Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Think Pink: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

American illustrator Anna Whelan Betts 1875 - 1952 - source

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954 - 'The Pink Blouse' 1924 - source

Tokyo based illustrator Yosuke Yamaguchi - source

Czech painter/illustrator Alphonse Mucha 1860 - 1939 - source

Contemporary watercolorist Marni Maree - source

English illustrator/author Beatrix Potter 1866 - 1943 - 'The Tailor of Gloucester' - source

American painter Milton Avery 1885 - 1965 - source

English Illustrator Mary Shephard 1909 - 2000 - source

As some of you may know, I am a breast cancer survivor, still feeling blessed and fortunate almost a full five years after surgery and a year of chemo. Since October is officially Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it may be a good time to make an appointment with your doctor or clinic for an ex-ray if you haven't already done so this year and you're of an age where this is recommended. And of course, don't forget your monthly self-exam - that's how I found the lump which led to my surgery which saved my life.

The worst thing you can do is be afraid to check, afraid to know.

I'm the world's biggest scaredy cat and yet I did what had to be done and lived to tell about it. Don't be a wimp. Take charge. Do it.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation, a good place to learn more.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten Fillm: THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING starring Buddy Ebsen, Peter Graves, Arthur Kennedy, Raymond Massey, Rip Torn and Joseph Campanella


Is it me or did all men look smarmy and sweaty in the 70's? I ought to remember since I lived through those years, but I suppose in real life they didn't look as bad as they do on screen. It's just that in films of that era, everyone looks as if they need a shower. Maybe it was just the haircuts and the synthetic fibers, and the type of film used. Made for television movies were much different then than they are today.

Actually, the only one in this cast who looks as if he might currently walk down the street and not cause a sartorial stir is Raymond Massey whose grooming and tailoring are impeccable.

It's a wonder to me how films from the 40's (and even the late 30's) manage to look better than anything done in the 60's and 70's. Were the fashions and hair styles really that dreadful?

I suppose they must have been.

But that's not what I want to write about.

To my surprise, THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING isn't a bad film at all. Directed in a pedestrian way by Daryl Duke, it still manages moments of suspense and bits of insider intrigue. I watched it merely because of the title and because I vaguely knew that the screenplay was based on a novel by Robert J. Serling which someone had mentioned as being pretty good.

Here's the plot:

A truculent Chinese government is waving their missiles around and a confrontation between us and them seems likely. Washington is tense, the country is tenser. On the eve of a possible show-down, President Jeremy Haines (Tod Andrews) decides to take a trip.

When Air Force One crashes in the Arizona desert all on board are presumed dead and Washington, the press and the country are thrown into a tizzy. The Vice President, a hapless and underwhelming character named Kermit Madigan (Buddy Ebsen) is reluctant to take the oath. The President had failed to brief him on his intentions, re: the Chinese, and he is completely at the mercy of an unscrupulous White House operative (Rip Torn) who is urging him to take aggressive action. Though the Secretary of State Freeman Sharkey (Raymond Massey), the President's closest adviser, counsels strongly against it.

In the meantime, Mark Jones (Peter Graves) a reporter for a wire service suspects that the President isn't really dead but caught up in some conspiracy. He decides to dig around helped by his boss, Gunther Damon (Arthur Kennedy) who is reluctant to believe that anyone connected to the President would conspire in such a plot.

The acting is basic 1970's, as is the general tone of things and the view of the world. Even so, the result is a dandy little political thriller without many bells and whistles, but intriguing enough to pass the time if you, like me, enjoy these sorts of things.

(I read online that the film was actually finished in 1971 but that it was held up because of President Nixon's trip to China.)

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what forgotten or overlooked films, television or other audio/visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

5 British Crime Thrillers Lately Read

English painter Harold Knight 1874 - 1961 - source

Lately I've hit the jackpot, reading-wise. Though there have been a few non-starters which were promptly returned to whence they came - the library - there have also been quite a few intriguing surprises. I am, of course, delighted to share them with you. Fall is almost upon us and you know what that means: Full throttle READING TIME!

I recommended THE RIVER OF NO RETURN by Bee Ridgway in a previous post and now for a few more recommendations to wile away the chilly days ahead.


THE CUCKOO'S CALLING by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling continues to amaze me. What a brilliant imagination - she is indefatigable. When she could be resting on her Harry Potter laurels (and millions) she continues to write, primarily I suppose, because she wants to - she enjoys it. It is her craft.

As Robert Galbraith she's written the first in a series which I hope will last at least as long as the Harry Potter books, but which has the excellent grounding to continue even further. She's created a bruised and flawed hero with an intriguing name, Cormoran Strike. Strike has angst to grind - what self-respecting private dick doesn't? - he's just broken free from a long-term destructive relationship with a woman he still loves. Large, rumpled and unkempt, sleeping in his office, the miserable Strike is only very barely making ends meet.

Strike is the bastard son of a famed rock star whom he's only met twice in his life. His mother, a once-upon-a-time groupie, is long dead and Strike, late of Special Forces, runs his struggling business from a small, shabby office in a London walk-up.

There he is aided and abated by Robin, a young woman first sent to him as a temp (though Strike cannot really afford to keep her on) who later proves (despite her protesting fiancee who'd rather she take a high paying job at some corporation) a tenacious and determined, not to mention, intuitive, assistant. She is someone who has always dreamed of being a private eye and now that she's found a job with Strike, she's not about to give it up without a fight. Strike, for his part, is smart enough to recognize sleuthing talent when he sees it.

Who killed Lula Landry, the rich and uber-famous super-model? When she goes flying off the balcony of her London apartment, the police label it a suicide. But when her brother shows up at Strike's office, refusing to accept the official verdict, he convinces Strike to take on the case. A case which will go a long way towards changing Strike's life.


THE SILKWORM by Robert Galbraith 

Here, in the second book in the Cormoran Strike series, Rowling takes on the dark asides of the publishing industry with gusto. Owen Quine, a pretentious, pompous, untalented and unloved writer with a taste for Jacobean dramatics, goes missing and his hapless wife asks Strike to find him primarily because she's run out of money. One grisly murder discovery later and said wife quickly falls under suspicion. But Strike believes she's getting a raw deal.

Though I enjoyed the Potter books very much and recommend them highly, what I loved best about these two Strike novels is that they are completely different from the world of Harry Potter, in tone, in flavor, in style and certainly in language. Rowling has revealed a modern gritty edge which serves this sort of book well. And though both books are slightly longer than your regular mystery/thriller, they read quickly, the pages fly by. In fact, when I got to the end I regretted having to leave Strike and Robin and wished there were even more pages.

As I said: J.K. Rowling continues to amaze.

Other books I've read lately that you might want to take a look at:


THE MALCONTENTA (1995) by Barry Maitland - The second in the Brock and Kathy Kolla, British police procedurals. On the strength of this one, I went to the library and got out as many Maitland books as I could carry.


THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES by Alan Bradley - A Flavia de Luce book. I had the feeling reading this that it was the last of the series, but turns out, not. Of all the books in this intriguing mystery series featuring a precocious 12 year old girl living in 1950's England, this is the one in which the author allows 'magical realism' to take a hand in the surprising turn of events.


VERTIGO 42 by Martha Grimes - The latest Richard Jury book and I'm happy to report that Grimes has gotten her mojo back. If you love Jury, don't miss this. If you don't know Jury, go back to the beginning (THE MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF 1981) and prepare yourself for one of the more intelligent and offbeat series. Very quirky, mind you - but that's what I love about them. Well, that, and the fact that Grimes is a terrifically inventive writer.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Television: STILL LIFE - A THREE PINES MYSTERY based on the books by Louise Penny, starring Nathanial Parker


I wasn't going to post about this at all, but what the heck, I feel the need to vent.

Imagine my delighted surprise when I found that Louise Penny's excellent debut, STILL LIFE, an Inspector Armand Gamache novel - first in the award winning series beloved by everyone - had been filmed for television.

Nathanial Parker of Inspector Lynley television fame, (Parker starred in the series based on the books by Elizabeth George) is not my idea of Gamache certainly, but I thought well, let's see what he does with it. Casting-wise, I would have preferred Colin Firth (if it had been made into a theatrical release, that is) or, at least, someone of that physical heft and presence.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when this made for television botch-up (in what I hope will NOT be a series, at least until they get their act together) was revealed to me in all its dismal ineptitude.

How could anyone go so wrong with so much fertile original material to work with? (I know, I know, asked and dubiously answered a million times over many years of film adaptations gone disastrously wrong.)

STILL LIFE - A Three Pines Mystery - What the heck happened?

Much of the fault has to go to the director. To begin with, Peter Moss seems not to have any idea of how to build suspense other than by standard run-of-the-mill stock shots. The scene set-ups and lead-ins are ineffectual - almost as if no one had any clue how to go about it - worst of all, THERE IS ZERO ATMOSPHERE - benign, menacing or otherwise. And the choppy pedestrian editing adds NOTHING to the mix. When all else fails, they rely on yet another aerial view of leafy fall foliage.

Most confusing is the inept murder build-up and attack on a well-liked villager, a 'naive' artist whose demise is mourned by all. The woman is shot by an arrow but there is NO arrow in the wound even at the moment of attack. WHERE did it go? Maybe it was an invisible arrow. This scene should definitely not have been filmed at point blank range because later, when the arrow theory is placed before us, we wouldn't have to sit there and go, 'huh'?

And near the end when a magnificent living room mural is key to motivation and a previous murder, said mural is barely shown to us at all except in bits and pieces and not very illuminating bits and pieces at that. This was a pivotal moment in the story and should have been filmed in a manner which caught the viewer up in the wonderful work of art. A work of art which, for various reasons, the victim had long kept hidden away from friends and fellow artists. As filmed by Peter Moss, the whole thing just falls flat.

And by the way, a word to the wise:

When filming a murder mystery in which the victim lives alone and has a dog (or for that matter a cat), it is most distracting not to know what happens to the dog or cat left behind at the house once the dead person is carted off to the morgue.

Not a thing that occurs in the murder aftermath in these sorts of mysteries matters as much to animal lovers who will be bothered if no one seems to be concerned that a pet has lost its owner. It would only take a comment or two to settle our minds as to the fate of said pet.

In this particular instance, showing the dog much later being walked by the victim's friend comes just at the moment when I began to think they'd left the animal to starve to death. VERY unsettling. Yes, I worry about these things.

By the way, this also applies to books in which the victim lives alone with a pet.

Casting woes:

Nathanial Parker is all right (I really like him so I'm giving him a bit of a pass) in the pivotal role of Armand Gamache - he affects an odd low-key staccato voice, speaking in English. (The series is based in a small, colorful and hard-to-find village more-or-less outside of Montreal, in the Canadian Province of Quebec) When called upon to speak a few bits of French, Parker's accent, I thought, was excellent though of course I'm not French and what do I know - it sounded good.

But the cast surrounding Parker is so woeful (except for Deborah Grover as the cranky poet, Ruth Zardo) as to be almost laughable. Nothing engaging or interesting about any of them.

As for the writing:

The plotting didn't remind me in any way of the book I'd read and one of the characters (a female cop) is so annoyingly written and played that I was forced to fast forward her scenes (don't remember this person from the book but that's not saying too much, what with my old lady memory and all).

And oh, by the way, where was Madame Gamache in all this? Or at least a mention of the fact that Gamache is married and away from home and hearth. (A phone call would have taken care of this quickly and efficiently.)

A little about the books:

Louise Penny's ingenious mysteries are wonderfully conceptualized with a particular, distinctive style and flavor. The stories mainly revolve around the characters' emotional lives (including Gamache), but they also feature a very specific sense of place. I read the first three or four books, but lost track when I veered off in another reading direction. (That happens sometimes.) I've always meant to go back to Three Pines. (This is a series that probably needs to be read in order.) Maybe this winter I'll set aside a chunk of time.

Here's the thing:

Those of you familiar with the books will know that Three Pines is a very special place, a kind of 'magical' setting, an out of the way refuge for artists, writers and eccentrics galore (the fact that it also appears to be the murder capital of Canada is merely an odd coincidence). The village is uniquely peopled with the enigmatic and the unconventional, it has a haunting beauty which lures Gamache and settles into his consciousness as he works to solve some very human (and often bizarre) mysteries. (Occasionally a crime does take place away from the village. But never too, too far away.)

NOTHING of Louise Penny's Three Pines is apparent in this amateurishly filmed version. Nothing. The town used as a setting is no different and no more intriguing than any one of an assortment of pretty upper New York State, Vermont, New Hampshire or Canadian towns. NOR is any of it photographed in any meaningful or imaginative way. Lots of helicopter shots of colorful trees do not a special place make. The film-makers might just as well have inserted a standard travelogue in between scenes, perhaps that would have added more of a Quebec atmosphere.

Oddly enough, the finished product somehow has the look and feel of adaptations done in the 1980's for American television consumption.

If you've seen STILL LIFE: A Three Pines Mystery and formed an opinion, I'd love to hear from you. Am I in the wrong? Do you agree or disagree? Can we commiserate?

P.S. I didn't make it to the bitter the end, I'm just not that much of a masochist - was there something there that I missed? Something that might possibly have made up for the dismal abyss of everything that went before?

I'm willing to listen. But it will take a lot of convincing.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten and/or Overlooked Films, Television or other Audio/Visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: THE RIVER OF NO RETURN by Bee Ridgway


THE RIVER OF NO RETURN is a first novel by Bee Ridgway, as such, it  has its bumpy moments and bits of clunk, but on the whole works very nicely and is, dare I say it? - remarkably engrossing. At 452 pages, it still reads quickly and soon enough you're at the end and left wanting more. So I'm assuming this is the first in either a series or, very popular right now, a new trilogy. Only time will tell.

"When we first encounter the book's protagonist, Nick Davenant, he's a 21at century gentleman farmer who supports an artisanal cheesemaking operation in Vermont.  His tastes are slightly arcane for a contemporary man of means: "Nick had no favorite childhood commercials and he craved boiled mutton, beef jelly, blancmange and bits of pig, pickled." When a mysterious envelope arrives with the L.L. Bean catalogue in the morning mail, it proves to be a summons to an earlier life - a much earlier one."

Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post

THE RIVER OF NO RETURN sports a fast-paced, enjoyable plot: part time-travel opus. part Regency romance with the romance aspect being the least interesting. Why? Well, because the Regency aspects appeared to me to be a bit forced and lacking in 'oomph'. But then I'm currently listening to several Georgette Heyer - queen of Regency authors - audio books and it's difficult NOT to make some slight comparison which, of course, is totally unfair to Bee Ridgway, but life isn't always fair.

The Plot:

It is early days in the nineteenth century and the Most Honorable Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Falcott - Lord Nick to his men - is just about to die on the field of battle in the hills south of Salamanca, Spain (Napoleon's troops). Nicholas looks up to face his mortality in the form of a plunging saber when he is suddenly whisked away to 2003. 

When he wakes up he is rather disconcerted to find himself in a white room with bright ceiling lights (well, what else?). It is explained to him that he has traveled forward in time and must now place himself in the hands of a cabal of time managers known as the Guild. He is told the four rules under which he will live, now and for all time: 

There Is No Return.
There is No Return.
Tell No One.
Uphold the Rules.

The Guild's explanation for this extraordinary event is kind of vague, but since they're willing to pay him an exorbitant yearly income to move to America (no 'traveler' is allowed to stay in their own country of birth) and under a new name, live out his new life as he pleases, Nicholas sees no reason to challenge much of the nonsense he is being told despite his yearning dreams for a young woman he left behind in 1812. In fact, Nick's quick acceptance of all this is one of the book's slight faults, but what the heck, let's move forward.

First Nick must attend a modern day indoctrination school which is situated in an isolated spot in the Andes. Once there he meets other 'travelers' who have arrived there from different eras, ready for indoctrination and whatever comes their way - though some are still befuddled and bewildered. Well, wouldn't you be? It is there that Nick's suspicions of the Guild are first awakened but then, rather pragmatically, he decides he might just as well go along to get along - things being what they are.

He settles nicely into a sybaritic life style in Vermont, enjoying dalliances with any willing and beautiful female who happens by, including the local cheese inspector who, lo and behold, turns out to be....wait, I'm getting ahead of myself, as usual.

Remember The Four Rules? Well, turns out that as with any rules of any import whatsoever, they were made to be broken.

And soon enough Nick is back in 1812 doing mysterious work for the Guild. He learns about 'the Ophans' who, according to the Guild are time renegades out to destroy the world by enabling the end of time itself. They must be infiltrated and stopped at any cost.

But are they as black as they're painted - really? Or is the Guild merely guilty of pathological overreach? Who can Nick trust?

In the meantime, Julia, the girl Nick had been yearning for and who, coincidentally, was raised on a neighboring estate by a loving grandfather who, apparently kept one too many secrets, is added to the tumult of Nick's return to the past.

What is a poor Marquess to do?

Especially when it turns out that unknown to Nick, Julia has recently discovered that she has the ability to stop time in its tracks. A very intriguing talent to be sure.

Bee Ridgway loads her book with engaging characters, colorful settings and imaginative details, i.e. the cozy underground Ophan hideout situated beneath the streets of 19th century London and full of modern day quirks - fast food, an electric generator, etc - unknown to the Regency era citizens going about their business on the streets above. I admit this was my very favorite part of the book, perhaps because it was the most visually realized.

Except for a totally unnecessary sexual interlude which brings the story to a dead stop but which is easy enough to skim through - as I did - not to mention a bit of a flat ending, this is a definite Must Read for those of us who enjoy an imaginative tale, sumptuously told.

THE RIVER OF NO RETURN is not perfect, but it IS one of those - lately hard to find - books that the reader will get giddily lost in and that is definitely the highest praise I can give it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: Today's the DAY!

Flash Fiction Challenge Links

Links to other stories written for this year's one and only Flash Fiction Challenge, are followed by my own story sparked by a painting by Polish-American illustrator, W.T. Benda. Thanks so very much for participating.

Prashant C. Trikinnad - The Confession

Elizabeth Grace Foley - The Letter

John / Pretty Sinister Books - Come Like Shadows

We're a small group but we're select and famed for our exclusivity. 

W.T. Benda 

A Simian Fairy Tale

“Monkeys, who very sensibly refrain from speech lest they should be set to earn their livings.” Kenneth Graham, ‘The Golden Age’

In one of London’s finer neighborhoods, on the top floor of a darkly decaying Gothic house, in a smaller room set aside for servants years ago and now used mostly for storage, a woolly monkey named Percival LaFarge sat idly atop an old trunk, enjoying a brief respite, munching on a filched banana tart. Happy enough not to be wearing the inelegant cap, jacket and plus fours he was obliged to cavort around in five afternoons and one evening a week, he scratched his plump belly and used the end of his long tail to destroy several ancient spider webs clinging to the draped furniture.

When the dust cleared and he’d finished sneezing, the monkey spotted an old metal box whose lock appeared ripe for the picking.

Most of London by now, knew of Percival LaFarge’s incredible gift for human-like gab, never suspecting that the seemingly impossible trick was NOT due to the cleverness of his master, the reclusive Hugo Hicks, whose gift as the finest ventriloquist – a talent he claimed to have picked up from a band of roving gypsies - in all Europe was an absolute fabrication. This secret was known only to himself and his sister Harriet (called Harry) who lived with him, their peripatetic parents having been killed by bandits in Egypt years before, leaving the siblings impoverished.

Needless to say, it was essential no one realize that Percival LaFarge’s speaking ability was the real thing lest he be removed from the brother and sister's care and shut up in a laboratory to be studied or worse, dissected.

Afternoon teas with Percival at which the monkey discoursed on a variety of subjects at five pounds a head (10 pounds for High Tea) had become so popular that Harry had happily quite her job and given herself over to designing outfits for an occasionally reluctant Percival to sport – he loved the jaunty red fez with black tassel best and it was often difficult to get him to switch hats to accommodate the rest of his stylish outfits.

Very important talks were currently in the works for Percival to star in a stage production WITH music – Cole Porter had been approached - as well as an illustrated book, a project which had captured the interest of Salvadore Dali. The brother and sister had also exchanged exploratory telegrams with film star Charlie Chaplin. Though of course, silent film would defeat the whole purpose of Percival’s chatty charm, but Chaplin felt this could be overcome in some way.

How this fairy tale came about:

Percival LaFarge realized very early on that humans being what they are, keeping his gift of gab a secret would be paramount to his continued good health. But when he’d first stumbled through a broken window and into the lives of that sad, woebegone pair of humans living in that big empty house near the Thames, it had seemed like fortune had finally smiled on him. The kind-hearted young woman who’d found him battered and bruised, wounds incurred while fleeing from a bunch of raucous boys down a dark alley, gasped with horror at his condition. The quick-witted simian was no stranger to rough handling, but it seemed a good idea at the moment to play up his condition for all it was worth.

After much lamentation, ‘Oh, poor thing, poor thing,” encouraged by Percival’s (slightly exaggerated) piteous cries, the young woman gently treated and bandaged him.  “Oh look how thin he is, Hugo. He must be famished, poor thing.”

“Yes, so you said. Someone’s pet, do you think?” said a tall young man in a frayed dressing gown. “Or maybe a runaway from the circus?” He gave Percival an assessing look. “Didn’t we see some handbills recently? DeWhite's Circus of Incomparable Delights.” But at the sound of the dreaded name, the monkey had let out a shriek and covered his eyes – piteously. He had found that with humans, ambiguity never did any good.

“Oh my goodness, Hugo That must be it. That horrible circus. We can't send him back. Look how he shakes.”

“Well, we can’t keep him, Harry. He’s a Woolly Monkey. Class: Mamalia, Order: Primate, Family: Atelidae, Genus: Lagothrix, Species: Simia lagotricha. It’s not as though he were a dog or even a cat.” He adjusted his eye glasses and looked more closely. “Not a bad specimen of his type, I’d say. They keep a stuffed pair at the museum.” 

At this, Percival was seen to role his eyes. Piteously.

“I don’t care,” said Harry, “he’s in a terrible state. We don’t have much, Hugo, but what we have we can certainly share with this sad creature. I insist.”

When it came to his sister, Hugo could be amiable and if it pleased her to keep a monkey in their dark gloom of a house, then so be it. It was the liveliest he’d seen Harry in months. He went down to the kitchen and returned with a crust of bread and a bit of fruit which the monkey, with squeaks of ecstasy, quickly made a feast of.

“It’s best not to get too attached though, someone will probably come looking for him.” said Hugo and left the room. He still had several hours of work to put in, studying notes he’d brought home that afternoon. His part time job at the university cataloguing rare species of lichens for a book the head of the department, a famous botanist, was currently writing, only brought in the barest minimum of income but it suited Hugo's meager talents. His love of plant-life and the decrepit greenhouse up on the roof were the reasons he fought tooth and nail with their creditors to keep the family home from being sold. To that end, Bianca had been forced to take a job as companion and general dogsbody to an old and rather unpleasant French countess.

Percival LaFarge to the rescue:

LaFarge had always been extremely cautious while in captivity, but he now realized that perhaps, the time had come to do something with this cumbersome talent of his. After his escape from the brutish circus animal trainer who’d bought him from a seedy first mate who’d stolen him from the cabin of the deceased sea captain who’d captured him in Brazil, the primate was looking for a change of pace.

Essentially a pragmatist with the occasional bout of optimism thrown in for good measure, a tight-lipped Percival had, for a full week, observed the fatigue and worry which plagued the brother and sister and resolved to do something to repay their kindness to him. One evening, having decided on a course of action, he shocked the pair almost out of their wits by introducing himself and commenting on the terrible weather.

After much swooning (on the part of the sister) and incredulous sputtering (on the part of the brother) a plan was hatched at the wily Percival’s instigation.

The monkey was happy enough now to pretend that his chatter was all due to Hugo’s manipulation.  The story would be given out that the young man’s incredibly realistic and heretofore undiscovered ‘talent for ventriloquism’ was something he’d never revealed before simply because he had not thought it necessary.

With the cunning of his species, Percival knew that their intended audience would want to believe him to be speaking but choose to think that it was all due to Hugo even as their eyes and ears told them otherwise – humans, he’d found, were always ready to deceive themselves. No one would suspect a monkey might be truly capable of speech. In fact, if questioned, Percival himself would have shrugged his little shoulders and pretended that no one else in his large jungle family had ever spoken a word - the truth being quite the opposite.

Six Months Later:

Word about the monkey’s propensity for charming conversation while sitting prettily at a tea table (he had his own petite china tea set) in a red fez, bow-tie, paisley waistcoat, little tweed jacket and corduroy plus fours, soon got around and before too long, even the Queen herself had requested a special Percival performance. The brother and sister’s success was thus assured. The benefits of a reigning monarch’s approbation were incalculable – the Queen was actually heard to titter. “We are amused.”

The architecturally gothic horror of a house was saved from the indignity of being sold at auction. Hugo and Harry paid their bills, renovated the greenhouse, brought in comfortable furniture, had the walls replastered, papered and/or freshly painted and settled in, for the first time in years, to enjoy their lives. There had even been enough left over for Hugo to purchase the rare plants he coveted.

The plot thickens:

Matters would take an unexpected turn when a year into their ruse and the public having showed no inclination of tiring (children throughout Britain were now often spotted carrying Percival monkey dolls and sales of Percival monkey clothes had never been better), the crafty simian attracted the attention of Martin Cavendish, a reporter who, in the guise of a gentleman (unfortunately in trade, but one can’t have everything) began courting the naive Harriet, attempting to insinuate himself into the lives of the brother and sister.

Harry had, in her first giddy days of imagining her spinster status coming to an end, talked freely (perhaps too freely when prodded by a glass or three of champagne) about Percival LaFarge and what the dear monkey meant to her and her brother.

One evening when a tear in the hem of her gown necessitated Harry’s leaving the room for a few moments and Hugo had just excused himself to fetch a bottle of brandy  - brother and sister being understandably reluctant to hire much staff – Cavendish used the time to investigate the large salon (in which the family received company) for any interesting papers, notes or journals. Surely there must be something, some proof. He had, as yet, been unable to search Hugo's study. 

At the precise moment when he was looking behind a large Henri Matisse portrait of Percival LaFarge, feeling for hidden crevices, the hall door opened and Percival sauntered in holding, with as much disdain as it was possible for a monkey to express, an egg yolk yellow waistcoat, “Harry if you expect me to actually be seen in public in this execrable - !” But he got no further, caught off guard, the monkey took one look at the startled Cavendish and let out an intense oath (learned in his sea-faring days). 

A white faced Cavendish, in his turn, found himself leaning against a wall for support all the while pointing a finger and gasping, “I knew it, I knew it!”

What happened next, happened so quickly that by the time Hugo and Bianca returned, running and out of breath, alerted by the commotion and scream, it was all over.

“What is the meaning of this!?” said Hugo attempting calm, glancing up at Percival who, wearing nothing but pale blue plus fours, was at the moment hanging from the chandelier by one long arm and an even longer tail. The monkey squealed in agitation and did his own pointing - at a large sack which had been flung on the floor.

“That bloody creature bit me!” shouted Cavendish forgetting there was a lady in the room. “He bit me. Look!” He held out a hand and showed them a jagged scratch on his thumb.

“I’m so sorry, Martin. I can’t imagine why Percival – “ she stopped, her look of initial concern turning to suspicion. “Where did this come from?” she asked, picking up the burlap sack.

Percival’s screeching rose to a crescendo and Hugo suddenly realized what the monkey was trying to tell him. “Okay, Percy, I've got it," he said. The monkey instantly quieted down though an unintelligible muttering could still be heard roiling about in his throat. 

"What about that sack?" asked Hugo. "Harry do you remember bringing a sack in here? I certainly don't."

"No," said his sister in a barely audible voice.

“It was on a table," said Cavendish. "Maybe I knocked it to the floor when the monkey attacked me. Monkey bites are nothing to laugh at,” he added when he noticed Hugo’s grin.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” said Hugo.

“Never mind,” said the disgruntled reporter gingerly wrapping a handkerchief around his wounded hand, “That bloody monkey can talk. Try and get out of that one. I heard him. Just now. Clear as day."

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Harry, folding the sack mechanically, giving her hands something to do.

“Please watch your language, Cavendish.” Said Hugo coldly, don’t make me have to knock you to the floor."

The crystal teardrops on the chandelier tinkled softly as Percival swung back and forth, keeping a close eye on events below. This was a side of Hugo he’d never seen before. It was interesting.

“I'm sorry, Harriet," said Cavendish,"but this is news. I suspected there was something strange about that b – that blasted monkey all along. All right, here’s my proposition, I want to be the first to write the story. Give me an exclusive and I'll see that my paper pays you both plenty."

“How could you, Martin, how could you?” said Harry in a choked voice.


W.T. Benda - source

Slightly shame-faced, Cavendish mumbled a few words but Hugo interrupted. "Are you mad? I don't know what you think you heard here today but whatever it was, it was certainly not a talking monkey." He poured himself a brandy. “Look, why don’t we sit down and talk this over calmly.”  He sat on the sofa and gave the appearance of a reasonable man making a reasonable request.

“You can’t fob me off," said Cavendish, "I know what I heard. You’ll have to give him up now anyway." He held up his injured hand. "You can’t keep a dangerous beast in the middle of London. So let me write up my story, interview the three of you and then we’ll see what’s what. You’ve had a good run. But you can’t stop the truth coming out now.”

Percival let out a screech. Startled, the angry reporter looked up and said, “Come down and tell me that to my face, you ugly little freak. They’re going to lock you up and probably cut you open and won’t that give me a laugh."

“Martin!” said Harry with an anguished cry.

Percival swung from the chandelier to the top of a bookcase and out through an open window, grabbed at the vines and climbed up towards the roof.

 “Aren’t you going after him?” asked Cavendish making a movement towards the window.

“There’s no need,” said Hugo. “We couldn’t catch him if we tried. I don’t think he’ll go far.”

“Hugo, do you think I ought to – ?” asked Harry, giving Martin a dark look of loathing.

“Oh yes, you wouldn't want to lose your meal ticket,” said Cavendish with a sneer. At which point, Harry stepped forward and slapped his face, hard.

Hugo pretended nothing untoward had occurred. “Don’t worry, if I know Percy he's just feeling a bit sulky. He'll be back."

With a hand on his cheek, Cavendish sat on the nearest chair, “Why don’t I wait with you then?”

“I think you’d better leave,” said Harry, steely voiced.

“No, I don’t think so, Harry, my dear. That gabby monkey of yours will make for the biggest sensation the world has ever seen. After this I’ll be able to write my own ticket.”

“An excess of hyperbole,” said Hugo as he poured a brandy and handed it to Cavendish. “You can’t prove a thing.”

“Maybe I’d better not drink this,” said Cavendish with raised eyebrows. “I wouldn’t want it to cloud my senses.” He poured the drink into a vase of flowers and watched the water turn a reddish purple.

"How melodramatic you are," said Hugo, grinning. "You don't supposed I'd try to poison you?" 

But Cavendish just lit a cigarette.

The explosive denouement:

Upstairs, Percival opened the metal box he’d found weeks ago and retrieved the object he’d known would come in handy some day. He did what needed to be done with a few deft movements of his long thin fingers then climbed out the window and  back down the way he’d come.

In the salon, brother, sister and craven reporter made for a cheerless evening tableau.
“This is so preposterous,” said Harry after a few minutes. “No one will believe you no matter what you write. Everyone knows that Hugo is a wonderful ventriloquist. Percival is one of the most beloved animals in all England. But. He. Doesn't. Really. Talk."

“How stupid do you think I am? Yes, you had me fooled at first,” said Cavendish with a nod. “But some things here and there didn’t make sense to me. I have a good reporter’s nose. And what I heard this afternoon – with my own ears – proved that I was right. I'm staying here until I get the truth."

Two shots rang out.

“Percy, what have you done?!” cried Harry jumping up from her chair.

“He tried to put me in a sack,” said the monkey, placing the derringer on a table top.

"I'd better find a shovel," said Hugo.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Just a REMINDER, that the FLASH-FICTION CHALLENGE day of reckoning is this coming SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 14th.

Therefore I'm taking the week off to concentrate on my story which still needs to be thought of and written. I've always been a last minute sort of gal.

The following is a link to my original post outlining the rules and for viewing of the three illustrations which have, hopefully, already sparked an idea or if you're like me, will, hopefully, spark an idea in the next day or two .

If you don't have a blog, please send your story along to me in an email and I'll see about posting it.

Even if there are only three or four of us, I'm very much looking forward to reading your stories.


Friday, September 5, 2014

FFB: Doctors and Nurses - The Way They Used to Be.



source - Cover art: Isabel Dawson





source - Cover art: Bob Abbett 1961






source - Cover art: Robert Maguire

source

Remember these? Well, even if you never read them (and I don't think I did) these covers may still be familiar to you on some vague level. If only to remind you (me) that once upon a time nurses went about in crisp white uniforms and starched white caps.

Don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattnase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Television: INSPECTOR ALLEYN MYSTERIES (1990's) starring Patrick Malahide


Some long time readers of this blog may know that once, several years ago, I went on a Ngaio Marsh reading binge and read ALL her mysteries in one fell swoop. I get like that sometimes.

New Zealand born Ngaio Marsh wrote 32 novels all featuring her elegant, handsome and ultra suave detective, Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn of the C.I.D. (Metropolitan Police - London) and almost all featuring Alleyn's cohort, Inspector Fox (or B'rer Fox, as Alleyn refers to him).

Later in the series, Alleyn will marry (he meets his testy future wife, painter Agatha Troy, in the sixth Alleyn mystery, ARTISTS IN CRIME). Troy (as Alleyn calls her) will later feature in several of the books: her debut book of course (in which she seems remarkably unlikable and you wonder what Alleyn sees in her but Troy is an acquired taste and she grows on you), as well as in FINAL CURTAIN, A CLUTCH OF CONSTABLES and SPINSTERS IN JEOPARDY. There are probably a couple of others but I can't remember which ones at this particular moment.

At any rate, there will also be a son born to the Alleyns in due time, a charming loquacious boy who makes his especially memorable co-starring debut in SPINSTERS IN JEOPARDY, an odd sort of book which has become a favorite of mine - it's one of several Alleyn books I make a point to reread now and again.

To see a full list of all of Ngaio Marsh's books, please use this link to her Fantastic Fiction page.

Anyway, on to the main subject of today's post, the televised series of the Roderick Alleyn books:

For reasons that remain unexplained, Netflix currently only has six of the nine episodes available for streaming under Season One and Season Two. The remaining three episodes have gone missing for ages now and I've given up hope of ever seeing them anywhere. There also seems to be a pilot episode (1990) starring the more conventionally handsome (not that there's anything wrong with that) Simon Williams (from UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS) as Alleyn, which I've never seen.

Available for viewing now:

A MAN LAY DEAD
THE NURSING HOME MURDER
FINAL CURTAIN
 -and-
DEATH IN A WHITE TIE
HAND IN GLOVE
SCALES OF JUSTICE


The casting, as in most British television programs is brilliant and quirky. Chief Inspector Alleyn who is described in Marsh's books as remarkably handsome is played by the not so remarkably handsome but still remarkably intriguing Patrick Malahide. He is oddly handsome and gently persuasive plus he looks wonderful in his elegant tailored suits and spiffy homburg hat. At least I think it is a homburg. There is something about Malahide (who is best known for playing smarmy bad guys) that is both appealing and menacing. Not the usual sort of casting at all. I like him very much.

Here he is called upon to play an upper class snoot with a slightly mysterious past (he is obviously of the moneyed class and has a titled brother in government) who is devoted to his job, brooks no malfeasance and yet remains likable. Somehow it all works.

Patrick Malahide and Belinda Lang

Malahide even manages to appear hapless when dealing with his lady-love Agatha Troy (the prickly Belinda Lang, another bit of great casting - she is just as I imagined her from the books).

I never did get used to William Simon as B'rer Fox, but that's probably my failing and not his.

The stand-out episode for me, though the entire six are each wonderful in their own way, is HAND IN GLOVE because it co-stars Sir John Gielgud who is one of my all time favorite actors. No one can play 'fussy' and snobby while remaining likable as well as Gielgud does. He is such a pleasure to watch. Here is a man who was one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of any generation and yet he never seemed to mind doing television. Thank goodness.

In HAND IN GLOVE we also have Geoffrey Palmer. The rubbery, gruff faced actor who is well known to many aficionados (myself included) as the unlikely leading man in the British romantic comedy television series, AS TIME GOES BY, opposite Judy Dench. In HAND IN GLOVE he plays the murder victim, a gruff (Palmer makes a specialty of this), pompous and rather nasty individual with a liking for upsetting people.

But all six episodes are worth a good look since besides being unusually faithful adaptations of Marsh's books, they also feature the sorts of wonderful British character actors who seem to grow by the bushel full in merrrie olde England. It is Anglophile heaven for those of us who like to indulge in that sort of thing.


Reminder: Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Films, Television and/or other Audio Visuals other bloggers are talking about today. We're an exceptional bunch.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Salon: Wonderful Watercolors

Contemporary painter Gabby Malpas - source

Contemporary Polish painter Grgegorz Wrobel - source

Contemporary Russian painter Galina Vasilyeva - source

Alfred Renaudin (1866 - 1944) Nasturtiums - source

Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853 - 1919) - source

Scottish painter Sir William Russell Flint  (1880 - 1969) - source

Contemporary painter Bella Foster - source

Giacinto Gigante with additions by a Bornone pupil - The House of Castor and Pollux, Pompeii - source

Contemporary painter Danielle O'Brien - source

Russian painter Catherine Klein (1861 - 1929) - source

Contemporary painter Dana Brown - source

Contemporary American painter Susan Abbott - source

Watercolor is extremely difficult to master as anyone who's tried knows all too well. Oh anyone can splash colors about, yes, but to splash in a disciplined manner, well that's rather a different kettle of fish. Especially since water has a mind of its own.

Friday, August 29, 2014

FFB: DEATH OF JEZEBEL (1948) by Christianna Brand


Since John over at Pretty Sinister Books raves about this particular Brand book and I'd never read it, and since a hard copy of DEATH OF JEZEBEL is difficult to come by without shelling out big bucks, I went ahead and ordered it from audio.com (I joined a while back) and boy am I glad I did.

Yes John, you were absolutely right. This is an ultra-FABULOUS book. I'm not sure it's the best of Brand but close enough. I think I still like SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE just a teensy bit more. But why quibble. Both books are extraordinarily good.

Christianna Brand is the Queen of Multiple Endings, but in DEATH OF A JEZEBEL she reaches for the stratosphere of multiple endings. Wow. But rather than detract from the thing (or add their own makeshift tedium) as some of these tricky endings do, in Brand's book they just add more and more dazzle to the whodunit atmosphere. Just when you think: AHA! Another clever ending presents itself. Surprise! To me it was obvious that Brand was having a bit of fun with the reader. But when you're a genius you can get away with this sort of thing.

An English pageant, knights in armor, horses, a princess in a tower, a cozy cast of intriguing characters, a locked room murder in full view of Inspector Cockrill (in London for a conference but missing is regular stomping grounds, Kent, where everyone knows who he is and treats him accordingly) and a large audience. The perfect crime? We shall soon find out that where Inspector Cockrill is concerned, no crime is too bizarre or too convoluted to solve.

Isabel Drew (the erstwhile 'princess in the tower' waiting up there to make her pageant entrance on cue) is the 'jezebel' in the title. Bitter, beautiful and bitchy, Isabel thinks nothing of dabbling in a spot of opportunistic blackmail. A clever woman who's been around the block a few times, she is no longer in the first flower of youth and knows her days and nights of opportunity are numbered. A careless sort, Isabel is utterly self-absorbed and oblivious to the feelings of others.

Seven years before, Drew and a male friend participated in a sordid event which led to the suicide of Johnny Wise, a young and impressionable British flyer visiting London from his home base of Malaysia - or as Isabel insists on referring to the place, 'the malaise'. Also involved in the sad affair was the equally young and impressionable Perpetua Kirk (known as Pepi) who was Johnny's fiancee.

Now with World War II finally over, it seems that the past has reached out, determined to seek vengeance for the terrible death of a fair-haired boy whom everyone loved.

When threatening notes are discovered, Pepi asks her old friend Inspector Cockrill to take a hand. She invites him to attend a rather preposterous pageant planned by some of her acquaintances. "Ah, the British and their pageants." mutters Cockrill. But he likes Pepi and wishes she'd get over the events which blighted her life seven years before.

What follows is not only a mystifying locked room murder staged in front of a large crowd of spectators - none of whom sees anything worth noting - but a nasty be-heading as well. Ah, the British and their juicy Golden Age murders.

I'm a sucker for this sort of thing.

My unabridged audio version was beautifully narrated by Derek Perkins.

While Patti Abbott is away from her desk, Evan Lewis will be collecting links at his blog Davy Crockett's Almanack. Don't forget to take a look to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.