An idiosyncratic, involving mystery, “Heaven, My Home” is the second outing for African-American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews. Battling his own recent murky past, he sets out to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a white boy, son of a jailed Aryan Brotherhood thug. Locke’s tricky plot often seems a sidelight to Darren’s quest, the fraught racial politics everywhere, and wonderful descriptions of Marion County, but I raced through the book, quite caught up in it. Authorial pacing ebbs and flows, and the writing style feels unusual. All in all, a sense of dislocation accompanied my reading but I can recommend the book to lovers of procedural mysteries.
Scott Hansen, aka Tycho, has produced some pitch-perfect ambient albums but “Weather” is not one of them. Epoch, his previous release, featured guitars to great effect, but on Weather he embraces short electro-pop songs and introduces vocals, the breathy lounge voice of Hannah Cottrell, both of which swing him away from effective ambience towards, frankly, boredom. “Into the Woods” is enjoyable jaunty brain fluff that fades away in lovely fashion, and the title track is an instrumental with his old emotional mix of hue and rhythm, but the other six tracks disappoint.
2019 has been a year of benefitting from a number of sage books on focusing and dealing with modern information overload. “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life” is a welcome addition to this congo line. Employing a smooth, helpful prose style and a comprehensive, logical structure, Nir Eyland addresses first the roots of distractibility, highlighting the new triggers of social media and email, before sensibly recommending internal analysis, trigger research, and time blocking as the fundamental steps in taking time back from our distractions. He then offers plenty of useful ways of “hacking back” time, including two that intrigued me: finding online work stint buddies and setting out challenging self-pacts. If you’ve known for ages that something is wrong with how you spend your time, this is the book for you.
The first episode of the return of “Mindhunter” was brooding and brilliant, a perfect scene setter. And the ensuing four episodes have maintained what makes this series so brilliant: the meshing of the ordinary lives of trail-breaking forensic psychologists and the macabre world of their purview, the serial killer; splendid acting across the board; excellent cinematography (with a muted color palette that matches the terrain wonderfully) and sets from the early 80s; great subtlety (we see little direct violence, this gruesome world is shown via interviews); and a nuanced examination of what I’m interested in, namely the nature of evil. The pace over Episodes 2 to 5 slows and we’re privy into more of the internal lives of the core characters. In particular Anna Torv is spellbinding as she eases more onto center stage in the role of Dr. Wendy Carr. The cameo performances as iconic serial killers continue to mesmerise; Damon Herriman’s riveting performance as Charles Manson justifies the entire season. The narrative slows over these episodes and by Episode 5 of Season 2, I wondered if the overall story was losing direction, hence the lower 7/10 rating, but I remain confident that the closing half of the season will restore the dramatic arc.
Can they make a superb series, five seasons in, even better? I rated the first episode of the fifth season of “Bosch” as 8 out of 10, high praise indeed, but the next four episodes have flowed slickly and thrillingly and emotionally, without a moment’s hesitation, so I’m upping my assessment. Harry Bosch and the extended LA police team around him keep up the slow, patient work into opioid pill farming, while a blight from Harry’s past looms as a threat. The mood of gritty realism retains a focus on modern morality. I’m on edge going into the finale half!
What did I know of the soccer legend before viewing “Diego Maradona,” beautifully scripted and filmed by noted director Asif Kapadia? Just some sketchy memories from the early 90s. What do I know about the sport of soccer itself? Almost nothing. None of that handicapped my immersed pleasure in this blistering yet affectionate documentary. Kapadia seems to have unearthed a treasure trove of raw footage, from family scenes to crowd scenes, and he interposes it skilfully amidst public sports coverage. Maradona’s ball handling skills are sumptuously shown; more subtlety portrayed are his bulldog determination to succeed. “A bit of cheat and a lot of genius” is how one commentator judges him early in the film (blessedly the usage of external commentary is sparse), and then towards the bitter-sweet end another commentator pronounces him as God, which was how he was seen in Naples until the mass rejection. Kapadia keeps us close to the action although the man himself remains elusive, perhaps both slum-born good guy Diego and self-created tough baddie Maradona. A magically endowed star who plummets … riveting.
A credible attempt at classic near-term sci-fi, “Flip” posits an alternative quantum world into which a neuroscientist is “flipped” by malevolent forces, after which her husband, her daughter, a medic, and Buddhist monks desperately battle to keep her safe. The premise is sound, the action flows, the characters are enriched by capable dialogue, but something is missing in this book. And I think the missing element is a closer focus on the various characters – all come across as cyphers for the admittedly engaging plot. All in all, this is an enjoyable read that feels distinctly empty by book’s end.
“The Lost Man” is Jane Harper’s standalone mystery after her two successful series instalments and it is arguably superior to both of those. Set in the harshness of the Australian outback, struggling farmer Nathan finds his dead brother Cam, and must wrestle with how Cam died. Suspects include his third brother Bub, other family, and local community members. A reader might feel, after the event, that the storyline is familiar (and an astute mystery reader might well cast aside the red herrings to catch the murderer before the end), but Harper exerts wonderful narrative control and an immersive style from the get-go, resulting in a one-sitting classic whodunnit outing. All the characters ring true and the Australian bush functions as a bit player with a strong presence.
In the tradition of Alien, David Koepp, a Jurassic Park screenwriter, entertains with “Cold Storage,” a classic tale of a space-wrought mutation evolving on earth into something terrifying. Koepp’s technical description of the organism that is our villain is fascinating, even if it echoes the creatures from Men In Black. The bioterrorist hero Roberto Diaz tackles the monster twice, decades ago and now, and a race for dominance ensues, with Diaz joined by an entertaining wannabe couple, an ex-prisoner and a single mother. The plotting is straight from the Jurassic playbook, tight and fast, and Koepp brings the organism into terrifying life. I found the narrative style, hopping from point of view to point of view, including from that of the evil blob, to be somewhat distancing, so that even though individual scenes often crackled with acidic humour, the overall effect turned out to be muted. Nonetheless, a rattling yarn indeed.
An engaging modern-day thriller, “Shadow of Doubt” features a young female banker embroiled in terrorism, a deteriorating marriage, and a mysterious legacy, all of it intertwined and gradually accelerating. A fast-paced, likeable read whose tension does not quite match the plot’s gravity, the book whiles away an evening with its diligent, rather gormless heroine and well drawn city and rural locales. An assured debut that hopefully will spawn a series.