Tag Archive: To Kill a Mockingbird


Along with A Visit from St. Nicholas, there is no more famous Christmas story than Charles DickensA Christmas Carol Since it debuted in 1843 it’s been reprinted hundreds of times, made into more than 100 films, and its ghostly lesson trope has been incorporated into dozens of TV series.   For England, A Christmas Carol meant the revival of universal celebration of the holiday of Christmas that would spread across the planet, as well as cementing traditions that continue 178 Christmases later.  I want to share an idea for your own cold winter read in the tradition of a very Victorian Christmas in England:  borg writer Elizabeth C. Bunce’s latest novel, Cold-Blooded Myrtle, the third book in her Edgar Award-winning mystery series.  As reviewed in the Wall Street Journal this month, “Younger [Sherlock] Holmes fans (and older ones too) should be charmed by Bunce’s Cold-Blooded Myrtle, the latest entry in her series featuring 12-year-old amateur sleuth Myrtle Hardcastle.  In 1893, Myrtle receives a double Christmastime shock: the death, in The Final Problem, of her fictional idol Holmes, and the apparent murder of the proprietor of her town’s mercantile store.  Tidings of discomfort, indeed.”  It’s chock full of Myrtle’s notations on Christmas traditions, including some little-known oddities from Christmases past.

After a year that saw her helping the constabulary discover the murderer of her neighbor and surviving a botched vacation at seaside where she foiled more than one criminal’s efforts, young Myrtle hopes to have an ordinary Christmas.  Her current pursuit is simply finding an appropriate present for her unflappable governess–and frequent partner in solving crime–Miss Ada Judson.  But when does anything ever go as planned at Christmas?

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A brand-new Victorian mystery will have you singing “Deck the Halls” in October, while you hunt for clues alongside twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle, her unflappable governess Miss Judson, and their opinionated cat, Peony.  My wife, borg contributor, and Edgar Award-winning author Elizabeth C. Bunce has been writing her Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Series for a few years now.  Prompted by a quick mis-utterance of “premeditated murder” and a chatty cat that showed up one night in the rain, a character and an idea took hold and before we knew it she had created and sold the first four books in a new series of mystery novels.  The first book, Premeditated Myrtle, an Indie Next Pick named to Amazon’s Top 20 Children’s Books of 2020, arrived in bookstores last year along with the second installment, How to Get Away with Myrtle, a #1 Amazon New Release.  Not only did Premeditated Myrtle win this year’s Edgar Award (the Mystery Writers of America award recognizing the mystery, crime, suspense, and intrigue genres, in its 75th year), it was named an Honor Book by the 106 years and counting Society for Midland Authors, it was named to the Library of Congress’s annual Great Reads from Great Places list, and it was nominated for the Agatha Award and Anthony Award. Tomorrow readers can follow Myrtle’s next sleuthing adventure in Cold-Blooded Myrtle, available in bookstores everywhere and here at Amazon.

Premeditated Myrtle introduced readers to Myrtle Hardcastle, an aspiring sleuth who can’t read enough about the new science of criminology, and hopes to one day work for Scotland Yard.  Her first case was the death of her neighbor, an expert on breeding rare flowers who dies under mysterious circumstances.  Premeditated Myrtle is a blend of To Kill a Mockingbird and A Secret Garden, as Myrtle tries to enlist the aid of her father, the town prosecutor, to help solve the case after she points to the wrong man.  In the second novel, How to Get Away with Myrtle, Myrtle, her curious cat Peony, and her intrepid governess Miss Judson embark on a seaside vacation on an excursion train.  But the vacation is cut short when a rare tiara is stolen and someone is murdered before the train arrives at the station.  It’s an Agatha Christie style mystery that finds Myrtle on the case as she’s stuck in a vacation town that is nothing like it was advertised, and everyone, including her aunt, is a suspect.

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In Cold-Blooded Myrtle, winter arrives and as Myrtle prepares for a hopefully uneventful traditional Dickensian Christmas, notable locals are found dead in ways that seem to mimic the murders of historical figures.  Soon Myrtle discovers her late mother was close to the victims, and Myrtle hopes secrets from her past and a famous archaeologist may lead to the truth.  A local newspaper reporter is digging into the case of a secret society and a missing student at nearby Schofield College, but is she getting too close, and why does she know so much?  And why is the reporter so chummy with family friend and legal clerk Mr. Blakeney?  What is the secret behind the long-closed bell tower?  Cold-Blooded Myrtle brings together The Watcher in the Woods, Phantom of the Opera, and The Goonies, as Myrtle, Judson, and Peony investigate an early Cold Case File. Industry reviewer Kirkus provided the novel a starred review, saying,

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Usually the books from Turner Classic Movies highlight lists of select genre favorites by a single author, with selections that are always on-topic, but can often provoke readers to pull out their hair, since it’s very likely nobody’s personal list will match the author’s–or anyone else’s.  We’ve seen great insights and and I’ve personally found numerous selections to track down from the likes of Must-See Sci-Fi, Dynamic Dames, Forbidden Hollywood, Christmas in the Movies, and most recently Fright FavoritesBut now I am going to double back to the book, and the list, that started it all.  It begins with the 2001 Saturday night series, TCM’s The Essentials.  The book is TCM’s The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter, by film historian Jeremy Arnold, a very different look at classic films.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The new courtroom drama and biopic Marshall hits theaters across the U.S. beginning today.  Director Reginald Hudlin (Boomerang, House Party) recounts a case in the life of Thurgood Marshall, one of the leading U.S. Supreme Court Justices in the history of the bench.  We meet Marshall, played by Chadwick Boseman, midway through the beginning of his career as lawyer and civil rights crusader.  After he already sued one law school for discrimination and graduated from another, he began defending individuals that were targeted as criminals based on race, and at the beginning of the film Marshall is struggling to justify to the NAACP, the organization that employs him, that his ongoing fight is worth the resources of the group.  Marshall needs a win for his own reputation and for the NAACP.  Plus, there is a man accused of a crime whose life is at stake.

The biggest surprise in the new courtroom drama is the risk-taking by Hudlin and Boseman in showing Marshall from his introduction not as humble and endearing, but cocky, abrasive, and confident.  Not the quiet Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, or the lazy and arrogant Lt. Daniel Kaffee of A Few Good Men, the film establishes upfront that the young Thurgood Marshall, the future first African-American member of the U.S. Supreme Court, was already a brilliant and savvy attorney and outspoken and fearless even early in his career.  We only learn of the difficult rise he had in his life before the film takes place via stories told by Marshall to local counsel Sam Friedman, played by Josh Gad, as the case procedure unfolds and more facts surface.  Echoing his performance as Jackie Robinson in the biopic 42 (reviewed here previously at borg.com), the Marvel Studios Black Panther actor plays Marshall as decisive and determined.  The audience has no doubt he’s going to succeed, but the drama is in how he makes the system work for him and his client, risking Friedman and his firm or anything else that gets in the way, to get a favorable verdict.

Before Marshall won 29 of 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, before he successfully argued the landmark 20th century case Brown v. Board of Education–the famous school desegregation case–Marshall had to learn how to win with the deck always stacked against his clients.  The message is historically important and delivered without the preaching that often accompanies biopics.  But it would have served Marshall’s legacy better had Hudlin, and writers Jacob and Michael Koskoff, selected a case with universal impact.  Like the obvious: Brown v. Board of Education.  The matter-specific case selected instead is a bit unfortunate from a storytelling standpoint because it so closely mirrors the case in To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the great American novels of all time and also one of the great American films about jurisprudence and race.  Those familiar with Harper Lee’s 1960 novel may feel some deja vu.  But there’s no mimicry here per se, Lee’s novel was derived from an actual case from 1936 and State of Connecticut v. Spell was a real case that is used to attempt to showcase Thurgood Marshall, the man, the lawyer, and the civil rights crusader, in an introductory sense.  But the question remains: Why select a Marshall case that the master lawyer didn’t even get to argue?

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