Tag Archives: Missing Persons

Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

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Rating: B+/ After her father dies and leaves her a small fortune’s worth of cattle, independent, no-nonsense Precious Ramotswe sells the livestock and single-handedly starts up her own detective agency with the money. People underestimate and try to undermine Precious at every turn, but her quick wit and ingenuity eventually make fools of them all. But she finds herself out of her depth while investigating her first major case, the disappearance of a little boy thought to have been snatched by witch doctors. Continue reading Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

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Book Review: I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

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Rating: B+/ A quick read that sucks you in immediately with it’s fascinating premise, I’m Not Scared actually pales a little in comparison to it’s outstanding film adaptation, but is nevertheless absolutely a compulsively readable and extremely entertaining book. I bought the book because I was a huge fan of the film, and I finished it in a day. I think I would have liked it better if I didn’t know almost exactly what was going to happen from the movie version, which robbed the suspenseful story of the element of surprise; and the ending did not quite work for me. I think it will make for a better experience if you read the book first. But nonetheless, I’m Not Scared is a compelling read with a likable boy protagonist who is forced to come of age and make some very hard decisions over the course of a sweltering summer in a small Italian village in 1978. Continue reading Book Review: I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

Changeling (2008)

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Not to be confused with the 1980 George C. Scott haunted house thriller The Changeling, Clint Eastwood’s wrenching drama belongs in the category of ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’ Christine Collins (wonderfully portrayed by Angelina Jolie) is a fairly ordinary woman and devoted single mother bringing up a little boy named Walter (Gattlin Griffith) in the roaring 20’s. Of course, in that era single motherhood  wasn’t exactly looked up to, so Christine suffers some adversity from people who think she’s an unfit mom and that little Walter needs a father, but she pretty much keeps on keeping on until her son vanishes from their Los Angeles home.

Hours turn to days turnmonths, and Christine’s fear that she’ll never see her son again turns to abject terror and finally, despair. Then, a miracle (?), a boy matching Walter’s description turns up in another state and is handed over to Christine. But this boy is not her son. The LAPD desperately try to convince her that yes, this doppelganger is Walter, and she will adjust to his somewhat changed manner and appearance; but Christine knows better. And she finds an in fiery minister Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), who is convinced that the Los Angeles Police Department is a corrupt organisation with a multitude of dirty secrets, But what are they hiding from Christine?

You can pretty much count on a film directed by Clint Eastwood to be good, and this movie is no exception. Changeling explores the extent of familial love between mother and son, in the midst of an epic instance of gaslighting of a confused but strong-willed woman. Christine becomes a stronger and stronger character throughout the film, but to the price of her innocence. Angelina Jolie does a great  job here, but I was also surprised by Jason Butler Harner’s inspired performance. I won’t tell you what Harner’s role in this story is for fear of spoiling it, but I will say he has a David Tennant-like flair for eccentricity and villainy (think Jessica Jones,) and proves that incorporating a spark of madness while flirting with being over-the-top is not necessarily a bad thing.

For most of it’s duration, Changeling is as immersive as a good page-turner. It only falters and seems a bit overlong in the last thirty minutes, when it wanders into standard courtroom drama territory. Regardless, it is surprisingly emotionally arresting and tragic, especially considering the lukewarm reviews it received.

    Changeling plays on the human fear of not being believed, of being thought crazy and incompetent. When the corrupt cops lock Christine in a mental institution for not heeding their words and keeping her mouth shut, a hospitalized prostitute with a proverbial heart of gold (Amy Ryan) tells Christine that women are naturally assumed to be a bit insane, irrational and unstable, and what’s to keep them from taking anything you say as a sign of unreliability and keeping you there forever? That’s the catch-22 Christine finds herself in- if she plays it safe and insists she’s well, the doctors will try to draw tell-tale signs of insanity out of her. If she stands by her story, she’s fucked. If she goes either way, she’s fucked. Unless she can be stronger than she’s ever been in her life and find a way to fight the corruption ensnaring her.

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Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

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Three childhood friends, reunited in adulthood and all marching toward a shared spiritual and psychological destruction. Sound cheerful? Clint Eastwood adapted this novel, so if you’re a fan of Eastwood’s directorial endeavors you might be familiar with this story of betrayal and revenge. The aging movie star’s filmmaking capabilities are undeniable, but there’s something about reading a novel versus watching it’s film adaptation, you know? Most of the time, anyway.

‘Mystic River’ is a dark read on a plethora of tough subjects (child abduction and the ensuing sexual abuse, latent pedophilic tendencies, a father’s grief over the violent death of his daughter,) but if anyone is up for the job of writing gritty urban realism featuring the tragic mistakes of regular people and their fatal repercussions, it’s Dennis Lehane.

The man has a gift- with dialogue, with character description, with prose so fluid and lush it’s reading is similar to the experience of watching a great movie. His characters never seem unrealistically colorful or contrived. They grab your attention honestly- through the strength of great storytelling. ‘Mystic River’ is about three boys- Dave Boyle, Sean Devine, and Jimmy Markum- who grow up into three damaged men. Where did it all go wrong? For these guys, the proverbial shit hit the fan when 11-year-old Dave was coerced into a car by two men pretending to be police officers as his friends looked on and molested for five days before making his escape, becoming quite the local celebrity in the process.

But Dave doesn’t want lurid, however short-lived fame. He wants his childhood back. Once an eager-to-please schoolboy and a bit of a brownnosing crony to the stronger, more well-liked Jimmy, Dave grows up to be a tormented adult who has experienced a splintering of self- some of him is still in that basement, yearning to escape. Hell, all the boys are haunted by that day, the unresolved questions that reared their ugly heads when that car came to take Dave away. Twenty-five years later, another tragedy occurs. Now-grown ex-con Jimmy Markums’ 19-year-old daughter, Katie, is brutally murdered in the park after a drunken night on the town.

Now, who should come back into Jimmy’s life but Sean- a cop investigating the Katie Markum case- and Dave- a suspect in her violent death. Katie’s death has many suspects, more the further you look from different angles (in classic detective story fashion.) While initially Katie seems like a girl with not an enemy in the world, further inspection produces a different, darker take on those she associated with. Confronting a case that seems increasingly personal the farther he digs forward, Sean must ask the ultimate question- who killed Katie Markum? And will the actual murderer’s insistence on keeping his identity under wraps spell destruction for the three men?

I found ‘Mystic River’ less confusing than the first novel I read by Dennis Lehane, “Gone Baby Gone” but also slightly less compelling. That might have been partially because I already knew the ending to ‘Mystic River,’ having seen the movie beforehand. It was just a matter of getting there. There is no real redemption in either story; if anything, every good thing that comes from ‘Mystic River’s ending is more detrimental that satisfactory- take, for instance, Sean’s reunion with his wife paired with his decision to take all the flack for their break-up. He got what he wanted, but will he really wind up happy?

I don’t think the mystery is too hard to solve if the reader pays close attention to the clues provided along the way. All three men are sympathetic In their own way (despite Dave’s impure, albeit unacted-on, carnal appetites and Jimmy’s astonishing capacity for violence) while still being deeply flawed and troubled. Dennis Lehane’s prose is so easy to fall in love with. It is strong, consistent, and descriptive.  He cares about these characters and he wants you to care about them too, but he doesn’t always make them easy candidates for compassion, if you know what I mean.

In the end, what has been gained? What has been learned? If you say zilch. you’re certainly on the right track. A continuing theme is loss- of innocence, of love, of family, of humanity. We move beyond our past tragedies, if we’re lucky. But do they move past us? More of a psychological study of guilt and grief than a hard-and-dry mystery, ‘Mystic River’ is simultaneously harsh, delicate, and haunting.

Electricity by Ray Robinson

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Lily O’Connor’s neurology is a wild, untamed beast that knocks her on her face time and again. Afflicted with epilepsy, Lily knows the condition is more than the general public believes it be, and she determined to live as normal a life with the condition as possible. Saddled with a rough (and I mean rough) family (her mother is entirely to blame in causing the injury that led to her disorder, in an act too ghastly to mention,) Lily has learned to hide the hurt away, armed with a misanthropic wit. But the death of her beastly mother, grouped with the arrival of her gambler brother and the mystery of another sibling’s disappearance, shakes up Lily’s life in ways she never could have imagined and sends her on a quest for reconciliation on the dirty, chaotic streets of London.

So, apparently this is a movie now. It’s hard to picture how a film adaptation would work, to be honest. Electricity is a otherworldly experience, an journey through the senses shedding light on a condition no one would wish on themselves or their loved ones. How will a movie give us such an unyielding look into this woman’s mind? How will a movie explain how the seizures feel? But the miracle of this novel is that Lily O’Connor is so much more than her disability.

She’s tough, complicated, seriously flawed but fundamentally decent. The strength of Lily’s character ensures that Electricity will not a textbook slog through issues of disability and dignity. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever read so much onomatopoeia in one book. The book has an interesting feminine perspective on sexuality, as well as a heartbreaking take on sexual abuse (what if I didn’t fight back! What if I liked it?)

Lily believed she was in love with her mother’s boyfriend when she was about nine years old, and appreciated the attention in a time when she was all too often ignored and overlooked. But does that make it any better? Of course not. Sexual misconduct with a preteen is abuse whether or not the child thinks they enjoy it or not. In a way, Lily has to move past her own feelings and perceptions about the event just as much as she has to move past the abuse itself.

Lily is often a hard character to like. But you can’t hate her. You just can’t. She’s too vulnerable and damaged and real for that. However, the circumstances of her upbringing seemed a little too dire at times. That coupled with her truly horrific experience with men (only her wig-donning mentor, Al, emerges unscathed) makes Electricity a sometimes disturbing read. Lily is an often sexually ambiguous character; she reports to enjoy sex with men (although she can’t climax,) while her less-than-sisterly affections for her lesbian buddy Mel makes the reader wonder what side of the fence she’s really on.

The only parts of the book I felt were lacking were the sex scenes between Lily and her boyfriend, Dave. Here we are subjected to analogies such as “He licked my breasts like lollipops” that fall short on insight into a woman’s experience of sex. They were a little corny, to be frank. They didn’t quite fit in the otherwise smooth, flawless jigsaw puzzle that was this novel. Mostly, what stands out in Electricity was the close inside view of a misunderstood condition and Lily’s unique, dialect- and profanity-salted voice. Lyrical yet not tweedy, Electricity is a engrossing read.

Every Secret Thing (2014)

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Hey, at least they got a child actress who looks a little like a young Dakota Fanning. That’s something, I guess. :/

Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) and Alice Manning (Danielle MacDonald) are out of juvie, incarcerated for an unthinkable crime they committed as little girls (where they are played by Eva Grace Kellner and Brynne Norquist.) It is a truth universally acknowledged that baby-killers never catch a break (poor homicidal dears,) so when another child goes missing, Detective Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) is on the case, sorting the ugly lies from the even uglier truth.

Despite a decent cast, ‘Every Secret Thing’ falls a bit flat. It rings even more false when compared to “Boy A,” a British drama film with a slightly similar premise. While “Boy A” had strong characters and outstanding acting jobs from the entire cast, “Every Secret Thing” feels, at best, like an extended cop-show episode. That is not to say, however, that “Every Secret Thing” does not have its charms.

There is some enjoyment to be had in seeing the mystery unfold, and the acting is decent, if not exactly award-worthy. Figuring out what really happened is based mostly upon sorting out the unreliable testimonies from the two girls. Alice, a outwardly sweet, obese teen, seems like the most vulnerable, but a second glance alerts you to the fact that she’s a bit of a manipulative twat. Her ditzy mother (Diane Lane) is not cooperating with the police force, but does that make Alice the main instigator?

Ronnie, on the other hand, a blunt Goth girl, seemed to have been the main offender in the murder of the infant seven years ago. It is fun to try to figure out the truth behind all the bullshit, or maybe the girls are equally guilty, each a malevolent little psychopath who found her own perfect match in the other. The presentation of this mystery, though, is pretty standard. A lot of investigating by a tough yet vulnerable lady detective, talk talk talk, followed by a big confession accompanied by some incrementing cop-show-esque flashbacks.

“Fargo” this is not. It’s a perfectly efficiently acted and directed motion picture. But it’s also painfully paint-by-numbers, a decently designed thriller without a new idea in it’s head. Not to mention the outright implausibility of some of the scenarios. They’re horrifying, yes, but that doesn’t mean they’re particularly believable.

Danielle MacDonald is cute and looks kind of like a chubby Shailene Woodley, but Woodley she is not. Although she does okay in most of her scenes, watching her screw her face up and try to cry at the end, only to eventually give up and settle on an irate scowl, is just plain awkward. She’s not bad at all, more like a little underwhelming, but can she or Fanning compare to Andrew Garfield in “Boy A?” Not by a long shot.

On the up side, a person close to me has convinced me to read the book adaptation of “Every Secret Thing” by Laura Lippman saying it is ‘much better’ and ‘more complex.’ than the movie. “Every Secret Thing” is not unwatchable, but it is unlikely to stick in my head in the long run.

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