DCI Banks (2010 – ) Review

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Rating: 3/5

Cast: Stephen Tompkinson, Andrea Lowe, Caroline Catz, Jack Deam

Seasons: 6

DCI BANKS 4 (2014)

DCI Banks is a British crime procedural. It’s an adaptation of Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks novels. It follows the team of Yorkshire Police who solve brutal murders involving mysterious characters. I began watching DCI Banks when I was in the spree of watching all British cop shows. DCI Banks is not an extraordinary show. It doesn’t have great thrilling or chilling moments. There are no spectacular action sequences or heart racing shoot outs. It’s mostly kept very simple, with chasing of leads, answering all the opened questions and closing all the loose ends. In spite of this show not making up to my top 5 or even top 10 crime procedurals on television today, there is something about this show which makes me, as a viewer, not to miss a single episode. The cases are interesting and relevant. The murders aren’t out-of-the-mind murders but kept very realistic. The procedure part is also kept very simple and natural with no extravagant breakthroughs. It’s a consistent show which sticks to the story and doesn’t experiment much.

DCI Banks, as the title suggest, is the central character of the story. Alan Banks runs a team of dynamic characters who perform their assigned roles perfectly. Played by Stephen Tompkinson, Alan Banks isn’t someone who throws his power around or has a majestic leader appearance. He is a normal middle aged guy who works hard to bring justice to the family of the deceased. As is the case with most of the cop shows, his personal life is a mess most of the times. He has a daughter who makes appearances randomly. Somewhere, I felt, the show is dull compared to the other shows because the central character here, Banks, isn’t very interesting. There aren’t many cases which test Banks on a personal or professional level. Hence, the connection to the character, to feel the empathy and sympathy for him goes missing. Hence even his hard earned success can’t be cherished much. To think on a completely different level, may be it’s Tompkinson who has made Banks dull. His voice modulation is perfect but his expression of rage comes out really weird. He has to work on his menacing looks.

The supporting characters include- DI Annie Cabbot (Lowe) and DI Helen Morton (Catz). Annie is the first to enter the team and has/had a relationship with Banks on a personal level too, but it’s not dealt with much drama. The entry of Helen (Season 2) into the team brings in a lot of interest as her style of work is completely different to Banks’ style. These two ladies have a silent war going on when they begin to work together, but they resolve it very maturely. Apart from that we have DC Ken Blackstone (Deam), whose task is to excavate all the details and information in connection to the case. He also does some field work, but not a lot is shown about him. A good actor like Deam is being wasted in this show.

The show seemed fresh and energetic in the first two seasons but now I feel it lacks the excitement. It could be because the characters are all middle aged and hence there are no racing or running around. Yet, there is definitely something missing on the interest factor. I feel the team is still not working as a team. They still look like separate individuals working together. Realistically, it might not be possible, but as a show, to help the viewers connect to the show and the characters, there have to be episodes which put the team under some kind of a test of trust, where the team backs up each other. There have been very very few episodes which showed that.

Moving on to the cases, the cases are pretty solid. Very interesting characters are introduced and are played extremely well by the guest stars. The clues are gradually brought up and the connections are smoothly made. Crime scene, meeting the family, team discussions- all are done pretty sensitively. The cases are the reason why the show keeps ticking. Else, with such sober characters, the show doesn’t have a chance.

Picturesquely, the show is shot beautifully. The background score is pretty good too, but not always noticeable.

DCI Banks is a good show and can be watched for time pass. Season 6 is currently on. Don’t expect edge of the seat moments or mind blowing revelations. Just sit back, relax, watch it, and switch it off.


Ordeal of Innoncence

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Author: Agatha Christie

Rating: 3/5

I have always been a great fan of Agatha Christie and her popular detective character Hercule Poirot. Every time I write a review of her work, I can’t stop myself from appreciating her style of writing. The impeccable way in which she writes her characters and places them in a mind boggling mystery is beyond my words.  Ordeal of Innocence is one of her standalones, i.e. the murder case isn’t led by her famous detectives- Poirot or Marple. The case is led by a normal person who is also a major part of the mystery. “And Then There Were None” was a terrific stand alone work of hers and it’s a huge task for Christie herself to match her benchmark.

“Ordeal of Innocence” is a cold case mystery. The lives of the Argyle family take a steep twist when Dr Arthur Calgary jumps from nowhere, two years after the murder of Rachel Argyle, presenting a crucial piece of evidence evicting and proving the innocence of Jacko Argyle, who was sent to prison for killing his mother, who subsequently died in prison within 5 months of his sentencing. Rachel Argyle, the victim, is a compulsive mother of 5 adopted children- Mary, Hester, Tina, Mickey and Jacko. Each child is, or say was, unhappy with their adopted mother for reasons of their own. This new evidence from Calgary causes huge ripples in the family as old wounds are opened up. If Jacko didn’t kill his mother, it’s definitely someone else from the family. Even though only one of them is the killer, other innocent members of the family also suffer from the radar of suspicion. The police reopen the case, alibis for the night of the murder are checked again, different lines of investigation are followed by different people- the police, Calgary himself and Phillip Durant- Mary’s handicapped husband.

This case takes the reader through an entirely different experience compared to Christie’s other works. There is a more emotional connect with the characters in this book. We feel pity for every child (not literally child but youngsters) for having craved for their real parents. We also see the deep possessive love of Rachel for her kids, even though she is never alive in the book. Every child has the frustration inside to get rid of their mother. But did one of them actually go through with it? We have, on the other hand, Leo Argyle, the patriarch of the house and Rachel’s husband; his secretary Gwenda whom Leo was going to marry. Did Leo kill his own wife to marry Gwenda? We also have the housekeeper woman, Kirsten, who has a strong bonding with all the children. Did she kill Rachel to provide real happiness to the children? Strong motives are present for every character and most of their alibis are shaky. As a reader, I kept guessing and doubting every character. At a point, every line made me think and reconsider my suspicions. That’s the brilliance of Agatha Christie. I admit, I didn’t feel high excitement because I read this book over a period of 2 weeks due to other commitments but I am sure it would have been great if read at a regular speed.

The coming together of all the clues, more murders to add and the show down at the end were done exceptionally well in Agatha Christie style. I couldn’t give more ratings because the story seemed stagnant in between with no new clues or revelations. It delved more into the characters and their life which, though in a way added to the story, didn’t add much to my interest.

Bottomline: Go for it! It’s completely different from Christie’s Poirot or Marple.

Lord Edgware Dies

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Agatha Christie is no where close to her best works.

Rating: 1.5/5

Agatha Christie is my MVP. I know whenever I need a break from serious reading, or from other genre reads, I can completely rely on her. Though her stories do involve murder, it’s not like the ones written in today’s times. Today’s stories are too serious, too gory and don’t leave any chance to detail the scenes. It’s a style of writing and I am not complaining. At the same time, I feel Agatha’s style of writing is very crisp and much more difficult. She doesn’t take a long time to describe her scene- the house, farm, city, etc or the characters. There are many twists and turns and she keeps us guessing for most part of the story. I wrote down a list of her books, in priority, and have been completing it one by one. After around 12-15 books of hers, I am feeling the boredom. The cases aren’t as interesting as her top rated books, and I have got used to her style of writing so much that I could actually guess the culprit correctly at the end. Lord Edgware Dies is one of those works which has a very interesting plot but is plagued by usual clues.

When Lord Edgware dies, Poirot is called on to investigate by the lawyer of the family. A series of people in the family profits from the death of the patriarch and hence they make it to the list of suspects easily. More murders follow making things more complicated. A phrase uttered by one of the deceased before her murder becomes the key point of the investigation. We also have two lines of investigation- One by our renowned Poirot and his loyal assistant Hastings and on the other we have Inspector Japp. I have read Japp in few of the books before but never had he been so irritating. Even the banter between Poirot and Hastings isn’t enjoyable. It’s more dominating and insulting from Poirot’s side in my point of view. Each one has a very confusing theory, confusing the reader even more. The entire story solely depends on the timeline, which isn’t explained clearly hence making the read a very tiresome one. The breakthrough evidence at the end, though a surprise, comes across very forced.

Lord Edgware Dies fails to hit the right chords. A very disappointing read.

Stranger Things (2016)

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Rating: 4/5

Number of episodes: 8

I didn’t give a lot of thought before I began watching the show. Usually I do an extensive research on the show I am going to watch, to understand if the show is of my type, and mainly if I would make it to the end. Stranger Things had a huge hype going around already and after reading my friend’s review of the show, I decided to watch it without any background check.

Stranger Things promote itself as a tribute to the 80s kids. But as a 90s kid, I absolutely loved it. It had a strong nostalgic factor which made me crave to get back to the 90s and experience all those lovely TV shows we had back then, all those fantastic time we spent with our friends on the streets, in each other’s houses, playing board games and role-plays. This show has adventure, horror, supernatural element, actually everything needed for it to be a great entertainer. Even though I am not a sci-fi fan, the entire atmosphere created in the show gripped me instantly.

The show has many parallel lines which come together at the end. Four little boys, bound by strong friendship, see one of them (Will) suddenly going missing. The rest of the three vow to find their friend and bring him back. They set out on a risky adventure, on their cycles, befriend a young girl- Eleven, realise Eleven isn’t a normal girl but someone with superpowers, someone who could help them find Will. Their loyalty and friendship is tested which they pass in flying colours. Every emotion sends out such a positive feeling. Simultaneously, we have Will’s mother who is determined that her son is alive, contrary to other’s opinion, and fights the strange happenings in her house, on her own, with mighty courage and grit. Will’s brother takes his own route to find out the mystery behind the sudden disappearances. The Sheriff of the town follows his own investigation while battling his personal demons. Amongst all this, we have a dreadful monster sticking out of the walls, lights used as a means of communication (The scene where Will speaks with his mother using lights is awesome!), government secrets and projects and loads of other complex theories to blow our mind.

I won’t delve more into the characters and the story lines. No heads-up. This 8-part series has such chilling moments which have become a rare sight in today’s horror show. All the relationships portrayed have beautiful innocence filled in them. There is no cunningness or backstabbing or betrayal. The show includes almost everything a 80s/90s kid would relate to.

Having appreciated well enough, there are some disappointing factors as well. I never really understood the back story of Eleven and her father. What was the project? What was that ghastly, sticky, foggy place? Was that inside the government building? Also- what was that monster and from where did it rise from? Was these questions deliberately left unanswered so that they could continue with the next season? I also wished, the teacher of the kids had more involvement in the story.

All the actors played their part well. All the kids did a tremendous job. The background music is one of the heroes of the show. It was timed perfectly in horror-moments. Light being used as a conversing medium was a brilliant idea.

Stranger Things is definitely a must-watch show. It has something for everyone to enjoy.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Rating: 3/5

No surprise, I was on cloud nine when I got to know JK Rowling (et al) was coming up with a new book. It didn’t matter if it was a novel or a play or just a short story. Being a Harry Potter fanatic, anything related to this magnificent series could get me jumping in joy. It would sound so silly and foolish, but the moment I held this beautiful hard cover book, I felt such endearing warmth. I guess only a fellow Harry Potter addict would understand this emotion.

From the time of the announcement, it was very clear that the book was a play and not a novel. The story resumes from where it left in the epilogue of the 7th book. It was quite a different experience to read Harry Potter as a play. There are no deep descriptions of the magical world as the entire narration is written as it would happen on stage. The entry and exit of characters, how the actors/characters give their expressions, the pauses, the beats- it definitely took me time to adjust to the transition. We don’t get an in-depth insight into any of the characters. May be on stage the emotions would be conveyed by the actors better, but as a book, you miss the emotional connect to the characters. It’s just a disappointment that this book could have scored better if it had been a novel than a play. I wish a novel version is released for the same story.

The play focuses on Albus Severus Potter and Scorpious Malfoy predominantly. They share an unbreakable friendship, quite opposite to what their fathers had when they were at school. Harry and Albus have a very strained relationship. Albus struggles being a Potter, the son of The Boy Who Lived. He is constantly bullied at school. Scorpious, on the other hand, is nothing like his father Draco. He is innocent and funny, and loyal. Both of them team up for an adventure, which goes horribly wrong, and therefore their parents have to step in to right their wrong. Vague enough? I didn’t want to divulge anything about the story.

The play has everything a Harry Potter fan would need, but everything caters to the stage. Hence, this limits the fantasising and visualizing element of the reader. We don’t get to see and feel Hogwarts like the way we did while reading the series. The spells and the other magic are hard to visualize, probably because the language used is for a script. The pace of the play is also on top speed, years pass in a matter of two pages. We don’t get to read THE Harry-Ron-Hermoine conversations. Ron, for one, is written as a completely funny character, forcefully funny, that it doesn’t seem like Ron at all. The older version of the trio isn’t as entertaining as I expected. When the trio get to Hogwarts, they address their once Professors by their first name or last name, which is kind of very hard to digest. I mean, Harry called Dumbledore as Dumbledore is, I don’t know, kind of shocked me. This magical world, after 19-20 years isn’t something I would want to be in. I am happy to be stuck in the past, in the old Hogwarts than the current one. In the entire 7 book series, the one thing which I found really hard to comprehend was the concept of the Time-turner (Book 3). This entire play is based on that and hence the read was pretty difficult for me.

The friendship of Albus and Scorpious is very endearing. To see a Potter and a Malfoy bond is truly magical. Harry has turned very boring. Ron and Hermoine are dull too. The play lacks the dry wit. I wish they had brought Dumbledore back in some way and given him a heroic scene of some sort. It’s still hard to get over his death in Book 6. I loved, loved, loved Severus Snape in this play. He was fantastic. Even if it was for just a few pages, he leaves a strong mark. That’s when I realised, Harry Potter (series) couldn’t have been a cult, a classic, if not for all the supporting characters- Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, Longbottom, Weasleys- they all brought in such beautiful charm to the series. With their presence very meagre in this play, I didn’t feel belonged in this Harry Potter world.

Yet-Yet-Yet. It would be unfair to compare this play with the series. The writers had made it very clear from the beginning that this was a play. Hence it would be wrong to expect it to be like a novel, written like a novel. The look and feel of the book is very good. It’s definitely a page turner. I haven’t read many plays and hence I couldn’t judge how effectively this one is written as a play. But as a story, it has a very interesting plot and manages to keep the readers interested till the end; though I am sure every reader will feel a void while reading.

Read it to feel nostalgic.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time

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Rating: 3/5

Now that’s a title you can’t miss. It’s very evident from the title itself that the story isn’t going to be a very intense one; the best choice to take a break from my previous read. From the summary at the back cover, I got an Enid Blyton feel. But, honestly, the book was nowhere near any of the Enid Blyton’s works. It was completely different from what I had expected.

The story is about a 15 years old Christopher who is suffering from Asperger Syndrome (AS). He finds his neighbour’s dog dead struck by a garden fork and vows to find who murdered the dog much to the dislike of his father. The book follows the thoughts and feelings of Christopher and how different it is from a normal person. In a subtle way the author, Mark Haddon, brings out how meticulous and detailed the child’s thoughts are and that the only distinction is they have a slightly different set of behavioural skills. The way Christopher analyses the situation, prioritises the suspects and goes about his sleuthing work is so much fun to read. His innocent thoughts are so true that it ends up as mild sarcasm. He puts Sherlock Holmes as his role model detective but doesn’t like Arthur Conan Doyle. Each and every action of his has a reason behind which I don’t think a normal person has. He slowly closes in on who could have killed the dog and that’s where the author takes a U-turn with the story.

The incident of the dog murder is over by half-time and the story completely takes a different shift. The murderer is revealed and the story travels into the life of Christopher and his equation with his parents. As much as it is interesting at the beginning, the narrative becomes repetitive and boring. No offence to the people affected by the syndrome here, my only complaint is against the author’s story telling. He focuses more on how Christopher fights his fears and does things which he had practically never dreamt of. But the writing lacks the sarcasm and fun factor which proved to be the hero of the first half. The author shows how a child with AS requires constant attention. Christopher’s father takes care of him completely but one mistake- his son completely loses trust on him. A trust once broken is hard to regain. I guess from this above gist, you would have guessed that the book slowly becomes a family drama at the end. I had mixed feelings about the second part of the story.

I loved how the author projected the thoughts of a child with Asperger’s. It was actually fun to read the long sentences which explained Christopher’s long thoughts. Christopher gives so much attention to detail and the author has excellently captured that. The way Christopher uses Maths and Logic is fantastic. The author scores really high in the first half; not as much in the next.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a light and pleasant read. It could have been a much better work, nevertheless it’s completely different and the hard work of the author in portraying the mind of an Asperger’s child is very evident. Read if you don’t have anything interesting in your TBR list.

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.