S is for Silence

[Amazon Link] I continue my race with Sue Grafton: I've now finished "S", "V" came out last year, and she's probably working on "W" as I type. Will I catch up? Will we both make it to "Z"? Will Ms. Grafton's protagonist, the feisty and independent private investigator Kinsey Millhone ever find a nice guy and settle down? (Is it sexist to wonder that? Probably.)

Here, Kinsey is hired by Daisy, who's haunted by the disappearance of her mother, Violet, on July 4, 1953. In Kinsey's timeframe, that's 34 years in the past. Kinsey's given a seemingly hopeless task: find out Violet's fate, and if foul play was involved, bring the perpetrators to justice. Her method is the usual: interview everyone involved still alive from that era, rattling cages, prying into dark corners that some would like left alone. Does this work? Of course it does. Although not without peril to Kinsey and also her venerable VW bug.

The writing is a bit different here: Kinsey usually tells her story as the first-person narrator of events happening in her mid-80s timeframe. Here, every so often we get flashbacks to 1953, covering the days and hours before Violet's disappearance. Each is a third-person narration, following different characters and their interactions with Violet. For such a radical departure from formula this works pretty well.

Ms. Grafton is a well-known admirer of Ross Macdonald, basing Kinsey in Santa Teresa, the same fictional city as Macdonald placed his PI, Lew Archer. This is the most Macdonaldesque book of hers I've read: like Lew, Kinsey needs to unravel decades-old secrets and scandals. Also like Lew, Kinsey must keep track of a lot of characters. And as readers, so must we. I was a little surprised when the plot was finally unspun; it seemed a bit arbitrary. But that's OK. Life is arbitrary at times.

Moonrise Kingdom

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Wes Anderson is a critical darling for movies like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited, but—sorry, Wes, it's not you, it's me—he's always left me a little bit cold, as I've never found his characters to be very interesting, sympathetic, or amusing.

But all that changes with Moonrise Kingdom. I am a believer.

It is set on the small New England island of "New Penzance" It's the story of two young kids, Sam and Suzy, both considered oddballs. Sam is a bullied outcast in his "Khaki Scout" camp; Suzy is labeled a "troubled child" in her family and continually scans the island landscape with her binoculars.

Unbeknownst to everyone, Sam and Suzy are longtime pen pals, and have made plans to run off together. (A brief flashback shows their love-at-first-sight meeting.) Sam's disappearance flusters the scout camp's well-meaning but incompetent leader (Edward Norton). Suzy's mom and dad (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are no less concerned. Drawn into the intrigue is the island's head cop (Bruce Willis). Who just happens to be carrying on an affair with Suzy's mom. Suzy and Sam must elude their pursuers while—finally—getting to know one another. All the while, a massive storm is bearing down upon the island.

A lot of the same Wes Anderson style is here: imaginative cinematography, acting that's stilted and deadpan, unexpected character quirks. (E.g., Suzy's mom uses a bullhorn to communicate with the rest of the family in their largish house.) It's charming and funny throughout.