Category Archives: detectives/mysteries

I Think Girls With Pointy Ears And Swords Are Hot…So Shoot Me.

I think a lot of people are surprised when I tell them that I’m not a big fan of fantasy*.  The truth is, a lot of the fantasy that I’ve read in the past has been either an obvious rip-off of Lord of the Rings, or else it’s trying so hard to be “different” that I feel like it’s a jumbled mess.  However, I’m starting to explore the world of Urban Fantasy, and I’m enjoying it so far, partly because its use of a “real world” setting keeps the epic Tolkienocity (TM) to a minimum.  I also like stories where ordinary people come face to face with supernatural (or otherwise otherworldly) shit and just have to deal with it in whatever ways they can.

I think that’s why I liked Lisa Shearin’s Magic Lost, Trouble Found so much.

magiclost

Sure, it takes place in a fantasy world with elves, goblins, dwarfs, faeries, and dragons, but it’s a lot closer to a standard Urban Fantasy novel, many of which draw on the tropes of hardboiled and noir detective stories.  It came as no surprise that Shearin is a fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, since Raine Benares–like Harry Dresden–is both detective (called a “seeker” in this world) and mage.  Raine is also sarcastic, smart, spunky, and pretty good with swords.  She also happens to be an elf (y’know, if you care about that kind of stuff).  Like every good private detective, Raine walks a delicate line between law and order, having friends and associates on both sides–just like Dresden, Spenser, Fritz Malone and Philip Marlowe.

I’ll definitely pick up the second book.

*: The exception, of course, being Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories…those kick serious ass.

Let’s Cast…THE DRESDEN FILES

I’ve sung the praises of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series numerous times in this blog.  How can you not love a series that stars a private detective who just so happens to be a wizard?  There was an attempt by the Sci-Fi Channel to make a series based on Harry Dresden’s adventures.  It was okay…but it wasn’t really Butcher’s world.  (I will say this: if not for the Sci-Fi Channel, I might never have picked up Storm Front and would currently be living a Dresden-free lifestyle.  Which would be, y’know, just wrong.)  One of the main problems is that the world in Butcher’s novels is a fairly complex one.  There are wizards and vampires and faeries.  White Councils and Wardens and Red Courts.  Another problem is that folks probably have very different ideas of what these characters look like.  But, never one to shy away from hypothetical controversy (actual controversy is a different story…that can stay over there), I’ve decided to cast a Dresden Files movie.

The Plot: Like I said, there’s a whole lot going on in Butcher’s books.  There are more secondary and tertiary characters than in Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter combined.  There’s a history–not just Harry’s personal history, but the history of magic and wizards, in general.  There’s politics and war and diplomatic wrangling.  Plus there’s whatever case that Harry is working on in a given book.  See, a lot.  So, I have no idea what the plot of a Harry Dresden movie would be.  Would it just be the plot of the first book (Storm Front), or something that deals with one of the longer arcs in the series?

The Cast (In addition to the characters who have been there since page one, there are numerous characters who first appeared in later novels, but have since gone on to become more or less permanent fixtures in Harry’s life.  I’ve picked some of the more prominent, while knowingly ignoring others for reasons of time and space.  Also, some of these may be SPOILER-y, so if you haven’t been keeping up with the Dresden books, you may want to turn back.  Thank you, that is all.):

Clive Owen as Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden

It’s not easy finding someone to fill Harry’s leather duster.  He’s an irreverent wise-ass in the best hardboiled tradition.  He also happens to be a little above average height and somewhat lanky.  Now, I would never call Clive Owen “above average height and somewhat lanky”; however, I think he’s proven that he can handle hardboiled wise-assery in both Sin City and Shoot ‘Em Up.

Naomi Watts as Sgt. Karrin Murphy

The “small, but fierce” Sgt. Murphy is not only Dresden’s friend on the Chicago Police Force, but also one of his few friends, period.  Despite being a petite blonde with a cute button nose, Murphy can kick ass with the best of them, including winning numerous martial arts competitions.  If nothing else, Watts is a petite blonde; but, I also think she could probably pull off Murphy’s tough-as-nails exterior.

Michael Bowen as Warden Donald Morgan

As a Warden for the White Council, Morgan acts as both Special Forces and Internal Affairs for the wizard community.  He’s been around since book one, keeping an eye on Dresden because the Council feared that Harry was (or would soon be) dabbling in the dark magics.  I was this close to casting Keith Carradine when I decided to go for a non-Carradine Carradine: Keith’s half-brother Michael Bowen.

Rashida Jones as Susan Rodriguez

Susan was a tabloid reporter for The Midwestern Arcane (think Carl Kolchak, but hotter).  She was also Harry’s girlfriend, at least before she was infected by a vampire of the Red Court.

Cillian Murphy as Thomas Raith

Thomas Raith is a vampire of the White Court.  White Court vampires feed off of emotional energy; in the case of the Raith family, the emotions they prefer are lust, passion and/or desire.  Thomas, like all White vampires, radiates sexual energy, making him pretty damned irresistible even if he’s not trying to be.  As half-brothers, Thomas and Harry share several physical attributes, although Thomas takes it to a more idealized “Greek god” degree.  Cillian Murphy could almost be a prettier version of Clive Owen…if you squint just right and look away from the screen.

Nathan Fillion as Michael Carpenter

Michael Carpenter is a Knight of the Cross.  He is charged with using one of three swords–which happen to have one of the nails from Christ’s Crucifixion forged into the blade–to combat the forces of Hell.  Michael is a devout man, whose faith sometimes confuses (and angers) Harry.  But, Harry never doubts Michael’s friendship, love for his family, or ability to be where he’s needed when he’s needed.  Fillion (in addition to being the obligatory Whedonite on these lists) has that quiet strength that you need for Michael.

Jason Lee as Bob the Skull

Wizard’s don’t do so well around technology invented after 1950, so Bob acts as Harry’s laptop and magical database.  Bob is a spirit of the air who inhabits a human skull in Harry’s basement lab.  Since he takes on the personality traits of his owners, since coming into Harry’s possession, Bob has become a bit of an obstinate smart-ass.  He’s also a bit of a letch, so you need someone who can leer with their voices, and I think Jason Lee has one of the more inherently leer-y and smart-ass-y voices around.

Adrian Pasdar as “Gentleman” Johnnie Marcone

“Gentleman” Johnnie is the top dog in Chicago’s human underworld, although he frequently finds himself embroiled in many of Dresden’s supernatural cases.  Marcone may be a mobster, but he also possesses an almost Old World code of honor, which is probably how he managed to get himself appointed as a freelord under the Unseelie Accords (a set of loose rules that govern the members of the magical world).  Pasdar has made a career playing cold, calculating individuals who aren’t above bending the rules if it serves their personal ends.

Donald Sutherland as Ebenezar McCoy

The cranky and crotchety McCoy (maybe it’s the name?) is a senior member of the White Council, as well as Harry’s old mentor–well, the one that survived.  He’s also the Council’s Blackstaff, a wizard who is allowed to operate outside of the Seven Laws of Magic to do the Council’s “wetwork.”  Honestly, the only reason I picked Sutherland (other than the fact that he’s awesome) is that I think he looks positively deranged when he’s all scruffy and dishevelled–doesn’t he look like a centuries-old wizard from the backwoods of Missouri?

Monica Bellucci as The Leanansidhe (or Lea)

Lea is (quite literally) Harry’s faerie godmother.  She’s a powerful member of the Winter Court of Faerie and, as such, is not to be trusted.  She’s not above deceit or manipulation (or pain, to be honest) to get what she wants.  Bellucci has an almost otherworldly quality about her that would fit Lea perfectly.  Plus, it’ll be fun to see her get to play opposite Clive Owen again.

In the Yellow Pages…Under “Wizard”

I am Harry Dresden.

In my corner of the country, I’m trying to nail things down. I don’t want to live in a world where the strong rule and the weak cower. I’d rather make a place where things are a little quieter. Where trolls stay the hell under their bridges, and where elves don’t come swooping out to snatch children from their cradles. Where vampires respect the limits, and where the faeries mind their p’s and q’s.

My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call. I’m in the book.

Four on the Floor #9: The Best Sidekicks to Have Around When Bad Crap Starts Going Down

The Situation: Not everyone works well as a loner. Humans are, biologically and anthropologically speaking, social animals. That being said, it should come as no surprise that some of the best heroes in fiction, TV, and film have had some pretty sweet sidekicks to back them up. Sidekicks can provide comic relief, emotional support, back-up in a fight, provide a skill set that the hero doesn’t possess, or just be around so the hero isn’t talking to themselves all of the time.

The Criteria: Sidekicks come in a number of sizes, shapes, and colors. This is the one category that I came at with a fairly open mind. The four names that follow are not, by any means, the only sidekicks worthy of being on this list (for example, I didn’t even go near the four Robins and two Kid Flashes), but they are the ones that I felt like celebrating in blog form.

1. Dr. John H. Watson

If he wasn’t the first sidekick, he certainly became the model against which all future sidekicks are compared. I’m talking about the original Watson, not the bumbling oaf who appeared in nearly every filmed version of Sherlock Holmes stories until the glorious Jeremy Brett series. The “real” Watson is no dope, he’s a doctor for fuck’s sake and a soldier. He knows the score, and he’s pretty good with a revolver, too.

2. Bob the Skull

What’s a wizard to do when every piece of technology built after 1950 explodes in his presence? If you’re Harry Dresden, you get a “spirit of the air” that lives in a human skull. Bob is Harry’s lab assistant and his laptop, with access to more arcane and occult information than a 14-year-old Goth’s gym locker. Plus, all it really takes to make Bob happy are a few trashy romance novels and the occasional jaunt outside in the body of Harry’s cat, Mister.

3. The Scoobies

She might be the Chosen One, imbued with super-human strength and fighting skills, but Buffy would have joined her predecessors in the Big Dirt Nap long ago without the aid and support of her friends. The roster may have changed over the years, but the core group–Xander Harris, Willow Rosenberg, and Buffy’s Watcher, Rupert Giles–has always been there to offer support, research the latest Big Bad, or pick up a sword and join the fight against some kind of oozing hell-beast. Like Spike said, Buffy’s different from the other Slayers he’d faced (and killed), she had friends.

4. Chewbacca

Seven feet tall, covered in fur, 100% loyal, hell with a crossbow, and a whiz with a socket wrench. What more could you want in a sidekick and best friend? Sure, Chewie had no problem calling Han out when he was being an ass, but when the chips were down, he’d rip the arms out of the sockets of anyone who tried to mess with his pal.

Another Bunch of Top 5 Lists: All-Time Favorite TV Shows

The other day, someone asked me what my all-time favorite TV show was. My brain immediately went into stasis lock…and, I think, there might have been some drool. The problem is, I like a lot of TV shows (you’d probably get the same reaction if you asked me what my favorite movie or book is). The question was then altered to be: “What are my 5 all-time favorite shows?” Easier…but it still doesn’t allow for the fact that I’m open to a lot of different kinds of shows–comedies, dramas, cop shows, sci-fi.

I’ve decided to compile three different Top 5 lists–one for “comedy”, one for “drama”, and one for “other.” These are shows that I can watch at any time of day, 24-7. I like some of them so much that I’ve even spent my hard-earned (and far-from-endless) cash to own them on DVD. The shows on these lists are no longer in production, so I can judge them as a whole, from pilot to finale.

Top 5 Favorite Comedies of All Time:

1. The Honeymooners

2. The Kids in the Hall

3. Night Court

4. Fawlty Towers

5. Cheers

Top 5 Favorite Dramas of All Time:

1. Homicide: Life on the Street

2. The A-Team

3. Spenser: For Hire

4. Hunter

5. Hill Street Blues

Top 5 Favorite “Others” of All Time:

1. Firefly

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

3. The Twilight Zone

4. Babylon 5

5. The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Genre Movies V: The Quest For Mysteries

The AFI’s definition of a mystery is any film that “revolves around the solution of a crime.”  Admittedly, this is a pretty broad definition, and allows a certain degree of latitude–for example, a lot of movies that are classified as “thrillers” revolve around a mystery that needs to be solved.

Here are my picks for the Top 10 Mysteries:

1. Chinatown

2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

3. The Maltese Falcon

4. Seven

5. Zodiac

6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

7. Fargo

8. Silence of the Lambs

9. The Thin Man

10. Memento

Four on the Floor #4: Best P.I.s to Call When You’re in a Jam

The Situation: So, you have a problem and the cops aren’t really being much of a help.  Hey, it’s understandable.  They have an entire city to look out for and you’re just one person with one problem.  Thankfully, you open the phone book, flip to the “Private Investigators” section, and try a few numbers. 

The Criteria: This is a tough one.  Most of my favorite fictional characters are detectives of one kind or another, and they’re all pretty damned good at their jobs.  But, since I could only pick four, I had to find a way to narrow the field.  First, they had to be civilians–which rules out Law & Order: Criminal Intent‘s Bobby Goren and C.S.I.‘s Gil Grissom (I know, not technically a detective, but can you tell me he wouldn’t get to the bottom of things?); it also sort of rules out Adrian Monk, since about 98% of his income comes from the SFPD.  The next criteria was style.  Some people prefer the genius detective over the two-fisted, hard-boiled type.  I think both methods have their pros and cons.  Finally, and this wasn’t a conscious decision, each of these four detectives began in print and then spread out to other media.

1. Sherlock Holmes

C’mon!  He’s the grand-daddy of all private detectives–well, if you want to nit-pick, technically ol’ Holmes was a “consulting detective.”  Holmes could look at you from three blocks away and–based on the way you were walking, the state of your clothes, and the mud on your shoes–tell you where you were five days ago.  Holmes might not be a people person (that’s Dr. Watson’s job, after all), but his tenacity, keen observation skills, and analytical mind make him an amazing detective.

2. Philip Marlowe

When I think hard-boiled, I think Philip Marlowe.  Sure, he might not be as tough as the Continental Op or Mike Hammer, but Marlowe has something that other tough guys don’t: heart.  Marlowe was the closest thing the 20th Century had to a knight: morally upright, philosophical, and able to handle himself in a tight spot. 

3. Nero Wolfe

There are times that Nero Wolfe makes Holmes look downright personable.  Weighing in at a seventh of a ton and refusing to leave his Manhattan brownstone under all but the most dire of circumstances, Wolfe can be a pain in the ass to criminals, cops, and clients alike.  But, like Holmes, Wolfe’s gruff demeanor hides an amazing analytical mind and, once he’s on the trail, Wolfe’s too stubborn to give up until the guilty party is revealed.  Of course, when you hire Wolfe, you also get his assistant and legman, the wisecracking Archie Goodwin, and Wolfe’s trio of operatives: Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather, and Fred Durkin.

4. Harry Dresden

Similar in many ways to Philip Marlowe, Harry Dresden often lets his heart and morals get him in deeper than his brain, fists, or endless stream of pop cultural references can get him out.  But, like Marlowe, Dresden will run himself to exhaustion if he’s trying to help the helpless, and he’s not afraid of going up against thieves, murderers, gangsters, vampires, werewolves, or ghouls.  Oh, didn’t I mention that Harry Dresden is also the only professional wizard to advertise in the Chicago Yellow Pages?