Saturday, April 23, 2016

Jennifer McMahon, The Night Sister (2015)

McMahon, Jennifer. The Night Sister. New York: Doubleday, 2015
______. The Night Sister. Toronto: Anchor Books, 2016 (my edition)

The Night Sister at Goodreads
Anchor Books, 2016
The Night Sister at IBList

Rating:     7/10


I received a copy of the Anchor Books edition from the publisher through a Goodreads giveaway, and am offering up this review in return.


Jennifer McMahon's The Night Sister is a construct of two prime elements: plot and character. The two are entirely intertwined; just as character relies on plot for its development, characterization is also limited as a result of plot requirements. This produces unevenness as some characters are required only for certain specific aspects of the plot, and remain flat throughout many sections. Regardless of these shortcomings, the novel is a highly enjoyable dramatic suspense story.

The novel opens with the apparent murder-suicide of Amy Slater and her family, with the exception of her daughter Lou, who is found hiding on the roof. A former friend of the killer's, Piper, returns to London, Vermont, to grieve and to help take care of her emotional pregnant younger sister Margot. Finding herself back in the town of her youth, Piper becomes involved in the mystery of the killings and uncovering secrets surrounding Amy's family.

The novel is split into three distinct time periods: the present, a summer in 1989 when Amy, Piper and Margot were young teens, and 1959-1961, focusing on Amy's mother Rose when she was teen. The timelines are clearly indicated (a little too clearly), and though each period revolves around a central mystery, each section has a distinct story-line, which is an achievement. The present is somewhat less interesting than the two pasts and takes up less of the novel (excluding the framing sequences). In the present plot moves slowly as Piper, and on occasion Margot's cop husband Jason, pursue the mystery in brief spurts as each event leads us back to one of the two pasts. Moreover, characterization in the present is limited, as even Piper focuses mostly on her youth and youthful obsession with Amy, while Jason is stock and Margot is present and pregnant only to intensify the eventual climax.

Characterization is strongest in 1989, where we focus primarily on the charismatic, impatient and unlikable Amy, mostly from Piper's point of view. As the girls interact in their corrosive relationship, they stumble on some fragments of Amy's family's past. Amy lives in the motel that her grandfather owned, the Tower Motel, named after the tower he had built for his British wife. Being also the central time period, 1989 is the link between present and the distant past, where the actual mystery begins to unfold. We learn in the 1959-1961 sections that Amy's mother Rose was jealous of sister Suzie, and moreover believed her to be a mare, a changeling able to take on animal form. Rose would follow her sister out to the tower late at night where she would be sneaking around, and hence giving us the novel's title.

The ending is expected but there is nonetheless mystery along the way, as McMahon for the most parts builds upon suspense. The pacing is effective, generating momentum from complication to the climax. The final sequence I found lacking, but this is a symptom of the genre and not poor construct on the author's part. A requirement for the thriller, in book and particularly film, is that after the final reveal there is some kind of action, which rarely plays up to the rest of the work.

Setting also plays key a role. The bulk of the novel is set at the motel and its accompanying tower, with limited time spent in other town spots. Like other elements, setting is important in relation to plot, since the movement of characters and their locations at specific points of the story are defined by the plot.

Doubleday, 2015
The novel has disappointed readers as a result of it skirting different genres. Advertising it as a horror novel is certainly not accurate; The Night Sister is a suspense story with elements of horror, fantasy and a strong dose of sisterhood/friendship drama. Since so much emphasis is placed on the relationships between the women in the book, it might be more accurate to describe it as a novel about friendship with elements of suspense, horror and fantasy. This does not make it a lesser book, but provides a better descriptor for those looking for something entirely different.

And in terms of sub-genre, The Night Sister and its Tower Motel fits into the suspense universe of the hotel/motel variety, though will likely not be remembered as clearly as some of its counterparts, namely Robert Bloch's Bates Motel. Hitchcock's adaptation of Psycho is mentioned, and the film is the leader in motel horror as evidenced by the fact that had McMahon refrained from mentioning the 1960 film directly, it would regardless have entered our minds from inference simply at the reference to Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. There are other allusions to the film, such as the Tower Motel losing business (at around the same time as the film's release) due to the construction of an interstate. Other staples in the motel/hotel psychological horror variety are the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining and its Stanley Kubrik film counterpart (which I personally prefer), and the suspenseful 2003 James Mangold film, Identity.



Thursday, March 24, 2016

Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini, Academy Mystery Novellas Vol. 2: Police Procedurals (1985)

Greenberg, Martin H. & Bill Pronzini. Academy Mystery Novellas Vol. 2: Police Procedurals. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1985.

Academy Mystery Novellas 2 at Goodreads
Academy Mystery Novellas 2 at IBList

Overall Rating:  6/10

For more Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.

Contents:
"The Empty Hours" by Ed McBain. Ed McBain's Mystery Book #1, 1960.
"The Sound of Murder" by Donald E. Westlake. Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, December 1962.
"Storm in the Channel" by Georges Simenon. "Tempête sur la Manche." Police-Film, 20 May 1938.
"Murder in the Dark" by Hugh Pentecost. The American Magazine, February 1949.


In 1985 Academy Chicago Publishers released a four-volume series of books featuring rarely re-printed novellas by popular mystery writers. The books were divided into four mystery sub-genres and included four novellas apiece. The volume titles and themes were: Women Sleuths, Police Procedurals, Locked Room Puzzles and Great British Detectives. The series featured sixteen stories by sixteen different authors, with no writer appearing more than once. Though labeled as novellas some were actually longer short stories, or novelettes. Many of the stories saw little print, which is not surprising as it has always been difficult to publish and re-print stories of such awkward length. The series itself was later reprinted, in 1991, as a boxed set by The Readers' Digest Association.

Volume two in the series is well balanced in that it features two strong stories and two average ones, two real novellas and two novelettes, and though each work follows police procedure, the stories themselves are diverse within the sub-genre. The better works are the first two: McBain's "The Empty Hours" and Westlake's "The Sound of Murder." While the Simenon and Pentecost stories are not bad, they are not memorable and, with so many stories out there, questionable in their re-print worthiness.

McBain's "The Empty Hours" is a cold, distant telling of the murder of a young woman who, despite her modest situation, lived in an expensive apartment with expensive things. The mystery expands and reveals itself very much through official procedure, and culminates in a tragic denouement. Westlake's story is similar in that it too is genuinely tragic, but while McBain's tragedy is brought on by the gritty reality of the urban landscape (specifically New York City), Westlake's tragedy in "The Sound of Murder" is internalized and the petty needs of humanity are reflected in a neurotic and sensitive middle-aged detective.

Georges Simenon's novelette "Storm in the Channel" is a far lighter story than the first two. It involves a recently retired Jules Maigret on holiday with his wife, stranded in a rooming house during a rainstorm, where one of the employees gets murdered. Though there are procedural elements in the investigation, much of the focus is on humour so that it reads more like a cozy than what a reader might expect a procedural to be; paired down to its investigative elements and removing the lightness could have led the story toward its own dramatic tragedy, but instead the death and motivation feel almost incidental. Similarly Hugh Pentecost's "Murder in the Dark" is an uneven story that reads like a fusion between different sub-genres, with the procedural aspect being not among its most notable. In an interesting change the detective is relegated to observer as a secondary player, an initial suspect, abducts the narrative and investigates in a clumsy, inefficient way. Add a love story and other tidbits from assassins to the locked room ("where in the hotel are those diamonds?") and the mish-mashing is complete. The story's greatest achievement is in the confessional written out by our protagonist, and the details in diamond-smuggling, appraisal and retailing that I found fascinating.

With the exception of Pentecost's piece, the investigators themselves play an important part in the story itself. The gritty down-to-earth qualities of McBain's detectives are very much a part of the dark New York landscape. Westlake's detective is a self-questioning and neurotic late middle-aged man whose awareness of his own mortality makes the reader aware of general human mortality, and his self-concern is in striking contrast with the waste in which human life is eventually equated to. Finally, Simenon's detective is more comical and unaffected by the tragedy of the victim in his story, and to me this unfortunately diminishes the characters themselves. In Pentecost the characters are more pastiche, and the detective is a bit player who stands grinning in the background.

Though overall the anthology is somewhat above average, it is certainly an interesting overview of the procedural, at least for the twenty-five years leading up to 1962. I'm certain there are other, more comprehensive anthologies out there dealing with police procedurals, though perhaps not devoted on the longer short form.


Readers' Digest reprint
With forty years of anthology publishing, Martin Harry Greenberg's name appears on a library's worth of books. Usually working as co-editor with the likes of Charles G. Waugh, Isaac Asimov, Stefan Dziemianowicz and of course Bill Pronzini, Greenberg's work featured anthology series, first-run stories, reprints and underprinted stories, in the genres of mystery, science fiction and fantasy. Being a busy anthologist, the late Greenberg, despite having collaborated on much of his work, released a number of books containing errors in their bibliography, and the Academy Mystery Novellas series is among these.

At the top of this page I have listed the initial printing of each of these stories. The bibliographic information provided by the book's copyright page is largely inaccurate. Westlake's story is listed with the incorrect first publication date, claiming it was published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in February 1960, when it was published in the December 1962 issue. Meanwhile all of Simenon's dates are incorrect: the original publication year of 1944 is actually the publication date of the story's first appearance in a Simenon collection, not its first appearance in print, which was in 1938. Moreover, the "First published in the U.S.; Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, 1966," is also inaccurate, as it first appeared in that magazine in the December 1978 issue, translated by Jean Stewart.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Vincent Eri, The Crocodile

Eri, Vincent. The Crocodile. Jacaranda Press, 1970.

The Crocodile at Goodreads
The Crocodile at IBList

Rating:     7/10

For this week's Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.


The first novel in English to have been published from a native of Papua New Guinea is Vincent Eri's The Crocodile. Set before and during the World War II New Guinea campaign which saw the invasion of the nation by Japanese forces, the novel centres primarily on a young man, Hoiri, and his growing awareness of the colonial world in which he lives. Though Hoiri is the main character of the work, the story focuses primarily on the broad effects of Australia's occupation, and on the co-existing world views of traditional Papuan culture and Christianity within a small community.

The novel is structured in an episodic format; there is no linear plot, and the reader witnesses an evolving society through the major events in Hoiri's life. This is important since the purpose of the novel is to illustrate how a traditional culture has been affected by the modern rationalism of the west. Though the locals have adopted financial economics, there is still a good deal exchanged through trade; while Christianity's tenets are tossed about in common conversation, the belief and fear of traditional spirits nonetheless drives people's actions. The pairings of the old and new systems are so interwoven that the world Eri describes both fascinates us and makes us uncomfortable as our own western ways are being indirectly challenged. The disturbing aspect is that as Hoiri and his society age, and as they experience a war brought to them by the occupying west, it becomes clear that the original customs are, rather than intermingling with the new, being replaced by them.

While the novel is certainly educational and fascinating, it is, as a novel, highly flawed. The episodic format does not allow for strong character development, and most of the players are flat and underdeveloped. Leaps in time are sudden and awkward, and though we are following Hoiri on his life adventure, we learn many important details, such as his interest and engagement to the woman Mitori, almost in passing. There is no notion of point of view since we are inexplicably brought into the thoughts of secondary and even tertiary characters, and dialogue is used often as an expository tool, coming across as unnatural.

Despite these obvious flaws, the purpose of The Crocodile is achieved, and our sympathies for Hoiri extend to the entire Papuan populace. It is the notion of the crocodile and its dichotomy that directs most of the novel. The indigenous population respects and fears the crocodile. The creature is described as a powerful predator that nabs its victims and, before devouring them, displays their bodies as they are clenched helplessly between its teeth. Mirroring the crocodile are the white Australian officials who, in their own predatory fashion, manipulate the locals to support them in their own war. Caught between the predators of their natural habitat and those of the external ruling forces, the natives of Papua New Guinea have little choice but to adopt this new way of life, yet nonetheless remain instinctively bound to the old.



Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hugh Pentecost, Murder in the Dark (1949)

Pentecost, Hugh. "Murder in the Dark." The American Magazine, February 1949.
______. "Murder in the Dark." Lieutenant Pascal's Tastes in Homicide. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1954.
______. "Murder in the Dark." Academy Mystery Novalles Vol. 2: Police Procedurals. Eds. Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini. Chicago: Academy Chicago Press, 1985.

Rating:     5/10

For more Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Todd Mason's blog.

This novella highlighting diamond retail and shipping is, for the most part, a standard mystery for its period. It features so many overused tropes that the final dozen pages or so, intended to be tense, come across as comical. However, the first half of the book, the build-up or complication (to borrow Aristotle's term), is quite strong, particularly the finer details in diamond processing. The fascinating world of diamonds is a constant in fiction, and Pentecost (Judson Philips) does well in detailing the gambles inherent in processing the stone in its raw form.

The murder of elderly George Rawn in a hotel room leads Lieutenant Pascal to investigate the murderous pursuit of a package of speculative diamonds. Two suspects are conveniently found at the murder scene, one of whom, hot-headed Kelly Cotter, reveals the backstory via a written explanation requested by Pascal. We learn that Rawn and Cotter recently made a comfortable fortune on an engineering invention, and through some detailed back-backstory concerning Rawn, found themselves with a box of speculative diamonds: a parcel containing raw diamonds whose contents might amount to a fortune, or far less. Since so many people out of the woodwork are suddenly interested in that parcel, it appears something is afoot, and not only is Rawn now dead, the diamonds have gone missing.

The best part of the story is Cotter's narrative, and the best part of his narrative are the details in diamond speculation. Pentecost likely framed the story around those facts, but the story itself falls into the mould of convention. Interestingly, the bulk of the story is not carried by Pascal,though the narrative does open with him, but instead we pursue Cotter in his hot-headed need to uncover the identity of Rawn's killer, tossing out as many accusations as there are suspects. Add in a love story between Cotter and diamond dealer Carla Van Rooten, some sentimental details concerning Rawn, and a mysterious diamond hunter, and you have a somewhat entertaining, standard detective story.

It is interesting that Lieutenant Pascal is merely a bit player, despite being the lead investigator. Though it is Cotter who discovers the murderer and binds, though almost accidentally, the strings together, the mystery of the diamonds' whereabouts is left to the deductive mind of Pascal. This is the note the story ends on, so that the narrative, despite being driven by Cotter, is framed by Pascal.

Pentecost wrote a small number of stories featuring Lieutenant Pascal, and in this one he is merely on the periphery of the story, which is odd as it does nothing to help further develop the character. I can only deduce that he was likely not among Pentecost's favourite creations.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Georges Simenon, Storm in the Channel (1938)

Simenon, Georges. "Tempête sur la Manche." Police-Film, 20 May 1938.
______. "Tempête sur la Manche." Les nouvelles enquêtes de Maigret. Paris: Gallimard, 1944.
______. "Storm in the Channel." Translated by Jean Stewart. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, December 1978. Vol. 72, #6. pp 110-140
______. "Storm in the Channel." Translated by Jean Stewart. Maigretʻs Pipe: Complete Maigret Short Stories Vol 2. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1977.
______. "Storm over the Channel." Great French Detective Stories, ed. T.J. Hale. London: Bodley Head, 1983.
______. "Storm in the Channel." Translated by Jean Stewart. Academy Mystery Novellas: Vol. 2: Police Procedurals. eds. Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini. Chicago: Academy Chicago Press, 1985.


Rating:     6/10

For more Friday Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.

In this novelette, a recently retired Inspector Jules Maigret is on holiday in Dieppe with his wife when a fierce rain storm hits. Stranded in an inexpensive boarding house discovered by his thrifty wife, Maigret knows not what to do with himself, but, as often seems the norm for vacationing retired police inspectors, a murder takes place. The local police inspector arrives at the inn to announce that one of the maids, Jeanne Fénard, was shot dead in a nearby alley, and of course the guests are all suspect. As we expect, Maigret reluctantly helps out and eventually betters the local inspector, albeit modestly, in discovering the identity and motive of the killer.

"Storm in the Channel" is a mid-range mystery. Though the deduction, brief and simple, is interesting, the treatment of the material is a little awkward. Unlike Ed McBain's "The Empty Hours," the story is designed in such a way that we have little sympathy for either victim or killer. The tone is light and humourous, focusing largely on the whimsical characters, from the restless Maigret and his fussy wife, to the comical innkeeper Mademoiselle Otard. In fact, the comedy nearly trumps the mystery, so that the reader is distracted from delving too deeply in the story's underlying implications, specifically in the treatment of victim Jeanne Fénard.

Though her appearance in the story is brief, it is made clear in the last pages of the novelette that Fénard is a bad person--so late, in fact, that it comes across as an afterthought. She is introduced as a twenty-something single mother of a four year-old, and later revealed as an embittered man-hating woman opportunist. The reader is expected to accept this off-hand, a shake of the head and a "tsk-tsk," and otherwise revel in the story's comedic antics. However, if the reader takes a moment to consider the implication of this opportunist, we should instead be steeped with sympathy for her.

Offering up a bit of a spoiler here, Personally, I applaud Jeanne Fénard's opportunistic ways in light of the fact that she has been taken advantage of by a careless money-grubbing man and left to raise a child on her own in a small French town in the 1930s. Opportunities for work and social contact for a woman in this predicament, in the bowels of 1938, and particularly in a small town where one's unfortunate circumstances are judged and advertised, I would hope she was opportunistic, and as a result am saddened by her death. Had she succeeded in filching money from the guilty party she would at least have a chance to begin anew in an anonymous town and offer a future for her child. Moreover, nowhere does anyone seem interested in the detail of that four year-old, now motherless, who comes across as a detail less crystallized than the newspaper Maigret occupies his time with.

Simenon chose humour over tragedy and yet the social circumstances cannot be removed from the text. Unfortunately, though it is not a bad story and mostly enjoyable, it left me feeling inappropriately awkward.



On an entirely different note. The recording of the publication history of the Simenon's "Storm in the Channel" is fraught with errors and inconsistencies. The original publication date is usually given as either 1938 or 1944, which is easy to explain since the story was first published in the periodical Police-Film (earlier known as Police-Roman, which published a single crime story per issue) in 1938, and first collected by Gallimard in 1944, which is likely the version translators have been using as their source document.

The inconsistencies lie in the translations into English. It seems clear to me that the first translation, by Jean Stewart, was first published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, in the December 1978 issue. Confusion was generated by a copyright notation that appears in that issue of ©1965. The copyright page of the Martin H. Greenberg/Bill Pronzini-edited anthology, Academy Mystery Novallas 2: Police Procedurals, states: "First Publication in the U.S.; Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, 1966." This last is clearly an error, one of at least two (of four entries) on that single copyright page. (Though he might have excelled at getting anthologies printed and out to the general public, Mr. Greenberg's publication data gathering left much to be desired.) The fact that the translation had a copyright date years before the first publication is not unusual, particularly for a work of its awkward length that is difficult to place in a magazine. There was only one Maigret story published in EQMM in 1966: "Inspector Maigret Deduces" ("Jeumont, 51 minutes d'arrêt," 1944), in the November 1966 issue, which has a translation copyright date of 1961.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The 4400: Fifty-Fifty

Fifty-Fifty (episode 3.12)
Directed by Nick Copus
Written by Ira Steven Behr & Craig Sweeny
Guest starring Brennan Elliott, Summer Glau, Jeffrey Combs, Sean Marquette, Jody Thompson
First aired 27 August 2006
Rating 7/10

Previous episode: Terrible Swift Sword
Next episode: Season Four

Here be spoilers aplenty.

"The end of a journey is always the beginning of another," says narrator Jordan Collier near the end of the episode. What he means is that the end of a season is geared to start up another. Season three's final episode of The 4400 is a launching pad for season four.

"Fifty-Fifty" primarily on the spread of promicen among non-4400s. Interspersed amid the plot are sequences designed to carry characters into the next season, to promise greater, elevated excitement for season four in a desperate scramble to pick up (and maintain) viewers and increased ad revenue. Though this entire episode is a set-up for season four, I must admit that despite the all-too obvious agenda, The 4400 staff did a good job at delivering an entertaining episode.

It turns out that Ryland's super soldiers group had some casualties: half of the twenty original volunteers died, leading to the episode title. This fact only arises after the first public experiment leads to the death of Devon, an act designed to undermine Collier's plan to distribute promicen to the world at large.

Devon's death is telling of the problems with standard network or syndicated television. Essentially, killing off a third-tier character is a pretense at risk-taking. With shows ranging from the brilliant Oz to the inconsistent Walking Dead, sacrificing major characters seemingly on a whim builds a genuine threat to the people within the show's universe. Essentially, no one is safe. Yet The 4400 is not prepared to permanently sacrifice a major player, and therefore never successfully generates the sense that the characters in The 4400 universe are in any way truly threatened. We do not feel the tension that is supposed to be generated by Shawn's vision of a ruined future that is highlighted by Tom Baldwin's death simply because we know inherently that the future is safe and Baldwin will not die. The show has not presented us with any indication that this apocalyptic scenario, presented as a possibility, is actually possible.

Instead, a false sense of danger is created through the death of a familiar and likable face who is not a major player. Though Lily Moore Tyler's death at the opening of season three was not planned (it came about as a result of the actor not being available), her sacrifice promised to escalate series tensions, yet proved anti-climactic as every other major player remained quite safe. Moreover, many other third tier characters who could easily have been sacrificed were let off the hook. Gary Navarro fled to Canada and both Kyle Baldwin, Alana Mareva and Jordan Collier were only temporarily disposed of when their services weren't required. Brought back when they were. All this to say that I like Devon, was saddened by her demise, yet did not for a moment believe others are now at risk and did not worry needlessly for the safety of other likables.


The death of Boyd Gelder is also an interesting point for discussion but for a different reason. For one thing, it elevates Collier to cult leader status as his followers are now willing to give up their lives for him. Though his death is never actually confirmed, there is no doubt Gelder is dead since the soldiers that were with him in the room are confirmed dead, an act which also makes Collier a murderer, though the script writers conveniently avoid mention of this. Collier would likely explain in his straightforward manner that their death was for the good of mankind. What is most interesting in here is that Boyd Gelder is an important asset to Collier's team and his cause, and there is no logical reason Collier should have sacrificed him. As Isabelle herself states, it is inconceivable that he should think he can kill her; she's already proven herself indestructible through conventional means. So why kill off such an incredibly useful ally? Even the powerful Magneto went to great lengths to defend his own chameleon, without whom he would not have been as powerful as he was. Perhaps Collier did not read comic books.

Additional mourning, though on a more subdued level, comes to us in the form of Tom Baldwin watching son Kyle depart yet again, this time as a kind of recruitment representative or travelling adviser for the 4400 Centre. I've mentioned before that I like Kyle, and I do hope his wanderings bring him back to the show in season four, though he hasn't been among the writers' favourites, and this brief and convenient send-off comes across as a sweep under the rug.

A well-handled sequence is Shawn's interrogation. Initially Alana is brought in against her will to do the interrogation via her universe creating talent. The drama here is that her 4400 loyalties are being compromised, pitted against her loyalty to lover Tom, yet she is saved from having to use her talents against Shawn when another interrogator is brought in: the mighty Isabelle. Though the drama of Alana struggling through such an ordeal is pulled out from under our feet, it does not come across as a cop-out because we are promised greater drama with Isabelle. High tension is usurped by even greater tension. If you think about it, this was a crafty writerly bit of doing, and I wonder if this was brought about by writers trying to decide which would be best for the episode, and rather than sacrificing one possibility entirely, they manage to sneak it in there. Good technique.

Interestingly, Isabelle tells Shawn that the reason she teamed with Ryland is that if both sides had access to promicen, meaning the side of Ryland and the side of Collier, then there would be a standstill and lives, particularly Shawn's, would be saved. Are we to believe that she is not the daemon she is often presented to be? It does make sense though, since her childish selfishness could have been the driving force behind her collaboration with the bad guys.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, Diane takes Maia away from the Centre, fearing for her daughter's safety. Maia objects as the class is where her only true friends reside, and cutting her off from that environment is equivalent to transforming her into a loner. Of course this is a set-up for one of the episode's climaxes, implied by Maia's flat-out statement: "This isn't gonna work." The Isabella needle comes into play later in that classroom, and as I'd suspected (see previous post), daddy Richard is the one to take her down. I don't mind the lack of surprise here since the act fits into the character development and Richard's consistent evolution. Besides, Richard rocks!

"For a second I really thought you were gonna shoot her." The Tom shooting Isabella is a bit unreal considering the reports and investigation a government agent has to go through when discharging a weapon... in a classroom no less. The shooting serves a dual purpose: dramatic effect and to let the audience know Isabelle is done. As in powerless, not dead. As in we shouldn't expect season four to open with the imp Isabelle spouting how it was all a ruse to help unleash her great evil plan.

Not only does he take down daughter Isabelle, it is Rockin' Richard who turns against Collier rather than Shawn, as viewers were being led to expect. As a result, Richard becomes a prisoner of Tess. This is a neat pairing as one uses his mind to shift objects while the other uses her mind to shift will. Suggestion beats out telekinesis as Richard can do nothing to get the better of mind controller Tess. Internal tensions do little in preventing promicen from being delivered to the outside world. (At least to the streets and alleys of the U.S., since nothing is mentioned of international promicen delivery. Moreover, since it is Collier dispersing the stuff on the streets, it's not likely any of the stuff would make it onto a plane.


The final scene is the topping that launches us into season four. A brief scene in which many people are lining up to receive their own doses of promicen, including April Skouris, Diana's lovelorn sister. There's a good final turn to the camera, as the promicen distributor asks the audience if they want a shot of the stuff. This kind of acknowledgement of the audience invites discussion: would you risk your life for the chance to develop a super power? Remember, fifty percent chance you will die, and if you live you cannot choose your power, so you might end up with an extra head. Well, maybe not much discussion.

Having come so far with promicen, I wonder if the writers and producers remember that the point of these 4400 people returning to this time and place is part of a plan to divert a great, Earth-ending catastrophe. It's interesting to note that so few of the 4400 are part of this battle, and that Isabelle is now powerless, making me wonder how her conception and existence, now that she is so average, plays into this grand scheme of future humanity.

Along with plot set-up and Isabelle taming, this finale offers up some disappearances. First off Ben wants to take Diane and Maia to Spain, though we know they will return, so really what is the point. Perhaps to avoid needing to develop the Diana/Maia teen drama that was taking its course through season three. Some time together in a foreign land will help, we suspect, unite the two with the bond of previous seasons. This way the writers of season four can focus on other dramas.

The other disappearance, far more interesting and certainly welcome to those like me who find the empath a little tiresome, is that of Alana. Maia says to her in relation to the Spain trip: "We'll be back, but you won't be here." Then Alana disappears, seemingly abducted. Hopefully this time for good.

"You want the shot?"

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bete Noire #3 (2011)

Bête Noire #3. A.W. Gifford & Jennifer L. Gifford, eds. Grayson, GA: Dark Opus Press, 2011.

Bete Noire #3 at Goodreads
Bete Noire magazine's website


Overall Rating:     6/10


26495434The third issue of Bête Noire features seven short stories, along with visual art and poetry. For the visuals we have the photo "Forgotten Key," by Vince Darcangelo, the illustration "Skull Star," by Denny E. Marshall, and the cover design by co-editor A.W. Gifford. For poetry we have "Obscured," by Rhanda Parrish, "James Town," by Marge Simon and Michael Roderick Fosburg, "Elegy," by Krikor N. Hohannesian, and "Shadow People," by Richard H. Fay.

The stories are all half-decent, with no single standout and nothing terrible. Some of the stories could have been a lot better had they been better edited, and the unfortunate typos can be distracting, whereas the grammatical errors are downright embarrassing.


A Warm Place by William M. Brock     6/10

In what is seemingly the near future, humans are co-existing with an arachnid-like alien through a seemingly beneficial arrangement. This story is so short that a longer description would give too much away. Short is all this piece needs; a neat yet simple concept that works nicely. I wonder what the story could have been if told through the third person. We would have a little more distance and emphasis would like on the darker side of the presented reality, rather than the current lightness of tone. Moreover, this first person narrator is oddly presented at times, since the narrator describes a room sees on a daily basis. I can't imagine walking into my office and describing it's appearance; I'd naturally be taking it for granted. If there is a specific audience, the narrator would be detailing more about the situation, since much is only hinted at. A small point though some attention would improve the story; it is nonetheless entertaining.


Charlie's House by Cody Rosevear     5/10

A mother is awoken by her daughter who claims there are sounds in the walls keeping her from sleeping. An effective little piece with a good ending is unfortunately marred by problematic prose and poor grammar. The opening sentence, "Susan's dreams crumbled away from her like sand turning to mud in the wake of an ocean wave," is nonsensical. The process of sand turning to mud has no relation to the act of crumbling, but instead is a form of dissolution. Many sentences are similarly over-written, and such a brief piece should be building tension which is better accomplished through brief and direct statements. "Susan awoke in the middle of the night" is a better option. "Susan awoke in the middle of the night. There was someone in her room." And so forth. Moreover, there are too many clunky details that also prevent mounting tension, with every "she said" accompanied by an action or a thought or a detail of some kind. Quick dialogue in the context of the plot would better serve the story.

"[H]er skin wrinkled with worry, like old paper." I didn't think old paper could worry itself to wrinkling. Aside from some grammatically ambiguous sentences, or where the subject fails to meet its predicate, are elementary tense switches. The story opens in the past tense and an early paragraph is suddenly in the present. Lastly, the story title along the top of each page is printed in plural: "Charlie's Houses."

Truly unfortunate as the story has potential, and I genuinely like the ending for reason I cannot discuss since it would spoil the work.


Lucky Buck by Jim Valenti     6/10

In a library book Buck finds a dollar on which is written "Lucky Dollar." From then on Buck receives all kinds of luck, but not the kind one would hope to have. (Reminds me of a great story I read years back, "The" by Name and Name.) A quick and amusing piece, with a neat title as it is an alternate way of saying "lucky dollar."


Crossfire by Tony Haynes     6/10

A crime noir private investigator piece, with our tough-talking hero Lasky being jerked around through a scenario in which he is clueless. Entertaining with some genuinely good lines, it is more parody as our hero lacks the brains of the likes of Sam Spade, seems never to get the girl, nor does he profit financially, which is what many of his noir counterparts rely on. Far less of a parody, however, than Robert Coover's excellent 2010 novel Noir.


Invasion by Lawrence Buentello     6/10

Farmer Otis is alone at his farm where he is determined to have a final stand against the locusts that are swarming his property. In fact, locusts are swarming several states, and neither farmer nor government can defeat them. (While the U.S. states are slowly being devoured, we never learn of the rest of the world, so I suppose here in Canada we are safe. A good consequence in a U.S.-centric story.)

Overall a good read, but there do lie a number of problems. Farmer Otis comes across less sympathetic than intended, but I couldn't always take him seriously. There are problems in logic as well: Since the locusts infested every interior, covering the insides of the barn and the truck's engine, how come there isn't a single insect in the house? Not a one. How could he sit in that house without a single locust? Instead of fleeing to the city, the entire city should take refuge in that house. Moreover, the locusts have eaten all the crops, so why are they still there? Normally they move over in search of more food, but these guys just hang around, and more even join the clan, despite the fact that is nothing left for them to eat. Why doesn't farmer Otis just wait it out in the house where he is safe, until the locusts just collapse from starvation.

Finally, some of the story is over-written, and that opening paragraph is not necessary. A better opening sentence would have been one taken from the second paragraph: "The Agriculture Department promised that the infestation would dissipate in a week or so." Now there's mystery for ya.

Despite the issues I had with the story, I nonetheless enjoyed the thing, and the author certainly did well in presenting these locusts as a threat.


Full Circle by Chrystalla Thoma     5/10

Fantasy told through the point of a huntress appointed by God to deliver fallen angels. The story is told via a conversation between our huntress Luna, and a minor angel and archer Ayil, a figure Luna has feelings for. These kinds of stories are really not my thing, but this one was well written, the necessary information well handled and delivered, so my interest was kept.


Funhouse Mirror by A.W. Gifford     5/10

A young couple visit a funhouse, the husband overly excited while the wife reticent, even fearful. As we expect, some kind of horror in the hall of mirrors will ensue. From the co-editor of Bete Noire, the story is fairly standard, though while we do expect the worse, we don't necessarily see the form in which it comes. Unfortunately, the numerous typos make for clunky reading.



Testing a new map (as of 24 December 2015)