murder

Bargain Bin Mystery #1: “Wish You Were Here” Delivers Brutal Hits with Wit

Wish You Were Here
Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown
Illustrations by Wendy Wray
Bantam Books
1990

Welcome to Bargain Bin Mysteries! In this new feature, I review paperback books that I have bought on the cheap to find you the best in bargain reading.

Today’s contestant is one I have meant to read for a while, and one I am glad to finally share with you. “Wish You Were Here” is the first of the “Mrs. Murphy Mystery” series, written by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie, her tabby.

Sassy is very pleased that I am representing other feline writers on this blog.

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“Took you long enough. Hmph. Hemingway never credited his cats…”

It has cats and it has postcards–two of my favorite things, as anyone who has been subjected to my onslaughts of cat pictures and paper correspondence knows.

Set near Charlottesville, Virginia, in the town of Crozet, the novel opens with postmistress Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen negotiating a divorce from Fair, the town’s veterinarian. Of course, this being a small town, it’s not only friends and family picking sides, but all of Harry’s customers as well.

Accompanied by Mrs. Murphy, a “gray tiger cat, who bears an uncanny resemblance to authoress Sneaky Pie and who is wonderfully intelligent!” (as reported in the cast of characters) and Tee Tucker, a Welsh corgi, Harry spends her days sorting mail and reading other people’s postcards on the sly.

This is how she first notices two of the town’s recently (and brutally) deceased residents received postcards with pictures of tombstones and the typewritten message “Wish You Were Here.” Harry goes on the hunt for murder, with Mrs. Murphy and Tucker running a simultaneous investigation and trying their best to protect their human.

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The cover art is whimsical and gives away just enough of the book.

Does your cat bring in brutally mangled mice? She may just be trying to show you where the murderer left the body.

While at first I thought the novel was a little slow–the first few chapters introduce half the town by having them walk into Harry’s postoffice–I grew to love it. There is a great deal of wit, delivered both by bipeds and quadrupeds. The chapters in which the animals talk amongst themselves, and try to make themselves understood to the clueless humans, are particularly delightful.

The plot quickens and is not overly complicated. Ms. Brown presents readers with a rare accomplishment: a mystery that they can solve, but only a few chapters before the heroine. The resolution is satisfying and surprising, but not forced.

Wish You Were Here is a loving, but not particularly thorough, critique of life in the South. A major subplot involves the wedding of the white mayor’s daughter, who has been banned by her parents from inviting her older brother because he is now married to a black woman. Brown admits that life is not peachy in Crozet, not for all of its residents, at least, but she does not set out to be Upton Sinclair. Commentary in the novel is not particularly preachy and always comes through the lens of a character’s mind.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wish You Were Here. When I found it in the used book cellar at Brookline Booksmith, I was able to also buy the third entry in the series. The second was not on the shelf last I checked, however.

must find the second book, and fast.

4/5 stars: Charming, well-paced, and engaging. Great way to spend an afternoon.

1/5 ‘fraidy cats: Fairly tame, except for a scene of cruelty to a minor animal character that hurts more than any of the humans’ murders.

2/5 ick-factor: Brown leaves just enough to the imagination when describing her brutal murders. Think: cement grinder.

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“The Death of Stalin” Is (Mostly) A Comedic Masterpiece

The Death of Stalin
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs…
1 hour, 46 minutes
Rated R, 2017

The actual funeral of Stalin. Captured by Major Martin Manhoff from the US embassy balcony. 9 March 1953. Public domain.

Perhaps it is inevitable that great expectations are betrayed.

 

As in revolution, so in film. 

I have been waiting for Iannucci’s farce The Death of Stalin since I first came across the trailer in the summer of 2017. It seemed like a film tailor-made for me: a comedy about the ills of the Soviet system and the pitfalls of power.

The marketing team for this film is absolutely brilliant and never breaks character. They actually contacted me on Facebook!
(more…)

“Kim Knows Nothing” Has a Promising Future

Kim Knows Nothing
A Weekly Podcast
Hosted by Stacy Snowden & Kim Moffat
www.kimknowsnothing.com

It’s a wonder it’s taken me so long to review a proper podcast, given that most of the time I “watch” Forensic Files now I just put it on to listen while I do the dishes or laundry.

The transition to a “proper” podcast is an easy one, and I am grateful to the team behind “Kim Knows Nothing” for giving me the push. The selfsame Kim Moffat of the title reached out to me and suggested I review the podcast she co-anchors with Stacy Snowden.

Kim Knows Nothing

Website banner. Copyrighted to Kim Moffat and Stacy Snowden of kimknowsnothing.com

It’s hard not to smile at this woman-led weekly production. As their rather elegantly laid-out homepage proclaims “Stacy knows most things” and “Kim knows nothing.” (The bloody purple kitchen knife is also a nice touch, given the topic and tone). Only begun in October of last year (2017), the podcast has in a few short months found its stride.

True-crime enthusiast Stacy does the research on “serious crimes”, which she then relates to Kim, a pop-culture maven who provides “ridiculous commentary.” (more…)

“Small Sacrifices” Audiobook A Great Introduction to Ann Rule

Small Sacrifices
Written and read by Ann Rule
An Audible audiobook production
Approx. 3.5 hour run-time

Audiobooks are an old friend of mine. Camping with my family as a kid often involved twelve-hour drives across Texas to the Chihuahua Desert; books on tape were how my mother kept everyone entertained and content.

So to audiobooks I turned for my drive down to Washington, D.C., over this past Fourth-of-July weekend. For my choice of book in particular, I turned to one recommended to me by a beloved high school teacher, Mrs. G.

It was in Mrs. G’s AP English class my junior year that we read In Cold Blood, the granddaddy of true crime and my first serious exposure to the written genre. A year ago, when this blog was just starting out, I visited my alma mater and consulted Mrs. G for books to review.

I am very pleased to have finally gotten to Small Sacrifices. It is fitting that this book was recommended to me by a teacher, for the late, great Ann Rule’s reading voice took me back to afternoon story time in elementary school. Just with a far, far darker topic.

This, like some of my favorite books in the mystery and true crime genres, is more a “whydunit” than a “whodunit.” It is the story of a female psychopath (who are, I have to agree with Ms. Rule, not profiled extensively enough in the genre or acknowledged in popular imagination) and how she came to be past the point of empathy. To her, children are “fungible” currency to purchase love.

To write anymore would be to give away the best of Rule’s probing psychological analysis. Her prose is easy on the ears when read aloud: detailed without being overwhelming, descriptive without dragging, incisive without losing feeling.

I never liked the song “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Now I am sure I will never listen to it again.

5/5 stars: excellent book of true-crime, brought to life by the author
3/5 ‘fraidy cats: The murder and abuse of children is described unsparingly. Not even driving through the Hudson River Valley on a sunny day could dim that sense of evil.
3/5 ick-factor: See above

“Occult Crimes” Is Television Trash

Occult Crimes
10 Episodes, available on Netflix

I tried finding more information on the persons responsible for this monstrosity, but to no avail. Perhaps it is for the best, as I am sure they are all lovely people, and I wouldn’t want to drag their names through the mud as I dismember and eviscerate this series.

If it’s dismemberment and evisceration you’re looking for (and, if you feel any rush of interest at occult and crime put together, you probably are) Occult Crimes brings it aplenty. The dramatizations and descriptions are fairly tame, allowing viewers to satisfy their morbid curiosity without feeling entirely debased, at least not in that regard.

The series, on the whole, is an insult to viewers’ intelligence. You feel dumber, not just number, watching it. The research is somewhat sloppy and the voice-overs are repetitive.

The voice-overs are one of the biggest problems. The series, I believe, is originally in French. The English narration is done by either Siri or a woman doing her best to impersonate her iPhone. The intonation, when it exists, is completely alien to the ears of a native English speaker. This somewhat-indifferent technical voice might work for a luxury car or perfume ad, but not for a show that is supposed to explore the darkest parts of the human psyche.

Additionally, when an interviewee begins speaking, a title at the bottom of the screen introduces her as the author of a book on “extorsion” rather than “extortion”.

Editing saves lives, people.

The crimes covered are committed usually by adolescents with preexisting, undiagnosed or untreated mental illness who then become engrossed in morbid fantasy worlds. I’m not sure I would classify the actions of these troubled young people as occult, as compared to say, a cult leader who knows fully what she is doing and has extensive knowledge of an esoteric belief system.

I’ll give Occult Crimes this: it doesn’t claim that metal music, Dungeons & Dragons, or Gothic literature on their own would compel an otherwise stable person to murder. It also does a good job differentiating between traditional belief systems, like Santeria or Wicca, and the knock-off “occult” beliefs that inspire many of the featured crimes.

 

1/5 stars: So trashy I had to shower after I watched it.
3/5 ‘fraidy cats: This should have been 5/5, but it was too low budget to inspire suspense.
4/5 ick factor: Once again, should be 5/5. If you
 must portray evisceration onscreen, go big on the special effects budget or go home.