Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE FOURTH BEAR by Jasper Fforde

British author Jasper Fforde is best known, I suppose, for his satirically quirky Thursday Next series of novels which take place in a modern day England that never was; an England in which airplanes haven't been invented, air travel is by dirigible, time travel exists, and the denizens of literature pop in and out of their books often leaving literary chaos in their wake.

But today is not about Thursday Next, literary detective, today is about the Nursery Crimes Division series begun by Fforde way back in 2005 with THE BIG OVER EASY. Unfortunately, this series is still only two books along and here we are in 2015. After THE FOURTH BEAR was published in 2006, no further Nursery Crimes books have come along though we were promised a third - a book now forecast to be published in 2017 - but who knows? I hate to be toyed with. Especially when the writing and story-telling are this good. But patience is a virtue (or so they say) and so I must be patient.

In the meantime, it's true, we've had the very satisfactory SHADES OF GREY (No, not that shades of grey) and its sequel also due out soon. So I mustn't complain - much. The Grey book is set in yet another bizarre though oddly familiar world, but this time out, the color spectrum is in short supply. Go read it if you want to know more. Unlike the other 'shades of grey', this time, bring your thinking cap.

At any rate, this review of THE FOURTH BEAR was first posted by me in 2011 and since I am currently re-reading the book, I've decided to bring the post forward and re-work it. This is too good a book to be forgotten, overlooked or lost in the shuffle.

How high (or low) is your tolerance for nonsense? I don't mean run-of-the-mill nonsense - I'm talking intelligent nonsense - absurdity, if you will - the kind promulgated by...oh, let's say, Jasper Forde. I don't know about you, but I seem to be able to tolerate Fforde's brand of nonsense very, very well, indeed.

Incidentally, I love this artwork by Bill Mudron and Dylan Meconis. Hence my enlarging the cover to this gigantic 'bear' size.

THE FOURTH BEAR was Fforde's second entry in his two book (so far) Nursery Crimes series set in Reading, England in a Berkshire of his own devising. First book: THE BIG OVER EASY had to do with the death of Humpty-Dumpty who turned out not to have been a very nice egg. The likable detective in charge then, Jack Spratt, is back in THE FOURTH BEAR, where once again, due to an unfortunate incident involving a wolf, a girl in a red hooded cape and a bed-ridden grandmother, Spratt is on the outs within his small department. The powers that be are insisting that he undergo psychological evaluation or be trumped out of the NCD (Nursery Crime Division).

From the chapter headings:

First (and only) bear relocation: Mr. and Mrs. Edward Bruin, 1977. With the passing of the 1962 Animal (anthropomorphic) Equality Bill, all talking animals won the right not to be exploited or hunted and instead live in the designated safe haven of Berkshire, England. Bears were fully expected to take up residence in small cottages in the middle of the woods and eat porridge in a state of blissful quasi-human solitude, but they didn't. Most bears instead preferred to remain urbane city dwellers and shunned the notion of foraging in the countryside. Ursine elders deplore the situation but secretly admit that Reading's proliferating coffee shops, theaters and shopping opportunities are not without their attractions.The Bumper Book of Berkshire Records, 2004 edition

While Spratt resists the evaluation,  the seven foot tall Gingerbread man - psychopath, sadist and convicted murderer - escapes from the loony-bin and is roaming the streets of Reading causing havoc. But since Spratt's career is on a downturn, he is not placed in charge of the investigation even though it was thanks to him that the vile ginger cookie was captured the first time around. Rather, Spratt and his associates, fellow detectives Mary Mary and Ashley the luminous (and squishy) blue Alien, get handed the Missing Persons case of golden-haired Goldy Hatchett, star reporter for The Mole newspaper. When 'missing' turns to murder, as it usually does in mystery books, we learn that the last three witnesses to have seen Goldy alive were, you guessed it, three bears.

Here, Jack Spratt interviews Ed Bruin and his wife.

"Have a seat, Inspector. Tea?" 

"Thank you." 

"Honey sandwich? It's all quota - no substance abuse in this house." 

"Thank you, I've already eaten." 

"Do you mind if I have one?"

"Not at all." 

Ed licked his lips and shouted across to his wife. "Two teas, pet - and a honey sandwich for our guest." He winked broadly at Jack and smiled slyly. 

"So when did you last see her?" asked Jack. 

"It must have been Friday morning - " 

"Saturday," said Mrs. Bruin from the other side of the room. Ed looked around. "I think it was Friday, actually, dear." 

"Saturday," she growled."We had to go to the vet about your worms." 

There was a ghastly pause. Ed looked at Jack with an expression of acute embarrassment etched upon his features. He smiled sheepishly....."What were we talking about?" 


"Oh, yes. It was last Saturday. My good lady wife had made some porridge for breakfast - again, strictly quota - and we all went for a walk in the forest while it cooled." 

"Is that normal procedure?" 

"Yes, indeed; it's completely true what they say about bears and forests. Our morning constitutional, as it were. The forest speaks, you know, Inspector. Every morning it has changed in some small way. By the way the trees sway and the birds sing and the leaves - "

"That's very interesting, Mr. Bruin," interrupted Jack, "but what about the porridge?"

"Oh, well, we came home to find that my son's porridge had been eaten. He was most upset about it."


Ed held up a claw."Wait a minute. Then we noticed that my son's chair had been sat on and broken."

"This one here?" 

"Yes, I've tried to mend it, but it's never quite the same, is it?" 

"And then?" 

"We went upstairs and found that woman asleep in my son's bed!" The bear stared at Jack as though he should be as outraged as Ed was. 

"Then what did she do?"

"Isn't that enough?" asked Ed angrily. "You would have thought that finally, after two thousand years of being hunted, kept in grotty zoos, made to ride motorcycles and dance to some forgettable tune played by a repulsive and usually toothless Eastern European, we members of the Ursidae family have won the right to be left alone."

"She broke a chair, but surely that's not the end of the world?"

"It's the thin end of the wedge," he replied indignantly. "How would you like it if a bear wandered into your house when you were out, ate your breakfast, destroyed your property and then had the barefaced cheek to fall asleep - naked - in your bed?"

"I see your point..."

Eventually, both investigations will intertwine as we knew they must, bodies start dropping like flies (including a woman who was wallpapered to her wall), giant cucumbers start exploding, and Jack and Mary Mary must save the day though they will, of course, not be thanked for it. Nobody likes to be shown up, less of all, Jack's ego-maniacal and mostly inept superiors.

Call this a wickedly funny police procedural satire or just a very strange book, whatever you will, just don't miss it.

World's oddest theme park: Contenders abound in this field, and several deserve mention. ElephantLand in impoverished East Splotvia is odd in that it has no elephants, nor a clear idea of what one is. GummoWorld in upstate New York is devoted to the Marx brother who had the distinction of never appearing in a movie, and Nevada's ParkThemeLandWorld is a theme park dedicated to other theme parks, but has no attraction of its own. SommeWorld in the UK invites its visitors to taste the marrow-chilling fear of being an infantryman in the Great War, and, by contrast, ZenWorld in Thailand is nothing but a very large empty space in which to relax. Our favorite, however, is La Haye's DescarteLand, which merely furnishes ticket holders with a paper bag to put over their heads and a note reading, "If you think it, it shall be so." The Bumper Book of Berkshire Records, 2004 edition.

Author Patricia Abbott is away at Bouchercon this week and so meme hosting duties will be handled by Todd Mason at his blog,  Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check in to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers will be talking about today.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday Salon: The plants and flowers of SOPHIA PERINA-MILLER

Award winning painter Sophia Perina-Miller was born in Russia in 1974 and now lives and works in Scotland. She exhibits her paintings at galleries and art fairs throughout the United Kingdom.

Perina-Miller currently works in watercolor and gel pen. I love her uninhibited use of bright color and love her eye for fine detail and design. She creates wonderful, vibrant work which is happily available in a variety of ways; as original art and in print and textile form.

To learn more about Sophia Perina-Miller and her work:

Sophia Perina-Miller website

Sophia Perina-Miller on Pinterest

Sophia Perina-Miller at the Jack Tierney Gallery

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: More Covers This Week - Falling To Death


Falling out a window or off a roof or high ledge or wherever, as seen on the covers of vintage mysteries. Not a great way to die, but the covers are startlingly eye-catching - don't you think?

I've read four of these, but please don't ask me to tell you what they're about. The only one I remember is THE HIGH WINDOW by Raymond Chandler which was turned into the movie, THE BRASHER DOUBLOON starring George Montgomery as a very dapper Philip Marlowe. I will add this: I tried watching THE BRASHER DOUBLOON on youtube the other day and I found the film unwatchable - which surprised meI had once liked and had good memories of this from having seen it on early television years ago. So, memories fail, tastes change. No big surprise there, I guess.

Physically, George Montgomery makes a fine Marlowe but I hadn't realized just how much sleaze had worked its way into his demeanor - Marlow is many things, but sleazy he ain't. And Nancy Guild is cringe-inducing. She is another of those unlikable Chandler 'heroines' whose behavior is inexplicable, but she does it with so little style (in a pitiful attempt to ape Lauren Bacall, I suppose). Well, okay, I love Florence Bates, but not here. This is a film better left unviewed, its details unremembered.

The book isn't bad at all. Read that instead.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (1975) starring Jeannie Berlin and Roy Scheider

The book by Gail Parent was one of my favorite reads many, MANY years ago even if it was then what is now known as 'chick-lit'. I've always had a warm spot for SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (great title) even if I couldn't actually remember much about it except a vague good feeling. You get to a certain age and your memory refuses to conjure up much, but it does conjure up feelings.

My blogging friend Sergio is working on a review of the book even as we speak, so there's that to look forward to. Can't wait to see what he makes of it.

But in the meantime, let's talk about the film which was adapted by Kenny Solms from Gail Parent's book. Even if the darker humor and overall suicide motif didn't make the cut to the big screen, there is still some nostalgic humor to be had (and one or two laugh out loud moments) though, in truth, most of the film feels as if it can't quite decide what it wants to be. A shame, really, because the source material was pretty damn rich.

SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK is the familiar (and often told) story of a young, insecure, unmarried woman gone to the Big City to make her fortune and more importantly find a hubby. It was a book for a certain time and a certain age. Hubby-hunting is not, one would like to think, such an active sport as it once was - correct me if I'm wrong.

It was 1975 after all. Lots of good movies from the 70's even if we wish now that the film color, set design and fashions had been different. Looking backwards, society was not very aesthetically pleasing then. (And don't get me started on the ugly furniture.) Garbage strikes in the city were not uncommon and there was a lot of vulgar polyester going on. Though surprisingly, Roy Scheider still manages to look pretty good in his duds, especially in one scene sporting a white suit.

The screenplay too is burdened by signs of the times and a plot which is herky-jerky, giving the film an episodic look. Of course, with a film, it could just be that the editing needed more work.

At any rate, I watched SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK last night (it is available for viewing for $2.99 at google plus and, unknown to me until I found out today, available for free on youtube even if, probably, very temporarily) and was reminded how Jeannie Berlin's face was/is capable of enormous emotion while not doing much emoting at all. A lot of the film, directed by Sidney R. Furie, is done in close-up (probably because of the aesthetic ugliness I mentioned earlier) so we're treated to nice big views of Berlin's melancholy persona as well as nice big views of craggy faced Roy Scheider who, for reasons unknown, could take a good close-up despite his boxer face (same as George C. Scott though one might have thought otherwise - the camera does love an interesting face).

And before we go any further, let me add that Jeannie Berlin is the daughter of Elaine May whose brilliance needs no exaggeration. May starred in and directed one of the best romantic comedies of all time, A NEW LEAF (with Walter Matthau), a film I never tire of recommending.

Back to the movie:

Roy Scheider seems a bit miscast as Sam Stoneman, the male lead - in the role he manages somehow to look too intelligent to be who he is even as he's playing a doctor with a roving eye and a raging libido. But as I mentioned, he's good to look at and is such a fine actor that we go along with him even when it's obvious he doesn't belong there. And even, more importantly, when he isn't especially likable.

Jeannie Berlin plays Sheila Levine, a clumsy. strangely likable Jewish-American woman who is drowning in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and has come to the big city to breathe a bit of freedom while trying to fashion some sort of career and (as mentioned before) find a hubby. She is at that humbling stage in life where the marriage of a younger sister is cause for humiliation.

Despite her mother's protestations, Sheila takes up residence in a dark, cramped, ramshackle apartment (termed a 'penthouse' because it's on the top floor) as roommate to skinny Kate (Rebecca Dianna Smith), a free spirit who says she's an 'actress' and therefore, doesn't eat. In fact, Kate is a self-centered, self-described 'hustler' who sleeps around and leads the sort of New York City life that we were all warned about.

I don't understand why a prettier actress was not given the role of Kate or at least, someone who had a better look. A blond would have been good as visual contrast. But maybe I'm quibbling. In the book, Sheila is supposed to be overweight, but in the film she isn't. She is just a different body type than Kate, though in looks they are not that far apart and Jeannie Berlin is actually more attractive which isn't supposed to be the case.

Anyway, Sheila gets a job as a typist/singer/office clerk at a Manhattan company that produces records for children.

At a club, she meets a brooding and slightly sloshed Jewish doctor, Dr. Sam Stoneman (Roy Scheider), a guy on the make, who is taken with Sheila's awkward mumbling. He talks her up to his apartment and later that night, poor Sheila thinks she's found true love.

Most of the film didn't ring many bells, memory-wise, though some of it did. I liked seeing Jeannie Berlin who has a kind of  klutzy, sleeping princess look which works very well in this and I enjoyed watching Roy Scheider trying to worm out of an untenable situation and remain a hero. Doubly difficult once he begins sleeping with Sheila's roommate, Kate.

SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK is a movie that had been hanging around at the edges of my mind for years and if it wasn't as good as I'd imagined, I'm still glad I got a chance to revisit.

Since it's Tuesday once again, don't forget to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten films, television or other audio/visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THIRD GIRL (1966) by Agatha Christie

Let me first say that I do not, in general, like books set in the sixties. I lived through the sixties and it was not a romantic age nor a very interesting one (though some may dispute this). Society was changing but not in any way that seemed wonderful AND we had the multiple shocks of several assassinations to contend with. Not to mention an unpopular war. It was a turbulent time in which the ridiculous young thought they'd invented sex and to prove it, did a lot of recreational drugs and frequently died from excess. Tedious. But I shouldn't condemn the whole decade I suppose, after all I did get married in 1965 and shortly thereafter got a great job at Cosmopolitan magazine. So it wasn't all dismal and grim no matter what I might like you to believe.

At any rate, Agatha Christie, an anachronism from an earlier age, was still writing in the 1960's, a fact some may find hard to believe. Her distaste for the era was evident in her writing but I've always given her credit for chugging right along and doing what she did best which was think up puzzles.

She describes the young people in her books of this time as excessively dirty, oily, drug soaked and mostly in need of bathing. Ugh. But that's how she saw them.

THIRD GIRL is not Christie at her best, but I've come to the realization over time that Christie 'not at her best' is better than most mystery writers at their best, so I'm not complaining. I'd read this book years ago and only vaguely remembered it until I saw the botched PBS interpretation, (or is it BBC? I've forgotten who is in charge of the series now) with David Suchet (who, no matter what, is always wonderful) and decided to go back to the source material.

The audio version narrated by Hugh Fraser is topnotch. Fraser, who plays Colonel Hastings in the Poirot series, is a fabulous narrator and it is a joy to listen to his interpretation of Poirot - it is as good as Suchet's - and his rollicking interpretation of Ariadne Oliver. The audio version of THIRD GIRL is thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend it highly.

But when I returned to the hard-copy book, I found that for whatever reason, it didn't resonate with me as well as the audio version. I found it all a bit tedious, Poirot seemed sluggish and the bits of the story that didn't work were more evident. I don't know why this sort of thing happens, but occasionally it does. And may I say that it also works in reverse - but that's a story for another day.

THIRD GIRL is a book in which a very great evil is perpetrated on a young, suggestible girl. The sort of case in which Papa Poirot must step in, save the heroine, fashion a happy ending and catch a couple of murderers.

The basics: 

Norma Restarick is in trouble. Out of the blue, the vague young woman shows up at Poirot's apartment wanting his advice. She thinks she may have committed a murder. But when she meets the detective, she declares him 'too old' to be of any help and departs.

Naturally enough, Poirot is affronted by this, but intrigued he decides to find out more about this strange girl.

In steps Ariadne Oliver (eccentric mystery writer with an obsession for daily changing her hairstyles, whimsically adding or taking away hairpieces) with additional information. It seems it was she, in a passing conversation during a country weekend, who suggested that Norma visit Poirot. I like Ariadne and her eccentricities but I'm glad the apple motif of her earlier appearances had, by this time, dissipated.

What they find out almost immediately is that Norma Restarick has disappeared.

As Poirot investigates the girl's background, he discovers a troubling tale; Norma may be 'disturbed', even mentally ill, at least according to those who know her best. That includes her two roommates with whom she shares a flat - hence the book's title. Her boyfriend, a randy youth in Van Dyke get-up and long curls, thinks Norma a bit ga-ga but still wants to marry her and take her away from all her cares and woes, influenced, perhaps, by the fact that Norma is an heiress.

Norma's father, a business tycoon who'd run off with another woman when Norma was a little girl, but is now back in London re-married and in charge of the family business, wants Poirot to find Norma and keep her from harming herself or anyone else.

Norma's step-mother wishes the girl didn't hate her quite so much.

In THIRD GIRL, Mrs. Oliver has several chapters on her own as she declares herself in on the case and this results in her being coshed on the head at one point even though Poirot had warned her to be very careful.

Unconventionally, the actual murder involved doesn't make itself known until we're well into the book and a second murder doesn't take place until nearly at the end. And as I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of bits that don't quite fit, and some coincidences glossed over, oddities which for whatever reason, are not as apparent in the audio version.

THIRD GIRL also features Miss Lemon and Georges, Poirot's stalwart household helpmates. Though I've always wondered, outside of writing a few letters, what exactly it is that Miss Lemon fills her days with. How much office work could a private detective have - even such a famous one as Hercule Poirot? It's a puzzle. And by the way the Miss Lemon of the books is very different from the Miss Lemon of the television series (she is more likable in the series), in the books she doesn't ever get involved in the cases. And of course, in the series, there is very little of Georges, manservant and valet. Though I've always thought he had more presence than Miss Lemon.

So what am I saying? Borrow the audio and listen to this one. Much more enjoyable and you have the added attraction of Hugh Fraser's voice.

Friday is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Mystery Day, and we usually check in at Patricia Abbott's blog, but this week it's Todd Mason doing the hosting duties at Sweet Freedom, so don't forget to check in to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In honor of Agatha Christie's 125th Birthday: My 12 Favorite Christie Books.

THE ABC MURDERS (1935) A Hercule Poirot mystery.

CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS (1959) A Hercule Poirot mystery.

DESTINATION UNKNOWN (1954) aka So Many Steps to Death

A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED (1950) A Jane Marple mystery.

MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD (1952) A Hercule Poirot mystery.



MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1934) aka Murder in the Calais Coach - A Hercule Poirot mystery

CARDS ON THE TABLE (1936) A Hercule Poirot mystery.


4:50 FROM PADDINGTON (1957) A Jane Marple mystery.

THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS (1925) Introduces Superintendent Battle and Lady Eileen (Bundle) Brent who will both appear in later books.

Rather late in the day, but I didn't get the memo. That is, I didn't realize it was THE birthday until this evening and then I couldn't do ten, had to do twelve. These are the Agatha Christie books I reread most. Though of course they're not the only ones. But these are the titles that seem to turn up on my night table more often than not. I gravitate towards Christie when I'm feeling blue or just out of sorts about everything and need a nice dose of comfortable familiarity. She usually sets me back on track. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: PASTIME by Robert B. Parker - A Spenser book.

As I was clearing out my paperback bookshelves and discovering books I hadn't read in a while, I ran across PASTIME and promptly dropped everything for a reread. I'm happy to say it is still just as good as the two or three previous times I'd read it.

This is the book that introduces us to Pearl the wonder dog, a German Short-Haired pointer new in Spenser's life. It is the sequel (sort of) to my favorite book in the series, EARLY AUTUMN, the book which introduced us to Paul Giacomin, Spenser's (sort of) son. Don't know what else to call the boy since 'son' is the part he was fashioned to play. Paul is not related to the Boston private eye and was already a teenager when he debuted in Spenser's life many books ago. 

Though PASTIME has more of Susan (Spenser's psychiatrist girlfriend) than I would like - as some of you know, I can't stand the character and it shows how much I love Spenser that I still read the books DESPITE she who makes my flesh crawl -  this is still one of my all time favorite thrillers. And it isn't necessary to have read EARLY AUTUMN, though it doesn't hurt. 

At any rate, here are the basics:

The adult Paul Giacomin is an interpretive dancer in NYC and on the verge of getting married; he shows up on Spenser's doorstep in Boston, worried about his mother Patty. Though they aren't very close, Paul still likes to keep in touch with mom. But now she seems to have disappeared from her life and Paul wants Spenser to help find her. The young man is in a mood to touch base with his past.

Patty Giacomin is the sort of needy woman who can't make a move without a man beside her, so almost immediately Spenser finds that Patty has a new boyfriend. He is Richard Beaumont, a ruggedly handsome, small time hood working for Gerry Broz. Uh-oh.

Gerry Broz is a psycho (no way to sugar coat it) and the only son of Joe Broz, elderly head of the Boston mob. A killer with little self-control, Gerry is not good man to cross. Now Beaumont is on the run (with Patty in tow) after having skimmed more than a million bucks from an ill-advised criminal enterprise. Not very smart, but then Beaumont is not exactly a mental wizard. He is necessarily the sort of loser that Patty Giacomin always seems to attract. So no big surprise there for either Spenser or Paul.

PASTIME evolves in the Parker conversational tone we love and look forward to, in conversations about family relationships, the past, (we learn quite a lot about Spenser's heretofore unknown childhood in Wyoming), about love and dependency, weakness and strength and honor. Of course, this being a tough guy thriller, there's tough talk, menacing behavior and Hawk, whose spiel, sad to say, is becoming (for me at least) a little wearisome. But still, he is necessary in this book.

We also meet up with Vinnie the hitman, second in command to mob boss Joe Broz, both of whom have an accepted if uneasy relationship with Spenser and Hawk based on indefinable codes which make sense only to them. Vinnie is a killer whose loyalty and word of honor can be trusted if you can believe that and I do. In this book, he will make a life altering decision, so look for that as well. 

There are two incongruities in the plot which you might not notice unless you've read the book more than once as I have, but they don't/didn't obstruct my enjoyment. 

Then there are the thrilling scenes near the end when a wounded Spenser and gun-shy Pearl are forced to take to the woods with Gerry Broz and an assortment of hoods in pursuit. You know how I am about plot details, I usually forget them as soon as I've finished a book. But not this time.

Despite Susan, PASTIME is a special book featuring a private eye many of us have grown up with or discovered late (as I did) written by one of those writers whom we wish could have lived forever. (But there are really many, many books in the series, so if you haven't read any Spenser, there are plenty of good times still waiting for you.) And, as it turns out, Spenser lives on in the hands of another remarkable writer, Ace Atkins, who has taken over the reins from the late Robert Parker and is doing an excellent job. I don't normally like this sort of thing, but Ace is truly worthy of the trust placed in him by the Parker family.

Friday is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books day over at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase . So don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other writers are talking about today.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: THE CLOUDED YELLOW (1950) starring Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons

THE CLOUDED YELLOW is directed by Ralph Thomas from a screenplay and story by Janet Green with cinematography by the brilliant Geoffrey Unsworth. I've only just recently learned that it is available on youtube, but I'd remembered the film from having watched it MANY years ago, once upon a time when terrific films like this were regular fare on my local television channels.

This is a dark little British thriller featuring the radiantly beautiful Jean Simmons, who plays Sophie Malraux, a young woman at the center of an oddly uneasy household. Into that household comes Trevor Howard as Maj. David Somers, a recently cashiered secret service agent improbably hired to catalog butterflies. (Hence, the film's title.) The setting is a secluded country estate in Hampshire belonging to Nicholas Fenton (Barry Jones) a middle-aged gentleman fond of collecting butterflies. He lives there with his wife Jess - they are Sophie's guardians.

Jess Fenton (Sonia Dresdel) is younger than her husband and rather tightly wound. She has an eye (and more) for Hick, the local handyman (and poacher) whom we are given to understand all the ladies in the area find very attractive. Though why that should be one can't imagine since he is played in a very sleazeball manner by Maxwell Reed. He makes himself especially obnoxious drooling over Sophie.

At any rate, when Hick is found stabbed to death, the police fasten on Sophie as the most likely murderer when they find blood on her coat and she has trouble explaining what she was doing walking on the grounds at 3 a.m. in the morning. You see, the poor troubled girl has memory lapses. All along we've been told that Sophie tends to get '...things muddled' and what's more, she takes after her unfortunate father who murdered her mother and then killed himself. Uh-oh.

David, not for a minute believing Sophie capable of murder, convinces her to flee with him. The two take off in the night for parts unknown with the police hot on their trail. Thus we are in for a treat as the pair head first to London, then Newcastle where friends (from the old days of David's secret service work) lend a hand, then off to England's beautiful Lake District (and boy do I wish this film had been in color) - all the while stalked by secret service agent (Kenneth More) as well as Scotland Yard.

An all out manhunt like this seems a bit over-the-top to me, viewing this film so many years later. In view of the fuss (and overtime pay to the coppers), one would think that there'd been a murder spree or at the very least, stolen national secrets, but let's not forget that this is England and they do things differently there.

Finally, Sophie and David make their way to Liverpool as Sophie's memory returns and there's a real culprit to catch which leads to a very thrilling ending on the Liverpool docks.

THE CLOUDED YELLOW is another one of those 'small' films, perfect to wile away the time as summer comes to an end and we head towards the baseball playoffs. After all, one can't watch baseball all the time.

The French film poster which is much more exiting than the British one or, for that matter, the American one.

And since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later today over at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten or overlooked films, television or other audio/visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Here's the movie (incorrectly titled TRIO) on youtube for as long as it lasts:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Happy Labor Day.

New Yorker cover, 1967 - Arthur Getz

"Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying."

Studs Terkel, Pulitzer Prize winning oral historian, author and essayist.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday (Not so) Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN by Peter Lovesey

Not really forgotten or overlooked since this is Lovesey's latest in the popular Peter Diamond series set in Bath, England, but what the heck. I did have a couple of other books lined up but then I saw that John (at Pretty Sinister Books) had already beaten me to the punch. So I got into a snit and decided to review the Diamond book since it was still lingering in my mind and you know how rare an occurrence that can be.

I've been reading Peter Lovesey's Chief Inspector Peter Diamond books for several years and while they can be either hit or miss, I'm glad to say that I enjoyed this latest one very much. Nothing can beat THE HOUSESITTER which I think is Lovesey's best Diamond book so far (of the ones I've read, that is) - a classic in police procedural detection - but I keep hoping he'll come up with something as good or better one of these days. So far - no dice. But still I liked this latest effort. (My second favorite, since you must be wondering, is THE VAULT.)

The last few Diamond books have been so/so in my opinion, though others have liked them more than I. What can I say? I'm either hard to please or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Take your pick.

In DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN, we finally have Lovesey getting back to form or at least, the form that I like.

Here, a very reluctant Peter Diamond is forced to take a trip out of Bath alongside his boss, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore. The officious Dallymore is very hard to take and nowhere in any of the books does she actually come alive as a real person. Hard to tell why, but there it is. Still she's in the story more as a prop for Diamond to play against and for that, she's fine.

The two are on their way to check up on a fellow cop who's been relieved of duty because of some sort of bad show. Unfortunately, the cop is Hen Mallin, a detective whom Diamond admires and has worked with in the past. (Actually there is a Hen Mallin series begun by Peter Lovesey which is about three books along - I have one waiting for me at the library as we speak.)

At any rate, we suspect going in that all is not how it seems, but we wait to find out how Diamond is going to get to the bottom of a case (while partially keeping his boss in the dark) that begins as alleged police misconduct but spreads outward to include an egregious multitude of missing persons, several murders, a man wrongly convicted, a bunch of eccentric artists, a girls' school, a guy who specializes in an ingenious method of disposing of bodies and my only quibble (a very minor one) is that in the end the guilty person confesses all in a most unlikely way.

When it comes to modern day police procedurals, Peter Diamond is an acquired taste; I like that he operates out of Bath (mostly) and the clever cases contrived by Lovesey are usually pretty hard nuts to crack. However, Diamond lacks charm and can be off-putting. He is a widower with a gruff persona (and little sense of humor) who shines at police investigation especially when he's rubbing his superiors the wrong way. Sound familiar?

For charm I'd go to inspector Bill Slider in the London police procedural books written by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Very similar type series but set in London and Slider has a quiet charm so lacking in Diamond. But in truth, they're both good series if you like this type of thing, and I do.

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

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Forgotten Book: MURDER GONE MAD (possibly 1931) by Philip MacDonald

I suppose Philip MacDonald is best known as the author of THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER - an Anthony Gethryn book - which was turned into a rather strange 1963 Make-up Fest movie joke by John Huston, a joke that didn't work. The only things that saved the film (at least for me) were the basic plot (one of the most ingenuous of all time), the actors George C. Scott, Jacques Roux, Herbert Marshall, Clive Brook AND a terrific ending. In fact, the movie has a much better ending than the book. MacDonald's endings always seemed to need work.

MURDER GONE MAD as another example, a very odd book in one major respect: the murderer is really, REALLY mad but no reason for the madness is given by the author. Now, normally, I wouldn't mind that so much if only I got a hint of the sort of mania plaguing the killer (not that I want a whole chapter devoted to the killer's thoughts - no, I hate that) but a hint here and there seems, to me, a bit necessary for this sort of thing.

Killer mania in and of itself - existing in a vacuum so to speak - is just not that interesting. So the ending of MURDER GONE MAD is a bit deflating, even if the choice of killer is surprising. (Mystery experts among us might begin to figure it out about three quarters of the way in.) I mean, why was this person driven to kill? Give us a hint. (Or maybe MacDonald did and I missed it?)

Still, I'm recommending this book for those who enjoy a real, rip-roaring, can't put it down, old fashioned serial killer rampage set in an English country town. Warning, though, the first murder is very hard to take and I wonder at MacDonald's beginning the book this way, but if you skim it, you'll be all right - the rest of the book is terrific. It all depends on what you read these books for. They're not meant to be real life after all - that's what I tell myself. Hard as it may be to believe, I read vintage mysteries for relaxation. Yeah, strange, I know. But I think it's all about the bad guy getting it in the end. I'm not, lately, in the mood for ambivalence.

What makes MURDER GONE MAD eminently readable - at least to me - is the frenzied hunt for the killer. Philip MacDonald was a master at creating mass hysteria, nasty murderers and police turmoil.

In MURDER GONE MAD, we have a killer sending taunting letters (significantly signed, 'the butcher') to the newspaper, and a bunch of local cops unable to get a handle on things as the murders mount. Superintendent Arnold Pike of the Criminal Investigation Department - a guy with an obvious rep - is taken off another job and sent to the village of Holmdale, in order to catch a clever killer and most importantly, stop 'questions from being asked in the House'.

"...If only these country police would ask us in at once instead of waiting until they've made a mess of everything, life might be easier."

Pike nodded. "By jing, sir," he said, "I echo that wish!" He turned to the door; then checked. "By the way, sir," he said, 'heard anything of Colonel Gethryn [Anthony Gethryn] How he is, I mean, sir?"

Lucas grinned and shook his head. "No. Beyond the fact that he's going to be in bed for another three weeks with that leg, nothing." He smiled at Pike with some slyness. "Why? Want help already?"

Pike laughed. "I'm not proud, sir, you know. I was just wondering whether, if he wasn't doing anything, he might like to come down."

"Well, he can't," said Lucas and laughed again. "And, anyhow, it's not his line, and you know it. This isn't a job for a man so much as a job for an organization. When you can't find a motive - in fact, where there isn't a motive, you're dealing with some form or other of lust-killing; and to pick a lust-killer - who may be, on the surface, a most ordinary, respectable citizen - out of a crowd of six thousand citizens isn't a job which can be done by deduction. It's got to be done by massed police work, cleverly directed..."

So Pike is sent to 'cleverly direct' and we know it's not going to be an Anthony Gethryn book.

But all in all, despite the ending, MURDER GONE MAD is worth tracking down. (Abe Books has some very cheap copies with free delivery.)

An aside: MacDonald wrote at least one other serial killer book (also read recently by yours truly) called, MYSTERY OF THE DEAD POLICE which is almost as good (despite needing major editing and tightening). But the difference is that in this book, we do learn the killer's motivation through several chapters written from his point of view. Yeah, yeah, I said I hated that - but I hung in there with this one (the chapters aren't that long or involved). You all know how contrary I can be.

I will definitely be hunting down more Philip MacDonald books even if I didn't like the first Anthony Gethryn, THE RASP and didn't think much of THE RYNOX MURDER, (mainly because I figured out the big surprise early). Thankfully, MacDonald wrote a lot of books.

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book is a weekly meme hosted by author Patricia Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: KRAKATOA KATIE starring Mighty Mouse

Two days late and you know how that goes. But since today is the official anniversary of the most gigantic, earth shattering (practically) natural eruption ever: Krakatau aka Krakatao volcano in 1883, what film could possibly be more appropriate? MIGHTY MOUSE IN KRAKATOA, released in 1945 and directed by Connie Rasinski for Terry Toons.

The History channel has all the info on Mother Nature's most volatile eruption. A volcanic event which was felt around the world. In fact, it would surprise me if we weren't all still breathing Krakatau dust.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Salon: Water Music

French painter Paul Signac (1963 - 1935) - Capo di Noli, 1898

American painter Childe Hassam (1859 - 1935)

French painter Robert Antoine Pinchon (1886 - 1943) - via

American Impressionist painter Guy Rose (1867 - 1925) Mist Over Point Lobos

French painter Gustave Caillebotte (1848 - 1894) - via Sunflowers on the Banks of the Seine

English painter Dame Laura Knight (1877 - 1970) - via

American contemporary painter Carol Zimmerman - via

American painter John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925) - via

American contemporary painter Jennifer Diehl - via

Nice places to be, near the water, in the water, on the water. Especially during these ultra heated days of August. I like to pretend. And here are some wonderful paintings to pretend with. Of course, accompanied by Handel's 'Water Music'.