23 July 2012

Television and published fiction, 2

The other TV series that became a favorite in our household in the past couple years was Bones. The series was created by Hart Hanson and based very loosley on a character created by Kathy Reichs.

Reichs is a forensic anthropologist who works in North Carolina and Canada. When she's not identifying bodies and causes of death, she writes mystery/adventure novels featuring a forensic anthropologist named Temperance (Tempe) Brennan. Brennan, coincidently, works in North Carolina and Canada. Just to complete the circle (as is done on Castle), the Brennan character on television writes mystery/adventure novels in her spare time featuring a forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs.

 Convoluted enough?

Emily Deschanel (TV's Temperance Brennan) and Kathy Reichs

We sort of discovered Bones a couple years ago, and liked it well enough that we have now used our Netflix subscription to watch all the seasons we missed. That led me to Déja Dead, Kathy Reichs' first novel. Mostly I was curious about the translation from printed pages to episodic television.
  1. Any similarites between Reichs' main character and the title character of Hart's TV series (except for the name and occupation) is purely coincidental. I find the television character -- annoying know-it-all, Asperger-like robot, and all -- much more interesting.
  2. The television series is better written.
  3. There is a virtual absence of humor in Reichs' book. The humor on the tube is one of the big attractions for me.
  4. Reichs' character is a loner. She's always assuming responsibilities that are not hers and venturing out on her own to do things she believes no one else can or will do. As a result, she's frequently in danger and in trouble with her bosses and colleagues. Since I never developed any sympathies with the character, I keep thinking about how stupid she was. (She reminds me of Sara Paretsky's and Sue Grafton's heroes. I often thought they were pretty stupid too. That's the main reason I don't read those authors' books any more.)
  5. The book is full of procedural detail that seem to come right out of textbooks used by physical anthropologists or medical examiners. (Hint: it's dull.)
So, now I've seen the origin of the television series. Hart Hanson must get nearly all the credit. Kathy Reichs is still involved as a technical advisor with the title of a producer.

I won't be going back to another of Reichs' books. Will you?

Have you read Déja Dead or another of Kathy Reichs' books? How did you react? Write and tell this little bit of the world.

13 July 2012

Fiction and TV

I'm sort of embarrassed by how much TV I watch. It's a default activity even more common than trolling the Internet. One attraction is that it is so passive, although it's not as passive as it was when there were only half a dozen channels available. (I won't go on about remembering when two broadcasters in Minneapolis/St. Paul shared one channel. That was really ancient times, i.e. before 1955.)

The permanent residents of this house have become fans of a couple television series that remind us of the screwball comedies starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. The "remind" is crucial because neither Bones nor Castle is a full-fledged screwball comedy, but they do feature couples, ambiguous relationships, and adequately snappy dialogue. Close enough for network TV.

Both also have links to novels. Temperance Brennan, the main character in Bones, is based on the protagonist of Kathy Reichs crime novels. And the Brennan character is a successful mystery writer, as well as an irritating polymath. Things are more complicated in Castle.

Andrew Marlowe
Andrew Marlowe is the creator and producer of Castle, the television series. One of the main characters in that series is Richard Castle, a writer of mystery and romance novels. But, if you look in a book store or at Amazon, you'll find that Hyperion has published four crime/mystery novels featuring the main characters of the television series, Kate Beckett, a New York City detective and Richard Castle, author. The televison series characters in those books are called Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook. And just to cement the illusion, actor Nathan Fillon, who plays Richard Castle on TV is pictured on the back cover as Richard Castle, the author of the Nikki Heat books.

I get seriously confused if I try to keep this all straight when watching television. It's worse when reading one of "Richard Castle's" books. But that's what I did. I read Naked Heat by "Richard Castle." (Online speculation about who actually writes these books is rampant. The best one I read suggests that creator Andrew Marlowe is the writer. He credits his wife in the acknowledgements as "co-conspirator." And Marlowe gets writing credit for 79 of 81 episodes.)

 Naked Heat reads like a book-length treatment of an episode of the series. There are the requisite snappy lines once in awhile. There are the murders, the suspects, the bad guys, and the red herrings. The relationship between Heat and Rook is not as ambiguous as the one between Beckett and Castle. The ambiguity is reduced in ways you might expect the Castle character to write it.

But, an episode of Castle lasts 43 minutes. The book is nearly 300 pages. Things move slowly in the book. Discussions among the detectives are much more interesting when they quickly take place on screen than when they drag out in print. Quick cuts between scenes on TV work better than blind transitions on the printed page. This plot might work well as an episode on TV. Maybe it has, because I haven't watched all 81 episodes.  

Naked Heat was entertaining if not engrossing. I don't think I'll go looking for the other "Richard Castle" books. I will probably watch new episodes on TV, although I expect there aren't many left. As the Castle-Beckett relationship becomes less ambiguous on the television screen, one element of the tension that holds things together (or apart, if you prefer) will disappear. And so will the television series.

 I'm sure I'll find something else to watch (if not read).

Have you read Naked Heat or another of "Richard Castle's" books?  

Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought.

Scott D. Parker's review on his blog.

The publisher's YouTube promo for Naked Heat


The television cast and writer at Comic Con 2010. 


07 July 2012

Unnatural forces

C. J. Box and friend
Our family book pusher visited again and dropped another book in my lap. It was C. J. Box's latest, Force of Nature. I have really enjoyed reading some of Box's books and others I have decided not to even begin. Old Charles James Box knows how to write adventure and action and the tension and fear that lead up to scenes of murder and mayhem. I've learned not to read them in the late evening, when I usually read. Even if the action is all on the pages and in my head, the adrenaline hits my bloodstream and keeps me awake.

Force of Nature is no exception, but it wasn't threatening enough to keep me from reading it in a few afternoons. The main characters are the usual cast: Wyoming game ranger Joe Pickett and his family and mysterious recluse Nate Romanowski. It's set in fictional Twelve Sleep county of northern Wyoming (probably near the real towns of Worland and Ten Sleep, about half way between Yellowstone National Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota). There are beautiful, rugged mountains, dry prairies, and small streams. There would be a lot for a game ranger to do, so I don't think a ranger would have time to mess around with things the local sheriff or the FBI would take charge of. Joe Pickett finds the time, especially when his friend Nate is involved. No wonder he's often in hot water with his penny-pinching Wyoming bosses.

Nate's up to his neck in this story. He's a former Army special forces guy who was involved in black ops. He deals with his PTSD by living off the grid and acting as a law unto himself. One of his former commanders is trying to cover up things that only Nate knew about and organizes a private "little" strike force to eliminate Nate (and use anything Nate cares about, like Joe Pickett and his family, to do it). Collateral damage is pretty extensive.

So, the "good" guy has to be paranoid and fend off every unexpected attack, warn friends to "get out of Dodge" until the heat is off, and not run out of ammunition. He does this ruthlessly and without regret. After all, he can't go to the authorities for help since they are the ones out to get him.

The story is well told. I'm glad I was reading during afternoons.

There are fewer of those pesky improbabilities than Box sometimes drops into his stories. There are more awful bloody scenes than suspenseful build up scenes, and I can skim the gory stuff more easily than I can skim the fear-inducing tension.

I liked reading this one. Box is a great story teller. The back story of Nate Romanowski is about what I expected it would be, but the capabilities of the "bad" guys' strike force stretch my imagination. (A couple times I thought of The Bourne Identity. It's the only one of those movies I've seen, and the action in Force of Nature reminded me of the chases and gun fights in that Bourne movie. That was also a reminder that the forces at work in this story are anything but forces of nature.)

What did you think of Force of Nature? Or of C. J. Box's other books? Write and tell this little bit of the world how you reacted.

06 July 2012

Back to the moors

I was comfortable picking up another book by Stephen Booth at the Northfield Public Library. I checked it out at the same time I checked out Kate Atkinson's Emotionally Weird. I've had mixed experiences with Atkinson's books and Booth was, I thought, a sure thing.

Peak District National Park
I was right. Set in the highland moors of England's Peak District, like Booth's earlier books, the story is contained and limited. The Peak District National Park is an area of pasture land, farming, old mines, and mountains. It's lightly populated and carved into many valleys. Booth made me think of Appalachia when he described the place and the isolated people who live in those valleys. But the area is near major cities of Manchester and Sheffield and millions of visitors show up in good weather. The stories in Blind to the Bones are set in late fall/early winter, so there are few tourists to muck up the stories.

And there are stories. That's one of the things I like about Booth's books. There's a story about a university student, missing for two years, and her parents who stubbornly maintain that their daughter is merely missing and likely to walk in their door at any moment. Then there's the very recent murder of a local man who had been one of the missing girl's housemates. Oh, and there is the rash of burglaries at remote farms and ramshackle villages. And I can't neglect to mention the cult-like extended family, whose repertoire of ways to get along with outsiders is very limited.

The glue that ties all these things and Booth's other books together is the cast of the local constabulary. The main people are Detective Sergeant Diane Fry and Detective Ben Cooper. As usual they are engaged in an enigmatic power struggle while working "together." There's enough individual character development to keep me interested, but not so much as to engage my soap-opera early warning alarms.  

A Peak District mountain top
 Booth does a good job of telling the stories, describing the scenery, and maintaining the characters to keep me reading. His descriptions of the hills, mountains, moors, and pastures led me, while reading the book, to check out the area with Google Earth. What I saw online is what Booth describes. I even found the Street View photo of the entrance of an abandoned railway tunnel Booth refers to. Gradually (perhaps too gradually this time) he weaves the various stories together. The resolutions are a bit too neat and tidy by my lights, but there will be other mysteries to solve for these characters in my future.

I liked reading Blind to the Bones. I could get attached to this series of books and these characters in the way I got attached to Tony Hillerman's mysteries. I've only read four so far. According to his web site, there are twice that many waiting for me.

 Have you read Blind to the Bones or another of Stephen Booth's other books? What did you think? Write and tell this little bit of the world.