Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter

Publication Date: March 1, 2018

In Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter, Belle Gunness was a serial killer who operated between 1884 and 1908. She killed at least 14 people (including her own adopted daughter) but possibly as many as 40. Detected in 1908, she apparently died in a house fire with her remaining three adopted children, and though a man went to trial for the arson and murder, not everyone was convinced.

Let me say right from the start, Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time. Not a generally well-known serial killer today, Belle Gunness was a Norwegian-American who operated out of La Porte, Indiana. Her victims appear to have been exclusively her fellow Norwegian immigrants. She’d advertised in the Norwegian papers located in Chicago for a handyman and then would operate a love scam quite a lot like we see today online. Continue reading Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter

American Horror Story: Asylum

Aired: October 17, 2012 – January 23, 2013

Set mostly in 1964, Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is accused of killing his wife (Britne Oldford) and locked up in Briarcliff Manor, an asylum that houses the criminally insane. Court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Oliver Threadson (Zachary Quinto) is assigned to asses Walker’s ability to stand trial. Reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) requests access to the asylum as she sees exposing the mistreatment of the patients as the making of her career. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) denies her access so Lana sneaks in and is injured. Jude initially uses the injury and then Lana’s homosexuality to keep her locked away. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is using the patients to make the ultimate human beings. Dark forces are at work. In modern day in the ruins of Briarcliff will history repeat itself?

Asylum is the second show in the American Horror Story series.

 

There is a lot going on in Asylum. There are serial killers, alien abduction, demon possession, war criminals, the list goes on. The show tackles homosexuality, interracial marriage, unchecked medical practices and the abuses that occurred unchecked in asylums of the era. People treated as sub-human and disappeared easily. Each character is deeply complex and unique in their own right and few are truly evil, simply misguided in their approach to what they think is best for the world.

As would be expected from the calibre of performer to appear in a Ryan Murphy production, the acting is beyond reproach. I read a tweet not long ago that lauded Evan Peters as the Meryl Streep of the modern age and I can’t say that I disagree. He is an absolutely phenomenal artist. In Kit he is traumatized, confused and desperate. Kit is a man fighting for his life and the audience believes the urgency of his dilemma. Lily Rabe appears in this second outing as Sister Mary Eunice, a nun imbued with childlike innocence who turns evil. Frances Conroy appears briefly as an angel of death of sorts and her brief appearances are simply breathtaking. Though there are sex scenes in Asylum, they are less pronounced than in Murder House though, I must warn viewers that might be triggered, there is a pretty brutal rape scene that is in no way gratuitous.

Because of the many directions in which the stories go, some of them simply aren’t done very well. I know that there are lines throughout that will connect in the final season, perhaps the very poorly executed alien story-line that seems like an afterthought will re-emerge in Apocalypse. The backstories of the varied inmates (woman accused of killing her family, sex addicts, Anne Frank,  Pepper – a nonverbal patient who appears as a main character in the later installment Freak Show, etc…). Each character is explained and their motivations explored. Innocent and guilty melted together and forced to survive. Sister Jude rules the roost but she’s at odds with Doctor Arden believing that the experiments Briarcliff’s founder, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), has given Arden the space to perform is against nature but she soon finds herself with a greater adversary…her past.

I expected to be deeply uncomfortable with the cruelty of the Asylum and was but was intrigued with where the story would go and was not disappointed. The tie in of the past storyline with it’s present counterpart was expected but really well done. Adam Levine and Jenna Tatum are perhaps not the strongest actors in the piece but their brief appearance certainly makes its mark. Sarah Paulson especially was a standout as a later life Lana Winters. 

To say much more would be giving away the story so if you are one of the few people who haven’t seen this series and enjoy well acted drama, check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

American Horror Story Asylum is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

Amazon U.S.   Amazon U.K.   Amazon CA

Title American Horror Story Murder House
Director Ryan Murphy (and others)
Actors Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto (and others)
Length 13 episodes
Rating NR
DVD Release October 8, 2013

No Way to Treat a Lady by William Goldman

Noted novelist and screenwriter, William Goldman, died today at the age of 87. Goldman’s first original screenplay was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1967) which he followed with some of his well-known scripts that include The Princess Bride (1973) and Marathon Man (1974), which were originally novels. One of my favorite Goldman novels is No Way to Treat a Lady (1964), so I’ve chosen that work to share with you. If this novel doesn’t appeal to you, look into this very diverse author’s body of work. There is something out there perfectly suited for your tastes.

Publication Date: 1964

 

No Way to Treat a Lady by William GoldmanNo Way to Treat a Lady was originally published under the name Harry Longbaugh and written over a two week period, No Way to Treat a Lady imagines that there were two Boston Stranglers who were aware and deeply jealous of each other and follows the investigation to track them down.

Continue reading No Way to Treat a Lady by William Goldman

American Horror Story: Murder House

Aired: October 5 – December 21, 2011
DVD Release:  September 25, 2012

 

American Horror Story: Murder HouseIn American Horror Story: Murder House, on the precipice of divorce, Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivian (Connie Britton) relocate from Boston to a renovated mansion in Los Angeles with their daughter Violet (Tassia Farmiga) in order to start again. Little do they know that the great price that they got on the mansion is due to its dark history of violence. Will they become eternal tenants to be the rare people to leave the house alive? Continue reading American Horror Story: Murder House

Eloise (2017)

Release Date: February 3, 2017

Jacob Martin (Chace Crawford) is a mechanic who has been estranged from his father for many years when a lawyer contacts him to say that his father has died. Jacob travels to his hometown of Detroit for the reading of the will and discovers that his father had a sister he never knew about but who was a patient for many years at Eloise Hospital in Westland, Michigan and is assumed to have died there. The only thing standing between Jacob and the immediate transfer of his father’s wealth is proof of the sister’s death. Jacob and his friend Dell (Brandon T. Jackson), make the trip to Eloise where the administrator tells them that the file is in the “Annex” and will take time to locate. Jacob and Dell make a plan to slip into the Annex at night to find the file themselves with the help of Eloise expert and oddity collector Scott (P.J. Byrne) and his very reluctant sister, bartender Pia (Eliza Dushku). What they encounter may not be worth the money they stand to gain.

 

I had high hopes for Eloise. I grew up about 20 minutes away from the hospital. There was a teacher supply store very near that my mom liked to frequent and when I’d see the cemetery, even at a very young age, it seemed creepy and mysterious. Many years later (mid-90s) while working at the Ann Arbor library a photographer exhibited pictures he’d taken in one of the abandoned buildings and whenever I had the chance I’d look at them envisioning when they were full of life and activity and, in a sense, that’s what Eloise brings us.

The story opens with Pia, a lone survivor, sitting on a bed while she’s questioned by an investigator who tells her that the three men have been confirmed dead and Scott could only be identified with dental records. What happened during what seems like it should be a quite straightforward night in the abandoned hospital? Eloise, as a story, raises a few questions. Are we supposed to be afraid? The evil doctor H.H. Greiss (Robert Patrick) rules the hospital like a sadistic tyrant and according to the movie is well known for his “fear therapy.” The idea is that in order to conquer ones fears a person must be placed in an extreme confrontation with them. If a person is claustrophobic an appropriate “cure” is to stuff them in a body bag and then a locker in the morgue. There are several examples of the fear therapy shown and as awful and misguided as they are, they read as a distraction from the real story-line which involves parallel timelines existing in Eloise. The hospital comes to life little by little. Pia walks down a hallway and sees babies in newborn cots and then looks down a hallway to see a little girl holding a box. Jacob sees patients, doctors and nurses bustling around. While there are several “idiot viewer” signs (LOOK AT THIS! This is going to be IMPORTANT), ultimately the story is a very simple one that is neither frightening or thrilling. Jacob is taken to the day his aunt (played by Nicole Forrester) dies and, coincidentally, a devastating (wholly fictional) fire that destroyed several of the buildings on the Eloise campus happened.

The actors weren’t given much to work with but their acting can’t be faulted. Jacob is the stereotypical brooding anti-hero, Dell is a wild child mixed up in drugs and hard living, Pia is a sardonic bartender with a hard life and a heart of gold who has sacrificed her life for her developmentally disabled brother. Griess is psychotic and seems to half believe in fear therapy and half get a kick out of how horrible it can be. He’s the standout in the cast leading a public display like a cult leader selling his followers on their own demise.

So did I like this movie. No. It had a lot of promise but never really carried through. Everything seemed disconnected and leading to a predetermined result without really giving any thought to making sense or engaging the viewer. I turned off Eloise several times during it’s 89 minute run. Ultimately I was left disappointed because given the promise of the location, I’d expected so much more.

To cap this review, I’d like to highlight the danger of a good story. Looking online I see a lot of people who claim Greiss as fact. From what I’ve read, he’s entirely fictional and the actual Eloise in its day was a lovely and progressive place to live out your remaining years. Elijah McCoy, the African-Canadian inventor and engineer, spent the last year of his life there. There were community gardens and bakeries and by all account, Eloise was a lively and lovely place. Recently the Friends of Eloise led ghost tours that sold out in a matter of minutes from ticket release. The cemetery is said to be haunted and the former asylum did experience deaths credited to medications of the day like opium but there was no Greiss and quite the contrary to the assertion that patients never left, they did and they lived happy lives.

If you’d like to see a movie about Eloise, this is the only one I’ve heard of and if you’re interested, check it out. Let me know what you thought.

Eloise is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

Amazon U.S.   Amazon U.K.   Amazon CA

Title Eloise
Director Robert Legato
Actors Chace Crawford, Brandon T. Jackson, Eliza Dushku
Length 89 minutes
Rating R
DVD Release March 21, 2017

 

 

Brett Enters the Square Circle by David D’Aguanno (author) and Henry Travis Carter (narrator)

Publication Date: April 12, 2018

 

Stacey Ashton has disappeared. While Melanie Foster thinks she may have run off with Melanie’s husband. It soon becomes clear that there’s a good chance that she was murdered. But by who? Can suave, handsome, best-butt-in-the-nation, man-for-the-ages Brett Cornell solve the case Brett Enters the Golden Circle is the fifth book in the Brett Cornell series.

 

 

Continue reading Brett Enters the Square Circle by David D’Aguanno (author) and Henry Travis Carter (narrator)

Eubeltic Descent by Nadine Keels

Publication Date: August 22, 2018

Abigaia Grena has only known a life of crime. A talented thief, she has come to hate what she’s become. She dreams of returning to her ancestral home but her intended isn’t interested in making the trip across the ocean. What will she do when the Euebeltic Realm needs her?

The author, Nadine Keels, gave me a copy of Eubeltic Descent in exchange for my review.

We learn the most important thing about Abigaia in the first few sentences; she rationalizes morality. She’s a thief but vendors anticipate thievery and make allowances so Abigaia suggests that it’s something of a social contract. At her core, she’s a deeply principled person caught in a situation she’s unable to control but she can dream and, perhaps; find the strength to make dreams reality. She’s a master of distraction and analytical thinking in her craft and uses that not only to misdirect vendors and readers. She’s led a rough life having lost her mother young and while her father was physically there for a while and impressed upon her the importance of her heritage, she’s terrified of him. Abigaia, now living with her aunt, has turned to something of a pack of thieves. Her aunt knows she can’t afford the things she brings from market but asks no questions. Keels impresses on us that these are desperately poor people living on the edge and hence, the world to which Abi’s ancestors immigrated isn’t quite the bright land of opportunity it once was and as she learns about her ancestors, her hope grows.

There’s a metaphor of modern life in Eubeltic Descent. The class system and shattered lives and the proud ancestry that one would hope is re-found. Keel’s writing style is an intelligent mix of a classic world and a carefully constructed progressive plot that shows massive growth in its main character that is in keeping with the girl we meet in the first few chapters. Abi starts as a little girl sure she’s too old for the games and matures into a strong and capable woman. Keel’s skill with the language is visceral. We see Abi’s hair fall to act as a disguise, we see Tarek’s raking smile, we stand in the kitchen with Abi’s aunt as she makes apple tarts. Its hard to go into the story without revealing massive spoilers but the lines of the plot come together smoothly taking readers on a journey to the unexpected.

As fantasy novels go, Eubelic Descent is a good one. It flows well and is a fast read. If you like character driven fantasy, be sure to pick this one up today.

Read an excerpt and buy Eubeltic Descent by Nadine Keels on

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About Nadine Keels
For more information about Nadine Keels, visit her blog. You can connect with her on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter @nadinekeels.

Romy: Book I of the 2250 Saga by Nirina Stone

Publication Date: August 14, 2015

Book Review: Romy: Book I of the 2250 Saga by Nirina Stone, science fiction trilogyIt’s 2250 and an apocalyptic event has destroyed civilization which is now divided into three categories and life is a perilous proposition. Romy is 20 years old and aspires to the highest level of society. She’s worked hard and yet seems to come up short. How will she handle the truth of her situation? Continue reading Romy: Book I of the 2250 Saga by Nirina Stone

Cult of Chucky (2017)

Release Date: October 3, 2017

Cult of Chucky movie

In Cult of Chucky, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) has been sent to a medium security asylum for the criminally insane after extensive therapy to accept the idea that she killed her family and not a Good Guy doll named Chucky, as she’d claimed. When people at the asylum start dying, is she to blame or is Chucky back? Continue reading Cult of Chucky (2017)

The Desolate Garden by Daniel Kemp

Publication Date: September 23, 2017

The Desolate Garden by Daniel KempHarry Paterson’s father, Lord Elliot Paterson, is murdered and because he stands to inherit the title, Harry is the #1 suspect. Judith Meadows is assigned to stay with Harry during the investigation to keep him safe and also garner whatever information she can to help solve the case. Together they look into strange messages that Harry received from his father before his death regarding strange transactions at the family bank. Continue reading The Desolate Garden by Daniel Kemp