Tag Archives: murder mystery

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited! (Graphic Novel)

Original Story by: Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, & Travis McElroy

Adaptation by: Clint McElroy & Carey Pietsch

My rating: 5 of 5

The Adventure Zone, vol. 2

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language

Adventurers Taako, Magnus, and Merle have just been recruited by a secret organization based on the moon and dedicated to protecting the world from dangerous magical artifacts. Their first mission to retrieve a magic item naturally spinwheels into mayhem, ending up on a train ride through the mountains, complete with murder, a monster crab, a kid detective, an axe-wielding pro-wrestler, and the requisite amount of snark and dirty jokes. Who knew train rides could be so perilous?

In this fabulous follow-up to Here There Be Gerblins, the McElroys once again invite us on a D&D campaign of mayhem and grand fun. This really is one of those experiences that I think would be weird to read for anyone who isn’t a D&D player, but for those of us who do play, it resonates, truly capturing the experience of playing the game once you get past all the piddly mechanical stuff. All the fun and snark of playing with people you know well, the fourth-wall breaking and present-day references, the plot’s randomly going off the rails (okay, the train is actually pretty apropos), and just the general flow of gameplay is well represented here in a way that gamers can both relate to and find highly amusing. Add to that some larger-than-life characters–the sort that would never fly in a normal fictional story but that are completely at home in something this absurd–and a fabulous graphical representation by Carey Pietsch, and you really have a fabulous, wacky, delightfully nerdy story. Highly recommended.

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Day Shift

Author: Charlaine Harris

Midnight, Texas, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Things are changing in the small town of Midnight, Texas. First, some big corporation comes in to renovate and reopen the Midnight Hotel, a move that makes zero logistical or financial sense as far as any of the locals can figure. Then one of Manfred’s clients dies, and Manfred is falsely accused of stealing her jewelry, leading to a small fury of reporters and police coming through town. Naturally, this comes at the most inopportune time, since the Rev has a young guest who is growing at inhuman rates; not the sort of thing you want photographed. Obviously something must be done–the only question is, what exactly?

Going into the second volume of Harris’s series set in Midnight, I find myself continuing to be enchanted by these stories. Day Shift continues in much the same vein as Midnight Crossroad, developing the secrets of this tiny community and showing their united front in protecting the town. Over the course of the story, more character backstory unfolds. We get to find out what several characters are or what secrets they’re hiding. . . but there’s still enough mystery to make me want to come back for more! The story continues to be told from multiple characters’ POV, with additional characters such as Olivia and Joe being added in this volume. The mix of characters is pretty unusual, but I find them charming–sometimes at the same time as I find them shockingly dark or heartless. I suppose the fact that several of them aren’t exactly human contributes to that side of it, although that’s another thing that makes this town and its residents so utterly fascinating. This book brings a good balance of that–the lives of its unusual citizens–and plot–the death of Manfred’s client, the whole kerfuffle afterwards, the hotel opening. Plus the tone is just really down to earth and readable. Recommended.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows

Author: James Lovegrove

The Cthulhu Casebooks, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

The general public is well familiar with the stories of the great detective Sherlock Holmes as written by his friend and partner in crime-fighting, Dr. John Watson. What they don’t know is that those stories are just a cover, an embellishment of certain insignificant events in order to hide something of far greater import–something the public should never know about. Because, while in these stories, Holmes is presented as an extremely logical and brilliant man who always a scientific reason for events, the truth is that he and Watson have encountered things that defy science. Horrible, ancient things that could spell  the end of mankind if left unchecked. And together, they have pledged their logic and skill to defending mankind from behind the scenes. This is the true story of their initial meeting and subsequent first encounter with the occult, as told by Dr. Watson himself.

Retellings and spinoffs of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories seem ubiquitous, and I’ve personally had mixed experiences with them. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows belongs to a niche segment of these stories, ones that–like Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald”–cross over with the Lovecraftian mythos. It’s an intriguing mixture, and I found it to be quite well executed in this book. It is couched as being a confession of sorts, written by Watson late in life and never meant to be published. As such, it evokes a tone quite similar to that of the original Doyle stories–I actually found this aspect of it to be fairly convincing. The author makes a lot of comparisons between what was written in said stories and “what actually happened,” which is intriguing to say the least. I found my vocabulary challenged repeatedly, which was refreshing. Unfortunately (although perhaps necessary to evoke the correct feel), the writing expresses period-typical ways of looking at certain people groups, as well as some terminology for such, that could be offensive. Regrettable, that. The actual story and the way the mythology is interwoven into the story is quite well done, a credible way for Holmes to get dragged into this mess. All in all, I found Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows to be a solid, enjoyable story that I would recommend.

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Madness Treads Lightly

Author: Polina Dashkova

Translator: Marian Schwartz

My rating: 4 of 5

When Mitya Sinitsyn is found hanged in his apartment, nearly everyone seems to arrive at the obvious conclusion that he committed suicide. But considering how strongly his wife denies the possibility of such a thing happening, family friend and journalist Lena Polyanskaya begins to pick at the threads of his death . . . and finds the obvious begin to unravel before her. The clues she discovers begin leading her on a dangerous trail going back fourteen years to a trip she, Mitya, and his sister Olga took as young professionals together. Because somehow, something that happened on that trip was significant in a way she never realized–if she can only figure it out before she ends up dead because of it.

Madness Treads Lightly is the first Russian psychological thriller/crime novel I’ve ever read. Actually, it’s one of only a few Russian novels I’ve read, period. I should probably remedy that. In any case, this was a worthwhile read, one that would likely be enjoyed by most people who enjoy crime novels in general. Plotwise, you’ve got an interesting story–not really a mystery, since it becomes pretty clear what happened and who committed the crimes. But it’s intriguing to watch Lena go all amateur detective while still being at heart a mom and a journalist–an ordinary woman, not some insanely skilled crime fighter or anything. There’s a lot going on, and a number of interlocking plot threads to follow, but it all comes together quite well. I honestly found the native look at everyday Russian culture and society in the 1990’s to be nearly as interesting as the actual plot, though. Things like the way capitalism and crime were interconnected, foods that were common, polite social customs, etc. are fascinating to see displayed in such a way that they’re clearly just a normal, unremarkable part of the characters lives. But Russian naming conventions, though; I still don’t understand. . . . One more thing of note is that, although I would certainly consider this a thriller of sorts, it has a pacing that wouldn’t fit with the typical Western conception of that genre. It’s more of a slow, steady unfolding of one plot element after another, which sounds kind of dull when I say it, but it actually fits the story and works. Recommended.

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Living Dead in Dallas

Author: Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Things in Sookie’s life had never been easy, what with her unwelcome gift/curse/whatever of telepathy, but they had definitely taken a turn for the stranger and more complicated once she started dating Bill, a vampire. Although the reprieve his presence gave her mind, what with being unable to read his, well . . . it certainly hadn’t been all bad, not by far. But Sookie’s life shows an extreme run of bad luck as she finds a coworker dead in the parking lot, gets summoned to Dallas to conduct telepathic interrogations, gets kidnapped, is attacked by a maenad, and fights with Bill. Not that she’s about to let all that stop her from investigating her friend’s murder and seeing justice done.

I found Living Dead in Dallas to be a solid follow-up to the first volume in the series, Dead Until Dark. It builds well upon the groundwork that was laid in the first book, developing Sookie and Bill’s relationship, getting Sookie further embroiled in vampire Eric’s schemes, and bringing some new mysteries and dangerous elements to add to the overall intensity of the story. The author does well keeping that small-town Southern girl vibe going, even when Sookie is dumped in the big city of Dallas and expected to manage. We get some solid character development in this volume as well–you’ve got a self-educated, smart woman who is very brave and has strong convictions . . . yet who is also remarkably brittle at times. She’s an interesting character. The story itself is kind of all over the place, but in a way that actually ties together eventually. There’s enough going on to keep things engaging, and the pacing is good. Other than a fair warning that this is definitely an adult book, I would generally recommend Living Dead in Dallas, especially to paranormal romance and mystery lovers.

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Dead Until Dark

Author: Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience for sex, language, and violence, although it’s all relatively minor

In a lot of ways, Sookie Stackhouse is your average small-town Southern girl with strong ties to the community and a good job waitressing in a local bar. Oh, and a knack for reading people’s minds, which, not so average I guess. She calls it her “disability,” and although Sookie never talks openly about her gift, it’s given her a bit of a local reputation; “crazy Sookie” they call her. Of course, their opinions only seem more justified when vampire Bill Compton comes to town and Sookie–rather than running the other way like any sensible girl–starts dating him. And when the bodies of other girls in similar blue-collar jobs start piling up . . . well, the community starts to get nervous.

Cozy mystery meets vampire romance in this first installation of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from this book, since I basically just had the cover, the fact that it seems fairly popular, and the knowledge that it was filed in the science fiction/fantasy section to go on. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised, although this isn’t exactly what I would typically pick up to read. The author does a brilliant job capturing small town Southern U.S., from the fine rules of polite behavior to the pine pollen that is ubiquitous in its season. Being a girl with small-town Southern roots myself, I was surprised at how well this aspect was depicted. The plot element of having vampires being “out of the coffin” as it were, being accepted as legal citizens, was pretty fascinating and led to some different potential plot directions that your average vampire story where they live in hiding and so much of the plot is just keeping their secret. But still, as much as I hate to do so, there’s a sense in which I have to compare Dead Until Dark to Twilight. Not in like a one-of-these-stories-was-copied-from-the-other sense; it’s just that with vampire romance stories, there are certain tropes that seem to keep coming up. The nice girl getting dragged into a dangerous life, the mysterious boyfriend, the shapeshifting (usually werewolf, so the change-up here was nice) other guy, the other (more dangerous) vampires coming around and causing trouble. Not saying any of that’s a bad thing–they’re tropes for a reason–but still. The romance was a little more that I would typically read; that’s probably one of the reasons this wasn’t so much my favorite story. Still, it was within acceptable bounds for the most part. As for the mystery aspect, it was a pretty typical small-town murder mystery, mostly notable for the fact that it was mixed with a vampire story at all. On the whole, Dead Until Dark was an enjoyable, quick read with good pacing and a great depiction of small-town life that I would recommend for those who enjoy both sexy vampire stories and a good mystery.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016-2017 TV Series)

BBC America

Status: Complete (2 Seasons/18 Episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/rated TV-14

“Have you noticed an acceleration of strangeness in your life of late?” It’s an odd question to be coming from the man who just forced his way through the window into your flat then had the audacity to be affronted when you’re upset by his presence. And yet, for Todd Brotzman, it’s an oddly apt one as his life has abruptly gone from one of inane consistency to a flurry of strangeness, ending with himself unemployed, a person of interest in a frankly impossible murder case, and, oh yeah, with an odd man in a yellow jacket climbing through his window. And the fun is just beginning.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that is absolutely brilliant . . . as long as you have the patience to deal with the utter absurdity of it. The WTF-factor is huge here, with weird happenings and an accumulation of strange coincidences that all happen to connect somehow just piling on en masse. But the story has a way of rewarding viewers who stick around for the weirdness, bringing everything together in the end to make an odd sort of sense. The characters are well written, brilliantly cast, and quite interesting. Moreover, they’re relatable, perhaps more than most any characters in a TV show I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, they’re so utterly not pulled together, and it’s actually endearing and affirming to see them going about their lives, trying to make things work, while sometimes not having a clue and being so ridden with doubt and guilt. They’re very human in the midst of something that’s completely strange, paranormal even. Which isn’t to say that all the characters are normal–I would say that Dirk himself, as well as all the other Black Wing subjects, are extremely odd in their mannerisms and their way of interacting with the world, the whole “holistic” leaf-on-the-wind thing. But they make for fabulous characters. I feel like the filming is visually rewarding as well–case in point the very beginning of the first season, where we go from close-ups of Dirk’s face (too close to actually identify him immediately) to an impossibly violent and improbably crime scene to a kitten in rapid progression. Or the beginning of the second season, where we are confronted with a fantasy setting, complete with a pink-haired prince and giant scissors wielded as swords (I was almost convinced this was a preview for another show at first, it was so strange!). Seriously, though, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of those shows that definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to be patient with the weirdness, it’s oddly rewarding.

Created by Max Landis/Based on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
by Douglas Adams/Starring Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Fiona Dourif, Jade Eshete, Mpho Koaho, Michael Eklund, Dustin Milligan, Osiric Chau/Music by Cristobal Tapia de Veer & The Newton Brothers

 

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