Monthly Archives: November 2003

Harlan Coben – Back Spin

The fourth Myron Bolitar novel is set in and around Merion golf club at a US Open. Jack Coldren is in the lead. Myron is there to woo potential clients, but he gets drawn in by the Coldren family when Chad, Jack’s son, is kidnapped. Unfortunately Myron has to investigate on his own because Win doesn’t refuses to get involved. The reason for this is something that Myron will have to uncover if he is to rescue Chad, and find out who abducted him. Not quite up to the high standards of the first three books (it feels unbalanced, with the ending being much heavier than the light, jokey beginning), but still a top slice of detective entertainment.

Matrix Revolutions

Everything that has a beginning has an end. Just not always a terribly good one. The middle of the film, the assault of Zion and the flight of the Hammer, is amazing; the rest is pants. The final fight between Neo and Smith is dull. The final reversal of fortune is unexplained and therefore unsatisfying. I suppose the ending was meant to leave me with a sense of awe and mystical wonder; instead, it came across as naive and deflating. It ends, yes, but it resolves nothing. It leaves the door open for the follow-up novels, graphic novels, games, anime series, etc. Reloaded improved upon a second viewing, because I didn’t understand what was really going on, and I wanted to. I understand what they’re trying to do with Revolutions, and I wish I didn’t.

Phone Booth

Brilliant thriller about sleazy publicist Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) who picks up the ringing phone in a phone booth only to find a killer at the other end of the line. The killer has been tracking Stu, and knows all his secrets and sins…and wants Stu to face up to them. He has a high-powered rifle trained on Stu in the phone booth, and he won’t let him leave until Stu has confessed. It’s a fabulously simple concept, executed with supreme confidence. Apart from the opening scenes, which follow Stu on a walk through Manhattan towards the phone booth in question, the entire film is shot in and around that one, claustrophobic location. At just over 80 minutes, the film doesn’t pad the story with sub-plots and diversions: it stays totally focused on Stu, the sniper, and the phone call. The tension it builds is incredible, and it has a powerful climax to match. Truly extraordinary.

Welcome To Collinwood

I’m not sure if this was supposed to be a crime caper, or a character study of a bunch of mismatched no-hopers chasing a dream of escape from poverty. Either way, it ended up as a forced slapstick about a burglary gone wrong. There are a few funny moments, and a few nice character touches, but they’re the rare exception. Most of the time the protagonists are nothing more than a bunch of unlikeable half-wits who can’t bust their way through a damp napkin, let alone a jeweller’s safe. Yes, this appears to be exactly what the script calls for, but why? What is the film trying to say? It left me cold because it lacks heart, and lacks direction. This is exemplified by the ending, which allows the gang’s failure to fizzle out in spectacularly anti-climactic “that’s it?” fashion. All of the cast can do better than this in their sleep.

Emma Lathen – Something in the Air

An old-fashioned whodunnit murder mystery set in the high-pressure world of a budget airline. Althought it is ostensibly a “John Putnam Thatcher mystery”, Thatcher only plays a very small part in the book. In fact, the only reason I can see for him being present is to put his name in the blurb. His presence doesn’t further the plot in any way. Although he and his cronies do eventually figure out who committed the crime, they show up at the denouement just after the killer has made a confession. The rest of the story follows the various suspects while they spin off their own theories and try to backstab each other (politically) in a struggle for control of the airline. Unfortunately neither the characters nor the battle for power are terribly interesting.

Harlan Coben – Fade Away

Ten years ago, just as he was about to turn pro, Myron Bolitar’s knee was wrecked in an accident on the basketball court. Despite extensive therapy, he never recovered enough to play at that level again. But now Clip Arnstein, owner of the championship-winning New Jersey Dragons, wants Myron to join the team. The real reson he want to sign Myron is not because he wants him to play, but because Greg Downing, one of the Dragons’ star players, has gone missing and he wants Myron to find him. Ten years ago, Greg and Myron were personal and professional arch rivals, and Arnstein hopes that being on the team will give Myron a better opportunity to track Greg down.

In the first two Myron Bolitar novels, Deal Breaker and Drop Shot, Coben only played about with Myron’s injury. We found out how it had changed the course of his life, turning him towards law school and a career as a sports agent. But it was mostly background colour, illustrating Myron’s history in sports, rather than pivotal plot information. In Fade Away, Myron confronts anew all of the issues he thought he had buried ten years ago. As the the missing person mystery progresses, he and his friends have to deal with the emotional turmoil that arises from the glimmer of hope that he might be able to play again. And eventually, they come to realize that the two halves of the story are more deeply and painfully connected than any of them had suspected.

Harlan Coben – Drop Shot

In Drop Shot, Myron Bolitar’s superstar tennis client, Duane Richwood, is playing in the early rounds of the US Open when Valerie Simpson, a former child tennis star, is shot dead. Valerie had approached Myron about being her agent while she staged her comeback. When the police start questioning Duane about his involvement, Myron digs deeper into the case, and soon finds out that all the threads lead back to the murder of a US Senator’s son six years earlier. A murder that no-one wants to see investigated again… Another cracking mystery from Harlan Coben.

Harlan Coben – Deal Breaker

Myron Bolitar: former pro-basketball star, lawyer and sports agent, with a history that also involves a certain amount of work for the FBI. How can you not love a character like that? Add in his friend and business partner, Windsor Horne Lockwood III, part East-Coast American upper-class snob, part martial arts genius with a brutal sociopathic streak, and you have a detective pairing that’s right up there with Spenser and Hawk, and Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Throw in a story about young football star whose missing (presumed dead) ex-fiancée shows up in the back of a porn magazine, and you get a delicious mystery covering corruption, blackmail, and murder. Coben’s writing is both humorous and sympathetic. He weaves a satisfyingly twisty plot, and resolves it neatly at the end. This is the first book of his I’ve read, and I’m eagerly looking forward to many more.

Finding Nemo

The animation may be jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but the story felt more like a traditional Disney heart-warmer than an imaginative Pixar flight of fancy. Marlin’s Odyssey was a checklist of ocean-based set-piece encounters leading inevitably to him being reunited with Nemo. The encounters themselve are amusing, and filled with humour and surprises, but there is never any doubt about how the film as a whole will end. Pixar’s other films, Toy Story (1 and 2), A Bug’s Life, and Monsters, Inc., all created a sense of uncertainty: you knew it would turn out well, with the heroes pulling through in the end, but you didn’t know how they would do so. With Finding Nemo you can see exactly how it’s going to end; the only question is which stepping stones the writers will use on the way there.

Also, in all the other Pixar films, the protagonists themselves are comedic figures. In Nemo, it’s the supporting cast who provide all the laughs. Marlin and Nemo are the serious characters you’re supposed to empathise with, and who are designed to tug your heart strings. It felt emotionally manipulative in a classic Disney way: think of, say, Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King. Yes, it made me cry; but no, it didn’t make me happy.

Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything

Should really have been called, “An Abbreviated History of Western Scientific Thinking, from 1600 to Modern Times”, but that wouldn’t have been nearly so catchy. Nor is the book much more interesting than the expanded title would suggest. If you have any kind of interest in popular science, this book is going to seem like an extensive re-hash of what you already know. Bryson spends a lot of time relating anecdotes involving both key and lesser-known scientific figures from the last few hundred years, but the scope of the book inevitably forces him to omit lots of detail. If you have watched the BBC series Local Heroes with Adam Hart Davies, you’ll be very disappointed. Bryson doesn’t have the same energy or love for the subject matter as Hart Davies. Although his foreword proclaims a burning desire to understand the questions science has answered (or tried to answer), by the end of the book his wit feels forced, and any impression of real enthusiasm has fallen by the wayside. Pity.