Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jackie Robinson! (1919 - 1972)

Today is the birth date of the man who courageously broke the color line in modern day major league baseball. It was 1947 when the Dodgers called up Robinson from the minors (where he'd been the first African American to play in  'whites only' minor league games) and caused a furor of controversy. Many ignorant players threatened not to set foot on any field with a 'colored' man.

Robinson was the butt of jokes, threats, insults from the public and other players. He suffered physical assaults from spikes as well as 'accidental' knock-downs on the field. When the team traveled he was not allowed to eat with the white players, especially in the South of that time. In many towns he wasn't allowed to stay in the same hotels as the other Dodger players, sometimes being forced to sleep on the bus.

He took all this with a gentleman's calm grace and patience to rival Job's. The truth of the matter is that he was an extraordinary human being.

Robinson merely knocked the hell out of the ball and played his heart out on the field, becoming one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game. He eventually won the respect and admiration of other players and the public.

He had been signed to the team by another courageous man, the far-thinking Dodger's club president and general manager, Branch Rickey who'd been scouting the Negro Leagues for possible players and decided to go with Jackie Robinson, keeping the whole thing a secret until the last possible moment. The rest, as they say, is history.

Wonderful poem about Robinson by the poet, Lucille Clifton:

ran against walls
without breaking.
in night games
was not foul
but, brave as a hit
over whitestone fences,
entered the conquering dark.

Thanks to Robin Bates of BETTER LIVING THROUGH BEOWULF, for the tip.

To read about Jackie Robinson's life, please use this link.

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films: THE PRODUCERS (1968) starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder

Tuesday is Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film Day so don't forget to check over at Todd Mason's blog, SWEET FREEDOM, to see what other films other bloggers are talking about today.

I was fortunate enough to have seen the late, great, Zero Mostel in person on Broadway many years ago, starring in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. He was absolutely fantastic. I've never forgotten it. Zero was made for live performance. He had such a graceful way of moving - you catch it in the film too - a way of seeming light as a feather while looking large as a buffalo. Once seen, never forgotten.

On screen in the original version of THE PRODUCERS, Zero does take getting used to. His presence is so huge, his movements so wide swept, his characterization of Max Bialystock so much LARGER than life that he appears to come at you in the darkened theater at a hundred miles an hour. He overwhelms you.

But that's okay, after a few moments, he grabs hold and doesn't let go. Exactly as he grabs the very bewildered, milquetoast, Leo Bloom, played perfectly by Gene Wilder in this - I think - his greatest role. (I'm sorry, but YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN comes second.)

Max Bialystock is a once renowned Broadway producer down on his luck - his acumen for hit shows  a thing of the sorry past. He has a miserable little office overlooking the Great White Way where he was once king of the bright lights. Reduced to shouting rude things (at the top of his lungs) out the window when he sees Broadway notables in  Rolls Royces. "Flaunt it, baby! Flaunt it!"

Estelle Winwood. 'Hold me, touch me."

How is he getting by these days? Well, you may ask. Turns out that Max has a talent for hanky-panky with rich old ladies who hand over their money to him thinking they're investing in his next great Broadway production. He collects enough money from his revolving bunch of wrinkly crones by promising them bliss - not to mention a Broadway hit from which they will recover their investment.

That's the sad and ugly truth.

Max is a sleazy con man. These scenes of 'amour' are so reprehensible...uh, delightful, that they make you squirm - while you're laughing. Yes, your sense of propriety will be outraged. Max is simply dreadful. Hilariously so.

The fly.

One fortuitous day, into this sordid spider's sphere, comes a little fly - accountant Leo Bloom. He has been sent to check Max's books. He knows nothing about show business or producing. But soon enough, he realizes that if you could get your hands on a really bad show and were sure of its failure, you would never have to return the backers' investment. The tax laws for show failures are pretty hazy.

Ergo, you could sell shares in the show ad infinitum. BUT the show has to fail. If you had a hit on your hands, the backers would, naturally, want to collect on their investment and since you've sold more than a hundred percent in shares, you'd be rightly accused of fraud and sent to jail.

But Leo is just musing out loud - isn't he?

Unfortunately, Max overhears his mutterings and from that moment on, there's no stopping him. Together, Max tells him, they will be rich beyond the dreams of avarice. All they have to do is find the worst show imaginable - a real stinkeroo. Then Max will go to work on his stable of old ladies and voila!

Nice comb-over.

Surely he - Leo - can't want to continue being a repellent little accountant when life has suddenly offered him a chance to HAVE IT ALL!!

From that moment on, Max - at  his deliciously devious best - lures poor, schleppy Leo, to the Dark Side. So much so, that Leo is seduced into making a life altering decision - he plays hooky from work! Gene Wilder is superb in these scenes as the weak, pathetic, hysteria-prone schnook who can't quite elude the Max Bialystock landslide.

Max and Leo spend the afternoon together. They go to Central Park, they eat hot dogs al freso, they go for a boat ride, they even go to a strip show from which poor Leo emerges in shell shock. Finally, at the end of the day, they hit Lincoln Center and we get the famous scene of the fountains heralding Leo Bloom's emancipation. "I want...I want... I want EVERYTHING!!"

So the search begins for the worst stage play ever written.

This is the play!

Max and Leo hold up in that dark little office hour after hour, wretched play after wretched play, until finally they stumble across SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER by an unknown writer named Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars). The play is a Berchtesgaden 'romp' supposedly showing the 'lighter' side of Hitler.

Instantly Max and Leo know this is the play that will make them rich. The show won't run ten minutes. You think?

Off they go to sign up the playwrite, meeting him on a Manhattan rooftop where he tends his pigeon coops. The first thing Leo says is, "He's wearing a helmet." Max says, "Pretend you don't notice."  (Or words to that effect.)

The ultra wonderful Kenneth Mars as Franz Liebkind.

Soon, they're back in Franz's apartment drinking schnapps and singing German songs. Franz is assured the play won't be insulting to the Fuhrer who, after all, everyone knows was a much better painter than Winston Churchill.

Soon as the contract is signed, Max sets off to earn the dough necessary for the production of SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER. Little-old-lady-dom never knew what hit it. Max soon sells about two hundred percent of the show, rents a huge office and hires a bouncy, sexy secretary who can't speak English. But she sure can dance the 'frug'.

Ulla (Lee Meredith) the secretary who can't speak a word of English and obviously doesn't have to.

Then the casting begins, after first signing the worst director on Broadway, Roger De Bris (the wonderful Christopher Hewitt whom we first meet wearing a long, tight evening gown). Roger doesn't know the whole thing is a flim-flam and takes the job offer seriously. The dope thinks the play will make a great musical.

Open casting for the part of Hitler and other cast members, brings out every nut in New York, but eventually Max, Leo and Roger find their perfect Hitler in Lorenzo St. Dubois (L.S.D.) - Dick Shawn in thigh high suede boots. He is guaranteed to be a disaster.

But see, here's the thing: the more Max and Leo try to make sure their play is a big flopperoo, the more they do what's necessary to make it a hit.

Opening night, the audience is stunned into silence by the first act - dancing Nazis singing, 'Springtime for Hitler and Germany. Goose step's the new step in town...lalalalalala!' 

'Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party.'

Max and Leo retire almost immediately to the bar across the way to toast their new found success...uh, failure.

Unfortunately, things do not go exactly as they planned. Is that laughter they hear?


And that's not all. Once Franz Liebkind finds out the true nature of the show, he arrives at Max's office with a Luger.

THE PRODUCERS was written and directed by the one and only Mel Brooks, who is himself Jewish. His reasoning? Laughter is the best cure for hatred. Makes sense to me.

Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are superb and together with a top notch cast of loonies, they make the whole thing work.

(The film was also the basis for Mel Brooks' smash hit Broadway musical of a few years ago.)

To see a trailer of The Producers, please use this link.

The Springtime For Hitler and Germany dance number.
Guaranteed to offend everyone.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Farewell, Miss Zukas by Jo Dereske

To those of you familiar with Jo Dereske's series featuring Lithuanian/ American librarian Helma Zukas this book comes as a bittersweet surprise. This will be the last of Dereske's books featuring the wonderfully uptight OCD inclined Miss Helma Zukas (short for Wilhelmina). In fact this is the book that rounds things up and gives her fans (me included) the ending we've been wanting for years.

I've been enchanted by Miss Zukas, everyone's dream of an efficient librarian, since the very first book. Though she can be stern and off-putting with her rigid inclination to have everything just so - she has a kind heart and her early loneliness was palpable. Your heart just went out to her.

Plus, at her age, who would have thought back then, that a hunky police detective, recently divorced and fearful of entanglement, would eventually fall for a touchy, reluctant woman, past the first bloom of youth?

Saving the best for last, author Jo Dereske gives us a wedding - Helma has FINALLY said yes! She and Chief of Police, Wayne Gallant, of the Bellehaven, Washington, Police Department are to be married......sigh! (To think how clunkily slow this courtship has commenced, it just made me smile going in to know that the day had finally arrived.) Neither of these two are the sort to make snap judgements or decisions. In fact, if it were up to Helma, the happy event would be a year off.

But first, the usual Miss Zukas complications have to get straightened out.

First of all there's a robbery and death at the senior home where Helma's ancient Aunt Emily and Helma's not-so-ancient mother, Lillian live. Has 90 year old Aunt Em really committed murder? Surely she doesn't have the strength to heave a young robber out a window? Or does she? 'It's the adrenaline,' claims Ruth, Helma's life-long best friend, the razzle dazzle artist (opposite of the OCD Helma in every way) with an eye for tall men.

Then there's the criminal investigation and the fact that some of the stolen items keep getting mailed to Helma at home and at the library. Of course, then, she must take an active interest in who did what at the Senior home. Helma can't help thinking Aunt Em is holding something back.

But the robbery and death are mere stumbling blocks when there's a wedding to be planned. To that end, Helma's mother Lillian is making plans to turn the long-hoped-for-event into a Three Ring Extravaganza - ignoring Helma's more cautious inclinations.

Then in another twist,  Lillian decides she too will have her own happy ending. Enter TNT, the retired Irish gent who lives next door at Helma's apartment complex. He has been Lillian's on again/off again beau for awhile. Now they're permanently on again leaving a very disconcerted Helma to try and tip-toe past his apartment door after her mom has obviously spent the night.

As the investigation continues, Helma is worried that Aunt Em's faulty memory has come in very handy. She's obviously keeping secrets about the dreadful day she got up from a nap and was accosted by a robber who promptly fell (or was he pushed?) out the window. Could there have been a second robber?

In the meantime, Ruth the flamboyant artist, decides to lend a hand with the investigation since she's not painting at the moment having hit another artist's block. (Same as a writer's block.)

"...the coincidences all begin with the letter L." Ruth ticked off on her fingers. "Two ladies with Lithuanian genes robbed, stolen Lithuanian box, returned Lithuanian box, smuggled Lithuanian booze. I detect a theme."

In addition, the cop in charge of the investigation, Carter Houston - formally derided by Ruth for his staid, impeccably dull appearance and Helma-like OCD behavior, turns out to have secrets of his own.

At Carter's doorway, Ruth picked up a framed canvas that sat face-in to the wall and turned it to expose an oil painting. It was a sunset, approximately. At least the colors were sunset colors.

"Who did this?" Ruth held the painting at arm's length, critically eyeing it.

"It's a gift. I was thinking of hanging it, but..."

"But' is right," Ruth agreed, gazing around Carter's tidy office. "It's nice, but I wouldn't call it your style." She set the painting down face-out and gave the frame a friendly pat. "I used to be a painter. Painted like the wind. Day and night. But then one day - poof - it was gone. All dried up. No more where that came from. I may as well turn my brushes into toothbrushes." She heaved a dramatic sigh. "Now, I collect cat statues."

When it becomes obvious that clues are there for the taking at the local Lithuanian Club, Helma and Ruth show up asking questions.

Meanwhile, back at Bellehaven Library (surely the busiest library in the country), Helma must also deal with a crowd of dissatisfied local authors who are angrily picketing outside.

Finally, there's a mad dash to the airport to stop a plane from taking off with a possible bad guy on board, then a mad dash to an impromptu wedding.

"I had an interesting conversation with your manager," Wayne said. [Chief of Police talking to Helma]

"Walter David?"

He nodded, a quizzical look on his face. "He seemed to think your cat is a bad influence on his cat. Boy Cat Zukas is neutered, right?"

"He is. I found Moggy [Walter David's Persian] on my balcony, wet and dirty."

"And Boy Cat Zukas was with her?"

"On the railing. He and Moggy had a relationship once, but certainly they wouldn't remember it."

Wayne grinned and glanced over at Boy Cat Zukas who lay curled up in his basket with one eye open in that disturbing manner he had. "Never underestimate a cat."

"Do you like cats?" she asked.

"Some cats."

I loved this book, but I'm saddened that there will be no more adventures in library etiquette and murder from one of my very favorite fiction characters, Miss Wilhelmina Zukas of Belle Haven, Washington. (I may even miss Boy Cat Zukas.)

To view the complete list of Jo Dereske's Miss Zukas series, please use this link.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting or Two.....or Three!


New York Movie 1939

Sheridan Theater

Room in New York

Night Windows 1928

New York Office

Chop Suey

Couldn't find the title to this one.

Nighthawks 1942

Early Sunday Morning

Chair Car

Western Motel

Gas 1940

House By the Railroad

Rooms For Tourists 1945

Summer Evening

Cape Cod Morning 1950

The Long Leg

Blackhead, Monhegan

Road in Maine 1914

High Noon

Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967) was an American Realist painter born in Nyack, then a small town in a beautiful area near the Hudson River in upstate New York. He worked in oils, watercolor and was also expert in printmaking and etching. He was trained as an illustrator first, then studied at The New York School of Art under Ashcan School painter, Robert Henri. He also studied in Europe. To read much more about Hopper and his life and work, please use the link I've attached to his name.

Hopper is known for his night scenes, his studied used of light, his odd points of view, but most of all, I think for his natural ability to portray isolation and loneliness in a way that almost glorifies them. At least, to my eye.

Another aspect of his paintings which I find fascinating is the utter silence of his work, how his paintings capture a moment in time without movement of any sort. It's almost as if the figure or figures are trapped in amber. Even his scene of the sailboat in the water - The Long Leg - is a moment of absolute stillness.

In fact, the only painting above that shows me any motion at all, is the landscape Blackhead, Monhegan. Here the cliff and rocks and even the sea are absolutely churning.

To read even more and view some of Hopper's many paintings, please use this link.

"No artist has painted a more revealing portrait of twentieth-century America. But he was not merely an objective realist. His art was charged with strong personal emotion, with a deep attachment to our familiar everyday world, with all its ugliness, banality, and beauty."

Lloyd Goodrich

Edward Hopper - Self Portrait

Friday, January 27, 2012

Foreign Film Poster Friday

The Italian poster for WUTHERING HEIGHTS.

Friday Favorite Book Bag

Got an idea for another end of the week goody. I've seen so many great book bags lately, I think I'll post a pix every Friday. A great bookbag is always a fabulous way to let the world know you're heavily into reading and oh, by the way, you just might be a smart cookie.

Sir Mix-A-Lot's words with a twist make for a perfectly punny book bag. Thanks to Shelf Awareness and the Huffington Post for the tip. Bookbag available on etsy at this link.

Friday's Forgotten Books: Hag's Nook (1933) by John Dickson Carr

Friday is Forgotten Book Day, a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE. As usual, don't forget to check in and see what other Forgotten Books, other bloggers will be chatting about today.

As chance would have it, this is also my entry in the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge being hosted by Bev at her blog, MY READER'S BLOCK.

This is my second John Dickson Carr book this year and Dickson Carr's first Gideon Fell book - an incredibly well written mystery of the old locked room school. Certainly one of Carr's creepiest.

HAG'S NOOK would be a great book to read aloud for Halloween. I wonder if there's an audio version - that would do the trick. It is a ghoulish, frightening tale full of dark imaginings and murder most ugly and foul. The story takes place mainly at night - for atmosphere - since ghoulishness doesn't work as well in the light of day and of course, it's always raining.

The pages of the book felt damp and chilly at times - the effect of Dickson Carr's gift for atmosphere.
A cup of tea by your side while reading, would not be amiss.

At any rate, the setting for the story is the area around Yew Cottage, Dr. Gideon Fell's pleasant, book-filled home in the country - though very little of what happens, happens there. It is however, the starting point. We do get to meet Fell's nearsighted, quirky little hen of a wife who seems the sort of woman you'd have expected Fell to marry. She is delightful. Though I don't remember her showing up in later books.

Fell's cottage sits within handy walking distance of a tumbled down, dilapidated old prison perched on a precipice called Hag's Nook. It is on land belonging to the Starberth family. Here's where most of the action takes place. The family Starberth (or what's left of them) are Fell's closest neighbors.

A wicked ancestor was the first governor (warden) of the prison and his horrible death gave rise to the curse which appears to have followed the Starbert kith and kin down through the years.

The original will states that the Starberth heir must spend an hour in the dark and dismal, rat infested office known as The Governor's Room. This fiendish caveat has been at the heart of the Starberth madness. In fact it is from the balcony of this very room, that the deranged ancestor threw himself to his grisly death, impaled on spikes. Ugh. Said hideous spikes surround a large stone well once used to dump the bodies of those hanged at the prison. It's no wonder that cholera overtook the place and helped speed along the end of the building's official use.

In this sinister room a Starberth must open a safe and deal with whatever mysterious thing he finds there. No one knows what this might be since the heir is forbidden to speak of it afterwards. As is the lawyer who handles the fine points of this absurd ritual which, unfortunately, is legally binding.

It is a heavy curse to hang over a family and no one feels it more than the present three descendants. Martin Starbert, the heir facing the lonely hour in the prison tower, is comforting himself with liquor and outbursts of frightened drunken emotion. His brother Herbert appears to be the only one who can control or keep him calm enough as the hour of the prison ritual approaches. Their beautiful sister Dorothy tries to control her own hysteria as she fears for her brother's life.

Their father's death months before has precipitated this current wretched event. A death which had been thought a riding accident, but which Gideon Fell now believes was murder.

Dorothy, at least, can turn to young Tad Rampole, an American college student whom she's met on the train early in the story. Rampole is Dr. Fell's guest and so it all works out nicely. In fact, the burgeoning love story is exceptionally well devised and written. I kind of fell in love with Rampole myself.

When the murders begin again (as we know they must), it's up to Fell to figure out how a man can be in two places at once.

A dreadfully dark and macabre story, but it makes for an enjoyable read and a great introduction to the Gideon Fell mysteries and the work of the finest exponent of the locked room puzzle.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: SYLVESTER or THE WICKED UNCLE by Georgette Heyer

First of all, I love the dual title (though it doesn't appear on the cover) of this acerbically amusing tale of love and manners. So, going in, I was already disposed to liking whatever Georgette Heyer had up her sleeve. I'm happy to report that SYLVESTER or THE WICKED UNCLE more than lives up to its 'tongue in cheek' title. It is a light-hearted tale of convoluted romantic hi jinks set in the excruciatingly well-mannered English Regency years - Jane Austen's time.

I don't know why I held such an idiot prejudice against reading Heyer for so many years. Jeez, am I a reading snob or what? Of course not. I love a good story no matter who writes it. But I had somewhere picked up the notion that Heyer's books were simple-minded.

Obviously I couldn't have been more wrong. So here I am, making amends. 2012 will be my Georette Heyer year. I'm making up for lost time - with a vengeance.

I've already read most of Heyer's Christie-like mysteries (not exactly up to Christie level, but really quite good enough to make me wonder why Heyer didn't write more of them). Then last year I read two of her Regencies and lost no time in apologizing to the shades of Heyer for having ignored her all these many years. I am now an unabashed fan and am ready to sing her praises to the high heavens.

Hey, I never do anything by halves.


Sylvester, Duke of Alford is our titled hero and I must add that I especially love it when the hero is a Duke. (Or at the very least, an Earl.) That's when I know I'm in for some high end posturing and devilishly strict good manners.

Not to mention all the fabulously ritzy accouterments - houses, estates, phaeton carriages (low and high perch), fine horses by the dozen, dogs, servants, jewels, a wardrobe of elegantly cut jackets and trousers, silks, fluttering neck-ties, gold pocket watches, jeweled stick-pins, rings and other assorted aristocratic whatnot - that were deemed necessary for a rich and titled bachelor in stiff-necked Regency society. And topping it all off, of course, is that little wonder of wonders, the quizzing monocle dangling on a ribbon. Pretty darn near irresistible if you ask me.

The Duke is at the age (past thirty) when he must consider wedding a well brought up lady of style, quality and excellent family. So, he turns to his mother the Duchess for advice. I do like that in this story, the Duke and his invalid mother have an especially warm relationship based on love and respect. Very pleasant.

Sylvester claims that anyone of five or so different ladies he's met here and there, will do nicely. They're practically interchangeable.

But what about love? His mother asks, aghast at his seeming cold-blooded approach.

He shrugs off love. He hasn't fallen yet and doesn't expect to.

Not that Sylvester is an unlikeable stick. He is anything but. It's just that, after all, he IS a Duke and well aware of his consequence. He has a good heart, but he has been his own master since the age of nineteen and his stand-offish manner needs a bit of warming up.  All his mother wants is for him to be happily settled in the right alliance. To that end she recommends he go down to the country and check out the Hon. Phoebe Marlow, the daughter of a friend, BEFORE he decides which of the five or so society names might do as a future Duchess.

Sylvester says he'll think about it.

The Duke already has an heir to the title - his young nephew Edmund, the son of his deceased and much beloved twin brother. His brothers scatty wife, Lady Henry is resentful that Sylvester was left guardian of her son and is determined to take him away with her. She has plans to marry one of the Pinkest of the Ton, the exceedingly rich and foppish, Sir Nugent Fotherby who is as awful as his name implies. Sylvester will never allow Fotherby to raise Edmund.

The Dowager Lady Ingham is Sylvester's godmother and it is to that good lady that he applies for guidance as well. Lady Ingham is the grandmother of  the Hon. Phoebe Marlow, the country miss his mother has recommended as a possible marriage prospect. The young woman doesn't live with her grandmother in London, but with her father and wretched step-mother in the country.

"Phoebe's not one of your beauties." said the Dowager, almost as if she had read his mind. "She don't show to advantage with her mother-in-law, but to my way of thinking she's not just in the ordinary style.  If pink-and-white's your fancy, she won't do for you....She's not an heiress, but her fortune won't be contemptible."

Certainly something to consider. Not that Sebastian needs any more money, he is quite rich enough. His home, Chance, is looked upon - with envy - as one of the great houses of England.

So, under the pretense of buying some horseflesh from Phoebe's malleable, indiscreet father - heavily under the thumb of his boorish wife - off goes Sylvester, Duke of Alford, to the countryside.

The problem is, the Hon. Phoebe is well aware that the game is afoot. The Duke is coming to look her over. Her wretched  step-mother has made sure to let Phoebe know she must behave in the manner that a Duke would find acceptable - or else!

Vexed by the prospect, but afraid of her step-mother's cruel distemper, Phoebe turns to her lifelong friend, young Tom Orde, son of the local squire, for help. You see, Phoebe can't abide the Duke.

He'd snubbed her in London, once upon a time, and the humiliation ran deep for Phoebe. In fact, she'd thought him such a cold fish that she'd featured him as the villain, Count Uggolino, in the soon to be published Gothic novel - THE LOST HEIR - she's secretly written under a pseudonym. Very prominently displayed on the Count's villainous countenance are the Duke of Salford's well recognized satyr-like eyebrows.

Now, here are the questions we must ask ourselves:

How will Phoebe avoid a marriage proposal from the Duke, supposing he should be so inclined though she can't see why on earth he would be. Not for nothing is Salford a high stepper and society snob of the first water.

How will Phoebe turn him down should the occasion arise, without incurring the wrath of her wretched step-mother and the rest of her family as well as society in general?

How will the Duke react when he, in the unlikely chance that an offer should be made, finds himself refused by a mere chit of a gawky country girl? And not even a beautiful one, at that.

More importantly, how will the Duke react when he recognizes himself as the villain in a romantic novel? Will he be made a laughing stock? How will society deal with the Hon. Phoebe should her identity as the author of a roman a clef be discovered?

Unfortunately, Phoebe's opinion of the Duke doesn't change on the first night of their meeting so she decides to run away the next morning with Tom Orde, her complaisant friend. Of course, everyone assumes they've gone off to Gretna Green for a ramshackle marriage, but the truth is that neither Phoebe nor Tom desires marriage, they're off to London where Phoebe can seek refuge with the grandmother who was instrumental in sending the Duke down to the country. (Phoebe doesn't know this.)

But on the run, the carriage is upset on the road and Tom breaks a leg. The two runaways are forced to find lodging in a nearby ale house.

Okay, so we can see where all this is going. Though Heyer gives us the expected romantic complications, she also has a surprise or two in store for us which is what makes this story so intriguing. The course of true love ne'r did run smooth. Phoebe and Sylvester encounter complication upon complication, including a scurrilous sea going kidnapping and a moment in time when Sylvester is forced to ride a public coach - gasp!

And once Phoebe learns that the Duke ain't such a bad fellow, she is desperate to keep him from finding out about Count Uggolino of the malevolent eyebrows. Sylvester, on the other hand, has learned his own lessons from this tangled adventure and made a revelation or two about his own Duke-ish persona.

Read the book if you want to know what happens next to the Hon. Phoebe Marlow, Tom Orde, the Duke of Salford and the wretched step-mother. It is a very enjoyable, not to mention humorous,. voyage back in time to a world that was probably never as wonderful as Heyer invented. But since when has reality ever stopped us from having a bit of fun?

Just Arrived! ANATOMY OF MURDER by Imogen Robertson

In today's mail: The second book in Imogen Robertson's most excellent new series begun with INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS - a novel I rightly raved about. Run, don't walk, to get your hands on a copy.


From the back cover of ANATOMY OF MURDER:

"A labyrinthine mystery in the heart of teeming London, involving fashionable castrati, espionage and bodies in the Thames...The city is evoked with a Dickensian exuberance."

The Independent.

I cannot wait to head back to 18th century England and the justice seeking duo, Mrs. Martha Westerman and her friend, the reclusive anatomist, Gabriel Crowther.

"Imagine a mix of Jane Austen with Charles Dickens, a dash of Inspector Morse, a pinch of John le Carre and a helping of Patricia Cornwell or Kathy Reichs and you might have a vague idea. They are multi-layered, intriguing, oozing with atmosphere and historical detail - naval warfare, actors, singers, musicians, anatomy, stately homes, aristocratic dress and the crowded, stinking London slums - and yet wear their research very lightly."

Northern Echo