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by Nikki Tranter

22 May 2009

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or the Murder at Road Hill Houseby Kate SummerscaleBloomsbury, 2008

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher,
or the Murder at Road Hill House

by Kate Summerscale
Bloomsbury, 2008

I blogged a few months back about this book’s taking out of the Samuel Johnson Prize and have been desperate to read it since. The handful of bookstores in my region either didn’t have it or wanted to charge me $30 for it in times of financial drought. The other day, however, on a giant book-buying road trip for which I saved mucho dollars, I found it, stuffed haphazardly in the true crime section at Bendigo’s old fire station-turned-secondhand bookstore.

I believe I may have squealed.

Kate Summerscale’s book is exactly what you might call “my thing”. It’s crime in the Capote style, a rich, true account written in the form of a novel, with revelations plotted throughout to create storytelling over basic retelling. Not only that, as the detective investigating the crime at hand was the inspiration for characters in the works of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and others, it’s also a history of English literature. True crime and a lesson in literary history—what could be more perfect?

And it was just as I suspected—educational and utterly thrilling. I knew very little about the murder at Road Hill House going in, so the twists and turns gripped me exactly as they should have. I read compulsively, especially the second half as the mystery began to unravel.

It begins, in 1860, with the murder of Saville Kent, the four-year-old son of Samuel and Mary Kent in their home at Road, Wiltshire. As Kent is a private man with an unpopular profession, his home and family, including maids, nurses, and the children of his former marriage, are securely locked up at night in their large home. The security assumes the murderer resides within. Celebrated detective Jack Whicher is brought in to find the culprit. Yet with so many suspects and a range of plausible motives and means, Whicher’s job is difficult. The call he eventually makes as to the perpetrator of the crime is unpopular and costs him his reputation (in the US, the book is subtitled, A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective).

But Jack Whicher has a reputation for a reason, and he stands by his suspicions as the crime goes unsolved for a number of years. When the answers finally come, most everyone is surprised. I was, too. My keen eye and marked understanding of the personalities involved proved entirely, wholeheartedly wrong. (But I was so sure!)

Summerscale is just a dream to read. She sticks to the fact, digressing into detail only at key moments. Her insight into the players and the era is convincing. And her conclusions are shocking—Summerscale admits that in her verve to tell her story, she lost sight of its centre: a dead child. Funny, too, that in my race to read the book and the joy I received while doing so, deep in the shadows of Victorian England, peeping through the keyholes into the lives of this private family, I, too, lost sight of little Saville and the horrors that occurred to create this entertaining, spellbinding read.

I don’t really know how to reconcile that thought, actually. Might delve into that another time.

Still, it’s a marvellous, historical tale with great insights into the origins of detection and detective novels. It’s also the story of upheaval in the lives of the Kent family, and just how they deal with the everlong aftermath of one horrible event.

by Nick Dinicola

22 May 2009

Dom’s wife, Maria, represents a unique kind of storytelling for games. She represents a story in which we don’t play as the main character, in which we’re just an observer even though we still get to participate in all the major events of the story.

But let me back up a bit.

A player’s relationship with his avatar presents us with an interesting paradox. When I play Gears of War 2, I’m Marcus Fenix and yet I’m not Marcus Fenix. I’m also myself playing as Marcus Fenix. Unlike an actor in a movie, a player doesn’t become the character when starting a game but rather the character becomes an extension of the player. We’re both at the same time; it feels just as natural to say “I fought the Locust” as it is to say “Marcus fought the Locust.” This ever-present dichotomy is a major obstacle for any game that wants to connect with the player on an emotional level.

There will always be a disconnect between us and the characters, making certain kinds of emotional involvement difficult. We have an instant affection with our avatar because this character is us; we care about ourselves, so we care about him or her as well. But this favoritism doesn’t necessarily translate into an emotional connection. Since we’re essentially the same person we should have the same reaction to events in the game, but this rarely happens. How many times in how many games has some dramatic twist left the main character devastated and you shrugging your shoulders? The event doesn’t hold the same emotional impact for players because they don’t always see it as happening to them directly. It’s happening to the character not to me, and I know we’re not the same person…even though we are.

Gear of War 2 took a unique approach to this dilemma by not making the main character the emotional center of the game. Marcus is a stereotypical buff, gruff, badass. He’s a cliché, but he’s the very cliché that we want to play. He’s the perfect avatar, but as a character he’s very bland and uninteresting. If we didn’t play as him chances are we wouldn’t care about him. That’s fine though, because we’re not meant to care about Marcus, we’re meant to care about Dom.

Dom is by far the more interesting character of the two because he’s personally involved in the conflict. His wife is missing, and as we travel deeper into Locust territory, he hopes to find her and rescue her. Unlike Marcus, this character is not a shell that we can easily project ourselves into, from the outset he’s motivated by emotions the player could never be expected to share. Gears of War 2 realizes this, so when playing a single-player game we don\‘t play as Dom. Instead we watch him though the eyes of another, and watching his increasingly desperate attempts to find his wife is like watching a character in a movie. Since we’re not being asked to feel the same emotions, it’s easier to empathize with him, or not care at all, without breaking the fourth wall of the game.

Unfortunately, Gears of War 2 completely backtracks on this idea by making Dom a playable character in co-op. When the second player is suddenly asked to care about some woman not even mentioned in the first game, we’re immediately distanced from the character and any emotional resonance he might bring to the story. When Dom finally does find Maria, it is a powerful scene, but more so because of its shock value than as the emotional climax of the story. Gears of War 2 had a good idea, but ultimately failed to follow though on it.

If the story of Gears of War 2 was told in any other medium, Dom would be the main character because he’s the only one with an emotional arc, and arc driven by his lost wife. We only think of Marcus as the main character because he’s our avatar, but he’s a static character with no development over the course of the game. By putting us in the shoes of a supporting character, Gears of War 2 gives us a unique perspective on the story: We’re able to watch a Dom go though a dramatic arc, thereby experiencing that drama vicariously through him instead of our own avatar. I realize that this is not exactly the best use of the medium since it relies on us watching a character instead of being a character, turning the game into a literal interactive movie, but it’s still a unique idea and one I think is worth attempting again. Preferably without the co-op.

by Justin M. Norton

21 May 2009

A Preferred Blurby Henry Rollins2.13.61August 2009, 304 pages, $17.00

A Preferred Blur
by Henry Rollins
2.13.61
August 2009, 304 pages, $17.00

Recently, I received an early copy of Henry Rollins’ latest self-published book, A Preferred Blur. I have been a dedicated Rollins reader since he began publishing in earnest in the early 1990s, and I genuinely enjoy his works, particularly those focusing on his travels. The prose is efficient if slightly wooden, but what the man may lack in literary efficiency, he makes up for in just about everything else. Celebrated punk rebel Rollins spends the better part of each year on the road and often visits various global hellholes—if anyone, his reactions to such things are going to be worth the read.

Outside his work as a punk-rock frontman, Rollins is known for his poetry and free-form prose. Early works, such as Polio Flesh, were filled with the disjointed and angry ramblings of an angst-ridden young punker. Poetry collections, Eye Scream for one, occasionally had a Hubert Selby vibe but haven’t aged well. And See a Grown Man Cry, Now Watch Him Die is just plain harrowing as it details the murder of Rollins’ close friend, former Black Flag roadie Joe Cole.

Rollins-the-poet pops out with less frequency these days. Instead, the writer sticks to his strength—detailing his interesting life. Travel writing has always been Rollins’ forte. In Smile, You’re Traveling he outlines his first jaunt to Africa. The follow-up Broken Summers recounts the period Rollins spent working on behalf of the Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, collectively known as the West Memphis Three, accused of a triple homicide in West Memphis, Arkansas. A Dull Roar includes trips to visit soldiers with the USO and travels with the reunited Rollins Band. And the best of the lot, Get In The Van, is all about Rollins’ experiences as the vocalist for Black Flag in the 1980s, and the blossoming American hardcore scene. The common thread in all is a documentarian’s zeal for life. 

In some ways Rollins reminds me of famed English diarist and anthology perennial Samuel Pepys. True, there are major dissimilarities between the two—Rollins prefers a monastic lifestyle and once penned an essay about the joys of weight training, while Pepys wrote of carnal delights:

The truth is, I do indulge myself a little the more in pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it; and, out of my observation that most men that do thrive in the world do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate, but reserve that till they have got one, and then it is too late for them to enjoy it.



Both, men, however, relentlessly catalog the world and mix the public and the personal. Pepys riffed on the black plague and was fixated on breasts; Rollins riffs on the war on terror and hotel coffee. Both men were also primarily known for pursuits outside of writing. Rollins sings and performs spoken word shows; Pepys was a Naval administrator and a politician.

I’m not suggesting Rollins will be anthologized in the future or that his prose rises to the level of an acknowledged master. However, in the days when everyone seems to “tweet” about each inane event in their day it is reassuring that some in the public eye still write compelling narratives about their lives with motives other than self-aggrandizement.

by PopMatters Staff

21 May 2009

Guy Ritchie is helming the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, releasing Christmas Day in the U.S. The first trailer is here, as well as bunch of stills…

by PopMatters Staff

21 May 2009

Golden Silvers is a new synth poppy group from South London with a debut album, True Romance out on XL in the UK. We’ll have a review soon. In the meantime, enjoy these videos perfect for the start of warm weather.

The group also recently stopped by Later Live… with Jools Holland to play “True No.9 Blues (True Romance)”.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Moving Pixels Podcast: Highbrow, Middle Brow, and Lowbrow in Free-to-Play Gaming

// Moving Pixels

"From the charmingly trashy to the more artistically inclined, there is a wide variety of gaming options in the free-to-play market.

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