Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE FOLD by Peter Clines

This book is from 2015 so it hasn't really had a chance to be forgotten or even overlooked, but what the heck I only discovered it by sheer circumstance so for me, it is an overlooked find.

You know, as much as I claim not to read science fiction hardly at all, I see that this year I've read a few and enjoyed them. So maybe I ought to stop disclaiming and shut up. Or maybe it's just that I only like a certain type of sci-fi (I know, I know, not in use anymore, indulge me) and when I stumble across an example, I enjoy all heck out of it.

THE FOLD by Peter Clines has a kind of a wild west rock'em/sock'em High Concept story-line with an intriguing main character of the sort I adore. So you not only get a seat of your pants story-line but a remarkable leading character with incredible talents essential to the plot. In other words, only he could have steered through to the eventual denouement. (Though I could have done without the love story. More about that later.)

Not that this is any sort of western, no. (Though it does take place out California way.) But it does have the vigor and color, the excitement of venturing into unknown frontiers. Even if the book begins quietly enough with a dinner invitation which almost immediately turns into a mysterious job offer impossible to refuse.

Well, actually, the book begins with one of those off-putting (at least for me) segue entries (clumsy in execution) in which we meet people who are not the main characters and something ominous happens which doesn't make any sense until later in the book. I don't like when an author does this because it is distracting and can often stop a story before it begins. But maybe that's just me. However, do not let this prevent you from reading further. Because if you do, you will have missed an exciting yarn which if it isn't turned into a movie really soon then I don't know what High Concept means.

Our hero is Leland Erikson (aka Mike) who is, at the moment, a high school teacher in Maine intent on staying below the radar. You might say that he is currently in a holding pattern, luxuriating - if you will - in day to day non-distracting routine while teaching early American Lit.

But the times they are a'changing.

Mike's friend Reggie Magnus runs a hush-hush government agency called DARPA (forgot what that stands for but is it important in a book of this kind? Nope.). He is in charge of funding various and sundry high level experimental projects. In that capacity (and because they are close friends) he shows up at the high school one day and invites Mike to have dinner with him.

During that dinner, Mike is offered yet another job of the sort uniquely suited to his special abilities. Though these offers have been turned down in the past, this time out the head of the specific project Reggie is dangling is Arthur Cross, a brilliant physicist and author of the best selling book, THE HISTORY OF WHAT WE KNOW.  Mike is coolly fascinated when he learns that Cross and his team have fashioned a kind of teleportation mechanism called 'a fold' which is, in effect, a distance hopping thing - a doorway. (Don't ask me to explain, except that it sort of makes sense when you read about it.)

At any rate, something is apparently not quite right with a project which has already cost millions and Reggie can't put his finger on what exactly is amiss. But before he hands Cross anymore money he intends to find out. To that end, he wants his friend Mike on the scene.

Long story short: Mike accepts the job and shows up at the lab in San Diego to observe and theorize. There he meets Arthur Cross who, naturally enough, questions the need for an 'outside consultant' on his very hush/hush project. He wants to know the 'why' of Leland Erikson.

'Mike took a deep breath and weighed his words. "I have some abilities that make me a worthwhile observer and theorist. Reggie's been trying to get me on the payroll for almost a decade. Your project's been the only thing he's ever told me about that interested me."

"He said something similar at the budget meeting. Could you be more specific?"

"Do I have to be?"


He sighed again. "I maxed out the only IQ test I ever took. I was given a few extra problems by the tester and she ballparked my IQ at over 180. Granted, I was under the recommended age, and it was the old Stanford-Binet, not the Titan Test or the Mega, so it isn't terribly accurate at that scale, but I confirmed the general range myself. On top of that, I've got an eidetic memory. Complete, instantaneous recall of anything I've ever seen or heard."

"You're joking."


"I thought eidetic memory was something made up for science fiction stories."

"There are a few confirmed cases, although it's tough to prove someone remembers everything without having them remember everything for you."

As you might imagine, Mike's sort of 'gifts' are double-edged swords. One of the reasons he had preferred to stay an 'under the radar' high school teacher.

However, once his observational talents are engaged at project center in San Diego, he begins to note that things are, indeed, a bit 'off' and everyone at the site is behaving oddly. Not 'oddly' as in OMG! but just oddly enough to seem, well, odd. Nothing you can put your finger on at first, but as Mike continues to interact and observe he can't help (literally) but note that things are definitely not as Arthur Cross and his colleagues would have us think.

My main affection for this book arises from watching (reading) how Mike uses his skills and intelligence in ways that a 'normal' person might envy. In this situation it is just as well that his gifts are other-worldly seeming, since a 'normal' man would probably have been engulfed by the plot and the world as we know it would have come to an untimely end.

Okay, that's all I'm going to say. Except that there are some horrifically mind-bending things going on and even when all is explained I still had questions. Well, hey, I'm no physicist. There are monsters of course. They come in later in the book at just about the time we've come to realize that a big 'uh-oh' moment is upon us. There is death and destruction and all that sort of thing. There are even bugs. There are mutants. There is general ghoulishness and hair-raising escapes. And just when you think you know what's going on, turns out that it wasn't what you thought but something else.

There is also a love story that needn't have been except that it was one way to note the one character had changed in a certain way. I can say no more since it is a defining moment.

I wasn't happy with the love angle because I felt it didn't belong and slowed the action down. I was perfectly content just going along with Mike's mental cogitations (it involves ants), getting in groove with the fanciful way he went about his cerebral business. I would almost say that the emotional entanglement didn't fit in with the character, but maybe I would be wrong. (Note:Though Mike's name is really Leland, his nickname comes from a derivation of Mycroft, i.e. Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's smarter brother. So that gives you an idea why maybe the love story seemed forced.)

Some reviewers online have noted that the ending seems like something brought in from another book but I didn't find it too bothersome other than to note that yes, certain aspects of it were almost overwhelming. And of course, this sort of over-the-top monster fest comes off as less than cerebral. But since this book is first and foremost a thriller, I shrugged off the incomprehensible.

(Having said that and just to be contrary, would someone explain to me how a Victorian physicist's fanciful equations on the likelihood of alternate realities results in the kind of monstrosity conjured up by the plot? That part of it, I admit, made little sense. But maybe it was chaos theory and that as we know can lead to all kinds of mischief.)

Believe me when I tell you that these are not major stumbling blocks. They certainly didn't keep me from continuing to read and note how much I was enjoying the improbabilities while thinking to myself - what if? Needless to say, I love a story that features a well-adjusted genius (not one given to  sturm und drang and bouts of self-doubt and obnoxiousness) - my kind of hero.

In conclusion: THE FOLD is a terrific sci-fi thriller even for those of us who might not think we are fans of the genre. It is that rarity in thrillers: a story where the main character is not a gun toting behemoth righting wrongs using heft and belligerence. (Unless you want to think of intelligence as 'heft' and I often do.) I think you will also be impressed with the author's dexterity and gift for naturalistic dialogue in the midst of chaos.

 And lest you forget, the main character is a keeper.

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS (1939) by Eric Ambler

This is a slight re-working of a review I wrote and posted in 2001 and thought apropos to re-post now. Someone was very recently talking about A COFFIN FOR DEMETRIOS (Tracy, was it you?) and I thought I'd dredge this up to see what I'd thought of the novel. I'm thinking it's time for me to reread Ambler. Especially JOURNEY INTO FEAR which remains one of my other favorites of his.

I liked the first line of DIMITRIOS though apparently it is the comment of an omniscient narrator whom we, somehow, lose along the way. But no matter:

A Frenchman named Chamfort, who should have known better, once said that chance was a nickname for Providence.

The book takes a few beats to get going and that's my only quibble, -other than that it's a pretty perfect sort of spy story - revealed layer upon layer, picking up speed as it goes along. I haven't seen the film (I think it stars Zachary Scott one of the wierdest actors - in my view - that Hollywood has ever produced), but I think I just might watch it after this.

(Note: Never did get to watch the film.)

Here's the basic story:

Mystery writer Charles Latimer (I've always been fond of the name Latimer) is exhausted; after writing a string of relatively successful books, he goes on holiday to Turkey, hoping that taking it easy for awhile might refresh him. It is an uneasy time, war is fermenting in Europe and without doubt exotic travel will soon be curtailed.

Latimer is a noticing sort of man as most writers are. He is also a curious man and it is this inchoate curiosity which gets him into trouble once he arrives in Turkey and, typically, gets invited here and there for drinks and other sophisitcated social niceties. At one of these social events, he meets the oddly voluble Colonel Haki, head of Turkish secret police and lover of British thrillers. He casually draws Latimer into a mystery telling him of the dead body dredged that very night from the river.

The murder victim has been identified as Dimitrios Makropoulos - a known criminal type whom no one will mourn. On an impulse, Latimer asks to see the body, reasoning that it wouldn't do a mystery writer any harm to see an actual victim of violence. 

Once he's viewed the body, Latimer, usually a reserved English gentleman, decides then and there to try and fine out more about the victim. What caused this particular man to be stabbed to death and thrown in a river? What were the vicissitudes of fate that wound up costing Dimitrios his life in such a brutal manner? Bit by bit, the more Latimer finds out, the more intrigued he becomes, the more he wants to know about Dimitrios Makropoulos who was not, obviously, just a petty sort of criminal but a mastermind, an international gangster of the most vile sort.

One of the things I like most about the story is how Dimitrios is shown from various perspectives, as Latimer searches out and interviews past acquaintances. There is no softening of his criminality, except a mention that Dimitrios' early life was hard - but not everyone with a hard life turns to crime with such ease. No, Dimitrios appears to have had an enormous affinity for it.

And of course, this being a novel of sinister machinations and dark doings, there will be a not too surprising revelation which will confront Latimer in his quest to get at the truth, a revelation which will almost cost him his life and teach him a hard-earned lesson about indulging curiosity.

This is all revealed in a kind of non-theatrical, pragmatic sort of way. There's not much unnecessary explanation of the criminal mind, and evil is discussed with a kind of rational resignation:

Three human beings had died horribly and countless others had lived horribly that Dimitrios might take his ease. If there were such a thing as Evil, then this man...

But it was useless to try and explain him in terms of Good and Evil. They were no more than Baroque abstractions. Good business and Bad business were the elements of the new theology. Dimitrios was not evil. He was logical and consistent; as logical and consistent in the European jungle as the poison gas called Lewisite and the shattered bodies of children killed in the bombardment of an open town. The logic of Michelangelo's David, Beethoven's quartets and Einstein's physics had been replaced by that of the Stock Exchange...and Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Good writing, that. It brings to mind the current view of and rationale for the most hideous acts in a supposedly even more enlightened age. Don't we view evil in the same way even now? Business is still all, it seems to me - what with corporate America's hold on government actions stronger than ever and the widening dominion of social  media and a seemingly smitten, indulgent press which more and more abdicates its charge to ferret out the truth unless it means higher ratings.

 New theology, indeed. Look at the upcoming election and the charlatan running for office. Trump's vile exploits are explained away as 'business' as if that, in and of itself, is explanation enough. 

At any rate, if you care to read one of the true masters of the spy genre, pick up Eric Ambler and indulge in his very well written, often prescient, novels. These guys from the past are called great for a reason.

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. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: MISTRESS OF MELLYN (1960) by Victoria Holt

"There are two courses open to a gentlewoman when she finds herself in penurious circumstances," my Aunt Adelaide had said. "One is to marry, and the other is to find a post in keeping with her gentility."

I know, I know, similar in cadence to the beginning paragraph of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, but nicely done just the same. For it tells you right away (in case you hadn't noticed the cover of a woman in her nighty running away from a mysterious castle/house) that you are in for a specific sort of book. And that is exactly the delight I take in gothic romances - that they are, indeed, a specific sort of book.

Even though I rarely read them anymore (except as rereads) I still have very fond memories of discovering the genre for myself many MANY years ago after finishing JANE EYRE and looking around for something in a similar vein. Oh yes, JANE EYRE was the first and remains the finest example of the style. Had she but known she was formulating a genre or, at least, a style of story telling, I wonder how Charlotte Bronte would have felt about it all. There's lots of the 'had she but known' thing going on in gothic story-telling, so who knows.

But Bronte owns the responsibility of having created the two essentials of the gothic romance: the penurious, strong-willed but shy and soft spoken plain-jane heroine forced to earn a living and the tall, willful, craggy-handsome hero with regrets and a bad first marriage.

I feel comfortable in saying that MISTRESS OF MELLYN will turn you into a gothic romance reader (if you aren't one already) especially if you happen to stumble across it at just the right time in your life. Of course it helps if you have already read JANE EYRE and are willing to be further enticed by romantic gloom and doom - not that Holt is the writer Bronte was, of course. But she knows how to create the necessary sinister ambience and has the knack for making her heroines likable and her heroes enigmatic.

An intelligent heroine is a given, but the key is the hero: he must never come off as a dark-browed jerk who poses in riding pants and cracks a whip. And he must always, ALWAYS be nursing a broken heart that is aching to be mended by the right sort of woman. AND most importantly, he must not be a brute. AND even if he once was, he must have gotten over it by the time the heroine comes into his life.

Gothic Romance is a phase many of us go through - mine lasted for many years and I'm happy enough now and then to revisit my favorites. I actually own a paperback copy of MISTRESS OF MELLYN as well as the hardcover (though not the first edition). It's one of those books that sort of refuses to go away.

The heroine is Martha Leigh (aka Marty to friends and family), a brave, intelligent, stalwart, plain-spoken spinster who has given up on ever having a husband. Truth is she is just too outspoken and, of course, not beautiful enough to attract a 19th century male. (Little does she know.) We first meet her as she travels to Mellyn, an eerie mansion on the Cornish coast of England. There she will be taking on the job of governess to a young headstrong girl named Alvean (she has vanquished three other governesses), at a lonely estate full of secrets. Her brooding employer, Con TreMellyn, is a handsome but stiff-necked country gentleman who has never gotten over the fact that his first wife ran off and left him and their daughter. He is not a happy man and has the money to indulge his unhappiness.

Enter Miss Leigh, the diffident red-haired governess. She almost immediately piques TreMellyn's interest, of course. That is a requisite for this sort of tale. But this interest manifests itself as annoyance, even anger.

Unaware (she's not worldly), Miss Leigh settles into her routine and begins making headway with the difficult young girl. Almost from the beginning though, she can't help but sense menace lurking within the walls of the huge house. There is something about the place that disturbs her and as she grows to like her charge and even to admire her employer, she realizes that unless the family's secrets are vanquished, Alvean's happiness (much less her father's) can never be realized.

That's always the way of course and what else is a poor inquisitive governess to do but get involved, risking life, limb and sanity.

In the end, there is a horrifying revelation as the truth finally dawns on all concerned but not before poor Miss Leigh almost pays for it with her life.

Motivation for the truly dark deeds is a bit thin, but other than that, this is a wonderful story told exceedingly well by a terrific writer who truly understands the name of the game. Holt (a pseudonym for Eleanor Hibbert) went on to write dozens of books in this genre, several of them quite memorable. Another off the top of my head: KIRKLAND REVELS.

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

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE STAR MACHINE (2007) by Jeanine Basinger

"It's a crackpot business that sets out to manufacture a product it can't even define, but that was old Hollywood."

The luminous machine that was the movie studio system of the 1930's, 40's and 50's is gone forever. That incredible movie-making era is now the stuff of legends. But while it lasted, the system gave us stars, stars and 'more stars than there are in the heavens!'  - at least according to MGM, one of the more prolific star-making studios of the time and home to the dazzling extravaganzas that still enchant us today.

But if you had asked anyone then and now to define what exactly made a 'movie star' they would be hard-pressed to respond except to note various examples and say, now 'that person is a star' or 'that person' but just HOW that particular person personified stardom remains (to this day) almost impossible to define.

THE STAR MACHINE is not meant, I think, to be full of surprises (though there are a few), instead the book evolves in rather calm fashion as more of a biography of the extraordinary American star machine shops of the day. Shops which, with a clockwork regularity, turned out star after star, movie after movie over the span of many years. Films we consider classics today were part of this movie-making factory efficiency, evidence of the richness of talent and genius working in Hollywood at the time.

Jeanine Basinger's engaging compendium of behind the scenes stories and back-stage machinations has moments of 'who knew?' and misty 'what ifs', not to mention, bios of stars such as Tyrone Power, Lana Turner, Loretta Young, Eleanor Powell, Mickey Rooney, Abbott and Costello, William Powell, Jean Arthur, Wallace Beery and Loretta Young, among many others. (A lot of this stuff the real movie maven will have picked up along the way watching and reading about their favorite movies, but probably not all of it.)

The stars Jeanine Basinger concentrates on are purposely NOT the absolute tip-top tier of Hollywood stardom, but most of them were - at least - well known household names. The author assumes that if you want to read about first tier stars in more detail, i.e. Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe and their ilk (though they are not overlooked in the book), it is easy enough to find sources. Instead THE STAR MACHINE concentrates more on the 'how-to' of the studio process - which is fascinating. Stars that worked their way up through the system are a more interesting study, I think, than stars who were 'instant' hits. After all, it is difficult if not impossible to explain why one person shines on the big screen and another person has no glow at all.

I especially enjoyed reading the author's take on William Powell and THE THIN MAN series of movies:

'The Thin Man series is unique in movie history...At the heart of the original movie was an ultramodern married relationship. (The screenwriters were married to each other, and not enough credit has gone to them for creating the witty, sparring, modern couple whose marriage worked.) In the depth of the Depression, Nick and Nora had clothes, money, cars, and plenty of pizzazz. Watching Powell swan around nonchalantly in the Thin Man movies explains why no one can make screwball comedies today. It's not, as everyone supposes, that they can't write them; it's that there's no one to play in them. Powell fills the frame, but without seeming even to care that he's in it. While players all around him are chewing up the scenery, their entire performances coming out of their mouths, Powell cocks an ear, leans casually forward, stuffs his hands in his pockets, raises an eyebrow and steals the show.

There is no actor today who can pull off Powell's elegant thumbing of the nose at society while maintaining the sense of a man who can be counted on, a loyal, loving husband and father, but, still, a dude, an outsider. And no one can toss off a line like Powell. After Nick and Nora have a son, Charles is asked, "What's the big idea of the kid?" He replies, "We have a dog...and he was lonesome." He turns to Loy. "That was the big idea, wasn't it Mommy?" His cadence is perfect. His emphasis impeccable.,,"

Basinger is one hundred percent right, there is no actor today who can do what Powell did seemingly without effort. Actually, there is no actor today who can do what dozens of stars did then. Hollywood has evolved, and not for the better. The screwball comedy has come and gone. But thankfully we have the films online or in DVD form for us to swoon over. Of course to my mind, there are other sorts of movies that cannot be done today precisely because the necessary actors with the necessary talents no longer exist. For instance: the swashbuckler or the musical with original music (or even with borrowed music), or the goofy mystery, etc. Yes, they occasionally are duplicated or worse, 'brought up to date', but they rarely work well; precisely because the actors are imitating a style. There is nothing original going on. It's all poser-y and fakery. And of course it doesn't help that most  young actors today look alike.

But enough about my own prejudices, let's get back to the book:

One of many things I enjoyed about THE STAR MACHINE was learning how the studios selected actors in (often misguided) attempts to 'manufacture' stardom; these lucky few were 'tested' in early two-bit roles to gauge audience reaction. The audience was polled and whomever they were most excited about in the movie (sometimes NOT the actor or actress, the studio was pushing) got a nod for the next slightly larger part and so on and so forth. In a way it was almost like school. Though sometimes, as with Errol Flynn, lightning could strike and did. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, Flynn - a relative unknown - was cast as the lead in CAPTAIN BLOOD (his previous film roles had been tiny with little or no dialogue), and that was all it took. Sometimes an actor only has to find the right role (often by chance) and the rest is movie history.

But that didn't happen often and most of the time, as a matter of course, stars had to be fashioned, built from the ground up. Author Jeanine Basinger takes you behind those scenes: make-up trials and tribulations (freckles were considered a scourge, unless they weren't), costume debacles, hair-dos and don'ts and other fascinating stuff of legends. Imagine if Rita Hayworth's low hairline hadn't been lifted (electrolysis) and her hair not dyed red. She would probably have remained Margarita Cansino, type cast as a B-movie Spanish dancer till the end of her days.

(By the way, if you want to see Rita BEFORE electrolysis, catch her in a bit part as, naturally enough, a dancer, in CHARLIE CHAN IN EGYPT.)

The author also covers the lives of several actors. (you can hop, skip or jump through those depending on your mood - I simply have no interest in Loretta Young or, really, for that matter, Eleanor Powell. Though I liked Powell more than Young.) The studios then had thriving public relations units which concentrated on keeping stars and their personal idiosyncrasies looking neat and clean and appealing - occasionally failing spectacularly, as in the case of Lana Turner whose messy personal life (grimly laughable in its extremes) was a trial and tribulation to all involved. But this isn't a book about gossip. So there aren't very many juicy revelations and there is little or no mention of certain stars' sexual preferences. Though of course it doesn't stop us from wondering.

These people worked feverishly day to day, making believe, pretending emotions, having little free time to develop their own personalities and or live a 'normal' sort of life, it's no wonder some of them crashed and burned. Very few of these actors were able to break free from the prevailing system (though Deanna Durbin was one who did so successfully), hence the excess drinking, drugs and sloppy love lives I suppose. Though those excesses don't seem to have changed much, judging by the personal lives of today's actors.

In comparison to the one or two films a year working schedule of most major actors today, the old routine of movies churned out every few months is startling. Actors signed on for seven year stints then and as employees of the studio (glamorous employees, yes, but employees none the less) did what they were told. (Well, most of them did, at any rate. It was later when some of them balked that the system began to fall apart.) In the 30's through the 50's, studios churned out films on a regularly scheduled basis. These huge operations had the necessary mechanisms in place to shoot movies concurrently, lot to lot, soundstage to soundstage, shuffling actors back and forth. It is amazing to me, how many of these movies went on to become classics, considering how quickly some of them came together. But I suppose when you have a concentration of genius, talent, artistic intelligence and artistry all toiling away in a concentrated hothouse atmosphere, there were bound to be some spectacular results.

On the whole, this is a very engaging book about a time in movie making history that will never come again. I recommend THE STAR MACHINE for those of us who are nutty about old movies and consider too much information never enough. If you know what I mean.

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.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: THE EYE OF THE ABYSS (2003) and THE IRON HEART (2009) by Marshall Browne

I've written about these two books before, in fact, these are the links to my full reviews: here and here.

But I'm currently rereading (for the third time) THE IRON HEART, the second Franz Schmidt book and enjoying it as much as I did the first two times and so I've decided to quickly write about Browne's books yet again, this time in brief. Wouldn't want you to think I'm over-zealous or anything.

Suffice to say, I love Marshall Browne's thrillers.

What these two books are about:

It is 1939, Berlin seethes with Nazi fervor and virulence. The gloom-filled city appears as if dressed for a funeral. Down these mean streets walks Franz Schmidt, the the slightly handicapped (one eye lost to a band of brown shirted hooligans) bank auditor and hero of our tale. Small in stature, but comely of feature and blessed with luck and a natural cunning, he is the perfect double agent. Although that's certainly not what he started out to be.

(When was the last time an accountant (okay, auditor) was the hero of a book?)

After the radical life altering events in THE EYE OF THE ABYSS, Schmidt now finds himself under the shadowy protection of a Nazi higher-up, Martin Von Streck. Von Streck is a man working to foil Hitler from inside the Fuhrer's upper echelons. 'Trust no one.' is the operating motto and if one or two of the good guys are slaughtered by the wayside, then whoever is left continues the fight. (These are men who sew capsules of cyanide into the cuffs of their suits and uniforms - just in case.) Though their tactics are sometimes hard to define as 'good' - they are necessary. There appears to be no clean way to fight Nazis. Schmidt has learned that readily enough, though he is still attempting to hold true to a heroic vision of his knightly ancestors and oh, by the way, save his own hide.

Both these books would make for nail-bitingly exciting movies and, happy to say, both of them have a couple of strong roles for women. THE IRON HEART has an especially good villainess (do we use that word anymore?), a tall Teutonic bank executive (!) who salivates over Hitler and spouts things like, 'The Fuhrer wants peace!' and means it. Not to mention, she has a gusto for sex with her nasty boyfriend, a Gestapo guy named Sack who likes to dress up and slink around as his hero, Goebbels.

As slimy a duo of dangerous villains as you will ever meet.

Marshall Browne, again, manages to combine poignancy and a pulse pounding race against time not only to save a young woman from certain doom, but also to save an important Big Mission (Schmidt must take photos of certain secret plans!), and afterwards save Schmidt himself from the Gestapo. In the end there is retribution and a daring escape to Switzerland (not by Schmidt who must stay behind and continue to undermine the Reich in whatever way Von Streck sees fit.) which is so visual it's almost as if you're watching it unfold.

If you enjoy, as I do, reading books set during the years just before or during WWII, if you enjoy well created characters and suspenseful plots not to mention dark intrigue and consummate evil villains (the Gestapo! The SS!), then these books are definitely for you.

But though THE EYE OF THE ABYSS is slightly easier to find in this country, good luck with THE IRON HEART. For reasons that I cannot figure out, it is still not readily available here. Browne is an Australian writer and unfortunately not all his books are sitting in wait at local bookstores, online or in libraries. The reasoning continues to eludes me.

Really a shame, because if you can get your hands on Browne's books you'll discover a wonderful writer with an inventive mind, a knack for telling exciting stories and a gift for creating memorable characters. Grab whichever book you can find. This is one time when it isn't necessary to read them in order.

While I keep hoping for a third installment in the Franz Schmidt saga that will be available in this country, I'm not holding my breath. A while back I exchanged some emails with Marshall Browne and he hinted that a third book might be in the offing. So we'll just have to wait and see.

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Forgotten Film: THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948) starring Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, June Allyson, Vincent Price, Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury

I don't do forgotten films much anymore primarily because most of the movies I wanted to write about I've already written about (or forgotten), if you know what I mean. Plus I don't have a television anymore so it seems that TCM movies are, for me, a dream of the past. Still, now and then I remember a movie that somehow I'd overlooked and so here I am today, writing about an old favorite of mine.

Lana Turner, Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, June Allyson and Angela Lansbury. La Turner looks as if she was added to the shot at some later time.

Haven't seen THE THREE MUSKETEERS in a while but it's one of those films that stays vividly in memory even for those of us whose memory is, shall we say, not exactly sparkling fresh.

When MGM (and Technicolor) was in its heyday no one could touch it for sheer over-the-top 'artistic' exuberance. Colorful extravaganzas were the studio's meat and potatoes. Even in memory, the brightness of the color stands out almost like a separate entity. Not to mention the costumes, the California scenery (mostly greenery filled studio backlots), the lively sound effects and music. And oh, yes, the actors.

You might not think so, but Gene Kelly makes a splendid D'Artagnan. Not my idea of a Frenchman, but hey, nobody's perfect. And he doesn't even have to dance in this one, except that he's so gracefully athletic and so energetic (willing to sling and swirl his body around the screen as no other actor I've ever seen then or since) that it's almost as if he's dancing anyway - just watching him move is a joy, not to mention his fencing, dueling, riding or whatever. Just a sheer manly delight.

Celebrated director George Sidney doesn't tamp down the flash since obviously he was of a mind that the more frenetic activity the better.

Based on the Alexander Dumas book (this time with screenplay by Robert Ardrey), THE THREE MUSKETEERS has been filmed many times over many years with many different actors in the cast, all with varying degrees of success. (Even the Ritz Brothers got into the mix at one point, not to mention cartoon duo Tom and Jerry.) However, this MGM version remains my favorite. Simply because it doesn't try in the least little bit to be realistic - even if there is a cruel murder in a castle prison. (And that particular scene, when it happens, seems to be happening in a different film.) Still, it works somehow because Lana Turner is really quite superb in her evilness. So evil that she is even photographed without make-up. Well, as 'without make-up' as MGM got, at any rate. Even then, she is exquisitely beautiful - especially when praying.

Oh yeah and there's a matter of the chopping off of a certain head near the end - but not to worry you don't see anything gory - just a very VERY chilling scene vibrating with portentous drama and nice costumes as two figures walk away into the sunset - one to return, one not.

Ah, the costumes (this time by Walter Plunkett). They take your breath away. Lana Turner, especially, as the villainous Lady De Winter who is in cahoots with the equally villainous Cardinal Richelieu (Vincent Price) and  struts around in gorgeous satins and feathery overkill (She, not he. Though he looks pretty spiffy in red satin robes.).

Frank Morgan as the nincompoop King Louis XIII, Angela Lansbury as his intelligent but none too heart-wise Queen and Vincent Price as the always disagreeable Cardinal Richelieu.

And Angela Lansbury as the Queen looks every bit the way a queen should look - regal and majestic even when cheating on her hubby, the King. (The plot hinges on those pesky diamond studs given her by the king and passed on by her to her special 'friend', the Duke of Buckingham (played elegantly by John Sutton).

Lana the glamorous and Vincent the vile, plotting their evil deeds.

Said diamonds must then (to save the Queen's reputation) be returned and just in the very nick of time delivered to the Queen to wear in time for the King to see them being worn at a grand court event. Phew! Lots of running back and forth between England and France.

The studs! Those damn troublesome diamond studs!

And lots of attempts by the bad guys to stop the good guys from carrying out their appointed task. I know, makes little sense, but what the heck - the Musketeers to the rescue. A QUEEN'S REPUTATION IS AT STAKE!! Remember when reputations meant something? Ah, the good old days.

The very swoony Gene Kelly sans dancing shoes.

In the beginning, D'Artagnan (Gene Kelly) shows up as a country bumpkin (complete with beret) set on making his way in the world, namely joining the Crown's musketeers and cutting a swash and buckle swath in Paris. (I believe his father had been a musketeer but not sure). By chance he meets up with Athos (Van Heflin), Porthos (Gig Young) and Aramis (Robert Coote) and before you can say, 'All for one and one for all!', he's proven himself with some well-timed rough and tumble swordplay.

Soon he's hanging out with the three musketeers (of the title), getting the lay of the land, learning the ins and outs of court life, the difference between friend and foe, the tricks of giving and/or not giving offense, and meeting and falling for the sugary sweet Lady Constance (June Allyson), the Queen's lady in waiting. And let's not forget, that he later gets embroiled in a plot to rid the King of the Queen's steadying influence and garner even more power for Richelieu.

Phew! Lots for an ambitious country boy to take in. But he's willing and able and off we go.

Of the regulation musketeers, Van Heflin as Portos is the anguished one. Well, that's because he carries heavy baggage and a cruelly broken heart. Athos (Gig Young) is the twinkly-eyed one, a dandy for the ladies. And Aramis (Robert Coote) is the older, boisterous one who's seen it all and probably done it too.

They take to D'Artagnan like ducks to water, and soon they're Three Musketeers + One, in search of a lark worthy of their talents.

Lots of fun to be had with this version, lots of visual firecrackers (you know what MGM was in those days) and lots of stars at the height of their allure. Though Price was older by this time, he was still, in a vile and evil way, alluring.

Good movie. It's a wonder to me that Neflix hasn't bought the MGM vault. But that's probably because somebody else has. Maybe Turner? I wish TCM had a streaming service. Surprised no one's thought of it.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel

Actually this isn't a forgotten or overlooked book since it was just published this year to some nice reviews, but I'd never heard of it until I stumbled across it online somewhere - 'Forgotten (or Overlooked)' is just a loose interpretation anyway.

This is the first book in a planned trilogy, (trilogies are big now) but far as I'm concerned this can be read quite nicely on its own even if tagged with an ending that surprises and sets us up for the next chapter. Not exactly rocket science, but I am eagerly looking forward to see what happens next. (Yes, yes, I know some of you don't like this sort of story-telling, but I say, pretend it's a very thick book and you are, for some reason, only allowed to read it in thirds.)

The plot:

When 11 year old Rose goes riding her birthday bike across the landscape near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota she (and her bike) fall down a deep hole in the ground. When finally found by searchers, the girl is alive and sitting in the palm of a gigantic hand.

Many years later, the perplexing riddle of the hand has still not been solved. How old is it?What do the glowing symbols? Who built it? What is it made of? What is its function? Is it merely an ancient work of art? Are there any other parts or is the hand a singular creation?

Naturally enough, after the hand gives up a few of its unsettling secrets, the government gets involved.

Rose Franklin grows up to be a physicist in charge of the riddle. Because her childhood accident seems predestined, she is deemed the perfect person to get to the bottom of the mystery. The hand is thought to be thousands of years old and actually seems to have some sort of functionality. Soon, other parts of a colossal metallic warrior woman are found buried underground at various sites around the world.

To try and figure out the why and the what and the how, Rose is aided by three other people. Two pilots (a woman and a man) and a language expert (a man). Why pilots? Well, you'll have to read the thing to find out. I can't give you everything. Same answer for the language guy.

This seems a small band. But the metallic figure apparently has an eerie propensity for only specific humans. The whole thing is supposed to be a secret, so the less who know the better. I can say no more.

Best of all, the story is revealed bit by bit from journal excerpts, mission logs, official reports, news articles and interviews with a 'Mr. Big' - a kind of all-knowing honcho behind the scenes who may or may not be a government mucky-muck. I am a major fan of this type of story-telling and I was won over almost right away.

Canadian author Sylvain Neuvel is quick with dialogue and plot twists and turns, so that just when you think you know the what of something, it quickly becomes something else. Though there is a bit of an unexpected bog down in the middle (emotional personal baggage shenanigans), this deftly forces the plot to turn down another unexpected avenue. And yet again, another major surprise comes about two thirds of the way through and here we go again, down yet another avenue.

(And of course, where would we be without government conspiracy and behind the scenes chicanery?)

As most science fiction stories do, this one asks itself (and us) to think about The Big Picture, about things greater than ourselves, about the universe and our place in it and this time out, about the accepted history of our world. But nothing very heavy-weight, Neuvel is too bent on telling a fabulous tale.

A delightfully jam-packed thriller (remember those?), with an odd element of creep, SLEEPING GIANTS should immediately be added to your TBR list, if you haven't read it already. Even if you're not a regular science fiction fan, this fast-moving tale has just enough thriller aspects to make up for any implausibilities of plot. And the stuff you're asked to believe is not all THAT preposterous. Well, maybe just a little.

Next book in the trilogy is titled, WAKING GODS. Can't wait.

This Friday, Todd Mason is doing substitute hosting duties for FFB at his blog, Sweet Freedom.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE LAST POLICEMAN (2012) by Ben H. Winters

Now would not seem the time for reading dystopian novels set in an alternate USA, but what the heck. Live dangerously, I say.

The Edgar Award winning novel, THE LAST POLICEMAN, by Ben H. Winters is the first in a trilogy (brought the second and third installments home from the library tonight) and though the subject matter is dicey, I was utterly fascinated and had trouble putting the book down - I know, I know, I always say that about books I enjoy. But terrific writing glued me to the page. I was also riveted by the intriguing concept.

If the definitive end of the world were near, would you bother to keep your normal day to day routine? Would you stay on the job? Do the job? Would any of it matter? OR would you take the 'easy' way out?

The setting is Concord, New Hampshire. There, Henry (aka, Hank) Palace, a newly promoted detective in a dwindling force (most have retired or simply walked away from the job) is determined to solve a case even while faced with the upcoming end of the world. Literally.

Hank is a native Concordian (is that the way you'd say it?), young, gangly and very, very tall. So much so that everyone has to comment. Though I wouldn't say that six feet four or five is THAT tall, but maybe in New Hampshire. He is an engaging, even endearing character who is determined to make his life count, determined to do the right thing even when faced with insurmountable odds.

And the odds are spectacular.

Earth is on its final countdown. A giant meteorite is directly headed our way and the world and most everything on it has six months to live. As you might imagine, societal barriers are in break-down mode. Day to day living is wobbly at best. Gallows humor is the norm. Suicide has become a routine death. Religious zealotry confronts one on every street corner. World economies have tanked. Conspiracy theorists run amok. Governments rally to strengthen their control and keep the populace from panicking.

No one cares about the suicide of Peter Zell, a hapless insurance actuary who hangs himself in the bathroom at a MacDonald's. (Well, a copy-cat MacDonald's, since that and most other fast food chains have all gone out of business - what, no Starbucks?)

But did Zell really hang himself?

Hank Palace thinks not. But since the three other cops left in his division don't care to detect anymore, it's up to Hank to solve what might be a murder in disguise. AND it is also up to him to keep tabs on his clinging sister, Nico, who is apparently willing to put up with her dolt of a hubby even if he is currently in jail, branded a terrorist.

This lively, fast-moving tale is probably meant for those of us who may not normally enjoy dystopian views of the world, even in fiction (I am not a fan of HUNGER GAMES or any of its ilk) but who do like a good detective yarn with some extra fireworks thrown in. Somehow THE LAST POLICEMAN breaks down all barriers. Resistance is futile. The main character is the first lure, terrific writing is the second. And even the inevitable world ending scenario didn't dim my enthusiasm. Probably because Winters is not a hysterically inclined writer - his page by page exposition of life nearing the end, is rather matter-of-fact and utterly believable.

I would have given this five stars except for a couple of things in the final denouement which I found a bit confusing. (Hank does do a bit of stumbling around.) That is, the way that he finally figures out who the murderer is - the reasoning seems a bit clunky. But other than that, this is a super-duper, first rate book, highly recommended by yours truly. Can't wait to read the next two.

It's Friday, so 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.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Salon: A Celebration of Painted Women

Hungarian painter Imre Goth (1893 - 1982) 

American painter Polly Thayer (1904 - 2006) Self-portrait 

Russian/American painter Isaac Soyer (1902 - 1981) 'Rebecca' 1940 - via

American painter Guy Pene Du Bois (1884 - 1958) - via

American painter Moses Soyer (1899 - 1974) - via

British painter Anna Zinkeisen (1901 - 1976) via

Spanish painter Jose Cruz Herrera (1890 - 1972)  'Marocaine' via

 American painter Carl Schmitt (1889 - 1989) Portrait of Helen Hart Hurlbut via

British painter Dod Proctor (1892 - 1972) via

French painter Francois Flameng (1856 - 1923) Portrait of Mrs. Adeline M. Noble - via

Contemporary American painter Beth Carver - via

Contemporary American painter Mark Dalessio - via

Contemporary Chinese painter Liu Ye - via

Scottish painter John Duncan Fergusson (1874 - 1961) - via

Polish/American painter/illustrator W.T. Benda - via

A small celebration of  women in paint and/or pastel as the whole thrilling idea of Hillary Clinton as our first viable American woman Presidential candidate sinks in. All sorts of women by all sorts of artists in all sorts of styles.

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.

“ 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.