In which I snuggle up with an old Scottish lady

As a journo who covers and reads many stories of extreme real-life violence, my appetite for stories containing guns, beatings and murder has waned in recent years.

I’m hyper-conscious of domestic violence and psychotic mental illness and the sordid social ills that lead to them. I find myself wincing at the movies I used to love and even giving up the Netflix dramas I used to love. There’s enough drama in life. The most I can manage on a weeknight is a 20-minute giggle at Brooklyn 99 and I’d rather go back to Die Hard, which has mellowed with age, than watch the next John Wick movie.

But for some reason serial killer books remain the stuff of fantasy. There remains a level of safe remove, even of escape into unreality. That’s why one particularly grim night a week ago, after receiving some bad news about the illness of an old friend, there was no comfort like curling up with a new killer, from an old author I knew would deliver. Scottish writer Val McDermid has written 38 books over 30 years; she’s got the goods.

Insidious Intent (2017) is the latest in her most high-profile series, featuring detective inspector Carol Jordan and criminal profiler Tony Hill (you might remember, they featured in British TV series Wire in the Blood, which ran from 2002-2009).

There were unexpected evolutions for Carol and Tony in their last outing, Splinter the Silence, and I was keen to see where she took them next. I was not disappointed. Her genius lies in not just detailed, realistic police procedurals but in complex, flawed yet likeable characters. There is no point in a cracking plot if your characters fall flat, and McDermid has created a diverse and compelling cast in Tony, Carol and their motley team.

She develops them even further in this, and there is also AN AMAZING TWIST WHICH I WILL NOT RUIN FOR YOU in case you read it, which you should.

Actually you should probably read the series from the beginning in order to completely appreciate the twist. Book one was The Mermaids Singing (1995). Off you go.


Die Hard 5, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

It grieves my heart to write these words.

They should have stopped at four.

If you want John McLane to have a successor to pass the baton to, young, plucky, a chip off the old block; if you want the narrative complication to be that this kid is filled with resentment, not wanting to call the absentee cop dad Dad, or use his surname, but to end up embracing both after appreciating such a dad when the going gets tough; if you want all that, for Chrissakes, can someone please tell me how Die Hard 4.0 failed to tick all those boxes?

And did it impressively to boot. I’m going to stand up proudly and say I loved Die Hard 4.0. It had wit, charm and suspense as well as the basic requirement of awesomely, implausibly overblown action sequences. It had Young McResentful. It had a sexed-up modern plot, and Justin Long provided plenty of wit, balanced by sage old McLane.

Die Hard 4.0’sLucy McLane seemed more than capable of taking up the mantle. But being just a woman, it’s no surprise they put her in the backseat for this one so the guys could shoot their way home to her. Putting a woman in number five and making the most of that groundwork would be far too imaginative and risky for this play-it-safe movie.

A Good Day to Die Hard had no suspense, no charm, and the witty rejoinders were cringe-worthy. It wasn’t particularly funny the first time McLane said “I’m on vacation” (a la Clerks’ “I wasn’t even supposed to be here today, man” catchphrase). And the rest of the jokes were similarly tired. McLane’s not a complex guy, sure, but he’s not a dumbass, as calling all his ethnic antagonists things like “Papa Giuseppe” and “Nijinsky” makes him sound. You only need one or two wise-guy one-liners in a Die Hard movie, and this script turned his entire repertoire into no-effort one-liners.

I heard one reviewer say Bruce Willis “phoned it in” for this movie and didn’t give director John Moore more than two takes for anything. Whether or not this is true, I doubt the woodenness of this performance was all Willis’ fault. Two thousand takes can’t turn a hackneyed script into a good one.

And as for the plot: half the movie is a car chase, there’s a short interlude then the climax moves to Chernobyl, of all places. Years ago I saw, online, a joke “Tom Clancy Novel plot generator” where you plug in keywords and it turns them into a spy novel plot for you. This was just like that. Watching, I didn’t care a jot about the finer details or outcome of this Russian intrigue (or lack thereof) and so it’s unsurprising that the spectacle of the car chase is about as good as it gets. It’s satisfying to see hundreds of cars get crunched, but that’s about it.

Look, it’s not terrible. It’s an OK movie and entertaining enough for a couple of hours. I wouldn’t bother to pay for a ticket, however; I’d wait for the DVD if I were you, and perhaps sink a couple of beers during, to soften the pain of this all-too-familiar situation: the wrecking of an iconic series with a brainless one-too-many-sequel.

I didn’t expect anything more: but quietly, just quietly… I hoped for something more.