Published February 29, 2008
Death of a Squire by Maureen Ash. This is the second Templar Knight mystery featuring Bascot de Marins, his servant, Gianni and the other characters living in Lincoln castle early in the reign of King John (1200 AD) and it is an improvement over the first, The Alehouse Murders. Prior to the arrival of the King, a squire serving the sheriff’s brother is found hanged from a tree in the forest. Poachers are initially suspected, but as Bascot learns more about the victim, additional motives, both personal and political, are revealed which lead to suspects within the town walls.
Having just read Bernard Knight’s The Noble Outlaw, which is set only five years prior to Death of a Squire, I found it interesting that another Robin Hood-like character appears in this book as well. I was also surprised that Knight’s principal character is a coroner and yet Ash’s city of Lincoln has no such official.
Ash does a commendable job of creating the scene and providing details of daily life, both for residents of the castle and the forest. However, as with the first book, Bascot discovers the murderer, but feels he feels he lacks sufficient proof of guilt and must rely on a complicated ruse in order to reveal the killer. I hate it when writers use this device, especially when it is unnecessary, as in this case. This second attempt is better than the first, but still just average overall.
Published February 28, 2008
This past weekend, we hosted another small badminton tournament with players from Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin and California. There were sixteen teams in the men’s doubles event and six in the mixed doubles. The overriding theme that came out of the weekend was the surprisingly good play by the members of the host club. It started with Herman teaming up with Dan from Wisconsin to upset the #6 seeds, the only upset of the first round. But that was just a prelude of things to come. Bunty and Jim pulled off a minor upset of fourth-seeded Keng and Chun-Ho from Illinois in one quarterfinal whereas seventh-seeded Hull and Jun stunned the #2 seeds in the quarters and the #3 seeds in the semis. Their wonderful run led to an all-MoBC final against Jeffrey and Xiaoming, the defending champions from the November event. The top seeds fought off three consecutive game points and won the first game 23-21 and then finished the match with a ten-point run to win the second game 21-14. Nick and Norman from Wisconsin won the B-draw; Wei and Mike from Missouri the C-draw and Tee and Chee Wai from Lawrence and Kansas City the D-draw. In the mixed doubles, Steve and Ru from California defeated Norman and Tiffanie, 21-23, 21-19, 21-12. Overall, the quality of play was higher and much closer than last time with twelve of the 37 matches requiring a deciding third game. All the draws and results are available here in pdf format.
Our next tournament action will be in April with the Midwest Senior Championships and the Midwest Adult Championships.
Published February 27, 2008
The Noble Outlaw by Bernard Knight. Someone is killing prominent guild leaders within Exeter in this the eleventh novel in the Crowner John series. Is the villain the notorious Nick o’ the Moor, a former Crusader unlawfully deprived of his manor by followers of Prince John while Nick was on Crusade? Is it a conspiracy from another town trying to weaken the Exeter guilds for their own benefit? Is it more personal; a vendetta against these men in particular? Crowner John de Wolfe, one of the new coroners set up by King Richard upon his return from captivity in Germany, is responsible for the investigation.
By this point in a lengthy series, the main character has been sufficiently developed and so new volumes derive their merit from the supporting characters, the mystery plot itself and the new characters introduced for the specific story. In this case, the author presents Nicholas de Arundell, a Robin Hood-like character who is now leader of a small outlaw band hiding on the vast moors. Knight shows the grim reality for outlaws at the end of the 12th century rather than the romanticized life portrayed by Hollywood. Struggling to find food and shelter, constantly keeping watch for the law, and unable to seek justice in the court system, it’s a difficult life. Matilda, the crowner’s usually irascible wife, is much more prominent in this story compared to previous ones. Her softer side comes into play as she unknowingly befriends the wife of the outlaw and later pushes her husband to work on the couple’s behalf. The killing of the guildsmen is a nice parallel plotline, though it lacks a suspenseful revelation at the end. This is another consistent effort from Knight for the followers of the Crowner John series.
Readers interested in other mysteries set in England during the reign of King Richard should try Sharon Kay Penman’s Justin de Quincy series or Alys Clare’s Hawkenlye Abbey series. Michael Jecks’ Sir Baldwin Furnshill series is also set the county of Devon, though more than a century later in the early 1300s.
Published February 26, 2008
The Brave One on DVD. This was an intelligent, suspenseful thriller until the last fifteen minutes, when the believability of the action and moral consistency of the characters both deteriorate. Some may find characters whose morals change at the critical point in a film to be more true-to-life or may see it as an interesting plot twist. I feel that if the filmmakers develop and present a character as having one set of morals, to abruptly change them without explanation is a disservice to the audience.
Jodie Foster is the victim of a brutal assault in Central Park. The development of her character as she struggles to overcome her fear of venturing outside in New York City, attempts to return to her job as a radio show host, and eventually decides to become a vigilante is intriguing. Having a woman in the lead role brings a new dimension to the vigilante film genre. Terrence Howard is the detective assigned to investigate the killings that she commits.
Foster’s is my second-favorite voice in film today. To have her play a radio show host and to act as narrator for much of the movie was quite wonderful. Combined with Howard’s own unique voice, it made for a great movie to listen to as well as watch.
Published February 25, 2008
Siege of Heaven by Tom Harper. This final piece of Harper’s trilogy about the First Crusade is more historical fiction than mystery, but still a vivid, richly-detailed adventure. As with the first two stories, The Mosaic of Shadows and The Knights of the Cross, the principal character is Demetrios Askiates, an emissary and sometimes spy for the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople. Demetrios has been with the crusaders since they left Constantinople swearing an oath to the emperor to recover his lands from the Turks on their way to Jerusalem. Siege of Heaven begins with the funeral of Bishop Adhemar in Antioch. The Army of God has finally captured the city and held it from the Muslim relief army, but the princes leading the soldiers are now divided about the future and the bishop’s death leaves the pilgrims without a leader as well. The story describes the final eighteen months of the crusade as the army moves slowly down the coast to the final battle for the holy city. In the center of it all is Demetrios and his loyal protector Sigurd from the emperor’s Varangian bodyguard, as well as his other companions. No one mysteriously has their throat slit or topples over poisoned, but there are lots of battles and action, plenty of betrayal among the princes, false prophets, an English pirate and a new enemy in the form of the Egyptians.
Readers who enjoy this type of fictional inside look at historical warfare might also like Simon Scarrow’s series detailing the adventures of Quintus Licinius Cato with the Second Legion of the Roman army as they travel through Germany and later as they do battle in Britannia.
For other stories that feature Jerusalem as the setting for a mystery, I would recommend Simon Beaufort’s Murder in the Holy City, the first mystery featuring Sir Geoffrey Mappestone, who investigates the death of several monks and knights. This tale takes place a year after the First Crusade ends and several historical characters appearing in Harper’s trilogy also appear here. Set one hundred years later is Alan Gordon’s tale of the Third Crusade, The Widow of Jerusalem, part of the Fool’s Guild series.
Published February 22, 2008
Last week, N.S. Hurt updated the “New Titles” page of her site with a large batch of recently released or soon-to-released books. This is one of my primary sources for new ideas and it is a wonderful resource, as I have mentioned before. I have read three of the titles on the new list so far (The Queen’s Gambit, Silent in the Sanctuary, and Serpent’s Tale) and already have six more on hold for when they arrive at my local library.
Clues Unlimited has also published its new releases for Feb/Mar and I found five more titles not on Hurt’s page to add to my “to be found” list.
You can get release dates for these titles on the Crime Thru Time new releases page or on the New Hardcovers page at Stop You’re Killing Me.
Published February 21, 2008
Good Luck Chuck on DVD. This movie was reasonably good. It’s a good thing I don’t make my living writing movie reviews since it seems that making bombastic declarations for use as quotes on marketing materials is a large part of the business and, as evidenced above, that’s not my style. Good Luck Chuck is a sweet romantic comedy starring Dane Cook and Jessica Alba and years from now, when an interviewer goes through their filmographies, neither actor will stop to highlight this entry, but neither will cringe if it is brought up. Cook plays Charlie Logan, a commitment-phobic man with an unusual curse. It seems that “women are guaranteed to find their true love, but only after they sleep with him.” As word spreads of his lucky charm ability, desperate, lonely women flock to him. At first, Logan doesn’t believe in the hex and struggles with whether he is taking advantage of these women just for sex. However, when he thinks his found his own true love in the form of Alba’s Cam Wexler, a very clumsy, but not ditzy or stupid, penguin caretaker at the local aquarium, he worries that the curse will keep them apart. Not to spoil the ending, but eventually the curse is lifted and Logan makes the typically grand gesture that convinces the girl of his love.
Unfortunately, the supporting characters do more to hurt the film than help. Logan’s best friend, Stu, is a crude, unfunny cosmetic surgeon specializing in breast augmentation. I assume his character is supposed to present viewers with a contrasting personality to Charlie’s, but he doesn’t add anything to the movie. Neither does Cam’s stoner brother, Joe, who quotes philosophy from the pages he uses to roll his joints. On the plus side, the penguins are pretty good in the movie and the bonus feature that describes their training and care is interesting.