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Monday, January 7, 2013

Downton Abbey

No time travel or serial killers, so what's a review of Downton Abbey doing here?  Hey, it's a great period piece that takes place just a tad earlier than Boardwalk Empire, but that's not really the reason either.  Downton Abbey is a guilty pleasure for a science fiction and in-your-face criminal fiction fan.

Not that the period details aren't excellent and delightful.  The first season takes place right before World War I, the second during and right after the war, and last night's debut of the third season on PBS in bright new 1920.  We see the early use of the telephone and prime time for the telegram, the evolution of the automobile, and all manner of superb clothing.

But the heart of Downton Abbey is where the heart is - the story of the Earl and Countess Grantham and their three daughters.  Yep, there's a Fiddler on the Roof flavor here, as the Earl encounters problems more or less profound with the romantic interests and future husbands of each of his young ladies.  But he also has financial problems of his own - unlike Tevye, who's too poor to worry about money - and these figure not only in the first and second seasons, when the family wants a not completely obliging to Mary, oldest daughter, to marry Matthew to keep the estate in the family (long story), but in last night's season three opener, when Grantham learns all of his investments in Canada, all of his money, went south (not the U.S., but lost).

Thus, as the world moves into the Roaring Twenties and some wild prosperity, the Granthams are in danger of moving in the opposite direction, towards a Great Depression a premature decade earlier.  Mary and Matthew, who in fine Pride and Prejudice style now have at last embraced each other and their powerful love for one another, are once again in the financial soup with the family.  Matthew is in for an inheritance from the father of a woman he put aside to marry his true love Mary - but the father didn't know that - and this money would be all that was needed to keep Downton Abbey viable.  But Matthew, the epitome of morality, doesn't feel right about taking this money.  Mary disagrees, almost wrecks their impending marriage, and though her love for Matthew prevails, this issue will continue to play out this season.

The other possible source of money for Grantham comes from his wife's family, where Grantham's money came from in the first place.  Lady Grantham's an American, and her mother, Mrs. Levinson (no relation) played by Shirley MacLaine, comes to visit for the wedding.   No money from her however.   But lots of good laughs, and the two grandmothers - Levinson and Violet Grantham (played by Maggie Smith) - had some of the best lines last night (as Violet did in the first two seasons).

Now I haven't said a word yet about the downstairs, and they provide a foundation and tapestry to Downton Abbey every bit as rich and rewarding as the downstairs in Upstairs, Downstairs.  Butler, footmen, valets, cook, housekeeper, maids - they're all here and in fine, feisty form.   They also provide an oddly compelling noblese oblige for the survival of Downton Abbey - to continue their employment, There's romance, intrigue, knives in the back, and even some law and order, 1920s UK style, as Bates, one of the best characters, sits in prison for a murder he had good motive for but almost definitely did not commit.

So ... just wanted to let you know about this series in case it's your cup of tea.  I'll soon be back reviewing Fringe and Bones, Breaking Bad and the Borgias, but when you're not looking and I'm not writing I'll also be checking in to Downton Abbey.  "Professor Levinson, from America and 2013, via time machine."  I'd even put on my tuxedo, closest I have to a formal coat, but boy would I love to come by with Tina for one of those splendid dinners.

Praise for the novel...

"...challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"...a fun book to read" - Dallas Morning News

"resonates with the current political climate . . . . heroine Sierra Waters is sexy as hell . . . . there's a bite to Levinson's wit" - Brian Charles Clark, Curled Up With A Good Book at curledup.com 

"a journey through time that'll make you think as it thrills ... so accessible, even those generally put off by sci-fi should enjoy the trip." - Rod Lott, bookgasm.com

"Levinson spins a fascinating tale ... An intriguing premise with believable characters and attention to period detail make this an outstanding choice... Highly recommended." - Library Journal,*starred review

"Light, engaging time-travel yarn . . . neatly satisfies the circularity inherent in time travel, whose paradoxes Levinson links to Greek philosophy." - Publishers Weekly

"A thinking person's time travel story... I felt like I was there." - SF Signal

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