The Unlucky Lottery by Hakan Nesser: Swedish Secrets

Four old men win the lottery. They don’t win millions, but for at least two of the old boys, death is their pay off.

Touted as a part of the Van Veeteren Series, The Unlucky Lottery is the first of this series I’ve read and the man himself is running a bookshop whilst on an open ended sabbatical.

I enjoyed the Swedish detectives (known as Intendent‘s) struggles as they attempted to solve the case of the two old men. The first, stabbed to death in his bed and the second missing. Unfortunately I didn’t know enough about either character at the beginning of the book to care. It also took me quite a while to “warm” to the detectives.

I have no idea if the detectives are regulars in the series and as Van Veeteren himself only has a cameo in this book, I did not get much of a chance to “bond” with his character either.

Nesser takes great pains to show the less glamorous side of police work. He shows us the boring and often unproductive side of the work that detectives have to do in order to solve a crime. Unfortunately, this boring side of police work almost put me off the book. The victim and his immediate family, and their neighbours, were so boring and nondescript that I found myself having to “force” read the book.

If I had not been so stubborn, I would have missed the brilliant way that Nesser ties up the wandering strands of the investigation at the end of the book.

The detectives on the case were perhaps a bit too real. They had problems and issues that plagued them to the extent that it took them away from effectively investigating the crime. That was Nesser’s point I believe. But it was off putting and distracting until, again, all was explained towards the end of the book.

I have no idea if Nesser’s style of writing is to point out the mendacity of crime solving in every book, but in this one the suspects and witnesses were so unprepossessing I almost gave up on the book several times. The family of the stabbing victim were dysfunctional and completely uninvolved with the crime. Uninvolved in a clinical sense, they did not care or want to care about murder, even though the victim was their father.

The family’s low key and resentful existence all makes sense later in the book, but for the vast majority of the story it is merely annoying. I found my attention wandering every time a detective questioned the family and witnesses. In this story, no one was helpful, either because they did not see anything or because they did not know anything.

The victim Waldemar Leverkuhn and his family were so insular that no one seemed to be on overly friendly terms with them. This should have started warning bells with me as a reader but, because of the agonisingly slow pace of the investigation, I didn’t notice until the detective’s noticed.

I suppose that despite the fact that Nesser has “over 10 million books sold worldwide” his style is very different from the other Scandinavian authors I have read so far. Rather than writing about larger than life characters, he chooses to write about people that would not attract attention from anyone. Even in death, these people are so nondescript that any secrets that they may harbour will remain secrets because no one cares.

It could be said that Nesser is being clever in his choice of characters and I guess to an extent he is. But he almost lost me several times during the book because of the nature of his main players. As I mentioned before though, he ties up the investigation very nicely and cleverly at the end of the book, but if I hadn’t been too stubborn to stop reading the thing, I would never have learned the secrets or the motives unearthed.

So my verdict is that the vast majority of the book was hard to care about and the ending was almost a case of “too little, too late.” Overall, I would have to say I won’t be rushing to read any more of the Van Veeteren books, even though his ending for this one impressed me.

A book recommended for only the most stubborn of readers.

Hakan Nesser.

Ah Agent 47, How I’ve Missed Thee…


The feeling of nostalgia was overwhelming as I popped the disc into the PS3 and waited for the latest update to load and install on Hitman Absolution. I loved the old Hitman with his bald pate complete with bar code and his cold blooded bad-ass killing instinct not to mention his sense of humour.

Who else would think of dressing up like a clown to infiltrate a party to get closer to his next victim (Blood Money), or dressing up as a Priest to take out the baddies in a Catholic Orphanage (Absolution).

Agent 47, that’s who.

Although in our minds (and actions) it is we who are really Agent 47; looking sharp and cool in the black suit with white shirt and red tie combo that makes up his professional attire complete with black leather “shooting gloves” and patent leather shoes. Forget Altair and Ezio and the other “new boys” on the block. Agent 47 was the original assassin and still is.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved the Assassin’s Creed verse from its maiden voyage with the egotistical Altair who gets busted down to the assassin’s equivalent of a buck private. His journey back up and slow realization that someone wasn’t telling the truth still interests me and is the best of the franchise, in my opinion.

But Agent 47 with his “genetically manufactured” assassination skill which goes to prove that great contract killers are not just born, they are also made, has never bored me. Frustrated yes, but never bored. The times that I got frustrated with him was when I had repeatedly failed to stealthily kill the target and I was either killed or had to run for my life and try all over again. Of course when that happened, the thought of stealth went right out the window and I generally would “go Genghis Kahn” on everyone in sight and initiate a blood bath that old Genghis would have envied.

Frustrations aside, with my own limitations never that of Agent 47’s, the games are addictive and challenging in a way that other game’s just can’t replicate.

Looking at the Hitman franchise I chuckle when I remember how angry I would get at having to completely redo a mission because I’d been spotted or killed an innocent bystander. Absolution does not have that problem as you can save at “set” points in the game. So, yes, you still have to re-do some of the mission but not all of it; unless, of course, you want to.

The only problem I’ve had so far is that when I crouch, I can’t “un-crouch.” So you wind up crouch walking through crowds of people who do notice. I had an npc say, “Look at the hunchback.” Another told me to stand up and “stop acting like a child.” So far so irritating, but I cannot find a reference anyplace else where this problem is mentioned. So until I find a solution I’ll continue to have 47 hunched over after that first crouch.

*And before you say anything, yes I have pressed the O again and it changes nothing. He still crouches and looks bloody ridiculous. It must be some sort of glitch.*

I do have to say about the graphics at this point. As quickly as I could “get into” the old PS2 verse of Hitman, it did have a few issues with graphics. A lot of the PS2 games did. But you could ignore that because of the ease of immersing yourself into the role of 47. But the “last gen” graphics could give you a jolt now and again.


Not so Absolution. The colours and graphics are stunning. The textures are great and the overall appearance of the game’s set pieces look impressive. There have been no moments where I’ve been thrown out of the game because of a graphics let down. The game play itself is not difficult although, as I’ve said before, I am not the world’s expert at stealth. In fact despite the crouching problem, I’m doing pretty well. I still have moments where I get just that little bit too annoyed and rather than do a Genghis Kahn, I’ll do a Clyde Barrow and just start shooting.

When the opening cut scenes finished on the new game, slipping back into the world of Agent 47 felt as easy as slipping into an old pair of comfy sneakers (or patent leather shoes). I immediately found myself looking at the verse through familiar eyes. The world of stealth has not changed. You have a new “instinct” gauge that can be used to tell you where the enemies are and what path you should be taking. A little like Assassin Creed‘s eagle vision except that this gauge can run out of instinct and leave you blind.

I won’t talk about any of the games particulars, i.e. plot. But I will say it’s a good one, folks, it’s a good one. I will also say that 47 has learned a few new tricks, like how to kill with a screw driver, throwing a knife and an almost balletic way of using a fire axe to dispose of enemies. Just to list a few of these new kill skills. I’m sure he’s picked up a few other new ones since the last time we met but I haven’t encountered them yet.

The voice acting is top-notch. They’ve taken a page out of Naughty Dog‘s book and let the actors actually act with each other. No separate sound booths here with an actor reading his lines into dead air. They interact and even get to wear the motion capture suits a la Naughty Dog. It helps. There are some pretty big names attached to the project. Powers Boothe, Vivica A. FoxKeith Carradine, Traci Lords (ex porn star) and of course David Bateson is back providing the voice for Agent 47.

So apart from the continuing problem of crouching (or conversely not being able to stand up straight) I am loving this blast from the past with all its new trappings. It even looks as though the young girl that Agent 47 is trying to protect might be a new improved female version of him. It does sort of make me wonder is there will soon be a “Hitgirl” (and not Chloe Moritz from Kick Ass either). I am not that far into the game yet, I’m now competing with a pig-tailed brown haired version of Daisy Duke on a shooting range and not doing fantastically well. Of course, my aim is always a little off when I’m target shooting at two in the morning.

I did not realize how much I missed old baldy until I started playing Absolution. I suppose I could have gone back at anytime and played the old favourites, Blood Money or Contracts, but there never seemed to be the time. What with new games coming out and my tendency to replay all of the three Naughty Dog Drake games, I just couldn’t take the time.

But playing the long awaited “sequel” to Hitman, I’m sorry I wasn’t more faithful. Still, it has not taken me any time at all to get back into the swing of the Hitman verse and to fight off all the bad guys and terminate the targets. I’ve had to fight the compulsion to wear adult diapers and have my food given to me via a drip so I can play uninterrupted.

I also have to fight the urge to react badly to people who interrupt my game play for whatever the reason.


Weeble’s, wobble…

Scary Weeble.

In the last few months, I’ve taken so many hits that I’m beginning to feel like a “Weeble” and just in case you’ve forgotten what a Weeble is or you’ve never heard of one, they are little oval (egg shaped) toys with rounded heavy bottoms. They are made to look sort of like people and the advert used to be, “Weeble’s wobble, but, they don’t fall down.”

So okay, the heart attack and the resultant surgeries could technically count as “falling down.” But (and a very big one) I did get right back up as quickly as six days later, when I was released from the hospital under my own recognisance. Which in my mind makes me a…

Weeble.

Unfortunately, since the heart attack I feel like all I’ve been doing is wobbling. Getting knocked around and over and getting back up again for another Weeble style pounding.

I can’t say that I really enjoy this pounding. And although I am still getting back up after each and every hit, it is getting harder. I don’t know if that’s because as I lose more weight I am becoming less bottom heavy or if I am just getting disoriented from all this wobbling.

My daughter and I used to love playing with the Weebles. They really did not fall down. You could smack one across the room. Bounce one off of a wall. Or even kick the little Weeble around the place like a tiny bottom heavy football. They would wobble wildly, but they did not fall down.

But to be honest, I’ve been taking Weeble hits since February this year.

SMACK!

13 February this year, I hurt my back at work.

WAP!

Mid March I go see my personal banker (lower caps because she couldn’t help me) and she says sorry, we can’t help your debt problem.

PUNCH!

24 August I go in to get two steroidal injections in my lower back for the pain. The last one hurts clear through the local anaesthesia.

KICK!

30 August I have my heart attack and then two surgeries. After the second emergency surgery I am told that they made a booboo in my aorta.

SLAP!

24 October I see the specialist who saved my life and find out I’ve got a “man-made” aneurism in my aortic arch. I will have it till I either die or it kills me. Surgery for this problem has such a low percentage of success, it is not an option.

STOMP!

23 November I get a letter from the medical organisation that determines my fitness for work and recommends me for a lower tier ill health retirement. This equals a poverty pay out. Oh and I could be declared as disabled.

K.O!

This would make the financial plans that have been worked out for me null and void and I won’t be making anywhere near the amount of money that the company based my plan on.

Now as a Weeble, the K.O. will not put me down, just out. I know that I will wobble about for a bit and then once movement has subsided, I’ll brace myself for the next assault. Unfortunately, I’m starting to flinch somewhat uncontrollably.

When I hear the letter flap go on the front door, I wince. As I look at each envelope to see what address is on the back of it, I hold my breath. If it is just junk mail, I let out a sigh of relief that would blow out a fifty candle cake. If, however, it is another Weeble type assault, the air rushes out of me like a punctured tyre.

Now I have not seen a Weeble advert in years on television. I had to Google Weebles on the internet to see if they still made them. To my surprise they still do make them, although they look a bit fancier than the ones my daughter and I played with. I did look at several images of Weebles, but I could not find one that looked like me.

So despite the fact that I feel like a battered and bruised Weeble, I don’t look like one.

Yet.

As I sit here, wobbling from this last attack on my existence, I think I might market a new toy, “The Meeble.” It would be a combination of a Weeble and a Timex watch. It will never fall down and it can take, “A licking and keep on ticking.”

Or at least it will as long as the battery doesn’t run out.

PLUS

EQUALS

Thanksgiving, a Perfect Time to Reflect

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...
English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember being taught in grade school about the first ever Thanksgiving celebration. We were taught how the Pilgrims were so thankful to have made it through their first winter in “The New World” that they wanted to celebrate with their Indian friends. Friends who were instrumental in helping them to survive in the  new world.

But the new arrivals didn’t let their friendship keep them from taking advantage of their “saviours.” It wasn’t too much later that white men bought what would later be known as Manhattan Island from a local tribe for a parcel of beads, mirrors, brightly coloured cloth and cheap weapons.

The acquisition journey had begun and the “new” settlers were already pushing their way into lands already occupied by Native Americans and in pushing their way in, the Indians were pushed out.

And so the history of America which is pretty much glossed over in school textbooks, is the history of conquering a nation that belonged to someone else. The eastern Native Americans fought against this never-ending  tide of white settlers and because of their location were able to see first hand how they were never going to stem this tide.

Only one Indian nation managed to fight successfully, but that was in the wilds of Florida where the geography helped the inhabitants. The settlers still won though and forced the remnants of a once great tribe further west.

As time marched on, the settlers became known as pioneers. Eternally seeking more land, more places where no one had been before. No one, that is, except for the locals. The Native Americans who had been there since time out of mind.

These pioneers were just as determined as their ancestors, the pilgrims and settlers in taking this new country over and calling it their own. Even more so with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of Dakota. Once precious metals were factored into the equation the rest of the country was not just taken over by “well-meaning” pioneers.

Now the west was being overrun by folks just interested in getting rich. Never mind that the land and the minerals legally belonged to someone else. This was destiny partner. The new world had land and riches just waiting to be snatched up. Don’t worry about the natives. They are just savage and ignorant. They don’t even realise how valuable their land is.

But let us not be deceived, it was not just personal avarice that affected the legal occupants of America. It was an entire races greed. Greed that originated in another country. England to be exact.

You can discount the school tales taught to our children about how America was the place where people who had been vilified and reviled for their choice of religion went to get freedom to worship their deity as they chose. America, in the beginning, was never about freedom of religion.

It was about acquiring a country and its resources and minerals for nothing more than the sweat and blood it required to wrest it from the legal existing populace.

Later when the Apache and the Comanche (and other) tribes were fighting to drive this white menace away from their lands, it was deemed acceptable for entire villages to be wiped out. These were heathens after all, they were not considered to be children of “our god” and their number should be decimated. All the easier then to convert the remnants of the tribe into Christianity.

After a couple of centuries had passed and schools dotted the countryside, the myth of the first Thanksgiving being taught to all those children to show how magnanimous the Pilgrims were in including the native savage contingent of the New England colony’s.

I suppose in an ironic way, it was more than appropriate for the new settlers to invite the tribe to the feast. They were not only thanking the Indians for their help, but they were thanking them for the country that they would be instrumental in helping to take over.

I will be celebrating Thanksgiving today, but on a very personal level. Being thankful is not a bad thing, unless of course you are thanking God for helping you to destroy an existing culture and nation.

So as an American, both in the Native American sense and otherwise, I think Thanksgiving is a perfect time to reflect on how we got where we are today. And I suppose to be thankful that the white settlers did not decide to eradicate the original occupants of the “new world.”

Chief Sitting Bull
Chief Sitting Bull (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Hole (2009): There’s Something Down There

Directed by Joe Dante and written by Mark L. Smith, The Hole is a horror film that is aimed at the teen audience no doubt. But despite the fact that the targeted demographic is quite a lot younger than I am, I enjoyed the film immensely.

The film stars Chris Massoglia (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant),Haley Bennett (The Haunting of Molly Hartley), Nathan Gamble (The Mist) and a brilliant (too small) cameo by acting veteran Bruce Dern.

Brothers Dane (Massoglia) and Lucas (Gamble) and mother Susan (Teri Polo) move the quiet suburbs of Bensonville from New York. While the family is settling in their new home, the boys discover a hole in the basement that has been covered and locked. With the boy’s curiosity peaked, they pry open the hole’s lid while mom Susan is at work.

Once they open the lid, they find out that the hole appears to be so deep that there isn’t a bottom to it. They enlist the help of their next door neighbour Julie (Bennett) to find out if she knows about the hole. Perplexed they decide to leave it alone and close the lid. But it appears that when they opened the hole, they let something out.

All three of the children have something scary happen to them. Lucas has a fear of clowns and a clown puppet shows up in his room, alive. Dane is visited by a large, very strong scary man and Julie is visited by a ghost in her dark bathroom.

Bruce Dern as Creepy Carl.

After watching the hole all night to see if anything comes out, Julie tells the boys about the previous owner of the house “Creepy” Carl (Dern). They decide to visit Carl and find him sitting in a room where he is surrounded by light bulbs. Carl admonishes the boys for opening the hole and tells them that by doing so they’ve let “the darkness” out and it will get them.

As the children leave, Carl’s light bulbs start going out and he is left in the dark screaming.

The rest of the film is about the three kids battling the things that come out of the hole. They try to defeat the hole and the darkness.

Although this was a horror/thriller aimed at a young teen audience, the movie works well. It was filmed in 3D and opened to positive reviews. I did not watch the 3D version; I watched the blu ray DVD and still enjoyed the film.

The Hole is very similar to the 2003 film Holes which was aimed at a similar demographic. Unlike Holes with its too simple plot and childish villains, The Hole has genuinely creepy ghosts and scary monsters.

The film has an “open” ending which seems to suggest the possibility of a sequel but it appears that despite the good opening reviews the film itself did not make enough money to qualify for one.

Despite the fact that I did enjoy the film and the creative ways that the three kids disposed of the monsters (or ghosts) I felt it could have benefited from more Bruce Dern (more cowbell, I need to hear that cowbell) and less of the neighbour girl. But that could have just been me.

The actors all do a capable job and the film is definitely worth watching. Although The Hole is not in the same league as the 1987 film The Monster Squad, it is just as enjoyable.

Scary clown puppet.