Tag: mystery

Flash Fiction: The Novice

Courtesy eHow

For the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge, A Novice Revenges the Rhythm

She tended to pace when she was bothered by a case. This was a new record, by a good five minutes.

“You’re going to wear a hole in the carpet.”

She didn’t hear him, or wasn’t inclined to respond. David looked back down at the files spread across his coffee table. Seeing Claire at his doorstep wasn’t really a surprise, not when five young women were dead and a sixth missing.

“Look, you heard the captain this morning, Claire. The FBI is coming in tomorrow. It won’t be our case anymore. All we need to do is back them up.”

“Don’t tell me that doesn’t piss you off.”

David glanced at the bottle of Jack sitting on his kitchen counter. “It does, but what else can we do? We’ve been over every shred of evidence, and so have they. Until we put all of our heads together, we’re not going to make any actual progress.”

“I don’t believe that, and I don’t think you do either.”

David rubbed his temples. “All we know is he kidnaps them from their parking lots or driveways outside their residences, he leaves no trace of blood or hair so he’s cautious and catches them in such a way that any struggling is irrelevant, and seven days later we find the victim in their bedroom at home. No fingerprints, no follicles, no DNA. He dresses them in nightgowns and uses makeup to cover up any wounds that would be immediately visible…”

A novice revenges the rhythm.”

David sighed. “You know that doesn’t mean anything, Claire. He left it with the first victim on common copy paper. Both our eggheads and the ones for the Feds have been over every word of that phrase. We’re getting nowhere with this. We need to wait for…”

Claire stopped pacing as if she’d been turned to stone mid-step. “Say that again.”

“We’re getting nowhere.”

“No, before that.”

Her partner blinked. “What, that we’ve been over every word of that phrase?”

“Yeah.” She turned, walked around the coffee table, and sat down beside him on the couch. “Every word… not every letter.”

David scratched his head. Claire dove through the files, the photos of autopsies and the staged bedroom scenes, until she found a pad of blank paper and a Sharpie. She wrote out the phrase – A novice revenges the rhythm – at the top of the page. After a moment of staring at it, she began writing letters beneath it, crossing them out as she used them.

“What are you doing?”

“I think it might be an anagram.”

David frowned. “Why would he give us an anagram?”

“I don’t know, but I think he left it there for a reason.”

“Sure he did, to taunt us.”

“Dave, killers like this tend to be pretty smart people. They also lean towards arrogance bordering on narcissism. He wants us to know who he is so he can gloat about being so superior to us in intellect. He’s given us a challenge he believes we’ll never beat.”

David said nothing. Claire focused on the page, crossing out her failures and starting over, one attempt after another. Eventually, Dave got up and walked to the kitchen, pouring himself some Jack. He took a swallow, waited for the burning in his throat to subside, and poured another.

“Dave! I need you to Google something for me.”

He coughed after his second swallow as his vocal chords recovered from the alcoholic bath they’d just taken. “What is it?”

“Look up ‘Vence’, Vee Ee En See Ee, tell me if it means anything.”

Puzzled, Dave pulled out his phone and consulted Google. Claire refused to get a smart phone, said that if she couldn’t ensure it was free of tracking devices, she didn’t want it on her person. Funny, considering the department low-jacked all of their cars. But nobody ever expected Claire’s eccentricities to make sense. As long as she caught murderers, the higher-ups were happy to let her be her slightly crazy self.

“Wikipedia says it’s a commune in Italy.”

“Any poets from there?”

He scrolled down the page. “Yeah, D.H. Lawrence.”

Claire was on her feet and pacing again. “That sounds familiar. Run it through locations within the city.”

“Let me get my laptop. My phone is…”

“Told you that you don’t need it.”

“It is not spying on us, Claire.”

“I’m just saying.”

Rolling his eyes, Dave fetched his laptop. In moments he was looking through locations within the city limits and suburbs.

“There’s a Lawrence’s Pub a few blocks from here.”

“Too public. Next.”

“DH Books, shut down five years ago, owner moved back to…”

Claire raised an eyebrow. David met her gaze.

“He was an immigrant. From Vence.”

Give, then, a short Vence rhyme. That’s what I found.”

For a moment, neither of them said anything. Without a word, they moved as one, gathering up coats and sidearms as they headed out the door. David drove, lights on and siren blaring, as Claire radioed in for backup.

When they arrived at the old bookstore, the property’s exterior was burned to a blackened, cracking facade. Broken glass in the windows reflected the lights from David’s car and the SWAT van. The two detectives entered cautiously, pistols ready, flashlights piercing the dark.

It was Claire that found the trap door. Quietly, they crept down the stairs, where they heard a soft male voice reading aloud.

“I want her to touch me at last, ah, on the root and
quick of my darkness
and perish on me, as I have perished on her.”

The reading figure was bent over a bed where a young woman lay, bound and gagged. She was naked, and watched the hooded and robed reader with wide, fearful eyes.

Claire raised her weapon. “‘The Manifesto.'”

The figure turned, wearing a mask of the dramatic face of comedy. All but his eyes were inscrutable behind it; eyes that burned with ambition, anticipation, madness.

“Ah. Here you are. Now our final game can begin.”


Logo courtesy Netflix. No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

{No audio this week, still adjusting to the new work schedule.}

I’m sure that most of the people reading this review have at least one dog-eared copy of a paperback novel lying around somewhere. Let me ask you something: why have you read that book more than once? I’m willing to hazard a guess. Even though you know how the story ends, the telling of the story is still a worthwhile and entertaining experience. That, in a nutshell, is how I would describe Shutter Island.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Set in the mid-50s, the eponymous island is home to an asylum for the criminally insane. One of the inmates has escaped and there’s a gigantic hurricane bearing down on Boston. Enter US Marshall Teddy Daniels and new partner Chuck Aule, arriving on the island just before the storm. As much as their primary purpose is to find the missing crazy woman, Daniels is also looking for something, or someone, else. And on this island, it seems like everybody has something to hide, including Teddy himself.

Now, it’s a year on from when this movie came out, and it’s highly likely you’ve at least seen a trailer, or gotten the twist ending spoiled for you. No, I’m not going to spoil it here, but even if you have figured out how this one is going to end, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. Like that beloved paperback, Shutter Island is less about telling a new story and more about telling a good one. And cinematic storytellers don’t come much better than Martin Scorsese.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Some of these visuals are just stunning.

It’s no secret Scorsese has an eye for talent. He’s worked with editor Thelma Schoonmaker since Raging Bull. He made eight films with Robert DeNiro, including the aforementioned Raging Bull which DeNiro convinced Scorsese to do for reasons that may have saved the director’s life. And here, in Shutter Island, we have his fourth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. Once again, Scorsese gives Leo an opportunity to show his chops as a wise-cracking tough guy, an emotionally scarred and troubled man, an intelligent detective and even a veteran. Pulling off these disparate beats while keeping the character consistent and compelling is no mean feat, but DiCaprio inhabits his role perfectly.

In addition to this strong lead, Shutter Island features a fantastic supporting cast of character actors. While Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams do a great deal of the heavy lifting in this tale, there are some small or even one-scene performances that stick out in one’s mind, speaking to the power of these actors in their roles. Ted Levine, Jackie Earl Haley and Elias Kostas do such a fantastic job nailing their characters down in just a handful of lines – or, in Kostas’ case, about two lines and some very effective leering – that they’re likely to be remembered long after the credits roll.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Forgive me, it’s Sir Ben Kingsley.

All of this great acting is framed in the extremely atmospheric setting of Shutter Island itself. Between the old Civil War construction, the archaic equipment and the period dress of the 1950s, the film takes on a noir detective feeling that works as a great, concrete counterpoint to the psychological horror that is the crux of the narrative. As much as Daniels begins to question and cling to his sanity, so does the audience attempt to hold onto the mystery as it was introduced, even as a new mystery slowly emerges to take its place. Granted, some viewers will have seen the ‘new’ mystery coming from the beginning, but as I said before, this is a yarn more concerned with telling the tale well than the tale being told.

In that aspect, the only real flaw that can be pointed out in Shutter Island is the nature of the plot that makes the twist at the end, in some measure, predictable. For a movie that seems to be aiming to be equal parts Inception and old carnival spook house (a comparison that wouldn’t have made sense when the movie came out), the lack of screenplay contrivance can seem incongruous, like it’s too straight-forward in the telling. The film, however, plays this weakness as a strength, making the plot just about the least important thing about it. The talent, artistry, atmosphere and characters completely overwhelm the plot and construct a very good storytelling experience. It belongs on your Netflix queue if you’re a fan of any of these actors, detective stories right at home in a Lovecraft anthology, old-fashioned head-screwy horror or, it goes without saying, Martin Scorsese. The man’s proven over and over that his talent for telling stories through film is peerless, and Shutter Island is no exception.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Book Review: Dream Park

Writers need to read almost as much as they need to write. It’s how we discover things we want to do, avoid, improve upon and revisit. It also pays to re-read things we’ve previously read, as life experiences and evolving styles might give us new appreciation for something half-remembered or cast an old favorite in a new light. This, then, is why I grabbed a Kindle copy of Larry Niven and Steven Barnes’ Dream Park.

Summed up in one sentence: it’s a murder mystery that takes place during a LARP which uses a holodeck.

I’m not even joking.

Courtesy Niven & Barnes

Dream Park is the name of perhaps the largest entertainment compound in 2051, a place where holograms blend with real set pieces and highly complex computer mainframes to create full-immersion interactive experiences. The premiere events are the Games, where people assume the roles of heroes catapulted into dangerous, other-worldly situations at the whim of Game Masters who manipulate the complex mechanics of Dream Park the way a D&D Dungeon Master manipulates tiles, miniatures and statistics. The biggest and most ambitious Game yet, the South Seas Treasure Game, is about to begin. Games yield tons of potential revenue beyond the registration of the players due to film, book and other entertainment rights; they’re also the perfect place for a murder to flee. There’s been a death among the Dream Park staff, and the head of security, Alex Griffin, isn’t going to stop at anything to track him or her down… even if it means joining the South Seas Treasure Game itself.

Long before LARPs, computer gaming or even reality entertainment were established as means of escapism, Niven and Barnes gave us an idea of what those sorts of diversions might be like. On top of this foundation is laid the notion of the Game, based in some very quirky mythology with plenty of basis in fact which gives the fantasy within the fantasy added weight. But this wasn’t good enough for the storytellers. A further injection of mystery, a case of double identity and the nature of escapism itself is introduced. Less authors might have found these disparate ideas tripping over one another to be the hallmark of the work, but the elements are blended so carefully that the narrative becomes much like the fictional Park: it’s hard to tell where one part of the narrative ends and another begins. We’re right in the middle of things from start to finish.

Part thriller, part sci-fi romp and part historical fantasy action/adventure seems like an ambitious combination, but what makes Dream Park work isn’t the layers of genre setting, it’s the characters. With depth, dialog and realistic emotion, Niven and Barnes give us a diverse and thoroughly three-dimensional cast. Some that seem stereotypical will surprise in their hidden aspects. It’s these beats, just as much as the monsters and mythology, that keep the reader turning pages.

From the novice in awe of the Park’s complexity to Griffin’s struggle not to become lost in the Game’s immersion, the characters bridge the gap between the more fantastical aspects of the story and our capacity to care about the people involved. It’s a well-paced, well-meaning yarn that’s completely satisfying. It’s not a perfect book, as some of the characters feel rather stock and the depth of some of the central cast make the “redshirts” seem a bit obvious. Still, in terms of works not afraid to blur the lines between genres, you could definitely do worse.


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

Not all films age well. Some become trite or campy with the passage of time. Others, however, remain timeless in one way or another. Things that keep a film fresh include memorable characters, smart writing and excellent direction. Zero Effect has all three, and is also one of the most quirky and unique detective stories since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes. The film stars Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller in what I feel are their best roles to date, along with Kim Dickens, Angela Featherstone, and Ryan O’Neal.

Bill Pullman as Darryl Zero

Zero Effect introduces us to private detective Darryl Zero. There are some parallels that can be drawn between Zero and Sherlock Holmes. Among other things, both of them are somewhat anti-social and caustic, both of them have musical interests and both of them are absolutely brilliant. However, where Sherlock is terse and blunt in dealing with other people, Zero negotiates his jobs and does most of his interaction through his intermediary, the long-suffering Steve Arlo, while staying sequestered in his penthouse apartment behind a reinforced pneumatic safety door and a front door with no less than seven deadbolts. Sherlock Holmes is an accomplished violinist, and Darryl Zero… well, he won’t be winning any Grammy awards any time soon. And then there’s Darryl Zero’s various cover identities, complete with disguises ranging from the subtle to the ridiculous.

The plot of the film revolves around a rich man who has lost his keys. The missing keyring includes the key to a safe deposit box, the contents of which are the cause for the rich man getting blackmailed. Zero actually has to come out of his inner sanctum to engage the case, because Arlo’s instincts are telling him the case is more complex than the client is saying. And that’s all I’m going to tell you. If you haven’t seen this film, you really should. If you’re not a fan of mysteries, there’s plenty of laughs. If you’re not one for comedy, study the characters of Darryl Zero, Steve Arlo, even the client and the blackmailer, to see multi-dimensional and complete people, rather than one-dimensional stock characters.

Zero Effect is the first movie that was written and directed by Jake Kasdan, son of the great Lawrence Kasdan. Lawrence wrote Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill and Silverado. Jake follows in his dad’s footsteps with very smart, well-paced writing and direction. The focus of the story is balanced adeptly between the various characters, and while Darryl Zero is the central figure, the feel is more of an ensemble cast than a leading man with supporting characters. Zero Effect will make you laugh, think and pay attention, and blends its characters, writing and direction into one of the smoothest detective stories I have ever seen. I recommend it highly, and since it’s available as an Instant selection on Netflix, you don’t have a single excuse for passing it up.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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