Winnipeg Free Press Column, November 2017

Chris Smith’s The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History (Grand Central, 459 pages, $25) tells the story of the Comedy Central satirical comedy show in the words of its creators, hosts, correspondents, guest stars, writers, satirical targets, critics and producers. Like James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales’ Live From New York — the classic oral history of Saturday Night Live — the book is an absolutely compelling read.

The Daily Show began as a comedy show with political overtones. Under the guiding hand of its second host, Jon Stewart, it became a ratings powerhouse, tackling big political and social issues and sometimes sparking public outcry that had serious real-world repercussions. This meticulously detailed book, which includes commentary from such diverse notables as John McCain, Steve Carrell, J.J. Abrams and Tucker Carlson, is a wonderful history of a comedy show that became the voice of its viewers.

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Tami Hoag’s Prior Bad Acts (Bantam, 500 pages, $14), originally published in 2006, has been reissued — and it’s about time. This is one of Hoag’s best novels, a gripping story about a serial killer who escapes from jail. Soon the judge that sentenced him to a lengthy stretch behind bars is kidnapped, and homicide detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska are pretty sure they know who’s responsible.

Then the killings start, and as the body count rises Kovac and Liska are forced to consider a frightening possibility: maybe, just maybe, the escaped killer isn’t behind the murders. Tightly plotted and very well written, this is a great thriller with a few genuinely surprising twists. If you read it back when it first came out, read it again; and if you didn’t then, do it now.

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In Randy Wayne White’s Seduced (Putnam, 337 pages, $14), private investigator Hannah Smith has a tricky problem: the former lieutenant-governor of Florida has died in Hannah’s mother’s bed. Against her better judgment, Hannah agrees to help the dead man’s loyal chauffeur spirit the body out of her mother’s house and deposit it in a less, um, “embarrassing” place.

Meanwhile, something is killing Florida’s orange trees, and it looks like the only way to save them involves Hannah putting herself at considerable risk. She stumbles her way through the story, relying on a mixture of skill and luck to keep her in one piece, and we really enjoy hanging out with her. The Hannah Smith series (this is the fourth installment) isn’t as well known as White’s longer-running Marion (Doc) Ford series, but it is just as entertaining, and this is the best one so far.

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Kim Newman, the film historian, novelist and film critic, has been writing the Video Dungeon column for Empire magazine for nearly 20 years, focusing on the B- to Z-grade films that often get overlooked. Now his reviews have finally been assembled in one big volume, Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The Collected Reviews (Titan Books, 560 pages, $22). It’s organized thematically, with sections devoted to films about cryptids and critters, famous monsters, found footage, serial killers and cops and more.

Newman has a great reviewing style. He writes conversationally, as though he’s just talkin’ to us about some movies he’s seen, and he’s always fair, even when a movie is terrible: he determines what the filmmaker was trying to accomplish, and how well he or she succeeded. Newman really knows and loves movies — his knowledge appears to be encyclopedic — and he really wants to like every single movie he sees; you can sometimes sense his profound disappointment when a filmmaker lets him down. If you enjoy film reviews, this is a must-read collection.

This column originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press.

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