Friday, January 29, 2016

How Do You Like Your Detectives Mister, Hard or Soft-Boiled?

There are more subgenres in murder mysteries than you can wave a gun at: police procedurals, historical, comic, puzzle, legal, medical, cat and Christmas, and I’m sure there’s at least a dozen more. Then there’s the detective: police, amateur sleuth and private eye. But I would guess that there is more difference between fictional detectives than their real counterparts. Think Agatha Christie’s Poirot versus George Pelecanos’s Derek Strange. Mystery lovers label the differences between detectives as soft-boiled or hard-boiled. Why is that important? If you favor a beautiful countryside or a small village where everyone is pleasant to one another except—you know—the murderer, don’t read hard-boiled mysteries.

Hard-boiled mysteries typically take place in the city with a loner detective who is this side of broke. The hard-boiled detective will face getting assaulted, kidnapped or even murdered to achieve justice. Expect violence, gritty language and possibly graphic sex (some writers who are happy with gore pull the curtain when the romance gets too hot.)  Even though morality is ambiguous in a hard-boiled story, justice will prevail.

Not necessarily so with noir mysteries. Noir dwells at the far end of hard-boiled. The purest noir stories are told from the criminal’s point of view. Fate plays an important role, and there’s never a happy ending.

Soft-boiled mysteries are strictly small town. The reader won’t get a glimpse of the murder victim. If there’s violence beyond the murder (and often there isn’t) it will happen off-page. Soft-boiled characters don’t swear or use slang. When the characters have sex it’s so off the page, it happens in a different part of the library.

Just as noir stories dwell at the far end of hard-boiled stories, the cozy dwells at the far end of soft-boiled. The great aunt of the cozy is Miss Marple, and just as she had her knitting, the modern cozy sleuth has her cats, her catering business, or her ability to feng shui her solution to the murder.

Noir to cozy detectives exist on a spectrum with stories falling between hard-boiled and soft-boiled. Aren’t you a little curious what I write? Hard-boiled. Definitely.

Lily Gardner lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two corgis and several thousand books. Her second mystery in the Lennox Cooper series, "Betting Blind," is coming out March 29, 2016, published by Diversion Books. For some dandy reviews of film noir, check out her website 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Movie Review: The Revenant, on The Saturday Evening Blog Post

If it's possible to be impressed and at the same time disappointed, then that is how I left the movie theater after seeing The Revenant.  And no, I'm not talking about the popcorn being too salty or the soda pop being too flat--I was expecting that. What I wasn't expecting was the mediocrity of the writing and the lackluster direction. 

But I get ahead of myself; let's start from the beginning. The Revenant is the story of Hugh Glass, (played by Leonardo Di Caprio) a legendary frontiersman who is guiding an expedition of beaver trappers in the unchartered wilderness of the American West. When the Rhee Indians attack--believing the group to have abducted the daughter of the tribe's chief--Glass leads the escape across the frozen landscape, until he is mauled by a bear and left for dead by his men. And that sets up the entirety of the remainder of the movie--Glass dragging himself over the (seemingly) whole width of the American Rockies in order to avenge his son, who was murdered by one of his men. 

Other than the setting (which is incredible) it's a standard revenge plot, and that's where the problems start. When you spend this kind of money, 135 million at least, and you hire this kind of talent, Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hardy, and you hype the movie this heavily, (and when you have such well-publicized Oscar expectations) you expect more

Where does The Revenant fall short? Let's start with where it does not fall short, and that's with the cinematography, which is alone worth the price of admission and a sure bet for an Oscar. Speaking of Oscars, there will be three winners more: one for the musical score, which is brilliant; one for the authentic Costume Design; and one for Best Supporting Actor. (We'll talk about Tom Hardy in a minute.)

 What won't be there: Best Picture (way too long, dragging badly in the middle); Best Actor (it looked like Leonardo was trying too hard, and there wasn't much for him to work with); Best Director, (the film literally lost direction after the first half hour); and Best Screenplay (plot overly simple without any twists and turns, not nearly enough dialogue in several key spots, and multiple vague backstory references that don't work).

Tom Hardy's performance saves the movie; gritty, powerful and realistic, his John Fitzgerald is a character you won't soon forget. In many ways this is the lead role, at least the way Hardy brings it to life. Hardy's robust performance makes me want to grant 4 stars to the picture, but I can't do it: You can buff a turd, but it's still a turd and that's the way I felt about the screenplay.

Three and a half stars it is then for The Revenant, based mostly on the strength of Tom Hardy's acting and the flat out spectacular cinematography. 

Cheers, peter
Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and THE INTERN, a novel loosely based on Peter's medical internship, excerpts of which can be seen on Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Consthe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of two tribes on Triberr, The Big Thrill and Fiction Writers. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at