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Posts tagged ‘mysteries’

Laying Wait For Blood – book review of ‘THE HOUSE ON SEVENTH STREET,’ by Karen Vorbeck

Mystery genre is often the product of formula. webRhianna_Davies_final_hi_res_coverThe motivations of suspects are presented first and then the sleuth’s [reader’s] job is to piece together which motivation found a plot. Most mystery characters are a virtual police lineup of hyper-motivated and obvious schemers. What’s intriguing, and refreshing, about Karen Vorbeck Williams“THE HOUSE ON SEVENTH STREET” is it’s mixture of subtleties. The novel focuses on a protagonist who is rather ordinary and only ever in the proximity of danger. Or is she?

Winna is a middle-aged divorcee returning home to Colorado to clean out her family manor. In doing so she dusts off family secrets about adultery, hidden jewelry, and suspicious deaths. The deeper Winna digs into old trunks, the more it’s apparent that someone, someone inside her small circle of family and friends, may be trying, subtlety, to kill her. But why?

Williams’ story uncannily makes us feel connected to Winna. Like Winna, we are baffled as to how seemingly trustworthy characters could possibly be suspects, could be killers. It’s true everyone’s behavior toward Winna is slightly selfish or odd. The author inserts clues mostly in the authentic dialogue, hinting at underlying greed or resentment that any of us might be guilty of amongst our closest relations. It’s unnerving because we, as Winna, like the suspects and want to trust them. This is an ingenious strategy for crafting suspense. Who does-she/do-we trust?

One complaint with “THE HOUSE ON SEVENTH STREET” is the ending, which, for me, was a sort of a flat tire. The revelation of the culprit within Winna’s midst comes without any confrontation. There are also some secondary mysteries going on which are either red-herrings, or dropped when the book ends abruptly at what feels like an enforced three hundred pages. However, I don’t want to spoil the mystery or the experience. I think reading the novel is worth the reader’s time, even if the end is too bad. Williams is gifted in her atmospheric descriptions, drawing characters who feel authentic, and cooking suspense on a gradual roast.

MEDIA LOG – 01.10.2012

(cinema) Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, d. Thomas Alfredson, 2011. I’m sure there are people who love this British Cold War cloak and dagger stuff. I’m either too dumb or too impatient to keep up with mysterious plots that turn on a word mumbled over a reel-to-reel tape recorder in a dark room. I might also benefit from an English to English lesson as everything including the title in TTSS requires having foreknowledge of British noir lingo as well as the political context. I’m pretty sure Gary Oldman is great playing the role of soft spoken detective who struggles to contain his outrage, but I miss Robert Mitchum. The ending where Oldman sets a trap to draw out the mole totally confounded me. I watched it twice and I still don’t get it. If anyone can explain it, I come with a degree in media studies and I’m all ears. 2 movie spotlights… Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, d. Guy Ritchie, 2011. The reboot of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead a couple of years ago set out to depict the iconic detective character as uninhibited, amoral, Saturnalian, and manic. If the original Holmes was a little neurotic, the new one is supposed to be bat-shit crazy. That was an update I could live with as Robert Downey was so good and the movie was well produced. There were great effects and modern editing trends but Victorian London was believably dark and pugilistic. The action sequences were an engaging addition to a good detective story. Game of Shadows abandons the detectiving of Holmes and Watson to show them instead as adventure characters. And I find the whole adventure pretty uninteresting. What we get is an endless series of escape sequences from boring villains. Sherlock’s sleuthing acumen has become either quasi-supernatural or silly and defiant of logic. The special effects are impressive, but what Guy Ritchie has done with Holmes is turn the legend and the franchise into a video game. 1 movie spotlight… Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, d. Nicholas Meyer, 1982. Somebody just told me that after Wrath of Khan all the makers of subsequent Star Trek movies felt they had to unfairly compete with Khan, that the series reached its high watermark early. I think a lot of the films are great, especially the last two from Next Generation, Nemesis and Insurrection. Wrath of Khan is great because the characters are familiar enough that the story has time to explore Kirk’s anxieties about reaching middle age. As a character study this is manifest in Kirk being chased around the galaxy by his demons- an old enemy, his illegitimate son, the death of a friend. I hadn’t seen this movie for years and for the first time I picked up on some big holes in the science. Ironically Khan could be the best script in the series but there are better overall post-Khan Star Trek movies. 3 1/2 movie spotlights.

“You see, but you do not observe.” WHAT MAKES SHERLOCK HOLMES A GENIUS AND DR. WATSON A TOAD

DON’T JUST SEE; OBSERVE: WHAT SHERLOCK HOLMES CAN TEACH US ABOUT MINDFUL DECISIONS

Maria Konnikova on July 18, 2011, 10:16 AM
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Sherlock Holmes isn’t what you’d call a traditional psychologist. In fact, he isn’t even real (despite the letters that to this day arrive at 221B Baker Street). But we’d be well advised, as decision makers who want to gain better insight into our minds and the processes that lie behind our choices, to take a few pages from the playbook of Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation.

Sherlock Holmes teaches us to be constantly mindful of our surroundings

When I was little, my dad used to read us Sherlock Holmes stories before bed. While my brother often took the opportunity to fall promptly asleep on his corner of the couch, the rest of us listened intently. I remember in particular one story that has stayed with me. Not the whole story, actually, but one exchange that caught my attention.

In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes instructs Watson on the difference between seeing andobserving:

“When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning, I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”

“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an  armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

The exchange really shook me. Feverishly, I tried to remember how many steps there were in our own house, how many led up to our front door (I couldn’t). And for a long time afterward, I tried to count stairs and steps whenever I could, lodging the proper number in my memory in case anyone ever called upon me to report. I’d make Holmes proud (of course, I’d promptly forget each number I had so diligently tried to remember – and it wasn’t until later that I realized that by focusing so intently on memorization, I’d missed the point entirely and was actually being less, not more observant).

What it means to go beyond seeing and to actually observe

Conan Doyle’s Holmes had taught himself to observe on a regular, almost superhuman basis. For him, taking note of the myriad inputs from his surroundings was a matter of course. He was nevernot observing, never not in touch with his environment. He had mindfulness down to an art. Most of us aren’t as careful.

Our senses—and here I don’t just mean vision; I mean all of them, touch, hearing, smell, taste—are powerful forces. Every day, countless items, some glanced, or heard, or felt, or smelled only briefly—perhaps without ever registering in our consciousness—affect our minds and play into our decisions. But for the most part, we don’t pay attention; and we fail to realize what it is that is guiding us at any given moment – or fail to note something that would have made a crucial difference to our decision calculus.

Most of us are lucky to have eyes that, like Watson’s, are every bit as good as Holmes’s. Ditto the rest of the senses. But so often, we squander them. We block ourselves off from the world, armed with headphones, dark glasses, eyes that look straight ahead and hurry on to their destination as quickly as possible, angry at the slightest interruption. How much do we miss that would actually make a difference, that continues to affect us even though we don’t realize it’s doing so? I’ve already written about the potential of smell to do just that, but the same holds for every single one of the senses we take for granted.

Using our senses to increase mindfulness

We and our decisions both would be well served to take some of the famed detective’s advice, to go beyond seeing and into the realm of observing. Take note of what’s around you. Take note of how or why it affects you. You might not turn into an expert crime solver, but I guarantee, you’d be surprised at the difference it can make to the quality of your life and your decisions.

To be mindful is to be aware. To observe, not merely to see, with our eyes, as well as the rest of our senses. That’s why, over the next few weeks, I’ll be devoting several posts to the interaction of our senses and our minds, exploring how each sense can affect our brains and our choices, in order to foster a greater awareness of the constant interplay between ourselves and our environment and an understanding of how that interplay can help us become more mindful decision makers.

[photo credit: Sidney Paget’s original 1891 illustration of Holmes and Watson, from the Strand magazine. Photograph: Time Life Pictures/Getty Images]