We lead a pretty uncomplicated life at The Aerie. Eat tasty food. Quaff interesting drinks. Play with the dog, or the piano, or in the garden. Enjoy the view. Really – not much drama, which suits us just fine.
So it’s fun sometimes to let your mind wander into worlds of intrigue and mystery – that explore the dark underbelly of life. We’re talking “noir” – shady dealings amidst unsavory characters. And I got to explore some this week in both books and film – which has been really fun, because let’s face it, the only noir in my life is of the pinot variety.
This weekend, I finished the book “A Quiet Flame” by Philip Kerr. It is the latest installment of his German detective, Bernie Gunther. The Gunther stories began with Kerr’s excellent book “Berlin Noir” – which is a collection of three mystery stories set at different points in Bernie’s life (starting from the early 1930s and going through the end of WWII). Now, as a German trying to make his way through the Third Reich, Bernie’s got some tough choices to make – and they're not always good ones. He’s a wise-cracking former policeman who’s fond of booze and women. He’s one of the best characters I’ve come across in a long time. These books are classic noir – detectives, murders, double-crosses, shady meetings – and set amidst the best bad-guys in fiction: Nazis. What could be better?
This installment (the 5th) finds Bernie in South America in 1950, where he gets into his regular sort of trouble. The story is solid and at times extremely creepy. I very much recommend this book, though it’s important to have read the Berlin Noir books to know the backdrop.
The other excursion into mystery was that the Beloved and I went to see the Swedish film version of the book “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. Now, both of us had read the late Stieg Larsson’s first novel last year, and enjoyed it. It didn’t quite make the “year’s best” list for me (though it was close), because I felt that the book was paced unevenly – it was slow and methodical through the first half and got on a rollercoaster afterwards. The film version excises a lot of the slower first half stuff and and streamlines the story to create a pretty well-paced mystery thriller – now that omission does diminish some of the deep character development that the book was able to achieve, but makes for a better movie experience.
The casting was really good, especially Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. The film is uncompromising in its portrayal of violence against women (a major theme of the book) which is tough to watch at some points – in fact, the Swedish title translates as “Men That Hate Women”. There are a few departures from the novel, but overall I found it to be an excellent adaptation. It will be interesting to see the Hollywoodized version – I can’t imagine that they’ll keep the gritty and real (and repulsive) elements though they are so central to the story. Afterwards, we spent some time discussing who we thought might be cast as the lead protagonists. I’m sort of hoping for Daniel Craig and Ellen Page.