Sunday, January 16, 2022

International Television Crime Series - Part 2

More of my favorite television series from around the world:

Astrid (Called Astrid et Raphaëlle in France) 

French with subtitles

One Season (9 episodes in total) with more to come

Premise: Astrid Nielsen, who has Asperger's syndrome, maintains the evidence and case files in the judicial police library. She has an incredible memory and uses her own brand of logic to solve puzzles, so the police district commander decides to have her take a look at a number of cold cases. She is partnered with Raphaëlle, and their relationship is half the fun. Great characters. Good mysteries.

Starring: Sara Mortensen, Lola Dewaere, and Benoit Michel

My Rating: 5 Stars


British (PBS/Masterpiece)

One Season (4 episodes in total)

Premise: Two very different brothers, one wealthy and successful, the other barely scraping by as a record shop owner, get themselves into big trouble one night when they accidentally run over a pedestrian on a quiet residential street. Their attempt to cover up their involvement in the old man's death takes numerous twists and turns. Quirky, fun, sometimes funny, this one will suck you right in.

Starring: Mark Bonnar (a personal favorite), Jamie Sives, and Ruth Bradley

My Rating: 4 stars

DCI Banks


5 Seasons plus the pilot (32 episodes in total)

Premise: Based on the long Inspector Banks series by author Peter Robinson, this is a character-driven series of police procedurals headed up by a man who fled London police work for a quieter career. Looks like he was wrong about that...of course.

Starring: Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe

My Rating: 3 Stars



One Season (4 episodes in total)

Premise: A police detective is charged with investigating a series of disappearances that occurred almost 20 years earlier during Northern Irelands violent and bloody past. One of the people who disappeared was his own wife, and when people around the investigation begin to die, the detective knows he is getting close to finding those responsible. The main character is always interesting, but this one is very dark.

Starring: James Nesbitt, Lorcan Cranitch, and Charlene McKenna

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Elizabeth Is Missing

British (PBS/Masterpiece)

One 87-minute movie

Premise: An old woman, who is moving deeper and deeper into dementia, worries that something bad has happened to her missing friend, Elizabeth. She begins looking for clues on her own but her old memories get confused with her present day investigation to the extent that she starts inadvertently recovering clues to her sister's disappearance of decades earlier. She needs to solve both mysteries before her own mind makes it too late for that to ever happen. It's a race against the clock and calendar. 

Starring: Glenda Jackson (a personal favorite), Helen Behan, and Sophie Rundle

My Rating: 5 Stars


Swedish with subtitles

One Season (6 episodes total)

Premise: By this point in his career, Bäckström is as much a national TV star in Sweden as he is a police investigator. He has become everyone's go-to guy for TV interviews that television commentators love to do when fresh crimes are being speculated about. This time he is investigating one of the strangest murders he's ever run across during his long career: the skull of a recent murder victim has been uncovered but the victim is known to have died years earlier. Great characters.

Starring: Kjell Bergqvist, Agnes Lindström Bolmgren, and Livia Millhagan 

My Rating: 4 Stars

Saturday, January 15, 2022

International Television Crime Series - Part 1

Like so many of you, I am almost as big a fan of international crime television series as I am of published crime fiction. The interesting thing to me is how much the television shows and the books overlap...although  when that happens, I always end up preferring the books to the television.

Here are some of the television series from around the world that I have either already enjoyed or am still in the process of enjoying:

Agathe Koltès
French with subtitles

One Season  (10 episodes total)

Premise: Big city cop comes to coastal village to join the local police force commanded by her daughter, who resents her. Their relationship is kept secret from everyone else...until it slips out. 

Starring: Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu and Hortense Gélinet 

My Rating: 4 Stars

Two Seasons (12 episodes total)
Premise: A young woman becomes convinced that her father had something to do with her mother's sudden death.
Starring: Adrian Dunbar and Carolina Main. 
My Rating: 5 stars Season 1, 4 stars Season 2

Seven Seasons (68 episodes total)
Premise: LA cop Harry Bosch refuses to play by the rules but he is the best detective in the precinct. Based on the Michael Connelly Bosch series. 
Starring: Titus Welliver, Jamie Hector, Amy Aquino, Lance Reddick, and Madison Lintz.
My Rating: 5 Stars for all seasons

Tin Star
Three Seasons (25 episodes total)
Premise: Former London cop takes a job as chief of police in small town Canada. It all begins innocently enough before his past catches up with him and all hell breaks loose.
Starring: Tim Roth, Genevieve O'Reilly, Christina Hendricks, and Abigail Lawrie.
My Rating: 5 Stars for Seasons One and Two 

The Long Call
One Season (4 episodes total)
Premise: To be with his partner, a gay policeman returns to the town from which he was ostracized years earlier by a fundamentalist religious cult. His past haunts him daily. (Based on the Ann Cleeves novel)
Starring: Ben Aldridge, Declan Bennett, Sarah Gordy, Anita Dobson, and Siobhán Cullen.
My Rating: 3 Stars

The Blood Pact
Dutch series with subtitles
Three Seasons (30 total episodes)
Premise: A mobster recently released from prison coerces a Dutch tax official into helping him solve his money problems. Their eventual bonding surprises both of them.
Starring: Barry Atsma, Georgina Verbaan, and Jacob Derwig. 
My Rating:  A solid 5 all the way through

As much for my own record-keeping and memory-jogging as for anything else, I'm going to add to this original group of favorite television series as time allows. In the meantime, I hope some of you find something here that you might enjoy. Too, please feel free to recommend your own favorite TV series in any comments you post below. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Cold Earth - Ann Cleeves

Earth, published in 2016, is the seventh book in the eight-book Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. Prior to reading this one, my only experience with the series and its characters came via the very successful television series based on the books. Fans of both will already know that there are some significant differences between the books and the television shows, but it is worth mentioning a couple of them. 

First, the physical appearance of the main character, Jimmy Perez, is not at all the same. In the television series, people meeting Jimmy for the first time are a little startled by his surname because he bears no resemblance to their stereotypical idea of what a “Perez” should look like. In the shows, Jimmy sometimes explains the origin of the name in his bloodline. That is something he does not have to do much in the books because he is described in those as having dark hair and eyes — people meeting him for the first time are likely to be more surprised by his Shetland/Scottish accent than by his physical appearance.

Second, and must more significantly, Jimmy’s stepdaughter Cassie is about a decade younger in the books than she is in the television series. Even as near the end of the series as Cold Earth is, Jimmy is still having to look for babysitters for the little girl when he is unexpectedly called out on a case. At a similar stage of the television series, Cassie is already living on the mainland and only returns to the Shetlands for periodic visits to her two fathers. This age difference places the focus on two very different aspects of Jimmy’s personality in the books and shows. 

The opening of Cold Earth is one of my favorite parts of the novel: a small crowd has gathered in a hilltop cemetery to say goodbye to an old friend of Jimmy’s. It’s cold, windy, and rainy already, and everyone is plenty miserable even before a mudslide triggered by days of torrential rain comes roaring toward them. The slide is bad enough that all the cemetery’s headstones are smashed and carried further downhill, and the crowd can do nothing but watch helplessly as a nearby small house is totally destroyed by the mud that slams into it. The only good news is that no one lives in the house because its elderly owner has recently died.

So what’s to be made of the total stranger, a dark-haired woman dressed in a beautiful red silk dress, that Jimmy discovers in the wreckage? 

No one knows her name, where she’s from, or even how long she may have been living in the now-destroyed house. Soon enough, though, Jimmy discovers a little wooden box amid the rubble that contains pictures of two children and an unsigned letter addressed to someone called Alis. Beginning with what’s in the box, and with a lot of help from the mainland Scottish police, Jimmy starts pulling on one thread after the other until it all starts to make sense. But what he is about to learn has the power to destroy families, ruin countless reputations, and get others killed, including someone close to him. 

Bottom Line: Ann Cleeves has a well deserved reputation as one of the finest crime writers working today, having already enjoyed huge success with both her Shetland series and her Vera Stanhope series. Her new Two Rivers series featuring Detective Matthew Venn has also been well received and is off to an excellent start. Cold Earth (I wish I could reveal the origin of that title without having to use a spoiler to do it) is another example of her brilliance, and I am looking forward to reading more of the Jimmy Perez story very soon.

Ann Cleeves

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Get Back - The Beatles, Peter Jackson, Hanif Kureishi, and John Harris

Although Get Back includes a Foreword from Peter Jackson, an Introduction from Hanif Kureishi, and an Afterword from John Harris, the Beatles are rightfully credited as authors of the book. The bulk of Get Back is verbatim dialogue taken directly from the 120 hours of tape recorded in January 1969 while the Beatles were trying to figure out for themselves if they were working on a TV show, a documentary, a live appearance, or simply their next album (Let It Be). As such, the book makes for the near perfect companion piece to Jackson’s almost eight-hour documentary recently released on Disney+. 

Beatles fans know, of course, that what happened in January 1969 also marked the beginning of the end of The Beatles as a band. Rather than ever again performing live as a band or collaborating in any real sense, the Beatles were on the verge of embarking on solo careers, something that everyone but Ringo Starr seemed keen to do. Inevitable as the breakup was, it still marks a sad moment in the lives of contemporary fans of the band, a moment they still remember well. 

But, as Hanif Kureishi puts it:

“Don’t cry about it. The end of The Beatles was as necessary as it was inevitable, as important and liberating as the end of any relationship. The Sixties were done; the Seventies would be darker and The Beatles were only rarely a dark band. Something else, far harder and crueler would be required. After Abbey Road there would be Bowie’s Hunky Dory.”

Get Back is presented in three acts: “Act One: Twickenham Film Studios,” “Act Two: Apple Studios,” and “Act Three: The Rooftop.” The acts are further broken down into separate conversations for each day that The Beatles worked at the specified location, clarified in part by noting what songs were rehearsed, who else was present but silent, and what activities were happening in the background. 

Keep in mind that this is what is often referred to as a “coffee table” book, an oversized book using heavy, glossy paper that includes dozens of specially selected photos taken at the time by photographers Ethan A. Russell and Linda McCartney (wife of Paul McCartney). The thing weighs in at over four pounds, and feels even heavier than that for some reason; this is a quality product. Reading Get Back may not be the same as watching Peter Jackson’s stunning documentary, but it is definitely the next best thing. Even better, is doing both.

I’ll close with one final quote from Mr. Kureishi:

“They had to escape. And we had to let them go. We owed them that, after what they’d done for us. The four of them would go on working, playing and entertaining us. It was their living, their life and destiny. Our tribute is to play the records and hand them on to our kids, while thanking the band, and being grateful every time we hear those voices for some of the most beautiful pop songs ever created.”


Apple Studios, January 21-31, 1969

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Wednesday's Child - Peter Robinson

Wednesday’s Child
(1992) is the sixth of Peter Robinson’s twenty-seven Inspector Banks novels. Even though I have already read the latest three novels in the series, it was not until I decided to start reading the Banks series from the beginning, and got into book number five (Past Reason Hated), that I finally began to much warm up to Banks and his crew. Robinson, to that point, seemed content to write very good, straightforward police procedurals more than the kind of crime book that most appeals to me: those in which the main and supporting characters are so fully developed that I can begin predicting their reactions to whatever situation they confront in each new novel. Simply put, that’s when it all becomes real to me.

Wednesday’s Child picks up much from where the previous novel ended. Alan Banks, now forty years old, is still happy with his decision to have left London for the slower pace of life he and his family enjoy in northern England. His home life, however, is not what he wishes it were now that his son has begun university studies half way across the country and his daughter much prefers the company of her teenaged friends to that of her parents. And now, Banks’s wife seems to blame his impatience for much of the friction between them and their daughter. It doesn’t help, of course, that Banks often works the kind of hours that cause him and his wife to live almost separate lives for weeks at a time. 

But first and foremost, Alan Banks is a cop who tends to take crimes committed on his home turf personally — especially those crimes that victimize children. When seven-year-old Gemma Scupham is taken from her home by fake social care workers, Banks knows that if he doesn’t find the little girl quickly, he will almost certainly never find her alive. He also knows that Gemma is not being held for ransom because the girl’s mother, who depends on government payments for support, is incapable of paying any ransom at all to get her daughter back. So now, considering what is likely happening to the little girl, it is all hands on deck. Even Detective Superintendent Gristhorpe, more administrator than field investigator these days, is back in the field. 

After a body is discovered by sheer chance inside a remote, abandoned mine, Banks is removed from the kidnapping case so that he can handle the murder investigation. But then something strange happens. Some of the same names, and leads, begin to appear in both investigations — and if the little girl has any chance of survival, Banks and Gristhorpe know that it will take their combined efforts to save her. The race is on.

Bottom Line: The Inspector Banks series is not one I might still be reading if I had first begun reading the books in the order in which they were published. I am grateful that I started the series from the wrong end, after Banks had become more of a fleshed-out character than he is in the early books. Take this as the word of encouragement it is meant to be: the Alan Banks character should not be given up on too soon because like me, in the end, you just might start calling Alan Banks one of your favorite fictional detectives of them all. 

Peter Robinson

Friday, January 07, 2022

Edna Ferber, Detective (Ed Ifkovic Mystery Series)

That so many of my favorite book blogs are authored by fans of series crime fiction has resulted in me now following/reading something near two dozen such series. And because more than a few of those series were several years old by the time I finally became aware of them, the backlists involved are lengthy enough to provide me with years of fun reading to look forward to.

Even so, there's always room for one...or several...more, and that's why I want to ask if any of you are currently reading the "Edna Ferber, Detective" series featured in the latest Mystery Scene magazine (number 170). Ed Ifkovic began using author Edna Ferber as a fictional detective in 2009 and has averaged almost a novel per year since then:

  • Lone Star (2009)
  • Escape Artist (2011)
  • Make Believe (2012)
  • Downtown Strut (2013)
  • Final Curtain (2013)
  • Cafe Europa (2015)
  • Cold Morning (2016)
  • Old News (2017)
  • Mood Indigo (2018)
  • Run Cold (2019)
  • Indian Summer (2020)

Series Author Ed Ifkovic

According to the Mystery Scene article, the novels jump back and forth between the various decades of Ferber's life and career, so it doesn't sound as if there is any particular benefit to reading them in order. That said, I did decide to take a look at the series via its first book because that one is set during the filming of Ferber's novel Giant in 1955. Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and others involved in the movie are included as characters in Lone Star, but the primary focus is on actor James Dean because the murder victim in the story is a woman who has accused Dean of fathering her child. 

Edna Ferber in 1928

Edna Ferber (1885-1968) was the author of numerous novels, plays, novellas, and short stories. Among her most famous were the Pulitzer Prize winning So Big (1924), Showboat (1926), Cimarron (1930), and Giant (1952). I particularly admire the dedication in her 1938 autobiography: "To Adolph Hitler, who has made me a better Jew and a more understanding human being, as he has millions of other Jews, this book is dedicated in loathing and contempt." 1938, this was.

I have a vague recollection of seeing this series mentioned on another book blog, and I know that the books are not going to be new to all of you, so please do let me know what you think of them.