Sherlock: The Sign of Three (BBC, 2014) – Negative space in mysteries; three volumes of clueing

Sign of Three

There’s a lot to say about the most recent series of Sherlock, but I think it’s best to wait until after next Sunday’s episode. While there isn’t much overt evidence of an overall arc, there have been a lot of little clues which will presumably be resolved in the final episode.

What is worth talking about is a common complaint I’ve seen about The Sign of Three: the idea that its mystery plot “could have been told in 15 minutes”. I can understand why people feel this way. It’s the second character-heavy episode in a row, and the mystery plot of The Empty Hearse really was very thin. But the idea that because the relevant scenes comprise a short amount of screen time the whole arc could be compressed down fundamentally misunderstands the importance of elapsed time in storytelling.

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Three Adventure Games

So my blogging schedule was a bust. No surprises there, really. But I must say I impressed myself with how quickly I flubbed it. Oh well. Never apologise. I’ve been very busy. A lot more people seem to want things edited in winter than in summer.

But occasionally my work coincides with blog-worthy material. Case in point: I’ve recently been hired, in a very loose way, to help with a computer game. It’s a point-and-click adventure, so it’s given me an excuse to check out some recent games. Today I’ll be reviewing three, all from the last few years: Resonance, Gemini Rue and A New Beginning.

No real spoilers after the cut, but Resonance is so good I’d recommend playing it without knowing anything about it at all, especially if you’re interested in mystery and thriller techniques. It’s on sale at the moment, so you can get it and a bazillion other games for just $5. That deal will also get you Gemini Rue, so I feel a little less bad about giving it such a drubbing. Continue reading

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (2010, Nintendo DS)

Cape West 1Last Window: The Secret of Cape West for Nintendo DS is a sequel to 2007’s Hotel Dusk. Like its predecessor, Cape West is a staunchly old-fashioned mystery adventure with an arresting visual style; the DS is held like a book and the characters are rotoscoped line drawings with only sparse animation. Both games feature unusual plots for computer games. There’s very little action or violence, and the gameplay consists mainly of conversing with residents of the building and solving simple item-based puzzles. The plots are even unusual for mysteries, focussed as they are on the nuances of the rather quotidian problems that arise when strangers find themselves sharing a space they’d rather not have to live in. Unfortunately the originality and style can’t overcome the problems with writing that keep the games from picking up any sort of reasonable pace.

[No real spoilers here – I didn’t play enough of the game to learn the solution.]

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Wednesday TV: Ripper Street and Death in Paradise

I began watching the first episode of the BBC’s Ripper Street with a certain amount of hostility. I’ve spent the last six months doing research for a new mystery, half of which is set in 19th century Bristol and which concerns, among other things, the birth of modern photography and a series of violent crimes against women. So when the BBC started teasing their new series, set in 19th century London and featuring violent crimes against women and apparently a whole lot of primitive photography, I was understandably irritated.

This happens every time I get my act together and begin writing something, and as usual I needn’t have worried. There’s not much overlap at all (although they did pinch some ideas for impromptu chemistry which I’ll have to reconsider). My story is set in the 1860s, only a few years after the invention of the dry-plate. By 1889 photography has advanced a lot, and the plot of this first episode of Ripper Street turned out to involve an early foray into moving pictures. Once I knew I didn’t have to rip up all my notes, I began to enjoy the show a lot.

[Light spoilers for the first episode of Ripper Street, heavy spoilers for Death in Paradise] Continue reading

Seeing is Believing

Seeing is Believing Pocket Book CoverOne of John Dickson Carr’s most maligned mysteries, Seeing is Believing takes a ridiculous murder plot based around hypnosis, rubber daggers and poisoned grapefruits, and then tops it off with a trick which many people think is cheating. I agree, although I don’t think anyone has yet put their finger on exactly why it’s cheating. In today’s post, I suggest that the fairness of an author’s mystery depends on a good deal of unspoken context, and that it might be possible for a trick to be fair in one author’s hands but unfair in another’s.

[Spoilers for Seeing is Believing. If you want an unspoilt review, see yesterday’s post. For a more favourable second opinion, check out the Puzzle Doctor’s excellent blog.] Continue reading

Three Late Carrs

Three Late CarrsI spent most of November in China, which is not a particularly relaxing place! So it seemed the perfect opportunity to do so untaxing reading. I finally took the opportunity to read some of John Dickson Carr’s later H.M. mysteries: Seeing is Believing (1941), The Gilded Man (1942) and My Late Wives (1946) (all written, of course, under his pseudonym of Carter Dickson).  I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest. Almost all prolific authors show signs of decline as they get older, but Carr’s seemed to be particularly pronounced. I’d been expecting extremely poor mysteries, but instead I found interesting ideas marred by imperfect execution. But there’s still plenty for the Carr fan to appreciate, at least in the latter two.

[No spoilers here. As I mentioned in my reboot post, Monday’s reviews will be spoiler free. But please come back tomorrow for an in-depth analysis.]

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Happy 2013!

2012’s blogging stats don’t paint an entirely successful picture: a mere 17 posts, at least 2 of which are apologies for the lack of posts. Got a few thousand views, though, so that’s encouraging enough to give it another go.

Obviously the way to deal with this sad state of affairs is ridiculous overcompensation. So allow me to present my totally unachievable new schedule!

Mondays will be dedicated to spoiler-free reviewing. I’m conscious of the fact that a lot of people are nervous of having things spoiled, so this will be a safe place to look (and the front page will always be spoiler-free).

Tuesdays will be critical stuff, most likely a dissection of whatever I reviewed on Monday, if it deserves it.

Wednesdays will be dedicated to mysteries from film and tv.

Thursdays will have mysteries in other media, at least until I run out of examples.

Fridays  were originally down as “Fiction Friday”, where I’d put up some of my own mysteries. But that really does seem too ambitious, so instead I’m going to rotate the fiction with a few different things, including the Solve-Alongs and an Agatha Christie Project.

Weekends will be off-topic stuff, although still tangentially related to mysteries. I’ve been getting a lot of puzzle commissions recently, so I may put up some of the ones that the clients don’t want (usually because they’re on the tricky side).

So join me on Monday and let’s see how long I can keep this madness up for!

May Roundup

Sorry, sorry. I had a whole plan for getting my act together. A proper schedule of updates and features. Not just blogging, either. Proper working hours for my writing and editing work. More exercise and better right. A full, psychotically optimistic and unlikely life transformation.

After about a fortnight of that my body obviously realised I wasn’t pissing about and decided that the only way to get back to spending 10 hours a day in bed would be to make me sick. Properly, debilitatingly sick.


Anyway I think I’m better now. I took some giant pills my doctor gave me and they seem to have done the trick. Hopefully I can get back on schedule next week.

But May wasn’t all weeping and sicking up minor organs into the bin! I also found some time to squint my way through a few mysteries. Here’s what managed to penetrate my drug-induced haze.

[No real spoilers here]

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