Tag Archive: Into the Wild


Wild Fire

Review by C.J. Bunce

Anglophiles will be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing murder-mystery police procedure television series than with the five seasons (and soon to be seven seasons) of the BBC’s Shetland Douglas Henshall (who won a BAFTA for the role) plays detective inspector Jimmy Perez, a one-of-a-kind, conscientious and thorough cop who manages a small police department on the Scotland archipeligo.  The television series is based on a series of novels by British author Ann Cleeves, who chose to set her police story in the sparse, cold, austere setting in the far northern latitudes.  Altogether Cleeves explored the exploits of Perez in nine novels, the final of which, Wild Fire, has just arrived in its first paperback edition.

Wild Fire finds DI Perez on the case of a murder of a young woman named Emma, who is found strangled and hanged in the barn of a local family.  Among many quirks is the fact that this isn’t the first time someone was found hanged in their barn.  Cleeves’ last case for Perez finds him chasing leads across the country, piecing together the background of the victim, which is unveiled something like Jon Krakauer’s story of Christopher McCandless in his novel Into the Wild.  Emma is not so interesting as McCandless, but by the time the reader catches up to the murderer, you’ll feel like you’ve interviewed plenty of witnesses, including a young autistic boy in the home she worked in, and more than a few self-absorbed quirky couples, most futile diversions from the key story.

For fans of the television series exploring the novels for the first time, expect many surprises.  Perez of the novels is not quite so engaging, instead a man of few words and emotions that keeps his thoughts close to his vest.  The only other main character common to the TV show is Perez’s reliable detective constable Sandy Wilson, who is completely the same put-upon, over-achieving character that he is on the small screen.  Perez’s daughter Cassie is only a child here at the end of Cleeves’ novels, who spends most of the novel being watched off-book by biological father Duncan, yet fans of the show know her and Duncan as key to the appeal of the TV series.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

M.F. Gibson′s new novel Babylon Twins doesn’t seem to be targeted for the Young Adult section of the bookstore, but it should be.  Following a pair of twins who share a secret language whose lives take a turn as a big pharma-virus, artificial intelligence experiment, and robot war collide to take down and remake civilization.  The novel fits well with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games novels and would make a good follow-up for fans of the series, especially older teens.  More focused on their survival in a Creek Stewart sort of way (move along if you can’t stomach animal hunting for survival purposes), these girls don’t ever get the kind of gourmet food the competitors land in The Hunger Games. We meet the girls both when they’re young and later as young adults, and their lack of contacts and traditional educational resources keep their dialogue and needs more child-like than adult.

The best comparison to this story of dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi is the classic 1970s sci-fi film Logan’s Run.  Like the Runners of that story, Clo and El live the best they can after escaping the new norm thanks to their mother, but when their mother leaves their forest hovel they decide to take their brother and return to the city to find her, ten years after the “end of the world.”  This is far more classic sci-fi than zombie horror, a good entry point for young adult readers dabbling into the short stories and novels of Philip K. Dick (like Minority Report) and Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog.  Encounters with freakish new lifeforms that aren’t what they seem as found in classic sci-fi like Logan’s Run or Beneath the Planet of the Apes combine with a setting sharing a lot with that of Dawn/Rise/War of the Planet of the Apes, or the Jessica Chastain movie Mama (without that movie’s kind of horror).

Readers of John Christopher’s Tripods series will also see parallels in Babylon Twins Gibson’s wooded home for the girls conjures a loneliness oddly akin to Christopher McCandless’s grim solo journey in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, yet their path is much different.  Girls with younger brothers may particularly love the book, as the older sisters really never give the poor little brother a break across the entire story, including chastising him, berating him as bigger sisters do, and even tying him up and throwing him in the car at one point.  It’s all written with a dose of humor.  And the youthful voice of the narrator and characters reveals a coming of age story for the twins, sometimes dipping into the stuff of middle grade stories from Judy Blume.

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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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