Tag: good review

DVD Review: A Bone to Pick


A Bone to Pick is the first of the Aurora Teagarden Hallmark mysteries starring Candace Cameron-Bure. Aurora is a librarian and an active member in a local group for readers of true stories of unsolved crimes that likes to speculate on whodunit. A childless group member dies of old age and names Aurora as her sole heir. While going through her late friend’s effects at her friend’s home, Aurora discovers a hidden human skull. This leads her to try and prove her worth as an amateur detective and solve the case.

This TV movie checks some of the most important genre boxes. Aurora is a likable protagonist and the mystery is well thought-out. The mystery is two-fold as Aurora has to figure out who the victim was as well as who the murderer while refusing to report it to the police while she plays detective. The story is given an added sense of realism by having a best friend (Lexa Doig) who warns Aurora this is not a good idea. When the police do get involved, they don’t at all appreciate the amateur’s interference and threaten to arrest her. To make matters worse for Aurora, the police detective on the case is her ex-boyfriend’s new wife (Miranda Frigon) who is about nine months pregnant.

Several minutes are taken up with Aurora meeting and dating the Episcopal Priest Father Scott Aubrey (Stephen Huszar) The relationship goes nowhere, has nothing to do with the mystery, and he never appears in the series again. I also found the attempt to add peril to the denoument to be a bit silly and over-the-top.

But if I really had a “bone to pick” (ha) with the movies it is that there’s a missing sense of place. I’ve heard the books are set in Georgia. This makes sense. Aurora Teagarden the most Southern Belle name you’ll ever find. However, the movie is set in a generic small town and is filmed in Canada. This works fine most of the time, but a few details of the film would make a lot more sense if this story were set in Georgia, such as Aurora’s name and her mother’s attitude. Devoid of her cultural context, the proper patrician Southern lady becomes plain snooty.

Despite that, this was a fun movie. It’s a family-friendly mystery. with a likable actress playing the amateur detective. It’ll never win an Edgar but if you want to watch a cozy mystery with an amateur sleuth, this will do nicely.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency BBC Radio Casebook Vol. 1

BBC Radio 4 produced a series of audio dramas based on Alexander McCall Smith’s massively successful No. 1 Ladies Detective novels which follow the adventures of Precious Ramotswe (Claire Benedict) as she uses her inheritance to establish the first ever detective agency in Botswana for “ladies and others.”

The radio adaptations is done by Smith himself and the first casebook is eight episodes adapted from the first four novels in the series. The radio plays do a great job capturing the warmth and charm of the characters in the book with many bits of dialogue taken directly from the books.

The episodes have a much stronger focus on the mystery element than the books do. The earlier mystery plots tend to be a bit more complex and interesting such as when Ma Ramotswe finds clues that indicate a missing boy may have fallen into the hands of witch doctors and helps a woman who’s not sure the man claiming to be her long-lost father really is. Later we have cases that are more domestic such as a middle-aged man who wants to find a woman he robbed and a girl he wronged to settle his affairs in life.

The theme music is a nice and catchy African theme that makes a solid lead-in for the series.

Not everything from the books is included in the adaptations, but what is omitted mostly isn’t problematic. The two minor exceptions to this is that the audio drama doesn’t address that Ma Ramotswe moved her office from its original location to inside the same building as her fiance Mr. J. L. B, Matekoni’s auto repair business. That was jarring. Nor is it portrayed that Ma Ramotswe’s Secretary/Assistant Detective Ma Makutsi doubled as Assistant Manager of the garage. Omitting that begs the question of how Matekoni’s business survived a long illness in the middle of the series.

However, as the audio dramas stick close to the books, most of the faults come from the books. For example, the series has a habit of raising plot points that disappoint. For example, in one episode, Matekoni’s maid hatches a plot to have Ma Ramotswe sent to prison. In another, a male detective opens up a practice and uses his being male as a selling point for his business. Both of these ideas are resolved in the most anti-climatic way possible.

Still, for all their faults, there’s a reason the No. 1 Ladies Detective series books are so popular. These first eight episodes capture the charm of the book series almost perfectly. If you’re looking for a light mystery series with likable and interesting characters, this set will definitely hit the spot.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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My Big Finish Twenty, Part Four

We continue our look at twenty great Big Finish releases in celebration of Big Finish’s Twentieth Anniversary.  Last week, we featured #10-6. Two week ago we covered numbers 15-11. See Part One for numbers 20-16.

We wrap up our Big Finish Twenty with my final five.

5) Jago and Litefoot Series 10

I love Jago and Litefoot. I wrote four long posts detailing the history of their wonderful audio drama adventures, so of course they’d go on this list. Their absolute best Series was Series 10. (See my review here.) The set features some great adventures including Jago and Litefoot sending letters to their younger selves, competing with each other for the attention of their biographer, and Jago being buried alive and waking up in a dystopian future. The individual episodes are superb with the finale serving as a capstone to the first Ten Series of Jago & Litefoot.

Other contenders for Best Jago and Litefoot Series for me would include Series 1, Series 3, Series 5, and Series 8.

4)The One Doctor

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) arrive in what the Doctor terms as a vulgar period of history where most things are known and there’s little exploration or curiosity. The Doctor and his exploits are pretty well-known. So well-known that a con man is impersonating the Doctor with the aide of his assistant Sally. The Doctor stumbles onto his impersonator but before he can get that sorted out, an evil overlord shows up and threatens to destroy the entire star system unless the system’s greatest treasures are brought to him.

This is the best Doctor Who comedy story Big Finish has released. It has a great cast including the future Doctor Who companion actor Matt Lucas, a clever script that makes sense, while still delivering a variety of humorous situations. Overall, this is an absolute joy.

3)Hamlet

Yes, you read that right. While it’s best known for its Science Fiction and Nostalgic TV adaptations, Big Finish did two Shakespearean plays, King Lear and Hamlet. Both plays were  well-performed with stellar casts that bring these legendary stories to life. Hamlet is my favorite of the two, since I generally like Hamlet a bit more than King Lear.

Hamlet is one of the best stories ever written, but that doesn’t mean adaptations of Hamlet are all good.  There are many poorly acted and poorly executed versions of the play that involve actors giving hammy performances or droning through their lines. There was a version of Hamlet that was subject of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff.

This is a brilliant Hamlet. Big Finish didn’t mess around with the script but they got some very good actors to appear in it. Alexander Vlahos is a great Hamlet. His delivery is pitch perfect. He makes every line real and credible.

The big advantage of this one is the sound design. Most audio versions of Shakespeare plays tend to be either recorded versions of the play or actors just reading the lines. However, this story has a very realistic and well-done sound design done by a company that specializes in making great-sounding audio. The sound and music are never intrusive or overdone and definitely enhance the experience.

This is a tremendous production that does justice to one of the greatest stories of all time.

2) Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight

The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and his companion Charlotte Pollard (India Fisher) arrive at an Edwardian Mansion on Christmas where on the stroke of midnight, a servant is killed in a bizarre way. The Doctor and Charley find themselves drawn into the story and try to solve the mystery as reality and time seem to bend in this strange and unusual place as more servants continue to die each time midnight strikes.

This is an amazing and multi-faceted story. It’s science fiction, it’s a mystery, a dark comedy, and a satire on the English class system. It has some hilarious moments, some dark moments, and ends with some sweet and emotional moments. It features great acting, superb direction, and top-notch writing. Chimes of Midnight has been consistently listed as one of Big Finish’s best releases since it came out in 2002. (In 2015, it was voted the best monthly Doctor Who release by listeners.) It’s a story that lives up to its massive hype and is a must-listen.

1) Doctor Who: The Last Adventure

All of the Doctors who appear in Big Finish Doctor Who stories were given a proper ending to their tenure on television with their regeneration, or I should say all but one.

When Colin Baker was cast to play the Sixth Doctor, he had high hopes for a long, happy tenure in the role but ended up with a short, unfortunate tenure. His character as written was unlikable (particularly in his first story) while he was given a clashing, multi-color costume universally panned. On top of that, the show’s script editor thought he wasn’t fit for the role and said so publicly. The show went on hiatus for 18 months and when the show returned, it did so with a “trial” that reminded the audience of the recent unpleasantness. Baker did a good job with what he was given, but was ultimately fired from the show and didn’t return for a regeneration story. Instead, his successor Sylvester McCoy appeared on the TARDIS set wearing Baker’s outfit and a blonde wig.

Baker’s Doctor got a second chance at Big Finish. On audio, the Sixth Doctor became a more likable character and got several new companions while starring in a host of well-written and memorable releases including the previously mentioned One Doctor. That really gave Baker a chance to show how good a Doctor he could be and gave many fans a new appreciation of his Doctor.

After so many years and so many stories, Producer David Richardson had the idea of finally giving the Sixth Doctor a proper ending. This led to the Last Adventure, which features four stories throughout the Sixth Doctor’s life that ultimately set the stage for his regeneration and a final confrontation with his enemy the Valyard. Each story is told with a different companion and the stories take different tones from an eerie story about a strange train yard to a light-hearted story about doglike people who have stay indoors to avoid becoming human to a suspenseful tale of malicious evil in Victorian London (with Jago and Litefoot) to a final confrontation in the TARDIS, this box set covers a lot of ground and each chapter is well-written and well-executed. They’re not only a solid conclusion to Baker’s era, but they also each stand up as strong stories in their own right.

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Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season Three

The twelve episode 2007-2008 season of the Red Panda manages to do two things at once. Most episodes represent good standalone stories. However, several built towards long-term arcs and thematic points as well as developing the relationship between the Red Panda (Gregg Taylor) and Flying Squirrel (Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor) as they continued their adventures in 1930s Toronto..

Among the series highlights, “Tis the Season” is a fine Christmas special, writer/star Gregg Taylor made clear he wanted to match the tone and feel of Will Eisner’s Spirit Christmas stories and this story hits the spot nicely. In “the Callahan Mob,” Toronto is besieged by a new protection racket and there’s only one way to stop them and that’s to beat them at their own game. Easily the funniest episode of the season. “The Empty Box” is a great Shadowesque story with a series of creepy, unexplained murders of a jury who was promised revenge by a killer.

Two stories teased what’s to come in the rise of evil forces and the Nazi threat in “The Opening Gambit,” and the series finale, “The Field Trip.”

“The Field Trip” is probably my favorite episode of the season as the Red Panda went to New York City and found local superheroes having formed a bureaucratic organization that he has to go around to fight a dangerous Nazi scientist. This episode moves the relationship between Rad Panda and the Flying Squirrel in a new direction. It works really well because it laid the foundation throughout the season.

There were a couple episodes that didn’t work for me. The idea of “Now, the News,” was to offer three shorter adventures of the Red Panda that would have been features in newsreels. It’s not a bad idea, but the three stories weren’t connected and none were compelling on their own. “The Red Squirrel” finds the “Flying Squirrel” wondering who’s been impersonating her with seemingly superior technology. I won’t reveal the person’s identity, but she really is a bit of a Mary Sue in this story and for her to appear in this way needs more justification than we get.

Overall, this was another solid season. It managed to continue to offer new adventures in the style we’ve been accustomed to while advancing character arcs and continuing ongoing plots in a way that makes me ready for Season 4.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5.

Season 3 of the Red Panda Adventures is available to listen to for free online here.

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Audio Drama Review: More of Poirot’s Finest Cases


After its first collection of Poirot Audio Dramas, Poirot’s Finest Cases, the BBC has served up another collection called, More of Poirot’s Finest Cases.

The first collection contained Eight mysteries starring John Moffat as the famous Belgian Detective. That collection did contain most of the best Poirot cases. This collection is a reminder that Christie wrote a lot of great Poirot novels.

Overall, these stories are a notch below the first collection, the production values are up a bit. While most of the stories in the first set all seemed to have the same sort of generic 1920s opening theme, these do have more individualized musical scores and themes, “Sad Cyrpess” has a haunting opening. Audible’s division of these stories into chapters is a little less satisfactory as it takes each story and cuts it in half, even though some were serialized and some were broadcast as feature-length productions.

The stories on the collection are “Evil Under the Sun,” “Sad Cypress,” “Murder in Mesopotamia,” “Lord Edgeware Dies,” “Hallowe’en Party,” “Murder on the Links,” and “Five Little Pigs.”

Most of these are good Poirot tales. My favorite would be, “Five Little Pigs.” This particular production was my first exposure to Poirot, so I have a soft spot for it. It’s the story of Poirot helping a young woman considering marriage asking Poirot to investigate whether her mother murdered her father sixteen years previously. Poirot takes on this cold case and meets all the principles who are still alive. I like how the production brings each character to life and the solution is clever with a well-done denouement.

The weakest release in the set is, “Hallowe’en Party” where a young teenager known for telling wild tales mentions to mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver at a Hallowe’en Party that she once observed a murder but didn’t know it was a murder. She’s subsequently found murdered by being drowned in an apple bobbing tank. This story is well-performed and well-adapted, but this is generally not viewed as one of Christie’s better works. The story is darker than most other Christie’s stories as we have the murder of not one but two children. Yet, I don’t think those murderers were given the appropriate emotional weight. Add in a convoluted solution and this one one is the weakest story in the set.

“Murder on the Links” is a good story, but it’s different from most Poirot stories. This was only Christie’s second Poirot novel and he’s a lot more concerned with physical  evidence, as opposed to the psychological evidence Poirot is known for. Also, this story features Jeremy Clyde as Captain Hastings, who in the other radio adaptations was played by Simon Williams. This leads to a younger Captain Hastings which is a bit odd, though the performance is fine.

Overall, this set is a bargain for Poirot fans. For a single audible Credit, or a low purchase price, you get seven Poirot audio dramas featuring John Moffat. The stories are not Poirot’s greatest, but most have a high quality. When coupled with better production values, this makes this set a worthwhile purchase.

Rating:4.25 out of 5