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We're Ken Hebenstreit and Sharlan Douglas, blogging here about the books we love: Mysteries, suspense, crime fiction. If you want to comment on one of our postings, click on its headline.

Archive for April, 2010

Movie: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

We don’t see many movies in the theater, but, when the film of  Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came to town, Ken and I were there in the first week.  We were impressed with the screenwriter’s ability to reduce the epic details of the story down to a strong central thread, and to create suspense in a story that, on paper, was a lot of exposition.  The character of Lisbeth plays a larger role in the film than in the book, perhaps because her storyline has much of the action in it.  Be forewarned:  When reading, you might not fully visualize the violent scenes, but there’s no escaping them on the screen.

While we, of course, knew the story, we both thought that someone without that knowledge would still have followed and been satisfied by the plot.

Field of Blood by Denise Mina

I just got an email this morning from the local library telling me that they’re holding Mina’s next book, Still Midnight,  for me.  Hooray!

In 1981, Field of Blood’s Paddy Meehan is a copy “boy” at the Scottish Daily News in Glasgow.  When the murder of a young boy touches her (very Catholic) family, she willfully pursues the story — the mystery — losing her family’s support and discovering that she’s self-sufficient without it.

Mina has James Lee Burke’s gift for describing atmosphere: the snow and cold rain of Glasgow, shadowy streets of vacant buildings, the parlors of people stunned by poverty.  She also captures Paddy’s emotional climate, as she goes toe-to-toe with newsroom misogynists, acknowledges her lack of faith and weighs the value of a career vs. a traditional family.

The mystery and character both develop at a satisfying and logical pace.

And, as a former journalist, I loved this passage.

Paddy: “Yeah, that’s the trouble with working here.  Everyone’s a cynic.”

His eyes softened.  “We’re all heartbroken idealists.  That’s what no one gets about journalists: only true romantics get jaded.'”

The Information Officer by Mark Mills

It’s WWII, and the Nazis, needing a mid-Mediterranean air base to attack Africa, are bombing the daylights out of the tiny island of Malta, which is being defended by the Allies.

Meanwhile, at the officer’s club and in private parlors, stiff drinks and stiff upper lips prevail, affairs flourish and wane and siege humor colors the dialog.  It’s all too, too Graham Greene.

Max Chadwick is the British information officer (PR guy) trying to bolster the locals with cheery tales of incidental heroism while covering up news of a serial killer preying on young women: a killer who may well be one of the Brits’ own.

Mills effectively mixes history with some well-drawn fictional characters.  He’s less effective as a mystery writer.  The clues didn’t draw an inevitable net tighter and tighter around the killer.   The conclusion felt more like, “Oops, time to end this book.  Here’s who done it.”