Thursday, December 24, 2020
Saturday, December 19, 2020
Scott D. Parker
Where to begin? And what to say? Well, let’s state the obvious: If you’re reading this, then you got through 2020.
That means you did what you had to do to navigate this unprecedented year, this historic event that touched everyone. As a historian, I often read about the folks who lived through the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Depression, or World War II and wonder what it was like to live through an event they themselves didn’t know how it would end. When Pearl Harbor happened or the Stock Market crashed, no one knew the ending. That’s the benefit of hindsight: we know how it turns out, and sometimes, we can just marvel at their fortitude.
But one of the things even I as a historian rarely studied was the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1920. Sure I knew about. I reckoned early on in 2020 that if the flu could sweep over the globe in an era without planes, Covid-19 would surely and easily wash over all of us.
And it did.
I forgot where I heard it amid all the things I’ve read and heard about the 2020 pandemic and how it relates to the 1918 pandemic, but one of the facts that bore into my consciousness and stayed there is this: you, me, and everyone you know who is alive in 2020 to experience Covid is alive because an ancestor faced the 1918 flu and survived. Those folks a century ago did what they had to do to survive and endure and get through that historical event, and so did we.
We endured. We persevered. But holy cow did it hurt.
I don’t know about y’all but I teared up and cried many times throughout this year. My son was a high school senior class of 2020 and had his senior year shattered. All those things you and I got to experience was lost to him. All our fellow citizens the world over who lost jobs, lost businesses, lost dreams, and lost hope. I pray for them and shed tears for them.
And then there are the deaths. Over 315,000 people in the US have died because of this damn disease. For every one of them, they had families who saw an empty chair at birthdays or Thanksgiving and next week, they’ll see it again at Christmas. The pangs of grief for these people is something I can only imagine. The news was relentless when it came to Covid. Throw in the election and the Black Lives Matter reckoning and 2020, the year that was supposed to start a brand-new decade brimming with promise just dragged us down day after day.
But there were always signs of resiliency. Remember back in the spring when New Yorkers banged on pots and pans to lift the spirits of the healthcare workers? What about the family in north Texas who began making PPE because they wanted to do something? For ever piece of bad news we heard, there slowly began to be good news, small stories of humans helping humans. Kindness being shown to strangers, even if we’re supposed to stay six feet apart and wear a mask everywhere we go. Because in times of great stress and turmoil, our goodness for and about each other can blossom.
Who would have thought that a video of a nurse in New York getting the Covid vaccination this week would have brought tears to my eyes? It did. For my wife, too.
Hope that 2021 will be better. Hope that the vaccine will work and we’ll slowly get back and create the New Normal (I’m pretty sure we won’t be going back to the Old Normal). Hope that things will get better. Well, let me rephrase that: Knowledge that things will be get better. Certainty. It won’t be fast, it won’t be easy, but as a historian who sees the long view, it will happen.
And we’ll be able to commemorate our endurance of 2020. We’ll be able to celebrate the good things that happened this year, the personal ones as well as the community ones.
We’ll be able to talk about the things that got us through: my newfound love of my local library and the ability to sync with my ereaders, the albums we heard—a banner year for music—the TV shows we watched, the books that were published—like our own S. A. Cosby and the awesome success of his novel BLACKTOP WASTELAND—and the books that were written and will be published in 2021. In that last category, Claire Booth has a new novel debuting on 5 Jan 2021 (it’s already available in the UK) and yours truly will also have a new novel in early 2021.
There are always signs of hope and optimism. They are the reward for our endurance.
We here at DoSomeDamage thank you for your continued patronage of our little experiment. We thank you for the community surrounding us and including us in your lives week after week. We’re going to take a couple of weeks off to see 2020 out the door and welcome in a new year. We’ll be back with regular columns on 9 January 2021, but be sure to check back earlier that week for Claire’s post about her new book FATAL DIVISIONS.
Until next year…
Thursday, December 17, 2020
“Things get downright hallucinatory as [Coleridge] proceeds toward a climax that seems as much Bram Stoker as Lawrence Block. [A] supportive librarian-girlfriend and a loyal partner-in-arms give the p.i. the emotional backup he needs to return (no doubt) for further bizarre adventures at ‘the mysterious intersection of coincidence and fate.'”—The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
During the winter, when the days darken early and the nights are long, do you enjoy reading horror fiction? I certainly do, and I have to say I especially like reading ghost stories in the classic mode, atmospheric tales by people like M.R. James, Sheridan LeFanu and Edith Wharton. In all honesty, it hasn't gotten that cold yet in New York City, but the sun does set early and the nights last a long time, and I started to feel the itch recently to read a ghost story of the type I'm describing. I chose one that I read many years ago and have long wanted to re-read, "The Beckoning Fair One" by British writer Oliver Onions, a story first published in his collection Widdershins in 1911.
"The Beckoning Fair One" is among the most anthologized horror stories ever written, and once you read it, you understand why. Novella-length, it tells a relatively simple tale about a writer named Oleron who moves into an empty house in London and slowly, inexorably, goes insane. In one sense, it's a haunted house story, a very creepy one, but along with that, it's a masterful psychological study, and indeed, it is in the realm of the psychological ghost story that Onions shines. In the history of supernatural fiction, he played a large part in pushing the ghost story's evolution forward with his emphasis on deep but subtle characterization and psychological realism.
Onions' forte was what for horror critic and publisher Williams Simmons calls "the intimate relationship between 'creating' and mental instability." Continuing, Simmons says, "His characters often get lost in their own creations. The artist, the sensitive being, always runs the danger of complete and soul effacing mental absorption. The creative process is only one thin line away from self-destruction."
"The Beckoning Fair One" explores this idea thoroughly. It's never entirely clear whether Oleron, struggling with a novel that is way overdue to his publisher, is dealing with a malign presence in the house or having a psychotic breakdown. Ambiguity is well maintained. At first Oleron has a close woman friend, of flesh and blood, who is urging him to finish his novel, but as the tale progresses Olerun withdraws more and more from his friend and becomes increasingly drawn to the house's apparent feminine presence, the Beckoning Fair One of the title, who seems to be telling him to burn his unfinished manuscript and start a new one from scratch, with her, not his friend, as a central component in it. That the house is an ordinary building in London, not some isolated Gothic mansion somewhere, adds to the story's plausibility. This could just be a story of a reclusive writer slipping into full blown agoraphobia, going mad at his inability to finish his novel. At one point, he thinks something that has popped into the head of many a person who has toiled away for years at scribbling. Was all the work and effort worth it:
Yes, he was himself, Paul Oleron, a tired novelist, already past the summit of his best work, and slipping downhill again empty-handed from it .all. He had struck short in his life's aim. He had tried too much, had over-estimated his strength, and was a failure, a failure...
Would he have been better off, he wonders, had he chosen "the wife, the child, the faithful friend at the fireside"? That he might have tried to find a balance between devotion to art and family life doesn't seem to have been an option to him, but then again, there are a lot of writers like that and the balance in question, even when tried, is not so easy to accomplish.
I'd rate "The Beckoning Fair One" among the best and most timeless supernatural tales I've ever read, and it is perfect for a frigid and starless winter night.
The story, by the way, was made into a movie in 1967, with Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave. The film is A Quiet Place in the Country, an Italian film directed by Elio Petri (the same director who made the great Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion). The film changes the setting to a villa in the countryside and is much more florid and baroque in tone, as well as more sexual and violent. But it works. Call it a loose adapation. Set in then contemporary Italy, the movie has a Pop Art look and is gorgeously shot, and it leaves you unsettled and disoriented. It's the kind of film you want to rewatch after seeing it once.
"The Beckoning Fair One" and A Quiet Place in the Country make an effectively disquieting story/film double bill.
Sunday, December 13, 2020
It's a party, circa 2020. And it was lovely. About fifty people from the Northern California chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America got together yesterday afternoon for cocktails, chocolate tasting, and chat. You had to bring your own, but everyone expected that. We got some writing tips, and thanks to Gigi Pandian showing us her keyboard/typewriter/coolest thing ever, I now know what I want from Santa.
|How did I not know this existed?|
But back to how we socialize at this moment in time. I set an alarm on my phone so I wouldn't forget. I kept my comfy pants on. I wore my slippers. And even with that appallingly easy amount of preparation, I had to force myself to sit down for it. Not because of the activity, but because of the delivery mechanism. I'm Zoomed out. But I'm really glad I put my butt in the chair. It was wonderful to see friends and have some fun.
So yes, I learned my lesson—don't be a Scrooge. So from me, virtually and otherwise, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays.
Saturday, December 12, 2020
The Man Who Invented Christmas (Movie), or So That's What It's Like to Live With Your Imaginary Characters
Scott D. Parker
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a writer wrestling with a story? Well, have I got a movie for you.
When I first learned there was a movie based on the non-fiction book The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford (my review), I wondered if it wasn’t merely a documentary. To some degree, it is, seeing as how the movie is based on the actual events of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol in only six weeks and publish it on his own (yay indie writer). But the movie is more. It is a visual representation of how writers create their characters, how said characters can take over an author’s imagination, and end up becoming something more.
The movie opens in October 1843. Dickens’s finances are not what they once were, with Martin Chuzzlewit not performing as well as Oliver Twist. Add to that the author’s blank-page syndrome: he doesn’t know what next to write. When he happens upon the idea of a Christmas story, his publisher scoffs at the idea. The production time alone makes the notion a non-starter to say nothing of the fact that Dickens had not written a single word. Nevertheless, the thirty-one-year-old author charges ahead.
Anyone familiar with the novel or any of the screen adaptations will enjoy witnessing Dickens encountering various bits of dialogue in his everyday life. The famous line about the poor houses is uttered by a rich patron who dislikes Dickens populating his stories with “them,” the poor. He sees a jolly couple dancing in the dirty streets and envisions Fezziwig and his wife. And, at a funeral, he sees a man, played by Christopher Plummer, who becomes the physical embodiment of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Seeing Dickens struggle with crafting the name for his main character is fun, particularly when Dickens, as played wonderfully by Dan Stevens, zeroes in on the name itself. “Scrooge.” The look on Stevens’s face is like “Of course that’s the name.” I don’t know about you writers out there, but coming up with a name for main characters can be difficult.
But the movie really takes off when Dickens begins interacting with his creations. Plummer’s Scrooge has multiple dialogues with Dickens, and the two actors play off each other well. Stevens possesses a certain manic quality not present in his role on Downton Abbey. I could easily see him starring in screwball comedies the likes of which that made Cary Grant a star.
As any writer will tell you, when you are deep in a novel, the moments are few when you are not thinking about the story. Sitting in traffic? Check. Shopping at the grocery store? Check. Watching a TV where you’re suppose to care about that story? Check. It happens all the time. So it was utterly charming when the movie portrays Dickens’s characters actually showing up in places he least expected it.
Credit the movie also with some genuine tension. The mere fact there’s a movie devoted to this book’s creation means you know Dickens completed the book. However, the movie effectively showed his struggle with the ending just well enough that you might start to wonder if Boz would get it done.
I’m not enough of a Dickensian to know if the author truly had a different ending to his Carol or not, but the movie plays with that concept. Dickens wondered if someone like Scrooge could really turn around his life in only one night. I’d like to think that almost anyone—be it Scrooge, the Grinch, Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” (and “Scrooges”), or even Nicholas Cage in “Family Man” to name a few—would change.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is a charming, magnificent movie about a remarkable author and a timeless story. I can’t help but wonder if this movie will, in the course of time, became a classic.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Not long ago, I read an article in The Guardian saying that international lawyers are drafting plans for a legally enforceable crime of 'ecocide'. This label would criminalize the destruction of the world's ecosystems. I'm not sure how this would be enforceable in practice, but I was interested and surprised to read that the notion is drawing support from some European countries and from island nations at risk from rising sea levels. "The aim", said the article, "is to draw up a legal definition of 'ecocide' that would complement other existing international offenses such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide."
Meaning, I suppose, that fiction depicting large scale human destruction of the environment may one day be considered, in its way, crime fiction?
Anyhow, these thoughts and similar ones occurred to me recently when I picked up J.L. Morin's new novel Loveoid, a book that definitely views ecological devastation as something no less than criminal. The author, who has written four previous books including the 2015 YA cli-fi novel Nature's Confession, is very clear in her views, and what comes across again in Loveoid is that she's a writer committed to exploring and laying out a number of the threats and dilemmas that human beings and this planet face.
Set in a disputed North African territory, Loveoid takes place a few minutes into the future, as the saying goes. Climate destruction is rampant and the Earth is becoming ever more crowded. Misery abounds. Yet the world's superrich are doing great and continuing to rake in their profits. They live lavish, in-their-own-world lives, serviced by androids. For them, overpopulation means more consumers to sell to, and for the people who can't stand the debased conditions any longer, who find life too regimented and limiting, there is always the option of euthanasia hotels. But then something disturbs the lives of the ultra-privileged; a virus hits, something called an extremophile virus, a bug that affects the wealthy in particular. The predatory, unloving nature of the people affected may have something to do with why the virus hits them instead of anyone else, and we get an inkling of what these people are like through a character named Ainsworth, a guy who sounds as if he might have stepped out of a Don DeLillo novel:
Ainsworth’s swift maneuvering through a series of cold and conventional wars had grown Trident Fuel Company from 900 billion into a multi-trillion-dollar player. To say he had a high-profile job was a euphemism. His private fleet of jets and helicopters enabled him to give orders anywhere face-to-face on a spectrum of world-shaping issues. But he still managed to keep up his fascination with women. They offered a flavor of warfare requiring Gordian counter-plotting, frontline technology, and improvisational deceit to effectually undermine their prying, security, and emotional blackmail.
An American biologist named Olivia is hired by Big Pharma to lead the research in finding a vaccine (the loveoid of the title), and in essence, the book then becomes her story, a narrative of her transformation. Through her connection to an Egyptian astrological farmer named Khalid, Oliva embarks into unusual spheres of knowledge completely unlike the knowledge she has cultivated during her time in the corporate world, and by way of her journey, Morin takes the reader on a mental adventure. Quantum realities play a part, as do parallel timelines. Love, a diminished value in this profit-driven world, regains its place as a supreme value. But the planet remains endangered, and those who benefit from exploiting it are not about to go away, even if they have to deal with a virus.
In Loveoid, J.L. Morin spins a tale of awakening and vision, a tale that has hopefulness in it but does not overdo the optimism. Morin writes with both passion and great intelligence, at ease with complex philosophical ideas. She is not afraid to tackle head-on the most pressing and dire issues of today, and she does so with focus, storytelling verve, and an admirable clarity. As with much speculative fiction, the novel asks more questions than it answers. And the questions it asks, the ideas it broaches about humanity's potential, are intriguing. Still, as is only realistic, the story never entirely sheds its undercurrent of possible doom, a mood that at this specific time seems only too fitting. Morin must have started her novel before the coronavirus pandemic, with all its attendant fallout and conflict, but one can't help but read a virus novel without our present situation in mind. And never far below the surface of the narrative, as the rich CEOS do their deals and their plotting and the less powerful people try to sustain themselves with things as basic as love and empathy, is a stark warning. If we don’t take care of Nature, Nature will take care of us.
J.L. Morin grew up in inner-city Detroit. Her previous novels include Trading Dreams (2012), a humorous story that unmasks hypocrisy in the banking industry, and the YA cli-fi tale Nature's Confession (2015). She writes regularly for the Huffington Post and Library Journal and has published in The Detroit News, Agence France-Presse, Cyprus Weekly, European Daily, and World Economic Forum, among others.
You can get Loveoid right here.
Monday, December 7, 2020
With temperatures dipping and the presence of a life-threatening virus still abound, inside is the place to be this time of year. There are so many things to keep us cozy and busy this season. This week I'm looking at movies, so grab some snacks and a blanket and scroll down for a list of fun and frivolous holiday movies.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)
Directed by Henry Selick and Tim Burton
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a wickedly original and visually stunning full-length work of stop-motion animation.
The Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, rules over the spectacularly spooky Halloween Town. But Jack is growing bored with the continuous fear and fright. When he wanders into Christmas Town, he falls in love with the cheery holiday. Jack and his precocious helpers work to bring Christmas to Halloween Town, but the evil-minded Oogie Boogie has different plans altogether.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
Directed by Frank Capra
This holiday classic set the standard by which all holiday films would be judged. So well-made and touching, it can weather continuous, yearly viewings.
This gem follows the life of everyman George Bailey. After a run of bad luck George stands on a bridge on Christmas Eve, desperate and ready to jump. George's guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, appears to show George the positive impact his life has had on his loved ones and the town of Bedford Falls.
A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)
Directed by Bob Clark
A Christmas Story serves up a heartfelt sentimental feeling with a side dark humor. This is the rare example of a movie my entire family loves to watch.
This holiday treat tells the story of Ralphie Parker, a 1940's nine-year-old, as he attempts to insure the ultimate Christmas present; a Red Rider BB gun. The antics of both Ralphie and his family make for constant laughs.
Directed by Jon Favreau
One Christmas eve, Buddy the baby mistakenly crawls into Santa's bag of gifts and is spirited back to the North Pole and raised as an elf. Years later, after learning that he is not truly an elf, Buddy travels to NYC to find his real father. Elf is a cheerful, good-natured family comedy that has become a classic
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992)
Directed by Brian Henson
I have a soft spot for the Muppets retelling of this Dickens classic. It brings a feeling of nostalgia and innocence. Featuring Michael Caine as Scrooge, this movie marked the first time the Muppets appeared on screen since the passing of Jim Henson. His son Brian finished directing the production in his honor.
Directed by Richard Donner
Scrooged is a contemporary and dreamlike retelling of the classic Dickens tale. Bill Murray plays Francis Xavier Cross, a sarcastic and selfish television executive. Cross chooses to spend Christmas alone, despite well-wishes and invitations from family and co-workers. His story aligns with Dickens’ as the spirits of Christmas begin their visits. Bill Murray brings his character to life and laughs.
HOME ALONE (1990)
Directed by Chris Columbus
Through a series of crazy mishaps, 8-year-old Kevin is left home alone after his family flies to Paris for Christmas. At first, he’s thrilled to have the house to himself, but he soon realizes just how much he misses his family. As well, he’s also left to protect the house from a pair of bickering, inept burglars.
MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1983)
Directed by Burny Mattinson
A 1983 animated version of the Dickens classic, with Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit and Scrooge McDuck as the miserly Scrooge. Keep an eye out for stellar cameos by Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio, Ichabod Crane, Mr. Toad.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947)
Directed by George Seaton
Miracle on 34th Street delivers a warm holiday message without being overly mushy or gushy. A department store Santa tries to convince a little girl who doesn't believe in Santa Claus and her practical, store-executive mother that he is Santa Claus, and winds up going on trial to prove who he is. This movie has something for everyone. Featuring Natalie Woods, Maureen O’Hare and Edmund Gwynn.
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik
This is the third in the "National Lampoon" series about the Griswold family vacations. As usual, Clark Griswold makes elaborate plans for the event, but the true meaning of Christmas is broken by a series of misfortunes. Things go from bad to worse to funny in this holiday comedy.
Saturday, December 5, 2020
Scott D. Parker
As of today, we have only twenty days until Christmas. Shopping will definitely look different this year. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been ordering many if not most gifts online. Some of the mad rush as we count down the days until the 25th will shift.
In our entryway, we have an Advent calendar. Ours is a homemade one where each day, we get to place an ornament on the tree. There are a myriad of other Advent calendars: Legos, chocolate, wine, you name it.
One of the most unique focuses on stories. Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have, for the second year in a row, created an Advent calendar type project. Truth is, it started on Thanksgiving day and extends to New Year’s Day, but all that means is extra stories. Rusch and Smith curated lots of stories, sifting out the best ones.
After you sign up via Kickstarter at the level of your choice, you’ll get an email every day. In the email, Rusch writes an introduction and then gives you a BookFunnel link. From there, you can download the story onto the device of your choice. I use my Kobo reader and it works seamlessly.
So, if you are in the mood to get a story a day this Christmas season, head on over to the webpage and sign up. It’ll make each day of this month fly by.
Thursday, December 3, 2020
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Brooklyn, where I live, is not bad when it comes to having independent bookstores, at least by today's diminished standards. I have a few that by bike I can reach in ten to fifteen minutes. Earlier this year, I was happy to see that in downtown Brooklyn, in a mixed-use complex called Citypoint where there are stores, bars, lots of eating places, a Trader Joe's, and an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, a new large indie bookstore was being readied for opening. This store is McNally Jackson Books, of which there are four in New York City, two in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn. Before the pandemic hit, I went to Citypoint, for a bite or a drink or a movie, all the time, and when I saw that an indie bookstore I know and like was coming there, I was excited. Like, I suppose, nearly everyone, I buy a large number of my books from Amazon, and I promised myself that I'd frequent this McNally Jackson store -- near me, no excuse not to go often -- on a regular basis.
The long-awaited opening happened the first week in March, but before I even had a chance to stop by, the coronavirus lockdown went into effect and the store had to close. It was open then for 11 days. The bookseller's other three locations were able to reopen in June, when the lockdown eased, but this particular store at Citypoint, because it is in a mall, did not get clearance to open. That didn't happen until September, and I didn't realize the store had reopened until I swung by Citypoint several weeks after that. Like most people I know, I don't go out much these days.Well, a couple Saturdays ago, I finally bicycled over to the new location, and as soon as I stepped inside, I felt both at home and regretful. At home because it's a lovely and spacious place, lined wall to wall, floor to floor, with books, and regretful because I don't make the effort to go to independent bookstores often enough.
I realized almost at once how much I miss going to bookstores frequently and just doing the one thing you cannot do through Amazon in a way that's comparable: browsing. Spending an hour or two in a store, flipping through any number of books, finding a book you didn't know about and getting lost in it for awhile, is something I used to do so often and now, not so much. And this goes back to before the pandemic, my falling out of the bookstore going habit. I can't blame it all on Amazon either, because Amazon has been around for years and I used to go to bookstores a lot well after Amazon came on the scene. I'm not sure why I go to bookstores less than I used to; if I had to pick a single reason, I'd say it's because I have so many unread books at home, I think to myself why go to a store to pick up yet another book (unless it's a book I'm going to buy and know I'm going to read immediately).
Regardless of the reason, I had a wonderful time in McNally Jackson that Saturday and spent a good hour and a half there. I actually took my time and browsed. No need for something I so essentially enjoy to feel like a retro experience, but it did, a little bit, though that's something I can change by going more. And I intend to. We all know how much indie bookstores like this need our support. The store was nearly empty the whole time I was there, and I couldn't help but wonder what business is like. The store is in what should be a good location, but because of the pandemic, one worries. I hope very much the location can make it.
Did I buy anything, or only browse? I bought something, of course. Only one book for now, because, as I said, with far too many unread books at home...
The Promise, the final work, years in the making, by the great Argentinian writer Silvina Ocampo. This was plucked from the Latin American and Caribbean fiction section, where I could camp for months and months and thumb through the books if someone brought me food and water. So much more to explore from there (I mean that one section, not to mention other sections), and that exploration will continue next time.
As I said after paying at the register, though in a friendly, not a Terminator, voice, "I'll be back."
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Fatal Divisions is here. The fourth book in my Sheriff Hank Worth series comes out Jan. 5, 2021, and I just got my copies. There really is nothing like opening a box and seeing the actual physical book.
Here's what's on the inside flap, which was by far the hardest part to write of the whole process. It's distilling a year of work into three paragraphs—so difficult every time. This one took a lot of back and forth with my editor Carl Smith, but I think we nailed it.
Hank Worth has always been committed to his job as Branson
sheriff, so getting him to take a break is difficult. But to everyone's
surprise he agrees to take time off after a grueling case and visit a friend in
Columbia, Missouri, leaving Chief Deputy Sheila Turley in charge. She quickly
launches reforms that create an uproar, and things deteriorate even further
when an elderly man is found brutally murdered in his home.
As Sheila struggles for control of the investigation and her insubordinate deputies, Hank is not relaxing as promised. His Aunt Fin is worried her husband is responsible for the disappearance of one of his employees, and Hank agrees to investigate.
The search for the missing woman leads to a tangle of deceit that Hank is determined to unravel . . . no matter the impact on his family.
I've never had a book come out at this time of year, so here's my pitch: pre-ordering it for someone you love would make a fabulous
Christmas or Hanukkah gift! If you can, consider ordering from an independent bookstore like Face in a Book or Book Carnival. You can also order through Indiebound, or Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Scott D. Parker
One of the standard guiding principles for second seasons of TV shows is the same but bigger. That principle is alive and well in season two of Sweden’s Before We Die.
After finishing season one last week, the wife and I decided to forge ahead with the second season without taking a break. At only eight episodes (to the first season’s ten), it wasn’t difficult to watch the entire season by Thanksgiving night.
Season two picks up six months after season one ends. Hanna (Marie Richardson) has taken down the Mimica crime family a few notches—they went from running a fancy restaurant to a pizzeria—but she still doesn’t know the identity of the police officer who works directly for the Mimicas. To ferret out the leak, Hanna’s boss assigns her to the Organized Crime division. There, she and her partner, Bjorn (Magnus Krepper) stumble upon a group of corrupt cops dubbed The Circle. These folks are pretty darn bad, killing and stealing at will, all with a diffuse organization not easy to discover and even harder to bring down.
All of this would be difficult enough, but throw in the return of Christian, Hanna’s son, from his exile at the end of season one, and you get another complication. That is, until Bjorn and Hanna decide to let Christian try and infiltrate the Circle. He didn’t come back with Blanka, the daughter of the Mimicas, and he doesn’t want to talk about what happened down in Costa Rica.
Now, I’ll admit that as soon as the plot became another infiltration by Christian into a dangerous group, I was a little irritated. We had already seen this kind of thing in the first season. And some of the scenes between Christian and Hanna, Bjorn, and the police captain were just as irritating. “We should bring him in, get him out,” they’d say. “No, I’m really close,” Christian would counter. And then he’d go back. But the ingredients in this story were just different enough that I quickly moved past my difficulties and just went with the flow. It didn’t help that in the Twitter posts from last week (about season one) a user commented that the second season wasn’t as good as the first. True, but it was different enough to stand on its own.
You see, Christian infiltrates the Circle really, really well. Lena (Maria Sundbom) takes a shine to the young man and things get hot. Yet he has to keep this aspect of things secret from his mom and the other cops, so you end up having the young man (Adam Pålsson) alone playing all sides. Palsson does a good job here, especially considering the other things the character is fighting.
Second seasons always bring in new characters and one of the best is Laura (Shada-Helin Sulhav) as one of the Mimica’s foot soldiers. Laura is cold, calculating, imaginative, and resourceful in her quest to do what’s asked of her. My wife and I both hated the character…which just meant it was an excellent one. Laura’s primary goal is to befriend Blanka, who has returned to Stockholm and is looking for Christian.
If there is a plot point that was irritating—and I mean Kim Bauer in “24” getting caught by that mountain lion irritating—it’s Blanka befriending Laura. It’s smack-your-head stupid, but hey, whatever.
What really holds Before We Die together are the relationships and the push/pull each have against the larger story. It’s fun to see just how far each one is willing to go to achieve a goal.
There's another couple of scenes in which the characters speak English. Having spent so long reading the sub-titles, it was a fun surprise to realize "Oh, I understand that." Which brings up an interesting question: why English? Is English always the default second language for most of the rest of the world?
Oh, and do yourself a favor: don’t look this season up on IMDB or whatever. Just leave yourself open to the show as it unfolds out over eight hours. We did that and the surprises—almost always in the last thirty seconds of each episode—will be that much better.
Season two of Before We Die doesn’t quite reach the level of the first season, but, taken together as one long 18-hour story, it’s still highly recommended.