Tag Archives: Dark Places

TV & Movie Crime Log: Peaky, Blacklist, Gone

Peaky BlindersBritish serialised crime dramas are always welcome at my gaff, as long as they leave all knives and guns at the door and take off their size twelves. Peaky Blinders is back for a second series. The title refers, of course, to an early 20th century gang who hid razor-blades in their hats for nefarious purposes – but could just as well refer to the razor sharp cheekbones of Cillian ‘Crane’ Murphy.

That’s by the by, you’re not here to talk about cheekbones, you’re here to discover what the blurb has to say for itself:

Birmingham crime boss Thomas Shelby  heads into perilous territory. As the 1920s begin to roar, business is booming for the Peaky Blinders gang. Shelby starts to expand his legal and illegal operations. He has his sights set firmly on wider horizons, and the race tracks of the South are calling out for new management.

Shelby’s meteoric rise brings him into contact with both the upper echelons of society and astonishing new adversaries from London’s criminal enterprises. All will test him to the core, though in very different ways.

Meanwhile, Shelby’s home turf of Birmingham is beset by new challenges as members of his family react to the upturn in their fortunes, and an enemy from his past returns to the city with plans for a revenge of biblical proportions.

Biblical proportions doesn’t sound good. Joining the cast is Tom Hardy. Quite a coup, considering Mr. Hardy is something of a movie heart-throb, these days. The advice he delivered in Inception – ‘dare to dream a little bigger, darling’ – is sage advice to any writer and was considered, briefly, as the title of this blog. The cast also includes Helen McCrory – we like her – and Noah ‘The Rach 3’ – Taylor.

Peaky Blinders was, is, written by Steven Knight, who wrote Locke, Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things and, lest we forget, created Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

The BlacklistIf, everywhere you go, James Spader’s big milky gaze is following you from a billboard, it means The Blacklist is back on Sky Living this Friday at 9pm, for a second season. However, if you also get a curious sense that Spader’s talking to you about courgettes, then – no disrespect intended – it means you’re probably not well.

If you’re a fan of the first series – and there are plenty – you know the drill. Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington hands himself into the FBI and tells them he can deliver them the world’s most-wanted criminals – his only stipulation is that he’ll only talk with a rookie agent. I haven’t watched much of it, to be honest, but even I could glean that the agent’s husband is a rotter.

And, so then, let us please be upstanding for David Fincher’s adaptation of Gone Girl, which comes to a cinema screen near you on Friday. Gillian Flynn’s novel was quite the thing to be reading a couple of years ago, reaching that mythical zeitgeisty place that authors dream about – and, happily, managed to be also beautifully written. Mr. Fincher seems an ideal fit for her cynical and mesmerising story of a toxic marriage, and so far the reviews for the movie have been terrific.

incidentally, those of us who much admire Mz. Flynn’s two proceeding novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places – I’m looking at you, madam, and you, sir – will be happy to know there are adaptations of those in the pipeline. Dark Places, like the adaptation of Gone Girl, has a screenplay written by the author herself, and Sharp Objects is set to be a TV series.

Be gone with you.

In The Blood – Lisa Unger

Unknown-2In Lisa Unger’s powerful new psychological thriller, character and plot come together quickly to duke it out – like in one of those whirling cartoon fights where you see the occasional fist or leg protruding from a spinning tornado.

The blurb may not be telling you the whole truth:

Lana Granger lives a life of lies. She has told so many lies about where she comes from and who she is that the truth is like a cloudy nightmare she can’t quite recall. About to graduate from college and with her trust fund almost tapped out, she takes a job babysitting a troubled boy named Luke. Expelled from schools all over the country, the manipulative young Luke is accustomed to controlling the people in his life. But, in Lana, he may have met his match. Or has Lana met hers?

When Lana’s closest friend, Beck, mysteriously disappears, Lana resumes her lying ways–to friends, to the police, to herself. The police have a lot of questions for Lana when the story about her where­abouts the night Beck disappeared doesn’t jibe with eyewitness accounts. Lana will do anything to hide the truth, but it might not be enough to keep her ominous secrets buried: someone else knows about Lana’s lies. And he’s dying to tell.

There are shades of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places in In The Blood, a tricky and clever tale of a damaged teen’s efforts to escape her past. Lana’s friendship with her friend Beck is troubled by  unresolved sexual tension. Trouble is, when Beck follows Lana into the woods, she vanishes. And at the same time as Beck disappears, Lana falls into the orbit of an 11-year-old, a bad seed called Luke, who has a penchant for mind games.

Sometimes crime-novels can take ages to get going, particularly in psychological novels where we spend a lot of time in a character’s head. We can get so bogged down in a character’s endless thoughts and feeling that we gasp for a line of dialogue like water in a desert. But there’s little faffing about in In The Blood.

We all know the phrase character is action. Well, in this novel, the depth of Lana’s damaged-psyche emerges as she tries to discover the truth about Beck’s disappearance, Luke’s intentions and the truth of her mother’s murder. Unger always keeps Lana moving forward, juggling a number of  interconnected mysteries, and throwing in a satisfying twist. It’s an impressive feat of plate-spinning.

As a protagonist, Lana may not be everyone’s cup of tea. She’s a right mess of a young lady. On medication, in therapy, blacking out, repressing sinister memories. Her issues go way back to her mother’s murder and beyond. Her life has been built on secrets and lies. Good for the reader, bad for Lana.

But we root for her to solve the mess of her life. One way that Unger makes us do that is by surrounding herself with a collection of even more damaged individuals. Luke, for example, is a nasty little article, a sociopath who runs rings around his passive mother. Luke gives Unger the opportunity to consider the age old conflict of nature versus nurture. Are psychopaths born or made?

If, towards the end, In The Blood sometimes veers dangerously towards melodrama – Unger’s fictional New York town The Hollows seems over-burdened by deranged persons – that’s okay. I prefer the books I read to over-commit rather than crawl half-heartedly to a close.

What I liked: Unger is a terrific plotter. So many novels fail because they don’t surprise. Inexperienced authors can put every damned fact on the page. An experienced author like Unger knows how to stay one step-ahead of the reader by withholding vital information, or making them come to the wrong conclusion.

Reading a novel is the one time people want to be proved wrong. They love being blindsided. One way to do that is to use, as Unger does, an unreliable narrator. Someone who, for whatever reason, isn’t going to give the reader the whole picture. It’s a powerful device in the skilful writer’s toolbox.