Nov 242014
 

A frequent visitor here, Joan Kyler, has been kind enough to point out a special sale TODAY ONLY, Monday, November 24, of Kindle e-books featuring 15 mysteries in the Mrs. Bradley series by Gladys Mitchell - on sale for $1.99 each. 

As I have said (many times) before, Mrs. Bradley is something of an acquired taste. Long regarded in the U.K. as the Golden Age equal of Christie and Sayers, Gladys Mitchell remains largely unknown in the U.S. It's good to see a lot of them back at least in electronic editions.

By the way, a cursory examination of the site shows that nearly all (maybe all) of Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley books are available - the regular price appears to be $3.99. So even if you don't go for the specials today, they're still pretty attractive at the regular price.

In looking back, I find that I've posted reviews here in the past of four of the books on sale today - The Rising of the Moon, The Devil at Saxon Wall, The Saltmarsh Murders and Laurels Are Poison. If you're interested, just click through to those posts (you'll find links there as well to the podcasts with audio reviews of the books). If you enjoy English eccentrics at their most eccentric, you may like the amazing Mrs. Bradley.

Nov 242014
 
Episode six of A Man Called Sloane (original airdate: October 27, 1979) centers around a lethal alien microorganism brought back to Earth by a Venus probe. (Funny how in reality, our interplanetary probes aren't actually ever intended to return to Earth, though they regularly do in fiction!) This "microbe" is so dangerous that the government both fears that it might get loose and salivates at the thought of using it as a weapon. Thus, they have a team working on an "antidote."

Dr. Franklyn (Alex Henteloff) is part of that team of government scientists, but KARTEL has snagged him in a honeytrap using a professional seductress named Charlene (Zacki Murphy), and turned him. He steals both the microbe and antidote with her help, inadvertently trapping a couple of his colleagues in a sealed chamber and exposing them to the microbe.

Sloane and Torque happen to be visiting the lab at the time, and chase after him. Unfortunately, KARTEL has him covered, and our heroes are attacked by an "ambulance" with a rocket launching "siren." We discover here, for the first time, that Sloane's vintage Cord has some defensive capabilities, as he employs a good old fashioned oil slick to thwart his would-be assassins. ("I guess we gave them the slip!") Unfortunately, the ambulance attack has allowed Franklyn and Charlene to escape with their deadly prize.

Franklyn turns the microbe and the as-yet-untested antidote over to casino proprietor and KARTEL honcho Jonathan Cambro (veteran character actor Monte Markham). Obviously, KARTEL needs to know the antidote works, so the sinister Cambro forces Franklyn to test it on himself. It doesn't work. Apparently the good doctor misplaced a page while transcribing the formula, and that page is now in the hands of neophyte private eye Melissa Nelson (Morgan Fairchild). Eventually, Melissa and Sloane combine forces, and with only 48 hours to recover the antidote (remember those trapped scientists?), go after the sinister Cambro.

Not the strongest episode, but Fairchild and Conrad play off each other quite well, and Markham is, as always, excellent in his villainous role. The science is ludicrous, of course, and the plot is all-too predictable, but it moves along briskly.

• Scriptwriter Marc Brandel also contributed scripts to Danger Man and Amos Burke, Secret Agent.
Nov 242014
 

If diamonds are a girl's best friend (as Carol Channing used to sing), then surely, if they are stolen, a fingerprint is a police officer's best friend? Well, perhaps not. For the young man whose bloody fingerprint was found inside the safe from which the diamonds had been stolen insisted that he had had nothing to do with the crime. And it was up to Dr. Thorndyke to show a criminal court - and the world - how that could be. You'll find the story in The Red Thumb Mark, by R. Austin Freeman, one of the earliest practitioners of the "scientific" detective story. The Red Thumb Mark is the subject of today's book review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.

Originally published in 1907,The Red Thumb Mark is not a murder mystery. Instead, it is focused on the theft of a valuable packet of diamonds. They have been stolen from the office of Reuben Hornby's father. In the safe where the diamonds had been kept, there is a bloody thumb print – the “red thumb mark” of the title. The thumb print matches that of Reuben Hornby. The expert witnesses for the police and the prosecution say it is an open and shut case: given the enormous odds against two people having the same thumb print, its presence at the scene of the crime must mean that Reuben is the thief. Dr. Thorndyke, however, believes there is a rational and convincing explanation of what really happened – and that explanation will exonerate Reuben Hornby. Fingerprints, in 1907, were still a relatively new tool for the police, and it was up to Dr. Thorndyke to prove that the police were wrong to place so much emphasis on what they were sure was incontrovertible evidence.

The Red Thumb Mark was the first of many novels written by Freeman about Dr. Thorndyke, whose detection was always firmly rooted in scientific fact. Freeman was very influential in the development of the American detective story, and this book, while there are no murders, manages to maintain a nice level of tension. It is long out of copyright, and there are a good many inexpensive and even free sources for the book. I think you'll enjoy reading it.

The Challenge

As part of my continuing commitment to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, I am submitting this to cover the Bingo square calling for one medical mystery featuring a doctor or a nurse. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Nov 242014
 


litrant:

Mama’s coming for you

Confessions by Kanae Minato; translated by Stephen Snyder (Mulholland Books, $15). 

 Yuko Moriguchi is a single-mother and a science teacher in the equivalent of a junior high school outside Tokyo. But she’s got a lot to avenge, and the consequences will be disastrous.

Already left by the father of her daughter, 4-year-old Manami, Yuko is further devastated when her child drowns in the swimming pool at the school where she teaches. Even though the police rule the death accidental, she is not satisfied, and with good reason: Her baby was killed by some of her own students.

A mega-seller in Japan, Minato’s debut novel (written while she was teaching home economics; it’s more complex than the straightforward, Lifetime movie sort of revenge plot. After all, these killers are only 13 years old.

And that fact makes it very difficult to know who to root for, especially once it become clear that one of the killers may be a sociopath and equally clear that Yuko’s desire for revenge is spiraling out of control and damaging people who had nothing to do with her daughter’s murder.

This is a fascinating and dark novel, a train wreck of humanity deftly recounted in alternating points of view that creates a mosaic-like portrait of blame, fault, and pain.

Confessions is turning up on several Best of 2014 lists. Have you read this tight little gem of J-horror?

Dorothy Morrison Grieb Rudisill-Gone 20 years now

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Nov 242014
 
My grandparents and mother circa 1925
Dot, Patti, Chick and cousin, Johnny circa 1948
Grandmother and me at Atlantic City
Mom, her cousin, Letty and Dot at her 80th birthday

My grandmother, Dorothy Morrison Grieb Rudisill (Dot) died 20 years ago and it is still hard to believe she is not still sitting in the chair she so often occupied. She was born in 1903, weighing only 2 pounds, but survived until age 91.
She was a women's woman if that makes sense, making her life around bridge parties, luncheons, gossip, and going out to dinner. She had a stiff drink or two every night. She never held a paying job, didn't drive.

She dominated my mother's life for 71 years, making things difficult from time to time.
But she was always fun to be with, always lively and on top of events. She married a rabid Democrat in my grandfather and then a rabid Republican with her second husband. What they had in common was the topic of politics was always in the air. Her father had been a Philadelphia politician and that was conversation to her.

She went from rich to poor to rich more than once and still managed to look good every day. She had her nails and hair done weekly.

I was in England the year she died and didn't return for her funeral. We knew before we left that she was dying and discussed this issue. I regret it still. I should have been there for my mother. It would be 15 years before I learned what losing a mother was like.


Nov 242014
 
The Guardians #2: Trial By Fire, by Richard Austin May, 1985  Jove Books It’s taken me forever to get back to the Guardians series; over two years ago I read the first volume of this post-nuke pulp, but kept putting off reading the next volume. Not that the first volume was terrible or anything, it was just sort of monotonous and overwritten, with endless sequences of the titular characters

A Milestone of Sorts

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Nov 242014
 
I realized recently that the last book I finished was my 315th novel, which means I've written a hundred books since the fire in January '08. That's 100 books, plus 30 pieces of shorter fiction ranging from flash stories to 15,000 word novellas, in 82 months. No wonder I'm tired.
Nov 242014
 
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


TOUCH OF EVIL. Universal, 1958. Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Joanna Moore, Ray Collins, Dennis Weaver, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor. Screenplay: Orson Welles, based on the novel Badge of Evil, by Whit Masterson. Director: Orson Welles.

WHIT MASTERSON – Badge of Evil. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1955. Reprinted as Touch of Evil, Bantam A1699, paperback, 1958; Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1992.

   In contrast to The Long Wait, reviewed here, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (Universal, 1958) now available in a restored Director’s Cut, begins its cinematic fireworks with the first shot and never pauses for the smoke to clear. The tale of bigoted cops and a corrupt investigation unfolds in scene after scene of sheer cinematic brilliance –

   – and I have to say it gets a bit tiring after a while; like watching unending MTV videos or Previews of Coming Attractions that never stop. The eye tires after forty minutes or so (This eye did, anyway.) and I was glad for the relative quiet of a few reflective moments with Marlene Dietrich at her weary best as a Gypsy fortune-teller (“Your future’s all used up.”) just one of a number of cameo appearances that include Ray Collins and Joseph Cotton from Citizen Kane, and Mercedes McCambridge as a lesbian biker.

   On the other hand, Whit Masterson’s book that this was based on, Badge of Evil, is so bland as to be resolutely unreadable. The flat prose recounts little but a few cardboard characters moving slowly through an unremarkable plot to no discernible end. But perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on this book, since I couldn’t finish it; maybe things really picked up after the first fifty-odd pages.

 Posted by at 5:14 am
Nov 242014
 

Jeff Cohen

There's what I want to think, and what I think. They're not the same thing.

Like many people, I have watched in morbid fascination over the past few weeks as allegations have multiplied against Bill Cosby. This past week, as they reached a crescendo, it was almost impossible to avoid the rising furor.

Let me say right off the top that I think sexual assualt of any kind is a horrendous, reprehensible crime that should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent of the law no matter who the accused party might happen to be. And at the same time, I have no knowledge whether the allegations are true or not. It is not for me to judge.

But it will be impossible to enjoy the comedy the same way ever again, no matter what. And that is what is personally hitting home right now. More than anything else, the Bill Cosby story now makes me sad.

A month of two after his son was shot to death Cosby gave an interview during which he said (and I'm paraphrasing) that people would see him and they would look sad. And that especially bothered him.

Imagine what he's seeing now.

That is not to in any way minimize what it has been said happened to a growing, seemingly large number of women over a very long period of time. If the allegations are true, their suffering is much more serious than anything that happens to fans of a comedian. For those women to find some measure of justice would be far more important.

For me, though, the accusations have damaged, perhaps beyond repair, a mental connection to an influence that helped formed some of the way I think. That's not easy to absorb.

I've posted here before about the way Cosby's stand-up comedy impacted me when I was a child, how it helped form some of the way I use language, which is (let's face it) a large component of what it is I do for a living, and even more, how I express every thought I have. I can't say I don't have some reflexive speech patterns that started when I first heard the man do comedy.

It's not the "America's dad" persona that is most destroyed for me. That was a period after I was an adult, when I could be more critical and had already formed my own personality. I'd seen the other iterations of Cosby before that. And he was one of those entertainers whose work I truly admired, a storyteller and observer with almost no peers at all. I thought Bill Cosby, if we were to meet, would understand me.

Now it would seem I, along with much of the culture, had misjudged him badly. Or that he was remarkably good at projecting an image that was completely contrary to his true character. If that is the case--and maybe even if it transpires that we never know for sure--the damage, on my side, has been done. 

Much as I'd like to say that one can separate the art from the artist, I'm not sure I'll be able to listen to "Go-Karts" or "Track and Field" again the way I once could. To admire the way the comedy was constructed like a piece of music, the rhythm and the pitch of it. To immerse myself in the amazing speed with which the comedian could create characters and situations, switch back and forth from one to the other and have them pay off.

If what is being claimed is true, a number of truly awful crimes were committed by a person we thought we knew. It is perhaps that idea--that we thought we knew someone most of us had never met--that is especially hurtful right now. There's a strange trust between an artist and those who connect emotionally with the art. And when that bond is broken, the art can be broken, too.

Selfish as it is, I'll miss the Bill Cosby I once really admired. Too bad he probably wasn't real.