From Chicago author Libby Fischer Hellmann, here’s a top-notch mystery with a strong female main character, Georgia Davis.  She’s feisty, proud, confident and able.  She’s a good PI who isn’t a “superhero” type…meaning she get afraid and is not ashamed to show it.  In Doubleback, Davis gets involved with a kidnapping/murder/financial malfeasance plot that takes her from Chicago to the Arizona-Mexico border.  Hellmann’s writing style is good, though I think sometimes she can be a bit choppy.  But, the great character construction and well-laid-out plot make up for this. Though the plot can be a bit far-fetched (as most thrillers and mysteries can be), Davis also seems believable in her role…meaning she doesn’t just happen to “fall” into situations, rather the escapades she finds herself in are essential to the plot.   I would read more tales about Georgia Davis and her sometimes partner-in-crime Ellie Foreman (Hellmann does a series with Foreman as more of a primary character too).

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Following the overwhelming success of The Millennium Trilogy (The Girl….series) by Stieg Larsson and the recent success of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, it’s no wonder American publishers are clamoring to get new Scandinavian authors out on the crime fiction shelves.  Sometimes, this leads to less than stellar works…published just for the sake of being published.  That is NOT the case with this book by Kepler, a Swedish husband and wife writing team.  The Hypnotist is one of the strongest thrillers I’ve read in ages…since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo…and even gives that first book of Larsson’s trilogy a run for its money.  Most of the way through (up until the very end — maybe the last 50 pages) was some of the best suspense ever!  Kepler knows just how to reel the audience in and how much or how little to give away…letting the chills mount until they just HAVE to be released.  The ending was a bit of a disappointment, which is why it was not able to surpass The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as my favorite crime story in a decade.  Unlike Girl, which has a very strong ending, The Hypnotist’s story and writing seems to drag on unnecessarily at the end, which is a shame since most of the book was so taut and fine-tuned.  But, the ending should not keep you from reading this one.  The first 450 pages are superb and need to be savored and remembered as you read to the end.  I’m sure you will not be disappointed with this one!  A MUST for all crime readers!

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Dustin Hoffman might like to “drive slow on the driveway,” but his brother prefers to take the classic 1957 Buick Roadmaster out on the highways for a spin. Since Hoffman’s character is autistic, this film often gets misjudged as a story about him and his illness. Where, at its heart, it is the tale of two brothers on the road together, getting to know each other for the first time. A little on the sappy side but not enough to keep you away from this film which won a well-deserved Best Picture Oscar.

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I LOVED this book. I couldn’t put it down…literally. Walker’s writing is strong and intense. His story was filled with suspense but not over dramatic. Revolving around a highly flawed main character and set in Chicago, among other locales, this book is a stand-alone thriller, but it has spurred me on to read all of the other book Walker has written, series or not. The relationship between the boy and the main character is highly believable. It never gets too sappy or mushy. And the ending is strong. I was hoping against hope that Walker wouldn’t ruin the ending as many authors do by taking the “Hollywood” way out. But, the ending is as strong as the first pages. I’ve met Mr. Walker on a few occasions and he is, on the surface, a mild, unassuming man. But, he sure writes a WILD, FAST-PACED thriller. A GREAT thriller!

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I went into this one with low expectations. I had heard that Denzel Washington plays a troubled soul in Man on Fire, one who has had his fair encounters with criminal behavior. This depiction immediately took me back to Training Day, where Washington plays a corrupt cop in a role that earned him his first Best Actor Oscar. I did not like Training Day and even though Washington gives an extreme and powerful performance, I could not help thinking Man on Fire would be more of the same “bad guy” Washington. This time, though, the movie worked from start to finish, with only a few minor glitches along the way. Washington’s character, Creasy, is a man in torment. He accepts the job of guarding young Dakota Fanning’s character, Pita, as kind of a last resort before suicide or another form of self-destruction (Creasy is a rampant alcoholic in the beginning of the film). The beginning is strengthened by the touching relationship between Pita and Creasy. At first, he tries his best to keep his distance from this young girl but she softens him up and wins him over in a completely realistic way. This story could have become very trite during these scenes with Washington succumbing to Fanning’s charms without justification, but with credit to both actors, they are able to make the transition from strangers to friends natural and convincing. The second part of the movie continues to get its strength from the relationship between Creasy and Pita, but in a more dramatic and deeper way. Sure, there are parts of this film that are highly unbelievable and over-the-top. But, it’s an action movie. Most action movies provide more unbelievable entertainment that realism, whereas this is not the case here. For the most part, this film speaks true, mostly because of the relationship between and the performances by Washington and Fanning.

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Not being one of Roman Polanski’s biggest fans, I was initially apprehensive about this one. But, I like Harrison Ford and Betty Buckley so I gave it a try. It is a sharp, exciting thriller that really utilizes the feel and atmosphere of Paris. Many thrillers fall short of using location to heighten or complicate the suspense. Polanski really captures the essence of Paris here…from the elegant, tourist side to the dark, seedy underbelly. The plot keeps pretty simple…an American doctor, in Paris for a convention, is convinced his wife has been kidnapped. Yes, it is a little more convoluted than that, but that’s the gist of it. From there, Polanski weaves a thrilling tale of intrigue that will keep you riveted until the finale.

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Not for the faint of heart, this film is one of the funniest comedies I had seen in years. Frances McDormand won an Oscar for playing very pregnant Marge Gunderson…a fabulous character who is most definitely the sharpest person in the film (though that is not really much of a compliment). Marge is a police officer in Brainerd, Minnesota and she gets involved in an investigation involving kidnapping, brutal murder and theft. The script is sharp and hilarious…and the performances are all right on target. But, be warned…it is a DARK comedy. People die. People kill people. This is the Coen Brothers, after all.

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OK — it’s not Hitchcock’s finest hour. But, this is his last film and he was not in the best of health when he made this one, so a little “understanding” is in order here. In 1976, when Family Plot was released, Hitchcock had been working as a filmmaker for more than six decades, had over 50 features under his belt, and was well into his 70s. Not that shabby of a career in a business that does not exactly promote longevity. So, we can forgive Family Plot for not being his finest work…but still a more-than-decent thriller. I don’t want it to sound like I feel Family Plot is an awful film. It most definitely is not. It’s a sharp, clever caper/romantic/psychic thriller that would be a shining moment for any mainstream director. It’s just Hitchcock’s work has held him up to such high standards that a film like this doesn’t exactly live up to his Rear Window or Psycho days. Oh well, getting past all this, like I said, this is a captivating and entertaining film that does have its fair share of thrills and surprises. It has several “Hitchcockian” scenes where the Master comes back to life and uses the camera to increase suspense like the good old days of North by Northwest. Basically, the plot revolves two interwoven stories: one revolves around a psychic who uses her “powers” to scam clients out of money and the other about a kidnapper and his wife. There are some pretty clever plot elements…like the way the kidnappers hide their hostages…and a lot of typical Hitchcock comic relief…provided mostly by the psychic and her befuddled boyfriend who works as her sometimes-assistant and a sometimes-cab driver (even though he claims he’s really an actor). A must for all Hitchcock/thriller fans…but not the one to start with if you want to get the feel of the Master’s best work.

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This is one of the films that sealed Alfred Hitchcock’s destiny early on in his career, along with The 39 Steps. The beginning opens a little confused and disorganized but once Hitchcock moves the action to a train, everything comes into place. The story is simple enough with a woman going missing on a train. The one woman who talked with the vanished lady makes it her mission to find out what happened to this missing woman. All of the tell-tale Hitchcock signs are here…mistaken identity, the “wronged” man/woman, and, of course, a little romance and humor. Some elements of the film almost seem “screwball” in how outlandish they are, but since it is a good story with good characters, we allow Hitchcock to take us along for the ride.

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