargo, and Thirteen.  As for its pacing, this Canada production for WGN America is presented like many British mystery series–there seems to be more time spent in study of each scene, as found in better mysteries like Shetland or Hinterlands.  One episode in and it already is more compelling than The Killing.  For current audiences Bellevue may feel more like Riverdale–the series pilot even has Ryder’s daughter recounting a past murder in the small town as Jughead often narrates in Riverdale.

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