Monday, February 29, 2016

Portland Holiday (2015)

     Peter Kirchmeir. Portland Holiday (2015) Privately printed by my brother. A nicely done, chatty account of a month in Portland by my brother and sister-in-law, house- and cat-sitting for their son and daughter-in-law. I think it’s a good travelogue for the city, so if you know Peter and can scrounge or borrow a copy, read it. Fun and informative. Too much reliance on the spell-checker for proof-reading, a failing of pretty well all printed matter these days. *** (and yes, I’m biased).

Friday, February 26, 2016

DCI Banks: three episodes

     DCI Banks Series 4 (2015).  DCI Banks is a melancholic, passive-aggressive, but tenacious DCI, the kind that’s never satisfied with the easy answer, who worries at the niggling little details that don’t fit until all the bits and pieces slide around and rearrange into a true picture. My kind of ‘tec. These three episodes are well-scripted original stories, the writers have understood Peter Robinson’s character very well. The narrative pace is slow-moving enough to allow immersion into the Yorkshire ambience and to engage with the characters, but fast enough to maintain tension. You can find out all the spoilers you might want in Wiki's article.
     But my advice is to just watch them. The books are also worth reading. ***½

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill (2009)

    Graeme Pole. The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill (2009) A nicely done compilation of text and photos covering the history of the Spiral Tunnels that carry the CPR up the Kicking Horse Pass. It begins with the original surveys that resulted in the terrible 4.2% grade over the Kicking Horse Pass and follows with the construction of the tunnels to bring the grade down to a manageable 2.2%. The information is comprehensive and interesting, with a lot of incidental human interest and juicy economic details. The construction of the CPR really was one of the engineering feats of the 1800s.In the 20th and 21st centuries, much larger works have been undertaken, so that the audacity of building that railroad across four mountain ranges is hardly appreciated. Pole’s narrative gives us a glimpse of the difficulties, which reminds us that while modern engineering works may be bigger, in proportion to the available resources the 19th century achieved much more.
     Pole repeatedly mentions what can still be seen from the highway and the trails, and adds a summary guide to the sights at the end, which makes this a handbook as well. The photo-reproduction varies, but is generally good, and there are a few too many typos. The maps don’t use standard  graphics, which makes them a little difficult to interpret. A fold-out map to a larger scale would be nice touch, but I suppose the costs of providing one were too high. Recommended. **½

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Morse: Deadly Slumber (1993)

      Deadly Slumber (1993) [D: Stuart Orme. John Thaw, Kevin Whateley, James Grout, Jason Durr et al] The owner of a private clinic dies in what looks like an accident or suicide. Prime suspect: the father of a girl who was severely brain-damaged four years earlier when the nurse acting as anesthesiologist made a mistake. A typical Morse plot, with Morse twice sure that he has the killer, and twice noticing a minor detail that doesn’t fit. The mood as always is elegiac. This time, parental love is the focus. Well scripted, well acted, well paced, a pleasure to watch and to mull over. I’ve read most of the Morse novels, and I think the TV series is better than the books. This one is "based on the characters". ***

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sand Wars (2015)

     Sand Wars (2015) Our civilisation is built on sand. We have used so much of it that it has become a scarce commodity, worth stealing and smuggling. Almost all land-based sources have been used up. Australia exports huge quantities of it. I don’t know if Canada does, but I wouldn’t be surprised. This documentary shows that removing  sand from beaches and the sea floor is causing unexpected and dangerous consequences. You can find the doc here:
     http://tvo.org/video/documentaries/sand-wars
     Watch it. Sand is an example of how our taking the environment for granted prevents us from seeing what we are doing. “Selective inattention” is the psychological term for this phenomenon. ***

Margery Allingham. Pearls Before Swine (1945)

     Margery Allingham. Pearls Before Swine (1945) Campion, on leave from his overseas assignment (whatever that is) finds a dead woman in his London flat. She has been transported there by Lady Carados, mother of his friend Johnny Carados, an RAF pilot and war hero, who is about to be married. Lugg had helped Lady Carados. Campion only wants catch a train to Nidd, where his wife and child await him, but Supt. Oates ropes him in to assist in the inquiry. And so an extremely tangled mix of plots begins.
     Of course Campion and Det. Supt. Oates solve the crimes, but it’s an extremely tangled path. It feels very much as if Allingham invented an overly ambitious take with multiple plots and red herrings strewed about like so much confetti. Or rather bombing debris, the time is sometime in 1944. There’s the typical Allingham satire of British upper class twits, but since the plot involves traitors and black markets and blackmail as well as murder, she treads more lightly than in the pre-war novels.
     An OK read. **