Thursday, May 25, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: PUT OUT THE LIGHT (1931) by Ethel Lina White


I'm kind of venting today, so please bear with me.

Author Ethel Lina White has a major failing - she's not very good at creating the nuts and bolts of an actual setting. That gene is missing from her make-up. So when I'm reading her stories, I'm kind of floundering around trying to find my footing.

I've read several of her books perhaps trying to find one that I'll love. I liked FEAR STALKS THE VILLAGE though it was not as solidly grounded as I would have liked. It was set in an English village which failed to coalesce in my imagination. A generic setting which certainly does not come anywhere near the visually well conceived English villages created by Agatha Christie.

(Read, though didn't love, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. Extremely disappointed in THE WHEEL SPINS which is the basis for THE LADY VANISHES, one of my very favorite Hitchcock movies.)

It is my belief that in these sorts of books, the setting is almost as important as the characters. To my way of thinking, if you can't stabilize the surroundings for a mystery novel, it's half over right there. Some writers can pick you up and drop you down in any setting almost immediately, even within the first opening paragraph. They have the knack. Christie had it. She could transport me immediately to wherever and whenever with just a few sentences.

But Ethel Lina White just can't quite do it. She creates a place for her story but doesn't give it any foundation - no toe hold for the reader. I'm usually left trying to visualize and failing. Occasionally that doesn't matter in a book, but most of the time it does.

Some of you may know that I don't write negative reviews if I can help it and this is not really one. I read PUT OUT THE LIGHT all the way through which I would definitely not have done if I'd hated it. It's just that this is one of the stranger mysteries I've read lately and I guess I need to share its strangeness.

Cause here's what I'm thinking - maybe it's just me.

PUT OUT THE LIGHT concerns the murder of a woman named Anthea Vine, wealthy owner of Jamaica Court, an estate perched on a hill above an English town. In that same town live a bumbling Inspector of police and his concerned and keen-eyed sister.

Now, one would think that a policeman with the last name of Pye would be kind of a humorous character, but in this book he is, maybe, just mildly amusing. Pye desperately wants to solve the only murder he's ever been faced with, hoping against hope that Scotland Yard won't be called in by his superiors. But all this is lacking any real connecting charm which is key for this sort of character. The sister, Florence, is supposed to be the one with the brains, but she too is charmless. She helps her brother (whose old fashioned notion that women should be seen and not really heard rankles a bit) by sort of 'directing' him without his being aware he's being directed. He's not a boob exactly, he just needs a bit of guidance.

Florence Pye also likes to tell fortunes. This time out the cards presciently read: 'Death to an old woman.'

Anthea Vine (our pre-arranged victim) is such a strange character that I kept thinking, wait - what? She is apparently a grotesque old woman who wears tons of make-up and likes having young men about her. She preens, she parades around like some young femme fatale, pretending that the men indulge her because she is still beautiful and alluring. Vine is ridiculous in her conceit but enjoys the sense of power and manipulation. And because she is extremely wealthy nobody likes to call attention to the absurdity of it all.

She is a woman who has convinced herself that she is still wickedly sexy and attractive and here's the main problem: it's difficult to take her seriously. (And oh my God, her laborious nightly beauty ritual is outlined in detail.) In some scenes, Anthea comes across as younger than she's supposed to be so that when she's referred to as 'old' the reader is taken aback. She is written in an oddly inconsistent way which is off-putting and VERY theatrical. But then I realize that back in the day, a 40 year old woman was considered 'old' and forget about someone already in her 50's - she would be at death's door. Unfortunately, in some scenes Anthea seems like someone who might be geriatric then in others, she suddenly seems younger. It's almost like the author loses track.

And another thing: here's this woman ripe for murdering and she doesn't get bumped off until well into the book. She's just not THAT interesting a character that we need to be in her company for so long before she gets her just deserts. The other characters, some young people who live in the house with Anthea Vine are not any more interesting in my view. They are her three wards, dependent and hoping to profit upon their malevolent benefactor's death. All have been under Anthea's thumb, including her plucky secretary and the local young doctor.

Anthea pretends (or is she pretending?) that she has ulterior designs on the doctor and even one of her wards - an idea that only revolts them. (Maybe we're supposed to sympathize with Anthea's fading attractions and frenzied need for attention but I didn't.) It's all about control and money.

Though why these youngsters can't tell Anthea to go to hell then go out and get jobs, is beyond me. But in those days that may have been harder than it is today. Also with big money at stake, it's not always easy to walk away even at the sake of your self-respect.

Anyway, a couple of small odd burglaries occur locally and Inspector Pye is called in to try and find the culprit. In the meantime, up at the big house on the hill, Anthea Vine continues to bully those around her, relishing her power and behaving like someone just begging to be murdered.

She does have moments of gothic discontent though - late at night, she imagines shadows lurking about and closing in on her. Very unsettling in that dark and moody old mausoleum of a house for sure. But even that goes on too long.

Eventually, of course, she is murdered and we get down to sleuthing.

In the end, Inspector Pye (with the behind the scenes nudging of his sister) solves the case, putting together a quirky set of curious clues.

Not one of Ethel Lina White's best, but maybe not her worst. I'll probably read one or two more of her books because she did write quite a few and I remain hopeful.

Edgar award nominated author Patricia Abbott is taking a blog hiatus until June 12th so Todd Mason at his blog, Sweet Freedom is doing hosting duties. Don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: SHE DIED A LADY (1942) by Carter Dickson


We all know that John Dickson Carr had several pseudonyms and to my mind the books he wrote as Carter Dickson are some of his best. Of Carr's two rotund and decidedly eccentric detectives, Sir Henry Merrivale always pleased me more than Gideon Fell.

'I do not like thee, Doctor Fell
The reason why, I cannot tell.
But this I know and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.'

This nursery rhyme is the sort of inconsequential that goes through mind now and then and I've always wondered who Dr. Fell was and why anyone should dislike him enough to write a little ditty about it. I always wondered too if John Dickson Carr picked up the name from the rhyme. When I was reading all of John Dickson Carr in the long ago and far away, I remember having a preference for Sir Henry Merrivale though, unlike the writer of the ditty, I didn't actively dislike Gideon Fell.

And now thanks to Sergio over at Tipping My Fedora, I've renewed interest in one of Dickson's best books. I owe you one, Sergio.

Oh gosh how I loved this book.

It is an almost visceral pleasure when you realize you are in the presence of a true master of mystery and detection so pardon me while I gush. SHE DIED A LADY is nothing less than a masterpiece. I can't imagine any of Dickson's other books will measure up to this one, but that won't stop me from looking to reread the whole batch during the next few months.

Though I never did read John Dickson Carr over and over as I read Agatha Christie or even Josephine Tey or Rex Stout, I always thought I'd go back to his books at some point. This seems like a good a time as any, since SHE DIED A LADY has reminded me just how wonderful Carr can be.

The story features an impossible sounding crime (a John Dickson Carr specialty) - two people who are having a clandestine affair go out to the edge of a precipice overlooking a rocky coastline and do not return. Have they jumped? Is it suicide? No - that much is obvious early on since once their mangled bodies are fished out of the sea, both show evidence of having been shot. So what actually happened?

The story unfolds in the first person from the 'pen' of elderly Dr. Luke Croxley, a retired G.P. who still has a few patients though most of his practice has been turned over to his son, Dr. Tom. Dr. Luke is a likable sort even when he is haplessly clueless and though he is an honorable man, he is not an especially reliable narrator.

It is through his eyes that we view characters and events in the seaside village of Lyncomb during the early days of WWII. Coincidentally, Sir Henry Merrivale has come to town to have his portrait painted by a local artist. But Sir Henry has severely stubbed a big toe which, necessarily, has him tooling around in a motor driven wheel chair. Yes, you can imagine the chaos.

Our narrator, Dr. Luke, has been drawn into the emotional maelstrom of a woman he admires, the lovely and charismatic Rita Wainwright who is unhappily married to an older man. She has blindly fallen in love with a younger guy named Barry Sullivan, an erstwhile actor (no, not THE Barry Sullivan known to a few of us vintage movie aficionados) who happens to be indecently handsome and on the make.

It is interesting to note that this is one of very few mysteries written in the early forties (at least that I can remember) which doesn't mince words and actually mentions sex between unmarried adults.

As the story progresses, there are several active red herrings thrown at us, one of which I fell for. Very annoying to find out, in the end, that my guy was not the killer. And when the final, final ending is revealed, it is all very satisfying and gives credence to the idea that despite being a brilliant detective and dealer in facts, Sir Henry Merrivale is first and foremost a good man.

SHE DIED A LADY is easily available from Abe Books for very little cash. I was lucky enough to get a copy with the cover shown above. But whatever cover, don't miss the opportunity to read one of the best from John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson. A brilliantly plotted, well thought out mystery full of clues passed in front of you so fairly that when Sir Henry explains everything in the end, you say: Oh, of course, why didn't I see that??

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: MURDER BY THE CLOCK (1929) by Rufus King


'The story of a man who was murdered twice!' Kind of. Sort of. I'm a fan late to the work of Rufus King (1893 - 1966) which I seem to only have discovered thanks to John at Pretty Sinister Books, a guy who knows everything and anything about long lost authors and their works.

At any rate, MURDER BY THE CLOCK is apparently King's most well-known book - the first featuring Lieutenant Valcour, NYPD, in a series featuring eleven books.

(An aside: One of the little known and more interesting facts about King is that he also wrote the only satirical Nero Wolfe mystery I've ever read, HOLIDAY HOMICIDE. All about bout an eccentric genius who solves mysteries, but instead of collecting orchids, he collects rare (edible) nuts.)

MURDER BY THE CLOCK features all sorts of improbabilities and indignities for Valcour to wade through, plus lots of psychology to be explored and considered. Valcour is beckoned to the case by the intriguing and opaque femme fatale, Mrs. Herbert Endicott - she is worried about her philandering husband and thinks 'something' might have happened to him. He has gone out to meet his mistress but she - the missus - is convinced that all is not as it should be. Beguiled by Mrs. Endicott's oddly calm self-assurance, Valcour searches hubby's room to see if anything is missing or amiss.

The lieutenant soon discovers that something HAS indeed happened to Herbert Endicott - he is found, for all intents and purposes, dead. In fact he never left the house at all. Then follows one of the more unique features of this story - something I've never come across in another mystery in all my many years of reading them -  the doctor called to the 'murder' scene devises a plan to bring Endicott back to life once he realizes that Endicott is not ACTUALLY really and truly dead, just comatose. Turns out that the man had a bad heart and it looks as if something occurred to shock him into insensibility.

Assuming that once the would-be murderer realizes that his victim isn't dead he might come back and finish the job, it's Valcour's duty to make sure that Endicott doesn't get 'murdered' again.

The entire plot develops over one long night, hence the title and the late night aspects add a nice surreal element to the story. We get a few changes in point of view, but not enough to annoy and at the end, we get a strange unsettling do-over. I can say no more.

 To my way of thinking, the men in this book are not as well formed as the women characters - there is the husband's unexplained strangeness and peculiar way of talking which seems to be at odds with the callous treatment of his wife. One wonders what on earth the wife ever saw in him and really, hard to take a grown man named Herbert seriously, especially one who is not especially handsome or charming and allegedly uses baby-talk to weasel himself out of the house. Also, it's hard to take the wife seriously, until you realize what is actually going on. As I mentioned, this story is bristling with psychology.

And speaking of psychology, besides the victim and his wife, there are two peculiar servants who positively seethe with hatred of Mrs. Endicott. There is a supposed family friend who carries a concealed stiletto-like paper knife and there is the 'dead' man's mistress who is being blackmailed by her own evidently crazed mother. Lots of bizarre doings.

It is a very difficult thing to make an intriguing mystery with so few suspects, such a short span of time and such limited settings - three apartments - but Rufus King pulls it off.

As John mentions in his review of the book, there is a keen sense of gloom and doom - okay, gothic moodiness - indulged in by the author and his detective, which I liked. This is not your average Golden Age murder mystery as soon becomes evident. It is odd but clever in its oddness which includes a unique double-take ending.

I've read two Valcour mysteries and enjoyed them both though they couldn't be more different: MURDER BY THE CLOCK and the excellent MURDER BY LATITUDE which takes place aboard a cruise. King is a very underrated and under appreciated author. One of those Golden Agers who should be much better known.

Since this is Friday, don't forget once again to check in at author and Edgar Award nominee Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about this week.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE POWER HOUSE (1913) by John Buchan


(But first an apology: apparently I've gotten another Buchan book, THE THREE HOSTAGES, mixed in with my short-term memory of THE POWER HOUSE. Once realizing it I had to go back today and heavily re-edit my post. All I can say is that 'old lady' memory played tricks on me and I will try, in future, to pay closer attention to what I'm doing. Maybe I'll stop doing a post a week and just do one every two weeks. Obviously, I'm having problems sorting things out right now - possibly because I'm so stressed at what is happening in our country that I can hardly think straight anymore. As I said: apologies.)

Everyone knows that I'm a John Buchan fan-girl, so no big surprise that here I am once again, writing about one of his books. I owe a great deal of thanks to blogger and literati extraordinaire Kate MacDonald for without her guidance (and love of  John Buchan) I might have overlooked this smashing novella published in 1913.

THE POWER HOUSE is not really long enough or taxing enough for a novel so it can easily be read in one afternoon or evening. The story was first serialized for Blackwood's Magazine, then published in book form in 1916. It is told in a fast and colorful first person style with lots of theatricality and the sort of behind the scene machinations of the nefarious kind that I, for one, enjoy reading about - especially when it involves pre-WWI British society at a time when anarchists apparently lurked under every rock. A whiskey and soda or for those of us less hearty, a bracing cup of tea, makes a nice accompaniment.

Besides Richard Hannay, Scottish born author John Buchan created several other worthy heroes, Sir Edward Leithen being one of them. I had never read any Leithen books before, so again I thank Kate MacDonald for the nudge.

Sir Edward is a barrister, minor member of Parliament and man about London but he views himself as a stick-in-the-mud sort. He likes the law and dusty old books, yet still enjoys his clubs and the friendship of many. He is intelligent, supremely ethical, knows everyone who's anyone, but most importantly, he is a gentleman - back when that word meant something important and instantly identifiable.

Though in understandable hindsight, many readers tax John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedmuir, with the prejudices of his day, let's not forget that he was a Tory and as such his prejudices were bone bred and not very surprising. Yet with the dismal reality of our modern day world, I'd have trusted Buchan to do the right thing more than I trust the creatures in government today. (Buchan, besides being a best-selling author, also rose to become Governor-General of Canada.)

But back to the story: Sir Edward Leithen will become involved in a dark conspiracy of the sort only workable once upon a time when it seemed as if power could be grasped by a handful of men bent on re-negotiating the status quo for no other reason than because they could. At any rate, one night at their club, Leither learns from his friend Tommy Deloraine, that another mutual friend by the name of Charles Pitt-Heron, is apparently headed for deep trouble having just recently bolted for parts unknown leaving a very worried wife - someone whom, by the way, Leithen had once fancied. Deloraine explains that he's going after Pitt Heron to try and bring him to his senses or at least, save him from himself or whatever is wrong with him. Leithen scoffs a bit, but wishes Deloraine well in his quest and no, he will no be going with him, he has too much going on at the moment and it's probably all just a mare's nest.

A little later we meet the lynchpin of the plot, a certain Mr. Albert Lumley:

"It's  old Lumley. Have you ever met him? He doesn't go out much, but he gives a man's dinner now and then, which are the best in London. No. He's not a politician, though he favors our side, and I expect has given a lot to our funds. I can't think why they don't make him a Peer. He's enormously rich and very generous, and the most learned old fellow in Britain."

In the meantime, we learn that Leithen's friend Tommy Deloraine has left for Russia on the trail of their mutual friend Pitt-Heron who may or may not be in deep trouble. Leithen, as mentioned, remains behind and it is from him that we get the full story as it happens. Rather than decamping for an adventure in the wild, Leithen takes his own tack. Though we do get regular updates as to what the two travelers (Deloraine and Pitt-Heron eventually meet up) are up to though not in Russia as it turns out but elsewhere equally fascinating and off the beaten track with desert wastes and camels and bad guys hot in pursuit.

Seems an odd way to structure a tale like this, but John Buchan makes it work. (I suspect if he'd wanted to enlarge the story and take us out of London he could have easily done so, the novella would have become a full fledged novel - there is certainly enough story for it). But our main character stays behind in London while others go off to have adventures that we may or may not hear about. Yet in a series of improbably interconnected coincidences held together by intelligent deduction, he soon has his own dilemmas and mysteries enough to deal with. What is 'The Power House' and where does Andrew Lumley, wealthy recluse revered by many, fit in?

"...supposing anarchy learned from civilization and became international...Suppose that the links in the cordon of civilization were neutralized by other links in a far more potent chain."

"Ir's a horrible idea, I said, 'and thank God I don't believe it's possible. Mere destruction is too barren a creed to inspire a new Napoleon and you can do with nothing short of one."

 "...All that is needed is direction, which could be given by men of far fewer gifts than a Bonaparte. In a word you want a Power House and then the age of miracles will begin."

A splendid tale of chicanery, skulduggery and bizarre doings which stops just inches short of the absurd. The kind of thing they don't tell today probably because readers have gotten too sophisticated for such goings on. But back in the day, this was the sort of story that thrilled. Come to think of it, it still reads pretty thrillingly today.

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON 2017: The Mother of All Villains!


Malevolence is the key word whenever I conjure up the main villain in John Frankenheimer's masterpiece of political suspense, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury. The film has a screenplay by George Axelrod based on the book by Richard Condon published in 1959. The subject matter was actually quite contemporary since the film was made only three years later.

Oh by the way, though I normally do not like to give things away, there will be
SPOILERS AHEAD, because I want to talk about the entire film.


For me there can be no movie villain more malevolent than Angela Lansbury as the iron willed, cold as an iceberg mother willing to sacrifice a son's sanity for a political end. There is malevolence in the very 'normality' of her sophisticated appearance - Eleanor Shaw Iselin is the ultimate Washington D.C. political wife, help-mate and devoted mother of a Medal of Honor winner just back from Korea. At her doting husband's side, she is only too willing and able to lend a guiding hand.


Her husband, Senator John Yerkes Iselin (the always effective James Gregory) is a McCarthy-like functionary whose strident claims that communists are lurking in government have given him mileage and made him a likely Vice-Presidential candidate. That he is a fumbling half-wit with little political acuity goes by the wayside when the possibility of communists hiding under every rock is accepted as fact. (Let's not forget that in reality we were at the height of the Cold War.)

Senator Iselin has risen through the ranks guided by a brilliant wife who understands how to manage fools and does so with cold-hearted determination. This is an old story in Washington politics. Never more blatant than in this duplicitous marriage with only one end in sight: the presidency of the United States.


I've often thought how frustrating Mrs. Iselin's job must have been when it was SHE who really wanted the presidency for herself, she who wanted to wield ultimate power at a time when the presidency was exclusively a man's club. (Then and now, apparently.) How this barrier must have thwarted her at every turn while at the same time adding fuel to the fire of her ambitions.

Brilliant, ambitious women (especially those without an ounce of empathy or sentiment) have never had an easy road. Most of the time they have had to sublimate their dreams in favor of whatever man was at hand as cover - especially in politics. Angela Lansbury plays Mrs. Iselin very much as a dedicated woman without remorse, one who is so twisted that she is devoid of any semblance of humanity. It is a chillingly brilliant performance. Especially for such a well-liked and likable actress.

THE PLOT:

A patrol of soldiers is captured in Korea. They are brainwashed with new techniques (the 'garden party' scene alone is worth the price of admission) which work indecently well. Then, memories of the entire episode buried in their sub-conscious, the men are sent back to America with an amazing story of combat and the heroic exploits of Staff Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) who will go on to be awarded the Medal of Honor for a non-existent event.


(The guys have been brain-washed into thinking they are at a Garden Club event in New Jersey.)


Back home, when questioned, the men seem devoted to their leader, "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I have ever known in my life," they respond. In truth, because of his aloofness, he was the least liked man in the entire platoon.


But Raymond Shaw is the son of Eleanor Shaw Iselin and the Senator's step-son and he has reasons for his perceived aloofness. He is an unwitting pawn in the all-encompassing political aspirations of a mother who has sold her soul to a political cause. Plus it doesn't help that Raymond hates her and his step-father.

As played by Laurence Harvey, a normally cool and uninvolved sort of actor, Raymond comes across as stiff, awkward, lonely and isolated. It is Harvey's best performance - his normally stand-offish persona working very well here. In reality Angela Lansbury was only three years older than Harvey, which makes her Oscar nominated performance even more impressive.


Shaw and his fool of a step-father are merely stepping stones for Eleanor Iselin who is a deeply embedded Communist agent now well on her way to achieving the goal of getting her husband into the Oval Office by hook or by crook. To that end she plans to have him swept up by manufactured nationalistic frenzy (remind you of anything?) when later, by her command, the actual presidential candidate is scheduled to be assassinated at the convention and her 'grief-stricken' hubby will then give an emotional 'America first' speech while holding the dead body of his 'friend.' The speech is meant to catapult Iselin to the top of the ticket. It is a powerful speech worked on as she says, "here and in Russia on and off for eight years."


To that ignoble end, Mrs. Iselin is willing to compromise and destroy her own son. A son, whom, by the way, she has ensnared in an incestuous relationship. He is the assassin set up by the communists - having been brain washed in Korea (unemotionally killing two of his fellow soldiers in the process) to carry out the death of the presidential candidate. Raymond's state-side handler is none other than his own mother. His 'trigger' is the Queen of Diamonds in a deck of playing cards. Once he is shown the card, Raymond will blankly carry out any order he is given.

Marco and his psychiatrist (played by Joe Adams in an uncredited part) work out how the cards might be involved in his nightmares.

Frank Sinatra's troubled character in the film is another mind-altered member of the original platoon. Major Bennett Marco, re-assigned to Army Intelligence state-side, has been having vivid nightmares about his experience in Korea. When he learns that a fellow veteran, Corporal Allen Melvin (James Edwards) has also been having similar dreams, they begin to put two and two together. Marco comes in contact with Raymond Shaw and little by little he begins to realize that the story they 'remember' about Korea may not have actually happened.


In the end, it will be up to Marco to try and stop Raymond Shaw from carrying out his imbedded instructions.

In the meantime, Eleanor Iselin learns that Raymond has taken up with an old girlfriend, Jocelyn Jordan (Leslie Parrish), daughter of Senator Thomas Jordan played wonderfully by John McGiver. The warmth of that father daughter relationship comes as a temporary balm to Raymond's inchoate coldness. He, at last, might have found a bit of happiness.

At first, Mrs. Iselin approves of the relationship since she wants the influential Senator Jordan's public approval of her hubby's Vice Presidential bid. But when the Liberal Senator makes it very plain that he will, under no circumstances, approve Senator Shaw, Mrs. Iselin instigates one of the cruelest and more heart-rending events in the film. And the way that director John Frankenheimer develops the infamous 'carton of milk' scene makes for one of the most devastating moments in film history.


Mrs. Shaw shows Raymond the Queen of Diamonds card and orders him to kill Senator Jordan. When Raymond, an automaton without any will, goes to the Senator's townhouse and confronts him in his cozy kitchen, he not only shoots down the Senator in cold blood but as Jocelyn Jordan accidentally enters the scene, Raymond kills her as well. Later he is utterly heartbroken to learn the news of his friends' deaths since he has no clue it was he that caused it.


When the evil Mrs. Shaw realizes that maybe she might have gone a little bit too far with her son's mental health, she tries to explain to him that she had no clue that the commies would choose him as the assassin and that once in the White House she would crush the commies responsible. (Yeah, right. I believe her. Don't blame a confused Raymond if he has doubts.)


Near the end Marco finally breaks the hold the communists have on Raymond's mind and believes he's stopped whatever it is that Shaw is supposed to do.

But later, in one of the most creepily powerful scenes in the film, Mrs. Iselin, unaware of Marco's interference, goes ahead with her instructions to Raymond, topped off with a very un-motherly kiss.



Later, Raymond shows up at the political convention in disguise and calmly goes up to a room from where he can survey the entire stage. A desperate Marco races to find and stop him. As Raymond sets up his rifle, he is cool, collected, and completely in charge.


Has Marco failed? Will Raymond's brain washing re-assert itself? Will he kill the presidential candidate and catapult his odious mother and step-father into the White House?


In one of the best endings to any film I've ever seen, Senator Shaw and Raymond's mother sit side by side near the podium, awaiting what must happen - the next step towards the fruition of their dreams. Suddenly a shot rings out and Shaw rears back, shot in the head. As he slides to the floor, his frightened wife looks up towards the room where she knows Raymond is hiding and she too is shot.

As the cops and Marco break in the door upstairs, Raymond Shaw kills himself. Marco finds the medal of honor affixed to Raymond's jacket.

What a film. John Frankenheimer's gritty direction is excellent as is the editing which adds another element to the tautness of Axelrod's script. The acting, needless to say is superb. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE remains an especially relevant story, especially now, considering today's political climate.

"According to rumor, Sinatra removed the film from distribution after the John F. Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963. Michael Schlesinger, who was responsible for the film's 1988 reissue by MGM/UA denies the rumor. According to him, the film's apparent withdrawal was not due to the assassination, but by 1963 the movie had simply played out (in those days it could take a film months to play across the country). The film became the premiere offering of The CBS Thursday Night Movie on the evening of September 16th, 1965, and was rerun in April 1974 on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. Sinatra's representatives reacquired the rights in 1971 after the initial ten-year contract with United Artists expired. After two successful showings at the New York Film Festival in 1987 renewed public interest in the film, the studio reacquired the rights and it became again available for theater and video releases." Wikipedia.

My post today is part of the THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON 2017. Lots and lots of fabulous bloggers will be writing about their own favorite Movie Villains, so don't forget to check out their posts.

Your Hosts for THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON 2017: Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy. Link here for complete list of contributors over the next three days.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Tomorrow!THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON 2017!



I'll be talking about the mother of all villains - Angela Lansbury in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. I hope you'll drop by and chat about your favorite film villains. 

The list of blogging participants can be found at SPEAKEASY - Kristina's Movie Blog. Lots of movie villainy coming right up. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE MAN WHO WAS NOT by John Russell Fearn



I owe thanks to TomCat over at Beneath the Stains of Time for recommending John Russell Fearn, a writer I'd never heard of much less read. But I was intrigued enough by TomCat's review of a different Fearn so that my next stop was Abe Books online - my home away from home when it comes to vintage. Actually, several Fearns are now available as e-books too. But I will try for an actual book if I can find it first and lo and behold, I found one I could afford and it arrived a couple of days ago.

And before I hardly knew what was what, I'd sat down and read the whole thing. Don't you love when that happens?

Ultra prolific English author John Russell Fearn  published under MANY pseudonyms, more than we have time for here. (I can only imagine that he wrote 24/7 with only brief time-outs for food and drink.)  I can't find an original publication date for THE MAN WHO WAS NOT, so I'm assuming late forties or mid-fifties since Fearn passed away in 1960.

At any rate, I enjoyed this book so much so that I read it at one fell swoop when I had originally meant to read just a few pages to note the style and then move on to another book I was in the process of finishing.

THE MAN WHO WAS NOT is, I suppose, an impossible crime mystery but in truth, that sort of thing doesn't matter much to me one way or another. I'm not so much interested in 'category' as I am in reading a good, fast-paced, well-done whodunit with enough mystery to keep me guessing. This book has that and more - the murders themselves (and there are more than one) are carried out in preposterous fashion - the sort of thing that would never work in 'real' life - but here they work because 'why not?' - these were the sorts of crimes inventive writers were creating back in the day and when I read a book like this, I suspend my disbelief willingly.

This is nothing more (or less) than a break-neck whodunit in which motive doesn't matter as much as the shear improbable idea of a murderer going through all these machinations simply to do in a whole family. Need I say, I didn't mind the outrageousness of it at all. For me, that's part of the 'fun'.

The plot:

One by one, members of the Dawson family are being eliminated.

First the n'er do well son dies in a supposed road accident. Coroner satisfied. Police uninterested.

But when one of the Dawson daughters receives a threatening phone call warning her she will die at a certain time, she goes to Scotland Yard. They assign some men to guard her (I didn't know the police actually did this, but apparently they do if the father in the family is a renowned somebody - in this case, a surgeon.) But despite the guards, Trudy Dawson, newly affianced and seemingly without an enemy in the world, dies. Scotland Yard takes a second look at her brother's death out on the highway and discovers that he too had received a warning phone call.

By the time the third warning message is delivered to another member of the Dawson family, Scotland Yard is more baffled than ever. The phone booth from which the phone calls were delivered had been under surveillance and NO ONE was seen to enter the booth and instigate the call.

Soon Sawley Garson, 'specialist in scientific puzzles' is called in to help the Yard.

There is little character development here since this is certainly not a character driven book unless we count the strange character of the killer who constructs this whole farrago of murderous complications to suit himself.

A lot of what happens in this book is mumbo jumbo science - or at least, so it seems to me. But because of the author's crafty ways, the thing just works. I just sat there and read away, enthralled by the whole thing, wanting to know 'what next' and even when we begin to suspect who the killer is, it still kept my interest until the very last page.

A terrific book, I'd say, for an afternoon or evening of reading in a comfy chair or poolside or at the beach. No brain stretch but still intriguing enough to capture the imagination. Sometimes you find yourself caught up in a book for no other reason than the story carries you along helter skelter and before you know it, reality has slipped away. I'm so happy I discovered John Russell Fearn (with TomCat's help) and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on more of his mysteries.

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Poem by e e cummings.

American painter Granville Redmond (1871 - 1935) 


i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirit of trees
and a blue dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and  wings; and of the gay 
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being 
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake
and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

ee cummings (1895 - 1962)

HAPPY EASTER and/or PASSOVER, everyone.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: ONE WAS A SOLDIER by Julia Spencer-Fleming / Small Town Cops and Sheriffs Day


(I re-worked this review from 2011 because no matter how hard I tried I couldn't think of a book featuring a small town cop that I might have read in the past (though I know there are several) and I couldn't find on my shelves a book that takes place in a small town and features a local cop, except for the mysteries of Julia Spencer Fleming. I'm sure there are  several others here somewhere but they are obviously in hiding. OR they disappeared when I moved.)

It is difficult to review a book that is part of an on-going series featuring characters I've grown to know and have a great deal of affection for. The difficulty is this: How much do I tell about these characters and their present situation which has been slowly built up (by the author) over the previous six books?

ONE WAS A SOLDIER is the seventh entry in a series which, in its debut book won just about every literary prize available. It is in many respects, a brilliant series because it manages what many of these sorts of books do not: it sustains the on-going tension, suspense and interest on a high level from book to book. The series is set in a small upstate New York town in the Adirondacks, the fictional Miller's Kill, where it always seems to be cold, snowy, windy and damp. Needless to say, the weather adds enormously to the atmosphere of the stories. The two main protagonists of ONE WAS A SOLDIER are the pragmatic Desert Storm vet and Chief of Police, Russ Van Alstyne and the Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson. She is an enigmatic, no-nonsense helicopter pilot, vet of the Iraqi war and a current Major in the National Guard.

As far as the citizens and church-goers of  Miller's Kill are concerned, Clare was a curiosity from the first. And in many ways it isn't until recently that she appears to have found firmer footing within the town; many of whose inhabitants are themselves veterans or families of veterans.

As the series begins (IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER 2002), Chief Van Alstyne is happily married to Linda, a woman about whom we learn a bit more as the books progress though early on she remains offstage. She is self-employed making drapery and curtains to order for local businesses.

But there is an immediate attraction between Clare and Russ, as she, the newly appointed priest of St. Albans, arrives in town in the middle of winter in her her totally impractical red sports car. She is as different from Russ's petitely beautiful little wife as night to day. Clare is tall, physically imposing and a woman used to doing for herself after years as an Armed Forces helicopter pilot. The reader and the characters know that this unwelcome attraction can never be acted upon. There is nowhere the attraction can go and so in this first book, Clare herself distances herself from the Chief of Police.

Russ and Clare are realistically drawn honorable people and their attraction must necessarily remain in the background, lurking about but not allowed to take over. It is in the tension generated by this attraction that the books' foundation lies. I wait to know what's going to happen, year to year, book to book, as the attraction deepens and the story of these two troubled souls progresses.

So I don't want to reveal too much about what has led to the present status of events, though if you read this book first, you'll figure it out immediately and then, I assume, want to go back and begin at the beginning. That's happened to me before with a series - it's not the end of the world. It's occasionally helps in certain series to know what's happened before to the two main characters. I don't mind this when the characters are written strong and capture my undivided attention.

ONE WAS A SOLDIER is centered primarily on the rough times that veterans - Clare included - often have upon their return to civilian life. When Clare comes home from her recent tour of duty flying combat helicopters - she's been gone a year and a half as the book begins - she is beset with post traumatic stress and turns to her leftover stash of pills brought back from Iraq, downed usually with alcohol. Clare, despite her calling, is not immune to the pressures brought about by disturbing memories of war.

Feeling herself losing control, Clare joins four other veterans in a support group. We get to meet those survivors, each with their own individual and very moving problems. When one of the group dies, Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne is convinced it's a suicide. But Clare and the other vets are not so sure and decide to conduct their own investigation. What they eventually discover may link events in Baghdad with the town's wealthy real estate impresario and chief employer, a vile man who is also Clare and Russ's nemesis from a previous book.

I won't say too much more about the actual story only because, as I said, I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't read it yet and are not familiar with what's been happening to Clare and Russ in Miller's Kill, New York.

Author Julia Spencer-Fleming reveals the story from several viewpoints and moves a secondary romantic entanglement to the front burner, woven in with the stories of the returned vets. My only problem with this technique is that I've never been fond of varying viewpoints. But I like these books so much, I will tolerate it from this author. I'm also not liking the woman cop involved in the secondary romance - she just isn't a very likable person - the author needs to take care of this in the next book, I think. Unless she's going someplace else with this story line.

In general, Spencer-Fleming gets to the nitty-gritty of what makes these complex characters tick. These people 'live' in the imagination from one book to the next. You leave them each time, mystery solved, but feeling: okay, what's going to happen next? My opinion is that this is one of the best series out there and you're really missing something special if you're not reading it.

But - as I said earlier, BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING. Though if you don't, the world won't come to an end. Look, just read these books any which way you like, they are damn good.

Julia's Fantastic Fiction page listing all the books in the series.

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: HARE SITTING UP (1959) by Michael Innes



"You yourself, don't you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up?" (Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence)

I didn't actually promise I wouldn't write another review of an Innes book ever again, so here we are. As most of you know I am a MAJOR Michael Innes fan so I can't reasonably be expected to stay mum about one of my favorite authors for long. I've written enthusiastically about his books over the past eight years of my blogging existence, so if you're interested, just use the search thing at the bottom of the page. It's finally working again.

HARE SITTING UP reads like a story in which Innes (pseudonym for John Innes MacIntosh Stewart - 1906 - 1994) was having fun seeing how far he could go with a 'thriller mystery' without actually killing anyone off. In fact, near the end when a killing does occur, it's not a very prepossessing one or for that matter, of much real importance. What is most fun about this book - at least for me - is the journey. That is often the case with several of Michael Innes' books - my favorites, in fact.

Here Innes indulges the very intriguing and popular trope of identical twins who are adept at taking each other's places and have done so since childhood. This is revealed to us early enough so it's not meant as a real surprise. We do, however, get misdirection and a long discussion between passengers on a train, only small parts of which have any relevance to anything which happens later. Most of it is glib conversation about how the world might end and might not dreary society as a whole be ready for that end (don't forget that this was 1959 - the Cold War was in full swing and scientists were discovering all sorts of various and sundry ways to end it all.)

"I'm much more interested," Gavin said at once, 'in something else. It's the twilight of the gods idea - the fascination of bringing everything else down with you as you fall. Hitler was gripped by that, I imagine. But you needn't necessarily be a Wagnerite to feel the tug of it."

Alice crossed a green leg over a yellow one. "Death-wish stuff," she said. "How does it correlate with actually dying? Does anybody know? You see, we've talking about the dangers of concentrating power - and far more potential destructive power than has ever existed before - in the hands of old, sick men..."

And on it goes, in Innes, we have discussions of this sort which might mean something as we go along but then again, might not. In HARE SITTING UP, the discussion is just to put us in a frame of mind for the pile of absurdities which come next. The train passengers themselves - except for two - will not show up again in the story.

As for the twin thing, well here we have two brothers: Miles Juniper and Howard Juniper - one is a scientist, a germ warfare expert (uh-oh) and the other is a public ('public' in the English sense) school headmaster. And remembering how much Michael Innes loves the preposterous, he has one of the men disappear - but which one? He also has Chief Superintendent Appleby show up at the school in disguise to interview the brother - just in case spies should be lurking - that sort of thing.

Some people (with little or no imagination) do not like Michael Innes' sense of absurdity and his oft indulged propensity for outrageous plots and odd humors. But I'm not one of those people. In many ways, I sometimes think that Innes was one of the early proponents of 'magical realism' except we didn't call it that back in the day. His use of coincidence and Appleby's nearly clairvoyant knack for putting two and two together with various leaps of intuitive logic, are legendary.

The plot of HARE SITTING UP is a tangled one as Appleby goes off on wild goose chases and even recruits his wife (improbably he's done this a couple of times before) to check out a school once he realizes that something might be amiss there. She jumps right into the thing by improvising a wild game (Judith Appleby comes from a long line of eccentrics, see APPLEBY'S END for the definite proof) in which she and several students run all over the campus looking for clues of something or other.

In the meantime, Appleby confronts a wacky member of the aristocracy, a reclusive ornithologist living at a remote estate with a whole profusion of birds and ducks who amble in and out of the house at will. Also in residence, a granddaughter to keep an eye on him.

Eventually, Appleby begins to get the hang of the thing and shows up at a secret, rainswept government installation on a remote Scottish island. The atmospherics here are particularly effective.

From there, it's back to the birds and the loony lord who may or may not be plotting a crazed something.

It's all improbable and not meant (despite the subject matter) to be taken too seriously. As I mentioned, it's the journey that I enjoy most with Innes and the often obtuse use of language and literary allusions - the knack for which is unlike any other genre writer. Yes, he was often pulling our leg or even, perhaps, making sneery faces, but I always got the idea that he was doing it in a very indulgent way - like an uncle who knows he's smarter and wittier and more literary than anyone else, but manages somehow not to make you resent him.

Yeah, I guess you can call me a Michael Innes fan-girl.

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: HEIR TO MURDER (1953) by Miles Burton


This is the third time I've run into Miles Burton's creation, Desmond Merrion, wealthy criminologist and former intelligence officer. And it is also the third time I've come away unimpressed. Lucky for me, then, that Burton's books (at least the three I've read so far) work pretty well despite the banality and uninspired crime-solving of Merrion and Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard, Burton's detecting duo. Obviously, there is more to these books than who solves the crimes or I would not have sat down to read a third one.

The crimes in HEIR TO MURDER begin on a rainy windswept night overlooking the rush of a storm swept sea - so of course we are hooked right off the bat. The author is then smart not to let the time lag between a second murder and more chicanery. Crimes that seem at first to be accidents - unrelated coincidences - turn out to be links in a nefarious chain. (As we knew they would.)

There are NO coincidences - especially in murder mysteries, so off we go.

Miles Burton's obvious forte was plotting, at least so it seems to me. His characterizations suffer by comparison and though I am usually a 'character' person, occasionally I will be drawn in to a story where plot and setting are intriguing (or familiar) enough to satisfy my craving for a good stormy night English village mystery. The setting is Carmouth on the Southwest coast of England. (I'm big on windswept English villages - well, you probably already knew that.)

Not that Burton's characterizations are awful, that would be too much to bear, but just that they are not memorable in any way. Even the killer, once exposed (and those of us who are long time mystery buffs will probably figure out who the murderer is before Merrion does) is not anyone who is sharply drawn and his motivation isn't clear until we are given information near the end which should have been (in a fair play mystery which I believe this is supposed to be) revealed earlier. But again, that didn't stop me continuing to read and so I give the author credit for that particular deft trick.

HEIR TO MURDER begins right off the bat with the death of a local doctor in a cruelly staged accident. Then later a nurse is done in cliff-side by 'accidental' fall.

Desmond Merrion and his wife are vacationing nearby and get drawn into the mystery early. Scotland Yard finally shows up on the scene after a third violent incident with more to come. At first I had the suspicion that we were dealing with a serial killer - English village style, but after awhile that seemed not to be the case.

Lady Violet Ventham, a wealthy elderly woman turns out to be the fulcrum around which events are progressing though she herself remains untouched, keeping her own secrets while inviting Merrion and his wife to stay with her and her resentful niece at the local manor house. Of course Lady Ventham is rich enough that her will is an item of more than casual interest. Could it be the reason for all the violent happenings?

What do you think?

But the resolution of the mystery takes more than the usual twists and turns and even if the ending is a tiny bit of a let-down, the author still brings it off.  It is in the oft misleading way in which the story unfolds that keeps the reader guessing and wondering what will happen next. In a mystery, 'what  happens next' can make up for any short-comings if there are certain other elements present.

Foremost of these elements is style of writing which often makes up for other sins. Miles Burton is a good writer and sometimes that's just enough when coupled with plotting dexterity. He is adept and clever enough to interest the reader and keep him or her riveted despite his lackluster characters. How that works I don't know, I just know that occasionally it happens. There's no accounting for the mysterious.

I recommend HEIR TO MURDER even if you haven't read any of Burton's books before. It is the 46th (!?) entry in the series but this type of thing doesn't need to be read in order.

Miles Burton was the pseudonym for Cecil Street, a decorated soldier and later prolific writer of mysteries.

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: CORPSES IN ENDERBY (1954) by George Bellairs


I was not bowled over by this, my first George Bellairs book, but I was engaged enough. I am very fond of murder mysteries that take place in English villages and are written with some wit and imaginative detail. I am also fond of mysteries in which the characters have eccentric names. Bellairs has a gift for naming his characters, no question.

From reading about Bellairs on a couple of other blogs, I got the impression that he is not considered top notch, but then there are not all that many 'top-notchers' that remain unread. And once you've read those, what do you do? You go to the next tier, and the next one below that and hope for the best. Otherwise, you'd have to stop reading vintage mysteries altogether or read the same ones over and over. The choices are not infinite.

Bellairs was the pseudonym for a British author named Harold Blundell (1902 - 1982) who also wrote as Hilary Landon. That's all I'll say about him, because really, if you're interested, you can find out all you want to know by googling. Frankly, those kinds of details don't interest me that much. I prefer to concentrate on his wares: the book (or books) as the case may be.

CORPSES IN ENDERBY hints at more than the usual amount of murders but doesn't deliver more than the usual - this time, two. With a title like that you'd have expected the plot to be littered with...well, corpses, but to no avail. Still, I enjoyed the book once I realized that two was it.

However, I was not all that impressed with Bellairs' cop duo: Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Littlejohn and his associate, Cromwell. Neither of them made any long-lasting impression on me. But we'll see as I get further into the series.

The plot:

Ned Bun is not a well-liked denizen of the English village of Enderby. He is a bully with money - the type that usually winds up prematurely dead in mysteries of this type. So when he's murdered on a dark and stormy night there's not much sadness in evidence though of course, there's the usual consternation in the village. The real question to my mind is - why wasn't he killed sooner?

Enter Scotland Yard after Bunn's body is found sprawled on a rainy street just outside his shop.

Almost immediately we have a suspect. A man named Wilfred Flounder (I told you, Bellairs has a gift for names), a would-be suitor of Bunn's daughter Bertha - they were planning on running away since Bunn was not keen on the match. In fact Flounder seems to be the last person to have seen Bunn alive and judging by the police's interest he is convinced he's going to be arrested.

"In the afternoon following the murder of Edwin [Ned] Bunn, Wilfred Flounder took a rope from the shop and prepared to hang himself. He was highly strung and impulsive, and he thought he might as well get it done before the public hangman did it for him."

Ned Bunn was an unlamented member of a large clan of country folk who see it as familial duty for all to descend on Enderby for the funeral draped in black like a bunch of beetles gathering at a dung feast.

I loved the parade of eccentrics as they show up either on the local bus or in taxis. Though the family is known to have lots of money, they certainly don't lavish it on themselves or their methods of transportation.

"Mr. Blowitt [the publican] was still standing at the window watching the procession of Bunns coming and going at the shop opposite. The coffin with the corpse had just been taken in and figures in black kept entering eagerly and coming out with either tearful or resigned expressions. A large taxi, like a hearse itself, drew up bearing a black burden of such weight that the vehicle heeled over dangerously.

"Hullo. Aunt Sarah's come."

Several of the family emerged, fawned on the contents of the taxi, and then hoisted out an enormous woman, larger than any two of the reception committee."

The author parades three viable suspects before us as the story progresses, it's not only Wilfred Flounder (he survives the botched suicide attempt) who looks suspicious. There is also a desperate man named Hetherow who has the shop next door to the dead man and unable to pay his mortgage to Bunn was about to be foreclosed upon, he and his sick wife thrown out into the street.  Then there's Jubal Medlicott who has a roving eye and a habit of wearing spats (even though this is the 1950's) and strutting about like a dandy with a flower in a buttonhole. Medlicott had long ago gone through his wife's money and they and their silly twin daughters were now reduced to living in the attic of their former home while renting the rest of the building out to noisy tenants. His doormat of a wife, Anne Bunn, is due to come into a very welcome share of Ned's money.

There are all sorts of secrets, red herrings and village shenanigans to be exposed and exploited and about three quarters of the way through, we kind of know who did the dirty deed. Unlike Christie and the other 'top-notchers' Bellairs isn't able to hold the plot together strongly enough NOT to give away the identity of the killer. But I still read through to the end and didn't resent the fact.

Since I haven't read any other Bellair books, I have to say that judging by this one, I will be reading a couple more now and then as they are readily available as e-books for Kindle. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Salon: Women in Red (In celebration of this past week's International Women's Day.)

American painter Bessie Hoover Wessel (1888 - 1973) via


Russian painter Alexej Jawlenski (1864 -  1941) - via 


Chilean painter Claudio Bravo (1936 - 2011) via


Hungarian painter Geza Voros (1897 - 1957) 


English painter Dame Laura Knight (1877 - 1970)


American painter Laura Wheeler Waring (1887 - 1948) via


British painter Henry Young Allison (1889 - 1972) 


Contemporary Chinese painter Xi Pan


Spanish painter Montserrat Gudiol (1933 - 2015) 


Polish contemporary painter Zofia Blazko - via


Painters of all sorts from different countries, art of all types, women and dabs of red in common. International Women's Day was Wednesday, March 8th, but any day is a good day to celebrate women who now, more than ever, need to band together. NEVER forgetting that we have NO ALLIES in the current American administration.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday Forgotten Book: BLACK HEARTS AND SLOW DANCING (1988) by Earl Emerson



This is a  re-working of a post from 2011 because I got to thinking it was time again to talk about author Earl Emerson (I haven't done so in a while) and this is one of my very favorites of his many books.

Shamus Award winning author Earl Emerson was a Seattle firefighter for 32 years so when he writes about fire, fire-fighters, fire-fighting and all relevant accoutrement, he knows whereof he speaks. His on-the-job knowledge adds a rich verisimilitude to his writing -  if the plots concern fire in any way (and they often do), all the gritty details will be right. Besides that, Emerson has a fine sure hand with an intricate plot and a gift for inventive characterization and smart-guy dialogue.

Often labeled a 'regional' author, because he lives in and writes books set in the Pacific Northwest, Emerson is not, perhaps, as well known here in the east as he should be. I discovered him a few years ago and have been a fan ever since.

BLACK HEARTS AND SLOW DANCING is the first book in the Mac Fontana series. (Did I mention that Emerson also has a gift for titles? One of my other favorites is, HELP WANTED: ORPHANS PREFERRED.

Staircase, Washington, is a small town at the base of the Cascade Mountains. It is 'interim' Sheriff and ex-firefighter MacKinley Fontana's current neck of the woods. A 'live and let live' kind of guy, he's happy enough there, sorting out his life and raising his son Brandon.

But now that he's found a dead body lashed to a tree, Mo Costigan, the major, is having second thoughts about Mac's interim job. It's not as though he were the 'real' sheriff. But Mac is no pushover. Just see the way he handles Satan, the ex-sheriff's intractable German Shepherd.

The dead man turns out to have been a firefighter and Mac, an ex Seattle firefighter himself, wants to find out why he was killed - beaten to death. Against the mayor's wishes, he heads up to Seattle to nose around - Mac has a nose for greed and corruption. But by doing so he winds up opening old wounds and making himself a few more enemies.

Mac's been trying to settle into 'normal' after some hard times involving his firefighting past and a mysterious job out east in that 'other world' he doesn't like to think about. But someone in Staircase doesn't like the way Mac's investigation into the fire fighter's death is going.

When he's shot at and left for dead and the town's biggest church goes up in flames Mac comes to the realization that life in a small town is not going exactly the way he envisioned it.

Mac Fontana is a hard-driven guy with a twisted sense of humor and a fondness for the relative quiet of the countryside. But it's going to take him a while to get into the slower, easier rhythm. (Being shot and church fires not withstanding.) In the meantime, he's raising his boy and doing the best he can. Emerson's writing in the scenes between Mac and his son is especially appealing. He writes those so naturally, yet when Mac is dealing with some ugly, nasty types, those scenes evolve equally well. There's nothing forced here, just a kind of fluid writing ability I like. I think this stems from having well-rounded characterizations - Mac's interactions arise organically from who he is.

Last but not least, I love that Mac Fontana, bad as he wants to be, loves to slow dance at the local weekly dances. There he and the Mayor, Maureen known as 'Mo' work out their antagonisms with a few smooth moves.

Mac Fontana, a man of many talents.
Earl Emerson, author of many talents.

I really do wish there were more books in this particular series. But not to worry, Earl Emerson has also written several stand-alone books as well as the very engaging Thomas Black series featuring a private eye working in Portland, Oregon who gets involved in often bizarre cases. Check out his Fantastic Fiction page for all the titles.

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE EMPTY HOUSE (1978) by Michael Gilbert




Another Michael Gilbert book to talk about. Admittedly I was very disappointed in the rather boring and unpleasant PAINT, GOLD & BLOOD by Gilbert, which I read after the oh-so-brilliant SMALLBONE DECEASED, but THE EMPTY HOUSE makes up for the lapse.

(I'm currently reading a third Gilbert book which we'll talk about at some point - if I like it. So far so good.)

The thing is, from what I understand, Gilbert had no inclination to follow a set routine. Where SMALLBONE DECEASED was a wonderful whodunit set in a London law office, the other two books I've read have been more thrillers than anything else. So take that into consideration. Occasionally this kind of thing can be disconcerting. But I'm willing to adapt if the writing is good enough and the stories engage me in some way.

And now for THE EMPTY HOUSE:

Tall ("I'm 6' 5") and string thin Peter Manciple is an insurance adjuster with a quirky talent.  He is blessed with a kind of selective photo memory thing which helps him in his work and makes him a valued investigator even at his youngish age. His cautious firm is quite willing to send him off on an important case even if he is considered a bit of an occasional loose cannon.

The plot:

When a car carrying a local man plunges over a cliff at Rackthorn Bay,  no one expects the car or the body to be found since the waters there are treacherous. This particularly jagged coast of Devon is known as a spot where ships, in the past, had often been lured by smugglers to their doom.

"What Rackthorn takes, Rackthorn keeps."

The occupant of the car is presumed to be Dr. Alexander Wolfe, a geneticist who was working on a hush-hush project involving potential biological warfare at a nearby government installation. Turns out his insurance policy has an odd provisio involving death by water which is one of the reasons adjuster Peter Manciple is on the job.

Was it accident or suicide or something else? As Manciple begins his investigation it almost immediately becomes apparent that 'something else' might be involved. Dr. Wolfe was being stalked by both Israelis and Palestianian agents so his 'death' came at a very opportune time. When Manciple visits the sinister government labs where Wolfe worked, he is aware that all is not as it should be. One of the scientists seems especially jittery and later calls Peter to arrange a secret meeting. Uh oh.

In the course of the investigation, Peter also visits a local archaeological dig where he spots some incongruities which cause him to wonder if the workers there might not be involved in nefarious activities having to do with Dr. Wolfe's death. Peter's trick memory plays a valuable part in deciphering visual clues as he begins to put two and two together. To that end he will hook up with a beautiful young woman traveling about the countryside with her brother.

When he is advised to leave well enough alone and sign off on the investigation, Peter is more determined than ever to do his job even in the face of obvious threats to his life. As a result he will be drawn into a treacherous conspiracy of cold blooded army types, Israeli assassins and equally murderous Palestinians all vying for the notes Dr. Wolfe is presumed to have left behind.

Though I was not especially happy with one aspect of the ending, I still highly recommend THE EMPTY HOUSE even though I have no idea why the book is titled thus since no empty house has anything to do with anything in the book. Not really. But you'll like the engaging leading character (and isn't that always half the battle right there?) and his quest for the truth simply because it is his job.

And since this is Friday once again, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom - he is doing hosting duties this week - to see what other forgotten or overlooked book other bloggers are talking about this week.