mystery

Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

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Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

I wanted to do a quick review of Ruth Ware’s mystery novel partly because they were handing out free copies at San Diego Comic-Con and I want to encourage that kind of thing (seriously, getting a preview pamphlet is fun, but for a book nerd getting handed a whole free book is like winning a mini lottery.) But also because the movie by Reese Witherspoon is tentatively scheduled to come out in 2018. It’s being touted as “The Next Gone Girl” and I wanted to see how close to the mark they got.

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Review: Radiance

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Review: Radiance

A tale may have exactly three beginnings: one for the audience, one for the artist, and one for the poor bastard who has to live in it.

The plot of Catherynne Valente’s latest novel Radiance centers around the mysterious disappearance of a woman – Severin, who’s origin is also something of a mystery – during her investigation of yet another mystery. The book jacket describes it as “a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery,” and that doesn’t even come close to the wonderful weirdness of a book set in a 1930’s that never existed, in a version of the solar system that only appears in pulp paperbacks and black-and-white movies.

Darn it. If I’d known I was going to enjoy the book this much I would have read it in time for our “Best Books of 2015” list; it would definitely have made it into the top ten. Maybe even the top three.

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Review: A Red Sun Also Rises

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Review: A Red Sun Also Rises

I’ve heard it said that the problem with writing science-fiction mysteries is that you have aliens or devices that don’t conform to all the rules of our world, but there still has to be a strong internal logic to the story. Otherwise the mystery doesn’t make sense; there isn’t a puzzle that can be revealed to have a satisfying answer.

Mark Hodder took that challenge, and wrote a great mystery that happens in another world, surrounded by creatures and technologies that have never existed, but it still makes perfect sense, and it’s very satisfying.

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Your Friday Fix 04/23/10: Angel Beats!

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Your Friday Fix 04/23/10: Angel Beats!

Genres: Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Mystery

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A young man wakes in an unfamiliar school. Suffering from amnesia, his only self-knowledge is that his surname is Otonashi. Nearby, a young girl aims a sniper rifle toward the sports field. The girl, named Yuri, informs him that he had died… this is the afterlife. He cannot “die” again now that he is here, but he will disappear if he goes along with the scenario placed before them. Yuri says that any people who go along and play student at the school eventually disappear. She cannot allow that to happen until she completes her goals.

Otonashi, deterred somewhat by her mannerisms, decides to converse with the “angel,” named Tenshi, whom Yuri was trying to snipe. While asking Tenshi if it actually possible that he cannot die, she stabs Otonashi through the heart with a manifested blade. He wakes up in the school infirmary, bloodied but recovered from the seemingly mortal wound. One of Yuri’s allies, Noda, kills Otonashi again for disrespecting Yuri earlier. Again, Otonashi wakes in a pool of blood, yet his wounds are gone. He staggers off to find an adult to tell him what is going on.

It is here he runs in to the remainder of the rebel group Shinda Sekai Sensen (SSS). Yuri is their leader, and while young and impulsive, holds herself like a true leader. She convinces Otonashi to join their cause against Tenshi and whomever is running this place. Otonashi, in truth, only joins to be safe until his memories come back. With the SSS, safe is the last thing he will ever be. During a battle with Tenshi, the group expends most of its ammunition. They are forced to see out their underground compatriots, the Guild.

Continued with video after the break…
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Your Friday Fix 03/19/10: Ookami Kakushi

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Your Friday Fix 03/19/10: Ookami Kakushi

Genres: Horror, Occult, Mystery

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A remote town called Jouga is home to a pervasive myth about ancient, humongous wolves that once roamed the area. These wolves are still spoken of in local religious ceremonies and even revered as gods. A river divides the town between the old and new districts. It is to be noted that the people of the old district do not think kindly of those who have embraced the more modern culture. The story takes place as two siblings, Hiroshi Kuzumi and Mana Kuzumi, move to the town with their father, Masaaki Kuzumi, to seek inspiration for his occult novels.

Before Hiroshi can even settle in a neighbor girl, Isuzu Tsumuhana, latches on to him, confesses her love, and tells him that they will be together. Mana, who is in a wheelchair, dislikes the situation from the start. Mana does not seem to want to get along with anyone. When Issei Tsumuhana, Isuzu’s older brother, shows up Mana’s attitude changes. Issei also gets along well with their father, Masaaki, whose books he professes to enjoy. In fact, everyone at school and in town are so damn happy to see new people. Everyone wants to know more about Hiroshi, continually pestering him all throughout class.

One student, Ogasawara, tries to drag Hiroshi off to join his activity club, but is scolded by the class president Nemuru Kushinada. For the rest of the day Ogasawara seems jumpy and scared of everyone. Later that night we see Ogasawara running the streets of the town, his eyes glowing red. A group of masked figures stalk him in the shadows cast by a red moon. The leader, a young girl with a giant scythe, strikes him down. Elsewhere, a mysterious man reacts to the death he somehow feels.

The next day everyone seems to react like nothing happened. Nemuru says that Ogasawara “moved away” suddenly. Hiroshi and another newcomer to the town, Kaname Asagiri, discuss the strange disappearance. Both feel uneasy, especially when Nemuru requests a private audience with Isuzu. We see the two girls exchange heated, yet muted words. The only words we are left to hear are Isuzu saying that she will protect Hiroshi.

This series keeps a great deal of its cards hidden at the start of this series, yet shows just enough to get you to play the hand. The mystery of the town and the wolves, demons, and the warnings to keep off the streets at night set a great mood. While the horror aspect of the series is still mild, it is mounting.

Overall Hook Rating: B

Watch part of episode one after the break…

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Your Friday Fix 01/29/10: Aoi Bungaku

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Genres: Horror, Mystery, Suspense

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Aoi Bungaku varies from its anime brethren by nature of its source. Parts of this series are derived from various classical Japanese works; six in all. The first two episodes comprise half of the story No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. Episodes 5 and 6 are from In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom by Ango Sakaguchi, episodes 7 and 8 are from Kokoro by Natsume Souseki, episodes 9 and 10 are from Run, Melos! also by Osamu Dazai with episodes 11 and 12 each being their own complete story consisting of The Spider’s Thread and Hell Screen by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

No Longer Human takes us inside the mind of a monster. Not your average monster, but instead a young man who feels no connection to his fellow man. Yozo Oba grew up the privileged son of a wealthy congressman yet feared upsetting his father. In flashbacks we see Yozo, still a young boy, being abused by a group of women; cowering under his father’s gaze as he challenges his plans for him; and growing further apart from his humanity.

It is not until a boy in his class sees through his disguise that Yozo admits he is a monster, whose visage takes Yozo’s place in the mirror. As Yozo grows up he begins to lie, cheat and steal through life. He lives off allowances from his ever more irate father until he is cut off. It is at this point he meets Tsuneko, working under the name Mayumi, who has been abandoned by her ex-convict husband and has all but lost the will to live.

The two of them spend an intimate night describing their loath of life and decide to commit double suicide. They load up on sleeping medication and leap from an ocean cliff (Tsuneko asks Yozo to push her off). Guilt begins to stab into Yozo after this action and he follows her into the abyss. Yet, he survives the attempt and later recovers in the hospital. His lingering guilt begins to unravel him further and he wishes to attempt to carry out Tsuneko’s wishes to become more human in her next life. He makes a pact with himself to makes this opportunity his second chance at a normal life.

The atmosphere, artwork and story laid out in this half of the No Longer Human story just blew me away. It contains a great deal of internal turmoil and deep psychological insights that really pull you into the characters. I have just put this series at the top of my to watch list.

Overall Hook Rating: A

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Sherlock Holmes

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You may have watched the preview for Sherlock Holmes and thought, “This looks like Long Raging Bull Goodnight: Die Harder.” I suppose we have Hollywood to blame for that. Over the years they took Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant deductionist who had training in fisticuffs and made him an effete snooty cartoon — more in line with the anti-intellectualism we see everywhere today. Well, director Guy Ritchie is taking back the rough-and-tumble Holmes. He went younger, scrapper, and more eccentric than fey: Robert Downey Jr. (as in so many things) is a brilliant choice to play the famed inspector. Downey as Holmes has a wonderful distracted, confident, mental patient air about him. Someone whose brain catalogues and cross-references details so constantly and meticulously would probably today be diagnosed with some nervous disorder or tic. Downey’s Holmes has an ADD-like concentration and wide scatter of the net, and a disdain for the distracting requirements of polite society. He already floats a little above our plane of reality with his survivor’s eyes and keen intelligence, and here it’s put to marvelous use.

Jude Law as Downey’s partner in life and in crimes, Dr. Watson, is also a fantastic choice. He’s groomed, urbane, exasperated, arrogant, playful – and smart enough not to bore Holmes. They have sparkling old friend chemistry and an eye-rolling true affection for each other that borders on hostility. I confess I adore this pair and I do hope for a mini franchise, just for the pleasure of being longer in their company. Yeah, I said it. Of course I said the same thing about the ensemble in Pirates of the Caribbean and look where that got us. Rachel McAdams is the unnecessary but still enjoyable sexy American petty criminal who joins the fun and of course becomes key later. Judging by her scenes in the preview cut from the movie, she was the first sacrificed on the altar of the brisk 90 minute running time.

The adventure story of the film is a classic — it could be Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, or Scooby Doo. A criminal (Mark Strong) terrorizes the city for his nefarious and ambitious plans. He does so in an inexplicable and therefore seemingly unbeatable fashion, and all are powerless to stop him. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for these bickering, brilliant kids. Keep in mind, this is still directed by Guy Ritchie, so we have some exciting James Bond-worthy action and a nailbiter climax, and yet it’s all kept very feasible and well within period limits. The wonderful Industrial Age details and technology of society as a whole, the machines and lab equipment and exciting new inventions, the opportunistic weaponry and beaten-looking citizenry, these all prevent Sherlock Holmes from feeling like someone just made another action movie and dressed it in Beloved Icon drag (for a bad example of this, see Star Trek: Nemesis). Holmes feels very of his time and very relevant at the same time. Sherlock Holmes is a solid, enjoyable film with a fun score, a great use of sound and environment, and a trio of confederates you will want to know more of.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes 90

Director guy Ritchie

Studio Warner Brothers

Your Friday Fix 12/11/09: Darker Than Black: Ryuusei no Gemini

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Darker Than Black 2

Darker Than Black 2 ImagesGenres: Action, Drama, Mystery, Supernatural

Ratings L4 Ratings
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NOTE: This series is a new story line in the Darker Than Black world involving some familiar characters and concepts. While you do not have to have seen the previous series, it helps.

Mikhail Pavlichenko and his two children Shion and Suou (twins) are enjoying a family outing to the wilderness of Vladivostok, Russia. As the events of the previous series come to a close a mass meteor shower occurs; a sign that many contractors have died. One of these fragments crashes into Shion and Suou, nearly killing them. Shion does not make it out unscathed and eventually awakens as a contractor himself. His father, having designed the device they use on people who learn about contractors, hides him away from the military.

Years pass and Suou attempts to keep living a normal life. Her father warns her that her brother no longer has emotions, like all contractors, and that he is not to be trusted. He wants her to just stay away from him. Shion spends his days in a hidden room, stuck in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, Suou’s friend Tanya suddenly awakens as a contractor and is taken away by the military. Knowing that they will come for her as well, to wipe her memory of her friend, Suou attempts to flee home. It is here that the military attack in an attempt to secure her family for their projects.

Mikhail is killed, Shion reveals that he can walk (using the wheelchair was his remuneration for use of his powers), April (from the previous series) reveals herself as one of Mikhail’s staff and attempts to help the kids escape. It is here Hei makes his grand appearance. Hei, known in the contractor world as the Black Reaper, is tasked with securing the meteor fragment Shion holds. Unfortunately for Suou, Hei confuses her with her brother and a fight to capture her erupts between the CIA, Russian military and unknown parties.

Three additional contractors move in the capture Suou, still confused for Shion. August 7, Mina Hazuki and Genma Shizume set a powerful trap to disable Hei and their fight draws him right into it. Suou gets caught in the blast and her pendant, left to her by her brother, begins to react to the energies. She sees a glimpse into Hei’s memories, right before his star winks out in the sky.

I was a big fan of the original series, and while this one has a bit of a slow start, they really know how to leave the audience hanging on for the next episode. Old favorite characters are back again and some don’t make it past the first few episodes, wink wink. This is definitely one I’ll be catching up on.

Overall Hook Rating: B

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Your Friday Fix 9/04/09: Bakemonogatari

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Bakemonogatari

Bakemonogatari StripGenres: Drama, Mystery, Supernatural

Ratings L2 Ratings
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Koyomi Araragi was running late for class at the Naoetsu Private High School. While running up the main stairwell he sees a young woman, Hitagi Senjogahara, falling down the central opening, many floors above. Without thinking he reaches out to catch her. He is surprised by her weight, as she feels rather weightless, but does not say anything. He later asks the class president, Tsubasa Hanekawa, if she knows anything about Hitagi. Tsubasa tells him that they were in middle school together, but she changed since then… becoming more attractive and mysterious.

In the hallway, Hitagi confronts Koyomi about his attempts at researching her. She places a razor knife to the left of his mouth and a stapler on the right. He promises to leave her be, and she withdraws her weapons from him mouth… giving him one staple through the cheek to prove her point. After he recovers from the shock, he chases after her. She nearly attacks him once more but he shows her that the wound she left has healed; he tells her that he can help her with her “situation.”

They travel together to an abandoned wreck of a building. Here resides Meme Oshino, an expert in the paranormal. It is around now that Koyomi confesses that in the past he was turned into a vampire and that Meme helped cure him. The side effect, super healing, is all that is left from that ordeal. Now, to cure Hitagi’s issue, Meme sets up an elaborate ceremony.

During the ceremony it is revealed that a god in the form of a crab took her weight, rendering her light and emotionless. Hitagi also reveals that her mother was part of a cult and nearly let a higher member rape her own daughter. She wished to be emotionally separated from this suffering, and the god helped her. Now, she begs the god for her burden back… and she is restored to normal. With a new smile, she thanks everyone for their help.

So far this series has not gone very deep into the over story, but the characters have been quite interesting. The visual style and music are very catchy and I will be following this series most definitely.  Check out a clip after the jump.

Overall Hook Rating: B

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Your Friday Fix 7/31/09: CANAAN

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Canaan

Genres: Action, Mystery

Ratings R3 Ratings
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Canaan Image 1The streets of Shanghai are alive with the sights and sounds of a great festival. Minoru Minorikawa, a journalist, and Maria Osawa, a photographer, have flown in to cover this event. In parallel to their soon-to-become active lives, an assassin drops her target from a rooftop, apparently miles away. A battle between this assassin and a terrorist group know as the “Snakes” rolls onward in a collision course with the other.

Separately, a CIA convoy escorts the captured Snakes leader, Alphard, to a detention facility. Her sister and allies spring her in gouts of flames and blood. Noting that the assassin they have been seeking, named Canaan, has been found in Shanghai. The inner workings of their organization are hinted at, but are never completely spelled out.

Canaan Image 2As the two stories collide we are shown that Canaan and Maria have met before and are actually good friends. Maria’s pictures, however, get her into trouble with the Snakes. She has uncovered something that undercurrents every aspect of this series, but we are not yet treated to an explanation. A flashback informs us that a terrorist group had spread a bio-toxin of which Maria was the only know survivor (by way of her father’s research toward a vaccine).

The Snakes strike out at Maria and Minoru who are eating at a restaurant after the initial events unfold. Thanks to a REALLY spirited cabbie, the two make a successful escape and are eventually saved by Canaan. The Snakes switch targets and Canaan leads them away. Upon returning to their hotel rooms, Maria and Minoru find their places wrecked and film stolen.

This series has a great opening and a good style; the pace is fast and has action throughout. A minor drawback is the amount of data we are asked to recall as we continue toward a (hopeful) epiphany of the what and why in the story.

Overall Hook Rating: B

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