Belle

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Set in mid-eighteenth century Britain, Belle is a combination of Austen-like soap opera, inspiring (but fictionalized) biography, a little courtroom drama, and social commentary. It's not bad, but "just OK" not great either. It seems designed as Oscar-bait, but did not get any nominations.

The hero is "Dido", the beautiful but illegitimate mixed-race offspring of a British naval officer and a West Indies slave woman. The officer does the right thing, extracting the young Dido from slavery and ensconcing her with his British noble family. Then he's off again doing what British naval officers do, which unfortunately involves him dying.

Leaving Dido in a complex situation: her family has mixed feelings about mixed-race folk; British society of the day was not the most enlightened either. While Dido is charming, intelligent, and beautiful, her Austenesque prospects are not good. (There is a lot of back and forth about who's gonna marry who.)

Complicating things even further is her Uncle William, a judge, who must rule on the case of the Zong, a slave ship that threw its living cargo overboard in order to have enough drinking water for the more fortunate crew.

All in all: watchable, but also missable.

In Plain Sight

[Amazon Link]

Amazon's Kindle version helpfully informs me that this is "A Joe Pickett Novel Book 6" by the great C. J. Box. It is, as usual, very good.

Joe is beset by problems. A missing ranch matriarch has prompted a shovel fight between three feuding brothers that Joe gets roped into. (Although as a game warden for Wyoming Game and Fish he shouldn't usually need to get involved in shovel fights, it seems he is around when this sort of thing crops up.) His supervisor despises him, clearly looking for an excuse to fire him.

And, oh yeah: a sociopathic killer is on his way to Twelve Sleep County to unleash misery on the Pickett family and murder Joe. That's not good either. (There's a back story to that, and it would help to have read books 1-5 in the series in order to flesh out a few things.)

What follows is a page-turning (for me, actually screen-swiping) tale of suspense, action, and violence. Box does something unusual for genre authors in involving Joe's family deeply in the plot. Joe is a devoted family man, but all the Pickett are recognizably unsaintly humans. So the Pickett family has its internal frictions and misunderstandings. But they are decent and likeable. In particular, Joe's oldest daughter, Sheridan, is growing up into a solid, perceptive young lady.

And, without spoilers, this book "changes everything" for Joe. We'll see what happens next.