Tag Archives: murder mystery

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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A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Read (Psych Tie-in Novel)

Author: William Rabkin

Tie-in to Psych

My rating: 3.5 of 5

It’s really all Shawn’s fault, not that that’s anything new. First, Gus’s car got towed because Shawn said it would be fine to park in the reserved zone, and they were running late in the first place. Then when they went to the impound lot to get the Blueberry, Gus got hit with a huge bill for all the times Shawn “borrowed” his car and parked where he wasn’t supposed to. Then they got shot at (obviously somehow Shawn’s fault, right?). Then Gus nearly got hit by a speeding car while running away from the gunman. And now they’ve got the driver of said speeding car, an admittedly attractive but clearly loony woman, following them around claiming she’s receiving psychic instructions from Shawn. Which is rubbish, because Shawn’s not even actually psychic. How does Gus manage to get in these situations?! Oh right, it’s Shawn’s fault.

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Read was a surprisingly good TV-show tie-in novel. All too often, these sorts of books are clearly written by someone who has only a minimal grasp of the show (if that), and the characterizations and writing suffer because of that. This book, on the other hand, actually read essentially like an episode of the show–down to the flashback at the beginning! The plot is as convoluted and unpredictable as ever, driven on by Shawn’s random grasping at ideas. But then, when is the plot ever actually the point of this show anyhow? Shawn’s randomness, goofiness, and unexpected (to all but the readers) brilliance and the whole Shawn-Gus dynamic were well done; they felt true to the characters that I know and love from the show. For those who love the rest of the gang (and I do), this story does leave a bit lacking in that department. You’ve got a smattering of Henry and a touch of Chief Vick and Lassie, but just barely that. And Juliet’s part doesn’t bear mentioning; it’s sad, that’s what it is. And I do love some Shules in my Psych stories, so I missed her. But despite the lack of some of my favorite characters, I think A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Read was well written and enjoyable–recommended for those who like the show.

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A Little Birdie Told Me (Psych Fanfic)

Author: Olivia94

FanFiction ID: 6396248

Status: Complete (36 Chapter)

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Rated T for violence, whump, & crime scene descriptions

Santa Barbara’s favorite (fake) psychic detective has gotten himself stumped–not something he appreciates. Shawn and his colleagues are tracking down a killer who live tweets his crimes, but they just can’t seem to keep up. This guy is just too good. And too psychopathic for Shawn’s usual tricks to work; he’s finding the guy impossible to read. Which becomes problematic in the extreme when the killer takes an interest in Shawn personally. . . .

Gah, writing summaries for mysteries is nigh on impossible to do well! Anyhoo. A Little Birdie Told Me actually has quite an intriguing plot and premise both, regardless of how poorly I describe them. And with 36 lengthy chapters, the author takes the time to develop the ideas properly. There’s a good balance of mystery, romance, and excitement throughout, including some nail-biting moments in the latter half of the story. The writing itself is absolutely solid; very nice to read. But what I probably love most about this fanfic is the way in which the author captures the characters. The tale is told in first person, alternating between Shawn’s (primarily) and Juliet’s voice–and the characters are spot on. I’ve seen writers capture Shawn pretty well in the past, but this author goes the extra mile to pull together nuances, details, all the little absurd things that make Shawn, well, Shawn. I love it! The relationship building between Shawn and Juliet is really cute as well, very them. I would definitely recommend A Little Birdie Told Me to Psych fans everywhere, and I will be checking out the author’s other work in the near future.

Note: You can find A Little Birdie Told Me at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6396248/1/A-Little-Birdie-Told-Me.

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I Hunt Killers

Author: Barry Lyga

Jasper Dent, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Seventeen-year-old Jasper Dent (better known as Jazz) did not have the most normal childhood. Actually, he was raised by his dad, a notorious serial killer–raised to think like and eventually become a killer himself. But now Jazz’s dad is behind bars and Jazz wants a different life for himself. So when the body count begins to rise in his small home town, Jazz decides to (unofficially and without the sheriff’s permission) assist with the investigation. Because he knows how the killer thinks. And to prove to the town that he’s not like his dad . . . only, is it the town or himself that he needs to convince?

So, I’ve never read much Barry Lyga, but I Hunt Killers was an interesting enough read. It’s kind of a mashup of a contemporary YA novel and an adult crime thriller. And I guess that’s where I get my weird personal reactions to this story. Because on the one hand, I really enjoyed it, but on the other hand, it’s kind of strange and unsettling in a way I’m not sure I like. There’s this total dichotomy, even though in the book the elements are actually combined pretty well. On the crime thriller side, you get this guy who can get into the killer’s head, you get some pretty intense crime scenes, some very painfully intense flashbacks to the guys’ childhood, and a puzzling mystery that gradually unfolds. And on the YA side, you’ve got this kid who is struggling to even see himself as human, who struggles to see the people around him as human rather than just as things to be used. There is a ton of psychological and emotional baggage and internal conflict going on. And then you’ve got Jazz’s awesome girlfriend Connie and his BFF Howie–both of whom get dragged into the mess that Jazz involves himself in. The writing and the pacing of the story are good. The author clearly put a lot of research into this book. And I would read more of Barry Lyga’s books. I probably would read more of this series, even. But I still feel just a bit off about I Hunt Killers . . .  but maybe that’s the intended results, because how can a book about a kid who was raised to be a serial killer ever really be okay?

 

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Psych: The Musical

USA Networkpsych-the-musical

Psych Season 7, episode 15/16

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Santa Barbara: murder capital of the world . . . or so fake-psychic detective Shawn Spencer would have us believe. But when former playwright and suspected murderer “Z” escapes from the institution (where he had been kept since the night he was found in the burned theater with the murdered critic who was going to ruin his show), Shawn’s assertions begin to appear more accurate. Especially when his only lead is an escaped serial killer with an addiction to show tunes. As the body count begins to rise, it seems Shawn’s gut may just be wrong . . . perhaps the obvious suspect is also the correct one.

I love when TV shows do random musical episodes, and Psych: The Musical is no exception. This extra-long double episode is classic Psych, playing up the both the strengths and the long-running gags of the show with aplomb. I do feel that, since such a large portion of the focus is on the music, a bit of the detective side of the show slips to the wayside . . . but you do still get a solid murder mystery with an interesting twist here. Really though, the main focus is on the humor and hijinks, and that comes through strongly in the songs and choreography. In fact, I would almost say that the whole point of parts is solely to be goofy and mess around–which is not to say that the music and choreography is not impressive in its own strange way. The cast actually has a remarkably solid pool of vocal talent; James and Dulé are quite good, and I’ve mentioned previously that I love hearing Timothy Omundson’s singing. His duets with James are probably the best (and silliest) parts of the show. Maggie’s ability to dance in heels is quite impressive as well. The music was pretty typical showtunes, although nothing majorly catchy. “I’ve Heard It Both Ways” is probably the most memorable as well as the song which embodies the characters and the show the best; it’s probably the only track I would listen to outside of watching the episode. All in all, Psych: The Musical was neither my favorite Psych episode nor my favorite TV musical, but it was still a fun show–mostly recommended for Psych fans as opposed to musical fans in general.

Written & Directed by Steve Franks/Music by Adam Cohen/Produce by James Roday & Dulé Hill/Starring James Roday, Dulé Hill, Timothy Omundson, Maggie Lawson, Kirsten Nelson, & Corbin Bernsen/Guest Starring Anthony Rapp, Ally Sheedy, Barry Bostwick, Brooke Lyons, Kurt Fuller, Sage Brocklebank, & Jimmi Simpson

 

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Ouroboros (2015 TV Series)

TBSouroboros

Status: Completed, 10 episodes

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Growing up together in the orphanage of Mahoroba, Danno Tatsuya and Ryuzaki Ikuo found love, inspiration, and strength in their caregiver, Yuiko-sensei. . . . That is, until one night when she is murdered and the case is covered up by a police man wearing a gold watch. Young Tatsuya and Ikuo vow to find Yuiko’s murder and exact their own justice. Twenty years later, Tatsuya is a leader in the yakuza and Ikuo is rising through the ranks of the police, working together to ferret out any clues as to Yuiko’s killer. But will they be able to handle the truths they find?

Ouroboros is probably the best J-drama I’ve seen to date. Of course, part of that is the fact that it stars both Shun Oguri and Toma Ikuta, two of my favorite actors. They have a really great dynamic when they work together, and their part in this show was definitely a huge plus for me. But I think that even for those unfamiliar with these two, the show has a lot to offer. It’s a cops and yakuza story, with lots of interconnecting plots, tragic backstory, and a nice balance of drama and action. There are some nicely choreographed fight scenes, even. And an adorable but tragic love story (more than one, depending on how you look at it). Of course, being a J-drama, there’s a certain amount of just plain goofiness, especially at the beginning (then again, can you put Toma in a show without some goofiness?). But again, it balances out, and by the end of the show, it’s just plain heartbreaking. This is a tear-jerker, to be sure, but I think the writers did a great job of making the story fall the way it needs to, not the way you necessarily want it to. . . . It feels like hitsuzen when you get down to it, I guess. Also just have to mention that the character development is remarkably well done–especially for this sort of show–and even the relatively minor characters are interesting. And one last point of note: the casting for the childhood versions of Tatsuya and Ikuo are fabulous. So often, kids seem just picked at random, but the kids chosen for the roles here are perfect, both in appearance and in how they act. Ouroboros is high on my list of recommendations, both for those who enjoy J-dramas and for those who like detective stories in general.

Note: At this point, I don’t know of an official English version of this show, but there are some quite decent fan-subs available.

Based on the manga by Kanzaki Yuya/Directed by Yasuharu Ishii/Music by Kimura Hideakira/Starring Toma Ikuta, Shun Oguri, & Juri Ueno

 

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