Reviews
Oline Cogdill

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The works by two respected crime fiction writers are making it to the movies.

Joe R. Lansdale’s 1989 novel Cold in July is now in limited release in movie theaters across the country.

Michael C. Hall (Dexter) stars as Richard Dane who shoots in self-defense a burglar breaking into his home. Dane is soon hailed as a hero by everyone in his small town, except for Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), the ex-con father of the dead man.

Adding to the plot is a crazy private investigator Jim Bob Luke (played by Don Johnson). The reviews have been mixed—I haven’t seen it yet as hasn’t come to my area—but apparently Don Johnson steals the show. And if you have any doubt that Johnson can make a sleazy character intriguing, catch The Hot Spot (1990).

This isn’t the first time that a Lansdale work has made it to the screen. His novella Bubba Hotep was adapted to film by Don Coscarelli, starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. And if you haven’t seen Bubba Hotep, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s a strange film but it’s always pleasure to see Bruce Campbell in anything.

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Lansdale
’s story "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" was adapted to film for Showtime's Masters of Horror series.

And that leads us to the late, never to be forgotten Elmore Leonard. On Aug. 29, the film Life of Crime will hit the movie theaters. When I first saw the previews that popped up a couple weeks ago, I wondered why the story and dialogue sounded so familiar.

Life of Crime is based on Leonard’s 1978 novel Switch in which a wealthy man’s wife is kidnapped. But he doesn't want to pay her ransom because he’s filed for divorce. If she is killed, well, that saves him a lot of money in alimony.

Tim Robbins stars as Frank Dawson and Mickey, his estranged wife, is played by Jennifer Aniston. Isla Fisher is Frank’s new girlfriend. Mos Def and Will Forte also co-star.

Life of Crime received a good reception when it was the closing night movie of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. According to a couple of sites, the film was previously in development at 20th Century Fox in 1986, with Diane Keaton attached, but the project was shelved after being deemed too similar to Ruthless People.

A little bit of trivia for Leonard fans. The kidnappers are Louis Gara, played by John Hawkes, and Ordell Robbie, played by Mos Def using the name Yasiin Bey. Louis and Ordell returned in Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch, which was made into the 1997 film Jackie Brown.

The other Louis and Ordell were played by Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown.

Leonard’s work has been treated with respect in recent films so Life of Crime may follow that pattern, even if it does star Jennifer Aniston.

Photo: Jennifer Aniston in Life of Crime. Roadside Attractions photo

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Reviews
Oline Cogdill

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David Tennant is one of the best British actors working in film today.

While his fellow countrymen (and woman) might be better known in the U.S., Tennant has amassed a following that continues to grow.

Some may recognized this Scottish actor from the Doctor Who series, while others will remember him as the melancholy detective sergeant of last year’s Broadchurch.

He made such an impact in Broadchurch that he will do the same role in Fox’s American remake Gracepoint, scheduled for television this fall. He also does a lot of work in the theatre in London's West End.

But right now, Tennant is one of the many reasons to watch the two-part British series The Escape Artist, which airs in most PBS markets as Masterpiece Mystery! at 9 p.m. June 15 and June 22.

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The other reasons to watch The Escape Artist are evident in the first few minutes of the airing—its whip-smart plot that brings a fresh view to the standard law and order series, its realistic dialogue and compelling acting.

While delving deep into legal ethics, The Escape Artist also is an in-depth character study of lawyers—or should we say solicitors since this is Great Britain—who grapple with the consequences and aftermath of winning and losing.

Tennant plays Will Burton, a London defense attorney who’s nicknamed “the escape artist” because he has never lost a case.

Never.

Not one.

He’s also called Houdini for pulling off audacious escapes for his clients.

There is, of course, little thought about the criminals who are guilty but get off because Burton is their attorney. He is fond of saying “I like to get my hands dirty” when delving into an impossible case.

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His colleagues and bosses say he is “destined for silk,” which means the honor of Queen’s Counsel. But he is too busy working and finding what little time he can for his wife, Kate (Ashley Jensen), and son, Jamie (Gus Barry).

Unlike most dramas in which the workaholic attorney’s family constantly nag him about being married to his work, Burton’s family is rather understanding. They know the pressures he is under and how his hard work allows them to have a beautiful apartment in London and an even better country house to which they frequent most weekends.

Burton takes the case of Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), a recluse who keeps an assortment of predator birds. He’s charged with the torture murder of a female medical student. Burton sees a loophole and, although he is repulsed by being in the same room as Foyle, easily gets his client cleared.

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And then the twists begin and continue as The Escape Artist evolves into an even more gripping story with a surprise ending.

The cast, without exception, is excellent. Burton’s main rival is barrister Maggie Gardner, played with steel resolve by Sophie Okonedo, who just won a Tony Award for A Raisin in the Sun and co-starred in Hotel Rwanda. Maggie is cut from the same cloth as Burton and may even be more ambitious. Kebbell is creepily composed.

Jensen shows her range as a fine dramatic actress, making the role of Burton’s wife a solid character. Jensen may be best known to American audiences for her role on Ugly Betty or co-starring with Ricky Gervais on Extras.

And then there is Tennant, able to show his character’s vulnerability and ruthlessness at once. He forces the viewers to feel empathy for Burton while also being taken back by his actions. The scene in which Burton and his son are eating macaroni and cheese without really tasting it while watching the news without really seeing as each is consumed by emotions shows how fully vested Tennant is with his characters.

The Escape Artist doesn’t lag, even when the audience can guess—or think they can guess—what is coming next. That kind of inspired manipulation can be credited to creator and scriptwriter David Wolstencroft, who brings that same approach to MI-5.

The Escape Artist is top notch.

Masterpiece Mystery!: The Escape Artist begins June 15 at 9 p.m. on most PBS stations with the second part airing June 22. Each episode is 90 minutes. Check local listings as some PBS stations may air The Escape Artist on Mondays.

PHOTOS: From top, David Tennant; Tennant; Tennant at right with Ashley Jensen and Gus Barry, right; Sophie Okonedo. Photos courtesy of PBS.

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Reviews
Oline Cogdill

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The Private Eye Writers of America announce the finalists for the Shamus Award for works published in 2013. (The categories below are in alphabetical order by author.)

The winners will be announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon in Long Beach, Calif., on Friday, November 14.

BEST HARDCOVER PI NOVEL
Little Elvises,Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime)
The Mojito Coast, Richard Helms (Five Star)
W is for Wasted, Sue Grafton, (Marion Wood/Putnam)
The Good Cop, Brad Parks, (Minotaur Books)
Nemesis, Bill Pronzini (Forge)

BEST FIRST PI NOVEL
A Good Death, Christopher R. Cox (Minotaur Books)
Montana, Gwen Florio (Permanent Press)
Blood Orange, Karen Keskinen (Minotaur Books)
Bear is Broken, Lachlan Smith (Mysterious Press)
Loyalty, Ingrid Thoft (Putnam)


BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK PI NOVEL
Seduction of the Innocent
, Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime)
Into the Dark, Alison Gaylin (Harper)
Purgatory Key, Darrell James (Midnight Ink)
Heart of Ice, P.J. Parrish (Pocket Books)
The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie, Robert J. Randisi (Perfect Crime Books)

BEST PI SHORT STORY
"So Long, Chief," Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane (The Strand Magazine)
"The Ace I," Jack Fredrickson (EQMM)
“What We Do,” Mick Herron (EQMM)
“Extra Fries,” Michael Z. Lewin (EQMM)
“The Lethal Leeteg,” Hayford Peirce (EQMM)

BEST INDIE PI NOVEL
Murder Take Three, April Kelly and Marsha Lyons (Flight Risk Books)
A Small Sacrifice, Dana King (self-published)
No Pat Hands, J.J. Lamb (Two Black Sheep)
State vs. Lassiter, Paul Levine (CreateSpace)
Don’t Dare a Dame, M. Ruth Myers (Tuesday House)

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Reviews
Oline Cogdill

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The seventh and last season of True Blood—based on Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series—begins at 9 p.m. June 22 on HBO. But look for another one of Harris’ series to come to television.

Harris’ Aurora Teagarden books are going to be brought to the Hallmark Channel as a series of two-hour movies.

The movies will star Candace Cameron Bure, who you may remember in the role of D. J. Tanner, the eldest daughter, on the television series Full House, which she played from ages 10 to 18.

The plan is that these two-hour made for TV films might be on the air as early as January, but that is still to be determined. As we all know, when dealing with the film/TV industry, anything can happen.

Harris is thrilled about the prospect of bringing this much loved series to the screen.

“I am very cognizant that this will be a really different product and process from my experience at HBO, and I look forward to learning even more about how things work on the west coast,” Harris told Mystery Scene in an email.

I loved this series by Harris and it should make an entertaining addition to the Hallmark Channel. The series began in 1990 with Real Murders and Harris published six novels about Aurora Teagarden, but there is plenty of groundwork for more stories.

The Aurora Teagarden novels are set in a small Georgia town where librarian Aurora "Roe" Teagarden is a member of the Real Murders Club, which meets once a month to analyze famous cases. This pastime becomes real when a member’s murder eerily resembles the crime the club was about to discuss. Other “copycat” killings follow.

Harris’ latest novel is Midnight Crossroad, which begins a new series for this author.

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Reviews
Oline Cogdill

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We always hear about the demise of reading, how the public doesn’t read books anymore and book buying is going the way of the 8-track player. (Google 8-track player if you don’t know what that is.)

Well, if that is true then why has the dispute between Hachette and Amazon become national news? Even a segment on the Cobert Report?

So the demise of reading, like Mark Twain’s death, has been greatly exaggerated.

But are we also entering the world of the big book? By that I don’t mean big blockbusters or books that get big attention.

I mean the big book. BIG. The thick, more than 500 page books that could double as doorstops.

This year several of these huge tomes have crossed my desk. And I often wonder as I heft up these hefty books, are these lengths necessary? Can these stories be told in half the size, and better? In newspapers we used to have a joke—I wrote a good story that was 60 inches (which is how journalists measure articles) but turned it into a great story that was 40 inches. And of course, there is the phrase, less is more.

So let’s take a look at some of these big books, and, I have read each of them.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker, translated from the French by Sam Taylor. Penguin. Length 656 pages—This international best seller has been getting big push from its publisher and with good reason. Yes, the story is repetitive and sometimes unwieldy but it also moves at break-neck speed, entrapping the reader in the story a young author with writer’s block trying to help his mentor accused of murder. Could a 200 or 300 trim have made this a better novel? Probably. But I still enjoyed it and got wrapped in its ambitious, multi-layered story that tackles themes of loyalty, fiction vs. reality, fame, and is a mini-course in writing. Harry Quebert is one of America’s most respected and loved novelists until the remains of Nola Kellergan and a manuscript of his bestseller are found on his estate 33 years after the 15-year-old disappeared. Marcus Goldman, Harry’s successful protégé, travels to New Hampshire to try to clear his friend, and find his own next novel.

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The Hidden Child
by Camilla Läckberg, translated by Marlaine Delargy. Pegasus Crime. Length: 544 pages—
Swedish writer Läckberg sets her superior novels in the coastal village Fjällbacka and each outing is unique. Her terrific fifth novel serves as a fascinating history of a family dating back to WWII while looking at the Neo-Nazi movements in Sweden. The story never lags as it shows how horrific secrets can fester, affecting the present. Läckberg’s lively plot smoothly moves from a year during WWII to contemporary times in which an old man’s murder launches a police investigation.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. Morrow. Length: 800 pages—Greg Iles’ fourth novel also is getting a big push from its publisher, with a tour and lots of publicity. Natchez Burning is a bold look at the Civil Rights Movement that smoothly alternates between 1964 and 2005. It also is way too long. Repetitive scenes and predictable villains dilute the impact of the racism and violence. Natchez, Miss., lawyer Penn Cage is stunned when his highly respected physician father, Tom, is accused of murdering his former nurse, Viola Turner, an African American who worked with him during the 1960s. I had very mixed feelings about this novel. The plot is realistic and Iles skillfully moves the story between the decades. But this is the start of a trilogy, but its length is a problem. This would have been a stronger story at 400 pages.

Ripper by Isabel Allende. Harper. Length: 496 pages—While this may be the shortest novel in this list, its overdone plot, weak characters, and uninteresting details stop this story in the first chapter. These 496 pages seemed like 800. My dislike of this novel was chronicled in a review that ran a couple of weeks before Isabel Allende called the book “a joke” during an NPR interview. “The book is tongue in cheek. It's very ironic ... and I’m not a fan of mysteries . . . . So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke,” according to the NPR interview. She later apologized in another interview when reader backlash began. An author’s opinions on the genre, storytelling, or readers means nothing to me, nor should it mean anything to readers. What matters—to me and, hopefully, readers—is does the story deliver. It does not. Ripper revolves around a world-wide online community of amateur sleuths united to solve a series of bizarre killings in San Francisco. The leader is high school senior Amanda Martin, who is assisted by her pharmacist grandfather, Blake Jackson.

And here another novel that I have not read but is massive in length:

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Simon & Schuster. Length: 640 pages—To be published in August, this debut from a 39-year-old English teacher is a look at an Irish immigrant family that spans the decades. Again, I have not read it but it is garnering positive advance reviews.

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