Tag: good review

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

Book Review: Except the Dying

Except the Dying is the first of Maureen Jennings’ novels featuring Detectives William Murdoch, a Victorian-era Toronto police detective. Three of Jennings’ novels would be adapted as made-for-TV movies and a TV series would be filmed based on characters from the book.

Except the Dying is quite different from the popular TV series. It’s a straightforward procedural mystery without the bells, whistles, and flaws that define the TV series such as guest appearances from historical personages, new (to the Victoria era) investigative techniques and gadgets being deployed to solve cases and characters with cultural attitudes that no one living at that time had.

Acting Detective William Murdoch is called to investigate the case of a woman found dead and stripped nude. The post-mortem examination reveals she was pregnant and died of exposure after taking a large amount of opium. Murdoch has to discover who killed her and why.

This is is a well-crafted procedural mystery. Murdoch is given lots of suspects and a few red herrings to sift through. Jennings does a great job capturing a sense of life in Toronto in the late Nineteenth Century. It captures all the religious and economic complexities that Toronto had to offer. The story has a grounded and realistic feel to it.

As a character, Murdoch is written in a three dimensional way. He’s intelligent, a Catholic, and learning to dance in hopes of getting an opportunity to meet women again after the recent death of his fiancée. He’s a good cop, but he’s no genius. The rest of the characters are not deep, but they do feel authentic and believable for the era.

Readers looking for a cozy mystery should not expect this book to have a family-friendly feeling. Crimes and vice are described realistically with some violent scenes and harsh words and the case leads Murdoch into contact with ladies of the night. However, while the book is realistic, it’s neither gory or salacious.

Overall, Except the Dying is a solid first novel, a good procedural, and a fine introduction to Jennings’ famous detective.

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Audio Drama Review: Jago and Litefoot Forever

Jago and Litefoot was one of the finest speculative fiction audio drama series ever made. It featured veteran actors Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter in the leading roles of theater impresario Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist Professor George Litefoot. The two first played the roles in the 1977 Doctor Who Story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and were first reunited in the one-off pilot story, “The Mahogany Murderers.” We’ve discussed the series in depth before.

Baxter’s death in 2017 meant the end of the series, which had finished its 13th series on a cliffhanger.

Jago and Litefoot Forever offers fans one last chance to say goodbye. The aftermath of Series Thirteen was resolved through exposition by Jago. Professor Litefoot has disappeared. Jago looks for him with the help of old friends but finds his memory starting to fade. The plot has some nice twists and a few red herrings thrown in to keep the listener guessing. For Jago and Litefoot, the plot is about average, though with some high points in it.

Much of the running time is taken up by flashback scenes as Jago and other characters recall past adventures. Professor Litefoot is given a part in the proceedings by copying dialogue from previous stories into this one. Writer Paul Morris went through the more than sixty scripts that’d been performed over the years to find lines he could give the Professor. The unavoidable flaw with this approach is that often Litefoot’s delivery feels unnatural to the context of the play.

With the use of clips and previously recorded dialogue, the cynic might compare this to Trail of the Pink Panther, the critically panned sixth Pink Panther film made after star Peter Sellers died. Trail used clips of previous Pink Panther movies and outtakes from previous films. It’s a point that producer David Richardson addresses in the extras. Despite the superficial similarity, Jago and Litefoot is something entirely different.

The writing is still solid, if not remarkable. Other than the somewhat awkward use of Baxter’s old lines, the production values remain high. The release succeeds as a tribute to Baxter and to the series with the return of several beloved guest stars, including Doctor Who Actor Colin Baker and Louise Jameson (who played the Fourth Doctor’s companion Leela). The ending also serves as a nice capstone for the series.

The release comes with some nice extras. The CD release includes the first CD release of the Jago and Litefoot short story, “The Jago and Litefoot Revival”  which is read by Baxter and Benjamin. It tells of the two Victorian Adventurers meeting with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors from the revived series. The behind-the-scenes extras include interviews with all the principles. The extras give insight into the making of the release as well as what would have been in the Fourteenth Series. There’s also a lovely variation on the theme by composer Jamie Robertson.

Jago and Litefoot Forever was made with obvious love and respect for the series. It’s not intended for new listeners. However, for long-time fans, it provides a chance to properly say goodbye to a great series and is definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The series exclusively at BigFinish.com through the end of the month.

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season Three

Season Three of Black Jack Justice features six half hour episodes and finds the team in a fairly well-established routine with Jack (Christopher Mott) and Trixie (Andrea Lyons) joined by the office dog, King.

The types of cases they solve this season are far from unheard of, yet the series is enjoyable due to their great sense of style.

The season opens up with, “Payback” where Jack is determined to solve a murder case that led to him getting thrown into jail for thirty days and to get payback on the client who caused the incarceration.

“Sabian’s Law” finds Jack and Trixie on opposite sides as Trixie would rather lose a reward to the firm than have to deal with the indignity of losing a bet to Jack, which leads to an unlikely team up with their police foe Lieutenant Sabian. “Trixie’s Pet” finds Trixie getting the firm involved in investigating a case where Button Down Theo, an operative for the big detective firm in town, has landed himself in trouble.

“The Reunion” finds Jack and Trixie trying to help a wealthy widow facilitate a meeting between her and her estranged twin sister.

“Much Ado About Norman” has the two searching for their emotional client, because they fear he’s about to do something stupid, rash, and illegal.

The season concludes with, “Dance, Justice, Dance” which opens with Jack and Trixie in a firefigh. Then Jack reveals the true version of the oft-misquoted statement, “Music soothes the savage beast,” before explaining how they got a job protecting musicians who got a contract with a big casino along with anonymous warnings that they might not live to fulfill it.

There’s not a bad episode in the bunch and each has its own unique features that make for fun listening. “The Reunion” may have been the best mystery of the season. I also loved the more character-driven nature of “Much Ado About Norman.” And “Dance, Justice, Dance” has a great bit of world-weary narration, particularly the ending.

The sound effects continue to be a bit dodgy. This could be heard during the gunfight in the finale. Other than that, though, the third season of Black Jack Justice was quite a delight.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Listen to Season 3 of Black Jack Justice for free at the Decoder Ring Theater website.

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