Literacy 2024: Book 5: The Man Who Died Twice

The second book in the Thursday Murder Club series

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

Book 2 in the Thursday Murder Club series

Not long after finding the culprits behind a double homicide in the first book, retiree Elizabeth Best receives an intriguing note from someone in her past life as a spy. Following up on the note involves Elizabeth, along with the rest of the Thursday Murder Club and their new friends, in a case involving multiple murders, mobsters, and the disappearance of a fortune in diamonds.


  • Gets right into the story, now that the characters and their relationships have been established.
  • Doesn’t feel as aggressively cozy as its predecessor, treating its characters from the start not as “elderly people solving crimes,” but actual characters with a ton of life experience.
  • Light-hearted throughout, but one line in particular actually made me laugh out loud.
  • Does a pretty good job of capturing “the banality of evil.” We see into the minds of (some of) the villains, and are shown that even when we’re in their point of view, they’re not fascinating or even exciting, just willfully ignorant and selfish.
  • Often anticipates the reader’s main theories about what happened, and has a character explicitly call it out, to reassure the reader that they’re in sync.
  • The character of Elizabeth, which I didn’t like much in the first book since she was essentially a super-hero of plot convenience, is more fallible and relatable here.


  • One of the main clues was disappointingly obvious.
  • The tone overall is “light-hearted but poignant,” so the moments where it descends into outright comedy just feel weird and out of place.
  • Overuses the gimmick of building tension by having a character reflecting on how good their life is right now. (Although the last one was pretty sweet).
  • The climax strains credulity past the breaking point, insistent on tying up every loose end at once.
  • Although I do really like the character of Bogdan, he’s clearly become the infallible super-hero of plot convenience for this book.

I think it’s better than the first book, more confident in its main characters and a little less eager to make them quirky and charming. The side characters still seem a little too try-hard, some of the jokes are extremely corny, and the gag of “old people so stubborn and seemingly harmless that they always get their way” has been over-used to its breaking point. But it is absolutely still a fun and light, character-driven mystery story that’s not so light that it evaporates.

Spoilers after the break

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Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Out and Cringe

In honor of Pride month, two tunes from a time I wanted to forget but am now happy to remember

Dear Diary:

One of the things that might not be immediately obvious about coming out in your early 30s is that you’re a grown-ass adult having to go through a lot of the same awkward stuff that most people went through in their teens. In my case, that meant coming out with a huuuuuge crush on a guy that I’d met online, who decidedly did not feel the same way.

I should make it clear that there are no hard feelings at all; he was perfectly fine and supportive, and I don’t know how I would’ve handled the situation if the roles had been reversed. So everything here is making fun of myself, not anybody else.

Because I was infatuated. I’d save our chat logs and read back over them repeatedly, imagining that mundane conversations were the most witty and sparkling banter, and desperately looking for any clue that there might be some kind of spark there. Every story was fascinating, and I ended most conversations feeling like Marcia Brady after meeting Desi Arnaz, Jr.1I’m really, really old, is what I’m getting at.

And I got excited about “what’s your favorite song?” conversations, immediately going to buy the recommendations from iTunes.2Yes, this is back when you had to pay for music. See above. The first I remember was “Toxic” by Britney Spears, which was ubiquitous at the time, but I had somehow never heard in its entirety.

Purchasing this song felt like I was crossing some sort of threshold. By that point, I knew that I was gay, but I didn’t think I was that gay.

But once I got over myself, I came to the realization that “Toxic” is just objectively a banger, regardless of age, orientation, or snobbiness. The video is hilariously dated, stuck hopelessly in the early 2000s, but the song is still fantastic.

The other song, though, was “The Killing Moon” by Echo and The Bunnymen:

And again, I don’t mean any offense to anybody who likes the song, but man. That couldn’t be any less my thing unless it were death metal, or maybe “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. Hearing it in the middle of an intense crush made my stomach drop like the first time I saw The Phantom Menace.

Hearing it now, though, just makes me happy. It’s a reminder of how hard it is to find the right person, how some people just don’t click no matter what, and how good things tend to happen when and if they’re supposed to. Twenty-plus-years-ago me was convinced he’d be alone forever, and he spent most of his time riddled with anxiety about everything. Now, I look back and realize… well, at least now I’m anxious about entirely different stuff.

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    I’m really, really old, is what I’m getting at.
  • 2
    Yes, this is back when you had to pay for music. See above.

Breakin’ Necks With Kal-El & Zod

Reconsidering a now-mostly-irrelevant superhero movie, and the dangers of meeting a story halfway

Last night, Instagram was doing what Instagram does, serving up never-ending sets of short videos in an attempt to hone in on what’s going to get me hooked on the app even more.

One of those was a video of clips from the climax of Man of Steel, with some unidentified narrators explaining how Kal-El straight-up murdering Zod [spoiler?] was not only perfectly in character for Superman, but it was necessary. Superman had no choice! Saving a defenseless family from getting heat-vision obliterated by a mad Kryptonian was the most Supermanest thing that Superman could do.

Because Instagram only cares about views and not context, I don’t have any idea of how old the clip was or who was doing the talking. Was it cobbled together from Bluray special features? Is it a fan video essay? Is anyone anywhere still talking about this movie, now that the “Synderverse” has pretty much fizzled out completely? Is it at all relevant?

I say it’s at least a little bit relevant, because I was dead wrong about the movie after I saw it. Reading back on my review 11 years later, I’d classify it as “charitable” more than “effusive,” and the things I mostly liked about the movie then are the same things I remember fondly about it: great cast, great final line from Lois Lane, and lots of Henry Cavill with no shirt on. Plus I like that it leaned into the idea of “Superman is an alien,” dildo-shaped spaceships and all, instead of “being an alien is Superman’s back-story.”

But the rest of my review hasn’t aged well. At the time, I said I was looking forward to seeing more in the series, which was clearly false because I still haven’t seen any of the other DC movies apart from Wonder Woman and Aquaman.1I’m not sure if The Suicide Squad and Black Adam are in the same universe? Also I’m not sure if I care? And those only because they suggested a novelty and weirdness outside of Snyder’s interpretation of the characters.

Most of all, though, I was wrong about the climax of Man of Steel. Like the people defending it in that aforementioned Instagram video, I said that the moment made sense in the context of everything that came before it, and with the overall premise and tone of the movie. Which is bizarre, because it absolves the filmmakers of having any control over the premise and tone of the movie. It values being tonally or thematically consistent, over being tonally and thematically appropriate for one of the most well-defined characters in popular culture.

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    I’m not sure if The Suicide Squad and Black Adam are in the same universe? Also I’m not sure if I care?

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: It’s The Journey

Two songs from the Indigo Girls reminding us that the Wheel in the Sky keeps on turning

Or actually, it’s the Indigo Girls. I’ve been thinking about them a lot since the release of the documentary about them and their appearance on Seth Meyers’s show promoting it. They’re just great; absurdly talented of course, but also down to earth, bullshit free, community-oriented, and honest.

And great at writing songs about universal ideas. Emily Saliers in particular is so good at describing the serenity that comes from realizing your struggles and mistakes are essential to making you the person you are. It’s a theme that comes up over and over again in their songs, so there are a lot of great ones to choose from.

One of my favorites is “Watershed” from Nomads Indians Saints. It’s still got all the feeling of their first two albums, with the acoustic guitar and tons of harmony, and great lines like “Every five years or so I look back on my life And I have a good laugh.”

But my favorite might by “The Wood Song” from Swamp Ophelia. Listening to the Indigo Girls albums in order feels a little bit like the start of Stop Making Sense: they start out spare and acoustic, then gradually add more and more instruments as time goes on. This song was the first I’d heard that really felt like the instrumentation was adding more than just volume; it feels like the song gradually shifts the feeling from lamentation to celebration. The mistakes and struggles are victories.

(Another great song with a similar idea is “It’s Alright” from Shaming of the Sun).

Ouhrrr! Werewolves of Malibu

A begrudging appreciation for the original Werewolf By Night comic series

When I first got into The Sandman back in 1988, it was the first I became aware of the long tradition of horror comics that inspired it. And I realized that I especially had this nerd-cultural blind spot for the history of EC Comics, and its later successors like Creepy and Eerie in the mid-1960s.

The stories quickly become formulaic and predictable — often a few pages of setup ended with the exact same reveal of a character saying “For you see, I am a ghoul!/vampire!/werewolf!/zombie!” But the art was often phenomenal, with artists like Jack Davis doing incredible black-and-white line work. Reading those helped me better appreciate why series like Swamp Thing were such a big deal: they finally combined longer-form horror storytelling with the kind of highly-stylized artwork that had been overshadowed by super heroes, and brought it all to the mainstream.

It wasn’t until Marvel announced the Moon Knight series that I became aware of the horror-inspired side of the Marvel universe, running in The Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf By Night in particular. It’s fascinating, because while you can trace a direct line from early horror comics through DC’s anthologies all the way up to Swamp Thing; the Marvel side feels like something entirely different. At least with these two series, they’re 100% Marvel super-hero comics that happen to feature a werewolf and a vampire, heavily influenced by the Comics Code Authority and what creators are allowed to show.

Werewolf By Night is the much more interesting one to me, since it is the “no, but”ingest piece of collaborative storytelling I’ve seen since the Star Wars sequels.

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Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Mach 5-String

Two tunes with people playing banjo much, much better than I ever will

I don’t think O Brother, Where Art Thou? is what made me want to learn to play the banjo, but it definitely solidified any vague notion I might’ve had earlier.

I always hated pop country music, and coming from a fairly small city in Georgia, I wanted to resist anybody’s attempts to brand me as a redneck, so I just avoided anything that seemed even vaguely countrified. But bluegrass played well is sublime. Every time I saw Hee-Haw at my grandparents’ house, all I remembered was the corny jokes, and it was only as an adult that I realized how genuinely talented Roy Clark and Buck Owens were.

I got a banjo not long after O Brother came out, but I still haven’t practiced enough to get any good at it. I can play a slow and tortured version of “Cripple Creek,” which I think is the equivalent of claiming you can play the piano because you know “Heart and Soul.” It’s looking less and less likely that I’ll have a free decade or so to get good at all the stuff that I’ve been meaning to get good at over the years, so maybe I need to invest that time into learning to enjoy doing things even if I’m not good at them.

Fortunately, there are plenty of people who are good at playing the banjo, and they like to show off by playing it extra fast.

One of them is Dave Carroll in Trampled By Turtles, and you can hear him and the rest of the band showing off in “Wait So Long”, which I can’t hear without also hearing my middle school band teacher yelling at us that we were rushing.

But I think my favorite bluegrass performance ever is Alison Krauss & Union Station playing “Choctaw Hayride” live, with Ron Block on banjo and Jerry Douglas on dobro. If you’ve never heard their live double album released in 2003, I encourage you to listen to it as soon as possible. Every song is better than the studio version, the energy of the crowd is fantastic, and their personality and sense of humor come through as much as their obvious talent. Plus they do a performance of “Man of Constant Sorrow” when it was at its most popular.

Dead Meat and A Coward’s Guide to Horror Movies

Recommending an extremely popular YouTube channel that happens to be exactly what I’ve been looking for

It feels odd for me to be recommending a YouTube channel that has 6.5 million subscribers as if I were the first person to discover it. But it’s not the kind of thing that I’d normally recommend, and I only just found it recently, even though it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.

The channel is called Dead Meat, and the bulk of the content is the “Kill Count” series, which gives a recap of a horror movie, calling out each time a character is killed, and then tallying them all up (with a pie chart!) at the end.

This is perfect for me, who’s got a fraught relationship with horror movies. I really, deeply want to love them. They’re interesting to pick apart, especially since all of the dynamics are often blatantly playing out across the surface, letting you find as much or as little depth as you want. At the same time, the entire genre is designed to refuse that kind of over-intellectualized analysis. They work best when they bypass all of the critical parts of your brain and go for an immediate reaction. As somebody who overthinks everything, I love watching something like Malignant or Orphan: First Kill, and not “turning off my brain,” but letting it target my brain directly and just enjoy it.

But that’s also why I can’t handle so many of them. I used to just say that I was a coward and leave it at that, but I think there’s actually more to it. When a horror movie clicks with me, I absolutely love it. But there’s a narrow window of tone, subject matter, violence, gore, performance, verisimilitude, and a dozen other aspects that, if a movie veers even a little bit out of the zone, it becomes completely intolerable for me.

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Literacy 2024: Book 4: Killer, Come Back to Me

A collection of Ray Bradbury’s crime stories

Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury

To commemorate what would have been Bradbury’s 100th birthday, a collection of his stories for pulp crime magazines throughout the 1940s and early 50s


  • Includes a forward to put the stories into context, as well as an afterword written by Bradbury himself for an earlier-published collection of several of the same stories, with his characteristically clear-headed assessment of his own work (and his work ethic)
  • Thoughtful organization of the stories, so that you can see Bradbury’s unique voice, along with his particular interests, become more and more pronounced over the course of the book
  • Fascinating pair of companion stories, originally published in different pulp magazines, that describe the day of a crime, one from the perspective of the victim, the other in the mind of the criminal
  • Another interesting pair of companion stories bring in Bradbury’s interest in science fiction, exploring two implications of a company called Marionettes, Inc. making lifelike android versions of humans
  • A highlight is a fascinating story of a man’s obsessive need to clean up the scene of a murder he’d committed
  • The stories incorporate Bradbury’s interest in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy-middle-America world-building
  • Once he sheds the pulp formula, the stories become fascinating psychological profiles that remain relatable across decades.


  • The bulk of the stories are fairly standard pulp fiction until Bradbury’s unique voice becomes apparent — they’re still well-written, but lack the spark of his best work
  • Horror and crime/suspense stories are a good match, but the inclusion of sci-fi stories feels a bit jarring and out of place
  • I would’ve appreciated an explicit date of first publication with each story, so that we could better place it in Bradbury’s overall body of work

Interesting for fans of Ray Bradbury, who want to see a side of his writing that’s not quite like the stuff that he’s better known for. In his afterword, he acknowledges that his crime stories are fine, but don’t come from the same passion as his other stories, and they don’t really capture his unique voice. This shouldn’t be anybody’s first exposure to Bradbury’s writing, but it is an excellent demonstration of how the voice and style that we love actually developed.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Follow for Now

Two songs from an Atlanta band that should’ve been much much bigger

These songs were prompted by my finding out about It’s Only Life After All, a new documentary about Indigo Girls, musicians from Atlanta who seem to have found exactly the amount of success that they wanted. (And they deserve it; they’re awesome, and I’m glad to see they’re still finding new listeners with stuff like the Barbie movie).

But that reminded me of Follow For Now, a band from Atlanta who should’ve been so much bigger. I listened to their one album constantly and still have most of it committed to memory. I spent so much of the early 90s driving around Athens and Atlanta blasting it at full volume. In a just universe, they would’ve been as popular as Fishbone.

Their album isn’t available on Apple Music, but I was happy to find a video that I didn’t know existed, for their song “Evil Wheel.”

I’m glad that the video has some live footage, because they were phenomenal in person. I only got to see them live once, and it was as wild as raucous as you’d expect, but also overwhelmingly inclusive. I might be revealing myself to be a white liberal stereotype, but any time I went inside the perimeter in Atlanta, I tried to be hyper-aware of whether I was invading spaces that weren’t meant for me. The crowd at the Follow For Now show (which if I remember correctly was in Little Five Points) basically treated the whole idea as irrelevant.

Which makes sense in retrospect, since there was nothing exclusionary about the band’s content. At the start of this post, I was going to say that they had nothing in common with Indigo Girls apart from Atlanta, but that’s not quite true: they both put an emphasis on socially conscious lyrics and activism.

The highlight of the album is their phenomenal cover of Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero.” If over the next couple of weeks, you happen to see a white-bearded old man driving slowly around Burbank in a mid-sized electric SUV, head-banging as if he were in the mosh pit of an early 90s music video, you know which song is to blame.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: St Vincent is Listening

Two tangentially-related tunes for St Vincent’s new album release and an unexpectedly familiar companion song

After seeing the video for “Actor Out of Work” by St Vincent, and especially after the performance on Austin City Limits, I was blown away. It felt like the first genuinely new music I’d heard in years. Her albums since then have been hit-or-miss with me, and I sincerely hope that never changes.

Sometimes I love it (Actor), sometimes I hate it (Daddy’s Home), but she is fully invested in making each album a presentation instead of just a collection of songs. Annie Clark is one of the only artists playing arena-sized venues who always seems like she’s doing exactly what she wants to do. The hit songs almost feel like an accidental bonus.

All Born Screaming is my favorite of her albums since St Vincent, feeling like she’s been collecting favorite influences across her whole career and presenting them as an album instead of a new glam rock persona. So far “Flea” and “Big Time Nothing” are my favorite tracks, but the first release is called “Broken Man” and has one hell of a great video.

The other night I spent the better part of an hour just driving around the valley so I could listen to the album uninterrupted. So much of it feels familiar, as elements drift in and out of her songs, never feeling quite like a pastiche or a direct homage, but like a bunch of original compositions by someone with an encyclopedic familiarity with pop, rock, and funk music. Is that Deep Purple? Led Zeppelin? Something the Beastie Boys sampled?

I knew almost immediately what the beginning of “Broken Man” reminded me of, though: “Misinformed” by Soul Coughing, from El Oso, easily one of my top 5 albums of all time. Was it a direct reference? I highly doubt it, but then I also wouldn’t be surprised if she were drawing from late 90s alternative as much as 70s rock.

All of Soul Coughing’s records, but El Oso in particular, were full of sounds I’d never heard before, but had that same feeling of odd familiarity, like having a nightmare about listening to jazz from an alien planet. A lot of what I loved about Actor came from Annie Clark saying she was inspired by the music from Sleeping Beauty. So maybe they have more in common than I’d originally thought!

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: On the 45

Going back even farther into my past with a couple of tunes I listened to at 45 rpm

Previously on Spectre Collie… I was reminiscing about the first songs I ever bought with my own money, but I started to wonder whether I could recall any of the songs I pestered my parents into getting for me. Back in that shadowy time between the Carpenters albums and novelty compilations from K-TEL of my youth, when I started listening to songs that people my age actually liked.

One of the first singles I remember having was “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” by The Gap Band. I was obsessed with that song, and knowing me, I’m sure I went around making the whistling sound when I hummed it.

Hearing it now, and watching that video, I’m kind of surprised that it’s still such a banger. I remember it being kind of corny, even as a kid. There’s no way in hell I was cool enough as a kid to be thinking, “Just you wait until people start sampling the Gap Band, and you’ll be able to appreciate it how prescient I was.” I don’t think I was even pompous enough to use the word “prescient” back then.

The way I know I wasn’t cool back then is that the song I was even more obsessed with was “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” by Chilliwack.1Yes, I did have to look up the name of the band today.

I misremembered the song as being by a Gap Band-like one-hit-wonder group, and man, was I way off. I couldn’t hear on vinyl just how white and how Canadian they were. In retrospect, it is kind of a sampler or mash-up of a lot of other songs from roughly around the same time that became my favorites, “Black Water” by the Doobie Brothers, and “Leave It” by Yes in particular.

It also reminds me of the early 80s, because I keep thinking of being in middle school band and our band director yelling at us because we kept rushing and getting off beat. (It’s not just me, right? The chorus sounds like it’s in 4.5/4 time or something).

Also I hope it doesn’t come across as making fun (especially since I’m the last person to be making fun of how anyone looks, especially in the early 1980s), but the thing that struck me was how much the lead singer of Chilliwack looks like he was drawn by Jack Kirby.

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    Yes, I did have to look up the name of the band today.

Paved with some sort of intention

Follow-up post about Late Night With the Devil, with a few spoiler-filled questions and criticisms

I was content with my take on Late Night With the Devil for a while. I was happy to declare it as a movie that worked on its own terms, even if it didn’t work completely on mine, and I could appreciate it as a lurid haunted house-style throwback. I was even a little proud of myself for watching a movie and for once, not overthinking it.

And then I started overthinking it.

I thought that this was a movie that didn’t feel any need for subtlety. The characters tell you exactly who they are, the performances are broad, the effects are over-the-top, and it was overall intended more to be fun than genuinely scary. (Even I, as one of the biggest scary-movie cowards, never felt my heart rate go up even a tick except for a scene where a man intentionally cuts his hand with a knife). The thing I ended up liking the most about the movie was that it knew what it wanted to be.

But I read a few reviews — a couple from outlets I’d expected to be a lot more cynical and less charitable than my take — that were so effusive that I started to wonder if I’d missed something while being condescending.

The main question I had — and I won’t go into details until after a spoiler warning — was whether the movie was intended to be surprising. And I think it’s kind of interesting, because my initial takeaway was that it didn’t matter.

I’m definitely not a proponent of the whole “death of the author” line of thought. Even if it did have value when it was coined, it has no place now, and it does nothing but promote shallow and overly-literal takes on art. (And occasionally, get used by people who want to use progressive ideas like diversity, inclusiveness, and cultural sensitivity as a bludgeon).

But here, it seemed to me, was the rare case where the intention of the filmmakers didn’t actually matter, since it works fine either way. I thought I understood the story from the opening montage, so I spent the movie enjoying the tension of watching that story play out. That’s the main difference between horror and something like suspense or mystery stories: it’s not about the twists, but about watching the inevitable descent, knowing that you can’t do anything to stop what’s coming.

So I was initially confused that the ending of Late Night With the Devil spent so long belaboring the details that I’d just assumed the audience already knew. Eventually, I figured that it was a case of the movie having it both ways: if the ending surprised you, good. If it just showed you a horrific take on what you already knew had happened, also good.

But it still doesn’t fit with some aspects of the movie that I thought were unclear or just plain didn’t make sense, and for that, I need a spoiler warning.

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