Tag: good review

Audio Drama Review: Four by L’Amour


As I’ve mentioned before, Random House adapted several stories by the great Western Author Louie L’Amour to audio. Most of these are available as single releases, but some are available as collections, particularly those who have the same lead character. However, this collection of four audio dramas only has the irresistible rhyming title with four different heroes (all but one a one-shot character.)

In “No Man’s Man,” Gunslinger Lou Morgan is hired to get rid of a suitor to a woman he was madly in love with. However, he arrives to violence and so many complications.

I like this story. Even though it’s in the Old West, it reminds me of a classic hard-boiled detective novel: There’s a lying client, dangerous hoods, a mysterious woman who captures our hard-bitten hero’s heart. It has great action and a solid story.

In “Get Out of Town,” fourteen-year-old Tom Fairchild is the man of the house at his farm after his father dies and he goes to town to findhelp. He chooses to hire an ex-convict, Riley, against the advice older men in town. Tom’s an interesting character and this is a coming of age story for him. In the course of the hour audio drama, we see how he changes, in his relationship to Riley especially, as there’s a romantic spark between Riley and Tom’s mother. The story’s ending isn’t quite what you expect, particularly if you’re looking for big western action, but it’s still good drama.

In “McQueen of the Tumbling K”, Ward McQueen, the foreman of a ranch, sees a wounded man fleeing through the Tumbling’s K spread. In town, he learns a gambler is setting up a town and making advances towards the female owner of the ranch. In the middle of this, McQueen is waylaid and left for dead.

This story’s not horrible, but it’s the weakest story of the collection. The villain is painfully obvious, but McQueen is also too strong a hero. Once his physical survival is assured, there’s  not much of a question of the outcome. Everyone in town knows him and no one knows the villainous gambler. The earlier stories worked because you had established lone strangers in Morgan and Riley facing off against local bad guys without any locals having a reason to back them up. Here it’s reversed and doesn’t work as well.

Finally, we have “Booty for a Badman,” featuring one of L’Amour’s well known Sackett characters, Tell Sackett. Tell has had little luck as a miner, which makes him the logical choice to transport the other miners’ gold. Every miner who has left the camp as a known success ended up dead. If they send out someone who everyone knows has a failing mine, he shouldn’t get stopped–in theory.

Carrying $40,000 worth of gold is a risky proposition and it becomes even riskier when Tell encounters an Army wife who has had a breakdown and runaway as she can’t take the strain of living in the West.

This is a good story with a great sense of drama as well as a strong action scene. While we only get to spend an hour with Tell, we get a strong idea of his character. The resolution was one I could have seen coming a mile away, but it’s still a fun story.

Overall, while I liked some stories more than others, this is a nice sampling of stories from one of the most beloved best-selling authors of all time.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

 

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DVD Review: Pie in the Sky, Series 2

Series One of Pie in the Sky was a good enough series with a likable lead that, despite some weaker stories, left me hungry for more. In Series Two, Pie in the Sky really hits its stride.

The basic set up of Pie in the Sky is that Police Inspector Henry Crabbe (Richard Griffins) is ready to retire and focus on running a restaurant. Due to a mishap and a crooked partner, Crabbe ends up in line for a murder wrap. Assistant Chief Constable Fisher (Malcolm Sinclair) knows Crabbe’s innocent but holds the threat of an inquiry over Crabbe’s head to keep him on call. Crabbe spends most of his time running the restaurant Pie in the Sky, but when Fisher calls he goes into action to solve a case.

Series 2 manages to expand and clarify much of Series 1. Including giving a clear understanding of Crabbe on a very fundamental level. It only took a single sentence, but in a conversation with newly promoted Detective Sergeant Sophia Cambridge (Bella Enaharo) about the importance he placed on doing police work as opposed to a police career. That defines the difference between Crabbe and Fisher, whose entire focus is on career advancement. For Crabbe, each case is a job that must be worked well and solved correctly. For Fisher, cases are important based on how the outcome will advance his long-term career goals. While In Series One, Crabbe’s problem with other policemen was  vague. In Series Two, it firmly nailed down that it’s officers who are more concerned about advancing their career rather than actually getting things right.

It also explains why Crabbe is so suited to being a chef. The focus on quality work and getting the job done right is at the core of that position. And whereas his lack of attention to career left him in a rut on a police force, the attention to detail serves him well in the kitchen.

Of course, this does lead to some conflicts with his accountant wife Margaret (Maggie Steed) who is the legal owner of the restaurant  to satisfy a British legal requirement that wouldn’t let Henry own the restaurant as a policeman. It doesn’t help that she has no real taste for fine food and only sees how the bottom line can be improved. She doesn’t meddle all the time, but most often her efforts to change the business to make it more profitable cut against Henry’s overall ethic and good restaurant practices such as when she decided to start double booking tables to maximize the profits.

Yet, despite their differences or perhaps because of them, the Crabbes make a lovely middle-aged couple, balancing each other out. Both can be kind. While Henry’s heart of gold and decency is much more obvious, Margaret also shines in the series and the way they play off each other is fun to watch.

We do get some insight on Fisher. In the episode, “The Policeman’s Daughter,” Fisher has Crabbe look for his daughter who has fled to an enclave of drifters. We learn all Fisher really has is his career and that his wife cheats on him regularly and he has lost the respect of his daughter. Crabbe does his best to bring some sort of peace.

Cambridge received a promotion after the first series and this one focuses on the challenges of it. In one scene, another department tries to get her and Fisher fights the head of the other department over her and it becomes apparent she’s merely being used as a way for them to beef up their rankings for racial diversity. This contributes to the fact there are several instances where she doesn’t get respect for her achievements or rank that are due. It’s all done in an understated way though. She’s a still a very good character, but both she and Fisher are in this series less than in the first.

The staff of the restaurant was used more creatively. In the first series, Pie in the Sky was Crabbe’s refuge from trouble. Yet, in a bit of realism, the restaurant itself began to present some genuine problems, particularly when Crabbe had to step away to solve a case. He’d be in and out while his restaurant was in the hands of his twenty-something assistant chef and waitstaff and problems would develop that he would eventually have to solve. My favorite example of this is when they decided to switch out the classical musical Crabbe plays in the chicken coop for heavy metal music in order to get the chickens to lay more eggs. It actually works but with a side effect.

There’s also tension between the assistant chef Steve (Joe Duttine) and the head waiter John (Ashley Russell) as the former is an ex-con and the later is an experienced waiter from many highly regarded establishments. The rivalry mainly serves to show Crabbe’s sense of diplomacy.

The episodes are well-written. Each has a mystery at the core that’s well-crafted, but not so complex it doesn’t leave time for the comedy and drama of the episode. Some of the better ones include, “The One That Got Away,” where Crabbe has to stop a friend from being railroaded from the murder of his fiancee by an ambition Detective Inspector. In “Black Pudding,” Crabbe meets up with an elderly woman whose cookbooks he admires and finds her relatives are after her steamy memoirs. The “Mild Ones” finds Crabbe in pursuit of two elderly con-women who rip off people for thousands but leave behind an amazing recipe for bread pudding. In the “Mystery of Pikey,” some locals pressure Fisher to get Crabbe to investigate a series of minor local crimes. He gets results, but not what they would hope for.

The only weak episode of the series is the series finale, “Lemon Twist” that has Crabbe, Fisher, and Cambridge attending a management training conference. The premise is problematic as its hard to see why Fisher would send Crabbe as Crabbe is only working part time and has no interest in managing for the police or a long-term police career. The mystery is weak and there’s some humor around Crabbe that requires him to act out of character. The episode is not that bad, though. The restaurant plot has some genuinely funny moments after they earn a five star review from a nationally known food critic.

So, the worst episode of this series was but mediocre. The rest of the Series is pure gold. The stories are fun cozy mysteries with a lovable lead doing his best to bring peace and order in the kitchen and to whatever case he’s called to investigate.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Book Review: Mister Monk Goes to the Firehouse


Cause I think you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.
-Lyrics from “When I’m Gone” from “Mr. Monk and the End.” by Randy Newman

True to the song, I’ve been missing Adrian Monk. Watching Elementary and it’s much more forced dynamic has made me appreciate Monk even more. It’s been nine years since his last new case aired on USA and there’s been no follow up TV movies or specials that many had hoped for, even with the proliferation of original streaming content in a world where there’s going to be a YouTube series “Kobra Kai” featuring Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence as adults. And we can’t get a Monk movie made?

However, Monk had adventures that were not on television, but rather in a series of novelizations. I reviewed one when I was first watching the series and thought it was okay, so I gladly picked up another one to get a much needed Monk fix.

The plot of this book was the basis of the TV episode, “Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing” but this book stands on its own, particularly since the blindness plot isn’t used.

Mr. Monk’s apartment is being fumigated and he’s so OCD even 4-star hotels can’t meet his standards and a 5-star hotel is out because it’s an odd number. So desperate to end a series of embarrassing and tedious visits to hotel rooms, his assistant Natalie Teager invites Monk to stay with her and he agrees before realizing what she’s saying.

At Natalie’s house, Monk finds Natalie’s daughter Julie wants to hire him to investigate the case of firehouse dog who was murdered while the firefighters were out fighting a blaze in the neighborhood. Mr. Monk visits the scene of the fire, where an elderly woman died. The police assumed it was an accident, but Monk proves it murder. So he’s soon investigating the killing of the woman as well as the dog.

This is a pretty solid book. The mystery’s nice and involved with lots of texture, twists, and features, as well as a few nice side mysteries for Monk to solve along the way. It’s also a case that doesn’t end when Monk knows who “the guy” is as he has to put in a lot of work to prove it.

The overall story is pretty well-balanced. There’s some really good humor that captures Mr. Monk’s OCD nature, such as when he deals with Natalie’s cracked dishes by throwing them all out. Yet, it also captures the more endearing aspect of him such as Mr. Monk’s childlike joy at arriving at the firehouse. Reactions to Monk vary from kind tolerance and respect to the rude, disrespectful annoyance from impatient people in a hurry.

There are also some good side characters in the story such as the very lovable Firefighter Joe.

The book is told from Natalie’s point of view, which means we don’t get to see Monk interacting on his own with characters such as his therapist Dr. Kroger. Natalie is a very empathetic person and that helps readers connect with the story. Probably the biggest downside to Natalie as she’s written is that she editorializes everything and could go off on tangents. Thankfully there aren’t too many of those.

Overall, this is an enjoyable book for those wanting a good Monk fix.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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A Look at Jago and Litefoot, Part Five (Series 12-13, Final)

See Parts OneTwo, and Three, and Part Four

Last year, we did a series examining the career of the Amazing Jago and Litefoot radio series starring Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter up through Series 11. I planned to write a follow up in October with the release of Series 14. However, Mr. Baxter passed away on July 16th at the age of 84. All recorded Jago and Litefoot episodes have already been released.

This article will look at the final releases featuring these two great characters.

Series 12 was released in October of last year and saw a return to the typical series quality after a shaky Series 11. This series has a tight story arch that ties each story together in a way we haven’t seen and it all focuses on Ellie and ties back into Series 1 where Jago killed Ellie’s brother after he’d been transformed into a monster and Series 2 where Ellie had been turned into a vampire prior to Professor Litefoot curing her.

In the first story, “Picture This,” Ellie’s vampire tendencies are back and she breaks into the mysterious Scarlet gallery to steal a painting. Jago & Litefoot are called in to investigate and they find themselves deep in the mystery of the gallery which is filled with mystical pictures. This is a solid start that both sets up the plot for the series while also having a spooky standalone story with an above average role for Sergeant Quick.

In “Flickermen,” Jago and Litefoot investigate a series of disappearances and get their first look at the emerging world of motion pictures. This is another solid outing, with some creepy moments but also a good share of humor. Unlike many other recent box sets, this story continues to explore the over-arching plot of Ellie’s vampirism. There’s also a good bit of humor and an interesting conclusion that makes the story work.

In, “The School of Blood,” Professor Litefoot goes undercover at a girl’s school based on a hint and discovers a large number of mysterious deaths have occurred. There are clear hints of ongoing vampire activity as the girls all seem to be hiding mysterious wounds. The story manages to mix in humor with a very sinister feel to the school, and features an action-packed climax which sets the stage for the final act.

The series concludes with, “Warm Blood.” It’s the final showdown as Jago and Litefoot suspect the truth about Ellie while she plans to lead them towards their doom. The story starts off slow and has some questionable moments in it but really picks up in the final third as Jago and Litefoot find themselves in the most perilous part of their career and they have to confront Ellie. Jago is haunted with and forced to confront what he did back in Series One and asked to make the same choice again. It’s a very solid conclusion with a non-cliffhanger ending which fits the more tighter connection between the stories we’ve seen in Series 12. Overall, satisfying, though there were a few plot holes.

2017 marked the 40th Anniversary of Jago and Litefoot’s appearance in the Talons of Weng-Chiang on television and would be marked by some additional appearances outside their own series.

This began in January with their appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures in, “The Beast of Kravenos.”

The Beast of Kravenos brings Jago and Litefoot back to the Fourth Doctor Adventures, this time along Lalla Ward’s second incarnation of Romana and the result is…pleasantly okay.

Compared to the infernal investigators first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures, Justice of Jalxar, this story of Jago, Litefoot, the Doctor, and Quick all hunting for the perpetrator behind a series of burglars, is unremarkable. The best thing to say for this story is it doesn’t get in the way of the characters, who are at all likable and fun to listen to. This isn’t unlike a classic First Doctor Television story where the story is weak but the characters are fun to be around. So overall, the characters make this worth listening to. It’s too bad the writer couldn’t have come up with something better for them to do.

Jago and Litefoot made an appearance in the Doctor Who Short Trips range in March and April of this year. The Short Trip range typically involve an actor or actress who played a Doctor Who companion reading a short, self-contained audiobook featuring the Doctor they starred opposite of.

The Jago and Litefoot Revival Act was entirely different from anything else done in the range. The story was in two parts (Part One and Part Two), both Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter read framing scenes together with Lisa Bowerman appearing as Ellie at the end of the second part, and the story features two Doctor actors they never appeared with on TV.

Litefoot is joined by Jago in telling a story before the meeting of a scientific society in which the two were separated by hundreds of miles, with Litefoot travelling to Minos as both were in the dulldrums after months of nothing unusual happening. The story features a Jago and Litefoot adventure that involves the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, Writer Jonathan Barnes has a good sense of both Jago and Litefoot and the new series Doctors.

The story has a solid plot, but the real fun is exploring the nature of a friendship between our two protagonists and the Doctor that’s lasted so long. Trevor Baxter did a good job in the scenes with Litefoot and the Tenth Doctor who was nearing the end of his life in this story. Overall, this is a bit of an aberration, but an enjoyable 40th Anniversary story nonetheless.

In April, the 13th Series of Jago of Litefoot was released.


The series kicks off with “The Stuff of Nightmares,” Jago, Litefoot, and Ellie are all having frighteningly realistic terrifying dreams while a Time Agent stalks London in search of the fate of Magnus Kreel.

The story has some moments reminiscent of other Jago and Litefoot tales. Bizarre dreams have been visited before, back in Series 6. But this is a different sort of dream and here the attempts at psychoanalysis of dreams is played for laughs even though there’s a measure of truth in it. This series does begin by hearkening back to the original Talons story, which was done in Series 5 but not nearly as effectively as in this episode.

The dreams contribute to a sense of mystery that kept me guessing and the solution to the mystery is surprising while still managing to be believably understandable for a clever Victorian gentleman to wrap his mind around.

In the Chapel of Night, Jago and Litefoot think they’ve returned home from their last adventure only to discover, while it may look like home, it’s not their London at all. Ellie doesn’t know them, having never seen the Professor before. Quick has a distant professional relationship with Litefoot but doesn’t know Jago at all.

Once you get past, the parallel reality part of the story, it becomes a well-done boiler plate episode of Jago and Litefoot with the Chapel of Night taking people who are about to commit suicide off the street and using them for their own purposes. It’s a solid story with some suspenseful moments, but just a typical tale for the infernal investigators.

The third story, “How the Other Half Lives” is a wonderful tale that finds Jago and Litefoot down on their luck as they have no place in a London where their counterparts are alive. Yet, Jago and Litefoot find their alternate Earth counterparts may need them. Alternate Jago is down on his luck and married, but he has a desperate plan and he thinks Litefoot can help when he meets him but what plan does he have that involves a gun and could be helped by a pathologist?

Then there’s Alternate Litefoot who finds himself mysteriously bed-ridden and kept company by his Chinese curios. Alternate Litefoot is about to be victimized by his at-home nurse and her rat catcher boyfriend who plan to loot her home.

Overall, there’s a lot of humor, great chemistry, and a nice bit of dynamic between the Jagos and Litefoots. The differences between them are slight and more experiential than anything else. It’s quite a bit smarter than past attempts at alternate Jago & Litefoots. The story also continues to be another great hearkening back to Talons of Weng-Chiang in both main plot threads.

The final story is “Too Much Reality.” It’s a good conclusion to the box set that finds Jago and Litefoot teaming up with the alternate universe Jago and Litefoot, as well as a team of infernal investigators who emerged instead of them, Luke Betterman and Aubrey. David Warner’s Betterman is believable and has just a bit more authority than the main universe Betterman and his performance is a real highlight of this episode. The story moves on well and avoids spending too much time on the villain.

The story is not without flaws. Having both Jagos and both Litefoots in this story is problematic because they share too many scenes and there’s no vocal differentiation. The story seems to be aiming for the idea that if Jago and Litefoot meet in any universe, they’ll be drawn together into adventure. That’s an okay idea, but not when it creates this much crowding in the story. Personally, I’d have preferred to really have a strong contrast between Jago and Litefoot and Betterman and Aubrey. The actual contribution to the plot by the alternates doesn’t amount to much.

Regardless, the story was a fun listen. It’s unfortunate it does end on a cliffhanger to set up a series 14 that won’t happen. But the listener is free to imagine Jago and Litefoot went on to have many more adventures not chronicled on audio. That’s what I’ll do.

Overall, this is a nice set that succeeds at its goals. In Series 5, they tried to offer a follow up to Talons and it didn’t work. Here, I think they got it just right, celebrating the story with a great homage that still manages to tell a fun and fairly original story. It’s probably their strongest release since Series 10 and overall is a fine representative of one of the best audio dramas ever made.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Saint: The Man Who Wouldn’t Die

This book is a graphic novel based on a short story from the early days of Leslie Charteris’ writing the Saint. This story is from 1931 and finds the Saint on the trail of an adrenaline junkie named Miles Hallin who has a series of near misses with death that leave him richer and someone else dead. The Saint suspects foul play and when one of his friends is killed in one of Hallin’s incidents the Saint vows to ensure the man who wouldn’t die does.even if it comes at the hands of the Saint.

This is a fairly good story for Moonstone to use. Even though, it was written in 1931 before noir really became a thing, it does look nice as a black and white noir comic and it has a great deal of atmosphere. The graphic novel is around 50 pages long and can easily be read in a single reading. Most of the plot works quite well. I did have a couple quibbles with the art. First of all, there’s one scene in the book where the Saint and Hallin fight and it’s really unclear what’s supposed to be happening. In addition, the cover with bony skeleton hands covering a woman’s eyes has nothing to do with the plot but Moonstone chose it because (I’m guessing here) it fits with some of their more supernatural styles.

Still, this is an enjoyable comic adaptation of a Saint adventure and a fun way to experience a 1930s mystery story.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0