Monday, December 28, 2009

In-Between Week Notes

OK, I've been bad this month. Very, very bad. I'm so sorry. Work was busy, and I had the holidays creeping up. I've been more than usually unprepared for them this year, and the dreaded DC Snowpocalypse ended up postponing my yearly holiday party till after the New Year. But, for whatever reason, it's been hard for me to concentrate on my blog-related reading.

I have read some good books this month, few of which really qualify for this blog. Calvin Trillin's ALICE, LET'S EAT, for instance, which is fun food writing but hardly D&C material. OK, I admit, good D&Cers appreciate good food and good booze, but still.

Another good book was closer, Jeff Vandermeer's FINCH. I read that to review for Amazon, and it had one of the best reviews I've ever written. FINCH is more fantasy/sci-fi, really, but is fairly close to D&C material. It's basically a hard-boiled police procedural mystery, only in a fantasy city, Ambergris, the setting of some other Vandermeer works. In this, Ambergris has been invaded by Grey Caps, fungoid beings from beneath the earth, and the city is under occupation, and Finch (not his real name) is a detective assigned to investigate a mysterious death. It leads him into all directions, delving into resistance movements, spies from other city-states, petty criminals, and any number of other elements. It's sometimes rather disturbing in its depiction of a fellow detective whose body is being slowly taken over by fungus, or the descriptions of things like boats and buildings that give suspiciously under the narrator's feet and hands. It's like something from Cronenberg, circa NAKED LUNCH or VIDEODROME. A great read, and you don't need to read his other Ambergris stuff to understand it.

And, a personal milestone for me, I finally got through a Dickens work, an audio version of A TALE OF TWO CITIES. Breaking it up into bite-sized bits over a couple of months actually made it halfway palatable. And just when I was finishing it up, I found out about an interesting-sounding novel, A FAR BETTER REST by Susanne Alleyn, that's basically TALE from Sidney Carton's point of view, and giving a more historically accurate view of the French Revolution and the Terror. And REST turned out to be actually a lot of fun, with loads of good historical detail and also pleasing in its treatment of Sidney Carton, TALE's tragic antihero (because, let's face it, the "official" romantic heroes, Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette, are dull as ditchwater), who's given real psychological depth and reasons for doing the things he does. REST also delves into an issue that Dickens never addressed...why do Sidney Carton and Charles Darnay look alike?

Also, it turns out Alleyn has a mystery series set in Revolution-era Paris, which I should delve into. That could be fun.

Finally, on Christmas Day, my sister and her husband took me out to see SHERLOCK HOLMES. Now, I had misgivings about it, to be honest...I like Robert Downey Jr. a lot, but as Holmes? Jude Law as Watson? Well, I have to admit...there were some aspects of it I didn't like much, but overall I did find it an entertaining film. The story involves black magic and Dan-Brown-ish conspiracies involving a Freemason analogue, but it did have an appropriately Holmesian conclusion. Rachel McAdams was a pretty good Irene Adler, although I'd love to see Carole Nelson Douglas' version of Adler brought to the big screen at some point. It has some respect for the source material, unlike Laurie King's "Mary Sue" version of the Holmes canon (as you can guess, I dislike her works intensely), and does address an aspect of Holmes that is frequently overlooked: his physicality. While brilliant mentally, Holmes was also an excellent boxer (according to Watson) and could more than hold his own in a fight. Still, sometimes I wasn't entirely comfortable with the Ritchie/Downey beefcake Holmes, especially when they sexed him up a bit with broad hints of an on-and-off affair with Adler. But it's never dull, the plot is comprehensible, if a bit overly baroque (then again, the same was sometimes said of Doyle), and visually interesting. It's also a kissing cousin to Pitof's VIDOCQ, which I need to write about someday, as that flick was one of the things that got me moving to create this blog.

What's coming up? I've got the week off, but I'm looking into enhancing the wardrobe and doing some other things. Not sure yet what I'm doing for New Year's, and if the weather's ugly I may just stay home. I know, sounds pathetic, but I'd rather stay home than risk my neck on slippery streets. I've got a lot to read, including some more Wakefield stories, so stay tuned.

And just for the heck of it, here's a recent shot of my parents' cat, Lobo, snoozing in his favorite spot. This oughtta bring in the cute kitty lovers.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

THE CLOCK STRIKES 12 by H. R. Wakefield

Actually, it's more like "stories from THE CLOCK STRIKES 12" since this paperback, despite the ultra-cool cover illustration (by an uncredited artist), is not the full text of Wakefield's 1940 collection, but "highlights", one supposes.

H. Russell Wakefield is one of the great giants of the traditional English ghost story, but this collection is not his best work; in fact, this marks the start of Wakefield's decline, when his work was marred by sadistic endings and trite revenge plots. And I have to say...few of the stories in this book are particularly memorable, although some have their moments.

So, to do a rundown...

"Into Outer Darkness" is the basic tale of two people spending a night in a haunted room and experiencing Horrible Things. It's hard for me to be thrilled by this because it's got the sort of ending that I've heard a million times before; I can't be sure if this was the first or what. But it doesn't seem fresh.

"The Alley" tells of how Vulgar Rich People buy an Old House With A Haunted Room, and then Horrible Things happen. Despite its clunky plot, I have to admit, it's got some moments of shuddersome atmosphere and the haunting is given an interesting backstory.

"Jay Walkers" isn't much of a story, more like a padded vignette about a haunted stretch of road, and an investigation into the backstory. Again, it has some moments of atmosphere, but that's about it.

"Ingredient X" has a gentleman of reduced circumstances renting a room in a boarding house that, of course, is haunted. Not terribly exciting or memorable.

"'I Recognized the Voice'" is a blah tale of psychic visions of murder. "Farewell Performance" is something that's now a familiar theme, a ventriloquist's dummy taking on a life of its own. Maybe original in its time, but after seeing a billion variations on the theme, it's not terribly interesting.

"In Collaboration" is a revenge tale of a writer who steals a friend's idea for a novel, and later finds himself hounded by the friend's ghost and unable to come up with any original ideas himself. OK for what it is. "Lucky's Grove" is one I've read before, a pointlessly nasty story of a Vulgar Rich Family that chops a Christmas tree from a grove sacred to Loki, and the Horrible Things that result.

"Happy Ending" also blah, of a psychic flash of a possible suicide. "The First Sheaf" is probably the most interesting of the lot, a tale of human sacrifice and pagan practices in a remote corner of England. "Used Car" is simply dreadful, a trite tale of a haunted automobile. And the closer, "Death of a Poacher," is another of those stories that I read twice and can't retain anything of it.

It almost pains me to be so harsh of someone who's a star of the ghost story canon, but this collection is definitely some of Wakefield's lesser work. Some of it is just flat-out bad. So many of these stories have hackneyed plot devices, but I will freely admit that it's possible they only seem hackneyed sixty years after they were published, after being repeated over and over until they're worn to a nub. But none of the freshness has remained.

Still, that cover illustration is great. If anyone can figure out the artist, I'd love to hear it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I freely admit I'm a total science nerd, and Sherlock Holmes should be near and dear to every Dust & Corruption reader. I'll be honest, I don't plan on covering much about Holmes here, mainly because there's tons of other sites that do it much better than I do. But we're Holmes-friendly here.

And forensic science is fun. Of course, there's the whole CSI phenomenon. But for me, it goes even further back. When I was a tender youth, in the late 70s and early 80s, I remember getting a plastic "Crime Lab" set one Christmas and immediately going mad taking fingerprints and bagging "evidence." Later I got a "Build-Your-Own Lie Detector" set that I loved, and I recall my high-school friends having fun with it at gatherings.

So looking at Victorian-era forensics is right up my alley. And author E. J. Wagner does a good job. This isn't in-depth; it's light pop science, but it's good light pop science.

Chapter by chapter, he examines different facets of criminal science in Victorian times, not only looking at their development but where they went in more modern times. Autopsies, superstitions, insects, toxicology, disguises, crime scene analysis, the Bertillon method, ballistics, goes on and on. She gives glimpses into the personalities of those involved, like Bertillon's arrogance, or Edmond Locard's dry sense of humor.

Oh...who was Bertillon? Alphonse Bertillon was a French police officer and biometrics researcher who established a system of measurements (finger length, width of head, etc.) that were recorded at the time of arrest and later used to identify criminals. He predated fingerprinting and when they were developed, he resisted adding them to his system...and as we're all aware, fingerprinting is now the most prevalent ID system used by the police. However, Bertillon established the standards for mug shots and crime scene photography, so he's not completely forgotten.

Edmond Locard was "the Sherlock Holmes of France," a pioneer in forensic science who established "Locard's exchange principle," or "every contact leaves a trace," and also founded the first police laboratory in Lyons. He died in 1966, with a huge career behind him.

Wagner peppers the book with all sorts of true crime stories from the past, such the story of Jessie M'Lachlan, a Scottish woman convicted by way of a footprint in Glasgow in 1862, or the Tulle poison-pen case, a 20's affair in which a French town was flooded with vicious, obscene letters accusing townspeople of various affairs and sexual transgressions; the perp turned out to be highly religious, leading Locard to comment, "There is nothing so dirty as the dreams of a saint." (The Tulle case served as inspiration for Henri-George Clouzot's 1943 film LE CORBEAU, which I may review someday.)

It's a fun, zesty read that goes along at a good pace. Not too gristly, to be sure, but good gruesome fun for your commute, or at bedtime.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ten Years Later: Hikin' in Blair Witch Country

One day, the week before Halloween, I decided to take a hike up at Seneca Creek State Park, where the majority of the forest footage in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was filmed. I'd been there before the film was made, and always meant to go back at some point, but now that it's the film's tenth anniversary, I thought what the hell, laced up the hiking boots, packed a lunch, and drove up there.

The area had been the site of a mill in the 1700s, then was a prosperous farm and mill, and even had a woolen factory in the mid-1800s. The business went into a decline, and the land was acquired by the state in 1955, with a reservoir being created twenty years later. Much of the forest there is new-growth; this isn't the deep primal woods you'll find in the mountains to the west, but it's still evocative.

I thought that maybe, just maybe, they'd have something about the movie at the ranger's office...but nada. Instead, the focus there was mostly on frisbee golf and preparations for a drive-through holiday light display.

It was a gray, overcast day, and it had been raining for a few days previous, so it was fairly damp conditions for hiking. I'd watched the film the night before so I kept my eyes open for any locations that I recognized. However...only a small portion of the park has hiking trails; much of the rest is undeveloped and it was probably that portion that was the BWP locations.

Still, I got some good snaps...

This rock grabbed my interest...looks like a great landmark for secret meetings.

This pine grove might have been the place where the BWP kids found all those stick figures hanging from tree branches. But I can't be positive. The trails took me through several pine groves, but this one looks like the best candidate.

The trail crossed a road that led to a picnic area, but it was barricaded for whatever reason; probably closed in the off-season. From here I could see all the lights they were setting up for the holiday, but I did my best to keep them out of my photos. I found it slightly obscene to be walking through the woods, my thoughts deep in supernatural terrors, only to emerge from the woods and find signs pointing to "Teddy Bear Land."

Another pine grove had this alarming find, a deer leg hooked over a branch. Someone has a sick sense of humor, I thought, but I made sure to move on as quickly as I could, just in case.

Although the colors are past their peak, Clopper Lake was still pretty. (I was VERY careful to keep the light-display sea-serpent and jumping fishes out of the frame!)

Another view of Clopper Lake; you could imagine some horrible phantom rising from the depths. The lake is an artificial reservoir that covers the remnants of the woolen factory, as well as the ruins of a mill and flume. Hm...perhaps there's a story waiting to be told there?

Another interesting old rock, in slightly clearer land. Perhaps the meeting place of a witches' coven?

This lonesome pine tree stands in a clear area by the lake.

I ate my lunch in another pine grove, this one a picnic area. It was a Thursday so there was hardly anyone there at all, and those who were, were technicians working on the holiday lights. I read a few stories in the book I had with me, munching a sandwich and an apple, and then just sat, taking in the forest air. There's so much about the deep dark forest that excites the imagination, and depending on my mood could have me thinking of horror movies, or fairy tales, or anything. And that's probably why so many people found BWP to be so effective...the forest, so deep and primal, evokes much of our imaginations, and for too many who only know urban or suburban existences, the forest is a haven for our deepest fears.

The ironic thing about Seneca Creek is that suburban development is only a few miles down the road. It's really become developed up there since I was last through, alarmingly so. Thank goodness for parks, I thought, driving home.

As an aside, Friends of the Montgomery County Library has a bookstore not far from the park, so I went shopping after I was done. Cool find: a 30's edition of the Hardy Boys mystery THE SINISTER SIGN POST. And for you bibliophiles out there, have you discovered Book Sale Finder? And another aside, I used the route described in Alan Fisher's Country Walks Near Washington, so if you're in the DC area, go scrounge up a copy.

So take time out and go explore the woods near where you live. You may find some fun and adventure, or at least stimulate your imagination.

Monday, November 9, 2009


A treasured memory I have is of a blissful day spent in Charleston, SC, just wandering the streets of the old town, poking here and there. I took a ghost tour in the evening that was entertaining, with some fun old stories told by a local folklorist. (As it turns out, there's about a half-dozen different kinds of ghost tours in Charleston, making for quite a vacation if one is in the mood.) So when I stumbled on a very old copy of John Bennett's THE DOCTOR TO THE DEAD at the local library, I pounced on it.

Such a great subtitle: "Grotesque Legends & Folk Tales of Old Charleston." And it certainly delivers.

The title story is the longest, the tale of a man with the unlikely name of "Hein Ryngo" who becomes a doctor obsessed with death, to the point of falling in love with a ghost, and doing unspeakable acts in his attempts to bring her back. It's all very Southern-Gothick, and almost seems like something out of Hoffmann or Erckmann-Chatrian. The book's only illustration is a depiction of the doctor's narrow house, that certainly looks intriguing and Gothick...

Another intriguing story is "The Death of the Wandering Jew," that holds that the legendary character is buried in a Charleston cemetery after achieving forgiveness. There's also tales of deals with the devil, like "Madame Margot," in which a mixed-race mother makes a deal for her daughter to be white (and have better chances in life), and "The Black Constable," where a reckless lawman pays the price for his arrogance. And three "Tales from the Trapman Street Hospital" that tell of restless spirits, thirsting for water or simply going through the motions of life.

The rest of the book is tales told to the author by various African Americans of Charleston. Bennett is never condescending or patronizing of African American people or their culture; he allows them their dignity and from what I can tell, he was very open-minded and forward-thinking for his time. (I caught a bit of gossip that although he collected his stories in the 1920s, this book was never published until the 40s because so few people were interested in reading about the tales of African Americans, due to sheer racism.) The tales range from fairy tales (like "All God's Chillen Has Wings") or humorous morality stories ("The Young Wife Whose Vine Meloned Beyond the Fence") or simple ghost stories ("When the Dead Sang in Their Graves"). There's stories of "Rolling Rio," a heroically strong fisherman, that make me think of tales I've read of "Lickin'" Bill Bradshaw, a sort of folk hero of the Chesapeake, and I wonder if these tales of tall strong fishermen are just part and parcel of the areas where that's how folks made their living.

"The Apothecary and the Mermaid" has vague echoes of Lovecraft, or even Fitz-James O'Brien, maybe. And I've read "The Man Who Wouldn't Believe He Was Dead" before, adapted as a children's story, but it's a wry, humorous gem of a contrary man who dies, and won't be convinced that he's dead.

The last three stories are told entirely in Gullah dialect. Some people don't have a problem, but I can't stand dialect stories, even Stevenson's "Thrawn Janet." Emily Bronte pushes me a bit with her dialect passages in WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I tried, I really did, but they're too much for me.

THE DOCTOR TO THE DEAD has been reprinted and is available on Amazon, so if you're a fan of folklore, or fond of Charleston, or southern culture, go pick one up. This is a delightful gem, unjustly forgotten.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Halloween Debriefing

Sheesh, what a season.

I took the week before Halloween off, and I needed it. Work's been more than a bit insane, and I love, love, LOVE taking time in fall. You can enjoy the colors and take in all the local attractions because in DC the tourists clear out in fall.

On Friday the 23rd, I went to Belly Horror, a Halloween belly-dancing show that is growing every year, and this time encompassed a series of performances and workshops. Performers came in from Georgia, California, New York, and Massachusetts to take part, and it's hoped that this will develop into an even bigger belly-dance festival.

It was a great show, with lots of fun, innovative performances. The one down part, for me, was a scene that used the David Bowie song "As the World Falls Down," from the movie LABYRINTH. It wasn't a bad performance, actually one of the nicer ones, but...well...that song Has Memories, and I was feeling a little vulnerable that evening. We'll just leave it there.

The next night was the Second Annual Silver Spring Zombie Walk. That was a lot of fun, although a different experience from last year. I was totally on my own this year; several friends had expressed interest but in the end nobody could make it, so I was the Lonesome Ghoul. (That's me above.) We had about four times as many people participating this year as last year, so when I tried to get a burger in the Quarry House, it turned out to be too insanely crowded for me to get anyone's attention. I ended up ducking out and going to the Big Greek Cafe nearby, where they know me (I get lunch there a lot), and they greeted me with amused affection. And when it started...well, it didn't have some of the shock value that it had last year. Actually, as we lurched down the Ellsworth Promenade, with the "norms" on either side, snapping pics, I kinda felt like I was in a parade. At one point I held up my arms so a toddler in arms could chop at me with a plastic axe; the warm smile from his parents cheered me up a little. But some of the spontaneity was gone.

We staggered into the AFI Silver for a showing of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which was OK although I missed the opening remarks and some of the pre-show chaos because I was stuck in the beer line for freakin' ever, and didn't get my booze and a seat until after the movie had started. Ugh. Eventually I got home and cleaned up, but am even more determined to build up a posse for next year.

As for my week...I roamed downtown, did some housecleaning, did a bit of hiking (actually to be described in a later post) and had a pleasant, relaxing time. DC in the fall is great...uncrowded, easy to get around. Screw the cherry blossoms...the Tidal Basin in autumn is lovely...

And then on Friday was the yearly tradition of NOSFERATU with live music from the Silent Orchestra, which is always a good time. I assembled with some friends, grabbed dinner at another of my favorites, Thai Flavor, and we all enjoyed ourselves. It's interesting going to multiple performances, as the score always varies a bit, a constantly evolving piece of work.

Halloween night was spent at a friend's party, having a fun time and reconnecting with some friends I hadn't seen in a while, and talking smack about people who weren't there. Yes, I mean you. And you. And...yeah, you over there.

And then this past week has been spent catching up on all the stuff I missed at the office while I was out. And I'm still not caught up. I am close, though.

So it's shaping up to be a nice November here, and I'm already making plans for Thanksgiving. I've got more stuff to talk about, some books to read, and all sorts of fun to have....

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

It's the big day, folks, and I hope you have something going! If not, find something, or else just curl up with a good book or movie. Whatever makes you feel good.

I'll be reporting soon on all that I've done lately...I've either been too busy or too exhausted to write much.

But in the meantime, here's some fun:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Putting the Die in DIY

My friends at CampBlood put together this charming video of assorted Halloween projects. I'd do the Lady's Fingers if my oven could be counted on to actually work...but the makeup hints may come in handy. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Assorted October Stuff

The month's nearly over. I hope everyone's having a good one.

I neglected to mention that I was again invited to the dress rehearsal for Goatman Hollow. It's a new story this year, with some new effects, and my friend Steve and I had a hell of a good time. It's on for two more weekends, folks, so go see it if you can. I'm not sure I'll be able to go for the full production (in between other October stuff), but at least I got my usual wonderful behind-the-scenes peek.

I recently read Anthony Eglin's THE WATER LILY CROSS. For all the praise I heaped on him before...oh my lord, folks, he really dropped the ball on this one. He seemed to be trying for more intrigue this time, but it never comes together. There's an interesting concept (a chase after a hybridized water lily that's capable of desalinating sea water naturally), but the hero blunders into some very obvious traps and makes a bunch of basic mistakes, and in the final summation, the author makes a MAJOR timeline error, forgetting the order that things took place earlier in the book. That's just unpardonable.

And, aside from the usual, I've finished up the first phase of some dental work (I had a crown done) and with all the bills I've had to be careful with my expenses. I sometimes wonder if I should put up a "Donate" button for my book/DVD/movie ticket budget. We'll see.

So get out there, folks, do some fun Halloween stuff, and report back. Really. I mean it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Poe Funeral

This past Sunday I dressed all in black and drove up to Baltimore, to be an onlooker at this year's big Poe event, the Poe Funeral.

When Edgar Allan Poe died back in 1849, there were only seven mourners and a scant mention in the local press. The first major obit to hit the media was Rufus Griswold's hatchet job that sadly endured, and many people thought it was the truth about Edgar A.

So since this is the Poe Bicentennial, it was decided to give Edgar A. the send-off he deserved. It was a lovely cool October afternoon, a good day for a funeral, and I was sure to bring my camera (especially since they made it known that non-flash photography was allowed during the ceremony).

So, here's a bunch of images, and memories...

I was lucky to get there when I the time I had parked the car, I heard the bagpipes coming down the street.

The hearse. The guy in modern dress is Jeff Jerome, director of Baltimore's Poe Museum.

Assorted mourners, following the hearse. The guy in the short hat and overcoat is my friend John Spitzer, who was playing the part of Rufus Griswold.

Two of the mourners who were actually there as themselves...editor/anthologist Ellen Datlow, and illustrator/author Gris Grimly.

"H. P. Lovecraft" and "Charles Baudelaire."

The crowd at the entrance to Westminster Hall, which used to be a church, and is where Poe is buried. It was quite a madhouse, and probably about half the folks there did not have tickets for the funeral, but were there to just get some photos. There were also assorted news crews; CNN, NPR, and the BBC, among other groups, covered the funeral.

The pallbearers carrying the coffin into Westminster Hall.

The photo-mania when the coffin was brought into the venue.

The assemblage of mourners at the funeral. From left to right: Actors portraying H. B. Latrobe, Rufus Griswold, Sarah Helen Whitman, Nathaniel P. Willis, George Lippard, Marie Louise Shew, Dr. John Moran, Walt Whitman, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. P. Lovecraft, and Alfred Hitchcock. Then there's Ellen Datlow and Gris Grimly.

Soprano Paula McCabe opened by singing "O God Our Help in Ages Past." Violinist Ivan Stefanovic performed some lovely pieces, but unfortunately I didn't recognize them and they weren't listed in the program.

Master of ceremonies John Astin.

First speaker was H. B. Labrobe, who was the editor who first brought Poe's poetry to public notice. Next up was Rufus Griswold...and seldom have I seen an actor do such a complete character assassination on the person he was playing. Spitzer read portions of Griswold's obituary, and played up Griswold's pretentiousness and disdain for anything southern. John and I hung out after the show for a while, and he told me that when Griswold died (not too long after Poe) there were only three decorations in his room: a portrait of himself, a portrait of Frances Osgood (a poet that Poe may have had an affair with, according to John Evangelist Walsh), and a portrait of Poe. Spitzer calls it an "asexual love/hate relationship" which is something I've always speculated about. I've always had my suspicions about Poe, despite his love life, and Griswold's venom just makes me wonder. Or am I reading too much into it?

Next up was Sarah Helen Whitman (if memory serves, this was a park ranger from Philadelphia's Poe House, who does Whitman as part of her interpretation). Whitman had been briefly engaged to Poe, not long before he died, and she definitely had balls; she was the only writer of the period to stand up to Griswold's libelous treatment of Poe (everyone else was afraid of what Griswold could do to their careers). I've seen this lady several times and I've always enjoyed her performances. Whitman was a gutsy gal who still loved Poe and defended him to the end, no matter what it did to her reputation. To make a stand like that, for someone you cared for, takes nerve, and she had it, in spades. Following her was Nathaniel Willis, editor of "The Evening Mirror," which first published "The Raven."

Author George Lippard, a friend of Poe, but a rather controversial character himself (I hope to review his THE QUAKER CITY in the not-too-distant-future; I actually held a first edition in my hands over the summer). I believe this was actor Tony Tsendeas, and he was fiery in his defense of Poe and his condemnation of Griswold (ending by throwing a cup of water in Griswold's face, which was ad-libbed). After him was Marie Louise Shew, a nurse who saw Poe's wife through her final illness, and reportedly helped inspire Poe's poem "The Bells." Then there was Dr. John Moran, who treated Poe after he was found in the gutter and was the last person to see Poe alive.

Then we moved on to people inspired by Poe...which included Walt Whitman, who actually met Poe, briefly. (Again, I wonder about Poe. Nobody wonders about Whitman.) He was followed by Charles Baudelaire, who first translated Poe into French, and helped generate a European cult of Poe. Then there was Arthur Conan Doyle, who gave homage to Poe as a progenitor of the detective short story.

H. P. Lovecraft gave a reading from "The Necronomicon" and talked about Poe's contribution to horror fiction. Then Alfred Hitchcock talked about the debt he owed to Poe.

Then the "real" guests showed up. Ellen Datlow discussed editing her recent anthology, POE. (Which I will review soon, I promise.)

And Gris Grimly talked about his illustrated adaptation of Poe for children.

Another friend, actor John Redfield (director of THE DEATH OF POE) gave his personal tribute.

I had brought along a copy of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, with a cover illustration by Edward Gorey, and got shots of it on Poe's original grave, then the new grave.

I had a great time, honoring one of my literary idols. There were two funerals, and I found out the next day that a total of 700 people showed up to pay their respects. And it was fun seeing the wide variety of people who were there, from goth teens to senior citizens. A big thanks to Mark Redfield, John Spitzer, and Jeff Jerome (especially Jeff, who got me a good seat); it was a lovely afternoon. This is a special year, and the funeral was a great way to honor one of THE most influential American writers. I don't care if you're a horror fan or not...this was a celebration of American letters, and of someone who was a major influence worldwide and whose influence is still felt today. Poe deserves honor and respect.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Blood Sweat & Fears II: Guilty Pleasures

Molotov does it again!

Last night was the opening of Molotov's latest show, "Blood Sweat & Fears II: Guilty Pleasures," a delicious cabaret of three short plays, all introduced with zest by hostess Katie Molinaro.

First up was "Jack," an adaptation of an 1897 play (by Oscar Metenier) from the original Grand Guignol theater. The focus here is on suspense and terror, as a prostitute begins to realize that her current john, Jack, is really a serial killer. Second was a modern smut farce, "Thank You," by Carro Marren and Jon Lane. It opens with former mental patient Jacob, who's kidnapped Kevin. Turns out Kevin unknowingly did Jacob a good turn, and Jacob has brought him over for a happy few days. However, things take a very perversely hilarious turn (and I won't say how). Last up was Tara Garwood's "Is the Coffee Still Warm?" (freely adapted from the play "Coals of Fire" by Frederick Witney), which was a serious shocker. A wealthy blind woman is being read to by her servant, and in the course of the action, confesses that she's having an affair with her boss' husband. Naturally, blind fury arises with a gruesome revenge.

It's is about 10,000 different kinds of wrong, and in all the right ways. Lucas Maloney's direction is top-notch; he understand the material and lets the macabre humor run at full throttle. The cast has a great time with the material. Katie Molinaro is the quintessential vamp in her hostess role. Jenny Donovan is most effective in two fear-struck roles, the prostitute in the first play and the timid servant in the third. Newcomer Misia Certe is great fun, as the Madame in the first and the vengeful blind woman in the third. Kevin Finklestein is great fun as Jacob, a genuine comic talent. And Alex Zavistovich's burly presence is vital to this show; he's the perfect Jack in the first part and few actors have the balls to pull off what Kevin does in the second part. He's gifted with comedy but when he's the menace, he's almost a Tod Slaughter for the 21st century. All the gory parts come together in a gloriously hideous evening of fun.

Be warned, folks: stuff gets splattered on the audience. They provide plastic to protect one's self, but substances go out into the audience, including simulacra of blood and another bodily fluid. I wasn't quick enough on the draw and my favorite embroidered t-shirt got splattered...although since it's a horror-themed shirt, it's appropriate. (The program above was on the seat next to me. The bloodstains are not part of the design.) I'm told it'll wash off. But it did put me in a certain mood; I strutted out of the place, confident that nobody would fuck with me on the Metro ride home. And nobody did.

"Blood Sweat & Fears II: Guilty Pleasures" plays through 10/31, Wednesday through Sunday at 8:00pm, with a second show on Saturdays at 11:00. It's playing at 1409 Playbill Cafe, 1409 14th St NW, Washington DC. See it, folks, this is Dust & Corruption bliss.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An odd vignette

Last night, just after sunset, I walked down to the local liquor store for a bottle of wine. It's only a few blocks and it seemed silly to drive. By the time I was going back with a nice bottle of Spanish white, I had an odd experience.

I was walking along a stretch of sidewalk that ran next to a high hedge. I had looked ahead at one point and there was no one in front of me. I looked down, then up again and saw a silhouetted figure a few yards in front of me. I stumbled a bit on something on the sidewalk, and when I looked up again, it was gone.

Now, there are two entrances in that hedge, one a walk up to a house, and the other opens on the driveway. It's possible that someone just emerged from the entrance to the house, and then went down the driveway. But I looked down the driveway and saw nothing...and it's gravel, and I did not hear the characteristic crunch.

What was it? I'm not much of a believer; I'm a confirmed atheist and while I enjoy stories of the supernatural, I don't believe in them. But still, it was an unsettling event. I only saw the figure for a few moments; it could have just been my imagination. Who knows? I'll have to go down that sidewalk again, around the same time of day, and see what happens.

But I'm sure that could be the basis of a story...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mysterious, Decadent, Spooky or Hidden DC, Part Two: The Temperance Fountain

A Temperance Fountain?

At 7th and Pennsylvania NW, just across the street from the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro stop, is one of DC's stranger monuments, the Temperance Fountain. Donated to the city in 1882 by dentist Henry Cogswell, it was one of a number of such fountains constructed in various cities (I think I've seen a photo of one in San Francisco) with the goal of providing water as an alternative to alcoholic beverages.

The dolphins would spew water, and there was a brass cup that one could use to scoop up water for you or your horse to drink. Well, I think they're supposed to be dolphins, even though they have scales.

Carvings on the side extol such virtues as Hope, Charity, Faith, and (duh) Temperance, but like the Temperance Movement, it was not taken terribly seriously. Long regarded as the ugliest monument in DC, the city tired of keeping it up and let it run dry, and for a long time the Apex Liquor Store stood nearby. Savor the irony.

Me? I'll give it a break; it's a fun ironic reminder of the past, and it has a heron on top. I like herons. (Why a heron? It's symbolic of water, just like the dolphins.) I'm told there's a Cogswell Society that donates money to maintain the monument, but don't think for a minute they're a subsect of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Instead, the Cogswellians are said to meet for boozy lunches, then stagger up to the monument, and declare loudly, "Here's to temperance! I'll drink to that!" Sounds like my group of people.

I'm featuring this partly because recently I met Garrett Peck, author of Prohibition Hangover. Garrett leads Temperance Tours of downtown DC, starting at the monument, so if you're in the area, keep an eye open for the next tour date. And check out Garrett's main site for other info.

But I've always been fascinated by this little forgotten bit of DC, and I've explained it to a number of people, and now you know as well.

I have other photos waiting to be shared, and books to review, and experiences to chronicle, so stay tuned...

Monday, August 31, 2009

What I've Been Doing Lately

OK, I've been rather quiet this month...

It's been a somewhat odd summer. I meant to do more photography but earlier this year I had some bad foot pain that led me to a podiatrist. Surprise, I needed orthotics, which were covered by my insurance, thank heaven. But it's been a while getting used to 'em and only now am I starting to get back on my feet again, roving the wild streets of DC.

August was also busy with work, and with my other writing gigs. I had a series of reviews to write for Scarlet, and I've also landed my first regular paid writing job, as a wine critic for a local website. So stuff's happening for me, bit by bit.

Today is also my forty-fourth birthday, and it hasn't been too bad. I had a great celebration Friday night, while attending the Tilted Torch show at the Palace of Wonders, which ended with the ladies doing a curtain call, each holding a cupcake with a lit birthday candle...yes, it was in my honor. I was totally bowled over by the gesture, engineered by fire dancer/artist Malibu. (Love you, honey!) Then it was late-night waffles at Bob & Edith's Diner in Arlington, with my pal Todd and other members of the Palace gang, until far into the wee hours of the morning.

Today's been a glorious early autumn day here in DC, temperatures only in the 70s, dry and cool and comfortable. And I also had great news today; I visited my ophthalmologist for a glaucoma check-up and he says that the pressure in my eyes is significantly lower than last time I visited, so I don't need to go back for another six months. This was a great birthday present.

And things are starting to gel for Halloween....

The Silver Spring Zombie Walk is already taking shape for October 24th, with a stroll through downtown Silver Spring, MD, ending in a showing of SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Last year's walk was a great time, and I'm looking forward to this year's, although I'll have to wait and see what the weather will be like before I finalize my outfit.

And this year's Belly Horror show is also coalescing, taking place in the venerable Birchmere on Friday, Oct. 23rd. Last year's was quite a show and this year's should be even better.

And I've discovered a couple of podcasts that I enjoy. First is the Cthulhu Podcast, which features readings of Lovecraft works and other related horror stories, including some original stuff and other works from the 20s. Then up is the very new Mystery Man Podcast, which has readings of classic mystery/adventure stories, with background info. Both feature lively readings that really make the stories come alive, with affable hosts who truly enjoy what they're doing.

And that leads me to something that's slowly developing here...we here in the D&C crypt are kicking around the idea of the Dust & Corruption podcast. It's slowly, slowly struggling out of the idea phases, as soon as I get a good microphone and coordinate things with my partner in ghoulishness. Hopefully, before too long, we'll be showing up in iTunes as well as Blogger.

So, that's it for now. Some more stuff coming up, like a few photos and book reviews. And soon the holy of holies, Halloween, will be upon us. Brace yourselves, folks! It's gonna be a wild season!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Required Reading: THE VICTORIA VANISHES, by Christopher Fowler

The sixth of Fowler's Bryant & May series, this was intended to be the last chronicle of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. However, Fowler couldn't let his series schlump off into the sunset, and revived it with the upcoming BRYANT & MAY ON THE LOOSE.

THE VICTORIA VANISHES opens shortly after the last book, WHITE CORRIDOR, with the PCU gathered at a wake for pathologist Oswald Finch. Renfield, an unpopular policeman, is being assigned to the PCU, much to the resentment of the long-time detectives there. But Bryant, after a few, is lurching off into the streets when he sees a woman walking into a pub, the Victoria Cross. Fascinated by old pubs, it sticks in his mind, and resurfaces when the woman is found dead in that neighborhood. Bryant goes to investigate the Victoria Cross....only to find a grocery store, and research shows that the pub has been closed for decades. But now this turns up a bizarre serial-killer plot, with a murderer offing lonely mature women in crowded pubs. But there could be more to it than anyone realizes...

Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes machinations by the PCU's political enemies in the police force may have finally come across a way of shutting down the unit once and for all. And the secrets that Bryant and May have been keeping from each other are finally coming to light.

THE VICTORIA VANISHES is a roaring good read, full of the atmosphere of a crumbling, vanishing London, where historic sites are being torn down in favor of modern developments. There's a nostalgia here, to be sure, but also a very human desire for stability in an ever-changing urban landscape.

The one debit is a somewhat hurried ending, when all is made clear in a sudden tumult, but that doesn't detract from the overall fun of the book. It ends on a note of semi-finality, fine with ending where it was but open to further exploration. And now we know there's more coming down the pike, and I can't wait.

THE VICTORIA VANISHES is great fun and will have you wanting to snoop the crumbling corner pubs in your own city. Go hoist a drink for me, why don't you?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On a Raven's Wing

One of several anthologies that's out this year in honor of the Poe bicentennial, this is from the Mystery Writers of America, and is edited by Stuart Kaminsky. Obviously, the focus is on mystery, and sometimes it's quite imaginative.

Each story wraps itself around Poe in some way or another...either about Poe in some way, or a variation on one of his stories, or simply borrowing heavily from Poe's content and putting an original spin on it.

So for the usual rundown...

"Israfel" by Doug Allyn gives us a Poe-themed rock group, with a lead guitarist who's quickly burning out, and a narrator who's not about to let things go down the tubes. It has a nifty ending that packs a punch.

Michael A. Black's "The Golden Bug" is an interesting cross-pollination of Poe's "The Gold Bug" with Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS, set on a Pacific island during WWII. Maybe not the greatest story, but a well-done concept.

Jon L. Breen's "William Allan Wilson" is interesting; a tale of a Poe bicentennial collection, with a cipher embedded in a story that's a clue to a real murder (that is, real in the context of the story). Rather beguiling, but in the end rather unmemorable.

"The Tell-Tale Purr" by Mary Higgins Clark is more humor than anything else, a tale of an attempted murder that not only goes wrong, but ends up turning situations around in the most bizarre way. I have to say, it functions better as a short story than some other shorts that MHC has written; she's really improved her grasp of the form.

"Nevermore" by Thomas H. Cook gives us a tale of family secrets unburied, as a dying man seeks to communicate a guilty secret to his estranged adult son, with struggles between loyalty and anger, faith and reason, running throughout.

"Emily's Time" by Dorothy Salisbury Davis, is at first unsatisfying, but after a second read, it's a few steps short of being brilliant. It's great from a literary standpoint, as well as a mystery standpoint, and (I hate to say it) almost too good for this collection, where the emphasis is on solid genre work. A variation on Poe's "The Black Cat," it deals with loneliness and guilt, but with wonderfully rendered emotions and settings.

Brendan DuBois's "The Cask of Castle Island" isn't bad, basically a retelling of "The Cask of Amontillado" in modern-day Boston, although it could be faulted for being a bit too faithful to its source. "Bells" by James W. Hall expounds on the poem with a tale of a man plotting against his wife with the titular objects, only to have his plan unravel. Not bad, not great.

"In My Ancestor's Image" is part of Jeremiah Healey's Rory Calhoun series. Calhoun, a private eye, is hired to locate a stolen Edgar award by a putative descendant of Poe. Not bad, if a bit self-referential about the Mystery Writers of America.

"The Poe Collector" by the late Edward D. Hoch is great fun, a delicious tale of con and detection. "A Nomad of the Night" by Rupert Holmes (as in Broadway's "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" and "Curtains," yes, that Rupert Holmes) effectively evokes the atmosphere of low-budget filmmaking in the 60s. And I love that title.

My favorite story of the bunch was editor Stuart Kaminsky's contribution, "Rattle, Rattle, Rattle," a full-blown gothic horror tale that expands on Poe's "Berenice." Very good fun.

Paul Levine's "Development Hell" is something I've seen before, a comedy about Hollywood and deals with the devil. Didn't thrill me much. Peter Lovesey's "The Deadliest Tale of All" isn't much of a mystery, but a decent dissection of Poe's character and a posthumous kick in the teeth to Rufus Griswold.

John Lutz's "Poe, Poe, Poe" was my least favorite; it actually read like a transcribed one-act play by a first-time playwright. It's overpopulated with characters who all have overly cute variations on names of Poe characters, all gathered in a tavern. Not worth it.

"The Tell-Tale Pacemaker" by P. J. Parrish, is another modernized retelling, in this case "The Tell-Tale Heart" transported to a modern retirement community.

"Seeing the Moon" by S. J. Rozan is my second-favorite of the book. It's got appealing and well-etched characters (Asian-American art experts) and a great tale of con and counter-con, as victims of an art scam seek to recoup their losses with a return scam, involving a Poe artifact. It makes me want to seek out more of Rozan's work.

Daniel Stashower's "Challenger" was a nostalgic variation on "Annabel Lee," only with ugly real-world twists. Another bit of nostalgia, "Poe, Jo, and I" by Don Winslow, is well-written enough but simply not a mystery. It's simply a narrator's tribute to a teacher Who Really Cared and Connected With Him and all that.

Finally, Angela Zeman's "Rue Morgue Noir" is an amusing fantasia on what it would be like for Poe if he were trying to make it as a writer today. It's not pretty.

Overall, even though some stories weren't anything great, the stories in this collection are mostly solid genre work, and worth a look. It's a good sampling of some of the talent in the mystery world today. Check it out if you like a good mystery short story.

More coming up...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wrapping up the Fringe Festival

Well, I managed to catch three more shows at the Fringe Fest. I wanted to get more but I was distracted by other events (including a farewell party for my friends Heidi and Marie, who have since moved to Brooklyn, and the Palace of Wonders Third Anniversary show), as well as budgetary restraints, so I did what I could.

I was very, very impressed by ANNABEL LEE, by Old Lore Theater. I praised them to the rafters last year for THE FIDDLER GHOST, and this year was no different. Naturally, it's the Poe poem, interpreted through Old Lore's signature mix of dance, spoken word, and song, and they rise above the restraints of the poem (I loved a girl, she died, I'm sad) by using it as a springboard to explore issues of separation, loss, and grief. Lots of inventive interpretation through movement (such as human bodies becoming waves on the sea). Loads of fun, very moving and impressive.

And for nostalgia's sake, here's some highlights from last year's THE FIDDLER GHOST:

And then I saw a rerun of Molotov Theatre Group's recent play CLOSET LAND, which is even better the second time around. They'd actually ratcheted up the grue and made it even more intense and nasty, but never losing the play's core ideas about totalitarian governments, torture, and public passivity.

Finally, I managed to catch a non-D&C oriented play, VINCENT, staged by Theatre Du Jour at the DC Arts Center. A one-man play written by Leonard Nimoy (!), it was grandly performed by B. Stanley as Theo Van Gogh, mourning his brother's death and casting insight on Vincent Van Gogh's character. At first it seemed a bit, well, normal for a group like TDJ to be doing, but as they explain, it combines DCAC's commitment to both visual and performing arts. Plus, it was just a damn good play.

So that was it for the Fringe Festival this year. I always have a good time with it but it's getting more expensive, alas. Maybe next year I need to save up for one of the see-anything-for-free passes.

More coming up soon...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Catching up: Monster Bash, Fringe Festival, and music

OK, it's been too long. But I had a wild few weeks, what with the Monster Bash convention in the Pittsburgh 'burbs, and then the Independence Day holiday, and my job going wild in between. And then the start of the Capital Fringe Festival.

Monster Bash was, as always, a good time, hanging with all my horror-fan friends and making a few new ones along the way...including my first face-to-face conversation with Max Chaney of The Drunken Severed Head (link to the right); actually, he and I could be related. Kinda frightening, that. Spent way too much money on DVDs and some souvenirs (including yet another Poe t-shirt). I covered MB at length this time last year, so I won't go into it too much here, except that I never regret going.

I spent Independence Day with my parents, and got to behold my hometown fireworks for the first time. They only started doing this a few years ago and our little town (Clear Spring, MD, pop. 461 as of the last census) probably quadrupled its population that night...if not more. And we also got an impromptu tour of a new hotel that opened by the highway there, actually a charming place.

Work was wild....and we also had that horrible Metro accident here in DC. It was scary as hell, but at the very least it's calling attention to the sad state of repair that DC's Metro system is in, especially the much-used Red Line. A downside for me is that I use the Red Line when I go downtown, and slowdowns...and shutdowns...are making trips difficult.

Which is why I took a MetroBus downtown when I hit the Fringe Festival this past Saturday. I saw two plays that looked like fun.

FREAKSHOW, from local company Pinky Swear, is quite good. Written by Caron Kreitzer, it's a chronicle of the lives and loves of the inhabitants of a traveling freak show, circa 1900, narrated by the saucy Human Torso (Allyson Harkey, in a very strong and assured performance). It's a good play, with the seedy atmosphere well communicated, but never becoming overwhelming. And there's interesting feminist subtext that I honestly didn't expect. And the ringmaster, Mr. Flip, is played by the jaw-droppingly handsome Andrew Mitakides, who filled out his historic garb well. (Maybe I should start another blog, maybe dedicated to Steampunk beefcake?)

And then...I was looking forward to THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER: THE MUSICAL. I was honestly expecting a parody, but it's actually a serious attempt at a musicalization of the Poe story. Which was the problem. In order to make it a workable musical, they transformed Roderick Usher; no more was he Poe's doomed neurasthenic, but now was a jolly, freewheeling bohemian. Madeline, almost a nonentity in the story, is now made into a mad scientist obsessed with rats. And they also cross-bred the story with the poem "Annabel Lee," giving Usher a fiancee. The second act brings on the doom and dissipation, but it all rings hollow. I can't fault the actors, who did their best, but the material was fatally flawed, with a bit too much thrown in toward the end. I have to give it credit, though, in that the music is often quite nice, especially a song based on Robert Burns' "O My Luve's Like a Red Red Rose," and the singing was good, esp. Carolyn Myers as Annabel Lee. (There's some samples at the show's website.)

So I'm at one for two so far. We'll see what else I get into.

In the meantime, because there's always the meantime...

I've long thought of finding a good theme tune for this blog, and I think I've come close with this delightful tune by Fritz Kreisler, his "Miniature Viennese March."

And another group I'm in love with, Vagabond Opera, has this delightful video:

And then random bouncing around on YouTube resulted in this fun video about the organ music in Disney's "Haunted Mansion" ride:

So, that's all for right now. I'll try to catch more at the Fringe Festival, and I'll be filling y'all in if I do.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


A title like that is just so luscious. And it delivers.

GASLIGHT GRIMOIRE, edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, is a very fun anthology of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, largely with a supernatural or fantastic bent, and overall (barring a couple of false notes) well-written. While most of them refer at some point to the Doyle canon, for the most part they appear to inhabit their own little universes, each one a different take on a fantastic adventure of Holmes. And, with one exception, they avoid the radical revisionism of Holmes that I find annoying and distasteful (yes, Laurie King, I'm looking at you).

There are two stories by big-name authors, Barbara Hambly and Kim Newman, and then there are names I recognize from my perambulations here and there in the genre world, like Chico Kidd (whose PRINTERS DEVIL I read long ago and enjoyed), Barbara Roden of the Ash-Tree Press, and Holmes expert David Stuart Davies, who contributed a forward. But that's not to say this is amateur-hour stuff; there's not a single story in here that struck me as first-timer fanfic. Standards are high here, and I appreciated that.

So, to give a rundown...

"The Lost Boy" by Barbara Hambly, which opens the collection, is a beguiling tale that crosses Holmes with J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, only with real menace. It's also unusual for being told from the point of view of Watson's wife (or one of them, I lose track). Despite the potential for cloying whimsy (and if there's one thing I can't stand, it's cloying whimsy), Hambly gives it a good measure of darkness and real emotion.

The next story, "His Last Arrow" by Christopher Sequeira, is the one I liked the least in the collection. It was certainly well-written enough, and certainly had imagination to spare, but his approach to Holmes and Watson was one that I simply did not like. I'm not saying it's a bad story...far from it....but I just found this story's version of the Holmes canon to be not to my taste.

Barbara Roden's "The Things That Shall Come Upon Them," is roaring good fun for someone of my literary tastes. Holmes and Watson team up with occult investigator Flaxman Low (a creation of Kate & Hesketh Prichard) and investigate the former home of Julian Karswell (the villain of M. R. James' classic short story "Casting the Runes"). Roden knows her subject and has fun with it, and the story is a great ride.

"The Finishing Stroke" by M. J. Elliott is a fun bit of mystery/horror as Holmes goes on the track of paintings that appear to come to life, with the expected deadly results. "Sherlock Holmes in the Lost World" isn't supernatural, but a steampunk fantasia in which Holmes meets up with another Doyle creation, Prof. Challenger, in the infamous Lost World in South America.

Chico Kidd and Rick Kennett had fun with "The Grantchester Grimoire," which features another crossover, this time with Holmes teaming up with William Hope Hodgson's occult detective Thomas Carnacki. Kidd & Kennett know their Carnacki and keep him true to Hodgson while keeping Holmes credible. It's another fun romp.

"The Steamship Friesland," by Peter Calamai, didn't grab me as much as some of the others. It's a valiant attempt at building a supernatural tale around one of Holmes' unsolved cases (a ship that passes into a fogbank only to disappear; it's mentioned in one of the stories), but Holmes suddenly developing mediumistic abilities didn't sit well with me. (OK, OK, so I'm a stickler...) J. R. Campbell's "The Entwined" feels oddly incomplete, but tantalizingly so, with members of a secret brotherhood being killed off by an otherworldly being. It's not a bad story at all, but after reading it there was a sense of something just outside my grasp that left me wanting more information.

"Merridew of the Abominable Memory," by Chris Roberson, sticks out a little for having no fantastic content. However, it is memorably gruesome, with a plausible plot, and actually a bit of an emotional whallop at the end.

Bob Madison's "Red Sunset" gives us an elderly Holmes residing in Los Angeles and summoned by a policeman to investigate a strange crime. Not bad in and of itself, but it's basically set up as a final confrontation between Holmes and an old enemy, and getting some background on it would have made it better.

The final story, "The Red Planet League" by Kim Newman, is the best. Holmes doesn't even appear in it. Instead, it's narrated by Col. Sebastian Moran (and sounding rather Flashmanesque), playing a sort of anti-Watson to Prof. Moriarty's anti-Holmes. It's a delicious tale of Moriarty being insulted by an arrogant young upstart astronomer, and the resulting revenge involving...well, I won't say, but you can take a few cues from the title. The plot borrows cues from at least two H. G. Wells works, and even a bit from Heinlein. Again, this is steampunk rather than supernatural, but it's great fun and a wonderful capper to the book.

So was it worth it? Oh yeah, even with the missteps it's still a fun read and worth getting for fans of Holmes and horror fiction. Look for it. And I hear rumors of a sequel collection in the works....