Saturday, January 31, 2015

"THE GOLDEN BOWL" (2000) Review


"THE GOLDEN BOWL" (2000) Review

I have never read any of Henry James' literary works. Never. However, I have seen a few adaptations of his works. Some of them had been adapted by the production team of Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory. Aside from E.M. Forster, they must have been diehard fans of James. They had produced three adaptations of James' novels, including the 2000 film,"THE GOLDEN BOWL"

Based upon James' 1904 novel, "THE GOLDEN BOWL" is a character study of an adulterous affair between an impoverished Italian prince named Amerigo and Charlotte Stant, an equally impoverished American young woman. The movie explores their affair and its impact upon their lives and the lives of their spouses - a father-and-daughter pair named Adam and Maggie Verver. The movie begins with Amerigo's recent engagement to Maggie in London, July 1903. Amerigo and Charlotte, who were past lovers, visit A.R. Jarvis' antique store in order for Charlotte to purchase a wedding gift for Maggie, who is an old school friend. Jarvis shows them an ancient bowl, carved from a single piece of crystal and embroidered with gold, he asserts is flawless. Charlotte is indecisive about buying it, and Jarvis offers to set it aside until she can make up her mind. Although Maggie's aunt, Mrs. Fanny Assingham, is well aware of Amerigo and Charlotte's past relationship, she suggests to Maggie that Charlotte would make the perfect second wife for Adam Verver some two years later. Concerned about her father's possible loneliness, Maggie supports Fanny's idea and eventually, Charlotte becomes her stepmother. Due to their irritation over the unusually close relationship between Maggie and Adam, Charlotte and Amerigo rekindle their affair at a country house party three years later. Although Fanny and her husband Bob Assingham become aware of the affair, they decide to main silence in order to protect Maggie from any personal pain. However, in the end, their efforts prove to be in vain.

This adaptation of James' novel was not as well received as the 1972 BBC miniseries. Many critics claimed that the movie was not only inferior to the television production, but not as faithful to James' novel. As I have stated in other reviews, complete faithfulness to a literary source is not needed for a successful film, television or stage adaptation. If the changes help a particular production, then I will have no problems with said changes. The problem with "THE GOLDEN BOWL" is that I have never read James' novel. So, I cannot decide whether any changes made by screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala either improved or worsened James' novel. How do I feel about the movie? Well . . . I rather liked it. Most of it. The older I get, the more I find it difficult to view adultery in fiction with any single-minded disapproval. I have to give credit to Jhabvala for portraying Charlotte and Amerigo's affair with a good deal of maturity and complexity. Jhabvala made sure that audiences understood the couple's passion for each other . . . well, Charlotte's passion. The screenplay also conveyed the couple's irritation with the Ververs' close relationship and tendency to spend more time with each other, instead of their respective spouses. On the other hand, Jhabvala's screenplay does not hesitate to express the negative aspects of the couple's adultery - especially their careless behavior later in the story and the pain it causes Maggie when she becomes aware of it.

"THE GOLDEN BOWL" is a very beautiful looking film. I cannot deny this. The movie was filmed in both England and Italy. Tony Pierce-Roberts made good use of the locations, thanks to his sharp and colorful photography. But despite the movie's lush color, I did not walk away feeling dazzled by his work. I believe my feelings stem from Pierce-Roberts' limited use of exterior shots. On the other hand, I felt very impressed by Andrew Sanders' production designs, which ably re-created the upper-class worlds of Edwardian Britain and Italy. He was able to achieve this effect with the help of Lucy Richardson's art direction and Anna Pinnock's set decorations. However, it was John Bright's costume designs that really blew me away:



And yet . . . there are aspects of "THE GOLDEN BOWL" that either did not appeal to me or rubbed me the wrong way. These negative feelings regarding the movie did not pop up until its last 20 to 30 minutes. In the movie, director James Ivory included brief scenes of a turn-of-the-century American city as a visual symbol of the Ververs' hometown, "American City". These brief scenes were also used to reflect Charlotte's distaste for the United States and her fear of returning there. The problem is that I found these scenes very unnecessary and a rather heavy-handed literary device for American living during that period. The look on Uma Thurman's face whenever someone mentioned the idea of her character returning to States seemed enough to me. 

My real problem with "THE GOLDEN BOWL" is the strong hint of misogyny that seemed to mark the consequences that both Amerigo and Charlotte faced for their infidelity. It was bad enough that Fanny Assingham dumped most of the blame for the affair on Charlotte's shoulders. But apparently, so did Henry James. In the end, Amerigo failed to suffer any consequences for his faithlessness. On the other hand, Charlotte did. She not only lost Amerigo, but Maggie convinced her husband (and Maggie's father) to return to the United States to build his museum, taking Charlotte along, as well. One could say that Amerigo and Charlotte's fates were the result of Maggie's selfish desire to keep her husband. But when Amerigo failed to inform Charlotte that they had been found out and expressed contempt toward her failure to realize that Maggie knew about their affair, I became completely disgusted. Some claim that the latter never happened in James' novel. Actually, it did. And I can never forgive James' for his hypocrisy and obvious sexism. This struck me as a clear case of society blaming the woman for an adulterous affair.

"THE GOLDEN BOWL" featured some pretty solid performances and a few that really impressed me. Madeline Potter (an old Merchant-Ivory veteran), Peter Eyre, and Nicholas Day all gave solid performances. Although I would not regard their portrayals of the Assinghams as among their best, both Anjelica Huston and James Fox gave entertaining performances as the pair who seemed aware of the adulterous affair in this story. The chemistry between them struck me as surprisingly effective. Jeremy Northam gave a smooth and complex portrayal of the Italian prince torn between two American women. And I felt relief that his Italian accent - even if not genuine - did not bordered on the extreme. Kate Beckinsale's handling of an American accent struck me as a little more genuine . . . but just a little. Her performance for most of the film seemed pretty solid. But once her character became aware of the affair, Beckinsale's performance became more nuanced and skillful. Uma Thurman was excellent as the passionate, yet shallow Charlotte Stant Verver. Her Charlotte could have easily dissolved into a one-dimensional villainess. But thanks to Thurman's performance, I saw a passionate woman, whose flaws proved to be her undoing. However, I believe that Nick Nolte gave the best performance in the film as Charlotte's husband and Maggie's father, Adam Verver. Superficially, Nolte portrayed the millionaire as a soft-spoken, yet friendly man with a knack of making people feel at home. But there were times - especially in the movie's second half - in which Nolte kept audiences guessing on whether or not his character knew about the affair between Charlotte and Amerigo.

I would not regard "THE GOLDEN BOWL" as one of my favorite Ismail Merchant-James Ivory productions. But unlike some others, I certainly do not regard it as their worst. My one major complaint about the film was the ending of the Amerigo-Charlotte affair, which seemed to smack of sexism. And frankly, I blame Henry James. However, thanks to a first-rate cast, lush visuals and decent direction by Ivory, I thought it was a pretty decent and interesting film.

Friday, January 30, 2015

NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - Episode Five "December 1864 - February 1865"

northandsouth2 - 5a

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - EPISODE FIVE "December 1864 - February 1865" Commentary

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" finally reached its home stretch in Episode Five, the penultimate episode. Well . . . almost. Beginning several weeks after the end of Episode FourEpisode Five continued the miniseries' portrayal of the Civil War's last year for the Hazards and the Mains. It also put three or four subplots to rest. 

Episode Five opened with George Hazard still imprisoned inside Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. The episode also continued with Madeline Main's efforts to feed Charleston's poor and war refugees, Charles Main and Augusta Barclay's wartime romance, and the survival of Mont Royal's remaining inhabitants. Episode Five also closed several subplots that included Stanley and Isobel Hazard's war profiteering, Elkhannah Bent and Ashton Main Huntoon's plot against Jefferson Davis' administration, and Madeline's relationship with former officer Rafe Beaudine. 

This episode featured some excellent dramatic moments. Lewis Smith certainly shined in his portrayal of Charles Main, who had hardened considerably after three-and-a-half years of war. This was especially apparent in scenes that included Charles' reluctance to help his cousin Orry Main rescue George Hazard from Libby Prison, his cold-blooded killing of a Union prisoner, his attempt prevent fellow scout Jim Pickles from deserting and his emotionally distant attitude toward lady love Augusta Barclay and her manservant, Washington. Another well acted scene featured Brett Main Hazard and Semiramis' encounter with former Mont Royal overseer, Salem Jones. Watching Erica Gimpel point a shotgun at Tony Frank, considering their characters' past history, brought a smile to my face. I also enjoyed the poignant scene between Brett and her mother, Clarissa Main, while the latter painfully reminisced about the past; thanks to Genie Francis and Jean Simmons' performances. And both James Read and Jonathan Frakes knocked it out of the ballpark in the scene that featured George's confrontation with Stanley and Isobel over their war profiteering. They were supported by fine performances from Wendy Kilbourne and Mary Crosby.

But another truly superb performance came from Terri Garber, who got a chance to portray Ashton Huntooon's increasing doubts over Elkhannah Bent's scheme against Davis. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Ashton silently expressed shame over her willingness to prostitute herself to a potential contributor for Bent's plot. She received fine support from Jim Metzler as her husband James Huntoon and Patrick Swayze as Orry Main. But I felt that Philip Casnoff's Bent nearly became slightly hammy by the scene's end. Even Lesley Anne Down and Lee Horsley managed to shine as Madeline and the infatuated Rafe Beaudine. But I must admit that I found one of their later scenes slightly melodramatic.

Yet, despite these dramatic gems, I was not particularly impressed by the writing featured in Episode Five. I had a problem with several subplots. One, I had a problem with the subplot involving Stanley and Isobel's profiteering. It made me wish the screenwriters had adhered to author John Jakes' original portrayal of the couple in his 1984 novel, "Love and War". I felt this subplot had ended with a whimper. It was bad enough that George had killed Stanley and Isobel's partner in a bar fight. But aside from the dead partner, the only way the couple could face conviction was to confess. And I found it implausible that a remorseful Stanley would still be willing to do that after receiving an earful of angry insults from George. Very weak.

Episode Five also allowed Madeline and Bent's subplots to interact for the purpose of killing off Rafe Beaudine. Frankly, I found the idea of Bent traveling from Richmond to Charleston for more funds . . . only to be told to seek hard cash from"the Angel of Charleston" - namely Madeline. The latter recruited a retired stage actress portrayed by Linda Evans to impersonate her and discover Bent's plans. And what was Madeline's next act? She left her boarding house (in the middle of the night) to warn . . . who? The script never made it clear about whom Madeline had intended to warn. Why? Because her night time task was interrupted by Bent, who had recognized the stage actress. And before Bent could lay eyes upon Madeline, Rafe comes to her rescue. What can I say? Contrived.

I also found Bent's scheme to get rid of Jefferson Davis and assume political and military control of the Confederacy rather ludicrous. Audiences never really saw him recruit any real political support for his scheme . . . just money from various wealthy Southerners. The screenplay never allowed Bent to make any effort to recruit military support for the weapons he had purchased. In the end, I found the entire subplot lame and a waste of my time.

And finally, we come to the efforts of "Madeline the Merciful" to find food for Charleston's poor. Personally, I found this subplot ludicrous. Madeline did not bother to recruit other women from Charleston's elite to help her. And I suspect some of them would have been willing to help. I also found this subplot extremely patronizing. Again, it seemed to embrace the"savior complex" trope to the extreme. The subplot seemed to infantilize all social groups that were not part of the city's white elite or middle-class - namely fugitive slaves, working-class whites and all free blacks. I found this last category surprising, considering that the screenwriters failed to acknowledge that not all free blacks were poor. In the end, this entire subplot struck me as a white elitist fantasy that Julian Fellowes would embrace.

The production values featured in the episode struck me as top-notch. Both director Kevin O'Connor and the film editing team did excellent work for the actions scenes in Episode Five. I found myself impressed by the scenes that featured George's escape from Libby Prison, his bar fight with Stanley and Isobel's profiteering partner, Bent and Rafe's fight in Charleston and the former's encounter with Orry and the Huntoons back in Virginia. More importantly, Robert Fletcher continued to shine with his outstanding costume designs, as shown in the following images:

northandsouth2 - 5b northandsouth2 - 5c 

Yes, Episode Five featured some fine dramatic moments and performances. It even featured some solid action scenes. But . . . I was not particularly happy with most of the subplots. I also found the ending of one particularly subplot rather disappointing. No one felt more relieved than me when Episode Five finally ended.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" (2008) Photo Gallery


Below are images from "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD", the 2008 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1952 novel. The movie starred David Suchet as Hercule Poirot: 

"MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" (2008) Photo Gallery











Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Breath of the Undead" [PG-13] - 9/15


Chapter Nine

Darryl leaned back into his chair and sighed. "Murdered. Cole thinks that Ronald Wong may have been murdered before becoming a vampire? By someone else?" 

"That's right." Olivia sat down in one of the empty chairs next to her partner's desk.

Shaking his head in confusion, Darryl remarked, "I don't get it. Didn't you and Scott say that a Chinese vampire can't turn his victim into another vampire?"

Olivia sighed. "European vampires can turn their victims into vampires through a blood transfusion. It's different for Chinese vampires. They can't. A chiang shi is created in other ways. If a person suffers from a violent and sudden death, lack of proper burial or a curse, he or she will become a chiang shi. Ron Wong was in good health right before his . . . death. He didn't die from an accident. His car was found in his driveway. So, Cole and I came to the conclusion that he may have been murdered. By someone other than a vampire."

Another sigh left Darryl's mouth. "Well, that's just great. That means that we'll definitely have the FBI breathing down our necks."

"Yeah, I heard that he was one of the Department of Justice's prosecutors for the Curt Decker case." Olivia paused. "I guess you know who Curt Decker's father is - Maxmillian Decker of Decker Enterprises. The family owns the Lange Vineyards not far from the Giovanni Vineyards, near Oakville."

Darryl nodded. "Yeah, and I also know why Curt Decker is on trial. He's facing charges of drug manufacturing and trafficking. The Feds believe that he had a small operation on his daddy's ranch. Mr. Decker might be involved, as well."

A thought occurred to Olivia. "If Ronald Wong had been murdered, is it possible that someone in connection to the Decker case killed him? Of course . . ." she paused, ". . . I don't see how. I mean, Ron wasn't the primary prosecutor. Right?"

"John Reyes is," Darryl answered. "Wong was merely a . . ." 

The police lieutenant broke off, as a grim-faced Scott appeared in the doorway. "Guess what? Another body has been found. In the parking garage near the Monadnock Building." Scott paused dramatically. "Same M.O. as Jai, Remar and Alamdar."

Both Olivia and Darryl rose to their feet. The latter grabbed his overcoat. "Look, Scott, Carlotta and I will check this new body," he said to Olivia. "I want you and Marcus to look into Ronald Wong's disappearance. Maybe one of the neighbors saw something."

"Sure thing," Olivia replied with a nod, as she followed Darryl out of his office.


Clutching his backpack, Alonzo Giovanni slowly walked out of Stanford University's Green Library and nearly collided with a man and a woman dressed in dark suits. He flashed a brief frown at the pair and stepped aside to continue his trek. To his surprise, the pair again blocked his path. Only this time, they did it deliberately.

"Excuse me," the young student retorted. "Do you mind?" He tried to continue walking, but the pair refused to step out of the way. "What the hell?"

The woman, a light-brown haired woman in her late thirties flashed a badge. "Pardon me, Mr. Giovanni. I'm Special Agent Alicia Black of the FBI. This is Special Agent Roger Hamill. We need to talk to you about the Curt Decker case."

Panic struck within Alonzo's chest. For several seconds, he wondered if the FBI had discovered his investment into Curt's little operation . . . like the mysterious caller, who has been blackmailing him. Projecting a coolness he did not feel, Curt sardonically replied, "Sorry, but I don't follow the news that closely."

"That's odd," Agent Hamill commented. His dark eyes bored into Alonzo's. "Considering that Curt Decker happens to be a close friend of yours."

Coolly, Alonzo shot back, "Not anymore. I don't hang around with drug dealers. Now, if you'll excuse me." But the Federal agents refused to move. "Look, if you don't let me go, I'll call my attorney and sue your ass for harassment!"

"Mr. Giovanni, we would simply like to ask you a few questions," Agent Black merely said.

Alonzo struggled to maintain his temper and not panic at the same time. "Look, I don't know anything!"

Agent Hamill shot back, "I suppose that you don't know anything about Decker's attorney, Dean Corbin?"

"What about him?"

The two agents exchanged wary glances before the female agent answered, "His body was found near his car, earlier this morning." Alonzo stared at Agent Hamill in shock. "Are you able to answer a few questions, now?"


Around the same time, a pale-looking Janet Hui entered Cole's office, carrying two thick accordion files. "I'm sorry that I took so long, Mr. Turner. I was in Mr. Kline's office." She paused before taking a deep breath. "He, uh . . . it was about Ron. I guess that word had got around."

Cole nodded. "I understand. You can put the files on my desk." Janet did as he had suggested. The half-daemon continued, "Right now, I have a few matters to clear up before I can begin on the Macmillan case. However, I would like you to set up an appointment for the both of us to see her, tomorrow." He paused, as he glanced at Janet with concern. "Are you up to it?"

"Yeah. Sure." Janet flashed a wan smile. "I think I need work to get my mind off . . ." She let out a gust of breath. Her eyes flickered momentarily. "To get my mind off Ron." Shaking her head, she added, "I just can't believe that he's a vampire." She frowned at Cole. "And you . . . are you a . . . witch? Like Harry and his family?"

Cole contemplated an answer to the question and wondered how Janet would react to the truth. "Uh, no. No, I'm not. However . . . I do know magic. Some would call me a sorcerer, instead of a witch, since I'm not an initiated priest."

A hint of unease gleamed in Janet's dark eyes. "So, you know all about magic? Do you . . .?"

". . . use magic to win cases?" Cole finished, fully anticipating the junior associate's question. His face grew hard. "No, I don't. If I did, I would have never lost the Fujikowa case."

Repentance softened Janet's expression. "Sorry. I should have remembered about Harry. I had once asked him the same question about his dad's business. He nearly bit off my head."

"It's okay. I can understand why you would ask." Cole reached for one of the accordion files. One of his telephone lines buzzed. He answered it. "Yes?"

His legal assistant replied, "I'm sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Turner. Alonzo Giovanni is on Line Three."

It took a great effort on Cole's part not to heave a loud sigh. "Exactly what does he want to speak to me about?" As if he did not know.

A pause followed before Eleanor answered, "Uh . . . he said that it was a private matter."

"Well, tell Mr. Giovanni that I'll talk to him, later. I'm in the middle of an . . ." He flashed a knowing smile at Janet. ". . . important meeting with another client."

Eleanor mumbled, "Yes, Mr. Turner." And the telephone line went dead.

Janet frowned. "Was that Mark Giovanni's son?"

With a contemptuous roll of his eyes, Cole answered, "Unfortunately . . . yes. He probably wanted my help in maintaining a bad habit of his - spending too much money."

"It's funny," Janet continued, with a shake of her head. "Ron had suggested to Reyes that they should subpoena Alonzo Giovanni for the Curt Decker trial."

Her words took Cole by surprise. "Wait a minute. Ron? You mean your . . . uh, boyfriend? The one who's missing? He was involved in the Curt Decker trial?"

Janet nodded. "He is . . . was one of the prosecutors. So you know that that your client's son . . ."

". . . Alonzo was friends with Curt Decker?" Cole nodded. "Yes, I do. I had to accompany that little sh. . . Giovanni's son to the local FBI office, last October. John Reyes wanted to question him about Decker."

Janet asked, "Do you think that Alonzo Giovanni knew about Decker's drug operation?"

"Who knows?" Cole replied with a shrug. "He seemed surprised about Decker's arrest and the charges. But if your friend is . . . dead, there is a possibility that the Decker case might be the reason." Janet stared at him with wide eyes. "Just a thought."


Inside the semi-lit parking structure, the three police officers watched the paramedics load the dead body upon a gurney. Just as the two medics prepared to wheel the body toward a van marked CORONER, voices echoed throughout the lot. Darryl glanced up and saw two men rush toward the body.

"Wait! Wait a minute!" cried one man. Darryl recognized him as FBI Special Agent Lee Alvarez. The other man, he decided, must be Alvarez's partner, Jay Ruhl.

His hands tucked inside his coat pockets, Darryl asked in a nonchalant manner, "May I help you fellas?"

"We'd like to see that body," Alvarez replied in a hard voice. "Now."

Sneering, Scott retorted, "Why should we bother? I have a feeling that you guys already know who's underneath the sheet."

Ruhl fixed Scott with a challenging stare. "We don't have time to deal with local cops who are out of their depths. I suggest you stand back and let us handle this."

"We will 'all' handle this," Darryl firmly added.

Alvarez took a deep breath. "Look Morris, I'm sorry but this is now a Federal case. Especially since we believe that this victim might be Dean Corbin, the defense attorney in the Curt Decker case. Which happens to be Federal."

Darryl nodded. "You're right. The victim has been identified as Dean Corbin. However, we believe that his death may be linked to the body found in Ronald Wong's driveway." He paused dramatically. "Along with two other bodies found earlier this week. All four deaths have the same M.O."

"In that case, we'll handle this case," Alvarez coolly replied. "So, if you and your detectives will just . . ."

"Not so fast," Darryl insisted. The two Federal agents bridled with impatience. "Whomever is responsible for Dean Corbin's death and the body in Ronald Wong's driveway, is also responsible for the deaths of Kenneth Jai and Bernard Remar. Are those two connected in any way with the Decker case?" When the two FBI agents failed to answer his question, Darryl continued, "I see. So, either we all work together on this case or we'll conduct our own investigation. Whether you like it or not."

While Ruhl began to grind his teeth, Alvarez heaved a large sigh. "Fine. We work together. But if we do find out that Jai and Remar are connected to the Decker case, we will assume full jurisdiction over this case."

"Fine," Darryl replied with a nonchalant shrug.

The two agents responded with curt nods and walked away. As the three police officers watched their retreating figures, Carlotta said, "I noticed that you didn't mention anything about Olivia and Marcus digging further into Ronald Wong's disappearance."

Darryl allowed himself a brief smile. "Must have slipped my mind." Then he turned on his heels, leaving behind two gaping subordinates.


Olivia handed a sheet of paper to her colleague. "Here. This is a list of four addresses on this street."

"Four?" Marcus stared at the sheet of paper in his hand.

"We had tried to interview as many neighbors as we could when Ron Wong was reported missing," Olivia continued. "But eight of them weren't home at the time. Maybe we'll have better luck, this afternoon." Both she and Marcus climbed out of the car parked on Tenth Avenue. "Good luck."

Ignoring Marcus' grumbling, Olivia walked across the street. She approached a two-story, gray clapboard house and knocked on its front door. Nearly a minute later, the door swung open. A tall, elderly woman with steely gray eyes stared at her. "Good day, Mrs. . .?"

"Who are you?" the elderly woman demanded sharply.

Olivia flashed her police badge. "Inspector Olivia Turner, San Francisco Police. I'm investigating the disappearance of one of your neighbors - Ronald Wong. He lives across . . ."

"I know him," the woman curtly interrupted. "The young Chinese man, in the dark green house, across the street. He lives with his girlfriend." Her eyes narrowed. "He's disappeared, you say?"

Smiling politely, Olivia replied, "Yes, Mrs. . .?"

"Mrs. Jamelia Kolchek," the woman finished. She relaxed slightly. "I heard that a body had been found in his driveway."

Olivia nodded. "That's right. A Mr. Jan Alamdar. He also lives on this street."

"Maybe Mr. Wong had killed Mr. Alamdar and disappeared," Mrs. Kolchek suggested. "Ran off with another woman." She gave Olivia a cool stare. "But you don't think that, do you?"

After a brief hesitation, Olivia decided to be discreet. "I suppose that's possible," she said. "However, Mr. Wong's car is still in the driveway. I guess I can't see him leaving his car behind after killing Mr. Alamdar or running away with another woman."

Mrs. Kolchek shrugged her shoulders. "I guess you have a point. Mr. Kolchek didn't leave his car behind when he left me." She sighed loudly.

Feeling slightly embarrassed, Olivia immediately changed the subject. "Speaking of Mr. Wong, did you see him on the day before yesterday?"

"No, I didn't," Mrs. Kolchek primly replied. "But then I'm not nosy like some people." She sniffed.

O-kay. "So, do you have a nosy neighbor on this street?"

Mrs. Kolchek sniffed again. "Well . . . I don't like to speak ill of anyone, but . . ." She paused dramatically. "I think that Mr. Shea is something of a Peeping Tom . . . if you know what I mean."

Olivia frowned, as she checked her list of addresses. "Mr. Shea? Where does he live?"

"At 6015," Mrs. Kolchek answered. "Two houses to my left. And his name is Thomas Shea."

"Thomas Shea." Olivia gave the older woman a quick nod. "Thank you for your time, Mrs. Kolchek."

The elderly woman sniffed one last time. "Glad to help. I hope that you find Mr. Wong."

Olivia smiled and turned away from the woman. Next stop . . . the home of Thomas Shea. She rang the doorbell of a two-story tan Victorian manor. After three rings, the front door finally opened. Olivia found herself facing a pale, balding man in his mid-fifties of medium height and protruding pale blue eyes that regarded her with barely concealed lust. "Thomas Shea? I'm Inspector Turner of the San Francisco P.D."

A sheen of sweat broke across Mr. Shea's large forehead. The lust in his eyes disappeared. "The police? Oh! Uh . . ." His eyes shifted nervously. "Um, did someone call about . . ."

"I'm investigating the disappearance of one of your neighbors - Ronald Wong," Olivia explained. "He lives across the street at 6012."

Mr. Shea's rounded shoulders sagged with relief. "Oh yes! Mr. Wong. When I heard about his disappearance, I meant to call the police."

"Oh?" Olivia wondered if she had hit pay dirt. "Why?"

After clearing his throat, Mr. Shea continued, "I didn't exactly see what happened to Mr. Wong, you understand. It was at night. But I recall seeing a strange car parked near his home. A silver Lexus. It had been parked there for nearly forty minutes. Then I saw Mr. Wong's car pull into his driveway. A blond man climb out of the Lexus and approach him." He paused.

Olivia frowned. "What happened next?"

Mr. Shea took a deep breath. "Uh, the phone rang. It . . . it was my brother, Ritchie. Our aunt, who lives in San Jose, had a stroke. When I returned to the window, I saw the Lexus drive away."

"Why didn't you tell the police about this?" Olivia demanded.

"My aunt. I had just returned from San Jose only a few hours ago."

Olivia scribbled the last of Mr. Shea's information on a notebook. "By the way, Mr. Shea . . . did you notice anything unusual about the Lexus or the blond man?"

Mr. Shea squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "Well . . . he was rather tall. The blond man. About at least six-feet one. And I saw just a little of his license plate as he drove away."

A suspicious thought entered Olivia's mind. "You saw all this at night? You must have x-ray vision."

Looking slightly embarrassed, Mr. Shea murmured, "Um, more like infra-red binoculars. I had ordered a pair from this . . ."

Olivia held up one hand, interrupting the man. "Please, Mr. Shea. Let's not go there." She sighed. "You said that you had seen part of the license plate?"

"Yes," the older man said with a nod. "Um . . ." He closed his eyes again. Then . . . "I got it. Six-seven-two." He opened his eyes. "That's all I saw."

After scribbling the information on her notepad, Olivia replied, "Thank you, Mr. Shea. You've been very helpful."

"Of course."

Olivia paused, as she turned to walk away. "Oh, one last thing, Mr. Shea." She gave him a piercing stare. "I suggest that you consider using those binoculars of yours for less private matters. Like bird watching. Understand?"

Mr. Shea's face became deathly white. "Ye-yes, of course. Of course. Thank you. For the suggestion."

The redhead shot one last smile at the man and walked away. She caught up with her colleague, as he was about to approach another house. "Hey Marcus! How is it going?"

With a sigh, Marcus replied, "Difficult. I had a close encounter with a forty-something widow, who wanted to do more than just talk." Olivia held back a snicker. "However, one neighbor did see a silver Nexus parked in front of Miss Hui and Mr. Wong's house that night."

"I did better. A Mr. Thomas Shea had not only seen the silver Nexus, he saw the man who drove it, approach Ronald Wong. And he saw part of the car's license plate."

Marcus looked dubious. "He saw all of that at night?"

Olivia paused dramatically. "With infra-red binoculars. I'll give you three guesses on what he used them for." Judging from the way Marcus' jaw had dropped and the look of disgust in his eyes, it seemed quite apparent to Olivia that it had only taken him only one guess.