Tuesday, July 17, 2018

THE MANSION IN THE MIST by John Bellairs

I'm back!

Ah, that wonderful Edward Gorey artwork! A Gorey cover, and the Bellairs name, are almost a guarantee of a good time.

At the beginning of The Mansion in the Mist, Anthony Monday, Miss Eels, and her brother Emerson are vacationing on an island in a lake in northern Canada. One night, Anthony finds a wooden chest in a back room of the house they're staying in, and feels a strange urge to get in. The lids snaps shut, and when he opens it again he's in a misty, twilight world of moving plants and a huge, menacing mansion. He makes his way back, and at first his friends don't believe him, as the chest is now gone from the room. But after a while it shows up again, and other sinister things start to happen....

This is late Bellairs, and has some of his strengths and some of his failings. It's got atmosphere to spare, and some quirky humor, and the Canadian lake setting is reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood. But it's got too-convenient coincidences, a ghost showing up where the person is alive and with no explanation, and a plot that needs more background. As it is, the villains of the piece are great. They're a group of wizards who call themselves the Autarchs, who inhabit a vast mansion in a parallel pocket dimension, who plot to draw our world into it so they can rule it. One weakness they have is that the Autarchs are powerless in our world, which makes for some interesting intrigue.

I have to admit...while I found the story wanting in some ways, the ideas behind it are interesting and linger in my mind. The misty, shadowy pocket dimension is a great setting and could be expanded. This would be good for someone doing a role-playing game or something.

This is the last Anthony Monday book; unlike his other two series, this was not extended after Bellairs' death. Soon, I plan to start on his third series, about New England adventurer Johnny Dixon.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

I'm back! A Phantom Serenade for July


Sorry to have been away for the last month. Some work-related anxiety issues, and some on-and-off health issues, and gay pride, and a few other things, kept me from concentrating on blogging. But here I am!

It's a lazy summer evening; we've had a lovely light dinner at a friend's house and lingering in the back yard, chatting and catching up while the sun slowly sets. And from nearby, we hear someone playing the piano with their window open, as if serenading us. We all pause in the conversation to listen...



Lovely piece, eh? And just the thing for a quiet summer evening....

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

June at the Phantom Concert Hall!

So, it's a June night, and there's a new program at the concert hall, with some interesting modern music.

Here's a great part of the program; this was composed by Angelo Badalamenti as part of the soundtrack for the David Lynch film "Wild at Heart," and it deserves notice on its own.



Perfect for a summer evening, eh? Lots more to come!

Monday, May 28, 2018

TALES OF MYSTERY AND CRIME by William Wallace

I know, I swore I was back, but I've been sidetracked this month by a big spring cleaning project at home and a bustling new life at the job. But now things are going well, and the kitchen floor is clean enough to eat from, so I can get back to blogging.

This was a gift from some friends who went on vacation in London. And damn, that cover!

William Wallace is credited as "Sometime Undersheriff and Deputy Coroner for the County of Leicestershire" and very little else is given out about him. There's a forward by George Pleydell Bancroft, and I think that dates this book to the late 30s or 40s, as no publishing date is given. Plus, the overall look of the thing is very early 20th century.

So how is it?

Well, Wallace was not a gripping writer. At his worst, he's turgid and melodramatic. His first story, "The Manley Mystery," is a bit of a slog as dissects a rather unintereating crime, the murder of a former soldier in the 1860s. It's got a framing story of a doctor reading an old manuscript at Christmastime, but the framing story serves no purpose and adds nothing to it. It's followed by "The Monk of Millford Abbey" which is a pure fiction about a monk who seeks to avenge the dissolution of his abbey by getting close to the king and assassinating him. It inspired the cover but it drags a lot, and it has a horrible "it-was-all-a-dream" ending that infuriated me.

"The Mystery of Melton Wood" is another slog, this time the murder of a young woman, complicated by the execution of an innocent man. The last story, "The Ghost of York Minster," is the best, largely because it's the shortest, and it has a genuinely macabre resolution in its story of a haunted choir loft in an old church. Again, this isn't brilliant, but an amiable read on a slow winter afternoon.

So....great cover....so-so execution.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

May at the Phantom Concert Hall!

Brush off that old jacket! Shake our that vintage gown! We've got concert tickets again!

Our connection at the concert hall downtown got us tickets to a big event, with a tribute to Paganini, that devilish master of the violin. A couple of violinists will be playing Pagainin's pieces, and then a noted pianist will be playing Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini," which is just amazing...



His ability is almost supernatural, isn't it? Simply amazing stuff.

How about a midnight supper after the concert? I've got something in the slow cooker that'll be ready by the time we're done at the concert...

Monday, April 30, 2018

Happy Walpurgisnacht! And Happy 10th Birthday!

Dust and Corruption is 10 years old!

Sorry I haven't been blogging much lately. I'm glad to have a permanent job but I'm learning new stuff and it's taking up a lot of mental energy. And in the evenings and weekends I'm giving my apartment a good going-over. I'm a lousy housekeeper and have let things go for far too long.

Plus I'm in a play in June, and rehearsals and learning my lines are also eating into my time.

I've got a stack of books to write about, though. I'll continue post the musical interludes but I've decided to drop the "virtual movie nights." And maybe once things calm down a bit I'll prowl around Baltimore and do some more photography.

Keep moving forward!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

WHOSE BODY? by Dorothy L. Sayers

In my teens, when other boys were reading Playboy or Penthouse, I was reading Dorothy L. Sayers. That explains a lot about my adolescence. Lord Peter Wimsey was my sort-of-role model for a while, although it never quite fit...I got tired of him after a while.

Lord Peter hasn't aged well...many modern readers find him annoying. And, I have to say, he kind of is. In the 20s we had a rash of aristocratic detectives, like Wimsey and Philo Vance, who would adjust their monocles and say a problem was "quite vexin'" and all that. It probably seemed terribly sophisticated and up-market at the time, but now seems cheap.

Still, Sayers had her strengths, and while Lord Peter is grating at times, there's enough here to draw a reader.

Lord Peter Wimsey gets a call one morning; a friend of his mother has a rather bizarre problem, in that there's a body in his bathtub, wearing nothing but a pince-nez. Peter joins with a policeman friend to look in on the situation....at first, they think the body is that of missing financier Sir Reuben Levy, as it really looks like him...but then closer examination reveals that the body is that of a poor man with bad teeth, not that of a wealthy upper-class gentleman. (A deleted bit of dialogue has Lord Peter glancing at the nude body and saying at once that it couldn't be Levy, as the man was clearly not Jewish...at the time, a reference to the foreskin's presence was considered too racy.)

Thus follows an investigation all over 1920's London to discover the identity of the corpse, and what really happened to Levy. Lord Peter is quite bright in spots, and has a temporary attack of PTSD (his "shell shock" is mentioned here but I don't recall it popping up later in the series). It's also here that one of Sayers' signature touches comes into play....Lord Peter identifies the killer at about the 2/3 or 3/4 mark in the book, and then spends the rest of the novel piecing his case together. No last-second revelations here!

So, despite an annoying central character, it's still a worthwhile read. There's some uncomfortable anti-Semitism here and there, but it's in the mouths of some unlikable people, so I'm willing to put that down to characterization. (In fact, anti-Semitism was one of the motivators for the murder.) Sayers has been accused of anti-Semitism in the past, although at least in this book she doesn't seem to paint all Jews with the same stereotypical brush.

I think I'll try to go through all the Wimsey books, in time. It'll be interesting to revisit them, and read the one or two that I missed so long ago...