Saturday, 04 July 2015 04:07


vera tvshow
Those of us who are disappointed in HBO’s True Detective—and count me as one of those—will find much to like in two import crime dramas. And even if you are on the side of the True Detective trio, there is still much to like with the fifth series of Vera from England and Harry, from New Zealand.

The characters in these two series are the real true detectives.
The first of the four movie-length Vera segments stream Mondays, starting July 6, on Acorn TV. Harry is available on Acorn TV now.

Welcome back, Vera
It is indeed Changing Tides for Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, a cantankerous cop with the Northumbria, England, police force. Based on the novels by Ann Cleeves, Vera: Changing Tides stars Brenda Blethyn, who has entertained us in each of the Vera seasons.

Vera could be a distant relative of Columbo—she often is disheveled, with her floppy hat and old coat looking as if she picked them up off the floor after stepping on them. She often looks like one’s eccentric aunt. Her appearance gives her an advantage as this perceptive cop often is dismissed by others, especially criminals.

The biggest changing tide for Vera is her new sergeant, DS Aiden Healey (Kenny Doughty). He replaces DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon) who has now been promoted. It will take a bit but soon Vera is treating Aiden just as she did Joe—as a colleague but also as a surrogate son.

It’s a dynamic that works well for this series and the change in players doesn’t stop this.

In the first episode, Vera and Aiden investigate an explosion at a financially strapped caravan park—trailer park for us Yanks—that killed the sister of the park’s owner. Stag parties, a marijuana crop, love triangles and bad neighbors play into the plot.

Blethyn continues to nail the part of Vera and even when the script gets a little bogged down in exposition. And Doughty also rises to the occasion.

Wild About Harry
Harry TVseries
, the New Zealand import, has the usual brooding cop with a sad back story who, despite his personal problems, shows his insight in each case he handles.

OK, so all that is a cliché, but Harry comes across as an original series with characters one wants to spend time with and stories that challenge the viewer.

Harry also has Oscar Kightley and Sam Neill. Enough said.

First aired in 2013, Harry is a six-part crime drama series set in Auckland.

In the first episode, Detective Harry Anglesea (Oscar Kightley) returns to Auckland's Major Crime Unit after a four-week bereavement leave in his native Samoa.

His wife’s suicide will forever haunt him and grief seizes his heart daily.

Harry also is self-destructive and he is in no way ready to return to work. Nor is he the kind of father that his 13-year-old daughter, Mele, needs more than ever.

But work also is what Harry needs and he and his supervisor/mentor Detective Jim Stocks Stockton (Sam Neill) become embroiled in a high-profile drug case.

I would watch Neill read the phone book. But as usual, he brings depth and class to any role he does.

Photos: Top: Brenda Blethyn and Kenny Doughty in Vera. Bottom: Oscar Kightley, at left, and Sam Neill in Harry, center. n.Photos courtesy Acorn TV



Wednesday, 01 July 2015 02:07


johnson craig
longmire roberttaylor3
A series’ setting often makes us feel very connected to that location. And I often seek out mysteries set in areas that I will be visiting.

So celebrating a series that brings attention to the location sounds like a good idea.

The fourth annual Longmire Days celebrating the novels by Craig Johnson, left, and the TV show Longmire about Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire is scheduled for July 17-19 in Buffalo, Wyo.

The town is quite proud of its Longmire Days.

Although Absaroka County is fictional, the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce notes that Absaroka County is “where Sheriff Walt Longmire and his deputies and staff enforce the law and try to keep their own lives in order.”

Last year, Longmire Days attracted more than 8,000 fans.

This year, the organizers say the event will feature “more actors than ever before, along with the big man himself, Craig Johnson.”

Activities include a Longmire parade, a poker school for novices, a book to film discussion, trap shooting, and horseback rides.

Actor Robert Taylor, right, who plays Sheriff Longmire, is scheduled to shoot off the start gun for the Longmire Days 5K and Fun Run. Taylor and Johnson also will have a discussion about the novels and television.

Since Longmire Days’ inception, the organizers have selected a cause to receive the proceeds from the event. The 2015 proceeds go to the American Indian College Fund.

Longmire was the highest rated show on A&E and is now being produced on Netflix.

For more information visit

Photos: Craig Johnson, top left; Robert Taylor, right.

Saturday, 27 June 2015 11:06


grippandojames CashLandingh
Most people have heard of the 1978 Lufthansa heist at JFK in which criminals made off with an estimated $6 million, which would be around $18 million today.

At the time, it was the largest cash robbery on American soil.

If that sounds familiar then perhaps you saw the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas, or read the book Wise Guys, written by the mob informant Henry Hill.

In the 1978 heist, many of those behind the crime didn’t fare well. Their increased spending and bragging didn’t make for a clean getaway.

But that Lufthansa robbery isn’t the only time thieves have targeted an airline.

It also happened at the Miami airport in 2005, a crime that James Grippando, right, uses for inspiration in his 22nd thriller, the enthralling Cash Landing.

In real life, the Miami heist netted $7.8 million for a band of amateur thieves.

According to Grippando’s website, which quotes the FBI’s official website, the real crimes “mastermind,” Karls Monzon, teamed up with his uncle, an ex-con, his cocaine-addicted brother in law, and an insider who worked for Brinks Security who drove one of the armored trucks that regularly shuttled millions of dollars in cash from Miami International Airport to the Federal Reserve Branch just four miles from the airport.  

Each week, states Grippando’s website, a 747 brings from the Frankfurt airport to the Miami airport anywhere from $80 million to $100 million in U.S. dollars in the cargo belly. German banks don’t need all those $50- and $100-dollar bills, and much of Miami’s economy runs on cash.

grippando james
Just like in Goodfellas, the thieves had only one job to do after the heist—don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t change your routine and don’t start spending money you wouldn’t ordinarily have.

Naturally, that didn’t happen. The Cash Landing thieves started spending money like it was water.

One thief’s addiction to cocaine was only surpassed by his addiction to strippers, for whom he would buy $40,000 Rolexes. And we are not talking about just one watch, but several. As the FBI was closing in on their investigation via wiretap, a rival gang kidnapped one of the thieves. And then it got worse.

The real gang eventually was arrested and are still in prison, as are the kidnappers. As for the money, only about a million dollars was ever recovered.

Using a real event for a piece of fiction can be tricky, but Grippando, long an expert at the involving thriller, pulls it off quite nicely in Cash Landing.

Grippando concentrates on the FBI’s investigation, which includes the newly transferred Special Agent Andie Henning, to piece together the scattered clues. As in real life, there is no honor among thieves in Cash Landing.

The Cash Landing robbery is flawless—no one is hurt, not even a gun is fired. But instead of staying off the radar, some of the gang members immediately begin throwing money around, including buying several strippers uber-expensive watches. The gang members in Cash Landing believe they are smarter than that gang in Goodfellas. Of course, they are not.

In my review of Cash Landing, I said: “Cash Landing’s solid plot is buoyed by Grippando’s strong characters, each of whom has something to hide from the others. Grippando also delivers history lessons along with a tour around Miami, from down-at-the-heels neighborhoods to Lincoln Road in Miami, including a homeless scam that seems to be one of those only in South Florida events.

“Andie plays a major part in Grippando’s recent novels about Miami attorney Jack Swytek. But Cash Landing is set in 2009, before the two met although Swytek plays a pivotal, but small, role at the end,” I added in my review.

Grippando makes the best use of reality as he spins fictional gold with Cash Landing

Photo: James Grippando; courtesy HarperCollins