Friday, July 3, 2015

Forgotten Book: DOUBLE FOR DEATH (1939) by Rex Stout - Not a Nero Wolfe book.

Don't you wish you had this edition? I do. source

I've read (and mostly loved) every single Nero Wolfe book over the years, many of them over and over. There is no mystery writer I revere more. I also loved ALPHABET HICKS, another non-Wolfe book to cross my path a while back and wish Stout had written more featuring Hicks, but alas, there is only one.

Having said that, I'm still not sure what to make of Tecumseh Fox, a character who starred in three books by Stout.

Of course I'd heard of Rex Stout's Tecumseh Fox over the years, but I'd never read any of the books until recently. I got my copy of DOUBLE FOR DEATH in e-book form for $2.49. A great deal. I wish the other two Fox books were as readily available. Though of course, I'd rather have nice hardcovers or yellowing paperbacks with lurid covers. But for inexpensive vintage reading, Kindle is hard to beat. Especially when actual copies of certain books remain too expensive for my budget.

DOUBLE FOR DEATH is a quick read - I finished it in one evening. It's not really comparable to other Wolfe books but then what is? Wolfe and Archie are a classic duo operating within a brilliant environment in a very brilliant series, very hard to equal. So, let's forget the comparison. Try and forget that Tecumseh Fox was created by Rex Stout. Without Stout's imprimatur, the book would probably read better than it is.

Plainly put: While I did enjoy the puzzle of DOUBLE FOR DEATH, the story lacks the kind of cast you want to hang out with. Except for Tecumseh Fox himself, the rest of the characters in the book are easily forgettable and one, at least, is rather annoying - that he's the 'second-in-command' is a major weakness.

(Although I do remember disliking Archie Goodwin - yeah, I know, what was I thinking? - when I first began my lifelong love of the Wolfe books. Yes, I admit it, I'm one of the few who can claim that Wolfe himself is what won me over in the beginning. Of course, now I love Archie equally.)

I don't really know what to make of DOUBLE FOR DEATH since it is so different in tone, in temperament, in style and in pace from you-know-who-and-what.  So the result is this mish-mash review.

Stout himself thought this was his best plotted book ever, so who am I to to quibble with the master? But that's all the book is - a clever plot. It's a 'forest for the trees' type thing - enjoyable, but not memorable. In fact, I'm having trouble now remembering most of it. (I know, I know, you're thinking, 'But Yvette, you NEVER remember what you read'. Yes, I agree, but there are different ways of dis-remembering.)

Tecumseh Fox lives in an enclave - a large house and property (there are cows and horses) - somewhere in, I think, upstate New York. Apparently, Fox is one of those self-made men who can live as he pleases and has no real need to make a living. He shares his house with a bunch of eccentrics, 'guests' who come and go, none of them very interesting. Fox is empathetic, imposing, suave, elegant, brilliant and somewhat eccentric.

"She heard quick light steps, twisted her head again and saw a man carrying perhaps fifteen more years than her own twenty-two, in a brown Palm Beach suit and without a hat. Her first swift thought, as she rose, was that he looked like a fox, but then she saw, his face towards her, that his chin and nose were not actually pointed and his brown eyes were opened too wide to look sly. The eyes took her in, all of her, with so brief a displacement of their focus into her own that it might have been lightning leaping a gap, and she was disconcerted.

"I'm Tecumseh Fox. Mrs. Trimble says your name is Nancy Grant. You want to see me?"

Fox has a second in command, a guy named Dan Pavey, square faced and given to tramping in and out as opposed to Fox's 'quick light steps'. As a sidekick, Pavey turns out to be pretty unreliable which begs the question why Fox should rely on him so heavily. So we look for more than meets the eye and in this book, at least, we don't get to find the answer. At least, I don't think we do.

At any rate, we begin with the death of Ridley Scott, millionaire industrialist. Apparently he has been murdered while at his secluded bungalow in upstate New York - Mr. Kisco, to be exact. Nancy Grant's uncle Andrew has been arrested and she's come to Fox to untangle Uncle Andy from the entanglement. I might add that in my view, the motive for suspecting Grant is weak to begin with.

But the rest of the plot is pretty entertaining (if slightly far-fetched) given that nothing at first seen is as it first seems. People rise from the dead and then are dead again and characters who were thought to be in one specific place turn out to have been someplace else. Lots of mis-direction.

The problem with all this is that none of it is believable on any level and worst of all, while reading, you don't really care who is who and what is what and eventually, who did what to whom. The characters are just not especially likable. Even Techumseh Fox takes a while to warm up to. And yet I kept reading. How does that work? I don't know, maybe it only works with authors you love. Or maybe it's one of those books that is better in the actual reading than in the thinking about it afterwards.

I would not turn down the chance to read the next two in the series.

P.S. Here is Tracy K's review of DOUBLE FOR DEATH from last year, with a bit more detail.

Friday is Forgotten Book day around these parts (most of the time, anyway) so don't forget to check in at author Patti Abbott's blog to see what other forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten Films, Television and/or Other Audiovisuals: K-PAX starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges

I watched K-PAX a while back only because my daughter assured me it was a terrific movie. I had steered away from it (though I like Kevin Spacey) because this was apparently the kind of story line I dislike, i.e. a sympathetic main character sees or believes or knows or is something that nobody else in the movie sees or believes or knows or is. In this type of screenplay, the easiest ending is often an accommodation which is neither fish nor fowl. (Some might think that this film has that sort of ending and they might be right.)

Here's my gripe: For this sort of thing to work for me, the plot MUST provide a big pay-off in the end, otherwise why bother setting it and us up? 

Prot up a tree.

Well, I'm happy to say that though I began to despair  three quarters of the way through, eventually, K-PAX delivered very nicely, despite the 'fish nor fowl' comparison. The film is a 2001, sci-fi, mystery(sort of) film directed by Iain Softley with a screenplay by Charles Leavitt based on a novel by Gene Brewer, starring Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges and Alfre Woodard.

Spacey (who is wonderful here) plays a troublesome patient (most of the film takes place in or around a mental institution) named Prot, a self-assured, philosophical type who claims to be from the planet K-Pax. Bridges plays psychiatrist Mark Powell who attempts to 'cure' Prot of his 'alien delusion'. But the thing is, Prot and his beliefs are having a beneficial effect of several of the good doctor's more hard-case patients. 

Bridges (Mark Powell) and Spacey (Prot), doctor and patient.

In fact, Prot's beliefs, opinions and philosophy soon begin having an effect on the doctor himself. Not that that part of the plot mattered much to me one way or the other. Jeff Bridges is part everyman, part wooden Indian and part filter, a kind of requisite - occasionally tone deaf - wall for Prot to bounce (philosophically speaking) against. Otherwise who would Prot expound to? Powell is soft and squishy to Prot's hard charm. That Powell begins to doubt himself is to be expected but not really, that overly interesting. Or maybe I should sat that Bridges doesn't make it that overly interesting.

And expound Prot does, in a very dreamy but self-assured way that catches you up, makes you want to be in his presence as often as possible. He is full of empathy and complexity, a charmer with a hidden agenda, perhaps messianic, perhaps not.

Perhaps inviting Prot to a family event was not the best decision.

The audience is meant, I think, to believe completely in Prot simply because Spacey does such a fine job of believing in Prot himself. Even when his story begins to fall apart - or so we think - we want to keep believing. But the truth is, I almost turned off the film at that point, sensing I was doomed to disappointment. 

In the end you need to pay strict attention because if you leave the room for a minute or two, you'll believe the film ends one way. But if you stay glued to the screen, you'll see that the film actually ends another way - it just requires a bit of thinking and putting two and two together. Ambiguity works here though in truth, there's less ambiguity than first meets the eye.

Lots of people, i.e. reviewers, probably would have preferred a rational ending with explanation - it seems to be that way these days (though this movie was made fourteen years ago) with audiences inured to 'what if'. And yes, there is some sentimentality on display, but since my (not really mine but can't remember where I read it) meaning of sentimentality in plot lines is 'unearned emotion' - I'd say it doesn't completely apply here. Besides, sentiment is not always the kiss of death.

I'm probably going to want to see this film again one of these days, just to make sure that the ending I saw is the ending they meant. Jeez, I hate to be cheated.

Where exactly is K-Pax?

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten Movie,Television, and/or Other Audio-Visuals: AS YOUNG AS WE ARE starring Pippa Scott and Robert Harland

I'd remembered this little potboiler of a movie as one I'd seen with my mother on a double bill at the local movie palace once upon a time in the long ago world of such things as double bills and ten cartoons - all inclusive. I also remember being embarrassed because there are several heated clinches between the 'hero' and the 'heroine' and I wasn't used to sitting next to my mother during this sort of 'realistic' love scene. But to my surprise, my mom seemed remarkably complacent about the whole thing.

At any rate, this is not exactly a shining gem of a movie, but still, I think, worth seeing for the anachronisms (most of them laughable) of the times and the aforementioned 'heated clinches' which seemed to me to be rather daring, then. Not so much today when a kiss singles the immediate jumping into bed of the people involved. Ah well, back then, we used our imaginations. Remember when we had them?

Robert Harland and Pippa Scott were steamy enough for 1958 and then some. If you enjoy the good old fashioned clinches of the past, then this movie is for you. Not to mention Robert Harland's smoldering eyes when he looks at his Pippa aka Kim Hutchins, early in the movie. It's hard to fathom why Harland never made it big as a leading man, his acting wasn't great, but surely his good looks and 'smoldering' should have counted for something.

AS YOUNG AS WE ARE is a 1950's film directed by Bernard Girard and written by Meyer Dolinsky based on a story by William Alland, which purports to show the plight of a couple of young California teachers just out of university, who, for vague reasons, can't seem to get jobs in schools at the locations of their choosing so are forced to travel to an isolated desert town which apparently has the only school district willing to give them work. I know - really?

Well, anyway, off they go with the misgivings of their families. The naive Kim Hutchins (Pippa Scott) and the less naive Joyce Goodwin (Majel Barrett - remember her from Star Trek? She was married to Gene Roddenberry.) driving off into the desert looking for their fortunes - not in gold, but in educational careers and husbands.

On the way they have car trouble on a lonely road and sure enough, a couple of drunken louts stop to give the young ladies a hard time. But when all seems lost, our hero, Hank Moore (well, you knew his name had to be Hank or Joe or something like it) drives up in his truck with, not one, but two giggling girls sitting beside him. He coolly stops to help the ladies in distress, routs the drunks, takes a good look at Kim (Pippa Scott) and is instantly smitten.

Hank (Robert Harland) is a tall, muscular, smoldering lad (yeah, I stress the smoldering, but really he's so good at it) whom Kim finds hard to resist. Later, after the road side incident, he shows up at the young teachers' boarding house and asks Kim out for a beer. She goes with him, eagerly, much to Joyce's chagrin at being left behind, but hey, threes a crowd. Of the two teachers, starry-eyed Kim is supposed to be the pretty one and Joyce the 'not-so-pretty' and there are hints that Joyce is the more experienced one. And you know where that got you in the 1950's.

Anyway, it's not much of a date destination, but what can you expect from a desert town in the middle of nowhere? They go to the local bar and grill, have a couple of beers and are soon slow dancing and well, you can guess the rest. Think: heated clinch. Actually, for a teacher, a supposed molder of young(er) minds, Kim seems a bit, well, the word 'easy' comes to mind, but maybe I'm just being picky.

Soon enough storm clouds appear on the horizon as we kind of thought they would. Imagine Kim's shock and horror when on her first day of teaching at the high school, who should stroll into class but Hank Moore. He is a Senior at the school - hard to believe since he looks older than everyone else and in real life was actually a year older than Pippa Scott. But there he is. Suprise. Poor Kim, she had no clue since Hank hadn't troubled to tell her once he'd found out she was one of the new teachers.

Of course, Kim immediately cancels their personal life. But Hank isn't having any of that. He is thoroughly smitten to the point of idiocy and smitten he will stay.

The second half of the film is an over-reaction by EVERYONE, and I could have thought of several other ways out for the characters, but this was the 50's and as everyone knows inappropriate sex or even the hint of inappropriate sex back then caused histrionics. Remember SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS? - sex caused nervous breakdowns if you weren't careful.

At any rate, do see the film for the reasons I've given you - I think it might be available on Netflix. (Amazon has it too on pay for view.) It's a fun anachronistic piece worth a look if only for all the prurient smoldering or perhaps for the chance to shake your head and think back to the good old days when everything seemed so clear cut.

Another thought: a film based on this sort of forbidden relationship should give you a bit of the creeps, don't you think? Well, this one doesn't. Probably because you don't believe for a moment that Hank Moore is a Senior in high school.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other films and whatnot other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday Forgotten Book: LOST HORIZON (1933) by James Hilton

I'd seen the movie many, MANY, years ago, with Ronald Colman . But I'd never read the book until now. What brought me to it at this moment in time? Who knows. Maybe I waited just long enough. There's always the enticing possibility that due to serendipity, you are reading certain books at the perfect time in your life.  At any rate, LOST HORIZON will stay with me for a while. Don't you love when that happens? Of course this makes it difficult to jump right into another book, but I can live with that.

Let's face it, most books don't stay with you, not these days of hurried reading two and three books at a time, trying to fulfill a challenge or deadline or blog post, every one's in a hurry, hurry, hurry.

LOST HORIZON is all about not being in a hurry. Not rushing about in a frenzy. It is a book about spiritual acceptance and rationality. About taking the time to be true to your innermost self. In a way it is a book about selfishness and how that's not such a bad thing. It is also a book about - the world being what it is - the inevitability of war. An anti-war polemic about the follies of mankind that carries a grim prophecy of war (WWII was on the horizon even then). A pragmatic book full of dreams if that makes any sense. A book abundant in themes - political, moral and spiritual - worth discussing in detail. But that's something for another reviewer. I don't do that kind of thing well, so I'm keeping this short.

The main protagonist is my favorite kind of hero, the competent man. This we accept from the beginning - Hugh Conway is seen by most as an exceptional man, a natural born leader, an ex-soldier, stalwart, intelligent, handsome, with an appeal that is instantly recognizable though not entirely accessible.  In a fix, he is the man to turn to. His old school chums remember him with fascination.

Aware of this, Conway is burdened by an inner duality which he occasionally has a difficult time coming to terms with. He is a disillusioned man risen from the horrors of WWI; a contemplative man who wants to be left alone to nurse his psyche.

"A pity you didn't know him at Oxford. He was just brilliant - there's no other word. After the War people said he was different. I, myself, think he was. But I can't help feeling that with all his gifts he ought to have been doing bigger work. All that Britannic Majesty stuff isn't my idea of a great man's career. And Conway was - or should have been great. You and I have both known him, and I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it's an experience we shan't ever forget. And even when he and I met in the middle of China, with his mind a blank and his past a mystery, there was still that queer core of attractiveness in him."

Conway has one of those vague government jobs as consul for the British colony in Baskul (he is regarded as too independent to be given anything more important to do), a country situated in the Middle East. He seems to be coasting through life because as he says, his real life took place between the years 1914 and 1918. The war has derailed him, in a way, made him unfit for 'normality'. I believe this happens to many soldiers, probably, in every war. I often think: how could it not?

The plot:

On the night when Conway and three other passengers: a woman missionary, an American ex-pat, and a young British soldier who had fought alongside Conway in some battle and holds Conway in extreme hero-worship, are evacuated from Baskul in the midst of escalating unrest, the plane is hijacked by the pilot.

After a harrowing journey, the plane crash-lands high in a remote area of the Himalayas, and the hijacker is killed.

We all kind of know what happens next, but it's still thrilling to read. Of the four passengers, Conway is the only one who realizes at journey's end that he has come home. That here is the place he's always yearned for and never knew existed, the place where he can, perhaps, compromise the duality in his troubled nature.

Shangri-La: an almost inaccessible (but not quite) paradise hidden away from the world, where time has little meaning, and everyone lives in relative harmony. A spiritual place of beauty and mystery. To this day, even if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, the name of Shangri-La still carries a magical resonance.

Upon their perilous arrival at the lamasery, The High Lama, an old man ancient in years, recognizes in Conway, a fellow 'passionless' being, someone with whom he can talk, someone to whom he can reveal the secret of Shangri-La.

LOST HORIZON is a mystical fable with an extraordinarily pragmatic view of religion and was, I think, Hilton's favorite book. Though, to Hilton's surprise, it took a while to become the classic it is today.

Because of the time in which it was written, there is, of course, some hint of 'the white man's burden' but not overly so since everyone in Shangri-La lives in harmony, primarily because each person there knows his or her place. (And perhaps that is the secret to human happiness.) It is a community of workers and thinkers - the thinkers in the lamasery on the plateau of a high mountain, the workers below, separate but happy in their separateness. They know of the outside world, but are content not to travel there.

What happens then to the four travelers from the outside world when they land in this strangely enigmatic place, makes for an intriguing and thought-provoking tale of folly and courage.

Usually we check in at Patti Abbott's blog, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. But I see that Todd Mason is doing hosting duties today at his blog, Sweet Freedom. So don't forget to check in there.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Forgotten Film: THE ADVENTURES OF TARTU (1943) starring Robert Donat and Valerie Hobson

WWII ended in Europe in May of 1945 and in Japan in August of the same year, so we are 70 years into the future and in a celebratory mood, a good time to remind you of one of my all time favorite WWII movies.

I've written about this film before, a couple of years ago - I'll add the link to my review at the bottom of this post. But I wouldn't wait a moment longer if I were you (if you haven't seen it, that is), I'd watch it on this page for as long as it is available You know how chancy these things are - it may disappear tomorrow (though in truth, it's been on youtube for awhile, but you never know), so drop everything and watch one of my very favorite WWII movies. THE ADVENTURES OF TARTU starring Robert Donat and Valerie Hobson with Glynis Johns in a small heartbreaking role. This is a film directed by Harold S. Bucquet and written by John Lee Mahin, Howard Emmett Rogers and Miles Malleson from an original story by John C. Higgins. 

I know you've never heard of it (unless you read my original post) - few have - but I'm here to tell you that it is one of those (unjustly) forgotten films definitely worth watching.

Robert Donat and Valerie Hobson - what'd not to love? A spy thriller  filmed in the midst of WWII - action, suspense and a dynamite ending. What could be better? Not much.

View my original review here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Forgotten Book: APPLEBY'S END (1945) by Michael Innes. Okay, one more post about Appleby and Michael Innes' writing and I'm done. With Appleby that is. For now, that is.

Bear with me, I simply have to tell you about this one and then I promise to stop - for awhile. Lately, in between other books, I've been re-reading a few of Michael Innes' Appleby books - the ones I have in my own library and while I'm at it, making up a list of the Appleby books I don't have and must get. Always a good thing to do, I think. But I'm not going to heap tons of Appleby reviews on you - not to worry (three isn't 'tons'). This is the last one. You know how much I enjoy the books.

So I beg your indulgence. I don't get into these moods often.

Well, actually, yeah, I kind of do.

But I mean no harm.

The very bizzare, APPLEBY'S END is a one of Innes' more surreal (the perfect word, Les) endeavors and suffice to say you'll either like it or hate it and if you hate it you'll put it down and never pick it up again. Or if, like me, you keep chugging right along and roll your eyes at the parts you don't quite get and enjoy the parts you do, then fine. Don't expect a long, detailed review - this is a kind of mini-review (well, maybe not mini-mini) - I'm hoping that Sergio or John or Les will take up Innes on their blogs one of these days and give us several of their well-written, well-wrought, well thought-out reviews and expert analysis, so we can take the books apart and have a really good, long chat on the fascination of Innes and Appleby.

APPLEBY'S END is the book in which Appleby meets his future wife Judith Raven, an erstwhile sculptor with an eye for what she wants. Needless to say, it is not the most conventional of romances - if, indeed, it is a romance at all. I'd call it more or less the inevitable outcome of the meeting of two well-bred pragmatists (with a well-bred tolerance for absurdity) with standards to uphold. But maybe that's just me. Appleby, ever the gentleman, apparently has no fear of his future wife's relations, though possibly he should have. But after all the strange things he's seen in his life, it's possible that the spectre of outlandish eccentricity holds no fears for Appleby.

At any rate, forget about that, as I mentioned, this is not the sort of book that inspires instant affection in the reader, it's more a book you may instantly hate or, perhaps (like me) you'll be stunned into a trance-like state, transfixed into immobility. It all depends, in the end, on your tolerance for British eccentricity and literary preening. I happen to enjoy it and can tolerate quite a lot.

In this book, there are destinations improbably named Sneak and Snarl. Yes, a village called Sneak. And a village called Snarl. Appleby needs to get to Snarl, and in that effort, he is on a train chugging along in the night though we are not given a specific reason as to why he should be.

One of the passengers sharing the compartment is a gentleman with a literary bent (he's in the middle of writing an encyclopedia) and an odd willingness to make himself useful to Appleby.

"Yatter," said Mr. Raven.

"I beg your pardon."

"Yatter. A ghastly little place. Yatter, Abbot's Yatter and King's Yatter. Then we come to Drool...I think you said you hoped to change at Linger?"


"Um." Mr. Raven peered into the darkness which was again jolting leisurely by. "Inclement," he said gloomily; "really very inclement indeed."

"You think there may be some difficulty about changing at Linger?"

"But presently" - Mr. Raven spoke briskly and inconsequently, as one who avoids the premature disclosure of discomfiting intelligence - "but presently we shall be filling up. .....I suppose it was your aim to get to Sneak or Snarl?"

"I've booked a room at the inn at Snarl. And I certainly hope to get there tonight."

Mr. Raven shook his head. "I am very sorry to have to tell you that it can't be done. The train for Snarl never waits to make this connection."

Appleby stared at his companion aghast. "But," he said feebly, "the timetable - "

Again Mr. Raven shook his head - in commiseration, and also perhaps in some amusement at the extravagant expectations of the urban mind. "My dear sir, the timetable was printed long before Gregory Grope's grandmother fell down the well."

"I hardly see - "

"For a long time she was just missing, and her house at Sneak - a very nice house - stood empty. But when she came up with the bucket one day......and it was quite clear that she was dead, Gregory Grope's mother moved to Sneak from Snarl."

"Do I understand," asked Appleby resignedly, "that Gregory Grope is the engine-driver?"

"Exactly so. If I may say so, Mr. Appleby, you possess a keen power of inference. Gregory Grope drives the Snarl train, and the train of course spends the night at Snarl. But Gregory has to get home on his motor-bicycle to Sneak, and his mother is decidedly strict about late hours. It appears that it was as the consequence of a nocturnal diversion, somewhat surprising in a woman of her years, that old Mrs. Grope came to her unfortunate end. But I digress. The point is that Gregory and his train now leave Linger somewhat earlier than before. Of course you could complain to the district superintendent and I dare say something might be done about it in time."

And so it goes...

All manner of strange events will occur, a near disaster on the river in the middle of a snow storm, resulting in Appleby's having to spend the night in a barnyard - in a haystack, actually, alongside the previously mentioned Judith Raven - an event that more or less necessitates an instant matrimonial engagement when gossip in the village runs a bit amok. Appleby is a gentleman, after all. Although nothing of import actually happens in the haystack - that I can tell, anyway.

Of course, I haven't mentioned the head buried in the snow...

Later, if you're still reading, you'll get to meet one of the more endearing characters Michael Innes is so adept at creating, Mr. Smith, the local vicar:

'Appleby knocked and the door was opened - or rather manipulated, for it seemed to be possessed of only one hinge - by a red-faced, white-haired clergyman standing some six-feet-four in badly cracked shoes. "Come in," said the clergyman; "come in, by all means. I don't know you from Adam - though I've always had a shrewd idea, mark you, that Adam would be eminently recognizable if one passed passed him in the street. Bother this door! I must tell the village carpenter that here is something very like a work of corporal mercy...A wise dispensation, no doubt, since we come rather noticeably short at present in the matter of Faith. Come in. Smith is my name and this is Hodge, my cat." He pointed to a large brindled creature sedately posed in the crook of his arm. "I was just going to butter the buns."

Near the end the denizens of Sneak and Snarl and Drool and Linger (among others) run about the snow covered countryside in frenzied pursuit of a witch and just when all seems lost - inheritance-wise - and the reason for all the madness revealed, there's a final exclamation/revelation which will leave you smiling and shaking your head.

Unless you gave up early and threw the book across the room.

Friday Forgotten Books is a meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today.

Oh by the way, here's my previous APPLEBY'S END review from a couple of years ago - John reminded me that I'd written about this book before. Sorry about that.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Another strange Inspector Appleby adventure by Michael Innes: THE OPEN HOUSE (1972)

This book has one of the best beginnings EVER! (At least the kind of beginning I love.) Retired Scotland Yard man, John Appleby, now Lord Appleby, is driving alone on a lonely stretch of road at night...

"The sudden immobilizing of his car hadn't much discomposed John Appleby, but the subsequent failure of his electric torch was another matter.

Not that what had happened to the car wasn't absurd enough to make anybody cross. The night was uncommonly dark and the road unfrequented; he had neither overtaken nor met any other vehicle for miles; there seemed to be no nocturnal pedestrianism or bicycling in this part of the countryside, so that his powerful headlights had the verges comfortably to themselves. Then suddenly there had been the tail-lights of a slow-moving van ahead of him and the brow of a hill beyond. So he had slowed, and changed down to third. Only the gears somehow hadn't engaged, and in a moment he knew why. He was waving the gear-lever in the air.

It hadn't been difficult to steer on to a reliable-looking grass verge, and there he has come to a halt and investigated. He was in neutral, he found, and in neutral he was going to remain. The confounded lever had broken off close to the gear-box. There was nothing whatsoever to be done..."

So he gets out of the incapacitated car and goes out into the night on foot expecting his trusty flashlight (electric torch to you) to last indefinitely - which it almost immediately doesn't. Then there are several more paragraphs of Appleby lost in the dark, looking for help, musing upon his predicament (and of course a Shakespearean quote comes into the mix) until:

"...Appleby moved on, and almost at once sensed that he was heading for an even deeper opacity than that which had hitherto surrounded him. Deep and large. A great rectangular block of darkness, which for a moment he thought to interpret as an enormous barn. And then, in another moment, the scene (if it could be called that) was shatteringly transformed. In place of blinding obscurity there was equally blinding light. For seconds Appleby's night-attuned vision was utterly confounded. Then he saw that what had sprung into existence before him was an imposing mansion-house. Its every window was uncurtained - and all had been simultaneously illuminated. The effect was as a great fanfare of trumpets released upon the dark."

A few moments later, eyesight adjusted, he finds the front door of this huge Palladian house standing wide open. What is a policeman (even a retired one) to do but enter and find himself suddenly thrown into an odd mystery of very strange proportions - complete with requisite dead body, of course.

Not to mention an eccentric professor named Snodgrass, an enigmatic woman, a malevolent servant named Leonidas, a long lost heir, and a suspicious vicar named Absolon. Just the usual.

Truth to tell, in the end there's not much satisfaction, as mysteries go: what the plot boils down to is a murderous tussle over an inheritance and a very odd yearly ritual gone wrong. But in this particular book, it's the weird journey along the way that saves the day and of course the company of Appleby for whom a seemingly insoluble puzzle is like a wounded gazelle to a lion.

I read this alongside (right after) Innes' SHEIKS AND ADDERS - a terrific duo if you're in the mood for this sort of thing and I have been, lately.

Friday Forgotten Books is a meme hosted by author Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Go check out the rest of today's terrific listings, I'll still be here when you get back.

List of all Michael Innes books.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday Salon: Australian Pastel Master, Judy Drew.

Judy Drew is a contemporary Australian painter (b. 1951) working mostly in pastels. Her paintings are vivid, intense and full of life, they remind me of the best of the Impressionists. Her technique and lavish use of color are extraordinary. Needless to say, I am a big fan.

You can find out more about Judy Drew at her website and see more of her fabulous work everywhere online. Especially here: Artodyssey and here: Mutual Art and here. The artist will be holding two workshops this year - one in Tasmania and one in North Sydney.

I was fascinated by this interesting piece from the Melbourne Herald Sun which speaks of Drew overcoming an artist's block a few years ago which caused her to temporarily stop painting.

Thankfully, that appears to be a thing of the past.

Judy Drew has a large presence on Pinterest where many of her paintings may be seen and coveted. By the way, prices for her paintings make me think they are, currently, very obtainable.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Forgotten Book: SHEIKS AND ADDERS (1982) by Michael Innes

I am very fond of Michael Innes' Inspector Appleby series of mysteries - some entries more than others. I am also very fond of Michael Innes other writings though I've only read a few of the non-Appleby books (of those I HIGHLY recommend FROM LONDON FAR, as far as I'm concerned a rollicking (and brilliant) satire of adventure thrillers). 

All of Innes' writing is drenched with literary bon-mots, some wittier than others, some more obscure than others. Obviously the author assumes you have had at least two or three years reading English Lit. at Oxford or Cambridge. Still, I love the books and to my surprise, I often do know what Innes is talking about. 

Michael Innes, despite (or because of) his literary leanings is, occasionally, given to bouts of story-telling whimsy and the delightful result this time out is SHEIKS AND ADDERS (gotta' LOVE that title!), a froth of a book, moreso because of its relentless fairy tale aspects: imagine Sir John Appleby (retired head of the Metropolitan Police) disguised as Robin Hood and plunked down in the middle of a country fete/masquerade (?) where too many guests are disguised as Arabian sheiks. Imagine that the only reason Appleby is at this fete is because he's overheard a bit of conversation a day or so before and has decided to see what's what. Why? Oh, just because he can.

You know how it goes at these English country fetes - there's ALWAYS a murder. I mean, it's almost de regueur. I don't know about you, but if I lived in England, I'd avoid these annual events like the plague. There's more going on at these seemingly harmless parochial celebrations than just quoits and skittles and 'guess the weight of the cake'.  (You Graham Greene fans will get that one, I hope.)

At Drool Court (the unlikely name of the estate where the fete takes place) Appleby runs across his old friend Tommy Pride, Chief Constable of the area, who has been asked by the foreign office to keep an eye on things. Why? Just in case. In case of what? Pride doesn't know. The foreign office won't reveal details. Being observant, Appleby can't help but notice that Pride is also dressed as Robin Hood. So there you are, two Robin Hoods and a bunch of sheiks wandering around. Confusion to the enemy! Characters in search of a mystery. The fun is just beginning.

Since there is a real sheik mixed in among the phonies, an Emir Hafrait who scorns police protection (it offends his sense of dignity) and wanders about the fete pretty much on his own, can murder be far behind? 

When one of the masquerading sheiks is found with an arrow through his back, the real sheik finally realizes that his enemies mean business. Not wanting to cause a panic, the two representatives (and a few local bobbies) of the law must investigate the case without alerting the crowd to the fact that there is a murderer loose among them.

Despite the well-intentioned obstruction of the quirky (is there any other kind?) family that owns Drool Court, Appleby and Pride will navigate through an entanglement of characters - among them a sinister bunch of chanting Druids hired to perform an ancient rite, a Herpetologist whose collection of snakes must come in handy (well, you knew there had to be snakes somewhere in the plot), a troop of boisterous boy scouts, a drunken hot air balloonist, and a lovely young heroine whose thwarted love life must be straightened out in time for a happy ending. 

Though this Appleby has mostly negative reviews online, I loved it. I love what Appleby is doing here and I suppose that means that I can tolerate whimsy more than most. This is a fun book not really meant to be taken seriously, so if you want to quibble about the nonesensical plot, coincidences that stretch believability and other random incredulities, than just don't read it.

As I said: I loved it. 

The NY Times original review. Obviously they do not like their mysteries loaded with wit and whimsy. This review has a lovely sneering quality to it that made me laugh. Hence its inclusion in my post.

This post is part of the Friday Forgotten Books meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. A meme in which I only occasionally take part because I'm old and doddering and busy with the realities of day-to-day life, some pleasant, some not so.

Link to Michael Innes Fantastic Fiction page which lists all his books.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Forgotten Film: THREE HUSBANDS (1950) starring Ruth Warrick, Eve Arden, Billie Burke and Emlyn Williams

This is one of the stranger movies. It's the sort of thing that purports to be charming and light, with a wink-wink tale to tell about marriage mores but instead it's the sort of movie that makes you cringe and think, 'No. Really?' And yet, I watched the damn thing all the way through, enthralled by an eerie fascination.

A point:

The screenplay by Vera Caspary (of LAURA film noir fame) is based on her own story, so she's the one to blame for the lame dialogue and disconcerting plot.

The set-up:

Maxwell Bard (Emlyn Williams), a very English bon-vivant Manhattan playboy is on his way to heaven (one presumes) having just recently dropped dead of a heart attack. But before he can settle in he has a jest for the powers that be (concealed in the clouds) - an odd jest considering the celestial audience, I'd have thought. But at any rate, Max has a joke to share.

You see he's left behind a letter to three hubbies. (Remember A LETTER TO THREE WIVES? Ha. Ha. No. This ain't it.) In this letter he's confessed to an affair with the three hubbies' wives - one affair at a time, that is. Are you laughing yet? He wants to sit back and see what happens next to the three couples he's left behind, once the tell-tale letters are handed over to each husband by the executor of Max's will.

The joke is: the letters aren't true. 

Now why this malicious act would be found funny by anyone is beyond me. But why it would be found funny by angels at the portals of heaven is even more beyond me. I'm extrapolating about the 'angels at the portals of heaven' thing since we only hear the celestial voices we don't actually see 'em.
And of course they're all male - members of some exclusive club one supposes.

So that's the set-up.

Down on earth, among the living here's what's happening:

Hubby Number One: Arthur Evans (Shepherd Strudwick, remembered by his oddly waved hair) reads the letter first and is thrown for a loop. Surely his oh-so-devoted wife Jane (Ruth Warrick who played the young, unhappy wife in CITIZEN KANE and went on to become the grand dame of daytime TV in ALL MY CHILDREN) would NEVER cheat on him. Never. But what is he to make of this incriminating letter from a dead friend? He arrives home in a huff.

The fact that old Arthur is currently having an affair with a young model doesn't make him stop and do a little soul searching - not at all. That's a different matter all together. As we all know, men will be men. Are we laughing yet?

Hubby Number Two: Kenneth Whittaker (Robert Karnes) fumes when he thinks that his wife, Mary (Vanessa Brown) who was Max Bard's private nurse (he'd had previous milder heart attacks and needed care) might have also been dallying with her patient. Not that I would blame her, married to this dull dotard.

Hubby Number Three: Dan McCabe (the feisty Howard Da Silva who normally played thugs and whanot and seems miscast in this movie) laughs off the thing as a joke since he can't imagine his wife Lucille (the usually wonderful Eve Arden who has nothing to do in this movie - her lines don't sparkle in the slightest) mixed up in an affair with anyone. Naturally this attitude rankles Lucille a bit when she discovers the source of hubby's amusement.

None of these actors except Emlyn Williams (who seems to have wandered in from another movie) has any idea how to deliver a humorous line (or maybe it's that there is very little humor to be delivered in this rancid screenplay) and that includes Eve Arden who really does know but obviously forgot how to this time out.

So why am I bothering to talk about THREE HUSBANDS at all? Well, you may ask. And here's my answer: Emlyn Williams.

Though it is very hard to imagine any universe in which all these people would actually be friends, Williams is so British, and so delightful in his role of play-boy (even if his 'playing' seems entirely harmless) that when he's on screen, everything else is forgiven. Almost. But it's just that he seems to be having so much fun.

The truth is that Williams' character appears - to me, at least - to be so obviously gay that at no time are these three wives (or any other) in any danger of being seduced - at least not by dear fun-loving Max. He's the accommodating escort who steps in when his married lady friends need accompanying to any event (i.e. museums, art galleries, concerts and the like) which doesn't interest their inattentive husbands.

But no matter how much fun they appear to be having with Max, it's the hubbies who command love and respect (even if undeserved). This is the 50's, remember.

But after Max's untimely death, the letters are delivered and three marriages are suddenly on the line. Are we laughing yet?

The story is told in flashbacks as we get to see Max living it up and interacting with all three wives. And really, one wonders what Max actually finds in these women to entertain him other than the fact that they are unavailable. His attractions are more easily understood. Emlyn Williams plays Max as a charming roue and of course any woman worth her salt would rather be in his company than that of any one of the three stodges - an unintended consequence of the casting.

The ending is not unexpected, even down to the reading aloud of yet another letter left by Max rounding off things in the nick of time and giving the wives their due. Sort of. Hint: Max would appear to see himself as marriage counselor to his friends.

In the history of male/female relationships, the 1950's were not a decade of enlightenment.

THREE HUSBANDS is available for viewing online at youtube - here. Take a look. Maybe you'll enjoy it on a different level than I did.

Coming up later: Don't forget to check out Todd Mason's weekly Forgotten Films, Television or Other Audio/Visuals meme usually seen every Tuesday at his blog, Sweet Freedom.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Salon: HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY - Celebrating with the work of Montana artist/illustrator and cartoonist Fanny Y. Cory

I've loved these illustrations of motherhood (as it was once upon a time) since I stumbled over them online a few years ago. They are the work of Montana illustrator Fanny Y. Cony (1877 - 1972). They are a delight.

So, since today is Mother's Day, here they are to wish all you mamas out there the VERY HAPPIEST DAY.

The illustrations are from THE PLEASANT TRAGEDIES OF CHILDHOOD by Burges Johnson, illustrated by Fanny Y. Cory. The book and all the rest of the illustrations can be seen and read online at the above link.

Montana artist/illustrator and cartoonist Fanny Y. Cory (1877 - 1972)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Forgotten Film: TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945) starring Tom Conway and Ann Rutherford

...though the soon to be more famous Jane Greer (here listed as BetteJane Greer) is occasionally listed as co-star. But in her lesser role as a dissipated femme fatale, Greer is simply, laughably awful - cannot play drunk to save her life. At any rate, Ann Rutherford is the real co-star, she plays a spunky cab-driver who teams up with the hero, Tom Conway - an amnesiac with blood on his forehead - who, as things turn out, is wanted by the cops. No big surprise there since almost every amnesiac that ever stumbled around a dark street is always wanted by the cops in every movie anyone ever saw. What would be the point otherwise?

Ann Rutherford is the perky cabbie with gumption.

The surprise, I suppose, is that TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE is a fun way to spend 90 or so minutes on any afternoon or evening when you have nothing better to do. And to do it best, Elizabeth Foxwell over at The Bunburyist has the link to the full movie now running on youtube. That's how I linked up to watch a movie I thought I'd never heard of before - the initial attraction: Tom Conway. I am a big fan of Tom Conway, mostly as the Falcon, crime sleuth extraordinaire. I can remember many after-school afternoons and evenings spent watching the Falcon solving crimes and being suave or being suave and solving crimes, either/or - after taking the role over from his real-life, equally suave brother, George Sanders. And oh, by the way, who can forget Conway's oh-so-smarmy psychiatrist in CAT PEOPLE. I mean the guy set the 'science' of psychiatry back by at least a full century.

Tom Conway in a very dreamy still.

In TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE, our hero, Mr. X, is first seen stumbling along a dark and shadowy street with no idea who he is or where he is. Soon he is picked up by a cabbie, Anne Rutherford as Patty Mitchell, who at first assumes him to be drunk - she almost hits him with her cab. Until she notices the blood on his forehead and realizes he is hurt. So of course she then decides to tag along as her suave and handsome passenger tries to find out who he is and what he's done and oh by the way, who tagged him on the head.

Ow! That hurts.

The movie seems to take place all in one evening and events move along at a snappy pace as our two intrepid sleuths jump from peril to peril into a case of murder involving a bunch of seamy theater people. Alongside bumbling cops and a loud-mouthed reporter reeling from clue to clue, it's not long before everyone is bunched together for the big denouement scene. In the forties, the cops were often seen as dopes and just to prove it, here, they allow a reporter (!?) to tag along on the case, ostensibly to help solve it. Yes, really.

Not much money went into this production as is soon evident in the night club set and in the apartment of a supposedly well-off playwright who in a scene wears one of those at home smoking jackets that men used to wear in the movies once upon a time. It's a hoot. Right away he comes under suspicion, I mean, THAT robe, that sneer, that pencil-thin mustache. Oh wait, Tom Conway has one too. But on him, it works.


TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE is a not-too-taxing tale of plagiarism, jealousy and murder with a nicely hokey happily ever after in the end for our detecting duo. Ann Rutherford is a delight and Tom Conway doesn't deserve her. Hopefully, he'll find a way to live up to her devotion and general spunkiness. Love at first sight here, ladies and gents.

I've just realized (or maybe I already knew it and just forgot) that Dorian over at her blog, TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED also reviewed this film (in 2014) in her own inimitable way. And lo and behold, Sergio over at TIPPING MY FEDORA also reviewed it way back when in 2012. So this is turning out to be the most reviewed B-movie in the history of movies. What can I say, great minds and all that.

Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom is the usual weekly home for Forgotten and Overlooked Films and other Audio/Visual whatnot. Check out the link.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saturday Salon: And now for something a little different -The 'Tattooed' ladies and gents of Mimi Kirchner.

Mimi Kirchner makes dolls that make me smile and make me swoon. I just love them. One doll would never be enough. I'd want to own them ALL! If I could I'd add a room to my house: The Mimi Kirchner Room, and use it to display all of Mimi's beauties. THAT'S how much I love her work.

Photo: Sarah Deragon

Mimi Kirchner is a Boston-based contemporary artist/craftswoman. She has a BFA from Carnegie-Mellon University and talks here in a short email conversation from 2004, on why she began making dolls. 

Dolls that delight, dolls that are ever so slightly mysterious, dolls that obviously have stories to tell. 

Mimi's charming creations have a huge presence online, her work is easy enough to find and purchase - link here to her Etsy shop. (Availability varies as do the dolls.) She also teaches classes when she has a moment or two.

Also check out Mimi's foxy Fox dolls. SO delightful. (Note the little binoculars.)

...and her Fat Ladies. SO oddly comforting.

Note the expression on this red-headed beauty. Strikes me as an end of a long day day glance. Not one to suffer fools gladly? 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: HOLIDAY HOMICIDE(1940) by Rufus King. A tale with an oddly familiar detective duo.

Actually this is a pastiche seemingly based on our favorite Manhattan-centric detectives, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. The one and only such endeavor of this sort ever read by yours truly.

In Rufus King's New Year's Day murder mystery (I was going to wait until the end of the year to review it, but then gave in to wild impulse) we're introduced to a decidedly eccentric detective named Cotton Moon who is in possession of brilliance, a huge ego and a cohort/assistant named Bert Stanley - an ex-bartender who takes dictation and narrates this slightly improbable tale:

'A nut, if you care to believe it, was the first reason for Cotton Moon getting mixed up on New Year's morning with the homicide in which Myron Jettwick, that prize real-estate operator and heel, starred as the corpse.

The second reason was money; the pay-off being old Miss Emma Jettwick's check for thirty thousand dollars. Moon banked it after her brother's murderer was well on his way toward what an Englishman, who came in on the homestretch of the case down in Tortugas, called "the heated chair."

Cotton Moon's fees have always come high. They've got to, if he's to stay in that state in which he has decided to keep himself. Also if he wants to go plowing about the seven seas on his boat Coquilla in search of rare nuts to add to his collection, and sometimes to eat. You cannot push one hundred and fifty feet of expensive steel and a crew of eighteen men about in the water on charity...

The nut which started off the business on New Year's morning was not a peanut or a chestnut which, according to Moon, are like having grits for breakfast instead of one of Walter's omelets. Walter is Coquilla's cook and was absorbed by Moon, among other things, in Madagascar.  The nut was a sapucaia nut, and it hit Moon on the forehead as we were standing on Coquilla's aft-deck and greeting the first morning of the year through a seven o'clock murk and snow which were tenting New York City's East River.'

So there you have it: first person narration by a smarty-pants (though Bert is no Archie Goodwin) second in command, huge fees, eccentric nut collecting (instead of orchids), a boat (substitute the brownstone and you have the idea) on which the high fees are spent AND, last but not least, a private cook, this time named Walter (instead of Fritz).

So what are we to make of all this?

If you're familiar with the Nero Wolfe stories you may enjoy making the comparison - I did. If you're not familiar with the Wolfe books then you'll just read this as a fun mystery with screwy overtones. I mean, who collects rare nuts? (Please, no emails if you are a rare nut collector and I have inadvertently maligned you. All in good fun, I assure you. Some of my best friends are nuts.)

Still, this is a lively, amusing tale which begins when Bruce Jettwick, a young radio crooner, attracts famed detective Cotton Moon's interest by bouncing a nut off Moon's head on New Year's Day - their two boats are docked side by side in New York harbor. See diagram below:

I love mapbacks!

While the city celebrates the beginning of a new year, murder most foul has taken place on Trade Winds, the boat belonging to Bruce's step-father, Myron Jettwick, whose body Bruce has just discovered. Fearing he'll be suspected of the murder, Bruce turns to Moon for help and Bruce's aunt Emma steps in with the check covering Moon's hefty thirty thousand dollar fee.

An improbable tale, not laugh out loud funny but engaging enough and not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

I've become a big fan of Rufus King having read and reviewed his work before. I'm hoping, little by little, to get my hands on more of his books, if I can find them at reasonable prices. My library is hopeless when it comes to these fine old vintage reads.

By the way, mystery maven TracyK also reviewed HOLIDAY HOMICIDE at her Bitter Tea and Mystery blog - the link. Although she posted her review at the more appropriate time.