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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in bev_vincent's LiveJournal:

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    Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
    1:23 pm
    In the First

    I published a couple of reviews last weekend, one for a book I enjoyed, and one for a book that I struggled to finish. I leave it to you to deduce which was which: One Kick by Chelsea Cain or Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson. I’m currently reading Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner, which features a former cop who has a very strange affliction due to a contrecoup injury.

    Both of the movies we watched last weekend were based on true stories. First we saw The Monuments Men, starring Clooney and Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and Lord Grantham Hugh Bonneville. A solid, reliable film starring solid, reliable actors. There were some interesting moments but no overall real suspense as the story played out much as one would expect. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. A good story, well told. Then we saw 12 Years a Slave, which is not light viewing by any measure. You have to wonder what effect playing vicious, evil characters like that has on a person’s psyche after a while. It was interesting to learn that some freemen were sent back into slavery, even though they had documentation that they were free: they simply couldn’t gain access to it once trapped. Tough to watch.

    I had already seen the first season of Derek, Ricky Gervais’ surprisingly touching and soulful series about a man whose mantra is “be nice.” He works in a nursing home and is much beloved. There are only seven episodes that run 25 minutes each, so you can tear through the whole thing in an evening, if you want. Watched it again with my wife last night as a prelude to the second season. For a while, I thought that the story would have been much better without Kev, the gross, sexually obsessed character, but I now realize that without him the story might have been schmaltzy and saccharin. He keeps the pendulum from swinging to far in that direction. And then there’s Doug, the hapless, existential everyman who’s been the caretaker / Mr. Fix-it for a decade. He’s the voice of cold, absolute reason. Also the guy who doesn’t take anyone’s crap and sends people running once they’ve worn out their welcome. And, finally, Hannah, the long-suffering and obsessively caring manager who is really the story’s heart. Gervais’ characters in other series tend to be boorish, but not here. Definitely worth seeing, and I’m looking forward to the second season.

    For a moment in one of the final scenes of the new series Murder in the First, I thought I was having a flashback to the 90s. The guy standing next to Steven Weber resembled Tim Daly and they were dressed like pilots. Not that Steven Weber’s character ever dressed like a pilot (see picture) on Wings. This new show is reminiscent of The Killing. One case will occupy the entire summer season, and it’s as much about the private lives of the two cops as the case. The woman detective is a divorced single mother struggling to make ends meet and by the end of the first episode her partner is a widower. The initial murder has connections to an asshole version of Steve Jobs, and then there’s another death that is also apparently connected. The early reviews said that the series finds its stride in the second episode. We’ll see. It’s not bad so far—just nothing new.

    I thought briefly that Orphan Black might just have jumped the shark with last week’s episode. Yet another clone? But this one is a lot different from the others (in fact, they are all remarkably different from each other) and gives Maslany yet another chance to shine. The story has more twists than a strand of DNA, but it’s never dull.

    I finished the third season of Death in Paradise, which has been renewed for a fourth. It’s a whimsical cozy detective show set on a fictional Caribbean island. There’s a new DI this season, a bit of a bumbler, and the stories are very much inspired by Agatha Christie, with arcane clues and motives, and a summing up at the end in front of the suspects, but it’s fun. Sometimes I figure out at least half of the truth ahead of the big reveal but often I’m in the dark until the end.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, June 6th, 2014
    10:05 am
    Your words, another voice

    There’s a particular pleasure in revisiting a story that you haven’t read in a while. A couple of weekends ago, I read “Sturm und Drang” from A Dark and Deadly Valley to my wife. I’m not sure that I’ve read the story since it was published in 2007. It was almost like reading another person’s work and I have to say that I was very pleased with the tale. Alas, the anthology didn’t get very wide distribution.

    I was approached by the good folks at The Wicked Library to see if I would give them a story to be read on their weekly podcast. I perused my archives and decided that “Knock ‘em Dead” would be a good fit. It was first published in When the Night Comes Down from Dark Arts Press along with three other of my stories (the closest thing I’ve done to a collection yet). The story was inspired by a story I heard another author tell about someone having a heart attack at or before their reading. It’s a writer’s story, told from the point of view of a debut novelist who is suddenly thrust into the limelight and sees a chance to scale the ladder of success quickly. I think it’s a funny story, one that Jeff Strand might get a kick out of. Again, I haven’t revisited the story in a while, so it was with great pleasure that I listened to Nelson W. Pyles’ terrific narration. You can see something of its vintage with references to PDAs and Larry King, but Nelson’s rendering of Larry King’s voice was one of my favorite parts, so I’m glad I didn’t update it. I hope people will give it a listen: I think it’s a pretty kick-ass story. Or, as the promo copy at the site says, “quite possibly the most actually wicked story [sent] to the Wicked Library.”

    There was definitely a Doctor Who sub-theme working on the second episode of the third season of Death in Paradise. One of the guest stars was Doc #5, Peter Davison, who plays the beleaguered screenwriter for a zombie movie being filmed on the island, and the lead actress in the zombie flick was played by Michelle Ryan, aka Lady Christina.

    Motive is an underappreciated (in my opinion) crime series. It’s filmed in Vancouver with mostly Canadian actors, including Kristin Lehman from The Killing, and its conceit is that the killer and the victim are revealed before the opening credits, though not in Columbo fashion. A big part of the joy in the show is finding out how these oft-times seemingly unrelated characters come together and what causes one to murder the other. The show usually plays against expectations. The guy just released from prison isn’t the killer, he’s the victim, or the cute little thang is the killer. Also, I really enjoy the relationship between Lehman’s character and her partner, played by Louis Ferreira, who was Declan on Breaking Bad. They have a comfortable familiarity that shines through in underplayed moments and little bits of seemingly impromptu dialog. There’s one episode in the second season that appeals to two aspects of my daily life: crime writing and chemistry.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
    1:05 pm
    As time goes by

    Another year older, another year wiser, mayhaps.

    I received my copy of CD #71 yesterday, the one that contains my feature review of Mr. Mercedes. On the same day as the book was published, no less. Good timing, or what?

    I had an interesting email the other day from an international television station that wants to interview me for a project they’re doing. Logistics and details still to be worked out, but it could be cool if it all comes together.

    Stay tuned to The Wicked Library—one of my stories will be narrated by Nelson W. Pyles in the coming days.

    On Friday night we saw Mud, another entry in our unintentional Matthew McConaughey film festival. Good film, which didn’t go in any of the directions I expected. One of the kids was played by the actor who went on to be Kendell Crowe on Justified. An unexpected small but crucial role by Reese Witherspoon, plus performances by Sam Shepherd and Sarah Paulson.

    Then on Sunday we saw Thérèse, starring Audrey Tautou. She was so endearing in Amelie, and I always want to like her, but she’s never really been as good as in that film. This one was a dire piece about a bourgeois woman “trapped” in an arranged marriage who reacts to her boredom by doing something drastic. It’s hard to feel sorry for any of the characters, really, and Tautou’s is so downbeat all the time that we were fed up with her by the end. Plus the trailer was arranged to engender sympathy for her situation by presenting events that happened after her drastic act as if they happened from the moment she got married, which made her seem more sympathetic than she was.

    Thanks to modern technology, I can now get advance review copies on my iPad, which means I don’t have to deal with useless ARCs after I’m done. The only problem is, digital ARCs come with an expiration date in most cases, so now I find myself reading books in the order in which they will expire so I don’t lose them! I just finished One Kick by Chelsea Cain, her first step away from her series. The book gets off to a brilliant start in a deliberately ambiguous scene. It’s a fast read, but it tells a good story well. A beach read, perhaps, but I liked it. Next up is Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner.

    Only two episodes of Fargo left. This week was like the calm before the storm, with an interesting bit of time dilation thrown in. Lester (Martin Freeman) has gained a new sense of self confidence and seems to be thriving. Characters get married, babies are born, but Malvo, that evil imp, is still out there, and a reckoning has to be on the horizon.

    Happy to see Longmire again. A lot of the first episode was shot with handheld cameras, which gave it a claustrophobic and urgent feel. Last season ended with a series of cliffhangers, and it looks like resolving them will be much of the business of season 3.

    Some of my favorite scenes in Orphan Black are when one clone has to pretend to be another. This week we were treated to Sarah being forced to be Allison. Then there was the most awesome face plant ever. “I may have drugged his tea,” Felix says. Topped off with a shocking final moment. I figured the character was toast, but never saw him going out that way.

    Is Motive the only TV show filmed in Vancouver that’s actually set in Vancouver? There are some very nice aerial shots of the city, now that they’ve decided to be less coy about the setting.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, May 30th, 2014
    10:02 am
    Where did May go?

    For the past few years, we’ve been flirting with drought. Sometimes we’ve been in full-on, high-risk drought conditions, with the local lakes (aka holding ditches) at levels so low that the boats are stuck in mud. Other times we get just enough rain to keep us happy, albeit briefly.

    Earlier this week we had two days of torrential rain that, almost literally overnight, took us from “back in serious drought again” to “pretty much caught up to the average rainfall for the year.” Houston has recorded nearly 10″ of rain in May, double the monthly average, and we’re only a tad off for the year. There are hints we might get more heavy rain over the next two days. There was some localized flooding, mostly on low-lying roads and freeway feeders, but no one is complaining. The wildlife is euphoric. You should hear the birds singing. And the frogs. And the mosquitoes…

    Today is the official publication day for Joe Mynhardt’s anthology, Tales from the Lake Vol. 1, which contains my story “The Lady of Lost Lake.” The headline author is Graham Masterton, but you’ll probably recognize some other names in the table of contents. It’s available in paperback (Amazon), Kindle, and various other ebook formats from Smashwords. It’s also up at CreateSpace. I did a short interview about my story, which you can read here. The one review to mention my story so far had this to say, “Essentially a lady in the lake story with real no essence but strangely I was riveted to this story and its telling.” I’ll take that.

    Although it will also appear in the next issue of Cemetery Dance magazine, we decided to put up my review of Mr. Mercedes at News from the Dead Zone. Check it out!

    We’re in that funky limbo time when there’s not much new to watch on TV. Mad Men finished up with an interesting twist, as Don pulls himself from in front of the speeding train with a last-minute gambit. And who couldn’t love the song-and-dance routine that accompanied the departure of one of the original characters? At least he got to see a man on the moon. Fargo continues to be interesting. I loved the way they decided to film the mass shooting at the Fargo office. All exterior tracking as we follow but cannot see Malvo work from room to room and floor to floor. The occasional flash of light from gunfire, but only at the end do we see actual people. Those poor FBI guys.

    I’m also still digging Orphan Black, though the show occasionally comes very close to choking on its own twisted plot. It still surprises me how I can look at all these clones as if they were being played by different actresses. Maslany is simply amazing. We watched the original BBC version of House of Cards. Unfortunately the two follow-up series aren’t on Netflix, so I had to order the DVD. The incident at the end of the final installment of the first series perfectly reflects what happened in the first episode of Season 2 of the Spacey remake, but I’d forgotten about it. It has been, after all, a quarter of a century, more or less. It’s a toss-up who breaks the fourth wall better, Spacey or Ian Richardson. They are both so sly.

    I’m starting to catch up on the third season of Death in Paradise, a cute cozy-esque murder mystery series set on a fictional Caribbean island. It’s a “fish out of water” story in that the Inspector is British, sent to this outpost because no one much likes his stick-in-the-mud, always-by-the-book ways. Over the course of the first two series, he adjusts to life in the tropics, as much as he can. This makes what happens in the first episode of the third season such a shock. I’m not sure the series can recover from it, but we’ll see. I’m also keeping up with Motive, the Canadian police drama in which the killer and the victim are revealed before the opening credits and you then get to see the police work out what happened and why. It’s pretty good. Not as glossy as CSI, and a little too in love with clever camera transitions, but I like the gruff characters.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Tuesday, May 27th, 2014
    12:29 pm
    The Doctors Who

    I posted a review The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six, edited by Ellen Datlow, over the weekend. An excellent anthology, and I was especially fond of the final story, a “sequel” to The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

    One of my favorite experiences as a writer was getting to write an authorized Doctor Who short story for a BBC Big Finish anthology edited by Steven Saville. We had to pitch our stories before being selected, and then our tales went through a rigorous editing process to make sure they fit into the known chronology. Mine featured the Fifth Doctor and Peri Brown. An earlier anthology also featured that pairing, so I was asked to inject a paragraph that made reference to that adventure to place mine in the timeline properly. We don’t often get to play in our favorite sandboxes like that, so it was a thrill to be part of the project.

    I chose Davison’s version because he was “my Doctor.” The one I remember best from the classic series. I watched his entire tenure before writing my story. In recent years, I’ve also seen him in Law & Order: UK, The Last Detective and Campion. I especially liked his turn as “Dangerous” Davies, the least dangerous copper in his division. He had this sort of hang-dog persona that was appealing. So, when I found out Davison would be at Compicpalooza in Houston last weekend, I was set to go. Because my daughter had other plans on Saturday, we waited until Monday to attend, which was probably a good decision because by then the crowds had thinned out considerably.

    Davison wasn’t the only Doctor there. Also in attendance were numbers 6 through 8: Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy (also from The Hobbit), and Paul McGann (also from Luther). Rounding out the Doctor Who experience was John Barrowman, who played Captain Jack Harkness. I took along my copy of Doctor Who: Destination Prague and had the various Doctors sign stories in which their characters appeared. I also had my photo taken with Davison (see above). Then we went home and watched The Five Doctors Reboot. I think it was my third time seeing it, and it’s every bit as charming as the first time.

    Over the holiday weekend, we also watched all eight episodes of True Detective, my wife for the first time and me for the second. It stands up well to repeat viewing and binge watching. We started the original BBC House of Cards from 1990 starring Ian Richardson, he of the Grey Poupon commercials. I remember watching the series when it first aired, but that was a long, long time ago. I also finished up the current season of DCI Banks. The final episode was based on the only novel in the series I’ve read, although it was changed a lot for the two-part teleplay.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Monday, May 19th, 2014
    12:43 pm
    The renegade who had it made

    It appears that everyone was on their best behavior last week, because when I showed up for jury duty this morning we were told that there would be no trial this week. Didn’t even get to set foot inside the courtroom. Thank you for your service. Sucks for the poor sods who decided not to show up, as she was taking down names. The DPS was fairly close to the courthouse, so I decided, since I was in town anyway, to get my driver’s license renewed. I know there are lots of horror stories about DPS experiences, but mine couldn’t have been better. In and out in 10-15 minutes. I didn’t even have time to fill out the application form completely before my number was called.

    We watched the four episodes of The Bletchley Circle this weekend. It airs on PBS and deals with a group of women who were codebreakers during WWII but who, in the aftermath, are not allowed to talk about what they did (which saved many lives), and must return to the banal life offered to women in the 1950s. In the first series, they banded together to track down a serial killer. In the second series, there are two stories, one having to do with sarin gas testing on British soldiers and the other about smuggling rings that carried on after the black market established during the war was no longer necessary.

    Last night we went to see Don Felder (of the Eagles), Foreigner and Styx at the outdoor concert pavilion near the house. It opened 25 years ago and in those heady early days it seemed I was attending shows 2-3 times a week. Over the years, we  have gone less, but I really wanted to see Styx, so I persuaded my wife to go. She was afraid the groups would be “past their prime,” but that was not the case at all.

    Felder opened at 7 pm with a set list made up mostly of Eagles songs he co-wrote, along with a recent solo track and the theme song from Heavy Metal. They brought out the obligatory double-neck guitar for “Hotel California,” and Styx’s Tommy Shaw joined him on stage for that song. He was in good voice.

    Then out came Foreigner, part of the soundtrack of my high school years, and they put on a rocking good show, even though there’s only one original band member (Mick Jones) on the tour. They were energetic and the songs were loud and invigorating. Then on came Styx, which features two of the five original band members, Shaw and James “JY” Young. Dennis De Young’s vocals are done by Lawrence Gowan, a Scottish Canadian who was a big hit up north in the 80s with songs like “Criminal Mind” and “Strange Animal.” He opened for Styx a few times in the late 90s and Shaw liked what he heard, inviting him to join the band permanently. He wrote a couple of songs for their fine album Cyclorama, and he looks like he’s having the time of his life, strutting, playing keyboards (once with his back to the instrument), jumping, climbing and singing his heart out.

    This was the first time I’ve seen either band in concert (I saw Felder twenty years ago on the Hell Freezes Over tour), and I’m glad we went. It was a blast from the past, but it was also fun to listen to and sing along with all these familiar songs.

    I wasn’t displeased with the outcome of The Amazing Race. Rachel said she didn’t want to finish second, and that wish was granted. I wouldn’t have objected if the country singers won, either, but in the end it was a satisfactory outcome.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, May 16th, 2014
    12:45 pm
    Gojira angry

    Confession time: I have never seen a Godzilla movie before. I know, there must be some membership card that I’ll have to hand back in now that I’ve said that. We only had one TV station when I was growing up and I can’t remember there ever being a Godzilla movie on. If there was, it may have been too late at night for me to have seen it. I’ve been aware of Godzilla, of course, but until last night, I’d never seen him in action, other than in clips.

    Went to the seven o’clock show with Danel Olson, the editor of the Exotic Gothic anthologies and a couple of the Studies in the Horror Film books, including the one about The Shining that will contain a contribution from me. We live only a few miles apart but never met until the WHC in Austin a few years ago.

    The theater wasn’t packed, but we’d picked the smaller of the two cinemas in our community and opted against the 3D version. We arrived ten minutes before showtime and got decent seats. The trailers were a sequence of about five in a row that seemed to revel in being cagey about what the films were really about. Disjointed, nonlinear, and about as helpful as the previews for an episode of Mad Men. These were followed by one comedy (22 Jump Street) that you couldn’t induce me to watch with anything known to mankind, and the one preview that actually piqued my interest: A Most Wanted Man, based on the Le Carré  novel, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright.

    Then came the main feature. I was surprised by the marquee names who weren’t in the film as long as I’d expected, and had no idea at all who the actor was who played Ford. I was intrigued when Ken Watanabe called the monster Gojira, but in that kind of Japanese accent that made it sound so much like Godzilla that it finally clicked in my head how one had transformed into the other. The director chose to hint at more than he showed, especially in the first hour. There were reactions to and repercussions of the monsters, but not much screen time for the biggest marquee star. The bad guys got more exposure until late in the game. There was some human drama, but a lot of coincidence, too, like how Ford ended up everywhere the bad guys did. A lot of people killed, but so long as they weren’t “our guys” it was okay. That’s the sort of stuff you’d expect from this kind of film, though. The money shot came at the end as Godzilla emerges from the deeps to restore the balance of nature.

    It’s all very Lovecraftian, in a sense. These huge monsters are like Elder Gods, with little care for or interest in humankind, unless the humans in question are trying to poke them in the eye with a sharp stick. Buildings and trees and bridges are all the same to them. Obstacles in the battle, or weapons. For the most part, the humans were really surplus to requirements. They had to deal with the bombs, but they were the ones who decided to put the bombs in play in the first place. If they’d done nothing, the outcome would have been more or less the same. All good fun, though. Godzilla reminded me of The Incredible Hulk when he flexed his arms.

    I posted two book reviews this week: The Son by Jo Nesbø and The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. Two very different books, but I enjoyed them both.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
    12:20 pm
    Giger counter

    I first encountered H.R. Giger when I was in university. As my musical world and tastes broadened, I stumbled upon Emerson, Lake and Palmer, probably at a used record store called Days of Wine and Vinyl. As I worked my way through their discography, I naturally ended up at Brain Salad Surgery, which featured his artwork on the cover. That same year, of course, Alien took the movie-going world by storm, with its simultaneously horrifying and hilarious shot of a creature bursting out of John Hurt’s chest after an ill-advised visit to a planet designed by Giger. I didn’t know much about him, alas, or I might have gone to his museum during the years I lived in Zurich. An opportunity missed.

    I’m about halfway through The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. Alas, my digitial ARC is fixing to expire, so I might have to buy a copy of the book to finish it, which has never happened to me before. It’s an interesting concept: an Apple-like company is taking over the English language, and there’s a word flu causing a kind of aphasia among users of an iPhone-like gadget called the Meme that responds to your emotions. The next generation forms a chemical / neurological bond with you in a creepy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers sense.

    Issue 71 of Cemetery Dance magazine is shipping this month. It’s an all-fiction issue, so there won’t be a News from the Dead Zone column in it, but I do have the feature book review, which is King’s forthcoming Mr. Mercedes.

    We had a free preview of Showtime last weekend, so I recorded Penny Dreadful and watched it last night. It was okay. Lavish in look. Timothy Dalton is chewing up the scenery. Has moments. Not enough to make me want to see any more of it, though. And after only three hours, my finger is creeping toward the delete button on 24. How quickly it descends into melodrama. I was bummed to discover that Castle decided to end the season with a cliffhanger. I liked the way the universe was conspiring to wreck their wedding day and, ultimately, it did. I loved Don Draper’s reaction to the threesome with his wife and her friend on Mad Men. He wasn’t all “goody, let’s do this.” He was more like WTF? A little bit of Van Gogh action going on, too. What a weird show.

    And then there was the season finale of The Blacklist, which answered some questions, raised some others and maybe answered the big one: Who is Liz’s father? Though he has denied it, Red still remains the prime candidate, especially in light of those burn scars on his back. For a while I thought they were going to go housecleaning or, rather, cast cleaning. First, Meera goes down and then Howard looked like he was out for the count, too. The pseudo-Berlin takes one to the head and Tom takes a few to the gut, but is he dead? There was no body. Maybe Red disappeared it to save the awkward questions that would raise for Liz, although that leaves her marital status up in the air. Sort of like Kate’s on Castle.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Monday, May 12th, 2014
    10:12 am
    Everything expires

    Today’s Google Doodle commemorates the 104th birthday of Dorothy Hodgkin, the only British woman to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field. She was an X-ray crystallographer (that’s also my field of expertise) who solved the structures of a number of biologically important molecules, including Vitamin B12, cholesterol, insulin, and penicillin. Her structure of Vitamin B12 confirmed the presence of a cobalt-carbon bond, which was at the time a fairly unique feature.

    I encountered Dr. Hodgkin twice during my doctoral years. First, I spent two months at the crystallography lab in Oxford, which was her home base. Though she was mostly retired by that time, she was known to haunt the lab on occasion and, on one memorable day, was said to have been “fixing” one of the pieces of scientific equipment with a hammer. A couple of years later, she was awarded an honourary doctorate from my alma mater, and my PhD advisor was her sponsor and host. She was in her mid-70s and traveled in a wheel chair when any distance or difficulty was involved, but she was still sharp. One afternoon during her visit, my adviser put me in his office alone with her and told me to regale her with my thesis research. It was a warm day, August most likely, and the room was small and warm. After a few minutes, it seemed to me that she had nodded off. So, my question was: do I stop and wait for her to come around again or plow ahead? I chose the latter, never quite sure if she heard anything I was saying. Later, my adviser reported that she had told him I was “a sharp lad,” so I guess she heard something.

    April may be the cruelest month, but May 2014, it seems, is the year that everything expires for me: my car registration, my vehicle inspection, my driver’s license and my passport. Also, I received on Friday my first ever jury duty summons to which I can legally attend. I got one not long after I moved to Texas, but as a non-citizen I couldn’t go. I’m sort of looking forward to it, although my wife assures me that as soon as they hear I have a PhD I’ll probably be dismissed.

    We had a movie marathon on Saturday. First we saw Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Brolin is a prison escapee who insinuates himself into the house and life of Winslet and her 12-year-old son over the holiday weekend. He’s in prison for murder (the backstory behind that is eventually revealed), and he’s moderately threatening, but only when necessary, and the three people bond in unexpected ways. It’s beautifully filmed, perhaps a tad schmaltzy, but we enjoyed it.

    Next, we watched August: Osage County, starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, hell, just about everyone in Hollywood. It’s number one redeeming feature is the fact that it has a male character named Beverly, although he isn’t in the film long. His disappearance brings this uber-dysfunctional family back together and by the end of the extended visit, just about everyone is in a far worse situation than when they arrived. This is Tennessee Williams country relocated to Oklahoma, with Streep off her head because she’s taking just about every -pam and -one in the pharmacy book. She’s shrill, mean, confrontational and sometimes just bug-shit crazy. She has three daughters (played by actresses named Julia, Julianne and Juliette—that must have driven the director bonkers), one who is currently separated, one who is dating someone ill-advised (even more ill-advised by the end of the film) and one who is engaged to a creep. Her sister is played by Margo Martindale, and her brother-in-law by Chris Cooper. Granddaughter Abigail Breslin is in full-on rebellion mode. You have to admire the acting, but any sane person would have checked out of that madhouse during the first meal, when things started getting particularly shouty for the first time. Anyone who stayed after that deserved what she got. A little bit exhausting to watch.

    Finally, we saw Dallas Buyer’s Club, starring the gauntest of gaunt Matthew McConaughey as a not very likable grifter who is infected by HIV during heterosexual sex with a junkie. His bigotry and homophobia (and that of all of his friends) is the touchpoint for the film: he can’t stand having a disease where being gay is the initial assumption. Jennifer Garner plays a doctor involved in AZT trials, but McConaughey can’t get on the program, so he starts out by stealing AZT, even though he has his doubts about the drugs efficacy. He goes to Mexico and starts bringing back unapproved drugs. He can’t sell them, so he sets up a “club” to the members of which he gives the drugs for a $400/month fee. This puts him at odds with the FDA, the DEA, the IRS and the pharmaceutical company trying to make big bucks off AZT. His unlikely colleague is a transvestite who goes by “Rayon” played by Jared Leto. It wouldn’t have been half the story if McConaughey’s character had been a nice guy from the git-go. Seeing him struggle with accepting the nature of most of his customers and eventually sort of kind of coming around is the film’s core. The best of the three.

    We also caught up on The Americans, a show that really benefits from binge watching. Can’t wait to see what happens in the final two episodes. I watched the first episode of Resurrection, which seems like a remake of the French series The Returned, but isn’t. Quite good.

    I was really impressed by the shooting skills of some of the people on The Amazing Race. That challenge would have been the death of me, I think (or, perhaps, of anyone standing nearby). It would have been nice to see the country singers come in first for a change—they really earned it and would have done so if not for a random wrong turn (directions have never been their strong suit). Still, should be an interesting rush to the finish line.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
    1:01 pm
    In Castle Veritas

    I posted my review of FaceOff, the new anthology from the ITW, at Onyx Reviews this weekend. It’s a neat concept, pairing up mystery / crime / thriller writers and their characters. Also a good way to sample the work of writers you haven’t read before, except there’s no way of telling who wrote what in any given story. Also, I would be very curious to hear who decided the pairings. There’s nothing wrong with them, I’m just curious.

    I’m currently reading The Son by Jo Nesbø. It’s about a young man who has been in prison for over a decade and has become a heroin addict. His father, a cop, was supposedly a mole for the criminal syndicate and committed suicide. Now he finds out that wasn’t true, so he escapes and goes on a Count of Monte Cristo-like vendetta. One interesting thing I noticed is that, although the son is the main character, he is only seen through the eyes of other characters. This means there are a lot of viewpoint characters, some of them present in the story only briefly. It also means that he is never seen alone, since there’s no one else to report his movements. I’m sure this decision was made to keep out of the guy’s head, so readers don’t know what his master plan is, but it’s an interesting approach.

    I love a “good” bad retail experience. I ordered a pedestal speaker for our TV from Amazon. It arrived on Friday and, when I plugged it in, it emitted an ear-splitting howl that nothing could stop. So, on Saturday I emailed the manufacturer, detailing the problem. I had a response within minutes that it sounded like the unit was defective. So I logged into Amazon and requested a technical specialist. Got one on the phone in two minutes. Since I’d already contacted the manufacturer, the specialist said they’d ship out a replacement immediately, and he emailed me a UPS return label. Total elapsed time, maybe five minutes. Dropped the defective unit off yesterday morning and the replacement was waiting when I got home last night. Can’t beat that with a stick.

    A really good episode of Castle this week, finally putting an end to the series-long storyline of Kate’s mother’s murder. Castle was there for moral support when things got dire, but this was all Kate—she got herself out of sticky situations and put the clues together and got to see the payoff. Good stuff. Next week: nuptials?

    I haven’t always watched 24, and there was at least one season when I quit partway through, but I liked the opening 2-hour segment of this new series. That it has Yvonne Strahovski is a plus. I really liked her in Dexter and was delighted when  her character was the least scathed at the end of that series. I thought the second hour was far better than the first, and the last few minutes came as a huge surprise. As long as it keeps up this level of excitement, I’m willing to stick with it for a few months.

    Also a good episode of The Blacklist to set up the season finale. Lizzy played hardball with the doctor who was blackmailing people—by poisoning him using his own playbook. I thought maybe it would be revealed that she’d used something non-lethal to trick him, but, no, deadly virus it was. Interesting that the episode ended almost like the series began, with Reddington on his knees with his hands on his head.

    Who would have guessed that the cowboys would be outplayed by the four remaining teams on The Amazing Race? If it’s a footrace at the end, it could be interesting. There’s a team with an old guy with known leg problems, one of the “Afghanimals” is lame, there’s one team that apparently can get lost crossing the street, and then there Brendon and Rachel, who at the moment seem like the strongest team. Also the most annoying.

    I finished watching the first season of Helix. It started out decently, but really descended into chaos and confusion. Small wonder the little logo “bug” on the show refers people to the series website with the caption “What the hell’s going on?” Hatake has to be the most frustrating character in existence: he knows everything but tells nothing. “I was trying to protect you” must be his most-often-uttered line in the series, said whenever he got caught in another lie or obfuscation. I doubt I’ll pick it up again when it returns. The internal logic went completely to pieces toward the end.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
    9:03 am
    XKCD

    I wonder how many LiveJournal posts will contain this XKCD cartoon today?

    I received confirmation today from editor Danel Olson that my essay “The Genius Fallacy: The Shining’s ‘Hidden’ Meanings” will appear in The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film, which will be published by Centipede Press in late 2015. This is a somewhat more in depth and slightly less flippant take on the various conspiracy theories surrounding the movies, including but not limited to those featured in Room 237, about which I wrote an essay for FEARnet last year.

    After reviewing all the royalty statements I received for the eBook of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: 8 Secondary Characters from The Dark Tower Series, I was pleased (amazed, really) to discover that we’ve sold over 1200 copies of this thing. I hadn’t been keeping track, but I’m impressed.

    We saw The Other Woman this weekend. Had the urge to go to the pub near the theater for a pint and see something, and this was all the choice we had. It was actually pretty funny and only slightly raunchy. I’m generally not a big fan of Cameron Diaz, but she was okay in this one. Almost the straight woman to Leslie Mann, who I’ve never even heard of before. She plays hysterical mania as well as I’ve ever seen. Kate Upton doesn’t have a big future in acting, but she was perfect for the part she was given. I thought more of the film would be about the three women’s reprisals, but that’s all saved for the end. It’s way over the top and ludicrous, but we laughed a lot.

    Saw the trailer for a forthcoming Seth MacFarlane film called A Million Ways to Die in the West, which looks absolutely hilarious.

    I got my wife hooked on The Americans, so we’ve been screaming through the first season to get her caught up. It’s almost amusing the way these Cold War spies have to juggle all the problems of family life—relationship issues, kids—with their covert activities. You interrogate this dying kidnapped FBI agent. I have to go home to get supper for the kids.

    Only two more episodes of The Blacklist left for the first season. I wonder how they’re going to leave it at the end—resolved or with a cliffhanger.

    The Mentalist is on the ropes from a ratings point of view. People seem to be drifting away from it now that the Red John story has been wrapped up and they can use different colors in the episode titles. The story has shifted to Austin and jettisoned Grace and Rigsby (although the background shots are showing a lot more mountains than you’ll ever see near Austin), and added a love interest for Lisbon. Predictions are that the show will be canceled, but the producers are looking for another home for it if that happens.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, April 25th, 2014
    12:43 pm
    Don’t sell your work short

    I see a lot of anthology calls lately where the promise of payment is deferred. Instead of getting an advance or a flat payment up front, contributors are promised an even share of the royalties.

    You’ll do yourself a huge favor if, when you see this, you substitute in your mind the phrase “non-paying market,” because 99 times out of a hundred, that’s what they are. These books don’t typically show a profit for the authors to split because the publisher doesn’t have a marketing plan beyond a few posts on Facebook and “hey, authors, get out there and spread the word about this book.” Authors may sell a handful of copies to friends and family but, since the publisher probably paid the cover artist and most certainly the printer and maybe even the people who laid the book out, this isn’t enough to make a profit. And what does the publisher care? He doesn’t have a real stake in making money because he’s not out that advance that needs to be recouped.

    When I give presentations, I’m often asked what advice I have for beginning writers and it most often boils down to this: don’t be in such a rush to see your name in print that you sell yourself and your work short. If you contribute a story to a royalty-only anthology, then who is going to read it? Sure, you’ll have your name in a book and you can hold it in your hands and show it around to people, but that’s a fleeting reward. The story deserves better than to vanish in a book that no one is going to remember a month from now. The urge, the drive to be published can make writers do crazy things. Resist, if you can. There’s no huge rush. I’ve had stories that took years to get published because I wanted them to be published well and I needed to find the right market for them. Relax. The publishing world isn’t going to go away soon, and wouldn’t you rather have your story in a book that’s going to be around for a while? One that’s read by total strangers?


    I’ve been working my way through the Longmire novels by Craig Johnson, reading them to my wife in the evening. We started with the novella Spirit of Steamboat and then went back to the beginning. We’re in the final throes of the third book, with the fourth cued up and on deck. If you’ve seen the TV series on A&E, there are some similarities and some differences. Walt is a little less taciturn in the books. Vic (Katee Sackhoff) in the book is a brunette who curses like a sailor, and the relationship between Walt and Vic is more complicated. She comes from a big family back in Philly, most of them cops. Her marriage is already over by the time the books start.

    Walt’s predecessor, Lucian Connally, is more of a presence in the books. He lives in the old folks home and Walt has a standing date to play chess with him each week. He’s a cantankerous character and it would be interesting if they used him more in the series. Walt’s deputies are more of a mixed bag in the books, and the whole subplot about a deputy campaigning against him that was so important to the TV series is not in the books at all, at least to this point, neither is the mystery surrounding his wife’s death. Personally, I’d love to see Henry do some more spiritual things, like he does in the books, and Walt has some pretty awesome mystical hallucinations that they could work in, too.

    The story about Cady’s head injury takes place in Philadelphia instead of Absaroka County, Wyoming, a decision probably made for logistical reason, since filming takes place in New Mexico, which could hardly pass for Pennsylvania. It also gives Walt a chance to learn more about Vic by seeing her in her original surroundings.

    Not saying the books are better than the adaptation, just that they’re two somewhat different beasts. The books inspire the series, but the series isn’t beholden to the source material, even in some quite fundamental ways. Besides, A&E would never allow Vic to say some (most) of the things she utters in the books…

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Monday, April 21st, 2014
    12:33 pm
    Is your social worker in that horse?

    A weekend spent un-writing, also known as trimming the fat. My work in progress started its life at 5100 words (well, technically it started with 0 words…) and went down to 4200 and then to 3600 and now to just a tad over 3500, which is the target. One more editing pass and it should be good to go.

    I received a couple of years’ worth of royalty statements for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: 8 Secondary Characters from The Dark Tower Series this weekend and I’m very pleased by how well this little e-chapbook has sold over the years. It started out as a freebie print chapbook to accompany CD’s limited edition of The Road to the Dark Tower, but after they were all gone we decided to test it out as an ebook and it has generated a decent amount of royalties since 2010. Not bad considering it consists of material I cut from the book. CD has it up on even more sites than I realized: Sony, Apple, Kobo, as well as the regulars and their own website.

    Speaking of CD, I posted a new News from the Dead Zone column today. Alas, we found out several days ago that FEARnet, with whom CD was partnered and for whom I had written a number of essays, was gobbled up by Comcast and dismantled. The website remains, but most of the employees were let go.

    It was a nice spring long weekend, the kind when I can open my office window for most of the day while working. In a month or two it will be too hot after the morning to do so. The power went out for about 10,000 customers on Friday morning, but it was only off for about 45 minutes.

    We watched the first two segments of Michael Palin’s Brazil over the weekend. Only two left to go and we’ll be done. With Palin, that is. We’ve watched all of his travelogues, more or less in chronological sequence. This one is from 2012. Brazil’s a fascinating country, especially when he gets to visit some of the isolated indigenous tribes of Amazonia.

    I don’t mention Hannibal often, but I really enjoy this quirky show. It deserves a better night (does anyone really watch TV on Friday evening?). It’s surreal—and perhaps never stranger than this week’s episode, which featured Jeremy Davies (Lost, Justified) as a disturbed man, injured by a horse, who inserts corpses into horses in the hopes that the people will be reborn, thus giving rise to the subject of today’s post. Hannibal is usually unflappable, but the look on his face when Will uttered those words was priceless. The show is especially interesting now that Will and Hannibal both know the truth and they both know that the other person knows the truth. They still have to be cautious, Hannibal especially, but they can communicate in code, at least.

    Sad to see the Harlem Globetrotters go from The Amazing Race. They always seemed to be having so much fun, even when the going was tough. I remember the episode where one of them was doing a sewing challenge, a long, tedious process, and the other one found a ball and started entertaining the real factory workers with his legendary tricks. I’m continually amazed by how people get upset when someone else does something perfectly legit—encouraged even—such as the U-Turn. It’s put into the game for players to use, and the goal is $1 million, so no matter how buddy buddy you get with other players, ultimately you want to beat them all. It is “just a game,” but one with a valuable prize that only one team gets. There is no prize for second, other than a trip around the world, that is.

    An interesting episode of Mad Men. At times I wonder what the show’s charm is to have made it last this long. Not a lot has happened in the first two episodes, but there’s so much history to these characters. I liked the arc of the restaurant scene between Don and Sally. At first, Sally’s pissed, but by the end she’s come around a little. She’s still unhappy with her father, but he was honest with her for one of the few times in his life. Joan is moving up in the ranks of SCP and what started out as a very bad day for Dawn ended with her in a nice place. Pete is still insecure, Peggy is irritating, Roger is droll and out of the loop, but I’m starting to like Harry Hamlin’s character more. How does a show like this end? It’s not like there’s a definite end-game target. I think it should end with everyone celebrating New Year’s Eve 1969.  The ball drops, the fireworks go off, some sort of SCP ad shows up in Times Square, and fade to black. The end of an era.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Thursday, April 17th, 2014
    12:07 pm
    Travel agents

    I finished the first draft of a story I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. It’s been tough going for a couple of reasons. First, I used the bones of an old, unfinished story as the basis for it, but I had to pick all the pieces out and reassemble them in a different shape, so it’s kind of a Franken-story. Second, I didn’t want to start writing until I could figure out a solution to the story problem. I was worried I had set up an unsolvable situation and I didn’t want to write myself into a corner.

    I figured out the ending late last week and it’s been full speed ahead, more or less, ever since. The next problem: it came in at 5100 words and the market has a cap of 3500. I can generally get rid of 10-15% of the text in the first round or two of edits, but almost a third of it has to go. I’m pretty sure its do-able, but it’s going to take work.

    One of my stories will be featured this June in Season 4 of The Wicked Library podcast. Looking forward to hearing how they adapt it for voice.

    What is it with FX and travel agencies? First, KGB agents Philip and Elizabeth use one as their cover on The Americans and now there’s one on Fargo that’s cover for a team of hit men. I enjoyed the first episode of Fargo. It’s got such a great cast. All these wonderful people keep showing up. It was hilarious to see Kate (Addison from Private Practice) Walsh as a trash-talking widow. Bob Odenkirk as a deputy with a weak stomach. Colin Hanks as a cop who has a face-to-face with a seriously scary guy, and blinks. Keith Carradine, Martin Freeman and a host of others. Billy Bob Thornton plays a hit man, but he’s also something of an imp, stirring up shit just for fun. For example, he calls the elder son of a man he just killed and tells him that their father left everything to the other brother. For no reason other than to set them against each other, a payoff he won’t even get to see. And then he tells a badgered son how he handled someone who insulted him and promptly calls the mother when the son follows suit. He’s just handing out misery with a trace of a smile on his face. It’s goofy and funny and violent, but not completely Twin Peaks out-there wacky. This is a limited run series, just 10 episodes, so all bets are off right out of the gate.

    I started watching the SyFy series Helix, which has finished its first season and has been renewed. It’s not bad, and it has a cast of actors you might sorta recognize from other places. That politician from The Killing. The Japanese guy from Lost. It’s about a viral outbreak in an Arctic experimental station and the CDC team that’s sent in to deal with it. Sort of The Andromeda Strain with more deaths and explosions. It has suspense and science fiction tropes aplenty.

    There’s a new mayor of Loose Cannon-ville on Survivor. I have to wonder what sort of cop Tony is in the real world. He lies, manipulates, plants evidence and then goes all paranoid when he realizes that other people are playing the game as hard as he is, only with a tad more subtlety. Looks like everyone has given up on searching for immunity idols. They didn’t even bother to look for a clue at the spa resort. Spencer’s sitting in an okay position right now. He’s a strong player, and he’s got an idol. Another dumb move or two by Tony and he could be on the top of the heap.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, April 11th, 2014
    1:30 pm
    Carrie at 40, or, rather 57

    Matthew Craig has devoted most of his blog in April to celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of Carrie. He invited me to write one of the entries, along with others like Sarah Langan, John Connolly, Simon Clark and Mark West. My entry, Carrie White at 57, went up today. Though there is a little inconsistency regarding Carrie’s age in the novel, by my estimate she would by now be a card-carrying member of the AARP and contemplating what she’d do when she retires, if she’d managed to survive prom night.

    Here’s an interview with Raymond Benson and Jeffery Deaver, editors of Ice Cold, which was selected by Reader’s Digest as one of seven books that “make it clear that short is good.”

    I’m all caught up on The Blacklist and can’t wait for the final four episodes of the first season. I’m really glad I decided to give this show a chance. Reddington is one of the most complex characters on TV. He’s delightful and ruthless. His mind works in so many different directions at the same time, and you never know what’s going to pop out of his mouth. In the midst of an escape through a restaurant kitchen, he coerces someone into transferring millions of dollars into his bank account using a tablet computer. After the transaction is confirmed, he says, “Do you find all the little fingerprints on the screen distracting or does that sort of thing not bother you?” It seems like an unscripted moment but it is so totally in character. The story is really heating up now that Lizzie believes him about [spoiler] and they’re starting to take action on that suspicion. One of my favorite Reddington-isms so far is a warning to an FBI agent hell-bent on revenge: ”Once you cross over, there are things in the darkness that can keep your heart from ever feeling the light again.”

    This week’s Survivor wasn’t quite as gonzo as the promos indicated. Okay, sure, everyone was searching for the idol at the same time, but it wasn’t the idol. The one with super-magical mystery powers. It was just a normal, regular, get-out-of-jail-free idol. The other one remains to be found. I also think they sort of wimped out by voting Morgan off the island. She was the easy target, someone who was no threat to anyone. I expected a big move, but they all played it safe. Their digs for Ponderosa are rather upscale this season. Looks like they’re staying at a luxury hotel instead of a campground.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
    2:56 pm
    Olfactory hallucination
    I like winning contests. Gives me a boost. The theme for the 2014 AE Micro contest was "senses," so I wrote a flash story called "Phantosmia," which was one of the five entries selected for publication in this little do-it-yourself booklet. It's a neat concept. If you're so inclined, you can print the pdf and follow the instructions to assemble a booklet containing the winning entries. Not quite as hard as putting together IKEA furniture. Otherwise, you can just read the five stories at their website. Mine is on page 5.

    Phantosmia means phantom smells, which is a symptom some people who have seizures experience. Unfortunately, the smells are generally bad odors rather than something you might appreciate, like chocolate. The story is only 200 words, so it won't take more than a minute or two for you to digest.

    I'm about 2/3 of the way caught up on The Blacklist. What a delightfully immoral/amoral character Red Reddington is, and I couldn't picture anyone else doing it the service that James Spader does. He is a Renaissance man and a hedonist who cares deeply for those in his inner circle but who is willing to pull the trigger on anyone who crosses him. He is judge, jury and executioner. He denies that he's Lizzy's father, but he thanked her adoptive father for raising her (before putting a pillow over his face). He insists her husband Tom is bad news without providing any evidence to back up his allegations. I wonder why he doesn't just take Tom out if he perceives him as such a threat. Good to see Alan Alda pop up, too.

    The penultimate season of Justified finished last night. Quite a few bangs, but also a big setup for the context of Season 6. Raylan's gambit with Kendal makes more sense now: he wasn't expecting Daryl to leap to his nephew's defense. He was expecting Kendal to grasp the seriousness of his situation and recant his confession. I liked Raylan's monologue about being forced to kill a pig by his father. Also the way he handled Kendal, threatening adult repercussions, but getting him a hot cocoa. Turns out, Raylan's ploy went somewhere in the middle: he convinced Wendy, who was the one who ultimately got her son out of trouble. He didn't interfere when she decided how to handle her brother, and he got his last lick in at Daryl, too. "Didn't I tell you you were gonna wish I'd killed you? Well. Dontcha?"

    Tim's a pretty fearless guy, standing up to Daryl Crowe, who must have five or six inches and a good chunk of pounds on him. But Tim has been in dark places and confronted people vastly more dangerous than Daryl. He tends to take risks, though, like trying to follow his prey through a live intersection, a decision for which he paid the rest of the episode. Notice how he's taking ibuprofen and rubbing his temples later on. Rachel's no slouch, either, confronting the three Mexicans ("In case it wasn't obvious, this is the part where you drop your guns") and caressing Boyd's coat as she tells him that getting him is now her personal mission in life.

    Boyd was in a major pickle, but he put all his eggs in one basket: Raylan. He figured his old nemesis would get him out of trouble, and it paid off. Poor old Jimmy didn't have such luck, and Boyd himself narrowly avoided becoming someone's skin suit, and also being stuck in a cage, like a parrot. What exactly does Yoon do with the flesh of his enemies, that's what I want to know. Boyd pulls of a neat little behind-the-back shot that he boasts about to Tim, who responds, "Good guys don't need to shoot people with their hands cuffed." At least Boyd had the decency to fix up Ava's place after the shootout. One of the Mexicans was played by the actor who was one of those chilling Salamanca brothers from Breaking Bad.

    Ava proved she could handle herself in tight spots but her overall situation in prison was becoming untenable. She had a perpetual target on her back. So when Raylan came back with another offer, she didn't have much choice. It wasn't quite as good as the last one: instead of getting Boyd to cooperate with the Feds, she now has to spy on him. Raylan was all set to go to Florida (so Winona can finally take a nap), and was deflecting all objections to his departure until the idea of taking on Boyd arose. It's funny that he thought the person at the center of all the calamity in Kentucky was himself at first.

    So, not exactly an explosive season finale, as these things go, but rather a launching pad for things to come. Boyd seems thrilled at the prospect of getting back to robbing banks, and it's not entirely clear whether Vasquez is really after Boyd or Katherine Hale, who may have been the brains of her husband's operation, if that smile of hers is to be interpreted.

    Don't be scared. Everything's gonna be fine.
    Monday, April 7th, 2014
    12:31 pm
    Good for the goose

    I finished reading Ice Cold this weekend. I even re-read my own story. It’s an impressively solid anthology that tackles the Cold War from so many different angles. There’s even a Hemingway “Crook Factory” inspired story and one that was inspired by a real life experience of a famous author. Our first review, from bookreporter.com, is both lengthy and effusive. The blurbable quote is: “It is a must-have volume for your bookshelf” and it ends by saying, “The stories are not long, but run deep and are memorable, particularly for those of us who remember the dawn of that cold conflict.”

    I’m currently reading an ARC of No Safe House by Canadian crimewriter Linwood Barclay. It’s a sequel to No Time for Goodbye and takes place seven years after the events in that book. As a sequel, it does a couple of things particularly well. First, it contains enough backstory for anyone who hasn’t read the earlier book (like me) to understand what’s going on. Second, it doesn’t reveal so much of the earlier book that someone wouldn’t want to go back and read it.

    I went on a Netflix binge this weekend, clearing out a few things from my list. On Friday night, I watched Exile, a three part BBC crime drama starring John Simm (Doctor Who, Life on Mars), Olivia Coleman (Broadchurch), Jim Broadbent and Claire Goose (Waking the Dead). Simm plays a disgraced journalist who scampers back to his family home. He’s been estranged for many years from his father (Broadbent), who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s. His sister (Coleman) has been caring for him, and she’s had it up to here. They come to an understanding and he agrees to help out. However, their father’s mind is fixated on some strange parts of his life and the more Simm digs into it, the more he turns up. It’s a family drama and a mystery where the major clues are all locked inside his father’s mind. Powerful people don’t want him stirring up old crimes. Quite a good tale. Claire Goose plays his new (but married to one of his best friends from high school) love interest.

    Then on Saturday, I watched Headhunters, a Norwegian film based on a standalone novel by Jo Nesbø. I hadn’t read the book, but I’ve read all of Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, and the film came recommended to me by Michael Slade. It’s a quirky, oddball film that reminded me at times of Fargo. The main character is a business headhunter who is 5′ 6″ and declares in the opening moments that he tends to overcompensate for his shortcomings. He’s married to a statuesque blonde and he’s so insecure that he steals artwork so he can buy her a nice house and other nice things. He’s quite successful at it. His partner works for a security company and can shut off alarms at will, so that helps. He interviews a candidate for a high tech company, but when the guy seduces his wife (something he learns while he’s in the middle of robbing the guy’s flat), of course there’s no job offer pending. From there, things devolve very fast, and the main character ends up running for his life, arrested, shot, stabbed, slashed, bitten by a dog, run off the road while in police custody, and so on. Quite exhilarating and mordantly funny at times. I especially got a kick out of the scene where his partner and a Russian prostitute are engaged in a game of naked “laser tag,” using real guns.

    Yesterday, three more double episodes of Waking the Dead. I’m nearing the end of the fourth season, where I understand dire things are going to happen to a character. Her goose is cooked, so to speak. I found it funny that they decided to address Boyd’s anger management issues. That’s one thing I’ve commented on before: everyone seems angry on this show. Shouty.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, April 4th, 2014
    11:30 am
    They didn’t even name him Mr. Black

    I don’t take on new series lightly. In fact, I’ve become somewhat mercenary. In recent days, I deleted Bates Motel and The Walking Dead from my DVR series recordings.

    However, I’ve been meaning to check out The Blacklist, having heard good things about it, and since the episodes are piling up I decided to see if it was worthwhile. It had one strike against it from the get-go: It was on NBC. Of all the shows I watch at present, only two are on that network, and the ones I’ve tried out in recent years have either been disappointments or canceled when they were getting interesting. Or both. However, The Blacklist has enough episodes under its belt that it looks like it will be around for a while, and I’ve heard good things about it from others, without paying too close attention to what it’s about.

    James Spader (Boston Legal) plays Reddington, who has been on the FBI’s most wanted list for 20 years. In the first episode, he walks into the agency headquarters and surrenders himself. He is a valuable font of information; however, he has a condition. He will only talk to Elizabeth Keen, a newbie profiler fresh from Quantico. In fact, it’s her first day at her new job. No one knows why he picked her, and he’s not saying. She bears scars, literal and metaphorical, from her past. In the first episode, she and her husband are in the late stages of adopting. By the second episode, she’s not sure who her husband is any more.

    Reddington has a list, which he calls his blacklist for the sake of drama (by his own admission). This mental list contains names of criminals, many of whom the Feds don’t even know exist. If some of his other conditions are met, he will divulge names and details, which he does on a week-by-week basis. Though in general he’s working on the side of good after two decades, he has hidden motives and sometimes uses the Feds to his own benefit. He’s a real card: Alan Shore if things had gone another route. He’s smooth and skillful and charming and lethal. It’s not clear why he’s so interested in Elizabeth, but he knows a lot about her. At this early stage, three episodes in, I’m open to the idea that he might be her real father. We’ll see. It’s a crime-of-the-week show with an through-line. I like that.


    This week’s Survivor was a real wowser. Tribal Council was the best part. Two people played idols on behalf of other people, unplanned, but the vote from the other tribe was aimed at someone else, so it was a useless gesture. Except, just when it seemed like they were going to lose someone, a player on the other team flipped and broke the tie in the opposite direction. My jaw dropped. It will be interesting to see the repercussions, but it seems like next week will focus on this new immunity idol with secret special powers.

    It was nice seeing Stuart Margolin on NCIS this week. People of a certain age will remember him as Angel on The Rockford Files, Jim’s jailhouse friend who was always trying to run a con of some sort.

    Talking about jaw-dropping, Raylan’s gambit at the end of this week’s Justified is a real hail mary. By upping the ante, having Kendall charged as an adult, he’s really putting the screws to Daryl Crowe, Jr. Crowe thought a few years in juvie would toughen up his brother slash nephew, but this is a whole new game. Only one episode left to see how it resolves.

    The running joke of the past few episodes has been the bartender in Boyd’s joint. “This is the worst job in the world,” he says after being shot in the knee, a week after being coshed and tied up. The comedy continued with Dewey’s run-in with the old lady from whom he was “borrowing” some gasoline to keep his smokey Gremlin going. “You’re a little touched, aintcha child?” she asked, moments before she went after him with her shotgun. Finally, Dewey gets caught incriminating himself and demands some final respect from Raylan. “My advice: stop talking about yourself in the third person. Makes you sound like a fool.” Dewey doesn’t understand the literary reference. “Third person? You mean, this guy?” he asks, pointing at the driver. “I don’t understand you,” he says to Raylan, and not for the first time.

    Ava’s in a tight spot, and she missed her chance to use Boyd to improve her situation. Hard to imagine that ending well, unless Boyd can make another deal. The savior with the silver tongue has talked himself out of corners before, when he’s not resorting to a “redneck I.E.D.” But what about poor Jimmy? Is he going to be on the receiving end of a skin-related procedure?

    A nice nod to Elmore Leonard when Tim cuts Boyd’s long-winded story off: Why don’t you leave out the parts we’d like to skip?”

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Tuesday, April 1st, 2014
    11:27 am
    Endings are hard

    Awoke this morning to news of another short story sale. This one is for a flash fiction piece that was one of the winners of a contest. The official announcement hasn’t been made yet, so I won’t say where until it has.

    Today is also the day Ice Cold goes on sale in just about every format known to mankind. That’s the back cover over there. I’m about halfway through it (I received my contributor copies a while back) and I am impressed by all the various ways people approached the general theme of Cold War. It’s really an excellent anthology. I’m sorry I won’t be able to make it to They Mysterious Bookstore in NYC at the end of the month for the official launch.

    So, a couple of days have passed since the season ending of The Walking Dead. My preliminary reaction to it: I removed the series from my DVR recording schedule. I gave it a chance and, in the end, I just didn’t care about any of the characters or what happened to them. Yeah, the bunch at Terminus are probably luring people to the site because it’s easier to have food come to you than it is to go out and get it. As for who among the cast of familiars might already have become barbecue, I really don’t care. The show has never really engaged me after Darabont left.

    Last night was the series finale of How I Met Your Mother and I’m still processing how I feel about it. A lot of people hated it; I didn’t. I didn’t love the first half hour, mostly because it seemed altogether too real for a sitcom. I didn’t hate it, but it certainly didn’t provide the warm fuzzy feeling I was expecting from the finale. The second half was better. I loved the moment under the umbrella when they first truly met each other. I liked the stories of their lives in the future. Some people didn’t like what Robin turned into, but it made sense to me: that level of success was always her dream. It’s what she came to NY for in the first place. I have to say, though, that as cute and likable as the mother, Tracy, was, she seemed like an interloper in the future scenes, hanging out with “our five” like she belonged there. They didn’t show us enough of her for her to have earned that place, kidding Barney about “Number 31″ and “where are you registered?” It was nice seeing her there, but we should have seen more of her to get to that point. This conceit of making the entire final season about Barney and Robin’s wedding wasn’t a good one, in my opinion, because the wedding was really only important in that it was the place where Ted met Tracy. Otherwise, it probably wasn’t as memorable an event in their lives as we were led to believe. However, the last five minutes repaid all, in my opinion, and it’s where the showrunners always meant to go. The final bit between Ted and his kids (the kids part, at least) was filmed eight or nine years ago so the actors would still be kids (the actress who plays his daughter is now 27), and it’s the way I always hoped things would work out. BTW: According to my calculations, Ted is my age in that final moment.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, March 28th, 2014
    12:32 pm
    Everyone sees him through your eyes now

    This is about Homeland, season 3. If you haven’t seen it, then you should probably quickly avert your eyes.

    The theme of the season was redemption: Carrie’s for being right about Brody all along and Brody’s attempt to atone for some of the bad things he did in the past.

    The entire season can be summed up simply: Saul and Carrie concoct a plan to turn a high-ranking Iranian official so that he can influence internal policy and open the country to the west. They will insert Brody into the country as an asylum seeker so he can remove an obstacle to this official’s advancement.

    Of course, nothing is simple on Homeland. To get the Iranians to take the bait, Saul has to leave Carrie hanging after she has another meltdown. She has to seem vulnerable, and it has to be more than just a cover story. Saul keeps this plan so close to the vest that no one else in the agency knows what’s going on until the plan kicks into high gear. There are two catches. 1) Saul thought he was going to become the agency director, but it turns out that a senator has been picked for that spot, so Saul is something of a lame duck, with little power or leverage. 2) Carrie is pregnant with Brody’s child, a fact she does not reveal to Saul.

    I was aware of a lot of muttering and murmuring about the third season on Facebook and Twitter as it was airing, but I didn’t look into it at the time. Binge-watching a show is a different experience. If you think things are going too slowly or that side plots are taking up too much air time, you only have to wait an hour for it to change, not a week, or weeks. Few people seemed interested in Dana’s story, which did take up a lot of the first several episodes and ultimately didn’t go anywhere meaningful, even after Brody gets to talk to her one last time. Might the season have gone better without all of the Brody family drama? Perhaps, but Brody was back on American soil and to totally ignore the family would have seemed strange. So I didn’t mind.

    The scenes in Caracas were interesting. I visited that city a couple of decades ago. I didn’t get into lawless areas like the Tower of David, but I was warned after the fact that I hadn’t been terribly smart in wandering around the city on my own. I didn’t run into any problems but I guess I might have. I liked the ambiguity of Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham). I didn’t trust him for much of the season, and in truth it would be wise not to trust him as he operated with his own agenda, which sometimes aligned with Saul’s and sometimes it didn’t. I loved the scene where he and Saul locked Lockhart in the conference room so they’d have time to get Javadi out of the country. Despite Lockhart’s smug overconfident demeanor, he wasn’t often wrong. Seen impartially, his views usually made sense.

    Javadi was a fascinating character. Not entirely evil but far from good, too. He was willing to murder two women to settle an old score but more importantly to stick it to Saul in the only way left to him before the boot came down. I liked him, most of the time. He was one of the few sane people amidst all that madness—certainly saner than Carrie most of the time. But, speaking of Carrie, don’t you think Saul would lend her theories a bit more credence after a while? After she’d been proven right time and time again?

    There were some dropped ideas. Quinn’s angst and intent to leave the agency, inspired by his accidental shooting of the boy in Caracas withered on the vine. He’s still there four months after the operation ends, and all that stuff with the police over the Javadi murders had no real impact. I also thought they missed a huge crossover opportunity with the homicide cop, played by the actor who was Meldrick Lewis on Homicide: Life on the Streets.

    What about the law firm that was acting on Iran’s behalf? What became of Fara, who clearly had issues with some of Saul’s measures? And what happened with the Mossad agent after he was arrested for spying on Saul (and sleeping with his wife)?

    And it is rather incredible that Carrie’s baby is healthy after all the drugs and alcohol she consumed, not to mention the constant state of stress. Plus, I never really bought her as a pregnant woman in the last episode. She certainly didn’t walk like one.

    I’m glad they decided not to rescue Brody at the eleventh hour. His death made sense. His earlier misdeeds “cast a long shadow,” and he himself realized that redeeming yourself for murder by killing someone else was twisted logic.

    There were some really great tense scenes, although I guessed in advance that there would be a false scare with Brody and his ID card after he killed Akbari. By the end of the twelve episodes, the slate is wiped clean. The Brody mess is over, once and for all, and the show can move on. With or without Saul? That’s an open question. Dar Adal (he of the “old school” breakfast) thinks he’d come back in a heartbeat if asked, but I can’t seem him working with Lockhart. Carrie is moving on to a new opportunity to handle Javadi, with or without this daughter.

    I was expecting a train wreck of a season, but it wasn’t bad at all. Glad I saved all the episodes and watched them in a few sittings. It’s no Breaking Bad, but that’s okay. Few shows are.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

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