Thursday, December 12, 2013

There are some things, people, events, monuments, that should not be replicated. That is, the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, the Sistine Chapel, Big Ben, others. Everybody can think of personal favorites, unique events, pictures, things we prefer to view and remember in the original form. I include films in  that category of the inviolable.  What is the drive to redo significant films? Is is just money? Fame? Misguided overweening  ego?  So we come to the modern regurgitation of the Bonnie & Clyde story. The original with Warren Beatty, and Faye Dunaway is likely to be a minor masterpiece.  The recent disaster is not.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Bonnie & Clyde film stands up

A lot of gangster films don't stand the test of time. They are slow, contain action scenes not really believable, and dialog that sounds like grandmother wrote it. Hey! Maybe she did. Even so-called classics like Key Largo, in which at one point I thought E.G. Robinson was going to fall on the floor and writhe in an excess of evil.

Bonnie & Clyde stands up. Tense, funny, fast-paced. It all works. Yes, I know Barrow's sister in law, played by Estelle Parsons seemed overly shrill at times and she hated the portrayal--the real one, not Estelle. I was impressed. Of course, I'm easily impressed by ,murderous action, or so I'm told.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Rosenstrasse A moving historical illustration of the power of love

German women married to Jews face intolerable pressures as Nazis move to deport all Jews. In the prison at Rosenstrasse, a growing number of women stand in silent protest against the separation until the machine capitulates and releases the husbands. The film is diifficult to follow at times, but it is well-and appropriately acted. Well worth seeing as a reminder of humanity, inhumanity and the historical significance  of intolerance and bigotry, and a powerful reminder of real love and devotion.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Since the Minnesota Orchestra has been destroyed by the money grubbers in the temple of greed, it has been harder to find good classical music. Today we were fortunate to attend a concert by Music In the Park, a longstanding chamber series.  We sit in pews in a marvelous sanctuary in a pleasant neighborhood of Saint Paul. The acoustics are excellent. Today we heard the Pacifica Quartet, augmented by Anthony McGill, principal clarinetest for the Metropolitan Opera.

They performed a fine concert with pieces by Mozart, Shostakovich, and finally by Johannes Brahms. It is clear, the players, in residence in Indiana, deserve their excellent world reputation.  It was a fine, fine afternoon of really good classical music.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Nice weather we're having here in Minnesota. It is just warm enough with light breezes and sunny skies to raise a little sweat. Cleaned the driveway, the deck and watered the lawns. Almost got brained by a red squirrel high in the Walnut tree dropping not-quite-ripe black walnuts. For a moment I thought I was under siege.

The government is about to close down, and here in Minneapolis and Saint Paul we've about lost a world class orchestra. All because the board of directors abruptly decided fiduciary responsibility was more important that classical music. Yes, we needed some adjustments, but the meat ax approach never works. RIP Minnesota Orchestra.

Reading with interest the reports on the just ended Bouchercon, the International World Convention of crime fans, readers, and creators.

I hope to see many of you in Indianapolis next month when Magna Cum Murder resumes its excellent convention of Mystery fans and practitioners.

Monday, September 16, 2013

BAD MONKEY by Carl Hiaasen

Bad Monkey
By Carl Hiaasen
ISBN: 9780307272591
A 2013 hard cover release
From Alfred A. Knopf

Here we have a crime novel from an established writer who demonstrates a tendency to aim well-considered darts at various and sundry established elements of our society, such as Medicare. In most cases, the author’s aim appears to be true, but he’s using a scatter-gun approach. Sometimes less is more. The novel has a simple plot at its core. A scammer who has taken the federal government for millions of dollars through a fairly elegant illegal operation in south Florida hangs it up when the Feds inquire begin to close in. His method of avoiding arrest is bizarre to say the least.

Meanwhile a reasonably competent Key West detective named Andrew Yancy, now demoted to restaurant inspector, formerly of the Miami Police Department, is tasked by the local sheriff to dispose of a human arm, brought up by a fishing boat off the keys. Seems like a simple task, right? Unfortunately for various law enforcement agencies in South Florida and the Bahama Islands, Yancy thinks there’s something fishy about the arm. And in spite of the distraction of a plethora of pulchritudinous, sexually available women, throwing themselves at Yancy’s feet he soldiers on, determined to bring a murderer to justice and get back his detective’s shield.

Hiaasen is a wonderful writer. He generates a rolling thunder of forward movement and then chucks a nasty wrench into the works that sends the story off in a seemingly totally different direction. He is clever and inventive. Yes, of course there are crimes, including murders and there are many strange and sometimes wonderful characters, effectively used—mostly—by the author to illuminate his concerns about the social milieu which he observes in often minute detail. Reading this book put me off restaurant meals for at least a week.

Yes, there is a monkey. A pet Capuchin, ill-trained, ill-mannered  and possessed of the worst temper and too many anti-social “skills.” The novel is by turns sweet, acidulous, slow, nasty, dark, hilarious, and confusing. Sometimes the pacing and cleverness are enough to take your breath away. Bad Monkey is essential Hiaasen.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Been watching the Australian series called Miss Fisher's Mysteries. It's an excellent series, first class production values, very much in the period, including careful attention to language in the script. The series is based on that excellent series of novels by Kerry Greenwood. Phryne Fisher is a wonderful character, fully realized by the lead actress. Add to that all the other characters who really seem to embody Greenwood's  vision of the characters, the time and the city of Melbourne.

Monday, July 29, 2013

RUDDY GORE: Another delightful Australian Romp from Kerry Greenwood

Phryne Fisher, the insouciant, wealthy, experienced and titled English woman, living in Melbourne, Australia in the mid-twenties, meets her new lover and solves a very theatrical murder.

Let me begin by stating that this is not Greenwood’s best Phryne Fisher mystery. Which is only to say that it is a very good novel. And a very good mystery. Phryne Fisher, outfitted in her finest encounters some low-lifes in a dark Melbourne alley, assists in saving an elderly Chinese woman, and thereby meets the man who will become her lover. Even today in Australia, the idea of a white woman in bed with a Chinese man is scandalous. In the nineteen twenties, there might have been riots. It’s well documented that in the early and mid-twentieth century, Australia’s immigration policy was to try to maintain white dominance against what must have been enormous pressures from surrounding lands.

But, Phryne Fisher being who she is, and apparently author Kerry Greenwood being who she is, the Fisher lass is prepared to breech any and all social customs she deems injurious to other people. We are thereby granted some special and fascinating insights into the way in which the successful Asian professional and business people conduct themselves in Australian society.

I mention this at the head of this review, because that is one of Greenwood’s special gifts to the discerning reader—and Greenwood deserves the widest possible audience. The central plot revolves around the local production of “Ruddigore,” one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s delightful light operas. The mystery involves trickery, ghostly presences, a large cast of principals and members of the chorus, a long-dead singer and former inamorata of the head of this acting company, and the delightful and continuous perambulations of our detective, Phryne Fisher.

You will be treated to on-stage murder, at least one attempted murder and keen insights into the backstage lives of actors and actresses. Through all the emotional turbulence that threatens to destroy the production, the Silver Lady makes her fastidious way to the truths of the matter.

Here is Phryne Fisher: “…a small woman dressed in silver; a brocade dress which fitted close to her slim body, a cap of the same material with wings at each side, and on her small feet silver kid boots with wings at the ankle …. She had a pale face and startling green eyes, and black hair barely longer than the cap. The hatchet swung loosely in her gloved hand.”

Kerry Greenwood writes with insight, fine command of language, clever plotting and excellent historical perspective. An almost flawless, worthwhile mystery novel.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Cuts Through Bone
by Alaric Hunt
ISBN: 9781250013309
A 2013 hardcover release from
Minotaur Books. 308 pages

It’s not difficult to understand why this novel won the Private Eye Writers Association award for best first. Here’s a fresh, intriguing voice, vibrant characters that make you want to know them better, and a wandering, complicated, story that is frustratingly incomplete by the end of the tale.

Littered with jargon and slang some of which is pretty obscure, the book sucked me in from the first page because its principal characters are so different and so appealing. Clayton Guthrie is a little detective. We know that because the writer refers to him exceedingly frequently as the little detective. Yet, before the tale is told, he casts a long shadow, based on his years of experience, his basic humanity, and his understanding of the ways of the unseen world. He hires a young Latina who is looking for a better path in life. Fresh from high school, possessor of a quick analytical mind and great good looks, Raquel Vasquez at first finds routine surveillance boring and the pay isn’t much. Then comes a meaty case.
Afghan veteran Greg Olsen has been jailed for murdering his fiancé, wealthy Columbia University student and heiress to a publishing fortune. New York police have enough evidence to go to trial so they aren’t looking for alternative possibilities. Guthrie thinks Olsen is probably innocent and we’re off and running, because he knows he has to find the real killer, not just open questions about the validity of the case against the veteran
A large portion of the novel involves the clever use of the denizens of the big city who exist in the unwashed armpits and smelly crotches of New York. The language feels gritty and authentic, even though sometimes hard to follow. The plot makes sense, the characters, as written, belong in their scenes and act logically. Everything works. It will be interesting to watch this author’s development from this raw state to succeeding stages.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Living With Shakespeare  
edited by Susannah Carson
ISBN: 978-0-307-74291-9
A 2013 Vintage Original release
from Random House. 493 pages.

A very long time ago, my parents collaborated to make to me a gift of a beautiful book that my father originally acquired in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1928. “The Complete Dramatic and, Poetic Works of William Shakespeare,” was compiled and discussed by Professor Frederick D. Losey of Harvard. The book was published in 1926 by The John C. Winston Company of Philadelphia and Chicago. It is a beautiful leather-bound volume of thin gilt-edged pages. The book survived our travails in Goodwell, Oklahoma, between 1930 and 1938. I treasure and refer to it often. And I had the great good fortune to perform a minor part in a community theater production of “Othello,” a good many years ago.

And now there is a companion book, about which, I cannot say enough good things. “Living With Shakespeare,” is a series of essays from a wide array of writers, directors and others about their lives with this astounding writer’s works. Some are funny, some of them are irreverent. Some will engender disagreement and all will add to our understanding of the greatest writer in the English language. Ask yourself; how it is that 400 years after he lived, his plays are being re-interpreted, his sonnets sung, his insights helping us to better understand ourselves?

The book is smoothly organized with a few fine photographs scattered throughout the thirty-eight original essays from the likes of Jane Smiley, Joyce Carol Oates, Isabel Allende, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and James Earl Jones. Readers should not neglect to read the excellent introduction by Susannah Carson. Bravo to all the aforementioned individuals, as well as those who produced this handsome volume. Readers should not pass by Harold Bloom’s precise and pointed Foreword that echoes the question so often asked in literature classes, “Why Shakespeare?” And the answer comes still, after four hundred years. “Who else is there?” Who else, indeed.