Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DEATH IN THE STOCKS (1935) by Georgette Heyer


Georgette Heyer, as many of you might know, wrote a whole delightful selection of Regency and Georgian novels - mostly comedies of manners, but some heavier in weight - which are beloved by readers (myself among them) of all ages and stripes. But she also wrote a bunch of mysteries and though not considered one of the greats of that Golden Era, my feeling is that she would be if she'd written more than just a few. Though what's there is very much choice.

And with the turmoil in the world these days, Georgette Heyer makes for especially soothing reading. I've been indulging myself by listening to the audio versions of her books for days.

DEATH IN THE STOCKS (1935) is the first Inspector Hannasyde book (Hannsyde is one of two detectives featured in Heyer's mysteries - the other is Inspector Hemingway. (Heyer was apparently fond of the letter H.)

The plot:

Ashleigh Green, a village outside London, is a convenient location for a snug little country retreat nicely named River Cottage. For Arnold Vereker, the unpleasant but wealthy London business man who owns it, the cottage is mainly a place for assignations of the romantic variety. However, on one moonlit night, Vereker's body is found by the local bobby while out on his rounds. Attired in evening clothes, the corpse is slumped over, knife in back, feet tucked in the wooden stocks on the village green.

Stocks, an early system of public shaming, for those of you who may not know exactly what Heyer meant.

Called in on the case, Scotland Yard Detective-Superintendent Hannasyde finds himself immediately bombarded by a one too obvious suspect, Antonia (Tony) Vereker, the dead man's younger half-sister. Motive? Well, she was engaged to a a rather oily Vereker employee, Rudolph Mesurier, whom Vereker disliked intensely. Tony's brother controlled the purse strings and would not countenance a marriage - no more need be said. Except that Tony was on the scene on the night of the murder - had sprung an impromptu visit on her surly brother and having found the cottage empty, had decided to crash.

When the cops show up on the doorstep in the middle of the night, Tony immediately clams up (but not before making a general nuisance of herself) then calls her cousin Giles Carrington, who happens to be a lawyer.

The Verekers are a highly eccentric family, the sorts of people for whom telling the truth is an absolute social faux pas. Tony's brother Kenneth, now the presumptive heir, is an artist who seems to luxuriate in 'struggling' at his Chelsea flat. It's no big mystery that he welcomes his inheritance especially since he is lately engaged to a flighty young woman with acquisitive tendencies. Violet Williams is a beautiful fashion designer (or illustrator, can't remember which) who is not too eager to 'struggle' any more than she can help. Tony can't stand her. Neither can the less beautiful Leslie Rivers who has nursed a hopeless passion for Kenneth since they were youngsters.

Kenneth and Tony delight is making themselves unpleasant to the police, obfuscating the truth and behaving as if murder were not as big a deal as the cops make it. After all they have the mantle of  'bright young things' to wear about London.

It is enough to make cousin Giles quietly want to tear out his hair.

The Vereker siblings can do that to you. Doesn't Kenneth realize that the cops are fashioning a hangman's noose for his tender neck? Sure he does, but he has a persona to maintain. As Nero Wolfe is fond of saying (and I paraphrase): Eccentricity only works as true eccentricity if it is maintained come hell or high water.

That is, until long lost Roger Vereker, older half-brother to Tony and Kenneth, decides to come back from the dead. Complications ensue (including a second body) since Roger is now the presumptive heir to the Vereker fortune.

Someone may have committed murder for nothing.

While it is true, as many online comments attest, that there is no one in this book to cozy up to and/or especially cheer for (except maybe Leslie Rivers who does not have a major role), I still enjoyed (maybe because at my age, my eye is too terribly jaded) this whodunit enormously. Even if at some points in the proceedings, I wanted to strangle Tony and/or Kenneth and even, occasionally, the elegant Giles whom we immediately suspect rather dotes on Tony. Truth be known, I kind of liked Giles, he is just the kind of hubby Tony needs. But as usual, I get ahead of myself. First there is Rudolph to get rid of.

The killer comes as a surprise (though some of you may figure it out long before, I didn't, until nearly the end) and is, of all things, the least likely among the small cast. Money is a great motivator for deadly doings as we all know.

Author Patricia Abbott is traveling today so she's handed FFB duties over Todd Mason at his blog, Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check in to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: ANNA, WHERE ARE YOU? (1953) by Patricia Wentworth


This is, for those of you unbelievers, an enjoyably compelling Miss Silver mystery - really and truly. Yes, Wentworth is a bit of an acquired taste, but in between the chaff and raff, she did create a few worthwhile (and fun) tales of suspense and even (yes!) eerie mystery. This is one of them.

In ANNA, WHERE ARE YOU? aka Death at Deep End, we have the well-worn trope: an acquaintance (the heroine's) of long-standing suddenly gone missing. I'm fond of this sort of thing. Wentworth has used it before, but never, in my view, as well as in this particular book which, actually, might make a neat little creep of a movie. (Lots of mysterious stuff taking place at night.)

The Plot:

Thomasina (I love that name!) Elliot is worried. Her school friend Anna Ball has suddenly stopped writing to her.

"She said she had got another job and she would write and tell me all about it when she got there. And she never wrote again. You see, I can't help worrying."

Well, sure. I'd worry too.

Actually, Anna Ball sounds kind of a hapless sad-sack, not the sort of young woman anyone would really want as a friend but she hasn't anyone else - so Thomasina feels she has a duty to keep in touch. Long time friend, Peter (a bit on the overbearing side and prone to pooh-poohing her fears) chides Thomasina for her efforts to find out what's happened to Anna.

“...you can’t go through life collecting lame ducks, and stray dogs, and females whom nobody loves. You are twenty-two—and how old would you be when I first patted your head in your pram? About two. So that makes it twenty years that I’ve known you. You’ve been doing it all the time, and it’s got to stop. You started with moribund wasps and squashed worms, and you went on to stray curs and half-drowned kittens. If Aunt Barbara hadn't been a saint she would have blown the roof off. She indulged you."

But Thomasina has a stubborn streak and Peter or not, she will find out what, if anything, has happened to poor Anna. First step, go to the police with her worries.

In the meantime, Miss Maud Silver, genteel lady detective, gets a visit from her long-time friend,  the ever-elegant, Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Frank Abbott. In a roundabout way, while having tea, they discuss (in general) cases of missing people.

"Do you remember a case which was in all the papers a few years ago?"

Eventually, Abbott also gets around to mentioning Thomasina Elliot's concerns about her 'missing' friend since it seems he was impressed by her eyes. 

"The names are Anna Ball and Thomasina Elliot. Thomasina is the one with the eyes. Anna sounds as dull as ditchwater...School friendship. Pretty, popular girl taking up the cudgels for dreary, unpopular one. Three years' intensive post-school letter-writing on Anna's part. Generous response by Thomasina. Last letter saying Anna was going to a new job and would write when she got there. And then finish. No address. No hint of any destination. Previous jobs, nursery governess for over two years, and companion for one month. No clue as to new job. Might be anything from a housemaid to a henwife - and I rather gather she was likely to be a washout at whatever it was -"

He broke off to suddenly enquire. "Why are you looking at me like that? You can't possibly be interested. I can assure you that nothing can be duller than the whole affair."

She [Miss Silver] gave him her charming smile.

"Yet you have introduced the subject with care, and you are quite unable to let it drop."

From then on, things begin to happen as Miss Silver unofficially begins to prod. Her genteel questioning at Anna Ball's last place of employment garners information which had eluded the police and eventually, everybody involved winds up in Deep End, a community of would-be artists at whose center stands a bombed out manor house. In the house, or at least the habitable part of it, lives a chap named Peverell Craddock, a tyrant and self-obsessed pretend-writer with a family (cringing wife, odd children) who live in fear of upsetting his routine. Attached to this center, are various oddlings with artistic pretentious. 

Needless to say, also lurking in the background, is a neighborhood story of an unfortunate accident (or was it murder most foul?) - the victim, a young woman who'd worked at Deep End. There are also, frustrating the local police and Scotland Yard, a series of murderous bank robberies carried off in broad daylight. How do these events link up? And what has any of this to do with Anna Ball?

Miss Silver cleverly finds her way into the center of the hive by getting a job as a mother's help to the ever-cringing and weary Mrs. Craddock at Deep End.

Lots of red herrings, lots of mysterious doings and lots of strange behavior follow. The final denouement, just when I was smugly thinking I knew everything there was to know, comes as a bit of a surprise - at least it did to me. 

A nice evening's entertainment, if that's how you view this sort of book. And I do.

P.S. Here's a link to ANNA, WHERE ARE YOU? available at Project Guttenberg to download or read online - the copyright having expired in Canada.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Vive La France!

Paris - Rue de Parme on Bastille Day, 1890 - Pierre Bonnard

A sad day. But good must and will triumph. 


Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: MURDER OF A LADY (1931) by Anthony Wynne


This 'impossible' crime mystery is a total delight in that it is reasonably well-written, the Scottish setting is wonderful and there are multiple 'impossibles' (so we don't have to sit and concentrate on one 'impossible' murder for the entire book, mystified alongside a cast of befuddled characters) and what's more, when the method of murder is revealed in the end, it still seems impossible. Ha! 

Oh, and the method was one which gained infamy used later in a famous television mystery anthology series (I think) of which I can say no more.

Obviously, I'm the sort who doesn't take these things very seriously, so pardon me if you are and wish I weren't so off-hand about murder and whatnot. But you know, Golden Age murder is not really, really real, no matter how horrible - more puzzlers than anything else. The vintage novels in re-release by British Library Crime Classics (and in this country, Poisoned Pen Press) are an intriguing mix. Some are quite good, some are just good, and some are not. I've read a few and admittedly I find it fun to see what the next one will bring since I'd never previously read any of them nor am I familiar with any of the writers except Freeman Wills Croft (whom I adore).

I'm not looking for great literature here and really, there's only been one which I chucked aside almost immediately as being drek. But I won't name that one because my drek may be someone else's treasure as we all know. I do, however, wish BLCC had spent a bit more time weeding in and out of all these lost and forgotten authors and picked only those who more rightly deserve being revived - a couple of these books really do deserve their buried in the past status I'm sorry to say.

On the whole though, more good than bad so don't be put off by the possibility of a dud.

Anthony Wynne is really the pen name of somebody else - all explained by editor and writer Martin Edwards in the Introduction to the tale - lots of pseudonyms back in the day. So if you want to know more about Wynne's various identities, read the intro when you get your hands on the book.

At any rate, there's a baffling locked room mystery in MURDER OF A LADY (the other murders in the book are merely bafflingly 'impossible'). So let's get crackin'.

Mary Gregor, it turns out, was a nasty bit of goods and probably deserved being murdered. But I'm getting ahead of myself as usual. Mary was the spinster sister of the Laird of Duchlan (as I mentioned, the tale takes place in Scotland) and had not an enemy in the world. At least that's what is first spread about by the stunned members of her family. Her brother, especially, is in such shock he can barely behave rationally. At least, he doesn't behave like anyone losing a beloved sister to a serious cosh on the head might behave. 

Secrets. Families all have them. Some families more than others, some secrets more virulent than others. 

The Laird's sister was found in her bedroom (locked from the inside of course) kneeling on the floor next to her bed with a horrible head wound and no way anyone could have entered the room to kill her. "I have never seen so terrible a wound." So says, Mr. Leod McLeod, Procurator Fiscal of Mid-Argyll to Dr. Eustace Hailey, who will try (albeit a bit ineffectively) to solve the dreadful crime(s). Luckily he happens to be staying nearby and even though he's warned off the case by a rather officious inspector of the Glasgow police, Hailey perseveres from the sidelines.

One of the more unusual things about this mystery is that the next two victims (there are four in all) will not be the usual run of the mill victims we are mostly accustomed to and also there is more than a touch of eerie to the whole thing. I can say no more. 

Dr. Hailey is not an especially memorable 'amateur' detective, he has very little in the way of eccentricities (gotta' have eccentricities if you're going to be an 'amateur' snoop - right?) or even, of personality. I understand he was the author's 'detective' of choice in many of his books, so I'd have to read a couple more to see what the author saw in him.

However despite that, MURDER OF A LADY is still a thoroughly engaging and entertaining mystery which caught me up from the first and kept me reading late into the night as I like to say. And even if the ending and the final explanation call for a great big (all together now) SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF! - it's still a terrific book, most especially if there's a storm brewing outside and you're tucked away someplace comfortable.

P.S. This is also one of those books in which everything seems to take place at night. Some books are like that. I think it's that the ambience just quietly runs amok. Being out there in the middle of the Scottish Highlands where just about everything is oozing with atmosphere doesn't hurt.

I'm very eager to read more of Anthony Wynne's work - if I can find it readily available.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ta-DAH! The Blog's All Fixed.

Andrew Loomis

And to think I didn't have to do a thing. So for now it's all right and tight and back to what passes for normal around here.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Blog is Verklempt - for now...

Well, obviously something is wrong with the blog and all my efforts to center things are for nought. I've tried and tried and re-booted and nothing works. So, no further posts from me until this damn thing decides to fix itself. I cannot stand posting things that aren't symmetrical. It's a mania.

In the meantime, I'll be reading and writing and getting ready for the moment when all things shall be righted once again.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sunday Salon: Stillness

Jennifer Diehl, contemporary painter - via


Eric De Vree, contemporary painter - via


Olga Antonova, contemporary painter - via


Joseph Stella, Italian/American painter (1877 - 1946) - via


Jopie Huisman, Dutch painter (1922 - 2000) - via


Julian Merrow Smith, contemporary painter - via


Conor Walton, contemporary painter - via


Jeffrey T. Larson, contemporary painter - via


Scott Conary, contemporary painter - via


Boyd Gavin, contemporary painter - via


Judith Pond Kudlow, contemporary painter - via


Alexei Antonov, contemporary Russian/American painter - via


There's just something about a good still life painting that is very calming. Perhaps It is the focused, mesmerizing attention paid to an object (s) - the grandeur of the familiar. Different from a camera's focus (in my view) in that a still life painting is an interpretation while a photo is an appropriation.

It has been a terrible and frenetic week in this country, so this post is just a wee effort on my part to instill a bit of calm into the mix. Look at art. Take a moment or two to breathe.

Friday, July 8, 2016

MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD (1956) by Rex Stout


Nero Wolfe, the rotund genius of detection and his wise-cracking henchman, Archie Goodwin, must outrun the clock to save a wrongly convicted man from the electric chair.

This is my favorite Nero Wolfe book - I've lost track of how many times I've read it. And mind you, I've read all 33 Nero Wolfe books and as many of the novellas and short stories as I could find and in general am extremely fond of them all. Though of course, I have a whole list of special favorites, but MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD is the novel I turn to more often than not when I'm in the mood for a Wolfe re-read. This particular story just never gets old for me. And it is so well set up by Stout.

The plot:

James R. Herrold, a stiff-necked hardware businessman from Nebraska hires Wolfe to find his son. The young man was given a raw deal years before and the family wants to make it up to him. Paul Herrold was accused of embezzling a large amount from his father's firm and immediately kicked out of hearth and home. But come to find out, years later, the boy has been proven innocent by circumstances which don't concern us except that they have led his father to travel to NY. Paul has sent Christmas and birthday cards to his mother and sisters postmarked NYC each year since his disgrace, so apparently that is where he dwells. Wolfe almost immediately deduces that he must be living under an assumed name.

Now, at the moment, there is a murder trial going on in the city. The victim was a man of somewhat shady background who was married to a beautiful young woman who should have known better. At any rate, she (coming to her senses rather late in the day) is assumed to have been involved with a certain Peter Hays, a young advertising copywriter who had fallen for her and it is he, who is now on trial facing conviction for the murder of her husband. The evidence seems overwhelming, including the fact that Hays was found at the scene of the crime with the murder weapon in his pocket AND was foolish enough to get into a scuffle with the cops. He has since refused to cooperate with the police, his attorney or anyone else who desires to know what, when, where and why. In fact, he refuses to speak at all or help in any way with his defense.

Not for nothing are we fans of whodunits and detective fiction; with this set-up, you know what happens next.

Turns out that Peter Hays is none other than the aforementioned and much maligned Paul Herrold of Nebraska. And here he is again, years later, once again done in for a crime he hasn't committed. We learn that bit of truth rather quickly but that's what we would expect once Wolfe decides that Paul Herrold and Peter Hays must be one and the same - a guy who if he didn't have bad luck wouldn't have any luck at all.

Once Hays is convicted (just a few pages into the story), the rush is on (without his cooperation) to find out what actually happened.

The case itself was initially put together by Inspector Cramer (head of NYC Police Homicide Division) and his men. They do not take it very well that their work has apparently convicted an innocent man. Cramer is an old favorite around the 35th street brownstone and when he shows up, sparks generally fly. It is to his credit though, that he recognizes Wolfe's rather annoying bouts of brilliance and even if they are not friends, they are not exactly enemies - both working for the same side.

"Cramer's sharp gray eyes, surrounded by crinkles, were leveled at Wolfe's brown ones. He was not amused. On previous, occasions, during a murder investigation, he had found Wolfe a thorn in his hide and a pain in his neck, but this was the first time it had ever happened after it had been wrapped up by a jury.

"I am familiar," he said, "with the evidence that convicted Hays. I collected it, or my men did."

"Pfui. It didn't have to be collected. It was there."

"Well, we picked it up..."

Since the solution to the crime had seemed at first glance to be self-explanatory and Peter Hays such a convenient murder suspect, it's hard to blame Cramer for accepting him as a gift to be quickly brought to trial. But still - once Wolfe gets on the case, it becomes obvious that the crime was never investigated as thoroughly as it might have been.

And once the case is re-opened, more murders occur as a ruthless killer is frightened into desperation.

What I like best about this particular book:

Some of the chit chat between Wolfe and Archie:

"...Did you get anything?"

"I don't know." I sat. "She's either a featherbrain or a damn good imitation. She starts every other sentence with 'Oh' You'd walk out on her in three minutes. She drinks four parts ginger ale and one part gin."

"No."

"Yes."

"Good heavens. Did you?"

"No. But I had to watch her..."

One of several pithy Archie observations:

Tom Irwin, with his dark skin and think little clipped mustache, looked more like a saxophone artist than a printing executive, even while holding his wife's hand. His wife, Fanny, was obviously not at her best, with her face giving the impression that she was trying not to give in to a raging headache, but even so she was no eyesore. Under favorable conditions she would have been very decorative. She was a blonde, and a headache is much harder on a blonde than on a brunette; some brunettes are actually improved by a mild one.

And of course, the gang's all here: Fritz and Saul and Fred and Orrie and Johnny.

But in addition, Peter Hays' lawyer Albert Freyer (who believes fervently in his hapless client's innocence) is a stand out. As is Peter Hays himself, a sad lumpkin of a dejected fall guy - someone who has been so badly knocked about by life, one hardly blames him for being a gloomy gus. (Though if I were him I'd wonder what it was about myself that had caused me TWICE to be wrongly accused and convicted of crimes.)

I also like that Wolfe's lawyer/friend Nathaniel Parker plays a larger than normal role. AND, last but not least, I like that there's more than one murder to liven up events. Though one of the murders hits too close to home for Wolfe and Archie and adds a personal impetus to the search for a vicious murderer.

A proviso: the truth is that the initial crime unravels very briskly once the killer makes a stupid mistake and one wonders that the cops could have been so ham-handed in following up on certain rather evident inferences. But I guess when fate is kind enough to hand you an on-scene, practically caught-in-the-act murderer, the rest is duck soup, investigation wise.

All in all, a more than terrific book which I do not think I'll ever grow tired of re-reading.

Since it's Friday, (and Rex Stout Day) don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. 


Friday, July 1, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis


I'm not, normally, a HUGE reader of science fiction or even fantasy (though having said that, I do actually read some - I'm not a complete knucklehead) and therefore I'm not sure how to approach this post because I know there are many hard-core sci-fi and fantasy fans out there who will quibble with my effrontery. Me not being an expert and/or a REAL hardcore fan and all.

Nevertheless, I do appreciate Connie Willis who, for whatever reason, is apparently not the first name anyone thinks of when called upon to make a list of sci-fi favorites. (I understand that it's not called sci-fi anymore, but humor me. I like the sound of it).

To my mind, Willis has, so far, written three masterpieces, 1) DOOMSDAY BOOK, 2) PASSAGE and 3) the book we're talking about today. While the first two are dark, foreboding and very moving, this third book is hilarious even if it is sometimes thought of as a sequel (of sorts) to the infinitely more somber DOOMSDAY BOOK. I don't, however think of it that way, so don't worry about it. The only thing the two books have in common is the actuality of a time travel apparatus and a couple of characters if I'm remembering correctly. (PASSAGE, on the other hand, is a mesmerizing stand-alone with a shocker of a 'stop in your tracks' surprise halfway through.)

TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG (1998) owes its catchy title to Jerome K. Jerome's paean to Victorian leisure and the antics of three inept but jovial chaps: THREE MEN IN A BOAT (To Say Nothing of the Dog) published in 1889. Both books feature a long and somewhat leisurely boat trip down (or is it up?) the Thames between Kingston-Upon-Thames and Oxford. A similar trip is taken (as part of a more goal oriented agenda) by Ned Henry, a time weary (kind of like jet lag but without the jet) traveler from mid-21st century Oxford who must shuffle back and forth in time in pursuit of arcane knowledge.

It is 2057, Coventry Cathedral (destroyed by the Nazis in WWII) is being rebuilt and time travelers are busy plucking precise minutiae from the past. In return for a sizable donation (what we would call a grant) from the coffers of a certain Lady Schrapnell (whose self-appointed task it is to rebuild the Cathedral - something to do with her family's history), the technicians and apparatus of the Time Travel section of Oxford University have been made available to the somewhat crazed benefactor.

Nothing must go wrong at the great 'unveiling' of the Cathedral. And to that end, Lady Schrapnell has run amok, not caring about the hazards of time travel wear and tear, not to mention the dreaded 'slippage' and the vagaries of the entire time travel structure - she is only interested in results! And lately, to be sure, the Bishop's Bird Stump - a hideous Victorian artifact which must be located and placed in its niche if the Cathedral is to appear EXACTLY as it did before the bombing. Ned Henry, an exhausted traveler suffering from time lag syndrome is forced to trek back yet again after an unforeseen 'incident', the results of which may throw the entire time space continuum into a conniption.

"Oh, good, you're here, Mr. Chiswick," Mr. Dunworthy said. "I want to talk to you about an incident concerning - "

"And I want to talk to you about Lady Schrapnell," Chiswick said. "The woman's completely out of control. She pages me night and day, wanting to know why we can't send people more than once to the same time and place, why we can't process more drops per hour even though she has systematically stripped me of my research staff and my net staff and sent them running all over the past looking at almsboxes and analyzing flying buttresses ." He waved the bleeping handheld. "That's her now. She's paged me six times in the last hour, demanding to know where one of her missing historians is! Time Travel agreed to this project because of the opportunity the money afforded us to advance our research into temporal theory, but that research has come to a compete stop. She's appropriated half my labs for her artisans, and tied up every computer in the science area."

He stopped to punch keys on the still bleeping handheld, and Mr. Dunworthy took the opportunity to say, "The theory of time travel is what I wanted to discuss with you. One of my historians - "

Chiswick wasn't listening. The handheld had stopped bleeping, and now it was spitting out inch upon inch of paper. "Look at this!" he said...

Mr. Dunworthy broke in. "What would happen if an historian brought something from the past forward through the net?"

"Did she ask you that?" he said. "Of course she did. She's gotten it into her head to have this bishop's bird stump she's so obsessed with if she has to back in time and steal it. I've told her and told her, bringing anything from the past to the present would violate the laws of the space-time continuum, and do you know what she said? 'Laws are made to be broken.'

He swept on, unchecked, and Mr. Dunworthy leaned back in his desk chair, took off his spectacles, and examined them thoughtfully.

"I tried to explain to her," Chiswick said, "that the laws of physics are not mere rules or regulations, that they're laws, and the breaking of them would result in disastrous consequences."

"What sort of disastrous consequences?" Mr. Dunworthy said.

"That is impossible to predict. The space-time continuum is a chaotic system, in which every event is connected to every other in elaborate, non-linear ways that make prediction impossible. Bringing an object forward through time would create a parachronistic incongruity. At best, the incongruity might result in increased slippage. At worst, it might make time travel impossible. Or alter the course of history. Or destroy the universe. Which is why such an incongruity is not possible, as I tried to tell Lady Schrapnell!"

"Increased slippage," Mr. Dunworthy said. "An incongruity would cause an increase in slippage?"

"Theoretically," Mr. Chiswick said. "Incongruities were one of the areas Lady Schrapnell's money was to enable us to research, research which has now gone completely by the wayside in favor of this idiotic cathedral!"

At any rate, due to this 'slippage' thing, hapless historian Ned Henry travels back to Victorian England, years before WWII, to try and correct an incongruity which could have enormous ramifications for the future.

Let me just add that involved in all this is a boat, the Thames river, an almost drowned professor, a dog, chaos theory, Victorian manners, a girl named Tossie, a seance, a sort of love story and a cat.

A time travel comedy is not something most of us might think of when thinking science fiction, but Connie Willis makes it work oh-so-very well.

P.S. I've read TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG three times and will probably read it yet again as time goes by. (I also have it on audio, which is tons of fun to listen to.)

Normally on Friday, author Patricia Abbott would be doing FFB hosting at her blog, Pattinase. But today Todd Mason has taken over hosting duties at his blog, Sweet Freedom, while Patti is on assignment. Don't forget to check in and see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Books other bloggers are talking about this week.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE HOUSE OF THE FOUR WINDS (1935) by John Buchan


Sorry guys, I can't be reasonable about these books - when it comes to John Buchan, you could say that I'm close to becoming unhinged (but in a good way). Can't help it. I haven't read all he's written, but the books I have read I've loved and taken to my heart, they are books I will continue to reread as long as I live. You see, I love well-written (if improbable) adventures of long ago  - stories that recall a different world where codes of honor and good manners mattered. A world where people still dressed for dinner and occasionally read poetry. (It also doesn't hurt that I've been an anglophile since my teens.)

Before I forget, here's my review, from last year of HUNTINGTOWER just in case you missed it. It's the first book in the Duncan McCunn trilogy.

The three books (HUNTINGTOWER, CASTLE GAY and THE HOUSE OF THE FOUR WINDS) should be read in order so that the recurrence of certain characters (and their personalities and quirks) will have that much more meaning. But it's not the end of the world if you don't. Stay flexible - that's my motto. Though THE HOUSE OF FOUR WINDS is actually the sequel to CASTLE GAY.

Most of you are probably familiar with John Buchan from having seen Hitchcock's early classic THE 39 STEPS based on the first Richard Hannay book. Though the film script made many changes from the novel (there is no woman romantic interest in the book, for example) it has its own delightfully shadowy allure even to this day. The book is rather different, but it also has its own allure. I've read it twice and will read it again along with GREENMANTLE and MR. STANDFAST. Terrific stuff.

These are the sorts of books you either have an inclination for or you don't. The kinds of books I loved as a kid (books I could disappear into) and still love as an old lady. They are definitely of their time, but I don't find that a hindrance at all. If you enjoyed THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL by Bareness Orczy and THE PRISONER OF ZENDA by Anthony Hope and/or the books of Rafael Sabatini, for instance, then you will probably enjoy John Buchan's stories.

The McCunn books were a late find for me (I had only been familiar with Buchan's Richard Hannay books the last couple of years). And now I am incorrigible about recommending them to anyone who likes a good rip-roaring yarn full of adventure and derring-do, books where the good guys win and the bad guys don't. My kind of books. I mean, sometimes you do need a break from the grimness of everyday life.

Duncan McCunn is a retired grocer (with a romantic heart) and the endearing Scottish hero of HUNTINGTOWER, the first book in this trilogy. He jumps into the fray once again, years later when adventure comes calling in the very enjoyable CASTLE GAY, the second in the trilogy. But to my mind, THE HOUSE OF FOUR WINDS stands up even better to HUNTINGTOWER (which I consider to be 'brilliant') and makes for a perfect third installment.

It's years since Duncan McCunn and the Gorbal Diehards (Glaswegian slum boys without whom a princess would not have been saved and a dangerous villain routed) had an unexpectedly splendid adventure in the Scottish Highlands. After which, impressed by their devotion and intelligence, McCunn had taken two of the boys, Wee Jaikie and Dougal(Chief of the Diehards) into his home and raised them as surrogate sons. They are now young men off to make their way in the world.

All are traveling over the summer holidays to Europe from Scotland. Each on his own, but they will meet up at various places on the Continent which of course, accommodates the adventure nicely. Several characters from the second book, CASTLE GAY, will also be along to help as well as a menacing leftover bad guy in need of a strong rebuke.

Duncan McCunn who is feeling elderly aches and pains will be traveling for his health, Jaikie is on a walking tour and Dougal is on assignment for his newspaper.

It is 1935 and two pugnacious factions are gearing up to overthrow the corrupt rulers of the tiny country of Evallonia. The monarchists form one group and 'Juventus', a well-regulated rebellious youth movement (sort of like the brown shirts in Germany, but nicer) form the other. They see the monarchy in the person of Prince John (the rightful King of Evallonia) as nothing more than a puppet leader and not to be trusted. Needless to say, there are some very nasty villains trying to make sure that neither of these groups succeeds in their aims, setting them against each other and generally stirring the pot.

To prevent a blood bath and place good Prince John on the throne will take all the amateur skill and ingenuity first evinced in HUNTINGTOWER by McCunn and his 'diehards' not to mention the skill and heroics of friends met along the way - the novel is told from several points of view and doesn't suffer in the least from this since John Buchan handles it all skillfully. The last third of the novel is as exciting as just about anything I can remember reading. (Which isn't saying a lot because my memory is not what it once was, but you get my drift.) The beginning is rather slowish and a bit meandering, but stay with it. I did. It soon picks up speed and you'll be off on a grand adventure. Hold on to your hats - because there will even be a Prince in disguise!

Needless to say, there are plot machinations galore and a bit of a love story (involving darling Jaikie whom we've come to have great affection for over the three books) as all the links are finally woven together in an expert way - though I might add that the story-line does require that you pay attention. It's all in the mind-set, you know. If you're in tune, you'll love all this as much as I did. If you're not, you won't.

What can I say? I'm not sensible about any of this.

And since it is Friday, we usually check the FFB links at Patricia Abbott's blog, but this week Todd Mason is doing hosting duties later on today at Sweet Freedom.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tuesday Salon: The Art of Richard Adams, Contemporary Painter (not the writer, Richard Adams)

'Above the Estuary' Richard Adams - via


'The Farmer's Bride' - via


The Red Millvia


'The Village Wakes' - via


via


via


'The Kitchen Garden' - via


'The Bridge' - via


The Lost Villagevia


'A Winter Afternoon' - via


'Skeletons of Summer' - via 

Contemporary painter Richard Adams (not to be confused with the author of WATERSHIP DOWN) is, to my mind, a British national treasure. (Well, and so is Richard Adams, the author, but today it's all about paintings.)

I stumbled across Adams zany world online and fell instantly in love. His paintings and illustrations depict a kind of fantasy pre-1960's England - halcyon days of idyllic rural countrysides beloved in books and art. Years faithfully written about by authors such as Angela Thirkell, D.E. Stevenson and E.F. Benson and SO brilliantly captured in vintage mystery novels too. 

English villages, as we know, were also the special domain of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Michael Innes and their finely tuned ilk. Murder never seemed as foul when taking place among the cabbage roses and topiaries.

Certainly these settings were NOT the innocent byways and highways perceived by less perceptive outsiders, much to our delight, there were always nefarious secrets hidden in the hedgerows - anyone who's read a vintage cozy mystery knows that. 

And certainly anyone who knows ANYTHING about the sinister and oh-so-satirical rural ambience of Stella Gibbons' COLD COMFORT FARM (and if you don't - what are you waiting for?) will recognize the deceptively cozy atmosphere of Adams' work.

That's what I love most about it. Here's all this charmingly innocent rustic detail sparked occasionally by a disconcerting hint of abandon. (This IS England, after all.) But the implied sex in the haystacks is, in itself, of the Cold Comfort Farm type - outrageous yet somehow, not especially shocking. "I saw something nasty in the woodshed."

Adams works, I believe, in pastels which are notoriously difficult to master. But oh are they fun to mess around with. I have a box, untouched, un-used, of oil pastels which I've held onto for years thinking that at some point I'd give 'em a try - but oh, my friends. just TOO intimidating. 

Still, I enjoy the results when they are this obviously brilliant and engaging.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: SAID WITH FLOWERS (1943) by Anne Nash


My blogging friend and fellow vintage book zealot, John Norris, wrote about Anne Nash's SAID WITH FLOWERS just a little while ago (May 27th, to be exact - here's the link) So why am I daring to write about it just these few weeks later? Well, because, his [John's] are recommendations I always pay attention to and I found the book easily online and ordered it immediately. (Not always the case with the rarities that John likes to tease us with.) And I thought it might be fun to compare each other's reviews while still fresh in mind - well, at least in my mind. And I was warned that other Anne Nash books are almost impossible to find so this is probably it.

John is the expert when it comes to flushing out details about author's lives and publisher's imprints and the like, it all seems to come naturally and easily to him. I, on the other hand, have a much harder row to hoe. So for those details, see John.

I really enjoyed this book. (Well, I kind of knew I would.) In fact, I gave it four stars - must remember to add this to my Christmas murder cozy list too since it fits that category so very nicely. I also like that this is the sort of vintage book which quaintly names the characters up front. I wish mysteries still did that.

Though this was Anne Nash's debut, I liked the author's comfortable ease with this tale of two women who own a flower shop out California way and how they become intimately involved in the horrendous murder of a friend. Well, not in the actual murder itself, but practically right on the scene and the first to see the body. Yes, as John points out in his review, there's a touch of the 'had I but known' school of mystery writing, ala Mignon Eberhart or, for that matter, Mary Roberts Rinehart. But only a touch or two.

Doris Trent (called Dodo) and Nell Witter are two nice women of a certain age who live together (but are not a lesbian couple far as I can tell - at least the author doesn't make much of their cozy living arrangement) and together run a shop which is called, very aptly, The Flower Shop. (Or maybe I missed the actual name somewhere along the line.) At any rate, it is just a couple of weeks before Christmas and business is booming. Who knew that florists did this much frenzied business? It seems that plant and flower buying patrons throng the small shop all hours of the day and night. Never a dull moment for Dodo and Nell.

But misfortune has dealt them a blow; their regular jack of all trades and delivery man, Patrick, suffers a broken leg while on the job (slipped on some leaves in the backroom - is there a lawsuit in the offing?) and is suddenly not available to carry out his Christmas duties. Well, as luck would have it, in steps a charming young man named Barney Miller who is not the star of a cop comedy series from back in the day, but a stranger new in town and providentially on the outlook for a job. It also happens that he knows a thing or two about plants and flowers so almost immediately he becomes the answer to a flower shop proprietor's prayer.

However, it's not all roses and baby's breath, these are dark times. It just so happens that a serial killer called Karp the Killer (yeah, I had to laugh) is on the loose and wreaking havoc around the country. This guy travels. And he leaves a calling card of a fish (not a real fish, a drawing of one) at each of his murders - hence, the moniker given him by the press.

Is Barney aka Karp the Killer? Lots of hinting going on as Dodo (especially) begins to suspect that there is more to their savior than meets the eye. Especially when Rosalind Vance, a close friend, is found murdered in the alley behind the shop - a pruning knife stuck in her chest and a calling card nearby.

The cops and the press converge on the small coastal town on the hunt for news and clues about Karp whose wretched excesses have captured the imagination of the entire country.

Into the mix comes a solo (and rather accommodating) cop named Mark Tudor along with his canine partner, the highly trained German Shepherd, Svea. In the long run, it is Svea who will save the day, but I'm not telling you anything you won't have suspected almost immediately.

But was Rosalind Vance - a woman older than Karp's regular targets - an actual victim of the serial killer? More and more it begins to look like a copy cat affair as Tudor starts hunting closer to home for a killer. Dodo and Nell think otherwise but it turns out that Rosalind Vance's home life was not as benign as might have first appeared. Unbeknownst to the town and to close friends who took her to be a happily married lady blessed with a devoted husband and beautiful (but spoiled) daughter Sheila, there was a cauldron of frayed emotions bubbling beneath the calm surface. The things we don't know about our neighbors private lives would fill a book. And here it does.

Adding to the confusion, it seems that charming Barney has been sneaking off to meet a woman in between making his nightly flower deliveries. This guy is a fast operator.

And again I ask, who knew that flowers and plants were so high up on the Christmas 'must have' list? Why, the shop even makes Christmas day deliveries! Well, this was 1943, things were different then. Women wore corsages.

Yes, there are lots of anachronisms running rampant throughout the story - but that never bothers me if I'm engaged - and some of them I find rather endearing. SAID WITH FLOWERS engaged me even as it seemed set in a different world, in a different century (well, that is true enough) and filled with the sorts of people that populated B-movies (and later, early television) of the time.

Though in the end, the real reason for Barney's appearance in town and on the spot seems loosely conceived to me, I still enjoyed the book and recommend it highly to those of you who like this sort of thing. Plus, don't forget, there's a dog.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to look in on author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Favorite New Show (Well, actually, the only new show I've watched in ages...) GRACE AND FRANKIE (A Netflix original) starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston.


Those who know me well enough know that I am not in tune with the latest gizmos and gadgets primarily because I generally don't like even the idea of the latest gizmos and gadgets. Or, for that matter, the latest 'anything'. I think most of the details of so-called modern life are just plain silly.

And don't get me started on what passes for entertainment these days.

At any rate, I lately didn't have to bother much about that since I haven't had a TV or the services of cable in several years. But the funny thing that happened is/was that I didn't miss any of it. People missed it for me, but I didn't. I had my computer (a desk top PC) because - call me crazy - I just don't like watching ANYTHING on a screen smaller than your basic desk top. But as time went by I realized I didn't like to sit at my desk and watch movies. I would get impatient and fast forward or just stop the movie and go watch a baseball game. Very little held my interest online except for, maybe, baseball and occasionally, football.

But shows and movies - not so much.

My brother would say that the monitor is the same as having a TV.
'No it isn't' I'd say.
'Yes it is,' he'd say.
Well, I'm sorry, but it kind of is and it kind of isn't.
 'Make believe,' he'd say as a parting shot.

Anyway, this is my long-winded way of getting to the point of this post.

I've signed up again (for the second or maybe, third time) with Netflix since 'streaming' seems to me to be not as 'silly' as some other things I could mention. Plus I guess I got tired of everyone else raving about shows that I never got to see or films I never got to watch. (The films are still an on-going project. Don't know if I'll EVER get used to watching them online. It is possible that at my age, I just don't have the patience to sit still for two hours and watch anything, but we'll see.)

But turns out I do enjoy watching (some) shows. And I suppose I have a lot of catching up to do if I want to be 'part of the conversation' as Frankie says, on my new favorite show, GRACE AND FRANKIE.

Yes, I'm hooked on GRACE AND FRANKIE after watching about five episodes or so.

Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen (whom I adore), and Sam Waterston. I mean, what's not to like?

In case you're not familiar with the basic plot, here it is:

Robert Hanson (Martin Sheen) and Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) live in San Diego. They have been married for forty years.

Hanson's law partner is Sol Bergstein (Sam Waterston), he and his wife Frankie Bergstein also live in San Diego and have also been married for forty years.


They are all more or less in their 70's. Anyway, one night while the four are at dinner, Robert Hanson informs his wife that he is leaving her to be with Sol whom he wants to marry. Sol informs Frankie that he is leaving her to be with Robert whom he also wants to marry. "We can do that now."

This comes out of the blue for the women, not to mention their grown children who have their own (and less fascinating) problems to deal with. At any rate, it all sounds preposterous, but Sheen and Waterston make it work - their scenes together have warmth and affection reined in a bit by healthy doses of guilt.

I very much like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin (both are producers of the show) in these 'odd couple' roles. Tomlin plays Frankie as an eccentric ex-hippie mom with two adopted sons (one black, one white) very believably. She is funny but also poignant and goofy and strangely likable. Jane Fonda plays Grace as a bitter, brittle, fashionable and rather typical (I think) California type. (She hasn't had ice cream in fifteen years.) She is less likable, but grows on you as the show progresses. Dealing with their new lives and slowly becoming friends, Grace and Frankie come to realize that in society's eyes, they've become extraneous. They are 'invisible women'.

As happens so often when marriages break up, Grace has lately been dumped by her supposed 'best friend' of many years - at a funeral, no less. She and Frankie need each other and luckily, they have an ocean beach house (which belongs to both couples) to share. (Hey, none of this would be fun if they were poor.)

Events happen at a rather rapid pace since this is a television show and things have to be kept moving I suppose, but so far I've enjoyed what I've watched (and it's possible that the act of streaming unintentionally increases the apparent pace of what happens in the shows).

I like the addition of Craig T. Nelson lately to the cast and am hoping that Ernie Hudson has not been written off.

Yeah, it's gimmicky, but you know Martin Sheen can make just about anything work. He is one of the last of the old time actors working today who has undeniable 'presence' (not to mention acting brilliance) and that counts for a lot.

So yes I guess I'm hooked on GRACE AND FRANKIE. At least, for now.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DEATH BY A HONEYBEE by Abigail Keam


Surprise! This is not a vintage read, but one I sort of stumbled across on my booky perambulations online. In fact, I read it on my Kindle so I must have downloaded it when it was nicely (and cheaply) priced - that's when I'll take a chance on a book by an author I've never heard of before. I mean, who can resist just paying a buck or two?

I liked this debut mystery a lot and went on to read the next two in the series. (In my view, the first and second books are the best so far). And yes, it does sound like a cozy, but I'd call it more of a cozy on steroids.

Josiah Reynolds is the heroine of the piece - yes, she is a she named Josiah (not quite clear but I think it's mentioned that this is some sort of family name, but I found it confusing at first) and she is a crusty Southern lady of about fifty. The book's action takes place in and around the colorful horse haven of Lexington, Kentucky. Part of the charm of these books is the local color,  not to mention the various eccentrics who populate this unique area of the country. The author gets the ambience just right, I think. (Or at least as we imagine Lexington, Kentucky might be.)

A beekeeper struggling to make ends meet, Josiah sells honey at the local Farmer's Market, though she is by no means, indigent. She lives in an architecturally historic house filled with art which she refuses to sell and thus, it's hard not to feel that she's just a bit too stubborn for her own good. 'The Butterfly' is the remarkable creation of her ex-husband, an architect who left Josiah for a younger woman and has since died - the husband, not the girlfriend. In the meantime, said girlfriend has reaped all the financial benefits, but Josiah - at least - got to keep the house and the art. And to keep on keeping it, she needs to make a living.

Josiah is the type of person who doesn't sit still when she's threatened, she is feisty and sarcastic and faces the world with a pugnacious attitude which serves her well in this first mystery of the series. When a man with whom she has been feuding is found dead among Josiah's beehives, she naturally enough becomes the obvious suspect in the murder.

The author gives us the usual supply of colorful friends and enemies who pop in and out as Josiah sets out to find a killer. There's also an added bit of mystery attached to a grown daughter who seems to be some sort of kick-ass mucky-muck in a stealthy armed forces group. She shows up now and then to do for her mother, when she's not traveling the world trouble-spot to trouble-spot.

I know this set-up sounds a bit cozy and I also know that for some of you that is the kiss of death, but honestly, this didn't read much like one (not that there's anything wrong with that). Josiah doesn't seem to me, to be the everyday run-of-the-mill cozy heroine, she is irascible and confrontational and the book ends in a doozy of a cliff-hanger. Plus there is the added attraction (at least for me) of lots of interesting lore about bees, creatures which I have always found fascinating.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: FOUR STRANGE WOMEN (1940) by E. R. Punshon


A rather strange book aptly titled, I think. Not in the same class as Christie or the other fine writers of the Golden Age, but still a book that intrigues. It is a dark tale in which terrible crimes occur but perhaps it is the theatrical improbability of it all that appealed to me. I can't quite say why I liked it so much, but I did. The whole idea of an unknown femme fatale driving men to their doom inspires a kind of macabre fun.

British author E.R. Punshon wrote quite a few Bobby Owen mysteries and this the fourteenth in the series. Several of the books are currently available as ebooks over at Amazon and that's where I happened onto them. Though I must say that nowhere in this book does the character of Bobby Owen come alive as a 'real' person or for that matter, an especially clever one. But for whatever reason, that didn't stop me being intrigued by this morbid tale of murder which begins cozily enough.

'The fortunate conclusion of a recent semi-private investigation on which he [Bobby Owen]had been engaged had put money in his pocket, won him influential friends, and gained him the promise of an appointment as inspector in the Wychshire country force with special duties as private secretary to the elderly Colonel Glynne, and with the additional prospect, therefore, of some day succeeding him as chief constable.'

So here we are immediately lulled into believing that a cozy set of circumstances will be coming right up. But we would be wrong. Little does the complacent Bobby Owen know as he strolls along on his way home from an evening out with his fiancee Olive, that that very night he will be drawn into a shocking and most mysterious case.

'...he opened his sitting-room. One of the ugliest men he had ever seen was there and got up as he entered. A low forehead; a long, crooked nose; a mouth framing teeth too widely separated and irregular in shape, and stretching, it seemed, almost from ear to ear; ears themselves enormous and standing out nearly at right angles; eyes small and hidden, indeterminate in colour, the left eye with a cast in it; all combined with a squat, ungainly figure and sprawling hands and feet to produce an effect so remarkable that Bobby found himself reflecting that fingerprints would hardly be required for identification if the Records Department at the Yard knew anything of him.'

Unlikely as it may seem, the unattractive late night caller is Lord Darmoor, a man concerned with the mysterious deaths of two acquaintances and the likely possibility that a third friend might be in danger.

FOUR STRANGE WOMEN (love that title) is, in essence, a serial killer book written at a time when such a thing didn't even have a name. It is also a book in which the serial killer is a woman, another odd thing for its time. (Though I'll bet that in reality such a thing was not unknown.) Look, I'm not revealing any real secrets, it's obvious to any mystery reader almost from the very beginning that this book is all about 'cherchez la femme.'

Punshon is not, it seems to me, a natural writer so his work can get a little clumsy, but not to the point of making you want to put it down (at least it didn't with me) because he has a good story to tell. Here's a case where cleverness of plot plus mood equals a good read even if the writing is not brilliant.

Detective-Sergeant Bobby Owen is called into a very odd case when an unlikely couple come to his lodgings and spin him a most peculiar tale. Two men (one with a title) have already died under suspicious circumstances and a third is likely in danger. The circumstances leading up to the deaths are similar though the police regard most of it as coincidence. However, once Owen begins nosing around, it becomes obvious that something foul is amiss. And when a third nasty death does occur, Owen is convinced that there's a fourth coming up unless the police can get to the bottom of the mystery and quickly.

As I indicated, this story features a most unlikely set of circumstances which include a remarkably heartless killer who is all things to all men in a very peculiar and hypnotic way. (Maybe you have to be a man to get it.) Again, suspension of disbelief is called for and even if you can't quite believe what's happening, there's something yet alluring about this dark tale of murderous greed and moral vacuousness (not to mention the foolhardiness of men) which kept me reading late into the night.

Dorothy L. Sayer was a fan of Punshon, I understand. Maybe I'll be one too.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today over at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom. Todd is doing hosting duties this week for Patti Abbott.