Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Digestif: A Farewell to "Hannibal" (2013-2015)

Patrick: When I first heard about Hannibal, my instinct was to roll my eyes and turn the other way. Really? Yet another Hannibal Lecter prequel? Hadn't we learned our lesson from the horrendous Hannibal Rising? And starring Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter? There's no way it could possibly work, I thought to myself. It would probably just glorify Lecter's killing sprees as he killed people, and fans would eat up the violence and consider Lecter a hero. So I went on my merry little way, discarding Hannibal into the same trash heap into which I mentally relegated shows like Breaking Bad and Dexter.

Of course, then I actually watched Breaking Bad and Dexter, and I learned that the fans who admired the protagonists from those shows were wrong to do so. Breaking Bad deals with the complete moral breakdown of Walter White, whose downfall is a direct result of his pride and greed. As for Dexter Morgan, he is an unreliable narrator who lies to himself and to the audience about his feelings - he calls himself a sociopath because it is easier than examining his choices and questioning the "code" given to him by his adoptive father Harry, surely one of the worst father figures in all of television.

As I was watching these shows, Chris Chan and I would discuss them and how my views about these shows were evolving. And almost inevitably, the subject of Hannibal came up. Chris highly recommended the show to me, and because I trust his opinions, I sat down and watched it.

Hannibal begins with Will Graham tracking down a serial killer named Garrett Jacob Hobbs, who kills young female college students. As part of his investigation, Graham is brought into contact with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who manipulates events behind the scenes to engineer a confrontation between Graham and Hobbs. Will kills Hobbs in order to save an innocent life, but the event is traumatic, and so he turns to Dr. Lecter as his therapist.

Throughout the first season of the show, Hannibal treats Will as a human Petri dish, conducting experiment after experiment to see how Will will react in a certain situation. This results in Will progressively losing his grip on reality— part of his brilliance as an investigator is his uncanny ability to visualize the crimes from the killer's perspective, but as the series progresses it becomes clear that this "talent" has serious consequences on Will's sanity.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

V is for Vampire

It’s September 1901, and the small village of Cleverley is gripped with panic. It started with children telling wildly improbable stories – a sinister face pressed against a window, a man appearing out of nowhere from a mysterious greenish fog, a sinister figure seen near a cemetery undoing the knots on a piece of string… But when a young girl narrowly escapes a vicious assault, the villagers gather at the cemetery and make a shocking discovery. One of the family crypts has been left wide open, and two of the coffins inside have been vandalized. The corpses inside have been impaled through the heart with a wooden stake… and although both have been dead for many years, one of the bodies looks like it has been dead for only a few weeks.

The two vandalized corpses are the two deceased wives of a Russian count, the subject of many a malicious rumour in the village. It is said that his wives, before their deaths, developed a taste for human blood, and one of them even was implicated in the death of a child. And wife number 3 is looking alarmingly pale lately… and has taken to wearing a scarf around her neck.

Never fear, for Owen Burns is nearby. He is investigating the death of a Catholic priest, whose last act was to hear a dying man’s Mysterious Last Confession. He makes a connection to an unsolved murder case which took place in a locked-room. Before long, a similar locked-room murder takes place, sending Owen Burns and his partner-in-crime, Achilles Stock, to Cleverley. There, they discover that the main suspect in the locked-room mystery is our friend the Russian count… an alleged vampire!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Case Closed: Volume 39

Once upon a time, there was an avid fan of detective fiction named Patrick. Patrick did not yet have a blog named At the Scene of the Crime. Back in this Dark Age, in order to talk with like-minded mystery fans and find out about book recommendations, Patrick frequented several Internet forums, where he learned to refer to himself in the third person. On one of these forums, he was introduced to a manga series called Case Closed.

Okay, I’m dropping the third-person narration now. When I first started to read Case Closed, it was love at first sight, and I read absolutely everything that had been translated into English to that point within a month. This was my first serious exposure to manga, and I remember that learning to read the images right-to-left was a bit of an adjustment. Yet at the end of the day, I loved adored the visuals of Case Closed. I loved the characters. And I thought many of the mysteries were imaginative, intriguing, and some of them are among the most ingenious mysteries I’ve ever encountered. (Seriously, the locked room in volume 19 is something I still remember.) The only entry in the series which I reviewed on this blog was Volume 38.

And then… stuff happened. At first, my library didn’t purchase Volume 39 upon publication, and I was forced to wait. And then other books popped up on my radar. I started reading even more contemporary mysteries. And Case Closed was set aside… but not forgotten. (I couldn’t have forgotten if I wanted to, what with reviews popping up regularly on Beneath the Stains of Time.)

Then a few weeks ago, I discovered to my delight that this series is available, in its translated entirety, for the Kindle. The advantage to this is that I can purchase a volume in this series for as little as $5. Thus, I can support an author and a series that I genuinely admire. And now that I’ve a little spare time, that’s exactly what I did, purchasing and reading Case Closed: Volume 39.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Nobody Knows the Truffles I've Seen...

It’s been a while since my last review, and I’m starting to get out of practice. I can’t quite figure out how to start today’s review of Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle (2015) by J. A. Lang. How to describe today’s book? Imagine, if you will, a culinary mystery. Make that a culinary mystery solved by an eccentric French chef named Maurice, a chef who is extremely fond of eating. Also, make this a mystery which revolves around the world of truffles and truffle-hunting. Finally, add a couple of chapters written from the perspective of a pet pig. “Oh, boy,” you might think, “Patrick’s finally gone insane. He’s seen one too many episodes of the BBC’s Father Brown, and he’s snapped and started to read cozy mysteries. Well, maybe we can at least finally get his recipe for coffee cake.” But you’d be wrong – the recipe is my mother’s, and it is not mine to give away. You’ll just have to settle for my opinion of the book.

I first heard of this book because of an enthusiastic review on In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel. The plot involves the disappearance of Chef Maurice’s mushroom supplier, Ollie Meadows. This is a major inconvenience for the temperamental chef. So he breaks into Ollie’s home to partake of his mushrooms, fully intending to pay of course. But he discovers that he hasn’t been the only one to break into Ollie’s home, and then he finds them: exquisite white Alba truffles… yet they have a distinct aroma of English woods to them! Could they possibly be local truffles? Chef Maurice decides that if Ollie was able to find the truffles, he can too, and thus he adopts a pig named Hamilton. They go truffle-hunting, but they turn up a corpse instead. And thus, the game is afoot, and Chef Maurice’s inaugural mystery is underway!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Geometry of Murder

A group of people is stuck on an island, with no way off. Stuck on the island with them is a mad, cunning killer, determined to pick off the group members one by one. It’s a race against time, a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. No, I’m not talking about Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Rather, I’m talking about a recently-published translation of a Japanese detective story: The Decagon House Murders.

The titular Decagon House is, of course, shaped like a decagon, and the island upon which it sits was recently the site of a gruesome series of murders. Naturally, a university’s mystery club (modelled on such a club at Kyoto University) decides the island is a great place for a club excursion. Thus the members meet up, each of them known by a pseudonym taken from one of the great Western Golden Age writers: Agatha, Orczy, Van Dine, Leroux, Ellery, Carr, and Poe. It doesn’t take long for murder to occur, and as the body count rises, the list of suspects gets shorter and shorter…

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Clash of Clans

In 1940s Japan, just after the end of the Second World War, the wealthy entrepreneur Sahei Inugami dies at his villa. Don’t get your hopes up – his death was a natural one. The “Silk King of Japan”, the late Mr. Inugami lived a long and prosperous life, and his will is to be read aloud when the entire family is gathered together. The only missing member is Kiyo Inugami, a soldier and the son of Sahei’s eldest daughter, and thus the reading of the will is postponed for a few months until Kiyo returns home.

Just before the will is to be read, the famous detective Kosuke Kindaichi is summoned to the Nasu region by Toyoichiro Wakabayashi, an employee at the Furudate Law Office which drafted the late Inugami patriarch’s will. Wakabayashi’s summons is ominous—according to him, the Inugami clan will be faced with “a grave situation … events soaked in blood.” Unfortunately, before Kindaichi can get the man to elucidate just what he means by this, he drops dead from a poisoned cigarette.

Kindaichi discovers that a central figure in the Inugami household, Tamayo Nonomiya, has been the target of multiple attempts on her life. The late Sahei Inugami always favoured Tamayo because he owed a debt of gratitude to her grandfather, who rescued him from poverty. Unfortunately, his warmth towards her was never reciprocated by the rest of the Inugami clan. Tensions reach a boiling point when the will is read aloud, and it is discovered that it hinges on Tamayo and her choice of a husband. And then, the murders start in earnest…

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Poison, running through my veins...

The case of Freeman Wills Crofts on this blog is a strange one. A few years ago, I read the short story collection Murderers Make Mistakes. The stories in that collection began as a series of radio plays, and Crofts turned them into short stories. I enjoyed the book, especially the first half, which effectively showcased Inspector French’s strengths as a detective. And yet, for whatever reason, I never returned to Crofts since reviewing that book. His name popped up prominently when I reviewed Curt Evans’ Masters of the Humdrum Mystery, but apart from that, it was all quiet on the Crofts front.

So in August of last year, I decided to remedy the situation by picking up Crofts’ Antidote to Venom, a book which landed on my radar when John over at Pretty Sinister Books reviewed it (and directed me to a website where I found a cheap copy of the book – thanks once again, John!). But tragedy struck, and as I packed my bags to move to the seminary, I managed to lose my copy of Antidote to Venom, having read about halfway through. Then, a few weeks ago, when I was visiting home, a stroke of luck occurred – I found the book, with the bookmark still in place! And so I eagerly picked up the book and after briefly refreshing my memory on what had occurred, I read on.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A, B, C, D, E, F, G...

Ten years have elapsed since the events chronicled in The Tragedy of X and The Tragedy of Y. Drury Lane has gotten much older, and is frail and sickly these days. As for Inspector Thumm, he has retired and opened a detective agency, which is doing rather well. More surprisingly than that, we discover that Inspector Thumm has a daughter, Patience, who is the narrator of our story.

It all begins innocuously enough. Elihu Clay, an honest businessman (keep your smart-aleck comments to yourself), comes to ex-Inspector Thumm’s door for help. It seems his business is doing very well… indeed, almost too well. He has a silent partner, Dr. Ira Fawcett, brother of Senator Joe Fawcett, and he suspects the doctor is using his business to pull some financial hanky-panky on behalf of the Fawcett clan. Inspector Thumm accepts the case, but with little hope of success – although it’s widely known that Senator Fawcett is crooked, no one has been able to prove so in a court of law.

Thumm’s daughter Patience comes along for the ride, because even though she has no role in the investigation she’s a Liberated Woman. She hits it off with Drury Lane, making a couple of clever deductions about how the detective is spending his spare time. So when murder comes a-knocking and Senator Fawcett is bumped off, with the police eagerly seizing on the most obvious suspect, Patience consults the Great Detective and brings him onboard to solve The Tragedy of Z.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Twist of Time

When Detective-Superintendent John Cheviot got into the twentieth-century taxi, nothing was amiss. “Scotland Yard,” he told the driver – meaning, of course, New Scotland Yard. He had no frisson of premonition, no encounter with a mysterious stranger… in short there was absolutely nothing to indicate anything unusual was about to occur. But when Cheviot got out of the taxi, he found himself at Old Scotland Yard… in the year 1829.

Cheviot finds himself part of Scotland Yard at its inception. The police are not seen as society’s protectors, but rather as a group of thugs with which high society needn’t bother. Apparently, everyone accepts Cheviot’s presence in 1829—perhaps he is re-enacting the historical role of an ancestor of his?—and it turns out that the original Cheviot was trying to join the newly-formed Scotland Yard.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Talking About the Detection Club

It is often said that the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction” took place in between the two World Wars. For my money, such a characterisation is far too simplified and gives rise to a popular narrative Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder sets out, which treats Golden Age fiction like some freak of nature which popped up between the two world wars because [insert pet sociological theory here]. I cringe whenever this view of the genre’s history is brought up, all too often by authors eagerly assuring you that their stuff transcends all that silly puzzle nonsense and Asks Really Deep Questions [translation: There Is No Plot].

The truth is, the Golden Age was a time of great variety and experimentation within the genre, and The Detection Club was formed in the late 20s in England. The exclusive club gave authors a chance to socialize, and since membership was attained only by secret ballot, it was also a way to ensure the quality of the genre remained high. Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder looks at the men and women who were members of The Detection Club during the Golden Age. It’s an enormous project, one which might overwhelm a lesser man.