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Saturday, January 15, 2022

Book Review - God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen

One more holiday themed mystery, just in case you are missing all the holiday movies and such!  You have to ween yourself!


"Georgie is back and hanging the stockings with care when a murder interrupts her Christmas cheer in this all-new installment in the New York Times bestselling Royal Spyness series from Rhys Bowen."  See what I thought of the newest in this historical cozy mystery series.

Here are the reviews I have posted of prior books in the series. 
#14 The Last Mr. Summers (click here)
#8 Queen of Hearts (click here
#7 Heirs and Graces (click here)
#6 The Twelve Clues of Christmas (click here)
#5 Naughty in Nice (click here
#4 Royal Blood (click here
Author interviews and guest posts:
2017 (click here
2016 (click here
2010 (click here

Author:
Rhys Bowen

Copyright: Oct 2021 (Berkley) 302 pgs

Series: 15th in Royal Spyness Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: historical Cozy, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Lady Georgianna, 35th in line for the throne, cousin to the prince 

Setting: 1935, Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, England

Obtained Through: Netgalley for an honest review

Book Blurb: "Georgie is excited for her first Christmas as a married woman in her lovely new home. She suggests to her dashing husband, Darcy, that they have a little house party, but when Darcy receives a letter from his aunt Ermintrude, there is an abrupt change in plans. She has moved to a house on the edge of the Sandringham estate, near the royal family, and wants to invite Darcy and his new bride for Christmas. Aunt Ermintrude hints that the queen would like Georgie nearby. Georgie had not known that Aunt Ermintrude was a former lady-in-waiting and close confidante of her royal highness. The letter is therefore almost a royal request, so Georgie, Darcy, and their Christmas guests: Mummy, Grandad, Fig, and Binky all head to Sandringham.

Georgie soon learns that the notorious Mrs. Simpson, mistress to the Prince of Wales, will also be in attendance. It is now crystal clear to Georgie that the Queen expects her to do a bit of spying. There is tension in the air from the get-go, and when Georgie pays a visit to the queen, she learns that there is more to her request than just some simple eavesdropping. There have been a couple of strange accidents at the estate recently. Two gentlemen of the royal household have died in mysterious circumstances and another has been shot by mistake during a hunt. Georgie begins to suspect that a member of the royal family is the real target but her investigation will put her new husband and love of her life, Darcy, in the crosshairs of a killer."

Georgiana is still self-conscious as she tries to be more mature as a married woman, but she can't change her sleuthing ways. Especially when the Queen asks for her to investigate.  Darcy and his rather carefree single days raise a specter that he and Georgie must deal with in this addition to the series.  Georgiana's brother "Binky" and his wife "Fig" invite themselves along and Fig is still insufferable.  Darcy's Aunt Ermintrude is an eccentric artist and was once part of the Queen's retinue and close confidante who has fallen on hard times since her husband's death.  Georgiana's mother, a former actress who is now the steady girlfriend of a German businessman, joins the festivities and has less of a role than usual.  Queenie, the walking disaster zone, is working in the kitchen for the most part when she isn't ruining some lady's dress or other mishap.  The Prince (Georgiana's cousin) and Mrs. Simpson, the American Divorcee, are present and part of the reason why Georgie and her group have been invited.  

My Thoughts:  
I enjoyed this addition to the series.  The accidents that were really murders are well done for creating a suspicious environment where everyone could be the killer.  Were the victims the intended target, or were they mistakes trying to kill the Prince?  This kept me reading and guessing.  The 20,000 acre Sandringham estate (where the royal family spends every Christmas) was a great location and felt isolated and eerie at times.  Georgie has developed well in her deductive skills and that is tested as well as how secure she feels with Darcy.  The characters are all real-feeling, the setting is shared faithfully, the mystery isn't easy to figure out, and I didn't realize who the killer was until Georgie did and it will surprise many.  This is a delightful mystery that provides a great escape with an interesting tableau and puzzle to solve.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

Here is a short video of Sandringham House 
from a tourist.





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Monday, January 10, 2022

Mystery Movie Review - In the Heat of the Night

The incredible Sidney Poitier (the first Black actor to win an Oscar for best actor--for the movie Lilies of the Field) died a few days ago.  This is a perfect time to review one of the best 1960s mystery/thriller movies that stared Poitier. Some people may remember the telelvision police series that ran 1988 – 1995 starring Carol O'Connor, but the movie came first.  Of course it all started with the 1965 Novel In the Heat of the Night by John Ball which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America. It's hard to find his novels, but I have read a few and loved them.  Here is a link to the book that the movie is from and inspired a television series (click here).

FYI, this is reportedly the favorite film of actor Danny Glover.  Besides Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger and Lee Grant also stared in this early color movie released Aug 2, 1967.

What it's about
It's the 1960s in Mississippi.  Detective Virgil Tibbs (Philadelphia PD's number one homicide expert) was simply waiting for his next train at the station in Sparta, Mississippi when he is arrested after the murder of a prominent businessman. Upon discovering who he actually is, the police chief and Tibbs very reluctantly work together. The murdered man, Mr. Colbert, had come to Sparta from the North to build a new factory and his wife and business associates immediately point the finger at the most powerful man in the county and the one who had the most to lose if a major new employer comes to the area. Tibbs' life is clearly in danger but he perseveres in a highly charged and racially explosive environment. 

Rotten Tomatoes 95% 
Critic Jeff Beck "Thanks to its compelling narrative, memorable characters, and above all, a towering performance from the legendary Sidney Poitier, In the Heat of the Night continues to resonate with audiences over 50 years after its release."

Critic Wanda Hale "It's a pleasure, all too rare, to watch two splendid actors pitted against each other with equal force such as Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger in the exceptional murder mystery, In the Heat of the Night."

The Oscars presentations in 1967 (in which this won) was postponed for two days due to the assassination of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968.  This film won the Oscar for Best Picture and received multiple other award nominations and wins.  This was the only film directed by Norman Jewison to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

--The movie's line "They call me MISTER Tibbs!" was voted as the #16 greatest movie quote by the American Film Institute.

-- Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) was ranked Hero #19 in the Heroes category on the American Film Institute's 100 Heroes and Villains list.

-- In 2007 the American Film Institute ranked this as #75 Greatest Movie of All Time.

Trivia (mostly from IMDB)
-- This was reportedly the first major Hollywood film in color that was lit with proper consideration for an actor with dark skin. Haskell Wexler recognized that standard lighting used in filming produced too much glare on dark complexion. He toned down the lighting to feature Sidney Poitier with better results.

-- Sidney Poitier insisted that the movie be filmed in the North because of an incident in which he and Harry Belafonte were almost killed by Ku Klux Klansmen during a visit to Mississippi. That's why Sparta, Illinois, was chosen for location filming.  The filmmakers and actors did venture briefly into Tennessee for the outdoor scenes at the cotton plantation, because there was no similar cotton plantation in Illinois that could be used. Poitier slept with a gun under his pillow during production in Tennessee. He did receive threats from local racist thugs, so the shoot was cut short and production returned to Illinois.

-- The town's name in the story was changed to Sparta so that local signs would not need to be changed. The greenhouse was added to an existing house and filled with $15,000 worth of orchids.

-- Ray Charles sings the theme song and the song played on a little transistor radio, "Bow-Legged Polly", was written and performed for the film by Glen Campbell.

-- Rod Steiger was asked by director Norman Jewison to chew gum when playing the part. He resisted at first, but then grew to love the idea, and eventually went through 263 packs of gum during shooting.

-- According to Sidney Poitier, Tibbs' retaliation slap to Endicott (Larry Gates) was not in the original script nor in the novel on which the film is based. Poitier insisted that Tibbs slap Endicott back and wanted a guarantee that the scene would appear in all prints of the film.

-- The movie is set during a hot Mississippi summer, but filmed during autumn in Illinois, so many of the actors had to keep ice chips in their mouths (and spit them out before takes) to prevent their breath from appearing on camera during the night scenes.

My Thoughts:
The movie is stellar and makes an impact from the beginning to the end.  But it makes me uncomfortable because, like many of us today, the in-your-face racism of the day is on full display.  It completely transports you so you feel the character's fear and frustration as well as determination to uncover the truth.  

The mystery in the tale is solid and the red herrings cause serious complications.  The atmosphere created by the expert direction and camera work is pervasive.  The dialog snaps and crackles, even with the 60s slang thrown in.  This is taut and gritty and Poitier/Stieger play off each other masterfully.  Yes, racism in the South is clearly at the forefront, but it is also distrust of "outsiders" on full display in a small town that ratchets tension ever higher.  

Considering the headlines of the last years, this movie doesn't seem 55 years old as its message is still relevant today.  The script, plot, acting and character development, dialog, and camerawork are top notch (particularly when shooting in color was new) and work to make this a stellar police procedural movie and tremendous drama.  

If you haven't seen this movie, consider watching it and see the talented and incomparable Sidney Poitier and one of his best performances.

Here is the movie trailor:



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Friday, December 24, 2021

Review - Body and Soul Food


Happy holidays my dear readers.  I will have a holiday book next for review.  Today, from the author of the Ice Cream Parlor mysteries comes a new cozy mystery series.  "In this page-turning new mystery series, fraternal twins Keaton and Koby will pull double duty when they take down a killer while preparing to open their new bookstore and soul-food café, Books & Biscuits."  Here is a guest post from the author (click here.)  Read on to find out more about this new series.

Author:
Abby Collette

Copyright: Nov 2021 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 1st in Books & Biscuits Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, Amateur sleuth

Main Character: Keaton Rutledge, Co-Owner of bookstore and soul-food café, Books & Biscuits 

Setting: contemporary Timber Lake, Oregan

Obtained Through: Netgalley for an honest review

Book Blurb: "When Koby Hill and Keaton Rutledge were orphaned at age two, they were separated, but their unbreakable connection lingered. Years later, they reunite and decide to make up for lost time and capitalize on their shared interests by opening up a well-stocked bookstore and cozy soul-food café in the quaint Pacific Northwest town of Timber Lake. But this new chapter of their lives could end on a cliffhanger after Koby's foster brother is found murdered.

The murder, which occurred in public between light-rail stops, seems impossible for the police to solve. But as Keaton and Koby know, two heads are always better than one, especially when it comes to mysteries. With just a week to go before the grand opening of their new café, the twins will use their revitalized connection with each other to make sure this is the killer's final page."

Keaton Rutledge was the fortunate twin who got adopted by estabished and well-to-do parents.  Koby Hill, her fraternal twin, wasn't as lucky and went through the foster care system. He finally found Mama Zola as a foster mother and he flourished, never forgetting he had a twin out there to find.  Mama Zola, Koby's foster mom, is the break-out character I loved.  Imogene, Keaton's adoptive mother who is a psyhchologist, gets out of her head a little and shines as well.  Reef Jeffries, the murder victim, was flirting with Keaton and seemed an all around good guy who clearly liked her a lot.  Reef was also why Koby knew he had a twin because Reef (six years older) told Koby that a girl had come into the first group home with him.  Georgie Tsai, tattoed cooking assistant, and Pete Howers are the only employees.  Homicide Detective Daniel Chow suspects Keaton and Koby and pushs them a little but comes through in a pinch.  

My Thoughts: The plot was interesting and took some unraveling. I liked that the victim wasn't the usual horrible person but a good guy making his way (sad, too).  The fraternal twins having been separated at birth added a lot of depth to Keaton and her twin brother Koby.  The food descriptions are mouthwatering. The climax had some great tense moments as Keaton and Koby realize who the killer is at nearly the same time.  The writing is comfort food itself and enveloped me.  This is a new favorite series and I look forward to many books to follow.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 



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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Review - An Eggnog to Die For

I'm just now getting into some holiday themed mysteries that I had planned on reviewing a few weeks ago.  I am just going to roll with it, which means even after the 25th I will probably still be reviewing some to stretch out the holiday season!  First up is a foodie themed holiday cozy mystery, check this out.


Author:
Amy Pershing

Copyright: November 2021 (Berkley) 320 pgs

Series: 2nd in Cape Cod Foodie mystery series

Sensuality: mild, kissing

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, Amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Samantha Barnes, chef turned restaurant critic for Cape Cod Clarion

Setting: Contemporary, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Obtained Through: Netgalley for honest review

Book Blurb: "Professional foodie Samantha Barnes has a simple Christmas list: a quiet holiday at home with her dog and a certain handsome harbor master; no embarrassing viral videos; and no finding dead bodies. Unfortunately she’s got family visiting, she’s spending a lot of time in front of the camera, and she’s just stumbled over the lifeless body of the town’s Santa Claus.
 
Plus, Sam’s plans for Christmas Eve are getting complicated.  There’s the great eggnog debate among her very opinionated guests.  There’s the “all edible” Christmas tree to decorate.  And there’s her Feast of the Five Fishes prepare. Nonetheless, Sam finds herself once again in the role of sleuth. She needs to find out who slayed this Santa—but can she pull off a perfect feast and nab a killer?"

Samantha is 6-foot tall, extroverted, clever, sarcastic, and easily relatable with a relentless curiosity-but she does some risky things.  She has an overly large dog name Diogi, always a hit.  Friends include Helene Greenberg, her nextdoor neighbor and the town librarian, Jenny Snow Singleton is a friend since childhood,  Miles Tanner is an old high school friend and local organic farmer, and Krista Baker is the publisher of the Clarion and old friend.  Her parents, Robert and Veronica Barnes, were the prior Clarion editor in chief and senior journalist, burst into town for the holidays.  Dad is secretive about something he spends time on and Mom is asked to do an article on the murder who thinks there is promise in a mob angle--further complicating Sam's holiday.  Introverted Jason Captiva is her old and new boyfriend who is the town harbormaster.  Sam's extroverted ways are struggling with Jason's introverted tendencies.

The main plot is finding the killer who killed Santa.  There are several subplots including keeping her mother out of trouble as she writes an article on the murder for the local paper, hosting and cooking a multiple-course Christmas Eve dinner, and navigating her confusing relationship with Jason.  Bad Santa knew a lot of people's secrets and had plenty of victims lined up to stop with his sanctimonious "doing the right thing" ways.  So there were plenty of red herrings.  Sam takes risks with her suspected killer suspects, which is out of character for an otherwise smart woman.  She goes through a few people she is convinced is the killer before she hits on the real killer. 
 
The killer confrontation is an example of best laid plans going awry (Sam was going to confront the killer safely). This provided a few tense moments that I enjoyed.  The wrap up finished up with family and friends.  It left me feeling a bit empty without all the characters that filled the book

My thoughts: If you enjoy cozies with lots going on outside of the sleuthing, then this will be a good book for you.  There is the still developing relationship with the harbormaster and her visiting parents to juggle, holiday errands, baking cookies and decorating them for the tree with her friend and three boys.  Additionally, her working for the paper and trying to keep her mother from investigating the mob angle while planning the details for a big holiday feast with friends invited keeps her busy.  Then her parents are going through her house and attic cleaning and rearranging etc.  Foodie talk with cooking tips/hacks are interspersed throughout the book, which I suspect most readers will enjoy.  

The characters are well drawn and portrayed with a mystery that keeps you guessing who did it.  The only downsides are how I found I didn't like that Sam refers to her parents as her ‘rents which is very annoying to me.  Am I the only one who doesn't like "sich/sitch" short for situation and 'rents short for parents etc?  Sam does do some risky things with who she suspects as the killer, but I still enjoyed her character.  Overall, I am glad to have discovered this new series and I'm looking forward to the next installment.  

Rating:  Excellent - Fun and entertaining holiday mystery, give it a try.



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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - The Saint

Most people never knew that the Val Kilmer "The Saint" originated as a series by Leslie Charteris who was a British-Chinese author of adventure fiction, as well as a screenwriter.  The books were published from 1928-1963.  From 1963-1983 other authors collaborated on a few of the books and then after Charteris' death, continued to write the books.  There are 50 books in the series all told.  The books have Simon Templar very solidly British.  I have read a few of the books.

Television


The Saint was a popular television series in its day.  I was fortunate to catch both the black and white 60s version and the color 70s version on classic TV reruns.

The Saint (1962–1969 – Roger Moore)

Return of the Saint (1978–1979 – Ian Ogilvy)

The character has also been portrayed in radio dramas, comic strips, comic books, and three television series.  Roger Moore, who later became the first James Bond, played Simon Templar on television which likely helped him get the Bond role.  Simon Templar was known as the "Robin Hood of modern crime".


Three of the actors to play Templar — Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvy on television and Simon Dutton in made-for-TV movies in 1989 — have been appointed vice presidents of "The Saint Club" that was founded by Leslie Charteris in 1936. It is still going strong more than seventy years later. Simon Templar is, of course, the President of the Club, with Leslie Charteris being the Vice-President until his death in 1993, when he was succeeded by Roger Moore, Ian Ogilvy and Simon Dutton. All proceeds from the membership fees and the sale of merchandise go to charities nominated by the Vice-Presidents.

The Big Screen

The big Hollywood movie was released in 1997.  Rated PG-13 for action violence, brief strong language, some sensuality and drug content.  I classify this as a thriller with espionage touches.

Starring Val Kilmer, Elizabeth Shue, and Rade Serbedzija. Directed by Phillip Noyce.


What it's about

Simon Templar (The Saint), is a thief for hire who was raised in an orphanage. Simon Templar isn't even his real name.  His latest job he is contracted to do is steal the secret process for cold fusion (a clean energy source) that puts him at odds with a traitor bent on toppling the Russian government, as well as kill the American electrochemist who holds its secret.  This Russian oligarch/mobster intends to keep this energy source for his own enrichment and powergrab to become a dictator.  Simon manages to develop feelings for the pretty electrochemist and must outwit the Russian mobster before the worst happens and it irreversibly crushes the US.

There is a boat load of interesting tidbits about the movie.  Here are a few from IMDB:

  • Elisabeth Shue was nomimnated Favorite Actress in Blockbuster Entertainment Awards for her role.  It won the BMI Film and TV Award for Film Music.
  • Val Kilmer turned down returning to the Batman franchise after the box-office smash Batman Forever (1995) due to his commitment to this movie.
  • Roger Moore (the first TV Simon Templar) features throughout in cameo as the BBC Newsreader heard in Simon Templar's Volvo radio.  
  • The poetry written by Simon Templar's long-haired artist character, Thomas Moore, was actually written by Val Kilmer.  Kilmer's S. African accent for this character was learned from a South African assistant with whom he worked on The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), the movie he completed before he started filming this movie.  
  • The last fourth of the movie originally had a very different outcome, but test audiences really didn't like it.  So they rewrote and reshot all those scenes.  
  •  There were rumors that Kilmer was difficult on set. But Elisabeth Shue and producer Mace Neufeld denied Kilmer's misconduct, praising his professionalism and dedication, eventually working seven days a week during re-shoots three months before this movie's release.  
  • A Volvo P1800 can be seen parked directly outside Simon's apartment building in London. This was the type of car driven by Simon in The Saint (1962).  
  • They used an updated version of the theme tune, and having appeared in numerous post 1960s television adaptations of the Saint, serves as one of the most frequently and longest lasting theme tunes of a media franchise.  
  • The nickname "Boris the Spider", used by Ivan Tretiak (Russian mobster) to communicate with the Saint, is a reference to a 1966 song by The Who, written by bassist John Entwistle.  
  • Sir Kenneth Branagh, George Clooney, Kevin Costner, Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down the role of Simon Templar.
  • When Val Kilmer does his southern voice, for one of his many voices, he sounded just like he did when he portrayed Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993).

Rotten Tomatoes 30% Although audience score is 63%

The critics didn't like the screenplay but credited Val Kilmer and Elisabeth Shue for their performances.

My Thoughts:

This is an example of when I disagree with Rotten Tomatoes and many of the critics.  I would have given this 80% personally.  It was never going to win an Oscar, but I don't think that was ever the goal.  The screenplay wasn't too far from the books in the big picture.  I will grant you that some of the dialog could have been better and there were a few attempts for humor that didn't ring true.  The Elizabeth Shue character,  electrochemist Dr. Emma Russell, comes across a little quirky and even naive at times but I felt that was endearing.  Also, the portrayal of Russia after the Soviet Union fell isn't far from the reality of the country being run by former KGB thugs taking over the energy industry (oil in reality) and being obscenely wealthy while the people scrape by.

I thought Val Kilmer, Elizabeth Shue, and Rade Serbedzija were especially good in their roles.  Rade Serbedzija is really good as the would-be dictator Tretiak.  I am so glad Val Kilmer did the role because I can't imagine any of the actors who turned down the role could have embodied Simon Templar like Kilmer did.  I give him major kudos.

If you are looking for an espionage-thriller for a fun two hours, grab the popcorn and Twizzlers because this is your movie.  If you saw it back in 1997, I suggest you revisit it.  

I have read several of the books and can't help but compare to the movie.  The movie takes some liberties, as they often do, leaving the source material behind.  Beyond updating Simon Templar, I think they did a good job of translating the idea/concept of the books into a large scale movie.  Here are some examples of the differences.

  • The book Simon would never have taken a job to steal a cold fusion (energy source) equation from the scientist who developed it.  That is the basis of the movie and it isn't in character for the Saint of the books.
  • At one point Kilmer's Saint is in a hand-to-hand fight and is forced to flee; this would never have been allowed in the books. Although it does make Simon more realistic which was a must for modern audiences.
  • Although the Saint in the books did go up against powerful criminals and corrupt governments, even Nazis in three books, he was primarily a thief with a penchant for the underdog.  That gets lost in the movie.
  • The original Saint resorted to aliases that had the initials S.T. as a subtle reference to Simon Templar, but the screenplay's character used Christian saints, regardless of initials.  This ties into the movie backstory of his being an orphan and in a Catholic orphanage with the name John Rossi.  The book's Simon Templar (his real name) had very little backstory.  The movie goes a long way to flesh out Simon's character and the orphange helps, but the saint tie-in seemed like they were stretching to connect the nickname "The Saint" with the character.  In the books, the nickname is because he was a Robin Hood meets Equalizer archetype.
  • The movie Simon didn't kill during his mission, and even his main enemies lived, but the book's Simon had no issues about taking another life when push came to shove - like the Equalizer.  I must clarify that the book's Simon picked his jobs carefully and they were usually against very unsavory people to begin with. 
  • Also, in the books, Simon had a girlfriend, Patricia Holm, who was adventerous and knew, in general broad strokes, of Simon's activities.  This is nothing like the scientist he is romantically involved with in the movie.
  • In the book the stick figure with a halo is Templar's logo that is on his "calling card" he leaves behind after one of his jobs.  The movie has this being a stylized stick-pin gifted to him at the end of the movie.

This is one of my "just for fun" movies to kick back and watch.  I have lost count of how many times I've seen it. Enjoy.

Here is the movie trailer: https://youtu.be/nqX_aEb1vy4





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