Movies and Books

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK (1968) was Francois Truffaut’s tribute to Hitchcockian suspense in a tale about a mysterious woman hunting down the men who killed her husband. This avoids the twist of the source novel (reviewed below), and I must say that the backstory was more convincing there (holding all the men responsible seems a stretch). Truffaut himself considered this a misfire (wishing he’d stuck with black and white rather than color) but it’s still entertaining viewing “We had no interests in common except hunting and chasing women.”
Truffaut’s SMALL CHANGE (1976) focuses on the lives of children and parents in a small French village, as they deal with sex, petty theft, misadventure and in one household, abuse. Charming, though I wasn’t as blown away as some reviews made me expect. “Children don’t believe they even have the right to contest their parents beating them.”

After Mother Night, I was disappointed in Kurt Vonnegut’s CAT’S CRADLE, wherein an author researching the day we dropped the atom bomb gets involved in wacky Latin American politics, an eccentric new religion and the apocalyptic power of a super-freezing ice-9. This makes me think Vonnegut works better when there’s some darker bedrock under the absurdity——the black-humored apocalypse here is good, but the South American dictatorship isn’t as interesting as the other book’s Nazis.
THE POISONER’S HANDBOOK: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum tells how NYC medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler overturned the Big Apple’s corrupt coroner system (where “natural causes” Death Certificates were apparently available at a discount) in favor of integrity and putting forensic science on a rational basis. Blum follows the duo through two decades of investigations into murder and toxicology as they deal with the effects of carbon monoxide, chloroform, thallium, radium and wood alcohol (a common ingredient in bootleg booze even before the feds started enforcing Prohibition by poisoning alcohol supplies). Very informative about biochemistry, the history of poisoning and some of the more sensational crimes.
SIDEKICKS by Jack D. Ferraiolo, is a fun Y/A super-hero novel in which a Robin-clone increasingly frustrated by his life in and out of costume finds everything changing when his arch-enemy turns out to be a hot schoolmate, the school bully is his secret minder and his mentor Phantom Justice has his own agenda (quite a good one). Entertaining, though I’m not sure all the conspiracies surrounding the hero actually Make Sense.
WHEN AFFIRMATIVE ACTION WAS WHITE: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America by Ira Katznelson argues that affirmative action is justified as a rebalance to the New Deal and post-WW II eras when government policy ran the opposite direction. Katznelson details how the New Deal bought Southern support by structuring programs to ignore cheap Negro labor (for example by excluding maids and farm workers from minimum-wage and right-to-organize laws) or leaving the distribution of aid to state governments. A good job, though Katznelson sounds awfully optimistic in assuming one generation of well-done affirmative action is all it will take to fix things.
THE BRIDE WORE BLACK was Cornell Woolrich’s first suspense novel, which differs from the movie in showing much more of the police side, as one detective stubbornly insists that these unrelated murders all form part of some pattern he can’t quite see. I wouldn’t mind seeing a more faithful adaptation some time.
DISAPPEARING NIGHTLY by Laura Resnick reads like an attempt to hybridize urban fantasy with the “cozy” mystery (it’s very reminiscent of the Stephanie Plum books), as a struggling actress finds the Mysterious Disappearance of her co-star in an off-Broadway show is just one of a string of performers vanishing in magic acts, and winds up as assistant to the mage trying to put a stop to it. Amusing up to a point, but it passes that point somewhere around the middle of the book.

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