The AFI’s definition of a mystery is any film that “revolves around the solution of a crime.” Admittedly, this is a pretty broad definition, and allows a certain degree of latitude–for example, a lot of movies that are classified as “thrillers” revolve around a mystery that needs to be solved.
Here are my picks for the Top 10 Mysteries:
2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
3. The Maltese Falcon
6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
8. Silence of the Lambs
9. The Thin Man
I’ve been seeing copies of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist everywhere lately. It’s on display at Barnes & Noble. People are reading it on the subway. Hell, when I was at jury duty yesterday, there was a fellow juror-to-be reading it. And, for the most part, these copies aren’t the old mass market paperbacks, like the one I have…these are brand-spanking-new, big damn trade paperbacks. What’s up, guys?
I loved The Alienist. It was the first modern historical novel I ever read (one could argue that something like The Three Musketeers is also an historical novel), and it formed my opinions and expectations of that particular genre. It was set in an interesting period–NYC in the 1890s, when old and new were still struggling for dominance. It included actual historical figures, like Teddy Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan, and William Randolph Hearst. It gave you a good idea of the way things were without trying to teach you any important lessons (I can not stress enough how important it is for a book to NOT try and teach me something…if I wanted to learn, I’d go to school. Okay, book? Okay.) On top of all of this, it was about a serial killer. But, for a post-Silence of the Lambs world, there was a twist. Like the real-life case of Jack the Ripper, Carr’s serial killer was operating at a time when there was no such thing as “serial killers.” Most of the conflict in the novel comes from not only the killer, but also from the clash between the police–who are using tried and true 19th century investigative procedures–and a doctor who specializes in the new science of psychology (at the time, crazy people were said to be alienated from the rest of society…and those who studied them, therefore, were called “alienists”).
Anyways…The Alienist is a pretty kick-ass book. But, it’s a book that came out almost 15 years ago. Sure, it spent two years on the bestseller list, but why is it suddenly all over the place again? Did Oprah mention it? Is there a movie coming out? Are one of the Survivors reading it?
No…not that one.
For the last year or so, I’ve been slowly and steadily making my way through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books. I just finished the eighth book in paperback (Proven Guilty) and, despite a few ups and downs along the way, I’ve enjoyed every page.
This Harry is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Like the other Harry, Harry Dresden is a wizard. Unlike the other Harry, this Harry is also a detective. He’s also the only certified wizard to advertise in the Chicago yellow pages. The series begins with Storm Front, which is presented as a pretty straight forward detective story of the wise-cracking, P.I. variety. Yes, it involves magic, but Butcher treats magic the same way Robert Parker or Elmore Leonard would treat a knife or a handgun. It’s a tool. In fact, Harry goes about two-thirds of the way through this first book without doing an ounce of hocus-pocus.
As the series progresses, things get more complicated. A ton of secondary and tertiary characters move in and out (including Harry’s old mentor Ebenezar McCoy, Michael Carpenter–one of God’s holy hitmen–and a horny talking skull named Bob). A war erupts between the wizards and the vampires. But, for the most part, Harry remains Harry. He’s the same wise-cracking, pop-culture-reference-spouting, bad-luck-having, chivalrous schmuck in the eighth book as he was in the first.
Personally, I’ve probably enjoyed the fourth book, Summer Knight–which involves Harry getting caught up in a civil war between the Summer and Winter Courts of Faerie (don’t ask)–the most. However, the second book, Fool Moon, also gets high marks for using every possible explanation for lycanthropy under the sun.