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Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Mystery Movie Review - The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax

Based on the Mrs. Pollifax books (14 total) by Dorothy Gilman, was a movie by CBS, who would later run Angela Landsbury in Murder She Wrote (click here). But in There was an earlier version in1971 with Rosalind Russell the title character in "Mrs. Pollifax-Spy" alongside Darren McGavin in the United Artists film. What I am reviewing today is the 1999 version starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Pollifax.  This made-for-TV movie was likely the pilot for a possible follow up series that, sadly, never materialized.  

What It's About:
When her doctor recommends that a widow pursue her unfulfilled life ambitions, he doesn't realize that she has always wanted to be a spy. Sending a letter to her Representative gets her an interview with the C.I.A. and accidentally gets her an assignment to Morocco for a supposedly easy task of picking up an encrypted code book. When the agency realizes their mistake, they send a super-agent to watch over her. Both are taken prisoner and the real agent is injured, leaving Mrs. Emily Pollifax (Dame Angela Lansbury) to use her considerable wits to help them escape and to save the day.

Angela Lansbury- Mrs. Emily Pollifax
Thomas Ian Griffith- Jack Farrell
Ed Bishop- Carstairs
Paul Birchard- Bishop
John Light- Robin Hughes-Wright

1999 PG
Run time: 1hour 29 minutes
Writers: Dorothy Gilman and Robert T. Megginson
Director: Anthony Pullen Shaw

My thoughts:
This movie doesn't follow the book of the same name very much.  The book is a bit more espionage-like.  But Angela Landsbury is effortless and shines, making this a fun and quirky movie. This has delightful comedic elements and I had to wonder if "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" wasn't inspired by this movie with its common sense "senior" heroine and comedic mix-ups.  If you want something light and family friendly, check out this lighthearted espionage film.

Watch on Youtube 

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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Review - The Hollywood Spy

 I'm behind in this series and starting to catch up.  I'm glad I didn't skip any of the books because this is a powerful addition to the series.  I began with the debut novel and have read and reviewed all these:

#1 Mr. Churchill's Secretary (click here)

#2 Princess Elizabeth's Spy (click here)

#3 His Majesty's Hope (click here)

#4 The Prime Minister's Secret Agent (click here)

#5 Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante (click here)

#6 The Queen's Accomplice (click here)

#7 The Paris Spy (click here),

#8  The Prisoner in the Castle (click here)

#9 The King's Justice (click here

Plus a wonderful interview with Ms. MacNeal (click here).

Let's join Maggie as she leaves England and travels to Los Angeles to help her former fiancee with a murder investigation.

Author: Susan Elia MacNeal

Copyright: July 2021 (Bantum) 369 pgs

Series: 10th in Maggie Hope Mysteries

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical mystery

Main Character: Maggie Hope, American now British Secret Service Fund

Setting: 1943, Los Angeles/Hollywood

Obtained Through: Library

Cover Blurb: "Los Angeles, 1943. As the Allies beat back the Nazis in the Mediterranean and the United States military slowly closes in on Tokyo, Walt Disney cranks out wartime propaganda and the Cocoanut Grove is alive with jazz and swing every night. But behind this sunny façade lies a darker reality. Up in the lush foothills of Hollywood, a woman floats lifeless in the pool of one of California’s trendiest hotels.

When American-born secret agent and British spy Maggie Hope learns that this woman was engaged to her former fiancée, John Sterling, and that he suspects her death was no accident, intuition tells her he’s right. Leaving London under siege is a lot to ask—but John was once the love of Maggie’s life . . . and she can’t say no.

 Maggie struggles with seeing her lost love again, but more shocking is the realization that her country is as divided and convulsed with hatred as Europe. The Zoot Suit Riots loom large in Los Angeles, and the Ku Klux Klan casts a long shadow everywhere. But there is little time to dwell on memories once she starts digging into the case. As she traces a web of deception from the infamous Garden of Allah to the iconic Carthay Circle Theater, she discovers things aren’t always the way things appear in the movies—and the political situation in America is more complicated, and dangerous, than the newsreels would have them all believe."

My Thoughts:  Maggie Hope is doing better emotionally in this addition to the series.  But she is now challenged with seeing her ex-fiance and working alongside him to investigate the death of his romantic interest.  She has come such a long way since the first book and this really shows the new Maggie.  The amazing and talented ballerina, Sarah Sanderson, is Maggie's closest friend and features prominently in this outing.  We see how she is lovely on the inside as well as the out.  RAF Flight Commander John Sterling, Maggie's ex-fiancée, is back after many books without him.  This is a changed John as well and he has some issues to face as they investigate the death of his girlfriend, socialite Gloria Hutton.  

As always, the plots are based in solid facts and this is no exception. Rampant prejudice was spreading like a California wild fire in Los Angeles while we fought the same in Germany and Maggie comes face-to-face with the ugliness as she digs into the death of Miss Hutton. The investigation uncovers so much with twists and turns.

The climax is gut-wrenching and tense, a real nail biter.  Excellent job all around.  This sets up for the further adventures of Maggie Hope as well.

A stellar addition to the series, in my opinion.  I couldn't put it down and devoured it.  This is not only an excellently crafted book but it is a look at the times showing the glitz and the ugliness.  Bravo.  I would love an autographed copy, which is rare for me.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.  Buy a copy for everyone you know, it's that good. 

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Mystery Movie Review - Pretend You Don't See Her

This movie is based on the book of the same name by Mary Higgins Clark (Queen of Suspense) first published in 1997.  I include this movie because there are many tolerably well done movies that, although not stellar, provide entertainment.  

What's It About:
  "Lacey Farrell (Emma Samms), a young rising star on Manhattan's high-powered and competitive real estate scene is in the course of selling a luxurious apartment when she becomes the witness to a murder and hears the dying words of the victim, a woman convinced that her attacker was after a journal kept by her recently deceased daughter Heather up until the day she died in a hit-and-run, what everyone believes to be a tragic accident." 

2002  PG-13
Writers: Donald Hounam & Mary Higgins Clark
Director: René Bonnière

Emma Samms (General Hospital, Dynasty) as Lacey Farrell
Hannes Jaenicke as Curtis Caldwell Blake
Beau Starr as Detective Ed Sloan
Reiner Schöne as Jimmy Greco
Stewart Bick as Ken Lynch
Laura Press as Chantal Greco
William Colgate as Svenson

Filming locations:  Toronto, Ontario, Canada

My Thoughts:
This suspense made-for-TV movie falls into the category of the modestly done book-to-movie adaptations that are often cranked out. It follows the book well but suffers from needing a better script writter that could have really brought the book to life with better crafted scenes to increase the tension for screen rather than the page.  

Otherwise it is a fair suspense movie.  Emma Samms does well as a woman who witnesses a murder and her life is turned upside down.  She hides her normal British accent to play a New Yorker. The cinematoghaphy is on par for a made-for-television movie.  The title comes from a 1957 song "Pretend You Don't See Her" by Jerry Vale and alludes to the main character hiding in Witness Protection while being hunted by the killer.  The song is used in a few scenes and I felt they could have put a bit more effort into the music overall, perhaps an updated version of the song for the movie.  

If you are looking for a movie that won't keep you awake from fright, but will entertain for an hour and a half, this is a good pick.  Average acting, fair storyline, and some good tense moments.  Available to watch on PrimeVideo.  

Overall, not terrible but not great either.  An average made-for-TV effort with television-series level production quality.  Middle of the road and worked okay for me since I like Mary Higgins Clark's work.

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Monday, March 13, 2023

Review - A Botanists Guide to Flowers & Fatality

 “A cleverly plotted puzzle” (Ashley Weaver) in the vein of Opium and Absinthe, this second installment is perfect for fans of Rhys Bowen and Sujata Massey.

1)  A Botanist's Guide to Parties And Poisons (click here)

Author: Kate Khavari 

Copyright: June 2023 (Crooked Lane Books) 352 pgs

Series: 2nd in Saffron Everleigh Mysteries

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy, Historical amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Saffron Everleigh, Botanist and college researcher

Setting: 1920s, London, England

Obtained Through: Publisher (Netgalley) for honest review

Book Blurb: "1920s London isn’t the ideal place for a brilliant woman with lofty ambitions. But research assistant Saffron Everleigh is determined to beat the odds in a male-dominated field at the University College of London. Saffron embarks on her first research study alongside the insufferably charming Dr. Michael Lee, traveling the countryside with him in response to reports of poisonings. But when Detective Inspector Green is given a case with a set of unusual clues, he asks for Saffron’s assistance.

The victims, all women, received bouquets filled with poisonous flowers. Digging deeper, Saffron discovers that the bouquets may be more than just unpleasant flowers— there may be a hidden message within them, revealed through the use of the old Victorian practice of floriography. A dire message, indeed, as each woman who received the flowers has turned up dead.

Alongside Dr. Lee and her best friend, Elizabeth, Saffron trails a group of suspects through a dark jazz club, a lavish country estate, and a glittering theatre, delving deeper into a part of society she thought she’d left behind forever.

Will Saffron be able to catch the killer before they send their next bouquet, or will she find herself with fatal flowers of her own in Kate Khavari’s second intoxicating installment." 

My Thoughts:

Saffron Everleigh, a woman pioneering in Botany, continues to face challenges as her male colleagues spread rumors and don't support her.  Her side kick in the first mystery, Alexander Ashton, is away on safari for the college and makes an appearance in the last chapters.  Saffron is teamed with Dr. Michael Lee for her research work but they don't get along even when he helps her investigate the murders.  

The plot is well conceived and presented and Saffron's investigation takes her into a seedy side of society's young party scene.  The characters are yet again well developed.  I flew through the pages, devouring them.  It had a very tense and dramatic killer reveal like I love.  This unique heroine and clever mysteries are my new favorite series.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

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Monday, March 6, 2023

Musings-Where did "The Butler Did It" Come From?

This is a shorter post today as we examine the idea of "The Butler Did It."  Enjoy.

Everybody knows the phrase "The Butler Did It."  It is referred to as a joke as if that was a common villain in murder mysteries at some point.  But the truth is, it wasn't used that often to warrant being a trope.  A trope is "a convention or device that establishes a predictable or stereotypical representation of a character, setting, or scenario in a creative work."  But, if it was never really used enough to become a convention that is predictable, where did we get the phrase?

"This plot formula has the unusual distinction of being a cliché of mystery writing without ever having been widely used.  

The concept of "the butler did it" is commonly attributed to Mary Roberts Rinehart. Her otherwise forgettable 1930 novel, The Door, is notable for (spoiler alert) the ending, in which the butler actually is the villain. (The actual phrase "the butler did it," however, never appears in the text.)

While suspicion had fallen on butlers with some regularity in earlier mystery fiction, only one previous author placed the knife (or in this case the pistol) directly in the butler's hand: "The Strange Case of Mr Challoner" by Herbert Jenkins, published as part of the collection Malcolm Sage: Detective in 1921. It was The Door, however, that locked the cliché into the imagination of the reading public." Nate Pedersen "Why do we think the butler did it?" The Guardian, Dec 9, 2010 

     In 1867 the Civil War began in the United States, but before that the system of owning slaves had engendered a fear of slaves rising up against their owners, which occrured in only a few instances.  This fear was particularly fed among the women to fear what would happen to them if slaves rebelled.   This kept both women and slaves, who had similar non-legal status, to distrust one another.  Apparently it wasn't only the Amreican south that may have spawned the "Butler Did It" concept.  Although nobody specifically makes that specific connection.

"In Lady Audley’s Secret from 1862, too, the character Lady Audley “shares with her Victorian readers a mounting anxiety about the eyes and ears of servants in the home.” It makes a certain sense that the trope seemed more popular because it dug into the fears of the upper class at the time."  Addison Rizer  "When Did the Butler Dunnit? The History of 'The Butler Did It' Trope" Bookriot, Jan 19, 2023. 

Whatever the specific reasons that caused us to blame the Stoic Butler stereotype, suggests that "The butler is the avatar of the most unlikely suspect that turns out to be guilty because the author wasn't creative enough to come up with a better way to surprise the reader... except that you can see it coming a mile away."

Additionally, also reveals that there is something similar which I'd not heard about.  "It is the case that this is an English-language trope: crime novels popular in Germany in the same period were notorious for the cliche that "the gardener did it," thus transplanting the blame out of the house."

In the course of researching this post, I found there is a stage play titled "The Butler Did It" and a movie based on the play.  Here is the description of the play: 

"This comedy parodies every English mystery play ever written: but it has a decidedly American flair. Miss Maple, a dowager with a reputation for "clever" weekend parties, invites a group of detective writers to eerie Ravenswood Manor on Turkey Island where they are to impersonate their fictional characters. The hostess has arranged all sorts of amusing incidents: a mysterious voice on the radio, a menacing face at the window, a mad killer on the loose. Who is that body in the wine cellar anyway? Why do little figurines keep toppling from the mantle? Then a real murder takes place, and Miss Maple is outraged. She offers an immense reward to the "detective" who can bring the killer to justice. And what an assortment of zany would-be sleuths! When they're not busy tripping over clues, they trip over each other! Laughs collide with thrills, and the climax is a real seat-grabber as the true killer is unmasked, and almost everyone turns out to be someone else! Can be played as a pure farce, or as humorous satire."

I want to see this play, it sounds like a lot of fun.  Have you seen it?  If so, please share what you thought of it.

I hope you enjoyed our little exploration of this expression and its murky origins when it actually is a rarity.  What else would you like to know?  Leave in the comments if there is a mystery/thriller subject you would like me to tackle.

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