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.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE GRAND SOPHY (1950) by Georgette Heyer

Isn't it wonderful when you discover you've been wrong all along about an author and then - oh heavenly day - you have a whole roster of books to cruise through. (I snobbishly had thought that Georgette Heyer's work was not for me because who knows why. I was ignorant, that's all I can say.)

Georgette Heyer's Regency books (as well as her mysteries) are for EVERYONE who enjoys a certain style of historical British wit, elegant stories, charmingly written, well researched, filled with great characters, occasional bits of brilliance and laugh out loud moments. I discovered her a couple of years ago and since then I've read and listened to (on audible) many of her books and my enthusiasm and respect for her work have never lessened.

Heyer didn't invent this sort of story-telling except maybe she did.


THE GRAND SOPHY is first and foremost, a 'domestic comedy'. The kind of story you either like or you don't. All I require of this sort of thing is that it be well and wittily written and that it makes me smile, maybe even laugh out loud. Fortunately, Heyer delivers the goods.

Sophy Stanton-Lacy is an unfashionably outspoken and bossy young woman with flash, cash and dash. She is a domestic hurricane of quick wit, intelligence and common sense. In action, she reminds me a bit of Flora Post, Stella Gibbons' heroine in COLD COMFORT FARM - though Flora is less outspoken and has no money. Sophy on the other hand, is loaded.

But like Flora, Sophy is a natural born manager. She can't help wanting to set things to rights. It's in her nature. She can't be happy until she organizes everything and everyone to her (and their) true satisfaction. She sounds insufferable, I know, but really she isn't. She's actually a hoot. She is also a pretty emancipated miss, a Regency feminist if there ever were such a thing.

Sophy makes you smile and shake your head - she is outrageous (even going so far as to carry a pistol when necessary (needless to say, she is a keen shot), but always with the best of intentions. Proven usually right in the end, she simply isn't the type to stand by and watch everything about her go to rack and ruin - not when she's sure she can figure out the right solution. In her plots and ploys, she works with the reader to fashion the ending the reader wants. Very clever.

Simply let yourself be guided by the Grand Sophy and all will be well.

When this dynamic whirlwind is sent - temporarily- to live with her uncle Lord Ombersley's family, while her father Sir Horace goes on a government mission across the sea to Brazil, Sophy immediately sees that her uncle's fretful family needs fixing.

Unconventional and outspoken, Sophy doesn't stand on ceremony. She was raised on the Continent traveling with her widowed father during the unpleasantness with Napoleon and she's seen and done things most young Regency girls can only read about - if they they are allowed to read newspapers and novels that is (which many aren't.). Sophy knows everyone who's anyone, including the Duke of Wellington himself. Sophy is, of course, a 'lady' but one who is impatient with ridiculous Regency rules and regulations. 

Lord Ombersley's eldest son Charles Rivenhall (Sophy's cousin) is, for all intents and purposes, the head of the family now, having inherited an estate from a relative who rightly skipped over Charles' father because of the elderly parent's well known profligate ways. Charles is a bit of a martinet, what with having the weight of his father's gambling debts, his mother's clinging indecision, careless teenage brother Hubert and four sisters to be properly married off each in their turn, on his shoulders. The entire family treads lightly around his infamous temper. Sophy wonders almost immediately how the family has allowed Charles to become so tyrannical and set in his ways. 

Stiff-necked Charles is recently affianced to Miss Eugenia Wraxton, daughter of a Viscount and a stickler for Regency propriety. She is also an unprincipled snoop and an all around pain in the butt. But Charles, of course, will not realize this until Sophy opens his eyes to Miss Wraxton's unlovely persona. Charles is hoping for a 'comfortable' marriage, but Sophy soon begins to make him realize that the grim Miss Wraxton would be anything but.

As for the rest of the family: Charles' sister Cecelia, a sweet but stubborn young chit, has fixed her attentions on a beautifully handsome young poet, Augustus Fawnhope, a penniless 'younger' son who refuses to get a real job. He is writing his 'magnum opus' - an epic poem he hopes someone will buy and stage. Augustus isn't a bad sort at all, he's just oblivious to reality. The equally beautiful Cecelia had been intended for the slightly older but elegant, charming and kindly, Lord Charlbury, a wealthy man who adores her. But Cecelia refuses to comply. And then of course, Charlbury would go and get an attack of the mumps at a most inauspicious time.

The likable but ineffectual Lady Ombersley cannot be relied upon to deal with any family exigencies involving domestic life as she is the type who cannot abide fuss - it sends her into spasms. She lives in dread of discomfiting her eldest son Charles who holds the purse strings.

When one of the younger daughters becomes deathly ill, it is Sophy who dismisses the alcohol sloshing 'nurse' and takes over round-the-clock nursing duties herself - Lady Ombersley's spasms having prevented her from seeing to her little daughter's needs. Charles' eyes are opened by Sophy's forthright goodness as he realizes that Miss Wraxton's fear of disease has prevented her from even entering the Ombersley's household until all contagion has been eliminated.

As trials and tribulations come and go, there are some colorful characters to meet, including a wonderfully indolent Spanish Marquesa and an ineffectual hypochondriac popinjay, Lord Bromford. who fancies himself in love with Sophy. But as family dramas pop up, Sophy steps in and takes charge, annoying and bedeviling Charles every step of the way.

Why she even goes so far as to visit an odious money-lender on the seamier side of town, carrying a pistol hidden in her fur muff! Yegads, does this young woman have no propriety? 

Fortunately for the Ombersleys, she has. And fortuitously she has landed in the middle of this fractured family, intelligently intuited what is wrong and used her special talents to set things to rights. In the end, all will be well and the grand Sophy will emerge triumphant.

This is such a delightfully entertaining book that if I were you I'd save it, like a special box of expensive chocolates - until the right moment. You can then sink into a pile of pillows (the chocolates are up to you), retreat from the strife and drama of daily reality and enter the agreeable make-believe Regency world of THE GRAND SOPHY.

This Friday, Todd Mason will be doing meme hosting duties at his blog, Sweet Freedom, so don't forget to check in to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. 

Monday, February 20, 2017



GARGOYLES (1972) starring Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt and Bernie Casey.

Rick's Classic Film and TV Cafe is a very enticing movie and television oriented blog where those of us in the know go for pertinent and impertinent (as the case may be) vintage film and TV information of the most intriguing kind. Rick's enthusiasm is genuine and catching and there's little he doesn't know about early television and films. So when he announced a Blogathon of classic mid 1960's - 1989 TV Movies of the Week – I wanted to be a part of it. I begged, I pleaded, he said okay and here we are.

(It occurred to me after I'd chosen this movie to write about that I'd written about it a few years ago. But that was then and this is now and anyway, there are only finite movies to write about.)

GARGOYLES (1972) is my Blogathon entry and boy did I pick a humdinger to exemplify the classic 'movie of the week' style back then. It's entirely possible that I chose this because it's the only movie I remember from way back then, but that's another story for another day.

This is actor Cornell Wilde near the end of his long film career, he is playing the father here, sleep-walking though the part of Dr. Mercer Boley, a combination paleontologist/anthropologist who specializes in debunking old monster myths, fetishes and practices and writing best-selling books about it all. On the relevant summer in question, the professor is joined by his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt), as together they haphazardly tour the desolate southwestern desert while he completes his latest research for an upcoming - as he describes it - '...nice,coffee table book.'

Salt is a baby-voiced, would-be journalist in a fetching 1970 'hippie' ensemble - flowing pants, beads and skimpy halter. No wonder she captivates a certain horned and lurking apparition of which more shall be revealed shortly.

Heading out from the airport, Dr. Boley and his daughter stop at an eccentric old geezer's road-side 'museum' to check out some promised rare specimens. Unwisely lingering until the sun goes down, they are promptly attacked by unseen creatures in the night - the 'museum' goes up in flames and so does the old geezer. But not before he'd shown Dr. Boley his prize possession, a giant skeleton of an upright humanoid animal with bat-like wings and horns. Uh-oh.

Father and daughter make a tentative escape in their station-wagon as out of the noisome night something large drops onto the roof of their car. That ‘something large’ is a reptilian, scaly-skinned creature who causes the winsome Miss Boley to emit ear-splitting screeches.

This attack is very vividly done, considering the low budget propensities of these sorts of movies and no computer gadgetry. Just great costume, make-up, camera work and stunt tenacity. Was it scary? Yes. But wait, it gets better.

Somehow the much put-upon car makes it to a local gas station in the middle of nowhere - this whole film takes place in as gloomy and desolate a desert town as hasn't been seen since the height of 1950's monster movies. Remember THEM? You get the idea.

The gas station is within walking distance of a convenient motel and oh, by the way, the nearby lonely police station.

Anyway, once Dr. Boley, the daughter, the sheriff and his deputy head out to investigate the museum crime scene, they run into some dirt bikers - one of whom is a young and lanky Scott Glenn in a very early role. The sheriff is eager to close the case so he pounces on the dirt-bikers as likely culprits. Boley and Diana haven't mentioned the 'monsters in the night' thing going on because Boley says they have no real proof - yet. (How about some giant claw marks on the roof of the car?) He is foolishly hoping to keep things quiet until he gets his book written. Yeah, right, that's gonna' work.

Well, one scary thing leads to another and before you know it, Diana has been spirited away by the king of the gargoyles played rather effectively (with some ferocious make-up) by Bernie Casey.

The king is quite taken with the nubile young human with gold hoop earrings and white halter top. (So it wasn't only my brother who lusted after Jennifer Salt back in the day.) Since as explained by the king, gargoyles have been around for thousands of years and they only show up to procreate every few hundred or so years, they have to make optimum use of the time they're allotted.

There is something about the king as played by Bernie Casey, which, after a while humanizes him to the point where you can almost see his point of view. He cannot help who and what he is, he cannot help wanting the survival of his species at all costs. And there is something confoundingly alluring (in a decidedly repellent way) in the unknown, the hideous and mysterious, the idea of winged humanoid creatures. Or maybe it's just Bernie Casey's mesmerizing voice which is so attractive.

 At any rate, the gargoyle king drops his captive back at the cave in the hills where the other gargoyles reside. And as these things usually go, a jealous female gargoyle (with more bird-like feathers than the male) instantly catches on that human-girl might be competition.

"You must teach me, Diana," says the king. Her father's books have turned up in the cave (I think some of the wingless gargoyle youngsters earlier took them from the motel room or maybe the car), books whose contents the king needs to understand in order to save his species from annihilation. Hey, I don’t know, that’s the explanation.

There are lots and lots of scenes showing Diana in her halter top.

The gargoyle egg nursery - incubation time: 400 - 500 years. 

In the meantime, while Diana is learning about gargoyle sociology, the dirt-bikers, the sheriff, the deputy and Dr. Boyle are busy fending off attacks out in the desert as they get closer to the caves.

Boyle will eventually be helped in his endeavor to save his daughter by - you guessed it - the jealous female of the species who is apparently the gargoyle king's mate.

In the end, the doctor decides the eggs must all be destroyed (there are tens of thousands) to save mankind. In the resulting melee, the king and his consort, exhausted and wounded, are allowed to fly away into the night. What happens next? You'll have to wait another 400 to 500 years to find out.

Despite the desperately low budget, lackluster dialogue, wooden acting (except from Bernie Casey who is marvelous) the film is a hoot and does have its creepy moments. You will definitely need some popcorn to wile away the dull stretches - mostly shots of cars driving on deserted highways - and also because movie monsters and popcorn just naturally go together.

I can't quite tell you why I have such lasting (and perhaps idiotic) regard for this movie, but I do. With all its faults and banality of acting, I still remember it fondly. Maybe I just watched it at the right moment in my life, or maybe I just like gargoyles or maybe the whole idea of such creatures in hiding alongside us sparked my imagination. I was never big on 'movies of the week' but this one remains fixed in memory and that's why I didn't mind sharing my enthusiasm and hopefully most of you won't remember the last time I talked about it and we'll just make believe it didn't happen.

Thank you Rick, for allowing me the opportunity to talk yet again about a movie that for whatever reason, remains tucked away in my memory of a time when I was a young mother (my daughter was two) and color television was just becoming the 'norm' - 1972, the year this movie was televised, was also the first year in which color televisions outnumbered black and white sets in the U.S.

Good times.

Be sure and link to Rick's Classic Film and TV Cafe to see what other Movies of the Week other movie loving bloggers are talking about today.

And as an added treat: link here, to watch GARGOYLES on youtube. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: SMALLBONE DECEASED (1950) by Michael Gilbert

Where have I been that I've missed reading Michael Gilber's work until now? I recently saw a review on one of your blogs about SMALLBONE DECEASED (can't remember where of course) and I was immediately intrigued with the catchy title. Then I looked around and continued to read about Gilbert's many mysteries and the bigger mystery was why I'd never heard of him.

So I am since making up for lost time - after finishing SMALLBONE I ordered three more Gilbert books (Abe Books, of course has them cheap, cheap and free delivery) - can't wait to see if they'll be as good. Hard to beat perfection though. Michael Gilbert has completely won me over with this puzzler of a mystery, fourth in the Major Hazelrigg series.

And okay, I admit it, I didn't catch on to the killer's identity until near the very end and at that point, the author was practically telling me who the culprit was. I thought it was one person and then suddenly it was someone else. Slipped by me completely. I love when that happens.

Most of the 'action' in SMALLBONE DECEASED takes place in an English law office so not a lot of room for physical to-ing and fro-ing. The language is occasionally legalese and precise but still deliciously witty. Gilbert has a knack for the calmly delivered humorous phrase, wording which on second thought makes you laugh out loud. He has the keen wit of a natural observer, someone who perhaps had seen and done it all and found it all amusing.

In truth, he probably had. After graduating from law school, Gilbert joined up and served in WWII. He was captured but escaped with another soldier and endured a 500 mile journey back to the Allied front. After the war he joined a law firm and eventually became partner - all the while writing his mysteries. So between being a lawyer and a soldier he HAD probably seen it all. 'All' comes in handy when you're a prolific writer.

Back to the book:

When Marcus Smallbone, a slightly disreputable trustee whom nobody likes, is found dead at the law offices of Horniman, Birley and Craine (Gilbert had a gift for names), Inspector Hazelrigg is soon on the case. Though in this book he hardly makes any kind of impression since most of the sleuthing is
done by Henry Bohum (pronounced Boon), a young lawyer newly hired by the firm.

Henry is a likable guy with a rare disorder which allows him only about an hour and a half of sleep each night. (Though this disorder has little to do with the case in hand.) Bohun is taken into Hazelrigg's confidence and asked to keep his eyes open and make leading conversation with the rest of the staff, Hazelrigg having decided that Bohum could not be the killer. (Of course, in some other book this would be the tip-off but here it is not. Gilbert is too sly for that.)

And while the mystery itself is complicated and intriguing (who knew that attorney's metal deed boxes were that accommodatingly large?), Gilbert's wickedly amusing writing style enlivens what might have otherwise been a too remote (it is 1950 after all) enterprise set in the supposedly dull confines of an office full of grayish lawyers and clerks.

Here is a brief bit of gossipy dialogue between the firm's secretaries:

"Do you know, I believe Miss Chittering has a boyfriend.,
"Nonsense," said Miss Cornel. "She doesn't know one end of a man from the other."

I enjoyed the interaction between various employees of Horniman, Birley and Craine and most especially loved the grumpy and unpleasant style of Bill Birley, a partner who delights in making his underlings cower.

After a verbal altercation with Inspector Hazelrigg who brooks no nonsense from possible murder suspects, Birley vents:

'Mr. Birley then rang for Miss Chittering, and as soon as she got inside the room started to dictate a lengthy lease at high speed. Miss Chittering was a competent short-hand typist, but no one other than a contortionist could have taken down dictation at the speed at which Mr. Birley was speaking. As soon as she was forced to ask for a repetition Mr. Birley snapped at her and increased his speed.

Five minutes of this treatment was sufficient to reduce Miss Chittering to tears and to restore a certain amount of Mr. Birley's amour-propre.

...Mr. Birley, having disposed of Miss Chittering, looked around for fresh conquests. After a moment's thought he rang the bell and summoned Mr. Prince to his presence.

Mr. Prince, who has already flitted vaguely on the outskirts of the story, was an elderly Common Law clerk. He has spent his professional life with the firm of Cockroft, Chasemore and Butt, whom he had served efficiently, and on the whole, happily for forty years. Unfortunately the firm had failed to survive the war and Mr. Prince had found himself thrown on the labour market. Bill Birley had snapped him up gratefully, made full use of him and paid him a good deal less than he was worth. Since Mr. Prince stood in considerable awe of Mr. Birley, and in even greater fear of losing his job, he was a very convenient whipping block. Mr. Birley reduced him to a state of quivering impotence in something less than five minutes, and then clumped downstairs to plague Mr. Waugh, the cashier.'

Okay, this all had me laughing out loud. Maybe it stops the whodunit forward motion, but I really don't care. This is the sort of thing I always hope to find in British mysteries.

Speaking of which:

The story has several red herrings and an incident with a mirror which is a major clue had we but known that it wasn't the mirror. Though each chapter heading has some legal mumbo-jumbo and a quote, it doesn't necessarily uncomplicate (or complicate, as the case may be) things. The main clue is very neatly passed right in front of our eyes though in truth, the assumption made from the incident might be a bit far-reaching. However, it does make sense I suppose, so I'm not going to make too much of a fuss about it.

When a second person in the law firm is killed, the investigation intensifies primarily because the killing seems cruelly senseless and the victim is an innocuous sort who is killed because of something deadly she knows but doesn't know she knows. Nobody likes when a foolish innocent is killed.

As SMALLBONE DECEASED has been highly recommended already, there's not much I can add except that I too highly recommend it. This is the sort of thing that nobody writes anymore and isn't that just too bad. May be the reason that vintage is still so popular.

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

Today is Troublesome/Evil Children day at Pattinase, but I'd forgotten, hence my review is not in keeping with the theme. Old lady memory strikes again.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Overlooked Book: FEATHER BRAINED My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder & Find a Rare Bird on My Own by Bob Tarte

This is not by any means a 'forgotten' book at all, maybe not even overlooked, but I had to figure out how to fit it in on our regular Friday round-up and here we are. Bob Tarte might be thought of as a regional writer and occasionally they do tend to get overlooked by those outside the relevant region. He is an amiable guy prone to worry and grump who nevertheless writes delightful memoir-like books. He lives in Michigan with his remarkable wife Linda in near harmony with the local flora and fauna as well as a mind-numbing collection of beloved pets including parrots, parakeets, bunnies, cats, geese, ducks, turkeys and other assorted animalia. One of my fondest wishes is someday, somehow, to meet the one and only hooligan parrot Dusty.

"Linda's parrot Dusty was enjoying his morning out-of-cage time playing inside the closet at the bottom of the stairs, indulging in a favorite activity of biting a pair of shoes. He paid to attention to me as I padded stocking-footed down the steps to warm up a cup of coffee. I should have known better than to underestimate such a calculating bird. When I reached the landing he whirled around and launched himself at my feet, forcing me to vault over the back of our L-shaped couch, coffee cup in hand. Having reasserted his status at the top of the pecking order, he turned his attention back to the closet."

Linda rehabilitates wild birds orphaned or injured, from time to time, so there is a constant variety of life (wild and otherwise) to be looked after and day to day adventures in animal husbandry to write about. This is something that, thankfully, Bob Tarte does for a living.

FEATHER BRAINED is Bob's lively journey to be taken seriously as a birder and to find a rare species he can brag about online to fellow birders. Fortunately for Bob and for us, his slightly skewed sense of humor explains all this in often laugh out loud episodes in which he never spares himself or his misadventures. Honestly, Bob and especially Linda's patience with natural foibles sometimes seems super-human.

In addition to laughing as I read along, I also got to learn quite a bit about birds, birding, birdsong, avian habitats and the peculiarities of bird aficionados in general. I also shared Bob and Linda's sense of wonder and awe when an especially beautiful bird showed up at their backyard feeder or foraged in the nearby woods or down by the pond or in a neighbor's tree. I went with Bob and Linda or Bob and his friend Bill (the non-birder birder) on their occasional treks to bird gathering spots across the state all in the name of Bob trying to find a rare species to call his own.

"Jeez, what is that?" I blurted out, startled by a face so fiery orange, it might have been painted with a fluorescent highlighter pen. Two birders told me its name. A charcoal black, triangular patch across the eyes contributed to the blackburnian warbler's black, burning appearance. At that moment I understood why I'd really come. Not so much for the numerical exercise of adding species to my list - though there was that undeniable pleasure - but for fleeting encounters with beings too splendid to exist."

You don't have to know much about birds to enjoy this book, God knows I'm no expert (and I'm not a birder, though my daughter and her family do enjoy occasionally going out into the woods looking for birds) since I have always maintained that nature is best viewed from the inside of a moving car and the only birds I can readily recognize in real life are your standard assortment of sparrows, yellow finches, cardinals, starlings, blackbirds, crows and robins. (Well, yes, I can identify Canada geese and swans and ducks and the like and thrill when watching them in flight.) Anything else, I have to reach for a bird book or check online. That doesn't prevent me, however, from still being fascinated by avian variety and beauty.

Anyone interested in memoirs, birding, birds in general, humorous encounters with nature, the fine points of marriage and stories about grumpy men finding their natural calling will delight in this book. I did, for all of the above reasons.

"I loved birds, and every bird was my favorite bird. But no bird was a better bird than a bird I saw with Linda. This had been true from when we had first met, and it was even truer now."

My hint to the University of Michigan Press towards the betterment of the next edition is this: the black and white photographs which add no real value to the look of the book should be replaced with line illustrations, perhaps by local highschool art students (?) I know color photography is expensive to print, but at the very least, black and white stylized illustrations would add a bit of visual 'oomph' to the charm of Bob Tarte's prose.

Either/or. Read the book. Then check out Bob Tarte's other writings, particularly ENSLAVED BY DUCKS.

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 (or not as the case may be) books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: ANY TWO CAN PLAY (1981) by Elizabeth Cadell

An author I've never read before (never even heard of before), recommended by Nan at LETTERS FROM A HILL FARM. Thank you, Nan.

I'm a big fan of D.E. STEVENSON, ANGELA THIRKELL and E.F. BENSON - each has their own quirky (and often stealthily hilarious) way of telling basically the same story set in an England of long ago, an England made familiar to us by so many BBC and PBS television programs. Thanks to them, we are as familiar with fictional English village life and life up at the manor house as any Englishman or woman, maybe even more so.

I wondered if there were more of these types of stories out there. Happy to say, that Elizabeth Cadell fits the bill though her work is a bit quieter and perhaps a bit gentler than either Thirkell or Benson. She is closest to D.E. Stevenson from what I can tell. Of course if you haven't read any of those authors, then you won't know what I'm talking about - you'll just have to play catch-up. But for those of you who are familiar, then you know whereof I speak.

I did try a couple of other recommended authors from this era and wasn't all that impressed, but Cadell stood out for me. In these times of political turmoil, nothing could be further from reality than her endearing romantic story of village life and English quirkiness. A perfect getaway.

In fact, I will probably begin rereading all of my Thirkell, Stevenson and Benson books - as a way of staying sane - if you know what I mean. (I may even go back and reread all of my Jan Karons. These are desperate times.)

At any rate, back to ANY TWO CAN PLAY.

Elizabeth Cadell (1903 - 1989) was a prolific English author of 52 novels, two of which I've read recently and more of which I hope to read throughout the year. Fortunately, many of them are available on Kindle, though I prefer ordering the actual books in used form whenever possible. But it's nice to know that a bunch are available electronically just in case.

The setting for ANY TWO CAN PLAY is the small and typically gossipy English village of fiction. Downing is just the sort of enclave we love to spend time in when retreating from reality.

Natalie Travers, our accommodating twenty seven year old unmarried heroine, must step in to help her academic younger brother Julian when he is left alone and struggling with twins - his wife having left him and the babies in the lurch. Wifey was of the sort who tried domesticity for a short while but upon deciding it wasn't for her, off to London she went, back to the life preferred.

Julian, who is musical director of a private school, is not exactly parental material himself, as his preference is to be buried in his work or out playing golf. He will willingly leave it up to someone else to step in and handle the chores, take care of the kids and do the heavy lifting of day to day life. Unfortunately, daily help is hard to get in Downing, so his very obliging sister Natalie must temporarily save the day. Natalie, as Julian knows very well, is the sort to be counted on in times of domestic crisis.

Meanwhile, the local manor house owned by Downings immemorial for hundreds of years is apparently on the market. Henry Downing, the wealthy owner who'd been living in Italy, has returned bearing his young nephew who will be enrolled in the local school which Downings immemorial have traditionally attended. Henry is looking to sell his large ungainly ancestral home and as the local golf aficionados are looking to purchase the house to turn into an exclusive golf club, all seems to be moving smoothly towards a mutually approved end.

But soon, Henry becomes taken with village life and especially taken with Natalie, who is herself taken with domesticity and her brother's infant twins. She is independently single and not looking for entanglements but Henry's low-key style and inclination to show up when needed earns her spinsterish approval.

Among the rest of the characters, there's a voraciously hungry baby sitter who will eat anything that isn't hidden away, three dotty Downing aunts - one with a secret, Henry's engaging young nephew and his friend a young African student who, because of revolution in his country has nowhere to go, as well as assorted others including Natalie's stiff-necked older brother who would prefer that she take his advice in all things. and is aghast that she, once again, has offered to help Julian in a crisis of his own making.

There are no real problems or troubles that can't be ironed out between rational people and of course, a happy ending which accommodates all loose ends.

A light and lovely story, delightful and charming and endearing and all those good things that these sorts of books specialize in. But just because the story is light doesn't mean that the writing is lightweight, not at all. Cadell is expert at that sort of thing and her elegant touch and quiet humor is evident, as well as her affection for these sorts of people and their problems. I didn't want the story to end and would have still been reading if there'd been more.

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