Saturday SkandiKrime: Department Q – The Keeper of Lost Causes


Ooh, seriously moody…

One of the nice things about waking early on a Sunday morning is the chance to enjoy a SkandiKrime series in pale blue comfort, and to write about it unhurriedly.

The latest of these is Department Q, a film series ninety minutes in length, starring Nikolas Lie Kaas (The Killing 3, Follow the Money 1) as Carl Morck and Fares Fares as Assad. The films are based on a crime series written by Jussi Adler-Olson and there have been three to date, which BBC4 have bought for the next couple of week’s entertainment, and are apparently very popular as exports, though they don’t, on this evidence, offer anything particularly new.

What we have is another Cold Case set-up. Homicide Detective Morck, who is a maverick, albeit lower on the spectrum than the egregious Mads Justesen, refuses to wait for back-up as ordered and leads his two colleagues into a seemingly deserted house. All three get shot: one dead, one crippled for life, and Carl takes a bullet to the head that leaves a fetching scar and a case of shaking hands. After the statutory minimum three month sick leave, Carl wants back to work (his wife has also chose to divorce him).

But his superior Jacobsen won’t put him back on Homicide, even if anyone of his colleagues there would work with him. Instead, he’s chosen to head up the newly-created Cold Case squad, Department Q.

As Cold Cases are when they’re first established, Department Q is a joke, a pseudo-section, not intended to be serious. It’s a way-station for police edging, or being edged towards retirement. Carl’s only assistance is Assad, whose background is left completely obscured, save that for him Department Q is supposed to be a step up, poor bugger: he has spent the last two years in a depot stamping things.

Basically, Department Q are supposed to go over the last twenty years worth of Cold Cases, write a two-page report on each and close them. They’re not supposed to investigate anything. In short, and despite the absurdly romantic sub-title, ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’, with its suggestion of the quixotic that had me wanting to like it, this series doesn’t have an original idea to it. Over the course of ninety minutes, everything happens that you would expect to happen. The maverick cop in charge refuses to do what’s expected, people don’t want the case re-opened, he’s impatient and abrasive, his boss orders him to cut it out, he lies and cheats, he’s suspended but carries on the investigation and, naturally, is completely vindicated.

The chosen case is that apparent death-by-suicide of politician Merete Lyngaard, five years ago. Merete is played by the lovely Sonia Richter, which was good enough for me, though I was rather disappointed (and not only for the obvious reason) to find the show adopting the American trope that women never ever take their bras off when screwing.

Merete, an attractive and sexually active woman in her mid-thirties without a regular relationship, was also the only support and carer for her younger brother Uffe, brain-damaged in a car accident that killed both her parents. Carl is disbelieving that a woman like that, who has so comprehensively cared for her helpless brother, would commit suicide by jumping off a ferry on which she was taking care of Uffe. And he’s right to do so, because as he and Assad piece the witness reports together, we the viewer get an extended version in which Merete is attacked but, rather than be murdered, be imprisoned in a mysterious dark place, in which she has been kept alone for five years.

My lack of technical knowledge prevented me from recognising her environment as being a pressure chamber, or from totally understanding the significance of her being kept under increasing atmospheres. Once a day, her captor exchanges food and toilet buckets, once a year he increases the pressure one atmosphere and speaks to her. Merete manages to keep her sanity, determinedly reminding herself of her identity, and that of Uffe, every day.

The purpose of the pressure chamber, and the slow way in which Merete is being gradually acclimatised to six atmospheres pressure, is to duplicate the effect of deep sea diving: ultimately, her captor intends to kill her by depressurising the chamber completely, forcing her to go through an extreme version of the Bends, and die horribly.

We cut back and forth between Merete’s endurance of her imprisonment (excellent work by Richter, both mentally and physically) and Carl and Assad’s investigations that gradually uncover Lars ‘Lasse’ Johnsen, a former foster-child who, under an assumed name, got close to Merete at a conference (hence the screwing scene). But why, apart from the increasing evidence that he was a psychotic, would this man torture the poor woman so?

I’m afraid that the film tipped its hand, to me at least, far too early. It was meant to be subtle, fleeting, a brief foreshadowing, but the moment I saw that the car accident that killed the Lyngaard parents had also involved a second car, whose occupants had also suffered deaths, I expected the bad guy to be a survivor of that other car, out for revenge, because of some misplaced belief that Merete, though only a child, was responsible.

In that respect, I got it wrong. We saw the accident through Lasse’s mind, late on, when he was trying to keep the defrocked detectives from stopping him killing Merete: the girl had been playing from the backseat, with her hands over her mother’s eyes in the front seat when the Lyngard car was overtaking the Johnsen one. As they drew alongside, the two children stared into each other’s faces. The girl stuck out her tongue, then reached across and put her hands over the eyes of her father, who was driving…

Afterwards, the only unscathed survivor, the girl wandered around unconcerned. To our eyes, she was clearly in shock, but to Lasse…

So Carl, and to a lesser extent Assad, redeemed himself, got offered his Homicide job back, but turned it down in favour of Department Q. Which will now be run according to his rules: he chooses what cases he works and he works them how he wants. Just him and Assad, and a secretary.

So that’s Adler-Olson’s set-up, that’s Department Q‘s set-up, and that’s the next two Sunday morning spoken for. Hopefully, it can correct some of its cliches in the two subsequent films, and an injection of pace wouldn’t go amiss either: I mean, there’s deliberate, there’s measured, there’s tension-inducing and there’s sixty-minutes-of-story-filling-a-ninety-minute slot, and that was rather the case here.

Incidentally, the books have been translated into English, with Adler-Olson having written seven to date since 2011, so given the film’s popularity in Denmark, we can probably expect more in the future.

Crap Journalism – Him Again


The Big Bang Theory has officially started its death spiral.

No, Stuart Heritage has just conflated his unfounded opinions with objective fact again, despite admitting, in his final paragraph, that he knows nothing, and he’s just making gloomy predictions in the guise of proven fact.

As a card carrying BBT fan from the very beginning, I am well aware that Young Sheldon could be a bust and if it is, I will say so, on here. For some strange reason, however, I am only prepared to pronounce once I’ve seen the spin-off series.

Why do we put up with this shite? Why do we pay for it?

A brief speculation on Flashman’s career: Part 2 – 1847 to 1854


The next period of Flashman’s career occupies a relatively short space of time, but a tremendous number of events, as recorded in the Second, Third and Seventh Packets. It runs from Flashman’s return to London in ‘late 1847’ recovering from his wound, to his arrival in San Francisco in September 1850, at the (temporary) end of his American adventures.
Despite his long separation from Elspeth, Flashman finds London uncongenial, thanks to the presence of his in-laws, especially his father-in-law. Hence, when he receives a letter inviting him to supply a personal service to an unknown titled lady in Bavaria, complete with generous expenses, he overcomes his suspicions and travels to Germany.
There, he learns that the mysterious Countess is actually Lola Montez, mistress to the King of Bavaria, and seemingly having forgiven her resentment at Flashman. However, she is acting in concert with Flashman’s other victim of that time, Otto von Bismarck, now Chancellor of Prussia, and commencing the long process of manipulation that would lead to the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. Flashman is framed on a trumped up charge of rape, forcing him to agree to Bismarck’s scheme
As a forerunner to the infamous Schleswig-Holstein Question, Bismarck is focused on the tiny Duchy of Strakenz, whose young ruler, Duchess Irma, is shortly to marry Danish princeling Carl Gustaf. But Carl Gustaf has apparently contracted a sexual disease and cannot marry until he is disease-free. Since Flashman is his virtual double, he will marry the Duchess in Carl Gustaf’s place.
To Flashman’s dismay, the plot is a set-up, with the intention that he be killed and framed as an English spy. he manages to escape Bismarck’s men, but is forced into rescuing Carl Gustaf from execution. This accomplished, he is allowed to ride for the border but, being Flashman, he rides via the Treasury and removes as much as he can carry.
Flashman’s escape route takes him back through Bavaria, and into the 1848 revolution, which overthrows both the King and Lola Montez. Flashman hitches a ride out of Bavaria with Lola, only for her to rob him of his ill-gotten gains. Flashman returns to London empty-handed, in time for the Chartist Riots.
These frighten his father-in-law John Morrison into wanting to raise a group of MPs to protect his interests. Flashman is amenable to becoming an MP, especially if it will keep him away from battlefields, but on his ‘launching’, he encounters an old enemy that he has cheated, who retaliates by framing Flashman for cheating at cards.
Flashman compounds his disgrace by attacking his former friend, and almost killing him. He is rushed out of the country by Morrison, under the control of Captain John Charity Spring, a defrocked Oxford Don and a near-madman. His ship is also in the Slave Trade, which Flashman doesn’t learn until it is far too late.
Spring’s ship stops first at Dahomey in West Africa, to buy slaves from King Gezo. His attempt tp buy one of Gezo’s Amazon, in exchange for the ship’s cabin boy, has consequences in both the short and long-term. Second Mate Beauchamp Comber is fatally wounded n the escape. before he dies, he confesses to Flashman that he is a Navy Officer engaged in spying, and entrusts his papers to Flashman. When the ship is taken by the American navy, Flashman uses these to impersonate Comber, taking in everyone except an obscure member of Congress, Abraham Lincoln.
‘Comber’ is much in demand but Flashman’s biggest concern is having to testify in New orleans, against Spring and his men, which will lead to his imposture being detected. He takes refuge in a whorehouse, playing up to its Madam, the mature Susie Willinck, who arranges passage for him on an England-bound ship. However, ‘Comber’ has been watched by the Underground Railroad, who want him to escort a slave north to freedom. Lacking alternative, Flashman has to accede.
Unfortunately, his charge is unable to play the part of a slave, leading to the pair’s exposure. Flashman escapes by diving into and swimming the Mississippi, after which he takes a job as a slave overseer at the Mandeville Plantation, under the name Tom Arnold. This cushy berth is disrupted when he is caught screwing the owner’s wife, Annette Mandeville, and is punished by being sent into slavery himself, in the Deep South, where he will never be found.
Flashman travels with another slave, Cassieopia, who assists him in overcoming and killing their guards. Under the name of James Prescott, Flashman takes Cassie north on the Mississippi towards freedom, but is careless enough to get the pair turned round and heading south again.
They are forced to run across the ice to the north shore, chased by slave-stealers, who wound Flashman in the buttocks, and are only saved when Lincoln faces the stealers down.
But ‘Comber’ now has to return to New Orleans and testify. Being Flashman, he steers between all the traps, telling the ‘truth’ but not incriminating Spring or himself. Having put up the backs of the US Navy, Flashman offers Comber’s papers to spring in return for passage to England.
Unfortunately, despite his protestations of a higher moral code, Spring tries to play Flashman false, starting a brawl in which Spring runs through a planter who has recognised one of Flashman’s aliases. With spring on his tail, Flashman tries to hole up with Susie Willinck again, but is shocked to find her closing her establishment, intent on transporting it across the continent to California, and the Gold Rush. Susie is willing to take ‘Comber’ with her, as her husband, and to dope Spring and ship him out of the way, to South Africa.
Flashman ends up in nominal charge of the Willinck wagon train, heading westward under the guidance of Richard Willens. They encounter Indians on a couple of occasions, the second group have cholera. Woollens is affected and Flashman has to lead the train. They are forced to take refuge in Bent’s Fort, a famous trading post that has been abandoned, and only the intervention of a band of trappers saves them from massacre.
The caravan travels as far as Sante Fe, where Susie decides to stop for a couple of years. This does not suit Flashman’s plans so he sells one of the whores, Cleonie, with whom he has been sleeping, to the Indians, and sets off on his own. Unfortunately, he falls in with an infanmous band of Scalphunters and is forced to join in one of their raids. This captures several Indian women, who are to be enjoyed before being killed and scalped. Because Flashman prefers not to crudely rape his woman, who happens to be the daughter of Mangas Colorado, the mountainous leader of the Apaches, he is spared, and ends up going through his third bigamous marriage in the last twelve months, marrying Takes-Away-Clouds Woman.
After wintering with the Apaches into 1850, Flashman takes advantage of the first Spring raiding party to break away. He is pursued relentlessly, but is rescued by the intervention of the legendary scout, Kit Carson. Carson secures Flashman’s safety and, in slow stages, he is able to make his way to San Francisco by September, in order to depart America.

We now reach the most substantial gap in Flashman’s early career. At the end of ‘The Forty-Niners’, he confirms that his American adventures had come to an end, at least for the next quarter century. Most readers have taken that to mean that Flashman does, finally, return to England. I doubt it was that simple.
When next we hear of Flashman, it is early 1854, and he has already assessed the prevailing sentiment of the times and secured a sinecurial position at the Board of Ordnance that he intends will keep him from active service in the War with Russia that he foresees.
This means we have some three years to account for, although on this occasion we have the advantage of one confirmed but unchronicled adventure in this period. We know that Flashman was in Australia during their Gold Rush: officially this could mean any time between 1851-54, but most chronologies I’ve seen agree on dating this to 1852. He plays nap with pinches of gold dust from the diggings, and spends his near-customary time in prison in Botany Bay.
We also have undated incidents in the South Pacific: Christian Missionary in the Fly River country, west of Papua New Guinea, and Lottery Supervisor in Manila, in the Philippines. And we have Flashman’s mention of undergoing a shipwreck and failing to have sex with a fellow refugee in a lifeboat.
Given the distance from England to Australia, and that travel there and back represented a massive commitment in time (the Flashmans take more or less a year from England to Singapore in 1843-44) it seemed logical to me to collate Flashman’s other adventures in the South Pacific into this period, rather than have to find another trip around the world to accommodate them. This means a somewhat erratic course about the South Pacific, which is not an objection in itself, but there is a later placing for one of these incidents that seems to me to make better sense, so I exclude it and suggest the following:
In San Francisco, Flashman seeks passage to England. This would be by ship, either round Cape Horn, or by passage to Panama, crossing the isthmus on foot and catching a shop for England on the Atlantic side. The third alternative, crossing the Pacific and returning round the globe, seems an unlikely choice, given the length of time involved. Of course, he could always have done his usual trick of having gotten involved with a married woman whilst waiting, and having to leave in haste, on which case he may have had to catch a ship heading towards the Far East.
Whatever his course, Flashman takes up with a woman on board but, just when he’s about to commit the capital act in his or her cabin, the ship is either attacked or springs a leak but either way, it is shipwrecked and Flashy heads for the lifeboats. His amour gets there under her own steam, but in a crowded lifeboat, consummation proves impossible.
It may be that the lifeboat comes to land on the South American continent, giving Flashman his experience with hearing drums in the jungle on that continent. However, that I think is pushing it a bit, so: Flashman drifts at sea until the lifeboat is discovered and everybody is rescued (knowing Flashman, by this point everyone may well consist of him alone). But, for one reason or another, the rescuing vessel is heading outwards across the Pacific, and will not take him back to the Americas.
Flashman winds up in Australia , initially at Botany Bay, where he ends up in the lock-up, before going on to the Gold Rush, where he has the adventures Fraser envisioned. After leaving Australia, Flashman arrives in the Philippines, where he is robbed of any gold that he has got away with and earns his passage home by taking on his Lottery Supervisor role. From this successful venture, he finally manages to return to England, after having been absent for four years. His reunion with Elspeth produced their first child, Havvy…
We will never know.

Crap Journalism 5


This one’s easy. Read the headline. For the first time in the UK, sales of vinyl exceed sales of digital music. Oh really? I bought my first single – on vinyl – in 1970, decades before digital music even existed. I still had several boxes full of singles, not to mention a couple of dozen sentimentally retained LPs. Or are they an incredibly detailed, prolonged hallucination?

No, the writer’s an idiot.

 

 

 

The Rainbow Affair – A Man from U.N.C.L.E. novel


Poignantly, in light of our collective loss of Robert Vaughn last week, a belated self-birthday present arrived a day or so ago to remind me a little of how much fun The Man from U.N.CL.E. could be.

One thing that American TV has always done far more often than British TV, where Doctor Who is the only example I can recall, is the licensed novel. Take the characters off the small screen and run them through original stories, written quickly and simply by professional authors. Star Trek has done this even more than Doctor Who, but The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was very popular in the licensed novels game, with a different writer every month.

This isn’t news, of any kind, nor is the fact that half a dozen such novelisations were written by the late David McDaniel, a writer of SF and spy thrillers, with a good, smooth, inventive approach to these fast and cheap books. He wrote the middle of the three The Prisoner novelisations, and his second U.N.C.L.E. book was the best seller of the series.

Only a couple of months ago, in one of my prowls around the internet, I learned about the above U.N.C.L.E. novel and it’s extra interest. ‘The Rainbow Affair’ was the only novel set in England, but it had an extra cachet over and above that distinction, one that made it a rarety, and expensive to collect.

And then a copy appeared for about £6.00 so I bought it and it arrived this week, and I read it and enjoyed it immensely.

The story is well and professionally told and McDaniel captures the personalities of Messrs Solo and Kuryakin quite convincingly, though alone among the writers of such novels, he doesn’t indulge in the usual level of flirting from Napoleon. The plot is simple, and seemingly a bit below U.N.C.L.E.’s usual level of interest, as Ilya Kuryakin makes plain from the outset. In England, there is a master-criminal, Johnnie Rainbow, a planner, organiser, leader, mastermind (the then-recent Great Train Robbery is attributed to him). Bank robbers are certainly not U.N.C.L.E.’s remit, but THRUSH are looking to take Johnnie Rainbow under their wing, absorb his organisation, and his organisational capabilities into their organisation, and our two heroes are despatched to step into the way of this goal.

They will, of course, have the full cooperation of Scotland Yard (newly decanted into New Scotland Yard and still feeling its way around a bit) which is good but only up to a point, that point being that Scotland Yard is absolutely convinced that Johnnie Rainbow does not exist and never has existed outside of pulp fiction.

Nevertheless, Johnnie does so exist, and at the end of the day he has no intention of allowing his perfectly-sized and, in its odd way patriotic, kingdom to be subsumed into anything so cold or inhumane as THRUSH.

What makes this book special in any way? There’s a hearty dose of cliche, right from the start, with London socked in by a pea-souper of the kind that were¬† becoming non-existent in 1967, and from the opening chapter you wouldn’t imagine there was a single Englander not dropping their aspirates in an impeccably Cockney accent.

But the delight of this book is in the inside joke, as McDaniel throws in near-anonymous references to British thriller characters from books and television. At various times, one or other or both of our heroes find themselves passing the time with – or simply passing – The Saint, Steed and Mrs Peel, Miss Marple and Father Brown, and of course a very elderly gentleman who has retired to keep bees on the Sussex Downs.

The first of these characters, the recognition of whom set me off into a delighted peal of laughter, was a Police Detective described as a large stomach with a red face following it, who is named only as Claude. You can work that one out for yourselves.

There are opportunities missed. There is no room for a pixie-ish man with a soup-bowl haircut, brandishing a recorder and hanging around a police telephone box, nor an Edwardian-caped gentleman with a sword-cane, but I think I’ve spotted everyone (the one from the Goon Show was indecently explicitly identified).

Though I am suspicious of the young woman on the motor-cycle, who prefers to be called Joey, and who does an awful lot of running around for her Aunt Jane. If she isn’t some sort of adventurer in her own right, she damned well ought to be. And if she is, could someone drop me a hint in the comments?

No, though the book would not be unfairly characterised as a cheap pot-boiler, it was cheerful and expert and fun, and well worth its time for its shameless drawing together of so many disparate worlds into a temporary continuity, and I recommend the book happily. And dedicate to the memory of the late Mr Vaughn, who is not in the least shamed by it.