Monday, May 6, 2019

May in the Phantom Concert Hall!

It's a lovely evening in early May; it's not hot or humid, the air is clear after a few days of rain, and we're in a mood to get out and have fun. Tonight we're hitting that old revived concert hall across town!

The star of the program is this piano concerto by Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838), a Romantic composer who was a student of Beethoven, and someone I only recently became aware of. And we're all about the Romantics here, aren't we? After all, Gothic is an offshoot of Romantic...

Anyway, here's his lovely Piano Concerto No. 8!



Quite a work, eh? You'll be sure to hunt down his other works. It's fun discovering a composer you never knew...

Anyway, the concert's over, let's go and have a drink, shall we?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Happy Walpurgisnacht! Now we are 11!

Happy Walpurgisnacht! Dust & Corruption turns 11 today! And I'm still going...maybe a bit slower, but I'm still going!

More to come in May! I hope everyone is having a good night...I wish I could go out, but I'm dealing with a sinus infection, plus I'm broke, so instead I'm staying in...

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Whew...a few recent reads

Sorry to be dragging this month. I've been mentally and physically drained by various goings-on. I decided to skip the monthly musical interlude and go straight into some reviews...

This is an omnibus collection; the first part is by Louisa Baldwin, and the second by the lesser-known Lettice Galbraith. Neither had enough to warrant their own volumes, so they went with one.

Baldwin's The Shadow on the Blind has a few highlights; the title story has some eeriness and menace to it, but at the end people's reactions to the haunting seem overblown. "The Weird of the Walfords" was pretty interesting as the heir to a manor house is determined to not fall victim to an ancestral curse, and the measures he takes are a bit surprising considering the Victorian origin of the tale. And "The Real and the Counterfeit" is a memorable Christmas horror story.

But...the rest of it is rather unmemorable and predictable, and sometimes the sentimentality is laid on a bit thick. "How He Left the Hotel" and "The Empty Picture Frame" depend on revelations that experienced readers see coming a mile away. "The Uncanny Bairn," "Many Waters Cannot Quench Love," and "The Ticking of the Clock" are simply too sentimental. "Sir Nigel Otterburne's Case" has some interesting macabre elements, but in the long run is unremarkable in execution.

Little is known of Lettice Galbraith, aside from that she published two story collections and a novel in the mid-1890s and then nothing more was heard of her. The Trainer's Ghost is a very Victorian collection...but with a slightly harder edge. Sadly, much of it is unmemorable, but it has its moments. "The Case of Lady Lukestan" has a heartless woman getting her just deserts from a ghost, and "In the Seance Room" is delicately brutal in its depiction of a harsh man's confrontation with the shade of an abused wife. Others, like the title tale and "The Ghost in the Chair" and "The Missing Model" are unremarkable tales, save for their Victorian atmosphere.

This is a good collection for folks who like Victorian ghost stories, but it's a relatively unremarkable one, with no real ground broken and little to linger in the memory.

Birkin's Spawn of Satan suffers no Victorian delicacy. From 1970, this deals with modern horrors and surprisingly little of the supernatural. The title story may make you think of demonic terrors, but it's more a conte cruel about an idealistic mixed-race couple in a small conservative town and the buildup to acts of violence and revenge. "Wedding Presents" gives us a vicious murder and the murderer's attempts to cover the truth, in a story that would have been a perfect episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." And most of the stories are along that vein, tales of hatred and cruelty, and of their tendency to self-destruct, to the point that it becomes rather unpleasant reading. I had to put it down and walk away a few times. A little Birkin goes a long way.

Hope everyone's spring is going well, and you filed your taxes on time!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Two Recent Reads

The first Ellery Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, from 1929, is an interesting experience. The character hadn't quite gelled yet, and at the book's beginning is living in retirement in Italy with his father and also with his wife and child, and their manservant Djuna. (Not Djnma Barnes!) A friend meets them at random and convinces them to tell a tale of one of their cases. Ellery, as first introduced, is simultaneously a rough-n-ready athletic type but with the sensibilities of an effete snob a la Philo Vance. Murder happens in the Roman Theater in New York when sleazy lawyer Monte Field collapses during a performance, and it's soon revealed that he was poisoned. Who did it? Why? There's no shortage of suspects, as always...there's a woman he groped, his former law partner who detested him, the ex-con, and others. Why was Field sitting in the middle of a block of empty seats? And what is the significance of Fields' missing top hat? As it turns out, plenty. It's an enjoyable exercise although it's technique is better than its grace in style. The authors seem too absorbed in showing off their intricacies of plot than having any real literary strength, and sometimes the wiseguy attitude that comes across in the narration gets a little grating. Djuna will make many modern readers cringe as he's something of a stereotype, and while the final solution is indeed fair play, the motive behind the murder has dated badly and wouldn't raise an eyebrow today.

It's interesting to read the first book of the series; I've read a few others...Calamity Town, Cat of Many Tails, and And on the Eighth Day (which was partly ghostwritten by Avram Davidson)...and those had really literary depth, especially the third which functioned as both a detective story and a religious allegory. As the series progressed, the authors grew less obsessed with contrived plots and technical puzzle mysteries and the stories became more naturalistic and character-driven.The main character became more human and humane, and his wife and child were dropped from the narrative with no explanation.

The Roman Hat Mystery is out there in paperbacks and also as an ebook; it's an interesting historic curiosity, but I wouldn't recommend going out of your way for it.

Any reader of this blog should know I'm a fan of Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May series, and this just keeps things going. This time the Occupy movement is used not merely as a backdrop but also a plot element. In Bryant & May and the Burning Man Guy Fawkes Day is coming nigh, and an insider-trading scandal has protesters out in force, making a ruckus over corruption in England's banks. During all the hoo-ha, a man is burned to death in what first seemed like an accident, but the Peculiar Crimes Unit soon realizes is murder. There's a few more murders, and it becomes obvious that the murderer seems to be very carefully committing his crimes to whip up the crowds even more. The final climax comes on Guy Fawkes night and the plot revealed...

There's an odd air of finality about this book, as a couple of ongoing subplots in the series are resolved...one long-simmering love affair takes off, while another love affair ends, and a likable character leaves. And Bryant is starting to develop Alzheimer's and his normally labyrinthine brain becomes foggier and foggier. However, there are more in the series, thank goodness, but I wonder if Fowler was considering ending things there.

As always with Fowler, this is Require Reading.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A March Evening at the Phantom Concert Hall

It's an unexpectedly cold night, but hopefully it's the last seriously cold night of the season. We're dolled up in Bohemian finery as always, going out to a free concert at the music school. We need something to lift us up; it's been a rough month for everyone. Viola was ill, Ramsey had issues at work, Grace was in an auto accident, and I had the mopes and wasn't up for doing much at all.

The program brings stirrings of spring to our souls, thank goodness, and lets us put the difficulties of February behind us. Including some Vivaldi, because spring isn't complete without Vivaldi.



Sorry to be away, folks, I had a rough month, in between the mopes and some minor medical issues. I'll be around more, promise!


Sunday, February 10, 2019

February at the Phantom Cabaret!

The worst of the winter chill is (we hope) over, and our minds and bodies are starting to gear up for spring. The days are noticeably longer, there's been a few warm days, so we're ready for it.

Tonight, we're heading off to that little cabaret we know...you have to duck down a dark passageway between two buildings, and emerge in a beautifully appointed space, full of atmospheric lighting and comfortable seats, where the drinks are good and the music even better.

Tonight, we're hearing the Eastern European band Fishtank!



Sorry I've been slow to post again. My computer crashed and it took me a few days to reload Windows and while I was able to save my personal files, I had to reload all my programs. I'm a bit nervous about still working with this thing but I'm in no position to buy a new one, so here I am...

Don't worry, it's onward and upward!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Catching up on recent stuff...

OK, I haven't been a very good correspondent. I'm trying to get caught up now and here's a few things I've read lately....

The second volume of her Henry and Emmy Tibbett series, Down Among the Dead Men is a solid if unremarkable mystery novel. Henry and Emmy are on holiday again, visiting some friends for a sailing vacation in the seaside hamlet of Berrybridge Haven. They get involved with the local weekend sailing community, get to know the locals, and hear a tale of a somewhat mysterious death that happened some time ago. But then there's some tensions, some strangeness, and another murder. Who did it, and why? It all wraps up nicely, if a bit sadly; it's a tale of a somewhat minor crime that snowballed into some bigger ones. It's a pleasant read, with well-drawn characters, a good plot, and a setting that reminded me of some of the waterside towns on the Chesapeake that I've visited. You can always count on Patricia Moyes.

Now THIS is a classic. Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black is simply amazing. A beautiful woman works her way into the lives of a series of men, and kills them all in various ways. It's sheer noir delerium, one of the great examples of dark pulp noir fiction out there. It inspired a Francois Truffaut film, starring Jeanne Moreau...but if you like the movie, prepare yourself, because the movie makes a substantial change to the story, changing the nature of the crime that started her spree, and a devastating final twist is cut that changed everything. I had read the novel first and found the movie disappointing....but I have friends who saw the movie first and found the book a disappointment, so your actual mileage may vary. I find the book superior and I'm glad I've managed to hang on to it all these years....I first read it as a high-school student back in the 80s, and I was pleasantly surprised to see I still had it when I moved.

Michael Rowe's Wild Fell was simply infuriating for me. Parts of it are excellent, as it describes the narrator's boyhood and experiences that led to him buying an old house on an island on a lake in Canada. It goes fairly leisurely for a while, but I didn't mind, as there were hints of menace in the story and in a prelude about the house...but then in the last chapter everything seems cranked up to 11 and revelations come so rapidly that it's hard to keep track, and it's unclear if we're supposed to take them as literal truth or just lies. It reads as if the author had come to his page limit and had to wrap everything up in a hurry. If it had simply been bad, I could have wiped my hands and walked away, but in this case, Rowe has genuine grace as a stylist...but I felt his plotting needed work. A lot of work.

So, that brings me a few steps closer to being up to date...more to come....