Monthly Archives: January 2004

Henning Mankell – The Dogs Of Riga

When two frozen dead bodies float ashore in a liferaft, Kurt Wallander finds himself caught up in a mystery that stretches to the other side of the Baltic Sea. While on loan to the Latvian police in Riga, he is approached by a secretive underground organization who want his support in tracking down the murderer of one of their friends, himself a police officer. Mankell wrote this novel in 1992, when the immediate effects of German reunification were still rippling dangerously through Eastern Europe. The Latvian society he draws is one filled with fear, repressed pride, and enormous uncertainty over its future. In many ways The Dogs Of Riga comes across as more of an spy thriller than a crime novel. It’s an interesting change of pace, and a very worthwhile read.

Amit Kalani – Developing and Implementing Web Applications with Visual C# .NET and Visual Studio.NET (Exam 70-315)

A very comprehensive guide to the curriculum for the 70-315 exam. It provides plenty of raw information, worked examples, and hands-on exercises. The material is of a higher quality than most exam preparation books, and the number of typos and outright errors is small. Don’t expect an introduction to ASP.NET, though, or a particularly good way of learning it from scratch. Even though it’s billed as a “training guide,” it asssumes a certain amount of knowledge of the product. It also illustrates some exam points with techniques that no-one in their right mind would use in real life. This is not a guide to ASP.NET “best practice.” It’s designed to get you through the exam, and it does that very well.

The Watcher

Lacklustre thriller with Keanu Reeves as a serial killer, and James Spader as a traumatised FBI agent who fled from California to Chicago after almost catching him, and losing a victim in the process. But now the killer has followed him there, and is intent on tormenting him even further. Cat and mouse chases, mind games, and some severely naff explosion “special” effects at the end. You get the picture. It whiles away the evening, though.

Lois McMaster Bujold – Paladin Of Souls

This is the second book in Bujold’s Chalion series, and it looks like the series is here to stay. She’s having far too much fun with this world to give it up. Paladin Of Souls see the focus of her attention shift from Cazaril to the formerly cursed dowager Royina Ista. Now that the curse is lifted, she longs to be free of the prison of manners and ladylike custom she has been trapped in for so long. She decides to undertake a modest pilgrimage, just to get her out of Valenda castle and away from her supposed servants and ladies-in-waiting, who insist on treating her like she is still mad and cursed and incapable. The battle she has on her hands just to escape from her well-meaning but ill-informed custodians is just a shadow of what she will encounter along the way.

Ista is in interesting character, one who will be familiar to anyone who has read Bujold’s other books. She is headstrong, a natural leader, constrained by her position in life, and determined to defy others’ expectations of her. There are obvious parallels with Cordelia Naismith and Ekaterin Vorsoisson, but that’s no bad thing. I found the highly mannered, historical romance writing style a bit difficult to get to grips with at first, but it soon becomes transparent. Bujold clearly loves Chalion, its religion and its magic, and she leaves the way clear for plenty of further adventures. They’ll definitely be worth looking out for.

Piglet’s Big Movie

Take my rating here with a grain of salt, because I’m not the target audience for this film. But that in itself is disappointing, because the original Disney Winnie The Pooh animations are sweet interpretations of A.A. Milne’s books, and hold just as much charm for grown-ups as they do for young kids.

Piglet’s Big Movie consists of a series of little adventures told in flashback, held together by the main storyline, in which Piglet runs away because he feels that his friends don’t really need him. It is clearly designed to drive home a “friends do need each other” message. But much of the beauty of the original Disney treatment lies in its unstructured rambling, and the joy of just “doing nothing” (as Christopher Robin and Pooh discuss at the end). This new film has a purpose. It tries to lead your imagination down a particular path, rather than letting your own mind do the wandering. Having Carly Simon sing a series of bland A-A-B-A songs rather than letting the characters use their own voices for their own little ditties doesn’t help, either. And why on earth did they have to stick a music video of one of the songs between the end of animation and the credits? Alex had a good time because he got to see Pooh and the gang having new adventures, but I didn’t like it very much.

Buffalo Soldiers

Very black comedy about a group of soldiers in 1980s West Berlin, who are into all the trouble they can make for themselves, from stealing supplies and selling them on the black market, to processing and distributing heroin. Joaquin Phoenix puts in a great performance as Ray Elwood, chief clerk to the base commander. Elwood is a corrupt wheel-greaser who finds his comfortable enterprise spinning out of control when he tries to deal in weapons instead of cleaning liquid. The top brass puts arrow-straight war hero Sergeant Lee (Scott Glenn, doing grizzled and menacing) in place to try and clean up the base. Elwood falls in love with his daughter, which gives the Sergeant even more reason to stomp down hard on him. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but you end up feeling sympathetic towards them nevertheless. It’s a caustic and wry look at the military, and how peacetime can sometimes be no better than war.

Lilo & Stitch

Lilo is a precocious young Hawaiian girl who lives with her troubled big sister after the death of their parents. Stitch is an all-destructive but highly intelligent little monster, the result of a mad alien scientist’s dabblings with genetic engineering. When Stitch escapes from the Galactic Council’s captivity, it ends up on Earth, in a Hawaiian dog kennel. Lilo finds it there, and takes it in as a pet. The rest of the film follows Lilo as she tries to socialize Stitch and bring him into the heart of her broken family, and the exploits of two bumbling aliens (the mad scientist and an alien anthropologist) as they try to recapture Stitch.

It’s a wonderfully funny and imaginative film. Lilo and Stitch are both eccentric goofballs, and there are plenty of scenes to show off the strange bond that forms between them. The animation is lovely. Stitch’s behaviour and expressions are hilarious–reminiscent of Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) at his most monstrous–which leads to some excellent visual gags. And although the “family” theme of the film is obvious, it is warm and affecting rather than repetitive and preachy. Heartily recommended, even if you don’t have kids around the house.

Harlan Coben – Tell No One

Intense, fast-paced thriller about David Beck, a doctor who receives a mysterious email message from his wife Elizabeth…who was murdered eight years ago. His life is thrown into disarray as he struggles to gain a new understanding of what really happened at that crucial incident so long ago. His friends have fragments of the story, but they are all too scared to talk. Now that Beck realises Elizabeth may still be alive, he is determined to put the pieces together at any cost. He will not lose her a second time. Coben keeps the tension screwed up to the max throughout the whole book, twisting and turning all the time. A beautifully constructed page-turner.