Tag Archives: Mystery

How Do You Stop A Killer, When No-One Believes They Exist?

“This was meant to be the perfect trip.

The Northern Lights. A luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship.

A chance for travel journalist Lo Blacklock to recover from a traumatic break-in that has left her on the verge of collapse, and to work out what she wants from her relationship.

Except things don’t go as planned.

Woken in the night by screams, Lo rushes to her window to see a body thrown overboard from the next door cabin. But the records show that no-one ever checked into that cabin, and no passengers are missing from the boat.

Exhausted, emotional and increasingly desperate, Lo has to face the fact that she may have made a terrible mistake. Or she is trapped on a boat with a murderer – and she is the sole witness…”

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Earlier this year I read and enjoyed the debut novel from London-based author Ruth Ware, the psychological crime thriller “In A Dark, Dark Wood”. “The Woman In Cabin 10” is Ware’s second book.

The book, told from the perspective of Lo (short for Laura) Blacklock, a travel journalist, and begins with her flat being burgled while she is trapped in her bedroom after a heavy night out.

A few days later, following an unresolved argument with her boyfriend Judah, Lo is off on the maiden trip of an exclusive cruise ship leaving England and then travelling off the coast of Norway while Judah himself is off to Moscow on business.

Ruth Ware
Ruth Ware

On the first night, having again drunk too much, Lo hears a scream and a huge splash and is convinced that someone has thrown the passenger staying in the adjoining cabin overboard. The problem is that Lo seems to be the only person to have even seen the woman in cabin 10 which, when entered by staff minutes after she raises the alarm, is spotlessly clean and empty and the man due to have been that cabin’s passenger didn’t make the trip!

Unable to prove the woman was ever there, Lo becomes increasingly suspicious of everyone around her. With elements of a locked room mystery – after all it’s tricky to get on and off a moving ship at sea unnoticed – every character Lo comes into contact with is a potential killer, or did she just imagine the whole thing?

There’s plenty to keep the reader intrigued here, and a few red herrings too that meant that even when I thought I’d figured something out there was often a twist to prove me wrong!

A solid second outing and a definite page-turner, I would certainly recommend this book to lovers of crime mysteries…9781846558900

A Sole Survivor… A Baby Girl. But Who Is She?

“On the night of 22 December 1980, a plane crashes on the Franco-Swiss border and is engulfed in flames. 168 out of 169 passengers are killed instantly. The miraculous sole survivor is a three-month-old baby girl. Two families, one rich, the other poor, step forward to claim her, sparking an investigation that will last for almost two decades. Is she Lyse-Rose or Emilie?

Eighteen years later, having failed to discover the truth, private detective Credule Grand-Duc plans to take his own life, but not before placing an account of his investigation in the girl’s hands. But, as he sits at his desk about to pull the trigger, he uncovers a secret that changes everything – then is killed before he can breathe a word of it to anyone…”

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The latest book I’ve read was one that I picked up from my local library, having been intrigues by the above blurb from the inside front cover.

Michel Bussi
Michel Bussi

French author Michel Bussi had his novel “Un Avion Sans Elle” published in 2012 and “After The Crash” is the English translation of said novel, undertaken by Sam Taylor and published in 2015.

The “current” action in the story takes place in 1998 following the final day of private detective Credule Grand-Duc’s eighteen-year investigation into the true identity of the baby girl who survived the 1980 place crash on Mont Terri in Switzerland.

Marc Vitral, who has spent those years with the girl, known as Lylie, as his sister is given a journal by her before she promptly disappears without explanation. The journal was written by the detective and contains an account of his investigations leading from 1980 right up to his decision to end his life.

As we follow Marc in his desperate attempts to find Lylie we also join him in reading the journal and thus eventually discover the truth, amidst a number of deaths and encounters with a variety of characters who also feature in Grand-Duc’s tale.

Handily enough, the journal has been written rather like a novel itself, rather than a dry and formal text, which makes the story flow more easily even if it being presented in such a way seems a little unlikely. The whole book is a bit like a puzzle and wouldn’t work if any of those pieces were missing.

Themes touched on within the story include the rich versus the poor, incest and the mental effects on family members of not knowing if their child is alive or dead, so there’s plenty to get your teeth into. On the minus side I would have to say that the climax to the story is a little weak, perhaps fairly predictable once you reach a certain stage in the tale, but well told nonetheless.

Not a classic by any means but still a decent read…9780316309653

Be Careful Who You Get Close To

My wife and I watched an independent movie last night, a psychological drama mystery from director / co-writer Jon Knautz (“Jack Brooks : Monster Slayer”, “The Shrine”) titled “Goddess Of Love”.CSif1beVEAAJdgn

Monda Scott & Alexis Kendra
Monda Scott & Alexis Kendra

Venus (Alexis Kendra – “Wedding Day”, “Girl House”) is a dancer (sadly with some of the worst costumes I’ve ever seen!) at a strip club where a fellow dancer, Chanel (Monda Scott – “Almost Kings”, “Original Stereotype”) tells her that to boost her earning power she needs to make the male customers feel that she is a living fantasy rather than talking about her real life.

Alexis Kendra & Woody Naismith
Alexis Kendra & Woody Naismith

When Venus dances for a customer called Brian (Woody Naismith – “Swelter”, “Concealed”), however, she learns that he is a widower following the suicide of his wife and before you know it the pair have embarked on a passionate relationship.

Elisabeth Sandy
Elisabeth Sandy

Brian is friendly with his late wife’s good friend Christine (Elisabeth Sandy – “Apocalypse, CA”, “Neighbours”), but when Venus finds out her jealous side begins to show itself, leading to all manner of problems – but are they real , or imagined?…

Alexis Kendra
Alexis Kendra

Kendra co-wrote the film with Knautz and whilst it’s not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen I have to say that, for me, she absolutely made the movie. She portrayed the role of the insecure and damaged Venus superbly, and showed such incredible expression just through the use of her face, and especially her eyes, that I was very impressed indeed.

Alexis Kendra
Alexis Kendra

A neat twist towards the end tied things together and clarified some of the earlier scenes, and overall I’d say that watching the film was 93 minutes well spent. Great stuff…hftPlpfd2uw70GhIzCIVafgzUqW

Sometimes Reality Is The Strangest Fantasy Of All

In the mood for a Sixties movie today, so I dug out the iconic 1966 mystery drama “Blow-Up” from writer / director Michelangelo Antonioni (“Zabriskie Point”, “Beyond The Clouds”).

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David Hemmings
David Hemmings

At the start of the film we see a group of young people, who are wearing white face paint, running around London, interspersed with scenes of men leaving a doss house in the city. One of these men is photographer Thomas (David Hemmings – “Gladiator”, “Eye Of The Devil”) who has been taking photos of some of the residents for a book that he is preparing.

Veruschka Von Lehndorff & David Hemmings
Veruschka Von Lehndorff & David Hemmings

Returning late to his studio, he begins a shoot with model Veruschka (Veruschka Von Lehndorff – “Milo Milo”, “The Bride”). After this he begins a session with a group of models but grows bored and leaves part way through and heads for an antiques shop where he buys a propeller before wandering into a nearby park.

Vanessa Redgrave
Vanessa Redgrave

In the park he spies a man and a woman, seemingly two lovers, and covertly takes photos of them from a distance. When the woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave – “The Devils”, “Mission : Impossible”), spots Thomas she is furious and chases after him, demanding the photos. He later gives her a different roll of film, keeping the one that he used in the park and developing it with a view to adding pictures of the lovers in his book.

David Hemmings
David Hemmings

When he develops the pictures he notices something in the trees and blows them up larger and larger until he can discern a figure holding a gun, and then what appears to be a body lying in the grass. Convinced that a murder has taken place, he revisits the park and finds the dead body but is spooked by a noise before he can take any further photographs.

Peter Bowles
Peter Bowles

Following an eventful day that also involves sex with two models, seeing The Yardbirds performing in a club, and then going to a party where everyone, including his agent Ron (Peter Bowles – “Only When I Laugh”, “The Bank Job”) seems to be under the influence of drugs he awakes the next morning and returns to the park once more but the body has disappeared…

John Castle & Sarah Miles
John Castle & Sarah Miles

There are some rather random scenes in the film that add little, if anything, to the underlying story, such as when Thomas watches through blinds as his neighbours Bill (John Castle – “Antony & Cleopatra”, “The Lion In Winter”) and Patricia (Sarah Miles – “Ryan’s Daughter”, “White Mischief”) are making love.

Jane Birkin & Gillian Hills
Jane Birkin & Gillian Hills

The sequence that involves Thomas with the two models – a blonde (Jane Birkin – “Evil Under The Sun”, “La Belle Noiseuse”) and a brunette (Gillian Hills – “A Clockwork Orange”, “The Killer Wore Gloves”) and, especially, the scene involving The Yardbirds (including both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck) performing to the least enthusiastic audience I’ve ever seen equally both seem like filler rather than being essential.

The Yardbirds
The Yardbirds

Having said all that, and despite the central mystery never being resolved for the viewer, I really enjoyed the movie. It was made before I was born so I have no idea how accurate a portrayal of London in the swinging Sixties it is, but nevertheless the film is evocative of a time – the era of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Twiggy and the Krays – that I never knew but still holds a certain magic today. The movie may not give any answers but it supplies plenty of entertainment…btm

The Perfect Summer Rental For The Last Vacation You’ll Ever Take

Today I watched a 1976 horror mystery film, directed by Dan Curtis (“House Of Dark Shadows”, “The Kansas City Massacre”), titled “Burnt Offerings”.

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Robert Marasco - Burnt Offerings
Robert Marasco – Burnt Offerings

The screenplay for the movie was co-penned by William F. Nolan (“Logan’s Run”, “The Turn Of The Screw” and director Dan Curtis and was adapted from a novel published in 1973. The novel, written by American horror writer Robert Marasco, was also titled “Burnt Offerings”.

Oliver Reed
Oliver Reed

Ben Rolf (Oliver Reed – “Castaway”, “Tommy”) and his wife and son go to view a house in California that they’ve heard is available to rent for the summer holidays.

Karen Black
Karen Black

When they arrive they discover that the house is in fact a 19th century mansion. Ben has reservations but his wife Marian (Karen Black – “Capricorn One”, “Airport 1975”) falls immediately in love with the place.

Eileen Heckart  Burgess Meredith
Eileen Heckart & Burgess Meredith

The owners, siblings Arnold and Roz Allardyce (Burgess Meredith – “Rocky”, “Foul Play” and Eileen Heckart – “Bus Stop”, “Butterflies Are Free”), tell the Rolfs that they can have the house for US$900 – for the whole summer.

The House
The House

Ben is sure that there must be a catch, and there is. The Allardyce’s mother is to stay in the house during the rental period, but will not leave her room. All the Rolfs have to do is to prepare and deliver three meals a day to the mother’s room. Marian declares that she will take on this responsibility and so the rental is agreed.

Lee Montgomery
Lee Montgomery

Ben, Marian, their son Davey (Lee Montgomery – “Ben”, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”), and Ben’s Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis – “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?”, “The Nanny”) arrive at the start of the holidays to discover a note indicating that the Allardyce’s have already left.

Bette Davis
Bette Davis

The family soon make themselves comfortable, with Ben and Davey clearing out and filling the swimming pool and Marian taking to her role catering to the elderly Mrs. Allardyce – who she never sees or hears.

However, as Marian becomes ever more obsessed with the old woman and the house itself, strange and sinister events begin to take place which threaten the whole family’s sanity and safety…

Oliver Reed & Karen Black
Oliver Reed & Karen Black

A spin on the haunted house tale, “Burnt Offerings” has enough originality and atmosphere to be a quite spooky and compelling film. Although there is clearly a supernatural element to the story there are practically no visual effects used and so the movie is carried almost entirely by the performances of the actors themselves. In this respect Reed and Black particularly do very effective jobs, and Montgomery is impressive too.

This is very much a slow-burn film, nothing happens in a rush, but the near two-hour runtime doesn’t outstay its welcome. Granted the reasons for some things are never clearly explained, but that aside this film really is pretty decent…burnt_offerings_poster_03

How Do You Find A Killer Who Doesn’t Exist?

I finally got around to watching the poorly received 2015 drama thriller from director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House”, “Outside Love”) called “Child 44”. The movie opened earlier this year to generally bad reviews and apparently made around US$3 million at the box office, against a US$50 million budget.

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Tom Rob Smith - Child 44
Tom Rob Smith – Child 44

The film is based on the successful 2008 novel, also titled “Child 44” by English author Tom Rob Smith, which was the first book in a trilogy based in and around Soviet Russia and featuring the lead character Leo Demidov.

The novel was inspired by the real life case of serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, who was convicted of the murder of 52 women and children in the Soviet Union between 1978 and 1990.

The movie starts with the text “There is no murder in paradise” and then informs the viewer that during the 1932/33 Holodomor imposed by the Stalin regime in Ukraine approximately 25,000 people died of starvation each day and left millions of orphaned children.

Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy

We first meet Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy – “The Drop”, “Locke”) as a young boy running away from the orphanage that he’s been put in and briefly see him join up with the armed forces and become regarded as a war hero in World War II before we find him in Moscow in the early 1950s, where he has become a respected agent within the MGB (the Ministry of State Security – later to become the KGB).

Fares Fares
Fares Fares

The young son of his MGB partner Alexei Andreyev (Fares Fares – “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Easy Money”) is found dead by the railway tracks, having been stripped naked, drowned and had some organs removed. However, as we are reminded a few times during the film, there can be no murder in the Soviets’ perfect society and the officially recorded version has the boy being found fully clothed after being hit and killed by a train.

Vincent Cassel
Vincent Cassel

Leo’s boss, Major Kuzmin (Vincent Cassel – “Irreversible”, “Eastern Promises”), orders him to deliver the official verdict to Alexei and his family. Although he does so, Leo is privately unconvinced and requests a second medical examination of the child’s body and learns the truth.

Joel Kinnaman
Joel Kinnaman

Meanwhile, Leo and his team – including Vasili Nikitin (Joel Kinnaman – “Run All Night”, “RoboCop”) – investigate a veterinary surgeon who has been reported and being disloyal to the state.

Jason Clarke & Tom Hardy
Jason Clarke & Tom Hardy

The vet,  Anatoly Tarasovich Brodsky (Jason Clarke – “Swerve”, “Terminator Genisys”), is tracked down and captured – though an incident between Leo and Vasili during the operation illustrates the bad blood that exists between the pair.

Noomi Rapace
Noomi Rapace

Although Brodsky proclaims his innocence, following extensive interrogation he produces a list of names of others disloyal to the state. Major Kuzmin gives Leo one of the names to investigate, as he values Leo’s abilities, but Leo discovers that he now has to investigate his own wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace – “Dead Man Down”, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”).

Noomi Rapace & Tom Hardy
Noomi Rapace & Tom Hardy

Placed in this impossible position, Leo refuses to denounce his wife and so the couple are shipped off to the small town of Volsk around six hundred miles south-east of Moscow, but not before Leo learns of another young boy’s body being found in circumstances with remarkable similarities to Alexei’s son.

Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman

Once in Volsk, Leo has to work in much reduced rank within the militia, reporting to General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman – “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, “JFK”), while teacher Raisa now finds herself reduced to cleaning at the local school.

Gary Oldman & Tom Hardy
Gary Oldman & Tom Hardy

When another dead child turns up, this time close to the railway tracks in Volsk, Leo persuades a reluctant General Nesterov to find details of other similar deaths. The results paint a picture of more than forty similarly killed children throughout the Soviet republic, with the highest concentration of deaths being around the town of Rostov, a hundred or so miles north-east of Moscow.

Paddy Considine
Paddy Considine

Leo is determined to track down the killer, and it’s no spoiler to reveal that this turns out to be Vladimir Malevich (Paddy Considine – “Dead Man’s Shoes”, “Pride”). However, the Moscow authorities are not on his side and Vasili is determined to get rid of Leo and keep the killings a secret…

Now, I haven’t read the source novel so I cannot comment on the film’s accuracy in relation to it, and I must confess to having little historical knowledge when it comes to the old Soviet Union. However, if nothing else this film has persuaded me to track down Smith’s trilogy and to read up on Russian history.

Within the overall serial killer hunt, the film touches on subjects including the secret police operations, the treatment of homosexuals, the condition of orphanages and the general paranoia of the era. How true to life these depictions are I don’t know, but it certainly paints a very grim view of life in Soviet Russia in the 1950s.

In fact the movie was withdrawn from cinemas in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan following statement from the Russian Ministry of Culture and the distributor Central Partnership complaining of “distortion of historical facts, peculiar treatment of events before, during and after the Great Patriotic War and images and characters of Soviet people of that era”.

Tom Hardy & Joel Kinnaman
Tom Hardy & Joel Kinnaman

Personally, despite the negative reviews, I found the film to be most engaging and quite thought-provoking too. Hardy is an actor who impresses whenever I have seen his work and is certainly very effective in this movie.

Of the supporting cast, Kinnaman is suitably unlikeable as the amoral Vasili and Rapace’s portrayal of Leo’s reluctant wife is on the money too.

Leaving all the historical and political accuracy (or otherwise) to one side this is still a great mystery thriller, but add in those ingredients too and I reckon this is a great film. Well worth watching…btm

In 1985, Her Entire Family Was Murdered. 30 Years Later, The Truth Emerges

Latest movie watched here in the shadows was the 2015 crime mystery thriller, directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner (“Sarah’s Key”, “UV”), called “Dark Places”.

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dark-places-book-coverAs was the case with the successful 2014 thriller movie “Gone Girl”, “Dark Places” is an adaptation of a novel by author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn. “Dark Places” was Flynn’s second novel, and was first published in 2009. The screen adaptation was penned by Pacquet-Brenner.

Christina Hendricks
Christina Hendricks

The story is based in a small farming town in the American state of Kansas, and centres around events that took placed thirty years ago, one night in 1985, when Patty Day (Christina Hendricks – “Lost River”, “Mad Men”) and two of her daughters were murdered in their farm home. Only young daughter Libby (Sterling Jerins – “The Conjuring”, “World War Z”) and her teenage brother Ben (Tye Sheridan – “The Tree Of Life”, “The Forger”) survived.

Although she didn’t see the murders take place, Libby is convinced to testify against her brother and her testimony is crucial in Ben being convicted and imprisoned for the murders, which the authorities believed to be related to a Satanic cult ritual.

Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron

In 2015 the grown-up Libby (Charlize Theron – “Mad Max : Fury Road”, “The Devil’s Advocate”) has spent the past thirty years living off donations from sympathetic members of the public and proceeds from her ghost-written survivor’s memoir, but the cash is running out fast.

Lyle Wirth
Lyle Wirth

Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult – “Warm Bodies”, “Jack The Giant Slayer”), a member of a small group of amateur investigators “The Kill Club” who look into past murder cases, invites Libby to talk to the group, for a fee, about her experience and encourages her to reconsider what happened that fateful night.

Corey Stoll
Corey Stoll

The action switches backwards and forwards between 2015 and 1985 as further details are gradually revealed.

Libby reluctantly agrees to visit Ben (Corey Stoll – “Ant-Man”, “This Is Where I Leave You”) in prison for the first time since his conviction.

Chloë Grace Moretz
Chloë Grace Moretz

Through a series of flashbacks we are introduced to other characters relevant to the story, including Ben’s girlfriend Diondra Wertzner (Chloë Grace Moretz – “The Equalizer”, “Carrie”) who dabbled in Satanism, Krissi Cates (Addy Miller – “Plan 9”, “Remnants”) a classmate of his who accused him of molesting her, not to mention the father of the family, Runner Day (Sean Bridgers – “Jug Face”, “Deadwood”), who was absent from the family home leaving Patty to try to keep the farm afloat, and is now missing.

Drea De Matteo  Charlize Theron
Drea De Matteo & Charlize Theron

Libby and Lyle track down the grown-up Diondra (Andrea Roth – “A Golden Christmas”, “Rescue Me”) and Krissi (Drea De Matteo – “Sons Of Anarchy”, “The Sopranos”) and piece by piece the complicated, and perhaps unlikely, truth gradually emerges.

Dark-Places-Screen1The film touches on the Satanic ritual abuse panic that spread throughout the US as well as the UK during the 1980s and early 1990s, but also has elements of drug use, teenage pregnancy, parental absence, child abuse and paints a thoroughly depressing picture for pretty much everyone involved.

Tye Sheridan  Chloë Grace Moretz
Tye Sheridan & Chloë Grace Moretz

Theron is decent enough as the grown-up Libby, but I was most impressed by Sheridan as the angry and confused teenage Ben and Moretz as the dark and manipulative teenage Diondra.

This isn’t in any way an uplifting tale, but it is fairly gripping and certainly gritty…

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The Only One Who Can Stop A Serial Killer Is The Man Who Inspired Him

Director James McTeigue (“V For Vendetta”, “Ninja Assassin”) is the man behind the 2012 mystery thriller movie “The Raven”.

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John Cusack
John Cusack

Set in the year 1849, the film finds Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack – “High Fidelity”, “Serendipity”) in the last days of his life and gives an imagined reason for his life’s end.

Alice Eve & John Cusack
Alice Eve & John Cusack

In reality Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore in great distress. Reportedly he repeatedly called out the name Reynolds but was unable to give any indication as to how he came to be in the state he was, and he died in hospital a matter of days later.

Brendan Gleeson
Brendan Gleeson

In this film, Poe is broke, unable to get his work published by his local newspaper anymore and in love with Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve – “She’s Out Of My League”, “Before We Go”) despite the vigorous objections of her father, Captain Charles Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson – “Stonehearst Asylum”, “In Bruges”).

Luke Evans
Luke Evans

Police attending a house where a screaming woman has been heard break into a room, which was locked from the inside, to find her murdered and the murderer gone – despite the locked door and windows. Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans – “Dracula Untold”, “Immortals”) is called in to work on the investigation are realises that the crime is reminiscent of one that he read about in Poe’s fictional story “Murders In The Rue Morgue”.

Luke Evans & John Cusack
Luke Evans & John Cusack

Fields calls Poe in for questioning and when a rival critic is found murdered in circumstances similar to those on Poe’s “The Pit And The Pendulum” they realise that someone is deliberately using Poe’s work as a template for the grisly crimes.

Alice Eve & John Cusack
Alice Eve & John Cusack

When Emily is abducted from her father’s masked ball, in keeping with the “Masque Of The Red Death” story, the killer demands that Poe write and publish accounts of his murderous spree in the local newspaper to save Emily’s life, and leaves clues for Fields and Poe to try to work out…

John Cusack In High Fidelity
John Cusack In High Fidelity

I must say that, although perhaps not regarded as a conventional A-list movie star, I have always enjoyed Cusack’s work. In fact I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a bad film with him in – “The Sure Thing”, “Say Anything”, “The Thin Red Line”, “High Fidelity”, “Serendipity”, “Identity”, “The Ice Harvest”, “1408”, “The Frozen Ground”… the list goes on – there probably are some duds somewhere in his career but I’ve yet to find them.

raven_ver3He is again excellent here as the tortured Poe. Often drunk, desperate, ranting at people, Cusack delivers a convincing performance for sure, whilst Evans, Eve and the rest of the cast offer very good support.

The idea of the movie is a clever one, I thought. Taking the real life Poe and using his own stories to weave a gothic mystery detective story with elements of horror around the mystery of his death.

Some of the plot twists are a little unlikely, but overall both my wife and I found this to be an engaging and highly entertaining film. Definitely recommended…

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