Review: True Detective Season 3

I’ve just finished watching True Detective Season 3 a second time, and I enjoyed it every bit as much, if not a little more, than my first viewing. This 8-episode miniseries has a stellar cast: Mahershala Ali as Wayne Hays, State Police Detective and Vietnam War veteran; Stephen Dorff as his detective partner, Roland West; and Carmen Ejogo as Amelia Reardon, who becomes Hays’s wife during the story. The writing by Nic Pizzolatto is extraordinary—in fact, after I watched the show for the first time, I experienced the same pleasure I get when I’ve just finished reading a great novel.

Unlike so many cable productions, this one doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of its audience. Too often HBO, Netflix, and others resort to ultra-dark or ultra-raunchy material out of a misguided fear that viewers won’t be lured in otherwise. Enter TD3, a smart, literate drama that is wholly mesmerizing and would probably be rated as a hard PG-13. I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen for a single minute.

The story is a complex one, taking place in 1980, 1990, and 2015. It’s about the events surrounding a horrific crime–the murder of a little boy and the abduction of his sister (done off-screen—nothing graphic depicted). This crime is the defining moment for each character’s life. Marriage, friendships, careers—all revolve around a crime that refuses to be solved. Amelia writes a best-selling book about the case, jeopardizing her husband’s career in law enforcement. Later in his life, as Wayne begins to struggle with the initial stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, a television film crew invades his home, reopening old wounds and stirring up theories of conspiracy and cover-up. The narrative slips effortlessly back and forth between time periods, slowly weaving the threads of the story together. Plot twists and turns, false leads, and ambiguities abound.

If you haven’t caught up with this show  yet, you’re in for a wonderful surprise. The only greater surprise would be if it’s not nominated for an arm-long list of Emmy Awards.

Book Review: Jonathan Eaton’s Outlaws and Worse

Outlaws and Worse, Jonathan Eaton’s followup to A Good Man for an Outlaw, is everything we hope for in a sequel and much more. While continuing the story of Deputy Hayes, the pharmacist Fowler, and the outlaw Mathew Mulkey, it weaves a new tale with outrageous characters. It’s a story both droll and dark, told in chapters that deceptively head out into strange and unexpected territory, only to come gliding back to the main narrative like a flock of vultures circling in the Texas sky, awaiting the call to dinner.

Make no mistake–Eaton is serving us another helping of “Western noir,” dark as a cup of black coffee, but sweetened with a cream of Coenesque humor. The characters are deliciously weird, their personal stories, funny and shocking. The novel is well-edited and the writing is crisp and clear. My only quibble is that one minor character in a short chapter speaks in a phonetically-rendered dialect, which I found somewhat difficult. But no harm done. The book remains a solid five stars. I highly recommend it.

Book Sale

Big Sale this weekend, January 18th through January 20th. Get the Kindle version of all three Driftwood Mysteries for only $0.99 (a total savings of $9.98).  Use the links above.

Seal of Secrets – free. The novel where it all began. Meet Chloe and Kaitlynn, Charley

Whitehorse and Tony Esperanza. A story critics describe as “an outstanding mystery novel…relentless in its suspense.”

Catch of the Day – free. The collection of short stories that includes “Eye of Newt,” the second Driftwood Mystery. One critic says, “Never hesitate to buy these – the man is a master of short fiction.”

Woman in the Waves – $0.99. As one critic said, “I could not put it down, read through the night to finish it…I am a big mystery novel reader, and William Cook is my new favorite mystery novel writer.”

After you read these, you may think twice about your visits to the Oregon coast…

Movie Reviews: The Favourite and Vice

I hate the overly negative reviews I sometimes see on Rotten Tomatoes, in which the writer is only looking for an excuse to regale us with clever puns at the expense of the film. So it is with trepidation that I approach The Favourite, a movie which I wanted to enjoy and so thoroughly disliked. Perhaps my movie-going friend best summed it up as we left the theater: “I don’t mind if a film isn’t particularly entertaining, if it’s provocative. This film was neither.”

Can I say anything positive about it? The closest I can get is this: it’s a very well-acted, very bad movie. There. The problem with that is, you may decide to see it anyway to prove me wrong. (It can’t be that bad, can it? After all, Rotten Tomatoes gave it a whopping 94%. Olivia Colman just won the Golden Globe for her portrayal of Queen Anne. Cook must have been in a bad mood.) Oh, well.

The movie can be summed up in one sentence: two rivalrous women seek to gain the attention (and power) of the Queen of England by enticing her with flattery and sexual favors. There’s barely a nod to character development or plot. Although there is a chuckle or two along the way, it’s mostly grim going as these three unlikable women strategize against each other for two hours. Keep in mind, these are three consummate actresses at the top of their game, (Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz), but this movie squanders their talents. And then the movie just stops–it doesn’t really end, the credits just start to roll. It was actually startling.

So see it if you must, but you have been warned. The money you pay for the ticket might better be put toward the co-pay of your next dental visit.

Now Vice is another thing altogether. It only got 62% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I thought it was a far better movie. Done by Adam McKay, the same writer and director who did The Big Short, it is a scathing satire on the rise and fall of Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney. While it may not be quite so funny as its predecessor, there are still many chuckles to be had, not only at the expense of Cheney, but also at the expense of George W. and Donald Rumsfeld, brilliantly played by Sam Rockwell and Steve Carell, respectively. Of course, the transformation undergone by Christian Bale to play the part is nothing short of extraordinary. Between his gaining 40 lbs. and the work of stellar makeup artists, it’s quite uncanny. But beware: if you are at all of the conservative or Republican persuasion, you may be very offended by this politically incorrect, savage film.

For me, three scenes alone made it worth the price of admission: the restaurant sequence as the waiter reads from the menu, the bedroom scene when Cheney and his wife (played by Amy Adams) lapse into Shakespearean dialogue, and the roll of the credits. I’ll say no more so as not to spoil it.

I’ve overheard some liberal friends say, only half-facetiously, that they yearn for the simpler days of the Bush Presidency. This movie is the antidote to that sentiment.

Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

Personally, I think it’s time we recognize Emily Blunt as a national treasure. To go from portraying the pregnant heroine in the scariest monster movie ever, to becoming Mary Poppins in the same year, is no mean feat. And who knew she could sing like that! I confess, I had strong misgivings when I heard Disney was doing a sequel to one of my favorite movies. It sounded sacrilegious.  I anticipated a disaster.

Not so. The movie is a wonder, and to say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. I was transported. Yes, it is a reverent homage to the original Julie Andrews/Dick Van Dyke vehicle, but it is also a great film in its own right. From the impressionistic credits at the beginning, to its heartfelt conclusion, I was enthralled. Truth be told, watching Mary come back down to earth with her umbrella held just so made me choke back a tear.

From cannons to kites, I enjoyed seeing the parallelisms between the two films. In the original, Ed Wynn plays Uncle Albert, whose infectious laughter makes the children float to the ceiling. In the new film, the children are introduced to Cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep), whose house turns upside down every second Wednesday–and yes, the children wind up on the ceiling. In MP, the cast jumps into a chalk drawing done by Bert, the chimney sweep, (Dick Van Dyke) and have an animated adventure. In MPR, they leap/fall into the illustration on an antique vase to mingle with animated characters. The first film has a marvelous sequence with Bert and his gang doing an elaborate choreography number. The sequel has Jack, the lamp lighter, (Lin-Manuel Miranda) with his own crew doing their dance. MP concludes with flying a kite and MPR flies balloons. The one sequence without parallel in the original is the bathtub scene, and it is a delight to behold.

Mary Poppins Returns is a feast for the eyes and the ears, worth every penny of the price of admission to the big screen. The sights are eye-popping, the songs are superb. It is aimed at the child in all of us, in the best possible meaning of that term. (My ten-year-old granddaughter gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up.) I intend to see it many more times.

Mary Poppins Returns is as magical as movies get.

Christmas Letter 2018

Dear Family and Friends,

As I begin this, the sun has broken through deep gray clouds and is shining on a beautiful December day. The chill, like the Werewolf of London’s hair, is perfect. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to traditional Christmas songs and carols from the British Isles, struck by how melancholy many of them sound. None of that saccharine sentimentality we hear bleating from speakers in our shopping malls. It’s as though they anticipate the complexity of the events that have been started in motion by the birth of Jesus.

Then I thought about Luke’s Gospel and the prediction that Simeon makes to Mary, Jesus’ mother, when she presents her newborn baby to him in the temple: “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

What’s going on? Where did “We wish you a merry Christmas” go? Recently I visited with a dear friend whose toddler daughter had just undergone another of what will likely be many surgeries to correct a dreadful anomaly. He spoke about how his heart breaks every time she shrieks, “Don’t touch me!” at the rehab therapist trying to improve her range of motion. Rehabilitation, before it brings healing, brings much pain, and my friend is helpless to prevent it. “I would do anything for her, if only I could,” he laments. Therein lies his agony—the piercing sword.

I believe God feels like that about us as well, knowing we need “rehabilitation,” but painfully aware we will refuse him and yell, “Leave us alone!” when he sends his son to heal us. Matthew tells us that Herod was so desperate to destroy the infant Jesus that he had his soldiers kill all the children two years old and younger in and around Bethlehem , a massacre preserved in the deceptively beautiful lullaby, the Coventry Carol.

From the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus is seen as a threat to the established order of things. Religious people hate him. Politicians regard him as an odd curiosity. Both groups think that killing him is the only way he will leave them alone, once and for all.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us alone. He is determined to save us in spite of ourselves. Because of Easter, Christmas is worth the “rehabilitation pain” it inaugurates. We become Resurrection People, newly alive, charged to love as we have been loved. Jesus tells us, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

But we need reminders. The world has a way of beating us up. Often we want only to “burrow in,” pour that glass of wine, and lose ourselves in a book or a television show. Not that there is anything wrong with “recharging our batteries,” but the point is just that—restoring ourselves so we can restore others. Christmas is our yearly wake-up call—at once a call to to arms against the evil that would ensnare us, and a call to minister to those wounded in the ongoing battle. We become God’s paramedics—his EMTs—healing the pain of others, furthering their “rehabilitation,” speaking truth in a world of lies and bringing comfort to those who need it most.

Christmas is our annual reminder that we worship a God who “takes a bullet for us,” and we are called to do likewise for our families, our neighbors, our communities. It’s the war room for planning strategy before the battle resumes, the locker room at half-time, when our Commander/Coach fires us up to go back out and fight even harder in the second half.

For all of us, may this coming New Year be a time of courage and compassion—a renewal of mind and heart and spirit. May God’s unique call to each of us be heard above the din of the trite and the trivial. May we, as God’s paramedics and rehab therapists, become the healers he wants us to be.




Bill and Sharon

Movie Review: First Man

This movie caught me by surprise. I went in expecting to feel again some of the exhilaration and joy I felt when I witnessed live television feed from the moon on that July day decades ago–a human being actually walking on the surface of another world. I knew nothing of Neil Armstrong’s personal life, and if this movie is accurate, its portrait of the man is unflattering. Broken by the death of his daughter, hollowed out by the deaths of fellow pilots and astronauts, Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) is the mere shell of a man, unable to grieve, emotionally unavailable to his wife and children. In fact, he would have left for the moon without saying goodbye to his children had his wife (played by Claire Foy) not intervened. Of course, the difficulty for audiences is that when a main character plays an automaton, we are left without an emotional connection to him. We are bereft, as his family was.

Is it a good film? Yes. The acting is excellent, the space sequences are utterly convincing. But for me, the experience of seeing it was sad. Perhaps it burst an old illusion of mine–that the trip to the moon was a grand adventure. According to the film, it was closer to his wife Janet’s critique: “You’re just boys playing with balsa wood toys.”

I came away haunted by the final scene–Armstrong and his wife unable to touch each other through the glass of the quarantine room, a sobering image of their marriage. Sadly, Neil Armstrong’s walk on the empty, airless moon was a metaphor of his life on earth.

Thoughts About Writing a Novel

I’m one month away from publishing my next novel and it got me thinking about how I got here. Although I had written a novel and two-thirds of another back in the 80’s, their drafts sit gathering dust in a closet. I began writing in earnest when I retired at the end of 2011. And here I am, with two novels, two books of short stories, and soon a third novel.

I’m beginning to think that writing, like raising children, takes a village. Where would I be now without the help of people in the Northwest Independent Writers Association–Roslyn McFarland, Jennifer Willis, Jamie McCracken, Lee French, Pam Cowan, Jonathan Eaton, April Aasheim, Larry Powers, among others? Or friends at Goodreads, including Ginger Bensman, David Rose, Michael Gardner, and others? My monthly critique group, the Salem branch of Willamette Writers, and the weekly library group, Writers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow are also a part of the community that supports me.

The gestation period of my new novel is just about nine months to the day. I’m giving birth again, this time on Halloween! Who woulda thought? And it began in the early days of last February with a simple incident: I went hunting for agates with my daughter’s family on the Oregon coast. That’s all I knew–I had no outline for a story, no idea where it was going to go, no plot. I just wrote about a man trying to find agates, all the while keeping a wary eye out for sneaker waves. Then I found out he was a widower and a college professor. Shortly after that, I discovered he knew the college professor who had committed murder in my short story “Eye of Newt.” Oh my goodness! I hadn’t seen that coming! But that’s how it grew. And I realized that the murderer had to get his comeuppance after escaping the clutches of Officer Whitehorse in the short story. After all, I couldn’t help but remember Alfred Hitchcock assuring his audience that crime doesn’t pay just after the troubled housewife who had murdered her husband with a frozen leg of lamb roasts it and serves it to the policemen investigating the case!

So there we are. I’m pleased with the way the novel came out, and I’m very happy with the cover. I hope it keeps you up reading way past your bedtime!

Here’s the link to pre-order it: Woman in the Waves.

New Book Cover

Dear Friends,

My apologies for neglecting to stay in touch. I have quite literally been devoting all my spare time (with the exception of my movie time!) to my new novel, which I hope to publish by the end of the year. Though I am still in the rewrite/revise/edit phase, I went ahead and hired Roslyn McFarland ( to create a cover for me. I give her my highest recommendation. She is a joy to work with, amazingly affordable, and very good at what she does. Here’s a first look: