The Night Manager (Episode 2)

Just how do you show the journey from respectable Night Manager to hardened criminal in an hour?  If you watch this episode it’ll surely give you a few ideas.

We start by following Roper and his gang as they have a party on a terrace in Mallorca, Spain (Yes, I am aware it is an island).   From the first episode we know we must hate them but there is a happy, family atmosphere.  There is just enough of an uncomfortable feeling about the group, however.  Events take a rapid turn for the worse when two armed men show up and kidnap Roper’s son.

A quick change of setting informs us that what we have seen us six months into the future.  Now we return to the ‘present’ where Pine meets with Angela (Olivia Colman) who wishes to recruit him.  His response is a rather underwhelming, yes.

To help put him on the next stage, he must steal.  With that over, Pine moves to darkest Dorset where he is masquerading as Jack Lyndon.  For those of you who don’t know where that is, it is a county in the South West of England. For his ‘Legend’ (background in spy parlance) Pine must be a nasty person indeed.  Roper does not follow the rules and neither must Pine.

Sure enough he shakes up the little village he has been living in and scurries off without warning when it gets too hot for him.  Returning to the new present (Mallorca), Pine stops the kidnappers but not without being badly beaten himself.

Yet again we are treated to some impressive performances including a very convincing Dorset woman played by Hannah Steele.  She managed to get the right mix of innocence and shock in her character and I hope she goes on to bigger and better roles.  Olivia Colman takes a bigger part in this episode which is nice to see as she is always watchable.

This episode has progressed the story nicely, moving along at a decent pace, never feeling like you are being dragged along.  Some might argue that his ‘legend’ need not have been shown, but I feel it shows depth to a character.  Motivations are better understood when you know what someone has been through.  You might not agree with the action, but at least you should understand why.

Character Portraits: The Vulnerable

Before we begin to delve deeper into the definition of this character type, I have to say now, this is not the same as ‘Damsel in Distress’.  For one thing, they are not necessarily female.  There are similar characteristics yet there are enough differences to seperate the two.  The most obvious (apart from the aforementioned) is the ‘vulnerable’ does not need rescuing, in the traditional sense.

However, they do have issues which make them potentially vulnerable from outside sources.  The traditional vices; money, drugs, drink only partially cover the gamut of issues and yet this character is more than just a two-dimensional stereotype.  Other characteristics likely to be found are naivety and gullibility.

Classic vulernable people are the young and elderly.  The young, because they have no life experience and are innocent.  The elderly, because they are in no position to fight back. Other variants include those who place themselves, unwittingly or otherwise, in a position that enables them to be controlled by others.  A wonderful example would be Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man.

Perhaps this character type has a rosy outlook on life which causes them to be vulnerable, I don’t know, but it helps us to define them.  Not being aware of the insidious nature of some people, especially those close to them, makes for a problematic future.

Why do we have them?

My guess, they are to remind us to be on our guard.  Not everyone has our best interests at heart and failing to see this can have disastrous consequences.  The other reason is to highlight such people in real life.  For example, an elderly woman killed herself because she was being pressured by outside agencies.  Had someone been there to aid her when she needed it the most, she would not have felt it necessary to use this way out.

The Night Manager (Episode 1)

I confess, I love books by John Le Carre so I was more than a little intrigued when I saw the trailer for this six part mini series.  I admit now though, that this is not one of the books I own.  As such I could watch this with fresh eyes much like I did some years ago when Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was repeated.

Ignoring the prologue, which tells us briefly about the antagonist, we start in Egypt in 2011.  Starting as it does, I began to wonder where the story would progress.  We begin by following the unflappable Johnathan Pine, night manager at a top-class hotel in Cairo.  Used to dealing with problems discreetly, I wonder how well prepared he was for what happened next.

One of his guests, a woman by the name of Sophie, wants to copy a document.  This is no ordinary document as it is in fact, a request to purchase and ship arms to Egypt from an arms dealer called Richard Roper.  The woman in question is none other than the mistress of Freddie Hamid, young playboy of the Hamid family.  This isn’t just any family either, the Hamids own most of Cairo.

Johnathan’s orders don’t just cover copying the documents either.  If anything were to happen to Sophie, he is to take the copy straight to his friend, Simon Ogilvy, working in the British Embassy.  Matters start to unravel when Johnathan hands the copy over the following day.  Word gets back to Freddie and Sophie is soon found dead.  With an investigation into Richard Roper strangled at birth, there is nothing more anybody can do.

Four years later sees Johnathan as the night manager in a hotel in Switzerland where chance has brought him into contact with Richard Roper himself.  Taking the opportunity to re-establish contact with Simon’s friends, Johnathan does his utmost to keep tabs on Roper and his entourage.

Tom Hiddleston proved to be an excellent choice to play Johnathan Pine.  He is instantly watchable but never to the point where he hogs the screen.  Johnathan must be the object of discretion so cannot take centre stage.  His characteristics must include; impeccable manners, cordiality, trust and the ability to get things done.  Tom brought those to the fore with ease.

From watching ‘House’, I can say that Hugh Laurie does ‘evil’ admirably.  His opening scene gives but a glimpse of what his character is like.  Roper’s public image is little more than a paper thin façade designed to distract the public.

Tom and Hugh were joined by Olivia Colman and Tom Hollander, both bringing their talents to their characters too.  All four actors, and the supporting cast had me hooked from the word go.

Episode one was a gentle start into what I reckon will be an interesting and exciting adventure.  And if episode one is a good indicator for the other five episodes, then I want in.

Character Profiles: The Evil One (or Why I loved the story behind Bioshock Infinite)

Is it me or are stories for computer games still seen as an unnecessary addition? Perhaps it is down to playing too many games where a plot is not needed.  All you do is kill the bad guys before ending with the big boss where you kill them in a climatic battle.  Good triumphs over evil, end of story.

In Bioshock Infinite the top dog is Father Zachary Hale Comstock.  The first impression is that he is some sort of benevolent demi-god who has singularly guided the community to its current position.  Dig just beyond the surface however and you find that his single-mindedness has been at odds with other people’s opinions.  The phrase ‘absolute power corrupts, absolutely’ comes to mind.  The position he has placed himself in means he ignores their opposition or squashes it.

Civil unrest breaks out across the district and he attempts to use heavy-handed tactics to oppress the population.  All in all, we get the impression that Father Comstock rules with an iron fist.  It is at this point our hero arrives.

Booker DeWitt of the Pinkerton detective agency is sent to rescue a woman who was adopted by Father Comstock.  Where the story gets interesting is just before the end.  I don’t think there were many people who spotted the clue planted very early on (I certainly wasn’t one of them), after all a forced baptism is not the first thing you’d look for.

Like all good stories though, this one made me think.  It made me realise that our paths can change drastically without us noticing.  An infinity of options are out there, yet we take but one which leads us to where we are now.  No one is born purely evil, it is the decisions we make which set us on our journey.  What influences those decisions is a matter for debate.

Father Comstock may have been evil, but he wasn’t always that way.  Remember, behind every character there is a story.

The Rosie Project: A Book Review

There are some books out there that are pretty pedestrian.  Then there are others who take you gently by the hand and lead you into a world that feels real, complete, wonderful.  Thankfully, this book falls in the latter.  So well entrenched is it that it felt heartrending to tear myself away and return to the real world, even when it had finished.

What is it about?

Professor Don Tillman, working in the Genetics department at the University of Melbourne, wants a wife.  Not everyone’s cup of tea and certainly not mine, normally.  What sets it apart though is the fact that Don has got Asperger’s syndrome, granted it is undiagnosed.  The other intriguing piece of news is that the woman in the title is looking for her father.

For a book that is essentially a romance novel, it doesn’t feel like one.  It helps that we experience life from Don’s point of view.  Some may accuse Don of being cold and heartless but that is not his fault, his brain has been wired differently.  His world consists of logic, systems and efficiency.  If it does not fit into any of these categories it does not feature in his life.  Then Rosie walks into his life.

It makes sense that Rosie is not a perfect life partner for Don.  For one thing it means that Don is not nervous around her  In fact, it helps that Rosie loves his special nature.  Time and again we see Don’s learning ability in action.  Then the newly acquired skill is put to the test.

The best example is the Great Cocktail Night.  Watching him perform his temporary role was fascinating.  Even when presented with a problem he already has a solution in mind.

The more I read The Rosie Project the more I came to see some of Don’s traits in myself.  I say some because, unlike Don, I can feel empathy.  So much so that I found it hard to read when Don didn’t get the girl.  After all they had been through together, why was she refusing him?

A major drawback for her was Don’s incapability for love.  She would not enter a relationship unless she knew she could be loved. Happily, Don doesn’t take no for an answer.

Looking back I can say that I loved reading this book.  If you’ve not read this book before then you’re in for a treat.  Charming, funny, sad, happy this book has all of these and more.  Buy it, read it, love it then do it all over again because its that good.

Character Portraits: Geeks and Nerds

The Geek; studious, learned, socially inept, interesting dress sense, or is that the list for Nerds?

In literary terms, I think these two groups are usually classed as one.  However there are subtle differences between the two, which I shall go into later.  First, I’d like to discuss their similar traits.

As we all know, Geeks and Nerds are studious to some degree.  Whether it consists of traditional techniques (such as reading or performing experiments), or more modern ways of learning such as the internet (a lot can be learned from google and YouTube), these groups love to take part in these activities.

An interesting dress sense is also a must as well.  Shirts and trousers (pants to my American friends) are perhaps more common among Nerds than Geeks who seem to favour jeans and t-shirts sporting their favourite pastime.

Because of their obsession with their chosen subject, they are likely to be socially inept.  A classic case in point is Professor Don Tillman in ‘The Rosie Project’ (which I hope to review very soon).  Graeme Simsion has even gone as far as giving Don Asperger Syndrome.  Doing this, as well as writing it from Don’s perspective, has added an interesting addition to the equation.

And now we shall move onto the differences.

The definition of a Geek is “someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake”.  Whereas the definition of Nerd is “an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a non-social hobby or pursuit”.

On reading those definitions, it seems to me that it is a Nerd who is more likely to have trouble in social situations.  A geek on the other hand, while they love their favourite topic, do not pursue it to such a degree as Nerds. If you could enlighten me on the this I would be willing to hear your argument.

Why do we have them?

Like all characters, Geeks and Nerds have their origins in real life.  The titles, Geek and Nerd, first came to the public consciousness around the same time; the 1970s.*

In recent years, Geeks and Nerds have shaken off their negative connotations.  So much so that we have even had the rise of the Geek.  Again ‘The Rosie Project’ is a perfect example.  I doubt this book would have been published thirty years ago.  If it had, it certainly would not have been as successful.

*By that I mean their current definition.

The Young Montalbano: An Apricot (2/6)

As I look back over ‘An Apricot’ I can’t help but admire Andrea Camilleri’s skill as a writer.  He has managed to weave a story that twists and turns, leaving you wanting more.  Certainly, of all the endings I was expecting, this was not one of them.  But lets not put the wrong end first.

Salvo’s imminent departure is what starts the story.  Livia has arrived to help pack.  On the way home from the airport, they discover an old stone wall close to a cliff edge has been knocked down.  On further investigation we find an overturned car at the bottom of the cliff with a dead woman inside.

The woman worked as a model at a local agency and had been having a relationship with one of her employers.  This had ceased some months ago, however, all was not as it seemed.  Digging deeper, they find she had an apricot stone stuck in her throat.  This is odd as she was known to be allergic to the fruit.

Now convinced of her murder, the team checks out her new lover, a photographer working at the same agency.  We learn very quickly that he is a heroin addict.  Suspicion soon flits from one suspect to another as new clues arise.  Even her neighbour is suspected.  Bit by bit the story is revealed, the agency has been shipping drugs to South America.

Finally settling on the real killer, we are dismayed to see that he has been killed too.  Worse than that, he is murdered right outside Montalbano’s house and the night before he is due to leave.  Being the dedicated detective, Salvo stays behind while Livia returns to Genoa.

Little more than two days later and he has unraveled the mess and is finally ready to leave.  Just before he goes, he decides to take one last look around town.  A lack of people is bewildering until he returns to the station.  It is there that we learn of a shocking event that persuades him to stay.

While I suspected Montalbano would continue to stay in Sicily, I had hoped to see him at work in a new venue.  However, living and working in a city like Genoa would entail a complete change in pace.  Whatever happens in the mean time, I hope I will not have to wait too long for the next series.

Character Portraits: The Mentor

At first glance, the mentor is a pretty straight forward character.  Look deeper though and they can be complex.  A mentor is there to impart their knowledge onto the hero.  A mentor is usually scholarly to some degree.  If not, they have life lessons to teach along with their special subject.

Take Obi-Wan Kenobi, for example.  When we first meet him, he is the only source of knowledge on the Force, excepting Darth Vader.  Later on we get to meet Yoda but in ‘A New Hope’ it is just Obi-Wan.  Luke, despite being too old to take up formal Jedi training, is taken into hand by the old master.

Having lived a long life Obi-wan has a lot of experience.  Along with teaching Luke about the ways of the Force, he must temper his impulsiveness.  Giving in to impulse is seen as being weak and could potentially lead to Luke’s death or worse, the dark side.

Other characteristics Mentors have are; curmudgeonly, e.g Doc. Hudson in ‘Cars’, true believer, e.g. Morpheus in ‘The Matrix’ and strange but in an all-knowing, comforting kind of way, the best example of which is Mr Miyagi from ‘The Karate Kid’.

Sometimes Mentors must die in order for the hero to take the correct path at the crossroads in their life.  Obi-Wan’s death at the hands of Darth Vader is shocking to Luke despite barely knowing him.  This is not always the case, for example could you imagine Mr Miyagi dying?

Why do we have mentors?

Basically a mentor is a representation of experience and knowledge.  Passing our experience on the next generation is a fact of life.  If knowledge did not get passed down, you would not be reading this right now.  Language would not have evolved and we would still be sitting in the trees wondering where our next meal was.

New material

Hi all,

Just to let you know I’ve posted a new piece.  This one’s called ‘Cupid’s Brother’.  It was for this month’s writers’ group and the theme was Love Struck.  So my inspiration for this was a different take on Cupid.  What would it be like to be someone close to him?

I came up with the idea of using a family member in order so that the two characters could share a common bond.  This meant that the experience of loss was personal to both and not just the narrator.

Originally, I had not intended for there to be a happy ending.  On coming back to the story after a week, I realised what I had written wasn’t working so I tried again.  I am far happier with this second attempt.  Especially as the brother doesn’t twig what is going on until it has already happened!



The Young Montalbano: The Honest Thief (2/5)

The honest thief will definitely go down as one of my favourites from this season.  For one thing, it did not focus heavily on the mafia.  Instead the main plot was on the disappearance of a local barmaid.

Very quickly we learn that she had had many lovers most of which are semi-respectable and would have nothing to do with her disappearing act.  As the story progressed, we find that she received a threatening phone call regarding a blackmail effort centring on an incriminating note.  Even though claiming she cannot find the note, the man does not believe her.

Fearing for her life, she empties her bank account and safety deposit box before catching a train back to her home town, Milan.  A couple of days later, a body is found.

The first sub-plot focusses on the title criminal; the honest thief.  Reports come in of small amounts of money being stolen.  Even more interesting is the fact that more money has been left behind.  Later, we learn that and old man has recently finished a prison sentence and suspicion moves to him.  The modus operandi of the new thief fits the old, perfectly.

The second sub-plot concerns a kidnapping of a rich local businessman’s son.  All efforts to find him are proving useless until our friend, the honest thief, overhears a phone conversation during a break-in.  I won’t go into any more detail but what I can say is this, I liked the solution.

Finally, we have the ongoing story of Livia and Salvo’ relationship.  Montalbano has put in a transfer request to Genoa in order to be closer to her.  When the rest of the team find out, I almost felt sorry for them.  Their boss, who they respect and admire, is abandoning them.  To make matters worse, he had been keeping it a secret.  I can’t blame them for tempers flaring but I would be interested to see how this pans out.

Will season three see Montalbano in Genoa?  There is still one more episode this series so who knows what will happen.  I know what I would like to see, but I’ll keep my mouth shut for now.