Saturday, May 23, 2015

AQUARIUS - The Dark Side of the Sixties

Aquarius (NBC May 28) is a new crime series that journeys through both the psychedelic exuberance and the darkest depths of the iconic 1960s decade.

The Sixties era was a time of political turmoil over the Vietnam war, when many kinds of revolution were in the air. It was a period that encompassed psychedelic drugs, the Summer of Love, and visionary rock music from The Beatles, Dylan, The Doors, and Jefferson Airplane.

But the Sixties was also infamous for the crimes of the notorious Manson Family - a ragged communal cult that committed a series of horrific California murders under the mesmerizing sway of the demonic Charles Manson.

Aquarius begins in 1967 Los Angeles as LAPD detective Sam Hodiak (played by David Duchovny) looks into the case of a missing teenage girl. He learns the girl may have joined a creepy band of hippie drifters. That puts Hodiak on the trail of the people who would become the Manson Family killers.

The TV series is set against the colorful backdrop of the Sixties culture scene, when the wild permissive freedom of the era degenerated into the frenzied, amoral blackness of the bloody crime scenes left behind by the Manson Family cult. Aquarius shows that beneath the surface of good vibes and pounding music, something evil and violent was already stirring.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

TV Series Renewals - The Good News and Bad News

The television networks are out with their annual lists of which series will be back next season and which ones won't. There's some good news and some bad news.

Welcome Renewals

Secrets and Lies (ABC) - This was a surprise spring season hit filled with plot twists and a shocker ending. Returning in a new case will be driven, obsessive Detective Andrea Cornell, played with creepy intensity by Juliette Lewis.

Broadchurch (BBC America Cable) - The first two seasons of this British mystery series dealt with the murder of a child in an English seaside town and the following trial of the accused killer. The prickly, grudging chemistry between the detective team of Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller was an added treat and they will continue it in a third season.

Manhattan (WGN Cable) - Set in New Mexico during World War II as a team of nuclear scientists on the Manhattan Project work to develop the first atomic bomb. This well written, character-driven series deserves to continue its gripping portrayal of a key historical event.

Regretted Cancellations

CSI (CBS) - It's had 15 seasons and has maintained a high standard of story quality along with a solid cast right to the end. This series was a pioneer in the forensic investigation genre and we've learned a lot from it about DNA, trace evidence, and cause of death. Sad to see it go after a great run.

The Bridge (FX Cable) - Moody, disturbing series set on the U.S.-Mexico border and teaming an American detective with a Mexican State police cop. A riveting crime drama, but its storylines may have been too dark and violent for viewers.

Why Bother Renewing?

Under the Dome (CBS) - Back for a third season, the original premise from the Stephen King novel of a town trapped under a mysterious dome was an intriguing enigma. But the series added so many additional, confusing complications that it ran out of steam long ago.

Extant (CBS) - Science Fiction series about a female astronaut who returns to earth pregnant by something alien. Started well, then got increasingly far fetched as a government conspiracy wanted to take the alien baby. Not really worth stringing the story out for another season.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

WAYWARD PINES Series a Sinister Psychological Puzzle

Wayward Pines is a new mystery mini-series debuting on FOX TV May 14. The pilot episode (available now on Comcast On Demand) shows strong potential of a layered puzzle with unexpected twists to come.

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke is sent to the isolated town of Wayward Pines, Idaho to look for two missing fellow agents. He's involved in a sudden car crash and awakens in the town hospital. Nothing is normal after that.

Ethan can't get a phone call to the outside world. The local sheriff is menacing and unhelpful. The town residents seem to be hiding something. The highway out is a circular road, leading right back into the town again.

Ethan is suffering from a concussion. References are made to his past mental problems. Nothing about the town seems normal, or is it all in Ethan's own mind? Then it gets worse when he finds the body of one of the missing agents in an abandoned house.

Wayward Pines is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, whose past films have featured artificial reality situations with hidden secrets lurking beneath (Signs, The Village). In Wayward Pines, some characters seem to be manipulating events around Ethan, and at one point, he is referred to by a number. Is the whole town part of some kind of experiment or a test? Or is it a mental treatment facility or even a high tech prison?

Based on the first episode, Wayward Pines looks like a sinister psychological puzzle that should appeal to fans of other enigmatic series like Twin Peaks, Lost, and The Prisoner.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

NIGHTSCAPES Anthology Explores Human Fears

Nightscapes by William Wilde - New short story collection.

Ten dark tales from the landscape of human fears.

A black couple on vacation meet horror in a sinister town ... A former astronaut is hunted by hideous enemies ... Broken people make pilgrimages to a haunted forest ... A pack of robotic creatures menace the streets of a city.

When John and Barbara Norton encounter hostility in the isolated town of Harmony, they think it must be a racial thing because they're black. But is the strange town hiding a different, monstrous secret?

Ben Drake is the Mercury Man, the first astronaut to orbit the planet Mercury. But he saw something there he wasn't supposed to and now he's on the run from horrifying pursuers.

Each of the stories in this collection pulls you into its own uncharted nightscape of fear.

Now available at Amazon Kindle:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

BLOOD ON SNOW Another Jo Nesbo Crime Winner

Blood On Snow by Jo Nesbo is a new Crime novel from the Norwegian writer who has become one of the best in the genre. Nesbo is the author of the popular series featuring Oslo police detective Harry Hole.

Blood On Snow is a short, stand-alone novel whose main character, Olav, is a "fixer," a contract killer for his boss. But when his boss, Hoffmann, assigns Olav to kill Hoffmann's wife, Corina, it suddenly creates a dilemma for Olav.

While watching Corina, Olav first learns that she is having an extramarital affair. Then the longer Olav watches her life, the more he begins to fall for Corina himself.

Olav is a practical, uncomplicated man with no illusions about the hit man work that he gets paid to do. He is even philosophical about his role saying, "I was someone's destiny." When he closes in on a victim, he has "a feeling of order, of things falling into place."

But in the situation with Corina, Olav takes an atypical action that alters the sense of order he works by and may cost him his life as a result.

Blood On Snow is a gripping crime tale that races to a harsh finish. It's another satisfying winner for Jo Nesbo.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ENDANGERED by C.J. Box a Rugged West Crime Novel

Endangered by C.J. Box is the latest in the crime novel series that features Wyoming state game warden Joe Pickett. The novel is set against the rugged, sprawling western landscape that Pickett patrols, mostly alone.

The novel opens with Joe investigating the site of an illegal massacre of a flock of sage grouse, an endangered species. Before Joe can pursue the case further, he gets an unexpected call telling him that his step-daughter, April, has been found in a roadside ditch, brutally beaten and unconscious. It's uncertain whether she will survive.

Another crisis soon occurs when Joe's friend, Nate Romanowski, an undercover Federal informant, is set up and gunned down in a cold blooded ambush. After emergency surgery, Nate's life hangs in the balance.

As Pickett investigates both cases, he begins to wonder if the attacks on April and Nate are connected somehow. His digging points him toward the Cates family, a roughneck, violent clan that Joe Pickett may end up having to go against.

Endangered is a fast paced read, with several plot lines moving at the same time. Tough-skinned characters and the unforgiving western country add a strong regional flavor to the story.

Beach Rating: 4 Palm Trees

Thursday, March 5, 2015

BROADCHURCH Returns With Season 2 Mystery

Broadchurch (BBC America Cable) is back for Season 2 of this gripping British mystery series.

Season 1 dealt with the investigation of a boy's murder in the small English seaside town of Broadchurch. Teamed on the case were detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller. Hardy was an outsider assigned to the case, Miller a local native of the town. Miller personally knew many of the town residents, one of whom was secretly a killer.

The first season ended with a shocker: Detective Miller's own husband, Joe, turned out to be the killer. He was arrested and confessed to the crime as his wife reacted with stunned fury. She was sleeping right next to the killer all the time and never knew it. Case closed, right? Not so fast, it seems.

In the new season, Joe Miller suddenly pleads not guilty in  court, throwing the case into renewed chaos. A full criminal trial is begun, forcing the town, and Detective Miller, to relive all the agonizing emotions of the boy's murder.

The trial threatens to expose previously unknown revelations about the murder case and suggests new trouble ahead for detectives Hardy and Miller. The unexpected trial is a wrenching plot twist on a case that viewers thought was solved and done with. But there seems to be more coming that we never knew about before.

Another bonus is the prickly, entertaining chemistry between the two detectives as they face the pressures around them. With a cast of characters with hidden secrets of their own, Broadchurch is an engrossing drama of sinister psychological mystery at its best.