Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Song of the Week: South "Motiveless Crime"

Its probably quite rare in detective programmes and fiction for the crimes to be motiveless, and I prefer the ones where the motive is paramount, the human angle. But in real-life not all crimes have a neat little motive.

Of course, this song isn't about crime shows at all - its more likely to be about the end of a relationship. But South are another favourite of mine, hugely under-rated and criminally ignored. I've seen them live several times and they've always been excellent. I really don't understand why they aren't hugely popular.

Joel Cadbury has a lovely voice, like chocolate if you'll excuse the lame pun. And he's a lovely bloke - at a very small/exclusvie gig that we won tickets to through a radio station, he said hello and thanked us for coming - we were stood next to a group of people who he'd gone to school with, so probably assumed he knew us too and was too polite to admit he couldn't remember us!

Monday, August 27, 2007

A New One on Me

Today, I caught a bit of a feature length show on Hallmark called Mystery Woman. Apparently it was part of an irregular series but it was the first time I'd seen it. Not only that but it was the first time I had come across this type of sleuth.

The hero of the show is a woman, Samantha, who runs a mystery book store. Not a crime story writer like Jessica Fletcher, but someone who sells books about murders. It became obvious from the reaction of the policeman in the show that it wasn't the first time this bookshop owner had gotten caught up in a crime. But in this episode, it was a crime writer who was the murder victim. How incredible is that?

Unfortunately, I had other more pressing things to attend to so couldn't watch it all - perhaps if it had been better, I would have made time. I wonder if my addiction is waning?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Discovering Dexter

Yesterday I started to watch Dexter on FX's on Demand channel. I've only watched an episode and a half of it and I'm not sure I like it. The premise is that Dexter is a forensics expert, who specialises in blood splatter patterns, but he is also a serial killer. He appears to be a nice guy - he buys doughnuts for the office, his girlfriend's kids love him, he's good at his job. But behind this facade lurks his impulse to kill. A series of flashbacks show that he first killed a dog as a child because its barking was keeping his sick mother awake and his foster father (a cop) talking to him about if he can't control the urge to kill, he should use it for good. So he kills other killers.

For Dexter to work, I think the audience needs to somehow identify with him over those people he kills. But so far (and I have just watched an hour and a half of it so I reserve the right to change my mind), I just don't feel anything for him. The Sopranos manages to make you feel for Tony Soprano, even though he is undoubtedly still a monster, but you do root for him, and that moral ambiguity makes the show particularly interesting. But Dexter hasn't managed to pull off that same feat - perhaps because Dexter isn't portrayed as human. The things offered to use that are supposed to make him the hero just seem to be that he is good looking and goes through the motions of being a good person. Its going to take more than that for me to be on his side. And of course, they've gone down the predictable route of having animals, particularly dogs, seeing through him (conversely, one of Tony Sopranos endearing traits is that he likes animals) - personally I'm with the dogs on this one.

The other thing with Dexter is the tone. It isn't a serious show - its one of those 'ironic' semi-comic dramas like Desparate Housewives. Its tongue is firmly in its cheek as they say, but that makes it harder to really care about anyone in it. Of course, it looks great (another thing television owes to the Sopranos) but sometimes I want more than style over substance.

But for want of anything much else to watch, I'll watch a bit more of it to see if it can hook me.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Song of the Week: Death in Vegas "Aisha"

I'm normally a bit of an indie-fan, but I do like my dance crossovers and Death in Vegas are one of the best. I love the album The Contino Sessions, and it features some great guest vocalists. Not least, the legendary Iggy Pop on this week's selection 'Aisha'.

Sung by anyone else the words 'Aisha I'm vibrating' would be comical but not when its Iggy - it is the sound of psychosis. Terrifying.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

We finished watching Homicide last night and I must admit I was slightly disappointed with the last episode of the series.

Last week, I was moved to tears by the episode 'The City that Bleeds' where three of the cops were shot. The portrayal of the cameraderie between colleagues and how they each dealt with it was superb and so moving (you just don't get that sort of thing in my industry!).

Then there were a few more decent episodes. Then the final episode, which I would describe as a concept episode, being shown mainly from the perspective of the criminal. Bruno Kirby playing a recently released felon looking for revenge on Pembleton, who put him away. He was looking for 'an angle' for his revenge, which presented itself when he found the severed head and murder weapon of the murder Pembleton was investigating. He then embarked a preposterous scheme of sending photographs of the weapon, then the head to the press, to taunt and humiliate Pembleton.

It was ridiculous - not helped by him being accompanied by a 70s disco obsessed friend and that the murder victim had been a psychi (cue several jokes about how she should have seen it coming). It did culminate in him threatening Pembleton with a knife, but the episode had been so silly until then that I don't think it managed to shift into menace. It may have been aiming for 'King of Comedy' style psychosis, but failed.

So that is Season 2 over with, and we have to wait until September for the third series. What will we watch now?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Career Choices

So I don’t want to join the police and I can’t become a private investigator, what other avenues are open to me, if I still want to solve crimes? Plenty, if you believe the television.

Criminal Psychologist – often working a police department but not actually a police, Fitz in Cracker is instrumental in solving many crimes, as is Dr Grace Foley in Waking the Dead. So far, so plausible. But then there is Profiler, where the Sam Walker is portrayed as being psychic which she uses to put together a profile of the criminals. This seems less likely but now we've got someone in Medium doing the same. Highly suspect. I'd say stick to the formal qualification in psychology, rather than having visions.

Lawyer – not such a stretch to believe that if you are a lawyer, like Perry Mason or Kavanagh) that you might have to do a bit of detection to ensure the right man is convicted. However, you have to be a criminal lawyer – it is less plausible if you specialise in property/contract/commercial law.

Medic – Quincy was a medical examiner and in the process of investigating how someone physically died, he often got caught up in the motive and moral side of the case too. Still not that unlikely as death is his line of business. Dr Mark Sloane on the other hand is a physician and really should be concentrating on practicing medicine rather than sleuthing. Although, his son is a cop, that is really no excuse – his son doesn’t perform operations so he shouldn’t be solving crimes, Nor should he tap-dance or roller-skate around hospital wards.

Crime Writer - Jessica Fletcher is always caught up in some murder. Does she recycle these real-life crimes in her own book? Its never quite made clear, but she must do because otherwise how would she find the time? I can't think of any other crime writers who do a bit of solving on the side - Ian Rankin sticks with the writing as far as I'm aware and gets help with police procedure details from real police - it isn't the other way around.

Gardener - that pair of green-fingered ladies, Rosemary and Thyme are always digging up corpses along with the weeds. Unearthing a body may happen once but every time you do a bit of weeding? Very unlucky or highly suspicious. If it happened to Monty Don repeatedly, I think he'd look for alternative employment. Gardening in my new home I did wonder when I found a few small bones in the peebles out the front - for a moment, I wondered if they were fingers, but then I remembered the previous owner had a small dog. So again, I don't really think gardening goes hand in hand with crime-solving.

I think I'll have to stick with my current job for now...

Song of the Week: "Down in the Hole" (theme from The Wire)

You can tell alot about a show from its theme music. The Sopranos has a great theme song, The Shield has some awful noise. The Wire has brilliant opening credits, the visuals and the music, in all its versions.

There is some debate on various sites about which version of the song "Down in the Hole" is superior, and I'm not sure I've mind up my mind yet. Purists often hate cover versions, so would prefer the Tom Waits' version (used in Season 2) as it is his song. The Waits version is the one I've got on my ipod but just because it was the only one in itunes.

But I actually don't mind a good cover version, as long as it brings something new to song (see a list of my favourites here). Some people (commenting on YouTube) favour the version used in the fourth series as it involves young people from Baltimore and sounds more like the sort of music listened to on the streets, but I don't hold much sway with this argument as that is taking the show is just being about the dealers (a gross simplification).

In the end, I've picked the Blind Boys of Alabama version because it was used in the first series, so is the original theme from The Wire, if not the original version of the song.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Unknown Stuntman

No detectives for me at all last night as I went to a pub quiz instead. There were no questions about detectives or crime shows for me to answer unfortunately - once there was a question about Columbo - it was a True or False question about whether Spielberg had directed an episode.

But there was a question about 'The Fall Guy'. Not really a detective show, but bounty-hunting does come under the wider category of law enforcement.

"What was the name of Lee Majors' character in The Fall Guy?"

Easy. It was even in a round where all of the answers involved animals.

Colt Seavers, if you didn't know.

I loved The Fall Guy as a child and I still have a soft spot for the theme song. I've been singing it to myself since last night which isn't good.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My Ideal Boss: Lt Al Giardello

Watching Homicide: Life on the Street again last night, aside from my on-going adoration of Munch, I decided that I want Lt Al Giardello as my boss.

Normally senior police, the shift commanders and chief superintendents etc, aren’t portrayed that sympathetically. They are often careerist, obsessed with targets and budgets, and out of touch with the ordinary detectives.

Chief Superintendent Strange isn’t wholly unsympathetic to Morse, especially towards the end when they are aligned as part of the old order, which is rapidly being replaced with a new generation.

The high ranking officers in The Wire are a mixed bunch – Daniels and Colvin are good men with good intentions, but the others are a nightmare mixture of vanity, petty rivalry and incompetence – you wouldn’t want to work for Burrell, Rawls or Valchek.

Waking The Dead’s Boyd is forever shouting at his team but then he is conflict of those higher up, with the unit constantly under threat of being shut down. A similar cloud hangs over the department in its light-hearted counterpart, New Tricks with Pullman and her team of oldies under pressure from the big bosses.

Captain Aceveda in The Shield is a mess - ambitious but a mess. Not much better than his renegade strike team. His replacement, Glenn Close as Captian Rawling isn’t an inspiring leader either.

Nope, Giardello is the only one I’d like to work for. He’s far superior to my actual real-life boss in so many ways. He's charming but efficient. He's a family man. He's firm but fair. He's part Italian so cooks good pasta. And he can hussle at the card game hearts (far preferably to my own bosses miserable attempts at betting on the horses!).

Alas, I fear my chances of working for a fictional Baltimore police department are slim.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Crime Hotspot: Midsomer

I'm glad the English county of Midsomer is fictional because it has a bloody high body count. The bodies are stacked up in every episode of Midsomer Murders. And Midsomer is not a sprawling metropolis - its is a picturesque rurul county in middle England.

I haven't watched that many episodes of this as its unbelievability gets a bit much for me, and my cousin mercilessly scoffed at my auntie for watching it. But according to the legions of fans the series seems to have, it is tongue-in-cheek and the high death toll has even been commented on in the series.

The multiple murders take place in quaint villages with names like 'Midsomer Mallow' 'Badgers Drift', strange ethereal places, but that have an underlying menace - a bit like Summer Isle in The Wicker Man. Strangely enough, several real English counties are very keen to claim their connection with Midsomer, as if being a hotbed of homicide is some sort of tourist attraction. Personally, I've never noticed the beauty of the landscape when DCI Barnaby has found another corpse in a copse. But if you do feel inspired to visit Midsomer, Buckinghamshire seems to have laid the biggest claim to it.

I've never been a big fan of the countryside (I like to be near some good shops, cinema and theatres) so this series does prove to me that I was right all along to distrust the country.

Song of the Week: Nick Cave "Where the Wild Roses Grow"

From Nick Cave's album 'Murder Ballads' where all of the songs are about murder, except for his cover of Dylan's 'Death is Not the End', which is included apparently because Cave claimed to have murdered it!

I suppose I could have picked any song of there but I've picked this one because frankly its the only one I really like. I'm not a big fan of Nick Cave - he scares me a bit, but my OH likes him and this is a good song. Its very much in the style of old English folk ballads.

This song is a duet with Kyle Minogue. I'm not normally a fan of the 'Pop Princess' - perhaps I like this because she's murdered in it? The song she did with the Manic Street Preachers was good too though.

So here for this week's Song of the Week is a song by two people I don't normally like but brought together on a murder duet, its pretty good. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Reading the Detectives

I was looking for other blogs on a similar theme to this one, and pretty much all I could find were blogs on crime fiction. There are tons of them out there.

I'm not actually a big reader of crime fiction. I'm not sure why - perhaps I just need a break from it after watching it on television so much. Or it might be that my degree in English Literature makes me a bit of reading snob. But that's not to say I haven't read any crime fiction. I have.

Some of the first adult books I read were crime fiction - Agatha Christie novels, read on holidays in Spain and the Algarve, that had been left behind in the clubhouses by previous holidaymakers. Normally read after I'd exhausted my own supply of books (usually the Sweet Valley High series!).

Later, around the age of 16, I was reading the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books, which led onto the Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently novels. Not really ordinary detective fiction - Dirk ran a holistic detective agency. I remember a particularly great description of a character as 'looking like lots of David Bowies joined together'.

Then at University, I read a few bits and pieces in the genre - some Sherlock Holmes stories definitely - but I never managed to take the course entitled 'Signs and Clues: Detective Fiction'. I did however do a course in Post War American Fiction, taught by the unfortunately named Sally Munt, a leading light in Lesbian fiction. The course syllabus was changed from the advertised books, to include a few lesbian detective novels. I can't remember the name of the author - all I do remember is that no crimes were ever solved as that was a masculine narrative tradition which she was rejecting. We also read American Psycho, The Crying of Lot 49 and Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, which I suppose were all crime/mystery fiction but not as dear old Agatha would have recognised.

1996 and the 'Trainspotting' effect can be fully seen in publishing. I'm 21 and lap up books about clubbing, which includes a couple by Manchester writer Nicholas Blincoe, who seemed to be found in the Crime section because his books featured gangsters. The then-boyfriend bought me a Janet Evanovich book - Two for the Dough I think - he bought it because it had a bright cover and I then did read another couple of hers before losing interest. I also read 'White Merc with Fins' which was set where I was living - it was good but his next book 'Rancid Aluminium' was rubbish and tainted the memory of his previous work.

Then I read Christopher Brookmyre's 'Quite Ugly One Morning' and loved his mix of mystery and politics. I read everything he wrote after that and quite fell in love with his investigative reporter, Jack Parlabane. But then the relationship soured - 'The Sacred Art of Stealing' was too much of a rip-off of 'Out of Sight' and the next one I never really grasped. I haven't read his most recent effort.

Because of the comparisons made between Brookmyre and Carl Hiaasen, I decided to see what the fuss was about there. I read a couple of his books, borrowed from the local library. I enjoyed them but the mistake I made was that I couldn't later remember ones I'd read already because I no longer had the books to check and reading the covers, they all sounded kind of the same. So I've not read anymore Carl.

Then came Alexander McCall Smith' 'No 1 Ladies Detective Agency'. An easy read on holiday (as with Agatha Christie) but after reading about five, I found them rather repetitive - I don't just mean in plot structure, I'm pretty sure whole chunks of description about the main characters were lifted wholesale from one book and plonked down in the next.

I'd seen Ian Rankin on the Late Show and News Night Review alot and liked him but hadn't read any of his books. I took the plunge about two years ago, buying one in a train station shop for my journey home. I enjoyed it - like Hiaasen and Brookmyre, he was politicised. I started to work my way through the series when I had a long train journey ahead of me, finding the books easy to get into, but not too low-brow. I decided I preferred the later books. On my last trip to visit my mother, I bought 'The Falls' and 'Resurrection Men'. The former I read greedily on the outward journey and finished half way through the return, then I started the next one. Three months later, I have just managed to finish it - I don't know why but I lost interest in it. I'm out of love with Rebus and can't see me picking up a crime novel for a while.

Unless of course, someone wants to recommend something from the millions being written.

Sheltering from the sun with Kavanagh QC

The British summertime has belatedly arrived and my fair English skin had had as much sun as it could take for one day, so I turned to television. Not in the mood for the Law & Order on Hallmark, I opted for Kavanagh QC on ITV3.

I like Kavanagh - I'm a big fan for John Thaw - he reminds me a bit of my father - they both had that air of melancholy about them in later life. But I don't think I'd actually seen any Kavanagh since it was first on the television, and even then I didn't see much of it.

Now Kavanagh isn't a detective -he is a lawyer and the programme is pretty much a courtroom drama. He doesn't really go out investigating to the extent that Perry Mason does. But ordinarily, he is a criminal lawyer so its good enough for me. This episode however he took on a personal injury case, rather reluctantly because, like me, crime is his thing.

I have some vague memory of watching Kavanagh in the past and it being rather upsetting, not in a gory way, but tugging at the old heart strings. This episode was the same - a bright young student was injured at the shipping company he was working at during his holiday, it left him in a wheelchair with memory loss. The relationship between the lad and his parents was very moving and well-written - far superior to anything ITV has put on in recent years.

The programme time-slot was sponsored by AXA - a finance company who amongst other things specialise in insurance - which seemed ironic when the episode was about a family taking on a insurance company for compensation.

I noticed a couple of other things during the episode. Kavanagh's kitchen cupboard contained three jars of Marmite - I know you either love it or hate it, but that seems excessive. Poor set dressing really. The other was the witness who was shown to be living in a depressing flat tending to a sick wife, had the same vegetable rack we had in our old flat - it was pretty grim.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mr Belzer

Today is Richard Belzer's birthday. He is 63.

Is that too old for me? Because I think I love him. Or at least the character John Munch, but I'm convinced he's just the same in real life and writes his own part. He's like a prophet in Homicide Life on the Street - he's already predicted the rise of the internet (this was made before it really took off) and the dangers of driving 4x4.

Alright, so I know he isn't good looking but he's got character. And he's been on Seasame Street.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Why I Love Homicide Life on the Street

The boxset of the second series has arrived. Just watched a few episodes and it really is fantastic. Here's a few reasons why:

  • Richard Belzer as John Munch - he's funny, cynical and I just can't get enough of hi
  • Ned Beatty as Bolander - he reminds me of a bear
  • Frank Pembeton's enormous ego
  • In fact, that each detective has such a distinctive personality
  • That each crime isn't neatly wrapped up in one episode but may take several to solve
  • The theme music - like a menacing version of Pan Pipe moods
  • Family Guy did a spoof bit of it called "Homicide Life on Seasame Street" which I found very amusing

Why I Don't Love CSI

I've tried, I really have, but I just don't love CSI and I don't understand why it is the most popular franchise of programmes in the world.

  • I find it far too formulaic - I know that's a bit rich coming from a Columbo fan, but really does every episode have to have two separate investigations running through it?
  • If I miss the first few minutes of it, I find it hard to keep up with which investigation is which - probably because of the next point
  • I have trouble distinguishing between the investigators and don't have any real sense of their characters, except in the case of..
  • Horatio in CSI Miami - he stands out because I can't stand him - posing with his sunglasses on, looking wistfully (I imagine as I can't actually see his eyes) out to sea
  • Motivation isn't so important as method of killing. A reason will be given why someone has committed the crime but it isn' t anything in-depth - everyone is 2 dimensional
  • Because the method is the most important thing, these are ridiculous - rarely is anyone just shot or stabbed
  • They don't seem to liaise with any other specialists - no criminal psychologists etc - just forensics
  • Back in the real world, it is apparently getting harder to convict without lots of impressive CSI type evidence as this is what juries now expect having seen it on television
  • We had a break-in at work a while back and a forensics expert came to look at the scene - she was no where near as glamorous as the CSI teams - she was quite dull in fact.

I will admit I haven't seen that many full episodes as I tend to watch this in bed and fall asleep and I prefer the original series, then New York and absolutely loathe Miami.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Rooting for the Bad Guy

When looking for the Talking Heads clip, I came across this quote from David Byrne about his inspiration for the song, Psycho Killer:

"Both the Joker and Hannibal Lecter were much more fascinating than the good guys. Everybody sort of roots for the bad guys in movies"

I understand why many actors prefer playing the bad guy, as it is more of a challenge than playing a bland goodie and I've also worried about what it says of me that I enjoy crimes so much - but actually rooting for the bad guy takes this further. So I started to wonder, do I ever root for the bad guy?

Unfortunately I think the answer is 'Yes, sometimes'.

Moral ambiguity is integral to both The Wire and The Sopranos, and are designed to make you identify with what would traditionally be a baddie. There would be no point in watching the Sopranos if you didn't like Tony at all and the same is true of the drug dealers in The Wire. So I don't think these count.

But I have sometimes rooted for the bad guy when they are definitely the all round baddie.

The most recent case was watching 'Dial M for Murder' the other week. Ray Milland was just so charismatic that I really wanted him to get away with it. Grace Kelly, I didn't care about one way or another. Or was that Hitchcock's intention with his love of making his blondes suffer?

Whilst I do love Columbo, it does sometimes get on my nerves that he solves the case so easily, that he immediately instictively knows who the culprit is. So sometimes while he plays his cat-and-mouse games with the murderer, I do want them to get away with it. Just for once. Especially if its an episode I've seen before, I hope that somehow it may have an alternative ending.

Watching Profiler, the main character did get annoy me and I was bored with watching the show and wanted it over with, so often found myself hoping that Jack of All Trades would hurry up and do her in. I kind of got into it towards the end, but then the first series finished, and I was still none the wiser about his identity and haven't seen any more of it. So I still wish he'd have finished the job off.

But then there are some shows where I always want the good guys to win - Morse, Monk and the Law & Order lot, so perhaps there is hope for me yet.