THE GOODBYE LOOK by ROSS MACDONALD (1969, Penguin, 282pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Lew Archer, world-weary private investigator, is hired by Larry and Irene Chalmers when they suspect that their troubled son Nick is involved in their own burglary. But when a fellow investigator – one who’s been working with Nick – turns up dead, Archer soon realizes this isn’t simply about some stolen loot. To help their son, Archer must uncover the truth about a kidnap years ago, and discover why the handgun from a decades-old killing apparently turns up at every new and terrible murder.
Ross MacDonald is one of three writers considered to be the pinnacle fo the private eye genre – the other two being Raymond Chandler and Dashell Hammet. His Lew Archer novels and stories build on Chandler’s cynical view of Los Angeles and the flawed characters who inhabit it. This is the fifteenth of eighteen novels MacDonald wrote featuring the character and is typical of the later entries in the series. Archer becomes embroiled in a case revolving around a small group of families – all of whom are disfunctional. The mystery plot is cleverly unravelled as the book progresses at a good pace. With its convoluted plot, flawed characters and lone detective hero it feels as if it lives in the 40s or 50s, despite being set in a contemporary 1969. However, MacDonald was by then a master of his craft and his skill overcomes the slighly anachronistic feel. Highly recommended for scholars of the genre and fans in general.
Lew Archer novels:
- The Moving Target (1949)
- The Drowning Pool (1950)
- The Way Some People Die (1951)
- The Ivory Grin (1952) ****
- Find a Victim (1954)
- The Barbarous Coast (1956)
- The Doomsters (1958)
- The Galton Case (1959) *****
- The Wycherly Woman (1961)
- The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
- The Chill (1964)
- The Far Side of the Dollar (1965)
- Black Money (1966) ****
- The Instant Enemy (1968)
- The Goodbye Look (1969) ****
- The Underground Man (1971)
- Sleeping Beauty (1973)
- The Blue Hammer (1976) ****
THE DRY by JANE HARPER (2016, Abacus, 404pp) ∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Who really killed the Hadler family? In the small town of Kiewarra, it hasn’t rained for two years. Swept up in the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, the town crackles with seething malice and unvoiced grudges. Tensions in the community are at breaking point when three members of the Hadler family are suddenly brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty, but is he just an easy scapegoat? Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.
Jane Harper’s debut novel is a confident mystery thriller with an evocative closed community setting. The book links together two mysteries – one in the present, the other from twenty years earlier. Harper’s detective hero, Aaron Falk, is linked to the mystery from the past via his friend, Luke Hadler, who along with his family are the victims of the mystery of the present. Both are seeming suicides and may be linked. The book unravels these mysteries through clever use of flashback passages, frequently interspersed with the present day case. Chapters and scenes are edited so as to keep the reader turning the pages. The characters are vividly drawn and the reader is left guessing right up until the reveal. A strong debut for a proposed series.
Being a huge fan of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series of crime novels I was delighted to hear today Rankin’s announcement that Eleventh Hour Films have bought the TV rights. The books will be adapted by fellow Scot Gregory Burke and the adaptations are likely to be longer format, given Rankin’s previous comments, than the previous series starring John Hannah and Ken Stott.
Burke says: “It is an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to work on adapting an iconic character like John Rebus for television. As someone who has grown up and lives in South East Scotland, Ian Rankin’s best-selling books provide the perfect material to make a thrilling series about crime in the modern world.”
Ian Rankin adds: “I’m so thrilled and honoured that Gregory Burke is bringing his outstanding storytelling talent to Rebus. As far as I’m concerned it’s the perfect match, allowing the character of John Rebus to emerge in all his complex three-dimensional glory.”
This is great news to celebrate during the 30th anniversary of Rankin’s debut Rebus novel Knots & Crosses.
Prime Suspect: The Final Act (TV) (2006; UK/USA; Colour; 182m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Philip Martin; w. Frank Deasy; ph. Julian Court; m. Nicholas Hooper. Cast: Helen Mirren, Stephen Tompkinson, Laura Greenwood, Eve Best, Gary Lewis, Katy Murphy, Frank Finlay, Tom Bell, Robert Pugh, Brendan Coyle, Robbie Gee, Russell Mabey. Approaching retirement, Jane Tennison investigates the murder of a missing girl. But the cracks soon begin to show as Jane struggles with an alcohol problem and the death of her father. Final installment in the series is a relentlessly downbeat affair. Mirren delivers a superb performance and the production values are excellent and authentic. There is the occasional contrivance and the finale seems rushed after over three hours of twists and turns. But this is still an absorbing last hurrah for one of TV’s great detectives. 
Prime Suspect: The Last Witness (TV) (2003; UK/USA; Colour; 195m) ∗∗∗∗ d. Tom Hooper; w. Peter Berry; ph. Larry Smith; m. Rob Lane. Cast: Helen Mirren, Liam Cunningham, Oleg Menshikov, Ben Miles, Robert Pugh, Mark Strong, Velibor Topic, Barnaby Kay, Tanya Moodie, Rad Lazar, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Olegar Fedoro, Sam Hazeldine, Frank Finlay. Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison’s investigation of the murder of a Bosnian refugee leads her to one, or possibly two, Serbian war criminals determined to silence the last witness to a massacre a decade before. Political intrigue rather than murder mystery is the theme for this installment. The subtext of war crimes committed in Bosnia adds an emotional layer. Mirren continues her excellent run with this character. The camera work is a little too flashy at times, but cannot detract from another absorbing tale. 
DIE LAST by TONY PARSONS (2017. Century, 406pp) ∗∗∗
Blurb: 12 DEAD GIRLS As dawn breaks on a snowy February morning, a refrigerated lorry is found parked in the heart of London’s Chinatown. Inside, twelve women, apparently illegal immigrants, are dead from hypothermia. 13 PASSPORTS But in the cab of the abandoned death truck, DC Max Wolfe of West End Central finds thirteen passports. WHERE IS SHE? The hunt for the missing woman will take Max Wolfe into the dark heart of the world of human smuggling, mass migration and 21st-century slave markets, as he is forced to ask the question that haunts our time. What would you do for a home?
Having really enjoyed The Hanging Club I delved straight into Parsons’ new novel, the fourth in his DC Max Wolfe series. The plot deals with the trafficking of humans from Eastern Europe and again brings Wolfe into confrontation with former London gangster Paul Warboys and his family. The book moves along at a fair lick and there are shocks and twists along the way. But this is less successful than the previous book as some of the police tactics seem questionable at best and reckless at worst. Untrained detectives going undercover into dangerous situation may make for thrilling sequences, but leave the reader questioning the authenticity of it all. There are attempts to add further depth to the lead characters through varying domestic crises, which helps give the story a more rounded feel and the reader characters to root for. The detectives though seem too keen to add their moral stance to every twist and turn of the plot. Overall, whilst not as satisfying as the previous book , this is again a fast, pacy read and never less than entertaining despite its flaws.
Prime Suspect: The Scent of Darkness (TV) (1995; UK/USA; Colour; 105m) ∗∗∗½ pr. Brian Park; d. Paul Marcus; w. Guy Hibbert; ph. David Odd; m. Stephen Warbeck. Cast: Helen Mirren, Christopher Fulford, John Benfield, Richard Hawley, Stuart Wilson, Tim Woodward, Stephen Boxer, Stafford Gordon, Joyce Redman, Pip Donaghy, Marc Warren. A series of brutal sex murders disturbingly similar to the pattern of Superintendent Jane Tennison’s first major case leads to the awful suggestion that she may have caught the wrong man the first time. This installment focuses on Tennison’s reaction to the doubts raised and Mirren is excellent as ever as her character descends into paranoia and increasing alcohol dependency as she tries to prove her initial judgement was correct. The wrap up is a little too neat and swift after the investigation takes one wrong turn after another once Tennison is suspended. Otherwise, this is a solid mystery and a nice conclusion to the three movies that made up the fourth series of this consistent cop drama. 
Prime Suspect: Inner Circles (TV) (1995; UK/USA; Colour; 102m) ∗∗∗ pr. Paul Marcus; d. Sarah Pia Anderson; w. Eric Deacon, Meredith Oakes; ph. David Odd; m. Stephen Warbeck. Cast: Helen Mirren, Jill Baker, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Craig, Richard Hawley, John Benfield, Phillada Sewell, James Laurenson, Thomas Russell, Jonathan Copestake, Anthony Bate, Ralph Arliss, Nick Patrick. Tennison, on loan to another jurisdiction, is sent in to investigate a murder of a country club manager. At first glance, it looks like a fairly obvious sex murder, but the facts suggest otherwise. As Tennison investigates, she uncovers a link to the ongoing situations within the local municipal government, and uncovers a possible political scandal which proves to be much larger and darker than she anticipated. More conventional mystery with familiar sub-plots of corruption and internal politics added to the mix. Whilst the mystery is satisfactorily played out the script feels a little generic and therefore the production lacks the edge of earlier stories in the series. Mirren remains superb though. 
Prime Suspect: The Lost Child (TV) (1995; UK/USA, Colour, 101m) ∗∗∗½ pr. Paul Marcus; d. John Madden; w. Paul Billing; ph. David Odd; m. Stephen Warbeck. Cast: Helen Mirren, Beatie Edney, Robert Glenister, Lesley Sharp, Tracy Keating, Richard Hawley, Jack Ellis, David Phelan, Stuart Wilson, John Benfield, Tony Rohr, Mark Bazeley, Chris Brailsford. Supt. Tennison orchestrates a search for an abducted baby, but events take a turn for the worst when personal emotions cause complications. Emotive and dark episode due to its themes of child abduction and paedophilia. Again, the performances are uniformly excellent – notably Glenister as the prime suspect in question. Mirren continues to give a commanding portrayal of her career detective. The hostage resolution is tense and well-staged. Only some heavy-handed posturing in the script detracts from an otherwise excellent mystery drama. 
Prime Suspect 3 (1993; UK; Colour; 207m) ∗∗∗½ pr. Paul Marcus; d. David Drury; w. Lynda La Plante; ph. David Odd; m. Stephen Warbeck. Cast: Helen Mirren, Tom Bell, David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi, Struan Rodger, Mark Strong, Terrence Hardiman, Andrew Woodall, Richard Hawley, Philip Wright, Mark Drewry, John Benfield, Terence Harvey, Ciarán Hinds, Kelly Hunter. Assigned to a Vice squad, Detective Jane Tennison investigates a child murder and discovers a sinister link to the police. Another intricately plotted crime drama in this quality series. It lacks the intensity of the first two stories, but the controversial subject matter and political manoevering helped by excellent performances all round make for another well-made mystery.