Sunday, May 21, 2017

THE HELLFIRE FILES OF JULES DE GRANDIN by Seabury Quinn

The fifth in Popular Library's 1970's reprinting of selected de Grandin stories, this is the usual assortment of tales featuring the dashing French phantom-fighter.

There's not much of a running theme here as there was in the last volume, but it's still fun pulp nonsense. Interestingly, two tales in this volume, "The Great God Pan" and "Mephistopheles and Company, Ltd.," are mundane mysteries with the trappings of the supernatural. "Pan" has de Grandin coming across a Greek revival cult with a criminal at its head, and "Mephistopheles" has him assisting a woman being victimized by fake psychics.

Of the supernatural tales, there's "The Devil-People," about a Malaysian woman being pursued by the Rakshasas of Indian folklore. It's an OK story but there's some mild racism and religious chauvinism that taint the enjoyment somewhat...but you have to accept that as part of the pulp canon, the nature of the beast.

"Restless Souls" is a vampire story, but better than Quinn's previous assays at the creature. In this one, a young, newly-made vampire is under the control of an older vampire, and must do their bidding, including luring a lonely man to his destruction. It's a good plot, if a bit overly romantic and dramatic (but hell, it's pulp) and holds together well.

"The Wolf of Saint Bonnot" is a bit of a problem. There's a seance at a weekend house-party, and of course something hideous is raised that victimizes one of the participants. However, it comes out of nowhere...there's no connection and no reason given for why the seance raised that particular spirit. It just does, randomly. I wasn't quite down with that...I do like a tidy logic to things like this, rather than someone being tormented by a spirit from another time and place simply at random. It's not good storytelling, if you ask me.

"The Hand of Glory" is probably the best of the lot, a tale of supernatural rivalry as an archaeologist is planning to raise an ancient goddess, but must also combat a rival who wants the relics for himself. It's enjoyable fluff, with some darkness as it becomes clear one of the main characters is more than happy to sacrifice a loved one to achieve his aims.

All in all, not bad, and I always enjoy de Grandin. And wouldn't you know it...just as I finished this, I found out that now all of Quinn's de Grandin stories, the entire canon, are to be reprinted, with the first volume out now. Dangit! More money to be spent!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May at the Phantom Cabaret!

Between two shops, one selling martial arts supplies, the other a sub shop, is a narrow passage with a tiny sign indicating some sort of establishment lies back that way. Only the most discerning know of it...well, really, quite a few know, but few actually make the trouble to go there. We're going there tonight, in hopes of some good drinks and good music.

It turns out to be a lovely and elegant place, and with surprisingly reasonable prices. The staff greet us warmly and give us a good table where we can see the stage. The drinks and good and there's some unique creations on the menu. And then....the entertainment!



The music is impressive and we have a great time. We actually have a chance to chat with the performers (who, luckily, have access to a back entrance so they don't have to negotiate that narrow passage...).

And who are those folks at that other table, looking at us? Should we start a conversation?


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Happy Walpurgisnacht! And Happy Ninth Birthday!

Hope everyone's having a good time tonight, whatever you're doing! And I've been plugging away at this for nine years! Wow....

Two in the Mountains

Recently, I read two books back-to-back with somewhat similar settings, so I thought, why not review them together?

Dead Men Don't Ski is the first novel by Patricia Moyes, who started it while down with a broken leg (after a ski accident). Published in 1959, it's redolent of the kind of travel and lifestyle available to Britons abroad in the 1950s.

Scotland Yard Inspector Henry Tibbett is going on a ski holiday with his beloved wife Emmy, to the (fictitious) town of Santa Chiara in the Italian Alps. However, it's a working holiday; there's something suspicious going on at the place they'll be staying, and Henry's asked to keep an eye open for clues. The Albergo Bella Vista is indeed full of odd characters, but when the loathsome Hauser boards the ski lift (the only way to the hotel) at bottom a living man, and is dead when he reaches the top, the mystery kicks into full gear.

Everyone staying in the hotel has a secret...there's the Bright Young Things fresh from London, and the dour German family of Hauser's fiancee, and the stodgy British couple, and the glamorous Austrian baroness, and the dashing ski instructor. Everything moves at just the right pace, with descriptions of the town and the life people are leading done in great detail. The first couple of chapters detail the journey from London (train to Dover, a crossing over the channel, an overnight train to Innsbruck, a change to a local train to Chiusa, and then a local skier's special to Santa Chiara), and the hotel and townspeople depicted in loving detail. One is very conscious that this is just after WWII and it's still lingering in people's minds.

The conclusion is satisfying and enjoyable, and along the way there's good detective work (by both Henry and Emmy, who are an effective team) and some good characterizations. I found myself liking Colonel Buckfast, the male half of the stodgy British couple, and feeling compassion for him. But nearly everyone is likable here, and you enjoy the time spent.

This launched a long-running series that kept going until the late 80s, and I have them all...

Murder on the Matterhorn, published in 1951, is the second in a series of mountain-climbing-themed mysteries by Glyn Carr, featuring as detective a Shakespearean actor named Ambercromie Lewker, known as "Filthy" to his friends. (Get it? Filthy Lewker? Yeah, it's a bit too cute. Bear with me.) Lewker is off to Zermatt to spend a climbing holiday on the Matterhorn, and while there meets Leon Jacot, a former Resistance leader, now a wealthy sportsman who's going into politics. There's tensions and a death threat sent to Jacot, seemingly from an anti-communist activist group. (Jacot may be leaning toward Communism, which alarms some.) But then Jacot turns up dead one morning, seemingly after attempting an ill-advised solo climb up the Matterhorn in less-than-ideal conditions. Lewker, however, spots the body's condition and clues that he was suffocated, not killed in a fall, and investigates. Who is responsible? Were his political ambitions to blame?

Carr's knack for characterization is sometimes a bit lacking, but he knows his mountain climbing. (His real name was Showell Styles, and he was an accomplished climber.) His descriptions of climbing are his strength, and the plot holds up well. He does a decent job of describing Zermatt and the Swiss ambience, but he's not Patricia Moyes in that regard. (I love books with a good sense of place, and that's always a factor when I review books. Don't set a book in Hong Kong or Prague when you don't go out in the environment at all, and it might as well be Cleveland.)

It's also interesting to get into that early 50s mindset of anti-Communist paranoia, which was also a factor in his previous book, Death on Milestone Buttress.

It's not up to Moyes, who was a real wordsmith, but it's still enjoyable, and I'll probably read more in the series as I can find them....

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An April Night Out at the Cinema!

April has come and it's an unexpectedly chilly night. At least the frequent rains seem to be washing away the pollen that has given us so many problems.

Dinner at the usual place is a cheery affair, with the chef sending out samples of new menu items and the owner giving us a round of drinks on the house. After the bill is settled, we stroll up the street to that shabby but comfortable old theater for this month's movie.

Tonight, the show is the 1935 thriller Death from a Distance!



This is an old Poverty Row work, but given some extra polish by some professional special effects work, significant for the time and budget. Watch and enjoy!

The show over, we amble up the street for a final drink....and hey, the ticket-taker with the tattoos and biceps is joining us tonight!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

MR. FORTUNE, PLEASE by H. C. Bailey

I went looking for more of Bailey's Mr. Fortune mysteries out there....there is so little available other than the first book! What a crime! You'd think, with all the reprinting and ebooks going on out there, someone would have pounced on Bailey....but so far, not much.

I got hold of this collection of stories through interlibrary loan, and there's some more available, plus I may have to shop on Ebay or Amazon for used copies, which seem to mostly exist in the UK.

Anyway, for the contents...

"The Missing Husband" has a tale of a husband who disappears one day, only to turn up a few days later, dead, in an easily findable spot near his house. What is going on? To be honest, this was my least favorite story in the book, and I almost thought it may have been a bad idea to get this book in the first place. The minute the story was over, I forgot it. That's not good.

But...."The Cat Burglar," the second story, makes up for it. It's a dashing tale of jewel thieves and murder, in a glamorous setting of London society. And it also has some surprising material for a Golden Age mystery story that I won't reveal here, but it's easily spotted.

"The Lion Party" has Fortune investigating a jewel robbery at a high-society party of notorious people, and while the solution may be a bit unsatisfying, it does look into the psychology of those involved. "The Violet Farm" has Fortune looking in on a friend's daughter, getting entangled in a murder and scandal, and eventually finding treasure. "The Quiet Lady" has a woman accused of murder, but an unexpected witness clears up the case. And "The Little House" is a story I've reviewed before.

The language is graceful, and it's also a bit daring for Golden Age stories in depicting police corruption and child abuse, as well as Society characters who are venal and shallow. It's actually very modern for something from 1927.

Anyway, recommended....if you can find it. Back to the library it goes!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

At the Phantom Concert Hall

So, tonight we're at the concert hall again, for something different. VERY different.

Tonight's program includes a very modern piece, Robert Paterson's 2013 composition "Ghost Theater," The name isn't just a postmodern joke; this is really meant to depict a derelict theater haunted by ghosts and shadows, and the specters of soldiers killed in combat.

Give it a listen....



I know, this is very out-of-character for me. I'm normally much more traditional in my music selections, but I'm trying to avoid being stodgy. I saw this performed live here in Baltimore a few weeks ago, and it made an impression.

So...who's up for a drink?