A different kind of cop show

The other thing that happens when you fall over with a disgusting stomach/gut virus – apart from the obvious – is that you’re left stranded liked a beached whale, unable to do anything meaningful except watch some dvds. You can try reading, but for some reason that doesn’t always work out. Anyhow. A while ago, while ordering something else online, I saw another show highlighted. I’d never heard of it, but it sounded interesting so I ordered a copy. And while I was laid low with the disgusting stomach/gut virus, I watched it.

19-2 is a Canadian cop show. It was originally made in French, and then it got an English makeover. It’s set in Montreal, part of French-speaking Canada, which explains why. For those of us who watch shows filmed in Vancouver (mostly) there are some familiar faces in the cast, and as guest actors. Most notable of these is Adrian Holmes, who was Detective Lance’s partner for a while in Arrow.  The first season is out now on dvd, and the second season is about to be released. It’s been picked up for a third.

This is a fascinating series, because it has a very unAmerican cop show sensibility. Style-wise it’s approached like a documentary. There’s an edge, a rawness, to the camera work that’s really interesting, but it never gets in the way of the storytelling. (I really hated the stupid idea in Southland where the soundtrack bleeped out the cops swearing. Way to interrupt the narrative, guys. Way to be pretentious!) It’s a very personal, often in-your-face kind of narrative. It’s also pretty bleak. The story weaves its way in and out of the cops’ professional and personal lives, but it never feels like soap opera. In that sense, it’s pretty much the diametric opposite of another recent Canadian cop show, Rookie Blue.

I’m thinking that if you’re a fan of darker fare, stuff like The Wire, you might well enjoy 19-2. And even if bleak isn’t really your thing, I’d say give it a go anyway. The writing and acting are top notch – and it’s always an excellent adventure, exploring different takes on a familiar – and some might say – overdone genre. In fact, I think that writers should make a point of watching a bunch of different shows in the same genre, and noting how each narrative handles the demands of that genre. What works, what doesn’t, and how those lessons can be applied to our own work.

I bought 19-2 from Amazon UK. When you buy from overseas you need a multi zone dvd player, remember!

Here are some great books to read

I’m often asked which books and/or authors are my favourites, or have influenced my writing in some way. There is always a standout answer: the late Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles – a 6 book historical series that is pretty much the benchmark of excellence for the genre. Nobody, but nobody, is in Dunnett’s league. If you love great fiction, especially historical fiction, and you haven’t read this series? You’re missing out an amazing experience. The first book in the series is The Game of Kings. I urge you to get a copy and be ensnared in brilliance.

But Dunnett also wrote a mystery series, known as the Dolly series. It was called that because the main character, Johnson, owns a yacht called Dolly, and he travels the world in it painting portraits – for which he’s famous. However, there is more to Johnson than a paintbrush, which is where the mystery element comes in.

What’s remarkable about the Dolly series is that each book is told from a first person narrator perspective, and each time the narrator is a different woman whose life intersects with Johnson’s – with not always happy results. It means that we learn about Johnson second-hand, and each character reveals something new and different about him. Reading the series is like putting together a Johnson jigsaw puzzle, and it’s truly fascinating. It’s also a masterclass in writing. Reading Dunnett is like that – you learn so much about writing from reading her extraordinary novels. Each narrator is a distinctly different person, with a unique voice, which is reflected in every element of the narrative.

If you like the mystery genre, and enjoy strongly character-driven storytelling, I can’t recommend the Dolly books highly enough. You can find them online at reasonable 2nd hand prices. I’ve just replaced a few of my own that were falling apart and it hasn’t broken the bank.

Start with Dolly and the Bird of Paradise. That’s the first book, and it sets the series up really well.

Let’s hear it for Glenda Larke!

One of the most creative and innovative writers in the fantasy genre today is Australian author Glenda Larke. For those of you who want to see a story not based on medieval Europe, Glenda is the writer for you. And even if you do love the medieval backdrop (as I do, obviously!) she is still the writer for you. Glenda has led probably the most astonishing and unique life I ever heard of, and all of that amazing experience finds its way into her books.

The Daggers’s Path, the second book in her Forsaken Lands trilogy, is out on sale now. Below is the lovely cover. Here is a link to her blogsite where she talks some more about the story. Stay tuned for a guest blog post, as soon as she’s got a moment to herself!

Daggers Path


I count myself privileged to be Glenda’s friend, but that’s not why I’m celebrating the release of her new book. It’s a great story – and great stories should always be celebrated!


Spotlight on … Kage Baker

Probably what I miss most about being a bookseller is the chance to introduce readers to writers they don’t know, and might love. This Spotlight on … series is my way of remedying that. And because my passion for all things speculative fiction extends to film and tv too it’s not just books I’ll be recommending. So welcome to the first of my Spotlight on … raves.

Oddly enough, now that I come to think of it I can’t remember exactly when or how or why it was that I came across the late Kage Baker’s science fiction series, The Company. But I am so pleased I did.

Kage Baker was born in 1952 and died in 2010. While she lived she wrote short stories, novellas and novels in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Her work was nominated for Nebula, World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon and Hugo Awards, and in 2009 The Women of Nell Gwynne’s won the Nebula for Best Novella – but for me she remains one of the most criminally under-rated and under-praised writers in speculative fiction.

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What I’ve been reading

Blockbuster by Tom Shone

BlockbusterHave you ever watched a movie, either at home or at the cinema, and as the credits roll start  shaking your head, totally bemused by how it ever got made?  Thrown up your hands and beseeched of the heavens: What were they thinking? I know I have. I know that quite often the head-shaking and beseeching have started long before the closing credits start to roll.

Blockbuster, by British film critic Tom Shone, gives us one movie-loving man’s answer to that perplexing question. It covers a period of Hollywood history from 1975-2003, and examines the birth and consequence of the blockbuster film phenomenon. Continue reading

What I’ve been watching

When it comes to tv dramas, sometimes I come a bit late to the party. Take Person of Interest, for example. I watched the pilot, I couldn’t connect with it, so I never watched another episode. Then, through the enthusiastic urgings of my good friends Pete and Elaine, I gave it another go. And boing! I loved it. I was hooked. That can happen. You’re in the wrong frame of mind, or whatever, the first time you encounter a story. But then you go back to it later and something’s changed and the fit is right, when it wasn’t before.

The same thing’s happened with me and Elementary, except I never even watched the pilot before rejecting it. Confession time: I’m not an actual Sherlock Holmes fan, as such. I love the Ritchie films because it’s Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law and they have such wit and style. I love the current BBC imagining because Cumberbatch and Ferguson are Continue reading