The Five (2016)

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Rating: 4/5

Number of episodes: 10

Cast: Tom Cullen, O.T. Fagbenle, Lee Ingleby, Sarah Solemani

The Five is a British crime drama created by renowned author Harlan Coben. With a very intriguing plot and well written characters, this gripping drama is the perfect recipe for a crime thriller. I don’t know if it’s because the creator Harlan Coben is a writer, the characters have so much depth with each one having distinctive shades.

The story begins in 1995 when the lives of four young friends- Mark, Danny, Slade and Pru change with the disappearance of Mark’s five year old brother, Jesse, in a forest. All the four friends have something to hide about the disappearance which they don’t reveal. All the four reek with guilt. Each one is traumatized by that incident. A serial killer, Jacob, admits to have found Jesse roaming in the forest and subsequently killing him. Distraught, everyone moves on with their lives.

After 20 years, Danny- now a cop comes across a case where a DNA matching to Jesse is found in a murder scene. Does this mean Jesse is alive? Has he turned into a murderer? Why didn’t he come back to his family when he is alive? Danny informs his findings to the rest of his friends and the fact that there is a possibility that Jesse might be alive. This news excites them and they decide to get to the bottom of it. What comes after is a thrilling journey with more murders, more evidences suggesting Jesse is alive, several secrets divulged straining the long years of friendship, and numerous twists and turns drastically changing the course of the cases.

The best part of this show was it kept me glued to every scene, forced me to travel along with every character and feel every emotion of theirs. Every character has its own parallel tracks too. My favorite was Danny and his father’s story where Danny struggles to handle his father who suffers from severe Alzheimer. Slade, who runs a shelter, has a very dark shade to him which made me suspect him throughout of some wrongdoing. Out of the four, I felt Mark’s character, a lawyer, to be the weakest. He is Jesse’s brother and hence holds more prominence than the other characters. But somewhere in order to make him look the strong but desperate brother, he ended up being very irritating at the end. The narration is topped with several clues, some of which prove Jesse is alive, and some of which prove otherwise. In addition, we get flashes from the four friends’ childhood making us weave our own theory, suspecting one of the four to have had a hand in Jesse’s disappearance/death. As a viewer I struggled to decide if I should get my hopes high or not, to believe if Jesse was alive or not, which in itself got me going till the last episode without losing even a tiny bit of interest. The climax is one of the most satisfying ends I have seen in recent times.

The background music and certain songs played in between were excellent. They went with the mood of the scenes so effectively. Another thing which I loved was, every episode ended with a cliff-hanger compelling me to run to the next episode immediately. The performances were good but nothing extraordinary. No one stood out but all were equally good.

The Five is a must watch for someone who loves slow crime thrillers; it’s just like reading a book. The plot is set in the first two episodes, then action for the next few episodes, followed by the story steering towards the end. This show has definitely kindled my interest in reading Harlan Coben’s books. I really hope he writes more for TV too.

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Falling

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Genre: Crime Thriller?

Rating: 1.5/5

Falling by debutant Emma Kavanagh is one of those books which has a very interesting plot at the back cover of the book but fails to stand up to it.  The narration is unimpressive and the characters are dull. There aren’t any tense moments or shocking revelations which could have given some respite to the otherwise wearisome thriller.

“Four people with something to hide.” “A town in mourning. A murder in waiting.” These phrases sent me a chill when I first picked up the book. The story begins with an airplane crash and subsequently follows the lives of four members- Freya, Tom, Jim and Cecilia and how that one drastic event changes their lives.

Freya’s father is the pilot of the crashed plane. She feels restless mainly because she isn’t devastated by her father’s death. Cecilia is the airhostess who survives the crash, something she wishes she hadn’t. Tom is Cecilia’s husband and a policeman who is given charge of solving a gruesome murder. He knows his marriage with Cecilia wasn’t working out and is struggling to find the right solution which wouldn’t affect their little son. Jim is the father of the murdered girl. He is determined to find out who hurt his beloved daughter. Apart from the plane crash, all these four people are connected but how? All these four people have something to hide but what? Who is responsible for the crash? Was it definitely an accident or was it deliberate? Who murdered Jim’s daughter? All these questions are answered in the rest of the book.

Every chapter follows the life of one central character. Freya’s, Tom’s and Jim’s chapters are quite interesting but Cecilia is a very tedious character. Her chapters really bored me and I had no qualms in skipping her portions. Her character plays a victim boarded with self pity and self loathing. I felt sympathetic at the beginning but it kind of became irritating after a point. The story is taken forward primarily with the character’s thoughts- what they feel, how they feel, what they want to do, etc and it becomes too repetitive. That’s when I missed some action. And that’s when I wondered if this book was actually even crime thriller?! Just because it had murder written on the cover, did I presume it was a crime thriller? The story does have some investigation which goes on in the background, but the primary focus is on building the connection between these four characters. The author succeeds in hitting the connection, but the plot turns very pale instead. The connection is too obvious. It’s always better to reveal the secret to both the reader and the character at the same time. The only respite is the suspense behind who murdered Jim’s daughter. But that just comes at the end for about two chapters. Description and thought process of the characters hindered the pace of the narration throughout. Just when some action begins to happen, it fizzles out with Cecilia’s character coming in.

What could have been a very interesting story ends up with just an interesting plot with nothing new to offer.

The A Word (2016)

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Channel: BBC

Cast: Max Vento, Lee Ingleby, Morven Christie, Christopher Eccleston

Number of episodes: 6

Rating: 3.5/5

Autism! Such a relevant issue in todays times, also an issue which is widely used to grab attention of the viewers on TV. The A word strikes with its title. This show revolves around the dysfunctional Hughes family and how they struggle to come to terms with the fact that their little boy is autistic. Mind you, the show isn’t about autism or even about the autistic child. It’s about the kind of difference a special child brings into a family.

Joe is 5 years old. He lives in his own world of music, is loved by every member of the family, is autistic. He doesn’t communicate with anyone, and the most he does is repeat what is said to him. Paul Hughes (Ingleby), is a dotted father, a loving husband, who works very hard to build his own restaurant. Alison Hughes (Christie) is a strong woman, a passionate mother, who runs her own diner. Her world is Joe. Rebecca is Alison’s daughter from her first marriage, a high school student. We also have Maurice (Eccleston), who is Alison’s father. He owns a brewery which he lets his son, Eddie to run. As usual, the father and the son don’t get along very well with each having their own business opinion. Eddie lives with his wife Nicola, who works as a nurse. She is known for her radical honesty which isn’t liked very much by Alison. She is the first one to notice that Joe isn’t normal. Numerous arguments take place among the family members amidst which Joe lives, unperturbed.

The parents, in spite of knowing that their little boy isn’t like the other children, shy away from accepting it. We can see that they know at the back of their minds that their child is autistic, but they just don’t want to confirm it. They delay meeting doctors; they refuse any sort of help, especially Alison. Sometimes, Alison’s reactions are very irritating. She is blunt with her replies.  She is very stubborn with her decisions. She is always in search of even the smallest of the things to reassure herself and the others that Joe is normal. She bans everyone to call her son autistic (hence the title of the show) as that would mean they are accepting that he is one. In spite of everything above, it’s very clear that every act of hers is just a mother who doesn’t want to label her child as special. On the other hand, Paul accepts the reality quicker than his wife and is ready to take the needed steps to help Joe in his day to day life. He visits a special school and believes it will better Joe at least a little. Several arguments happen between Paul and Alison which bring out their inner stress and emotional turmoil. Yet, the way they cope and stand together in handling Joe is very good to see.

There are many things which are shown nicely in the show, which touch upon very realistic issues. One is Rebecca and her life. She is in high school. She has a boyfriend and that makes her feel good. She loves Joe, her step brother, a lot and sometimes understands him better than their parents. When Paul and Alison get very busy in finding Joe the right remedy for his condition, they unintentionally begin neglecting Rebecca citing she is a big girl now. Whatever the age is, kids need someone to talk to and Rebecca feels the absence of her parents, especially when she breaks up with her boyfriend. She takes solace in talking to her uncle and aunt instead. Alison again comes across as a very poor mother who isn’t able to give equal attention to both her kids, and yet again, that’s the realistic mother. No mother can be perfect and for Alison, she fears Joe’s future and that’s her first priority. A big applause to the writer for giving a character like Alison, an imperfect mother, who loves her children unconditionally.

Joe! Joe! Joe! How can we not love him? Such a cute little boy and his antics are so endearing to see. His life is his music and he even sleeps with his headphones on. He sings along with every song, and at the end says the name of the album and even the year of release. He has several habits like he always closes the door once or twice before he enters. Even if the door is closed, he opens it, closes it, and then enters. He becomes restless if music is taken away from him. The speech therapist who comes to gauge him explains beautifully how Joe resolves to music when he wants to escape from a social situation. Her theory is Joe doesn’t like all the arguments and jabs taken at each other. He closes himself out through music.

The show takes a very interesting turn with the entry of the speech therapist, Maggie, as it moves the story forward. A school friend of Alison’s, who was once bullied by her, she puts across the hard reality in front of the family so quickly. For example, when Paul asks Joe to fix a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, Joe stands silently. Paul moves Joe’s hand and fixes the piece in the right place and claps and applauds Joe as an encouragement. Maggie says that’s now what Joe wants, encouragement. He wants to know what’s right and wrong. He wants to know how to communicate and communication has to be two-way and not one way. When Alison tries to force Maggie to become a full time therapist for Joe, she directly points out how it’s all about Alison all the time, what she wants and what she wishes. She says, Alison isn’t ashamed of Joe, but she is ashamed of herself. It made me think, how much ever you try to accept the truth, shame just walks with you in some form.

What really bring the show down are the tracks of the other characters. Maurice and his music teacher.  Eddie and Nicola’s strained married life. Both these tracks have no bearing on Joe and hence the entire theme of the show. It would have been better if those characters had something to do with the main plot of the show. Also, every episode begins with Joe walking alone in the mountain road with his headphones on. Is that safe?

The performance of the cast is amazing. Max, Lee and Morven give an extraordinary performance. The supporting cast is equally good and they pull the viewers into the show very quickly.

The A Word is a great show for portraying autism in a very different way. If you think the show is about autism, it is not. It is more about family and relationships, and the compromises and adjustments the family has to make to give a comfortable life to an autistic child.  Sooner they accept their child is autistic, better it is for the child.

The Night Manager (2016)

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Channel: BBC

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Elizabeth Debicki, Olivia Colman

Number of episodes: 6

Rating: 1.5/5

The Night Manager is a British spy thriller series based on John le Carre’s novel of the same name. Beaming with an exceptional stellar cast, it’s impossible to give this series a miss. I was highly excited when I started my binge watching of this series, especially it coming under the radar of my favourite genre, but at the end I ended up with a mixed feeling.

Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston) works as a night manager in a very posh hotel in Cairo where bombings and killings aren’t experienced with a shock. He comes across information regarding an arms dealing which he sincerely informs MI6, but the consequences results in the murder of his brand new girlfriend. Riding with guilt and raging for revenge, after several years, he meets the guy, Roper (Laurie), who was primarily responsible for his girlfriend’s death. With the help of the MI6 officer, Angela (Olivia), who is obsessed with bringing Roper down, he penetrates Roper’s gang and earns his trust. Will Pine succeed in taking his revenge? Will Roper find out about Pine’s real identity? Will Angela finally bring down this powerful man?

Firstly, the story unravels in a very complicated manner with very intricate details. Arms deal and subsequent meetings went above my head. The strategies and plans are plotted very seriously, but the plan itself is too easy. Roper sees through everyone but Pine? Come on! The world’s mightiest villain, someone who is feared by everyone, just fails when it comes to the hero- who has no experience whatsoever of being a spy? Boring! At one moment, Roper falls for something told against his long time confidant and he immediately takes him off his dealings just like that? Too predictable and utterly normal.

Hugh Laurie is great in playing Roper, the rich businessman with powerful underground dealings, not to forget the mighty sarcasm. Elizabeth plays Roper’s wife with terrific confidence. Olivia is very good as the desperate but strong (and pregnant) MI6 officer. But Tom Hiddleston? Don’t think I am going to say he was amazing or spectacular. I felt he was completely flat and boring playing Jonathan Pine. I felt he could have brought in more to make Pine at least a little interesting. Jonathan Pine is someone whom the viewers should sympathise for his loss initially and then should want him to succeed in the most powerful and clever ways, which doesn’t happen at all. With Pine itself faltering, I felt the show had no chance of calling itself a great thriller.

I wonder if all the hype created around a series, it getting nominated for big awards and our own high expectations influence our thoughts when we watch a show. When I think about The Night Manager, I feel there was everything, and yet there was nothing. I know I am not making any sense here. The story of this show is very interesting, it has a very well written plot, brilliant acting as well, yet I felt there was a complete lack of WOW moments- moments which make you sit straight or even force you to let out a whistle. I waited and waited for moments as such. There were instances where the scenes were built up for a great experience, which never came. Mind games were averagely played, and there was no action at all, or at least when it was actually needed. It was like wrestlers debating and not wrestling. The last episode did manage to garner some kind of thrilling moments, but it wasn’t enough. Lot of time was spent on Pine earning Roper’s trust and Angela’s fight with the political system. Out of the 6 episodes, 5 episodes were taken just for the build up, while the 6th episode just raced through. What could have been a great spy thriller, ended up just average. All the hoo-hoos and great ratings are just for the cast, I guess.

On the whole, The Night Manager isn’t a bad show. But it isn’t extraordinary. It has a great cast and few very good moments sprinkled over the 6 episodes. It’s not a must watch show, so you needn’t force yourself to watch it just because it is popularly talked about.

The Missing (2014)

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Rating: 4/5

Having watched so many crime TV shows and several types of detectives, I was craving for something different. The Missing was God sent. This 8 part series is exceptional with a very sensitive story dealt with suspenseful sequences.

Tony Hughes is on a holiday with his wife Emily and son Oliver. With their car breaking down, they are forced to stay in a small city in France. Football frenzy has taken over the city and there is a heavy air of excitement all around. Leaving Emily behind, Tony and Oliver go out for a swim. After having very cute father-son moments, Tony takes Oliver to look at the match amidst the crowd gathered in the garden. In a split second when Tony leaves Oliver’s hand, Oliver gets pushed around in the crowd and gets lost- abducted. What follow is the plight of the parents and the efforts of the police, headed by Julian Baptiste, to find the 5 year old boy. Unable to find the boy, the case is closed unsolved. After 8 years, Tony gets a lead and teams up with Julian again, who is now retired, to find the boy. One clue leads to another, one person points to another, different places are visited, lots of compromises are made and finally, all the pieces are put in place.

The Missing scores really high with the way its switches the viewers into different years and incidents- 2006, 2009 and 2014. 2006- when Oliver goes missing, 2009- when a similar incident happens and the connection is made and 2014- when the case is reopened and progress is made to find what exactly happened 8 years ago.

Tony and Emily’s struggle to keep themselves positive to find their son and work with the police is wonderfully shown. They are devastated yet they have to pull themselves together to help the police in every way possible. Their frustration over lack of progress and not being given all the details is very heart warming to see. Emily’s visions of Oliver being everywhere and her losing control over herself are so realistic. On the other hand, Tony’s anger and rash moves, and getting himself into trouble with the police, are totally justified from his side. It did irritate me how he jumped the gun many times and didn’t follow Julian’s plans, yet giving it a further thought- that would probably what a desperate father would do.

Julian Baptiste, as the calm, clear minded cop who patiently waits for the result of his moves impresses highly. The way he plays the political game deserves a clap. For me, he was the star of the show. His common sense and his persistence, his understanding of the desperate parents yet doing his duty were inspiring.

The acquaintances- like the owners of the hotel where the Hughes stay, Mark- the UK liaison, the rehabilitated girl who agrees to go undercover, Lawrence, the policewomen promoted to detective, the general public who shower their sympathy and help to the parents- whenever these people help the investigation, it always brings in a very positive feeling.

The characters in the suspect list makes their presence felt so well. Ian Garret stands out of course. From projecting himself as a benefactor and suddenly to being the suspect, the transition was expected, yet I felt the character deserved more screen space. The track of the reporter Malik Suri seemed really weak and his change of mind at the end wasn’t very clear. It was sad to see the life of Vincent and his struggle to have a normal life, but lot of things were left to be understood. On the hindsight, there actually weren’t many people in the suspect list apart from Vincent and Ian Garret. So the expectation rises as the story reaches episode 7, to know who is actually behind the abduction of Oliver and where Oliver is. The expectation is met beautifully when the writer succeeds with the ending. At the same time, the debate still stands- realistic ending or a feel good ending.

All the actors play their role perfectly. The production value is very good. Every episode always ends on a high note forcing the viewer to move to the next episode immediately.

This 8 part series is a must watch as it mixes all the required ingredients of a perfect crime thriller. Don’t miss it.

Inspector George Gently (2007-)

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Rating: 5/5

It’s been more than 6 months since I had begun watching this incredible show. I had been wishing to review this show for a very long time, but I couldn’t just stop watching it. I just couldn’t get enough of the show to give it a break to sit down to review it. I almost felt if I review the show, that’s more like putting an end to watching it. But finally I have made up my mind to review it, not that I am going to stop watching it.

Inspector George Gently, from the outside, is like any other cop drama on television. Every episode revolves around a case with the detective duos striving to find the killer. The show has its up and downs, and twists and turns, with various characters performed by guests stars. The personal lives of the lead characters are touched, with predominantly them not having a very happy life. Yet, this show stands out clearly and magnificently from the rest.

The significant plus point of the show is the era it is set in. 1960s. The makers of the show has beautifully pictured the show to reflect on the 60s, right from the costumes, the cars, the buildings, the roads and definitely the culture and development of those times. At a point, I felt wondered how the police of then solved the cases. With no technology especially mobile phones, the detectives then went about to all the places, took down notes, and investigated the cases using one and only their brains. They had to go through mountains of paperwork to find one small detail whereas now, a punch to a key can list down all the details needed about a person. Things like this awed me and the meticulous detailing given to the props in the scenes- kudos to the team which worked on putting the show together to this marvellous extent.

The show revolves around the two leads- George Gently, an aged experienced officer who stands for honesty and fights against corruption leading to him not being a very popular person in the police circle. John Bachchus- his sergeant and side kick who believes in shortcuts to success. He is witty and charming, could be arrogant and insulting too. His antics irritate George but also bring a lot of light into his life. George, who was at the verge of leaving the service after his wife’s murder decides to stay back and nurture his young and potential sergeant from swaying into the wrong path.

Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby play their roles brilliantly. They bring the characters to life and we could reason with both the characters’ actions. Gradually, we also feel the bond developing between both the characters- a father and son bond which both never acknowledges openly but their care and concern for each other is very heart warming. George always tries to help John with his personal life without the other’s knowledge, be it talking to John’s divorced wife to let him see his daughter more often or bring John and his father closer. And John- he always stands beside George during all his problems and trusts him unconditionally, be it when George was framed for corruption or when he gets diagnosed with illness.

Every episode has a message to learn and also gives a glimpse of how the world was back in the 60s and how things have changed for the better and the worse. Editing and photography adds a lot to the show’s quality and the music transports us back to the era splendidly.

Each episode runs for around 90 minutes which could be considered slow considering the episodes are only 45 min nowadays. But the story unravels slowly bringing every supporting character into perspective, letting the viewers solve the case along with the detectives.

This show would definitely make it to my top 10 shows and is one of those few shows which I never get bored watching again and again.

The Night Circus

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Rating: Not applicable

Being a hard core fiction reader, I didn’t want to confine my reading to just crime thrillers. I have read a few non-crime books in the past and hence the story of The Night Circus pulled me into getting the book. I wanted to read something that would transport me into a different world, like…say Harry Potter (Not the right comparison, but still). The Night Circus seemed the perfect choice. Moreover, I absolutely loved its cover- black and scarlet. So did The Night Circus succeed in capturing a crime fiction fan’s attention? As you can see from the rating, I struggled immensely to complete this book.

I thought rating this book would be unfair. I would definitely say that this book wasn’t for me. But that doesn’t mean the book wasn’t good. I felt I wasn’t the right person to judge this book. I felt I didn’t have the mind to comprehend the concept projected in The Night Circus. I had a hard time picturing the author’s vision and that was the most significant part of this book- visualizing the entire Circus setting and delving into the magical world. The book was too slow for my liking. Every chapter jumped from one timeline to another making it very difficult to understand the flow of the story. After few chapters, it struck me that the Date and Year mentioned at the beginning of every chapter is very important to journey with the story. That made things more complex, to remember in which year you are. Before moving on, let me share the basic plot of the book.

It’s about two master magicians who nominate their own candidate for a competition. The nominees have no idea what the competition is, or who their competitor is. They don’t know on what basis they will be judged and what will be the outcome of the competition. The Night Circus is an initiative which brings in both the competitors under one roof, without each other’s knowledge. Will the candidates understand the consequences of the competition? Will they go ahead after knowing what they have been put into? What will happen to The Night Circus? This forms the 500 pages book.

I wouldn’t deny- the book indeed had some very magical moments in the beginning. I was really excited and interested to become a part of this book and go along with the narration. The characters of Prospero and A. H really grabbed my attention. But after a point, it became too tiring and I had to force myself to empathise with all the characters. I wasn’t able to connect to any of them. I also wasn’t able to understand the theories of magic behind The Night Circus.

On the whole, this book wasn’t for me. I put in a whole week for this book and yet I couldn’t mention anything that stood out. I guess I would have to stick to the crime/thriller genre or otherwise be very careful with the kind of book I choose.