Monday, June 3, 2013

This Watson Wears A Mini-Skirt

Elementary - Season One
3 out of 5 stars.
By Kemper

There are some mild general spoilers to Elementary’s first season, but I have avoided giving away any of the really juicy details.

How many filmed versions of Sherlock Holmes can one generation watch?

It seems like someone is seriously trying to answer that question. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law have been portraying Holmes and Watson as steampunkish action heroes in a couple of movies by director Guy Ritchie.   The BBC’s critically acclaimed Sherlock has Benedict Cumberbatch playing the detective in modern London with Martin Freeman as his blogging Doctor Watson.  Holmes had even been reinvented as a grumpy pill addicted doctor who solved medical mysteries instead of crimes in Fox’s long running House M.D.

Since CBS has been dominating the TV ratings in recent years with a schedule filled with police procedurals, a series about one of the best known fictional detectives of all time was a natural fit, but it also seemed like it’d be a watered down version, if not an outright rip-off, of Sherlock.  However, there’d be some differences between the two like setting the show in America and giving Watson a sex-change operation.

In Elementary, Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is a recovering drug addict who has moved from London to New York.  Holmes’ estranged and wealthy father has hired a sober companion to keep Sherlock off the needle.  Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) was a surgeon who quit after she accidently killed a patient and became a live-in drug counselor who moves into Holmes’ brownstone to help keep him clean.  Holmes shows off his brilliant deduction skills by solving crimes as a consulting detective for the NYPD’s Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn).

While the idea of a Watson being a sober companion was a clever twist, the series didn’t seem like anything special in the early episodes.  Predictably, Holmes and Watson clash with Sherlock resenting having a full-time baby-sitter, and Watson irritated at his arrogance and eccentricities. The show seemed like many other CBS procedurals that revolved around bizarre crimes with just enough red herrings to temporarily throw Holmes off the scent, but he’d still always be able to identify the criminal by the end of the episode. 

While Miller was doing an interesting interpretation of Holmes and the dynamic between him and Liu was fun, there wasn’t much else going on to make Elementary stand out from any other crime-of-the-week show.  However, as the season progressed and the show gained confidence, it steadily built up the character stories that added new layers to the show.

Over the course of the season we learned of the tragic reason why Holmes took to drugs and left London. The revelations coming out of this led to a much more likeable and sympathetic Sherlock than we usually get.  The foundation of this was Miller’s performance.  Rather than sticking to a strict Arthur Conan Doyle original version like Cumberbatch brilliantly does by playing Holmes as so arrogant and aloof so that he sees himself as above normal human concerns, Miller’s Holmes has distinct touches of compassion and empathy.  His arrogance and insistence on trying to look at everything logically is a mask he wears to conceal his own emotional damage, and Miller deliberately lets the mask slip every now and then to let us get a glimpse of the wounded person behind the brilliant detective image.

This particularly comes out in his interactions with Watson.  Rather than treating her as an audience to applaud his brilliance, this Holmes genuinely respects Watson and her opinions. For her part, Joan finds herself increasingly intrigued by Holmes and his methods.  When her time as his sober companion ends fairly early in the season, Holmes offers to teach Watson how to become a detective, and to her own amazement, she accepts. It feels like the beginning of a partnership and while Holmes often delights in tormenting Watson with his training methods, Joan is there as an equal, not someone to worship and document Holmes’ accomplishments.  (The show’s producers have also been smart enough to keep their relationship completely platonic with no hint of romantic tension.  Knock wood that they keep thinking that way.)

This was steady improvement for a freshman show, but the best came in the twelfth episode M. Vinnie Jones portrayed a brutal serial killer that Holmes had failed to catch in London with disastrous results.  When M. comes to New York and starts killing more people, Holmes goes off the deep end on a mission of revenge without regard to the consequences, and we got to see a very different and angry side of Sherlock.  The fall out from this episode lingered over the second half of the season and it set-up the terrific season finale in which Holmes finally confronts his greatest enemy as well as a fair number of personal demons.

So while Elementary’s first season occasionally got bogged down in trying to come up with puzzling crimes in stand-alone episodes that just weren’t that compelling, the performances of Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu helped keep interest alive until the show could introduce some serialized elements that tapped into Holmes lore and put fresh new spins on them.  Hopefully the second season will continue that trend this fall.

Horror in the Heartland

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Sheriff's deputy Billy Lafitte sounds like a guy who might have stepped straight out of one of Jim Thompson's darker novels. (As though he had any lighter ones.)

Lafitte was a policeman in Gulfport, Mississippi, but because of his antics in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he was booted off the force. His wife divorced him and took custody of their two kids, but Billy's now ex-brother-in-law, the sheriff of Yellow Medicine County in rural Minnesota, takes pity on Billy and hires him on as a deputy.

One might think that given a second chance and anxious to redeem himself in the eyes of his wife and children, Billy might straighten up and fly right. He chooses not to do so, and once in the frozen tundra, he reverts to the sort of conduct that got him kicked out of Mississippi. For example, he soon corrals the local meth cookers and dealers and, rather than shutting them down, effectively puts them under his thumb.

He also falls hard for a young girl named Drew, the lead singer of a local psychobilly band called Elvis Antichrist. Lafitte basically coerces Drew into having sex with him once but then falls hard for the girl and can't bring himself to force himself on her again; he'll only have her if she genuinely wants him.

That's not likely, since Drew has fallen for a major loser. The love of her life is a small-time meth dealer and when he gets into trouble, Drew asks Billy to help the kid out. Billy agrees to do so in his own inimitable way and soon finds that he's stepped into a hornets' nest that seems to grow bigger by the moment, involving a snarky and ambitious federal agent and a group of bad-ass Malaysian terrorists who have targeted the American Heartland. Needless to say, the excrement hits the fan in a big way.

This is a very compelling book that immediately grabs the reader by the throat and then squeezes harder and harder until the climax. It's not a delicate little read; rather it's deliciously dark, nasty, brutal, gory and twisted. Just when you think Smith has reached a line that can't be crossed, he leaps over it and rushes full speed ahead.(Did I mention that the book was really gory?)

Cozy, it's not. But readers who like their crime fiction really, really dark will find that Yellow Medicine is the perfect prescription.

The Forbes 25 Reviewers - #23 Baba

Today's guest is Baba.

How did you discover Goodreads?
I joined Goodreads in December 2010. Truth be told, I'm not sure but I *think* I was browsing the Internet since I was always on the hunt for my next great read, and I accidentally stumbled over GR. I strongly believe that Goodreads is the best place to discover fabulous books and authors.

What have been your most memorable Goodreads experiences?
There have been many memorable experiences. Damon Suede is one of my favorite authors. He signed my ebook of Hot Head and his dedication was really touching. Since I read Hot Head we did exchange more than a few messages. He is just the best! Damon is not only a very talented M/M author but also an incredibly kind, funny and generous human being. Basically, interacting with my favorite authors is always a highlight.

Author Anne Calhoun sent me a signed paperback copy of Liberating Lacey. That meant a lot to me.

A memorable experience are the fan groups. I'm one of the moderators of Liberating Lacey Lovers and Anne Calhoun Fans Far and Wide and Brandon Shire Fan Group.

I'm always psyched when my favorite authors are providing ARCs. These are the moments I'm living for as an avid and passionate reader and reviewer.

I'm going to do my first beta read very soon. It's wonderful when authors value my insight so much, and I can't tell you how excited I am right now. I'm pretty sure it will be an unforgettable experience.

Another great aspect of GR is the possibility to connect with wonderful people from around the world.

Name one reviewer not in the Forbes 25 that people should be aware of.
Blacky. She writes great reviews. Besides, she is funny and kind. Just a good friend of mine.

What was your initial reaction to Amazon buying Goodreads?
What will be the consequences? Honestly, I was not over the moon. For some time past I don't post reviews on Amazon anymore. It was always difficult to post them anyway because of their restrictions. You have to watch your language all the time, and you can't post very long reviews either. As it is, I'm known for adding a great visual (pics and gifs) to my reviews, but Amazon doesn't provide an option to do that. Also, I think the reactions/comments from certain readers are more rude on Amazon. Some readers can't stand it when you post a negative review and they are quick to post offensive comments. That's another reason why I prefer GR over Amazon. I always felt freer to voice my honest opinion here, and I just prefer to be straightforward instead of beating around the bush. I really want to explain why a book didn't work out for me even if it hurts. After all, I don't think that I'm here to please an author's feelings. In consequence, I strongly believe that mature readers and authors should be above such things

How many books do you own?
No idea. What I can tell you is that I own two ebook readers and I downloaded about 500 ebooks since May 2011. Initially I've had a hard time to say good-bye to my paperbacks because I always liked to hold a book in my hands. To feel and smell the paper. Although there is no getting round it to admit that buying ebooks is very convenient. I don't need storage room and ebooks are cheaper. Plus, I don't have to deal with a book that is snapping shut all the time.

Who is your favorite author?
Joey W. Hill, Damon Suede, Brandon Shire, Ella Frank, Anne Calhoun, Nina Lane.

What is your favorite book of all time?
My all-time favorite M/F romance novel is Mirror of my Soul by Joey W. Hill.
My all-time favorite M/M romance novel is Rough Canvas by Joey W. Hill
My all-time favorite M/M/F romance novel is Hurt by Varian Krylov

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
Like I said before they are easy to handle, and they don't need excessive storage room. The money is a factor--ebooks are cheaper. A really huge advantage is the time factor. I'm Swiss and I'm living in Switzerland, however, I want to read English romance novels. Before the ebook era, I had to go to my bookshop to request the books. More often than not the shop had to order them overseas and I had to wait about two months before I could fetch them. But now I can download an ebook within a few seconds. It's so incredibly convenient. Needless to say that my reader's heart is delighted.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
Mind you, I'm speaking from a reader's point of view. The idea of self-publishing is good. However, many authors make their lives miserable simply because they don't invest enough time for editing/proofreading. Typos, spelling errors etc. are a pet peeve of many readers. Therefore authors should pay more attention to the whole editing and proofreading process.

Any literary aspirations?
LOL! Nope, not going there.