Golden Age of Detective Fiction Forum

August 21, 2009

The Van Dine Decline and Fall Narrative

Filed under: literary qualities,modern trends,Snobbery,SS Van Dine — Jon @ 2:10 am

I know this idea is pushed by Van Dine’s own biographer (who, granted, seems to
have loathed Van Dine and had little interest in the mystery form), but is it
really accurate to see his later books increasingly as artisitc and financial
failures? Is there any actual hard data on the sales of Van Dine’s detective
novels? I know that Canary, Greene and Bishop were actual bestsellers in the
1920s, a rare thing for detective novels in those days (their being mostly
borrowed from rental libraries). But I get the impression that many of his
later books were selling pretty well and were quite respectfully reviewed. It’s
clear he wasn’t the toast of the intelligentsia in 1935 like he was in, say,
1929, and that he had vocal detractors but I think he was seen still by many as
a major figure in the genre. Does it break down rather like this?

Benson Murder Case, 1926 (introduction to Philo Vance catches people’s eyes,
though relatively spartan compared to the following books; still, Vance is as
Vaneish as can be)
Canary Murder Case, 1927 (broadens appeal, poker game considered brilliant
Greene and Bishop, 1928/1929 (height of Golden Age Baroque (GAB), with bizarre
situations, elaborate footnote lecturettes and multiple murders)
Scarab, 1930 (continuation of GAB in Egytptology setting, though Van Dine has
crested in popularity)
Kennel, 1933 (three year gap, Van Dine driven by lavish lifestyle to writing
again? not quite as baroque though lots about terriers and ceramics; best of
Vance films made from this one, Vance films still getting top people)
Dragon, 1933(return to full GAB style, though with a less elaborate plot)
Casino/Garden 1934/1935 (a break here, Vance a bit less Vanceish and much less
baroque settings, though still emphasis on odd, wealthy families; but still
quite solid plotting)
Kidnap, 1936 (same as above, though intrusion of action and violence suggests to
his biographer that Van Dine is aesthetic ceding ground to the hardboiled
Gracie Allen/Winter, 1938/1939 (the film scenario novels, more of a sharp break,
with Vance second banana to a comedienne and a Scandinavian ice skater;
suggestion Van Dine running out of creative steam?)

I’m rereading Casino and actually finding quite enjoyable. Shorn of the more
elaborate footnotes and lecturettes of the earlier books, as well as Vance’s
more kick-in-the-panceish mannerisms, it’s actually rather like a English
Humdrum work, which is a complement form me!

I don’t think it’s fair to say Van Dine was a “goat” in 1934-35 though, do you?
I’d rank the real running out of steam period from 1936-38 (certainly death
would qualify).


January 28, 2009

Sayers’ Gaudy Night — and Chandler

On the Poe’s Deadly Daughters weblog, Elizabeth Zelvin
selects her favorite mystery authors — and there’s not a
man among them:

“My feminist dander is up, and I’m ready to charge to the
defense of the traditional and especially the character-driven
mystery, as well as the matrilineage of mysteries by women.”

Dorothy L. Sayers,
Gaudy Night
The presiding genius of the Detective Club during the Golden Age of mystery in the 1930s, Sayers reached her peak in this mystery without a murder that is also a richly textured novel, which I believe earned her the right to be considered the mother of the character-driven mystery. I’ve posted this opinion elsewhere, but it bears saying again. The key passage is one in which Harriet Vane asks Lord Peter Wimsey for advice about her novel.

“‘Well,’ said Harriet….”I admit that Wilfrid is the world’s worst goop. But if he doesn’t conceal the handkerchief, where’s my plot?’
[Peter suggests a way to define Wilfrid’s character that would give him motivation for concealing the handkerchief.] ….’He’d still be a goop, and a pathological goop, but he would be a bit more consistent.’
‘Yes–he’d be interesting. But if I give Wilfrid all those violent and lifelike feelings, he’ll throw the whole book out of balance.’
‘You would have to abandon the jig-saw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change.’
….’It would hurt like hell.’
‘What would that matter, if it made a good book?'”

I suspect that Sayers and her muse had precisely this conversation in her head, and Gaudy Night was the result. The creation of Harriet and Sayers’s increasingly three-dimensional portrayal of her both in relation to Lord Peter and grappling with her own dilemmas regarding her work and what kind of life to choose ushered in the transition of the traditional mystery from primarily a puzzle to a puzzle embedded in a character-driven novel.”

Mike Tooney

November 23, 2008

Christie’s “Lord Edgware Dies” – is it fair play?

Filed under: Agatha Christie,Fair Play — Jon @ 2:07 am

I’ve recently reread Christie’s “Lord Edgware Dies” (aka “Thirteen at Dinner”) and was again troubled by the question of whether one of the key moments of misdirection is fair.

Hastings has narrated a scene between Poirot and Jane Wilkinson which concludes as follows. [Jane Wilkinson is speaking.]

“‘I shall always think you were wonderful.’

“I only saw Jane Wilkinson twice again. Once on the stage, once when I sat opposite her at a luncheon party. I always think of her as I saw her then, absorbed heart and soul in clothes . . . ” etc.

The tone of this passage is brilliantly designed to be valedictory. By ending with a line of dialogue that sounds like an envoi, and then recounting how he only sat opposite her once at “a luncheon,” Hastings is giving the impression that Jane Wilkinson will vanish from our story. But of course she doesn’t — she’s the culprit.

Brilliant, yes — but fair? I can’t decide. As Hastings somewhat sheepishly declares at the novel’s end, he was “suddenly recalled to the Argentine” and thus never saw Jane Wilkinson at her trial. Hmm! And while it’s true that he literally “sat opposite her at a luncheon party,” this does not happen in some unspecified future but is instead a crucial moment in our story, as JW provides an essential clue in a line of dialogue which Hastings overhears — as does another character who JW then murders. (Of course, a sharp reader, arriving at this moment, might realize that this has to be the luncheon to which Hastings earlier referred, and conceivably question the valedictory tone of the rest of Hastings’ statement.)

Now if Hastings were Dr. Sheppard, doing his best to mislead, that would be one thing. But if ever there was a reliable (if dense) narrator, it is Hastings. Can we really credit him with the cleverness to fool us like this? Or are we to believe that he’s so dense that he doesn’t realize the effect of his words? No, that’s surely impossible, since he’s at any rate smart enough to write up Poirot’s cases so they read like mysteries, with the important facts concealed, etc. He would have to know what he was doing, in writing that dubious passage. In short, the problem is that Christie decides to endow Hastings with her own brilliance here, just for a moment. She lets him make an observation that exceeds his function as a narrator. It has no narrative weight whatsoever — it’s strictly personal, so to speak. Its only purpose is misdirection, something I can’t recall Hastings ever doing elsewhere.

So, fair or not? As I said, I’m honestly not sure. Has anyone else ever had doubts about Christie’s legerdemain here?


October 5, 2008

‘Deregulation’ of detective stories

Filed under: General GAD,modern trends — Jon @ 8:20 pm

As world credit markets teeter on the abyss, the financial press is full of exposes about how business institutions were deregulated in the 00’s.

We have our own experiences with the deregulation of mystery fiction in the 1950’s and 1960’s. How did this turn out? Time for a look back.

Golden Age mystery fiction was written based on Rules. These Rules were ridiculed and junked by the English language publishing industry around 1960, and the Golden Age came to an end.

Rules first emerged in the 1890’s. Israel Zangwill’s locked room masterpiece “The Big Bow Mystery” first appeared serialized in 1891. In his the introduction to the 1895 book version, Zangwill seems to be the first person to set forth the idea of “fair play”: the rule that everything in the solution must be logically based on clues that have been set forth to the reader. Zangwill did not use the words “fair play”: but the concept is fully there. Zangwill’s book, as Mary Reed highlighted in her recent review, also contains a compendium of locked room concepts. By the 1920’s, such theoreticians as S.S. Van Dine and Ronald Knox set forth explicit sets of Rules for writing detective fiction. In 1928, Van Dine wrote the pioneering survey of mystery fiction history, on which all later ones are based. And in 1935, John Dickson Carr’s Locked Room Lecture in “The Three Coffins” systematized the study of impossible crime fiction. Mystery fiction flourished under the Rules. The Rules gave a common language, for readers, writers and critics to understand and evaluate mystery fiction. Critics like Dorothy L. Sayers used the same criteria to evaluate a mystery as your aunt in Glasgow or your brother-in-law in Peoria. Much of Great Britain was able to have a National Conversation about Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” in 1926 based on the Rules.

However, the English language book publishing industry junked the Rules after 1945. There is evidence that the publishing industry itself was in charge of this. Writers who followed the Rules and who were not best sellers, such as Hake Talbot, C. Daly King, Milton M. Propper and Joseph Commings, found themselves unable to publish novels. The most outspoken opponent of the Rules, Joan Kahn, was a leading editor in the US publishing industry. This was not something that came from writers or the public. This came from the publishing industry itself.

How good are English language mystery novels published after 1960? IMHO we have seen a huge decline in quality. It is a major cultural collapse. Deregulation – which means getting rid of rules – was supposed to lead to an outpouring of literary creativity. Instead, we have a mountain of junk.

Deregulation has been especially cruel to authors – above all, to new writers of detective fiction. Rules used to form objective criteria for measuring a mystery’s quality. They applied with equal fairness to little known and famous authors. Since deregulation, there is no longer any objective way to tell a book’s quality. Whether an author is famous or a best-seller is the only way to judge an author. Publicity and marketing campaigns rule. This is horrendous for new writers who try to produce a quality product. Paul Halter produces quality books – according to the Rules. But in the new system, he is simply a writer without publicity, and hence, human garbage. Editors, readers, reviewers: all turn a blind eye to his achievements under the Rules. Under our Rule-less publishing system, these achievements simply do not exist: at least Officially. You can’t talk about them. It is not allowed. What we have is an official system that depends on lying on a huge scale. People pretending that something that is real and valuable, simply is Not There.

Mike Grost

September 3, 2008

Fairness and narration

Filed under: Agatha Christie,Fair Play,John Dickson Carr — Jon @ 9:12 pm

I’m probably going to be under fire for this, but I don’t think Seeing is Believing is unfair. An “established fact” is not necessarily a true one.. Natural science is a field of knowledge in which this is evident: the established facts of yesterday are today known (or supposed!) to be false. The same can be said of History. In more prosaic terms, even a fact proven in court may, after all, turn out to be false.

In Seeing is Believing, it is not the narrator that establishes the fact. The narrator merely states that the fact was established. Carr would have been unfair if, for instance, any of the evidence the narrator explicitly states as reliable in paragraphs 3-5 of Chapter I of The Hollow Man would in the end turn out to be false.

I agree this is a borderline case. But I believe it is pure, legitimate misdirection. A puzzle plot mystery is a battle of wits between author and reader in which the reader must be prepared for misdirection from the narrator; a novel is made of words, and words, being subject to multiple (and wrong) interpretations, are therefore a legitimate means of misdirection.

This doesn’t mean I hold Carr as a fair-play saint. In The Man Who Could Not Shudder, one of the characters tells a lie that is so unmotivated the reader has no chance of perceiving it as a lie. In And So To Murder, H.M. explicitly clears the killer – this could have been fair-play if the reader had any element to detect that H.M could be lying, which is not the case. There are also other minor instances. But I stick to Seeing is Believing.

Scott writes: «However, though Carr admitted to approving of and admiring brilliant violations of his Golden Maxim, THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD in fact *never did* violate his maxim that: “The criminal shall never turn out to be […] any character whose thoughts we have been allowed to share.”

I admit I’m confused by this. By definition, the reader is always allowed to share the thougths of a homodiegetic narrator (that is, one who is a character in the story), as the narration necessarily pressuposes the subjective perceptions (= thoughts) of the narrator. Therefore, Carr’s maxim directly invalidates the homodiegetic narrator as criminal. But it does more: it also invalidates the solution in which the culprit turns out to be a character whose thoughts have been revealed by an omniscient narrator, or by a heterodiegetic internal character focaliser (that is, a character that works as focus of perception, a device frequently used by Carr). For instance, in Brand’s Heads you Lose, which I’ve recently read, the reader is allowed to share the thoughts (and dreams) of the killer about his crimes without mentioning the fact that it wasactually he whodunnit. by Carr’s rule (and also by my standard), this is totally unfair. In the end, Brand explains that the criminal was insane and, when thinking about the crimes, he wasnt’t aware he had comitted them – this would provide an explanation for the fact that the omniscient narrator “forgot” to mention that slight detail. But it still is unfair because the reader is not supplied with evidence to point that the murderer might be mad (and, to make things worse, the supposed mental illness provided by Brand is total rubbish). In Carr’s The Emperor Snuff Box, a trick of similar scope is also played, but fairly and brilliantly: we see the facts trough the eyes of Eve Neill (the internal focalizer) and are therefore lead to believe her perception of them, which ends up being false (as a matter of fact this is so fair that I’ve spotted it).

Sayers article is interesting, but she confuses author and narrator. Only the narrator can vouchsafe anything in a narrtive, not the author. Therefore, it seems we must distinguish between:

a) Position of the narrator in relation to the narrative: homodiegetic and heterodiegetic narrator. A heterodiegetic narrator must always tell the truth. But he/she is not obliged to tell anything, or to tell everything in the easiest way possible for the reader. If so, there would be no puzzle-plot mystery stories. This is why I believe Seeing is believing is fair. A Portuguese idiom goes: “Com a verdade me enganas” — it’s difficult to translate but Spanish-language readers will surely understand it; the point is that “Truthfulness may deceive”. This is indeed at the core of classic detective fiction; sometimes, as in Seeing is Believing, it may be stretched, but this is only a quantitative deviation, not a qualitative one, from the standard narrative devices used in all puzzle-plot detective fiction. A homodiegetic narrator may or may not tell the truth: I agree with Sayers on this, which I believe is contrary to the Carr Maxim. An extreme, doubtful case would be that of the narrator-detective-criminal.

b) Point of view: omniscient narrator and internal character focaliser. Here I am refering to heterodiegetic narrators (in fact, except in experimental literature, omniscients narrators are by definition heterodiegetic narrators). Following Carr, omniscient narrators shall not probe into the thoughts of the culprit. This is because, since the omniscient narrator is supposed to simultaneously know everything and tell the truth, there would be no excuse for not revealing who commited the crime before the time that is considered proper to the narrative. In order not to incurr in a narrative assymetry (the narrator probes the thoughts of some, but not of all characters) and in order not to disclose the culprit’s identity to the intelligent reader (the culprit must be one of the characters whose thoughts have not been probed into), from this seems to follow that, ideally, an omniscient narrator should not probe into the inner thoughts of any character. This is extremely difficult to do, technically speaking. I believe this is why Carr’s earlier books mostly use internal character focalisers; his later books may be weaker in many aspects but as soon as he managed to work well with an omniscient narrator within the framework of his own maxims he practically abandoned the internal character focalisers tecnique. I also believe this is why reading some modern authors that try to keep within the framework of the puzzle story while having concerns of “psychological density”, like PD James, is so uncomfortable for readers used to GAD standards. As to internal character focalisers, and still according to Carr, since their thoughts are by definition probed into by the narrator, they shall not be the culprits. I agree with Carr on all of this. In fact, I believe standards of narratorial fair-play must be more demanding in the case of a heterodiegetic narrator, because in this case the narrative is supposed to have a higher degree of objectivity, than in the case of an homodiegetic narrator.. Dr. Sheppard may be permitted to lie or omit not no reveal his guilt, but an objective narratorial instance has no such excuse.

Henrique Valle

July 27, 2008

Why are women [crime] writers ignored? Or are they?

“Natasha Cooper says the genre has a serious gender problem”


July 9, 2008

Memorable Clues

Filed under: General GAD — Jon @ 11:24 am

Since I last chimed in on this subject, I have been checking up on the excellent “memorable clue” suggestions that several of you have kindly submitted at my request. I still have quite a few left to check out (I’m neither a speedy reader nor researcher), but so far they have seemed to support my original theory (well, maybe the less ambitious term “notion” is more accurate), which I will now divulge. Please forgive how poorly I explain this; I assure you that my ideas are stronger than my ability to express them.

Though people read Golden Age detective fiction for a variety of reasons, certainly one of the key appeals of the genre is a sensation which one might be call “sudden retrospective illumination.” This sensation is referred to by many other names, including “paradigm shift,” “epiphany,” “the Homer Simpson effect (D’Oh!)” or, in Aristotelian terms, the convergence of “anagnorisis” (recognition) and “peripeteiea” (reversal). By whatever name, it entails the seemingly paradoxical simultaneous experience of surprise and inevitability (or, at least, deterministic causality).

Well, as I feared, I haven’t explained it at all well, but I suspect that most of you know what I’m talking about ( I also have another theory [by Anne Elk!] that the appeal of this sensation is tied to a subconscious validation of our very existence… but I’ll bore you with that one another time). At any rate, I believe that for many of us, this sensation is largely what defines a great whodunit denouement, and Dorothy L. Sayers described the joy of it thus:

“The aim of the writer of this type of detective story is to make the reader say at the end, neither: ‘Oh well, I knew it must be that all along,’ nor yet: ‘Dash it all! I couldn’t be expected to guess that’; but: ‘Oh, of course! What a fool I was not to see it! Right under my nose all the time!’ Precious tribute! How often striven for! How rarely earned!”

Now, so far as I’ve been able to discern, the clues suggested all provide this sensation… well, perhaps I should more accurately say, the relationship between the clues and the truths they are ultimately shown to indicate provide it. As such, they allow for solutions which surprise us, and yet are entirely consistent with all data we’ve been given earlier.

Almost without exception, however, these memorable clues also have one other important common denominator: while they are consistent with the ultimately revealed solution and, more importantly, serve to bolster the sense of inevitability of that solution (“What a fool I was not to see it! Right under my nose all the time!”), almost none of them deductively prove anything. While they may indicate possible discrepancies in the earlier, apparent scenario (i.e. what seems to be the case prior to the denouement), they don’t logically demonstrate that scenario to be impossible. Rather, they work to bring cumulative strength to the probability of the true scenario, serving, as Pooh Bah from Gilbert & Sullivan’s THE MIKADO would say, as “corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

Not that truly deductive clues do not abound in detective fiction, but you’ll find very few of them among our “most memorable” collection. For, surprising as this may be, the consensus of “memorable clues” clearly suggests that proving a scenario true by discounting all other possibilities (no matter how unassailable the logic) does not have nearly the power on the memory as does reinforcing its truth via a multitude of “circumstantial” elements.

I know that this theory holds for me. I have read several works in which it is proven that only T could have been the killer, because U, V, W, X, Y and Z couldn’t fulfill the (usually opportunity-based) requirements to be the culprit. However, as there are few details which indicate that T was the killer (beyond the elimination of other possibilities), I am not entirely satisfied by the denouement. Though I admire it in many respects, I believe that Queen’s THE GREEK COFFIN MYSTERY holds that weakness (though not nearly as damagingly as many other works).

Conversely, there are several powerful whodunits in which nothing (or nearly nothing) is proven, and yet the denouement has a powerful, memorable effect, both surprising and “inevitable.” FIVE LITTLE PIGS and HE WHO WHISPERS are two of my favorites which come to mind, though many of the other most notable works of the genre also qualify. Everything “clicks” in the denouements of these works — it all seems ultimately inevitable — yet none of the clues provided are truly univocal; they all could be accounted for with other explanations. It is only their cumulative effect which seems overwhelmingly convincing. Moreover, a large percentage of these powerful clues are behavioral discrepancies, about which nothing can be proven (a sudden change in the behavior of a character certainly indicates something, but though it can strongly indicate what that something is, it can never be proven).

I believe that the explanation for this perhaps surprising conclusion about deductive vs. corroborate clues is that, despite the importance of rational thought to the experience of detective fiction reading, the effect of “sudden retrospective illumination” is ultimately a primarily visceral one — it hits us at a gut, rather than intellectual, level.

That is not to suggest that deductive clueing is unimportant to the genre. Indeed, they are extremely useful, often giving the mystery’s solution intellectual credibility. However, their most important function is often as a precursor to the more memorable, non-deductive clues. For example, a process of deductive elimination may prove that Mr. Jennings, and only Mr. Jennings, had the opportunity to drink the full contents of the whisky glass. But it is the clue that Mr. Jennings, a well-known teetotaler, drank the whisky (and the ultimate explanation for this bizarre behavioral discrepancy) that will be most remembered.

One exception to my notion — and it is indeed an important one — is the famous “curious incident of the dog in the nighttime” clue from Conan Doyle’s SILVER BLAZE. It can be summed up as a simple logical syllogism:

1. The dog would bark if the visitor to the stables was a stranger.

2. The dog did not bark.

3. Therefore the visitor to the stables was not a stranger.

Though one could argue that it too doesn’t positively provide absolute logical proof (the first premise is not entirely solid; there are other possibilities which could account for the dog’s silence: the dog could be drugged, it might have be switched for another dog, etc…), I will grant that it fairly well proves its point.

Then, why is the deductive “dog in the night-time” clue memorable?

I can find two possible explanations:

In the first place, the logical syllogism of this clue is tied intimately with a behavioral discrepancy (unlike the Mr. Jennings clue above, in which the deductive process only leads us to the behavioral discrepancy). Thus I’d suggest that it is the why? aspect of the behavioral discrepancy and its explanation, rather than the deductive proof of that explanation, which is most viscerally powerful.

In the second place, this clue fits into that relatively rare category of clues which are clearly presented, long before their final explanation, as clues; we know that it is of importance, it is only the nature of its importance that is unknown to us until later. John Dickson Carr referred to this type of clue (of which the title phrase of his THE CROOKED HINGE is another non-deductive example) as the “enigmatic” clue, as it openly presents an enigma to the reader. The majority of clues in mysteries, on the other hand, consist of plot details which have their status as clues only made apparent at the time they are explained. The “enimatic” clue is undoubtedly among the most difficult type of clue to create, for, to put an indicator openly in front of the reader—in essence, to say to him “this is important; I challenge you to guess what it means” — and then to provide him with an answer that is both surprising and satisfying is quite a feat. Having been baffled by something so clearly and openly put in front of his face, the reader can only be greatly impressed. The “curious incident of the dog in the nighttime” achieves this, thus explaining its power.

Again, I apologize for my inability to articulate this all clearly—it’s a tricky subject. Hopefully, some of you got an idea of what I was trying to say. If so, please give me your thoughts on the matter.

– Scott

July 3, 2008

Maps in GAD mysteries

Filed under: General GAD — Jon @ 2:23 am

I think it’s interesting that so few Streets actually have maps, as this presence of maps in Golden Age novels is one of Julian Symons’s special digs at the genre.

So, based on people’s reading of GAD novels, how many would you say had maps?

Interestingly, two reprint editions of Miles Burton books from the seventies had maps on the jackets, though as far as I know they were never published with maps originally. Did Street make maps that were not used in his lifetime?

How many Streets had maps originally? Let’s see The Ellerby Case (house plan) and Shot at Dawn come to mind immediately. I’m sure I’m leaving some out.

How many Christies have them? I recall her They Do It With Mirrors from the 50s had a house plan, and that Marsh’s Scales of Justice from a few years later had a map. That must have been about it.


June 25, 2008

Does Size Matter?

Curt asked: “Why are crime novels so long these days?”

Because most of them are throwbacks to the nineteenth and early twentieth style of wide-ranging psychological/realistic novels, and those were usually and almost by definition long, very long books. It’s one of the most fascinating paradoxes about *modern* crime fiction that it’s actually not *modernistic* – the genre has eschewed surrealism, structuralism, Nouveau Roman, stream of consciousness, magical realism, oulipianism and other movements that shaped literature in the last century, and basically remained stuck in the era when it was born. Which in turn raises another question: is it possible for crime fiction to be genuinely modern and accept, if not embrace, the state of the art?


June 2, 2008

Favourite GAD film?

Filed under: Films,SS Van Dine — Jon @ 9:14 pm

It would interest me if other GADers would vote on their favorite mystery films, much as we recently did regarding members’ favorite “Father Brown” stories.

Let me start (if anyone’s interested in such a thread), by suggesting a film even older than “The Kennel Murder Case,” and that’s Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, “M;” although I admit that it may not fit the criteria for a pure detective story. More recent films I enjoyed would be the 1974 version of “Murder on the Orient Express,” “The Usual Suspects” (1995), and “Murder by Decree” (1979). In the category of guilty pleasures, I’d even include “Malice” (1993).

Moreover, just to open myself to ridicule, I’ll also suggest a completely off-the-wall selection: A 37-episode(20-30 minutes per episode) anime (Japanese animation) series, “Death Note.” The synopsis of this series is bizarre and unique: a Japanese student finds a mystical book that lets him write the name of a person in that book, and as soon as he does, that person dies. This power quickly goes to his head, and to battle this brilliant megalomaniac, Japanese law enforcement hires an equally brilliant but enigmatic detective known only as “L.” The series is comprised of the extraordinarily well-written cat-and-mouse game between these two individuals. I dare you to rent the first DVD of this series–which contains the first four episodes–and not be hooked. But don’t confuse it with live-version movie, which–although I haven’t seen it — can’t be nearly as intricate; which is the chief allure of this series. Unfortunately, only the first 5 discs have been released in English, so I have no idea how this series will end. The full series will be 10 discs, released one disc at a time. The last disk will be released in spring 2009.

In any event, none of these films are necessarily my favorites — no doubt they’ll occur to me as soon as I post this — but they’re some that I’ve definitely enjoyed. I look forward to other opinions, if anyone cares to share.


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