Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Challenging Season 1 of Tin Star

Scott D. Parker

It’s probably just me.

The wife and I finished up season 1 of Tin Star, the BBC show, created by Rowan Joffé. All three seasons are now available on Amazon Prime.

Tim Roth stars as James Worth, a former London police detective with some shady ways of doing things, especially when he’s [shocker] he’s drunk. When inebriated, James reverted to his more violent Mr. Hyde-type self, Jack, a personality he used while working under cover.

As the show starts, James is assuming his new job as the Chief of Police of Little Big Bear, a small town in Canada. In tow are his wife, teenaged daughter, and Petey, his five-year-old son. They don’t seem too happy to be moving, but with a mysterious past, it’s a good idea to get away.

Complicating things in the small town are the local deputies. Denise is a First Nation officer trying to navigate her responsibilities to her job, the local populace, and the increasing erratic behavior of the new chief. Deputy Ryan is having none of it and often calls out James for his behavior.

But that’s not all. North Stream Oil is in the area, aiming to take as much resources as possible while simultaneously doing whatever it takes to exercise its control over the town, including the police force. Louis, the head of security, seems always to know what’s going on and which screws to twist to protect the company.

Christina Hendricks plays Elizabeth, a PR specialist, who, over the course of this first season, slowly uncovers some of the company’s more unsavory history.

Then there are the trio of bad dudes who have followed the Worth family all the way from Britain. It is one of them who, in the first episode, pulls the trigger on the fleeing family and sets into motion most of the first season’s events.

The Character Challenges

Let’s start at the top. James Worth is an extremely difficult person to root for. Now, Tim Roth is excellent in his portrayal of the erratic James, but the actions he takes as the ten episodes play out are hard to understand at time. The more decisions he makes, the more I look over to my wife and ask why? One great (?) thing and Roth’s James Worth is his decisive decision making. If he makes up his mind to do something—like find the people who pulled the trigger in episode one—he’s a bulldog. His choices are basically crystal clear, even if you don’t agree with them. They build up over the season, so much so that by the end, you are left wondering will he or won’t he.

A hard man to like. But there are few in this show that garner genuine empathy. The two local deputies I like, and Ryan—who always got the short end of the stick most of the time—became someone with whom I could see myself.

But for all the irritating things these characters do, the actors portraying these character are all working at the top of their game. Late in the season, there’s an extended flashback scene, and what the young actor is called on to do is a heavy lift, but he does so well.

Christopher Heyerdahl as the head of security is super creepy and enigmatic (as the true reasons he does what he does is never truly revealed). Granted, it’s all to protect the company, but as Hendricks’s Elizabeth asks, why does a multi-billion dollar company care what a small town cop says.

Then there’s James’s daughter, Anna. The path her character takes is interesting. Not likable, mind you, but interesting. And it all leads up to the final seconds of the season and the instant cut to credits.

When those credits started rolling on Thursday night, I asked my wife why she made me watch this show. She sort of smiled and said I could have stopped at any time.

True, I didn’t, because the story is compelling enough that I wanted to know what happened next, but it’s so irritating that I’m following and wondering about characters the likes of which I wouldn’t want to invite to my house.

Will I watch season two? Probably. Will I enjoy it? To be determined.

Have you seen Tin Star?

Friday, October 1, 2021

This Thing I Call My Life

 Life is kinda getting in the way of all things at the moment, but I don't like to leave my day empty. 

So here's a photograph. That's worth a thousand words, right?

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Beta Reader Response Times

 By Steve Weddle

So you've written that novel. Dang, ain't that great? Remember how much you had to slog through some of those sessions, when nothing worked? Remember when everything fell into place? Remember when you woke at two in the morning with that idea that wouldn't go away? You and this book have been through it.

OK. Now, you want to send it to a friend to see what they think. You've clicked "Send" on the email. You've checked Twitter, Instagram, even watched a few TikToks. Now is the time to check the email again to see if they've responded. Well, they said they've got the manuscript and are looking forward to reading it. Cool. Cool.

Now it's the next morning. You check your email. They haven't even responded. Well, OK. You check Twitter. Instagram. Oh, that's weird. You see the person posting about going to see a movie last night. Well, OK. Sure. They can see a movie, but what about your book? The thing you've worked so hard on, that you've entrusted to them. 

Honestly, though. They're allowed to see a movie, right? I mean, you're being ridiculous. OK. Now it's the afternoon, and you're looking at Twitter again. Oh. They're live Tweeting a re-watch of the series premier for Big Bang Theory. Hunh. Well, how about that? Maybe you should mute them on Twitter and Instagram for a while. You're turning into a weird stalker. They're allowed to do other things than read your book, right? 

OK. It's been two days. You haven't gone looking for them on social media. You've only just kinda noticed that they haven't emailed about your book. You've hardly thought about it at all. No, really. Maybe they didn't like it. Maybe they read the book and are now thinking about how to find nice things to say, while sprinkling in some critical points. OK. You can take it. This is part of the job.

Come on. How long has it been now? Three days? Four? You check your sent emails to see when you emailed them. It's been five days? Good god. And nothing? Should you email them about something else, just as kind of a nudge? Should you find one of their Tweets and click the Like button so they'll see your name pop up in their Mentions and remember to read your book?

You're not sure what's taking so long. It's been a week now. Is that a long time? It seems like a long time. How long does it take you to read a book? Well, longer than that. Still, though. I mean, they could email to say they've read the first few chapters, at least. Right? What's reasonable?

I've been in the position and, while your mileage may vary, here's what I've come up with:

Praise in Under Two Days: The reader is a treasure. They really get you and your book. They're going in the Acknowledgements section of the book.

Critical Notes in Under Two Days: It's clear the reader didn't take any time with this. How can they complain about gaps in the narrative or action points that need to be amped up? And claiming that your main character has no agency? Please. Maybe next time they shouldn't race through the book. Maybe next time they should pay more attention, take their time. Ugh. You're starting to understand the reasons for their divorce.

Praise in a Week: OK. They took their time. They're careful and deliberative. What a great reader and friend. You should probably keep them handy and email them each chapter as you revise this novel. This is the sort of person you want to work with. They should make statues to this person.

Critical Notes in a Week: Oh, for Pete's sake. This is what they made you wait a week for? They plodded through this, this novel that you've worked at all hours of day and night on for so long, and this is what they've come up with? Two paragraphs of quote-unquote THOUGHTS? Great. Here's a thought. They're going into your next book. No, this book. You're adding a chapter, making this person a small-dicked goat-humper who gets arrested trying to burn down an orphanage. Congratulations, jackass.

Response Takes More Than a Week: Clearly this person is evil and wants you to suffer. You don't need people like this in your life. Block them on social media. Send their emails to Junk. Focus on the positive. If someone doesn't care enough to respond in a week, let them live their life going to movies and watching Big Bang Theory. How did you ever think a person like that could be helpful?

Again, your mileage may vary.

Good luck.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Clear Mysteries and Complicated Ghosts

By Scott Adlerberg

Last week I found myself seized with the desire to return to the pleasure of honkaku mystery fiction, the Japanese fair play-mysteries I've come to enjoy so much.  After browsing online, I chose The Red Locked Room, a collection of the best stories of Tetsuya Ayukawa, considered one of the masters of this particular form.  All the stories -- there are seven -- date from the 1950s or early 1960s, and each involves either a locked room puzzle of some sort or a mystery that hinges on a suspect's apparently perfect alibi.  Amateur detective Ryuzo Hoshikage solves the impossible crimes and a professional, Chief Inspector Onitsura, is the one who breaks down the alibis. I've read five of the stories so far, and each one has been excellent. Ayukawa is both a master of illusion and an author who plays fair with readers, and the logic in his stories, as is so important in these type of stories, is impeccable.  The collection has an introduction about his career and the totality of his work, and it has a description of these type of mysteries I never before encountered but find illuminating.  The writer of the intro says that "In the eyes of Tetsuya Ayukawa, an alibi is basically a 'locked room in time.' A locked room on the other hand is 'an alibi in space'."  Well-put, and as the introduction says, "it is therefore only natural he [Ayukawa] was such a master of both the alibi trick and the locked room mystery."

Motive features in these mystery stories but it is not the primary component. The key point is for the detective to figure out how something was done, and if that can be determined, the killer will be caught. The prose (in translation, needless to say) is clear, succinct, and easy to digest.

As I was making my way through these stories, I saw that Mike Flanagan's new series, Midnight Mass, had come to Netflix.  This reminded me that, having loved his adapation of The Haunting of Hill House, I've yet to watch the follow-up to that, The Haunting of Bly Manor, adapted from Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. The reason I'd put off watching Bly Manor was because I'd read that Flanagan had incorporated not only the James'  ne plus ultra of ghost stories in the series but a few of James' spectral tales I'd never read. I decided that I'd read "Owen Wingrave", "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes", and "The Jolly Corner" before watching the show and I'd re-read "Sir Edmund Orme".  Was it necessary to read all these before watching the series? I'm sure not, but I figured it would only enhance my engagement with Bly Manor.

Now a word about Henry James. He's an author who it does take effort to read.  No doubt about that.  That's true nowadays, and in all likelihood was true even when he was writing. I've still never read any of his novels (despite the many film adapations of his novels I've liked), but I count several of his short stories and novellas among my favories ever in those forms.  I'm talking in particular about "The Beast in the Jungle", which touches on lonliness and the sadness of an individual ordinary life with great power, and the creepy but moving "The Altar of the Dead", and his suspenseful story about a prying biographer trying to connive his way into getting important documents about his subject, "The Aspern Papers". In short doses, that James style, so dense, with such an emphasis on character developement and psychology, with all its analyses of motives and the shifting moods of the characters, I not only can tolerate but revel in.  And underneath all the decorousness of the lives of the people James talks about, there is often so much unalloyed darkness. This man knew lonliness, that's for sure, and understood disappointment and how rarely life lives up to one's highest expectations.  Combine that darkness with his complicated mind and prose and you get the recipe for great ghost stories, of which, in the classically suggestive vein, he is among the best.

Since taking a break from the honkaku stories, I've read "Owen Wingrave" and "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes", and it's been a pleasure to go from one mode of storytelling to another.  The mysteries end with bracing solutions (wrongdoers caught, order in the world temporarily restored); the James' ghost stories end on stark and abrupt notes of terror and death.  Nothing is purged in these tales and the past, if anything, has only served to exert a malign influence on the present.  

As I write this early in the morning, about to take the subway to work, I'm thinking I'll read on my commute the sixth of the mysteries in The Red Locked Room, before, tonight, or more likely tomorrow, going back to James. It's not only the swtiching between the mysteries and the ghost stories that's fun, but also going back and forth between the Jamesian prose and the uncluttered language of the Japanese stories.  Call it a daily literary speedball.