Friday, August 04, 2006

Players 1

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Robbery Unit of the Portland Police Bureau, Detective Sergeant Ryland Nelsen called Summer Ziegler into his office. He didn’t ask her to sit down, so she stood in front of his desk, straight-backed in a cream blouse and black skirt, waiting for him to finish studying a custody report. She’d dressed for a court appearance that had eaten up most of the day, and she’d been working late, finishing paperwork. She wished now that she’d gone straight home at the end of the shift, because she was dead certain that her boss was about to hand her yet another petty errand.

He took his own sweet time with the report, reading both sides, saying at last, ‘Do you believe in karma, Detective Ziegler?’

‘As in fate?’

‘As in be sure your sins will catch up with you.’

‘I believe it would make our work a lot easier if karma caught up with all the bad guys.’
Ryland Nelsen dropped the report on his desk, leaned back in his chair and laced his hands behind his grey buzz cut. ‘Cast your mind back to last December. You arrested a young woman name of Edie Collier.’

Summer thought for a moment. ‘She tried to boost a couple of cashmere sweaters from Meier and Frank, the store detective challenged her, she made a run for it. I was cruising the area, helped chase her down. She got thirty days’ county time plus two years’ probation.’

‘She got county time for shoplifting? All my arrests should go up before that judge.’

‘She was already on probation for another shoplifting offence, plus she had a bunch of priors. She pled guilty at arraignment and the judge told her he was going to give her a short, sharp shock, stick her in jail over Christmas in the hope it would straighten her out. But I guess it didn’t.’
Summer also guessed that Edie Collier must have gotten into something much more serious than shoplifting if she had come to the attention of the Robbery Unit, which investigated thefts involving use of a weapon or threats implying the presence of a weapon; mundane property crimes like shoplifting were handled by uniformed police and precinct detectives.

‘I don’t know if it straightened her out or not,’ Ryland Nelsen said. ‘I do know that a couple of fishermen stumbled across her in woods way the hell south of here, near Cedar Falls. Know where it is?’

‘I’ve driven past it.’

‘On the I-5. Me too, but I never stopped. Anyhow, she was badly injured from some kind of fall, and she died before the paramedics could get her to hospital. The local police are treating it as a suspicious death. They identified her from fingerprints and found out that her last known address was in Portland, and their Sheriff put in a call to the Chief’s office, asked if someone in the Bureau could inform Edie Collier’s parents and persuade them to make the trip to Cedar Falls for formal ID and disposition of the body. And, well, the request bounced down the chain of command to the officer who last arrested her.’

‘Me,’ Summer said, with a falling sensation.

‘You,’ Ryland Nelsen said, pointing his forefinger at her and cocking his thumb gunwise. ‘During your time in uniform, were you ever asked to do a next-of-kin notification?’

‘No, sir. We left that kind of thing to detectives.’

‘And just three weeks ago you got your detective’s badge . . . See what I mean about karma?’

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Blue World

The films of M. Night Shyamalan more often have their roots in literature rather than in other films. His latest, Lady in the Water, is no exception: like many of the novels of Gene Wolfe, Peter S. Beagle and Jonathan Carroll, its plot turns on the realisation by its hero that he is an archetype inhabiting a mythic story he can survive only by coming to terms with his true nature.

Lady in the Water’s premise, that the root of human sin is due to a break with the wise inhabitants of the Blue World of water, is rather silly and made sillier by a sententious voice-over that explains it, but its story is simple enough. A water nymph named, er, Story (played by the ethereal Bryce Dallas Howard), has been sent to find the writer she’s destined to inspire, so that he can finish the book that will, eventually, save the world (I’m not giving anything away by noting that the world-saving writer is played by none other than the film’s director). She’s helped by Cleveland Heap (Paul Giamatti), who finds her in the swimming pool of the apartment building where he works as superintendent. With the help of Korean student Young-Soon Choi and her mother, Heap must unriddle the bedtime story into which he’s been plunged, and locate the writer and the other people needed to help Story complete her quest and protect her from her enemy, the hyena-like Scrunt that haunts the apartment building’s grounds.

Most of the plot twists are derived either from the deus ex machina rules of Story’s quest, or from cases of mistaken identity as Heap tries to find amongst the apartment building’s tenants those predestined to help Story. And there’s the rub. M. Night Shyamalan’s best films are driven by conflict between vividly-drawn counterpart characters - ghost and ghost-whisperer in The Sixth Sense; hero and villain in Unbreakable. But since a football team of people are needed to protect and help Story, and there are at least two candidates for every place on the team, there are so many named characters packed into the movie’s 90-odd minutes that there’s little space to develop most of them beyond stock types.

The central characters fare little better. After a strong introduction, Story does little but huddle in the shower and refuse to divulge vital information, and even Cleveland Heap fails to stir the audience’s empathy when he finally realises his true nature and comes to terms with the Hero’s Wound that drove him to hide away from the world in a modest job in a modest apartment building. The Scrunt provides several good shock moments, there’s plenty of typically crisp dialogue and clever ideas, and there’s fine comedy relief from Young-Soon’s obtuse mother and an acidulous film critic (a nice cameo by Bob Balaban). But Shyamalan’s failure to develop strong central characters leaves the mechanics of his plot and the paint-by-numbers symbolism of his story overly exposed. For a movie that promises world-changing events, Lady in the Water ultimately feels as hermetic as the bubble of water in a snow-globe.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Where I Get My Ideas From - Part 40581 Of An Endless Series

Down to the West End last night to catch a preview of M. Night Shayamalan’s Lady in the Water (I’ll post a review in a couple of days). Sitting outside the Bar Italia in Soho, we were engaged in conversation by an eccentric fiftysomething fellow in a kilt who was treating his old Italian mother to dinner (she was the very picture of an old Italian mother, complete with cloche hat and shawl, somewhat in her dotage and addressed by her doting son with affectionate exasperation; if you put the pair of them in a novel you’d be accused of stereotyping). In short order, we learned that he was a cellist and had been down to Sussex on some kind of camping holiday (don’t go there) that seemed to have involved country dancing. Then his attention wandered to a young couple sitting down with their baby and after a little to and fro the father (also Italian) brought the baby over so that the old Italian mother could not only admire it, but also give it a wee cuddle - something British parents would almost never do. Meanwhile, the restless and voluble kilt-wearing son had wandered over the café across the road to make more friends. I love this crazy town.

Players: The Cover

Here’s a rough of the cover for Players. I very much like the menacing glow burning through the trees (much of the novel is set in the woods of South-west Oregon, where I spent some time last year; they are both lovely and spooky - especially spooky when there’s a lull in the ambient insect- and bird-song, and you think: bear).

I’ve just finished the copy edit, and now I have to work up notes about the changes I made, and key in all the changes in the hard copy to the electronic version of the text. I’ll start putting up some chunks from it soon.
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