Desert Island DVDs: Annamaria Alfieri

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Annamaria Alfieri is the author of three historical mysteries set in South America. Her current series takes place in British East Africa, now Kenya, beginning in 1911. The Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch described her Strange Gods as having “the flair of Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham, the cunning of Agatha Christie and Elspeth Huxley and the moral sensibility of our times.” The second in this series, The Idol of Mombasa is just out. Alfieri is also, along with Michael Stanley, the editor of the new mystery/thriller anthology Sunshine Noir, which Peter James called “a gem of an anthology—a whole new movement,” in crime fiction.

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‘My passion is historical fiction. The mysteries I write take place in times past and often in remote places. So it is no surprise to me that I am drawn to the same kinds of stories when it comes to movies and television. Hence, my pick for the best of the best, when it comes to TV series, is Foyle’s War. For me it has everything. Nothing tops it.’

‘The series takes place in Hastings, on the English coast beginning in 1940, just as World War II is getting underway in earnest. The main characters are a trio led by DCS Christopher Foyle, an experienced detective, a WWI veteran, who wants nothing more than to have a serious job with the government in fighting the war. But his superiors insist that he is more valuable solving crimes, and aren’t we glad of that. His sidekicks in this effort are Samantha Stewart, a driver seconded to him from the women’s military corps and a partner who is a clear thinking policeman daunted by the fact that he lost a leg in Britain’s first military disaster of the war, in Norway.’

‘The creator and writer—Anthony Horowitz—gives us carefully drawn characters and twisty, surpassingly engaging plots. But he never gets overly precious with the surprises. Just enough to keep us guessing. Like all good historical fiction, these great stories are wrapped around legendary events—such as the evacuation of Dunkirk. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of life on the English home front during wartime. Oh, the events we expect to see are all there—the Blitz, the food shortages, the evacuation of children. But the show is much more than that. There is just enough hope and glory for us to admire the brave lads in their Spitfires fighting fascism. But we also get an unblinking look at home-front hanky panky of everyday Brits, attacking innocent German and Italian immigrants, looting bombed out factories, stealing priceless works of art as they are being moved from threatened London into safe keeping in Wales. There is just enough romance in the stories to give us a bit of relief from wartime tragedy. The underlying social issues cross the gap of decades—generational antagonisms, sexual politics, class warfare. And like all good historical fiction, the stories reflect what’s on our minds today, politically and socially.’

‘The art direction is superb. The period set decoration is perfection, and the episodes are worth watching for the scenery alone—like the vintage cars and especially the buses, the half-timber houses, the thatched cottages. Great direction, camera work, Foyle’s War has it all. Each episode, on its own, reads like a good film.’

‘The tales are character driven and the acting is superb. Led by the incomparable Michael Kitchen, who can say more with a close-up of the look in his eye or the slightest twist of his mouth than most television actors can say with twelve lines a dialog. His co-stars are up to the mark: Anthony Howell, as Foyle’s sergeant –Paul Milner, Honeysuckle Weeks, as Samantha Steward—Foyle’s driver, and Julian Ovenden as Andrew, Foyle’s son. All perfectly cast and unforgettable in their roles. (I confess that when Ovenden showed up as one of Lady Mary’s suitors in Downton Abbey, I said, “Oh, look. It’s Andrew Foyle.”)’

‘At one point, one the characters looks at the series DCS and demands, “What sort of world is this, Mr. Foyle?”’

‘The sort of world this series creates is one that recounts history without letting the background get in the way of great detective stories.’

Runners Up for my choice:

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Endeavour

‘The prequel to the ultra-popular Inspector Morse series. Another historical offering, if you can call the 1960’s historical. The third episode of Season One—“Fugue”—is my pick for the best episode of a detective series ever.’

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Inspector Montalbano

Based on the totally engaging mysteries series by Andrea Camilleri, these shows bring the brilliant Montalbano to the small screen along with great bonuses of realistic, yet wonderfully attractive actors, gripping plots, and oh, so gorgeous Sicilian scenery. The stories move like lightning. The food described is mouth watering. The people have a YUM factor all their own.’

Thanks to Annamaria Alfieri and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Annamaria Alfieri is published by White Sun Books and Felony & Mayhem

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