Book Review – DRY BONES by Craig Johnson (2015)

DRY BONES by CRAIG JOHNSON (2015, Penguin, 306pp) ∗∗∗∗

Blurb: When Jen, the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found surfaces in Sherriff Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction, it appears to be a windfall for the High Plains Dinosaur Museum—until Danny Lone Elk, the Cheyenne rancher on whose property the remains were discovered, turns up dead, floating face down in a turtle pond. With millions of dollars at stake, a number of groups step forward to claim her, including Danny’s family, the tribe, and the federal government. As Wyoming’s Acting Deputy Attorney and a cadre of FBI officers descend on the town, Walt is determined to find out who would benefit from Danny’s death, enlisting old friends Lucian Connolly and Omar Rhoades, along with Dog and best friend Henry Standing Bear, to trawl the vast Lone Elk ranch looking for answers to a sixty-five million year old cold case that’s heating up fast.

Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire mysteries, set in a fictional modern day Wyoming county, remain wonderfully entertaining. The main pleasure is not derived from the mysteries themselves, which although often quirky are nothing out of the ordinary, but in the rich cast of characters Johnson uses to populate his stories and their interaction with each other. Despite being written in the first person each character has depth, which is conveyed through Longmire’s wry and witty observation.

Although Dry Bones is the 11th novel in the series – as well as two novellas and a collection of short stories – Johnson shows no sign of tiring of his principal cast. The story itself mixes mystery, greed, mysticism and tragedy. The themes are familiar but it feels like returning to, and never tiring of, your favourite holiday destination.

Johnson’s writing has become more efficient as the series has progressed and he has lost none of his flair for dialogue. In Dry Bones he deftly mixes the tragic elements of the story with a sense of optimism and a warm feel good factor. I look forward greatly to my next vacation to Absaroka County.

Film Review – THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)

French Connection, The (1971; USA; DeLuxe; 104m) ∗∗∗∗½  d. William Friedkin; w. Ernest Tidyman; ph. Owen Roizman; m. Don Ellis.  Cast: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi, Frederic de Pasquale, Bill Hickman, Ann Rebbot, Harold Gary, Arlene Farber, Eddie Egan, Patrick McDermott, Andre Ernotte, Sonny Grosso, Alan Weeks. A pair of NYC cops in the Narcotics Bureau stumble onto a drug smuggling job with a French connection. Brilliantly filmed, gritty and absorbing crime thriller with a superb performance from Hackman as single-minded cop. Shot on streets of New York during a cold winter adding to authentic feel. Winner of five Oscars including Best Film, Actor (Hackman), Director (Friedkin), Adapted Screenplay (Tidyman) and Editing (Greenberg). Based on the book by Robin Moore. Followed by FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975) and POPEYE DOYLE (1986) (TV). [18]

Book Review – TIME OF DEATH (2015) by Mark Billingham

TIME OF DEATH by MARK BILLINGHAM (2015, Sphere, 538pp) ∗∗∗½

BlurbThe Missing: Two schoolgirls are abducted in the small, dying Warwickshire town of Polesford, driving a knife into the heart of the community where police officer Helen Weeks grew up and from which she long ago escaped. But this is a place full of secrets, where dangerous truths lie buried.  The Accused: When it’s splashed all over the press that family man Stephen Bates has been arrested, Helen and her partner Tom Thorne head to the flooded town to support Bates’ wife – an old school friend of Helen’s – who is living under siege with two teenage children and convinced of her husband’s innocence.  
The Dead: As residents and media bay for Bates’ blood, a decomposing body is found. The police believe they have their murderer in custody, but one man believes otherwise. With a girl still missing, Thorne sets himself on a collision course with local police, townsfolk – and a merciless killer.

This is Billingham’s 13th DI Tom Thorne mystery thriller and the series remains highly readable. As with Thorne’s last outing Billingham has moved away from the formula of the earlier series entries by taking Thorne out of his London setting – this time to the Midlands village of Polesford. The novel is primarily a study of the impact of persecution – in this case the wife of an accused child abductor (whom Thorne believes to be innocent) and the experience she has as a result with the locals the media and the police. The wife is a friend of Thorne’s partner and colleague, Helen Weeks, who has her own reasons for hating the village that used to be her home

The mystery element works less well in that it is reasonably traditional, and therefore familiar, in the presentation of the various suspects and in its race-against-time finale. The result is a detective story that coasts on Billingham’s confident prose and the core stock of regulars – including Thorne’s irreverent and gay pathologist friend, Phil Hendricks. Billingham is keeping the series fresh by changing the settings and introducing thought-provoking themes into his mysteries and as with his other output this entertaining book will appeal to genre fans.

Film Review – GET CARTER (2000)

Get Carter (2000; USA; Alphacine; 102m) ∗∗  d. Stephen T. Kay; w. David McKenna; ph. Mauro Fiore; m. Tyler Bates.  Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke, Michael Caine, Rhona Mitra, Johnny Strong, Gretchen Mol, John C. McGinley, John Cassini, Mark Boone Junior, Darryl Scheelar, Crystal Lowe, Lauren Lee Smith. A mob enforcer living in Las Vegas, travels back to his hometown of Seattle for his brother’s funeral. During this visit, he realizes that the death of his brother was not accidental, but a murder. Remake of 1971 classic British crime thriller lacks the grittiness, wit and punch of the original. Clumsily edited action and dialogue sequences drain the movie of any tension and coherence. Stallone delivers a one-note performance and the villains lack any depth of character. Caine, who plays Cliff Brumby in this film, played Jack Carter in the original. [15]

Film Review – RED EYE (2005)

Red Eye (2005; USA; Technicolor; 85m) ∗∗½  d. Wes Craven; w. Carl Ellsworth, Dan Foos; ph. Robert D. Yeoman; m. Marco Beltrami.  Cast: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Laura Johnson, Jayma Mays, Jack Scalia, Loren Lester, Angela Paton, Suzie Plakson, Dey Young, Max Kasch, Terry Press, Robert Pine, Carl Gilliard, Mary Kathleen Gordon. A woman is kidnapped by a stranger on a routine flight. Threatened by the potential murder of her father, she is pulled into a plot to assist her captor in offing a politician. Preposterous and unsubtle, it wastes some well-handled suspense sequences through the absurdity of the plot and cardboard characters. Those looking for a fun, unsophisticated thriller may find some reward through Craven’s genre experience and the conviction of the lead performers. [12]