I’ve been thinking a lot about why brutal crime stories are so compelling. Why are there so many excellently written and absolutely gripping murder stories? If you believe, as Harold Bloom does, that Shakespeare is the greatest writer of the Western Canon, you have to consider how many of his greatest, or really the greatest, plays involve atrocity.

It’s not just that these stories are popular, it’s that so many of them are truly great. If you believe, as Harold Bloom does, that Shakespeare is the greatest writer of the Western Canon, you have to consider how many of his greatest, or really the greatest, plays involve atrocity.

Some say Edgar Allen Poe was the first detective fiction writer. I’ve read their arguments and I’m innclined to agree. You also have Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood as a towering example of immersion journalism in the genre.

Silence of the Lambs took home seven oscars in 1992. Before that, there was Hitchcock’s auteur work. One of my favorite living directors, David Fincher, did Seven and Zodiac.

Television has been offering crime drama for as long as its been around. Love it or hate it, Law & Order is still going strong after something like 180,000 episodes. The first season of True Detective is, to my tastes, an absolute masterpiece. Netflix’s recently released Mindhunter  (produced by David Fincher and others) is decent as well, showing new media is a fertile ground for murder tales.

I haven’t explored crime novels much since high school, but since I like reading more than watching TV, I asked some friends online what their favorite crime/murder books  were. I got a lot of response I’ve posted the list below. The only one I’ve already read is Capote’s.

I’m going to work my way through most of it this year and will likely keep writing on this blog about this subject over the next few months. I figure this will be a nice compliment to the horror podcast I do, Scary Thoughts.
American Pain by John Temple

Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh

In My Father’s Name by Mark Arax

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen

Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

Black Dahlia, Red Rose by Piu Eatwell

Black Dahlia Avenger by Steve Hodel

Who Killed These Girls by Beverly Lowry

In His Garden by Leo Damore

The Dracula Killer by Lt. Ray Biondi

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Killer with a Badge by Charles Hustmyre

Practical Homicide Investigation by Vernon J. Gerbeth


Kylo Ren

It took me a while to see The Last Jedi because I’ve found the most egregious mouth breathers, chatterboxes, and face-stuffers generally pour their malformed low-impulse control bloat into theaters in the first three weeks of a film’s release. I also had to wait for my wife, who despite having no interest in any other Star Wars films, has a thing, like many do, for Adam Driver.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, there will be spoilers from this point on. 

In general, I like the new trilogy so far, but not nearly as much as I liked Rogue One. I could’ve handled an entire 9 episodes of Band of Brothers style war drama with those characters. Now, I know one of you is going to say “that’s what The Clone Wars is!” Maybe, but I have zero interest in cartoons and will likely never watch it.

In the new trilogy, for every truly cool element, there is an utterly worthless one. You get Kylo Ren’s Darksider aggression, but you also get Finn’s complete and utter lameness. It’s a shame, because John Boyega was a charismatic and believable hero in Attack the Block. Which brings me to my first point.

#1 Change Finn Into a Man with Some Rage

Finn is a dude who was stolen from his family and trained by the First Order his whole life to be a soldier, but ended up pushing a mop instead of wrecking shit. I’ve personally known a few guys who joined the military of their own will who’ve had this same experience. They are not plucky, bumbling do-gooders just waiting for their chance.

They are hilarious, cynical, and tough. The military didn’t provide them an opportunity to smash things, so they got into stuff like Jiu-Jitsu and boxing.

Imagine if Finn was a guy who spent his free time training to kill, but his attitude or maybe even something more insidious, like racism, kept him from advancing in rank. This is a powder keg of a man who would love a sexy rebel to show up and give him the push he needed to tear down an evil empire that had shit all over him.

#2 Make the First Order Leadership Scary 

The First Order needs to be as scary as the Nazis they are clearly meant to represent. General Hux is often played for comic relief. He should be evil, and forceful, like Ralph Fiennes as Amon Göth in Schindler’s List  or Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds. Instead, Hux is essentially an Alt-Right doofus.

Captain Phasma. Where to begin? She is basically the Boba Fett of this series. Looks cool, but does absolutely nothing. I’m not even sure what would’ve worked. Maybe have her command an AT-AT in the final battle?

#3 Stretch the Timeline to Accommodate Rey’s Training 

When Rey was introduced to audiences, there was some talk about how she was an unrealistic hero. I may have even shared some of this sentiment, but I’m willing to suspend some disbelief now. She spent her whole life fighting for her livelihood on a hellish desert world. She shares the same impoverished, harsh origins that makes fighters like Mike Tyson so great. All she needs is her own Cus D’Amato to hone her raw talent.

Unfortunately, she has Nü-Luke.

In The Empire Strikes Back, everything that happens on the Millenium Falcon, from the repair of the hyperdrive, to Leia and Han’s romance, takes weeks. That means Classic Luke spends more than a few days with Yoda. When he shows up to fight Vader in Cloud City, he’s still totally outmatched, but has the rudiments to get to the skill level he shows up with at Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi. 

All Rey gets from Luke is two and a half lessons, some chat time with her no-good boyfriend, a few old books, and a trip down a moist hole that leads to a Black Swan moment.

I think it’s valid to accept Rey as some sort of natural-born Force badass, but so is Kylo Ren. He was trained by Luke and had some legit Darkside lessons from Snoke. Rey needs the equivalent. Imagine if Luke knew he couldn’t talk her out of confronting Kylo Ren and instead of trying to get all emo about his own faults, he took the Mr. Miyagi route and showed her the Way, condensed.

That said, she’s already beat Kylo Ren and she saves his ass in the throne room, so maybe she doesn’t need anything.

To stretch the timeline out, just change how the cat-and-mouse chase between the Rebellion and the First Order worked. Hell, just rip off the Battlestar Galactica episode 33. Make the fleet trackable, but put some time between jumps. This would’ve also allowed Finn and Rose’s side quest to be a little more developed.

On a related note, I’ve heard Billy Dee Willians isn’t up to acting these days, but when you have a gambling planet, why not CGI old Lando at a card table, staring at some Twi-lek’s booty?

#4 Have General Leia Organa Pilot the Cruiser Into the First Order Fleet

It’s tragic that Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. But it’s strange and probably inconvenient that her character is the only one from the original trilogy that survives (other than Chewbacca, but that’s not relevant to this point). It would’ve been so much more powerful to have her deal the killing blow to the First Order ships.

Her death would have saved the alliance. It would have been dramatic. Just before she hit the hyperdrive, she could’ve seen Han’s Force ghost say, “I love you” and when she responded with “I know” there would not be a dry eye in the house.

It would’ve also allowed Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo to be a strong lead in the final film of the trilogy. Now she’s just a misunderstood purple-haired scold who got in Poe’s way, but came through at the end. It would be interesting to see her in action and learn why she was considered such a powerful General.

But really, why have anyone die? Isn’t there one droid sitting around to push a button? I mean, C-3PO has had a pretty good run. Why not have him actually do something useful for once? Hell, you know BB-8 likes to kill First Order sodiers. He would probably love to go out in a blaze of glory.

#5 Make the Final Battle Echo the Assault on Hoth 

How much cooler would it have been if the ships sitting in that old rebel base were rebel “snow” speeders? Remember, they weren’t technically built for snow. In Empire there’s a bit of dialog about how they are having trouble getting them adjusted to the harsh conditions.

It would’ve been badass to have these old rebel ships fighting the new First Order AT-ATs. Imagine Finn and Rose Tico fighting back-to-back in a speeder, cementing their love/friendship/whatever.

I would’ve actually appreciated some characters dying in this battle. One of the things that made Rogue One so great was there were deadly consequences to the war. I would’ve had Rose eject Finn to save him and crash her speeder right into the cannon. She still saves Finn, but goes out like a hero, just like her kickass sister did. Right before she runs her ship into the cannon, she would close her eyes and touch her medallion the same way.

I can hear all you naysayers ready to complain that she’d just be a one and done Asian character, but so was the blind dude in Rogue One, Chirrut Îmwe. His death was glorious and he’s one of the all time best Star Wars heroes.

#6 Don’t Make Luke Such a Sad Chump

The whole idea of choking out the Jedi order makes sense only if the Sith are vanquished. Until that happens, Luke’s withdrawal basically amounts to resignation. He is a veteran of two Death Star battles, the Assault on Hoth, and he fought his own father in front of the Emperor.

I could see him giving up the idea of training more Jedi, but I don’t think he would’ve quit without trying to kill Snoke and Kylo Ren. Once the Sith were vanquished, he could go die on a rock in the ocean, but not until then.

Instead of being a hologram, I’d have Luke physically present at the final battle. Right as the rebels start to lose, have the Millennium Falcon drop down in the middle of the battle  with Luke and Rey on the Falcon’s guns. Chewbacca drops Luke on the ground and he calls out Kylo Ren. Maybe Ren still unloads all the ordinance on him, but he stops them with a Force shield or something.

In the final scene, have the lightsaber duel work about the same way, with the nod to Ben Kenobi’s death. But have Luke cut Kylo’s hand off, stop before dealing a killing blow, stare off into the distance and hallucinate the twin suns of Tattooine (easily the best moment of the actual film), and have Ren strike down an empty cloak.

You don’t get the final Luke and Leia scene, but maybe you get a scene at the end where Rey looks over her shoulder and sees their Force ghosts waving at her. What a tearjerker that would be!

#7 Tone Down the Democratization of the Force

I know, we’ve officially entered the “everybody gets a trophy/lightasber” era of Star Wars. But the Force should still require dedication and practice. Otherwise you end up with an utterly insipid X-men situation where you have all these corny Force using kids blasting around doing space wizard shit. I get it. That sells toys, but come one. People should have to at least work hard to develop those skills.