Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Just a quick wish for a safe and happy Halloween, no matter what you're doing. That emo pumpkin above is my current jack; I was aiming for skull-like gruesomeness but he ended up looking like he was about to cry. Maybe he needs a hug. (I could use a few myself.)

I'm grouchy from lack of sleep and frustration over not having a car. I'm also dealing with a bit of loneliness; being new in town and unexpectedly without transport, it's a bit difficult to hang out with friends and/or seek adult company. I'm still reeling from Dad's death. And I may be staying in tonight; there's shows and stuff but unless I can catch a ride it just ain't happenin'. So I hope wherever you are and whatever you're doing, it's better than my day so far.

And if you're dealing with crap like I am, hang in there. I keep telling myself, "This is temporary." Things could change in a heartbeat.

Best wishes and happy hauntings! Don't eat too much candy all at once.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

THE MEMORY OF BLOOD by Christopher Fowler

It's the opening-night cast party for "The Two Murderers," a gruesome new play on the London stage, and it's at the ritzy penthouse of producer Robert Kramer. Of course, there's all the usual conflicts and rivalries in the company. But things take a gruesome turn when Kramer's infant child is thrown out the window of the locked nursery...and seemingly done by a life-sized Punch figure.

Naturally, given the big names involved and the bizarre nature of the crime, detectives Bryant & May, and the rest of the Peculiar Crimes Unit are on the case. And it leads them into all sorts of theatrical bizzarerie, including Punch and Judy shows and the Grand Guignol. Also, a young lady helping Bryant on his memoirs dies suddenly and strangely; was it an accident or murder? Is it associated or not?

I have to admit...I started reading this, then had to put it aside for a while. I didn't like the murder of a baby. I've read novels that have the murders of children and sometimes it's done for sheer lurid shock value. But, after a break, I made myself pick it back up and finish it. And I have to say...the murder of the child makes sense. Not only is it a reference to Punch and Judy shows (which does figure in the plot and you'll learn a bit from reading this), but it also makes sense in the murderer's plot. So even though it may strike some as distasteful, it serves a purpose.

And there's further murders, mostly following in the classic theatrical madman fashion. And the deepening mystery around a young transcriber's death. And more looks into some byways of English history and culture, like a visit to Brighton and a horror sculptor's studio.

Despite my initial distaste for the story, I ended up enjoying this a great deal. I did get a chill down my spine at hints that the next book would be the last in the series. In this book several simmering subplots near resolution, and there's even a passing reference to going out with a bang. Eeep.

So yeah, this is on the Required Reading shelf, with the rest of the Bryant & May series. And the next one is waiting in the wings.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

THE DUEL OF SHADOWS by Vincent Cornier

Vincent Cornier was a pulp author who kept busy in the 40s and 50s writing stories for magazines like Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Golden Fleece. He's largely forgotten today, but there are some lucky few who know of his detective Barnabas Hildreth, "The Black Monk." I knew of him only because of a reference to him I came across once as an occult detective, and another as a scientific detective, so I was hoping to see what Hildreth was really like.

Naturally, he's not really either. Hildreth's cases often smack of the occult, but have "rational" explanations...although often the science is utterly cockeyed.

Hildreth is supposedly a high-up figure in the British government, or maybe secret service, and is described as "half-poet, half-scientist, maybe all genius." However, he spends a lot of time investigating bizarre crimes. And the more bizarre, the better. These mysteries all have generous dollops of the weird and grotesque, so fasten your seatbelts.

"The Stone Ear" has a murder committed with a strange weapon, a glass goblet that mysteriously disintegrates, leaving a sharp poisoned shard in the bearer's hand. The source, and exact secret, of the goblet drive the story, and while it's damned unlikely, I love it. The element of the weird goblet is just the sort of gothick touch I adore.

Next was "The Brother of Heaven," a slightly racist story in which an Asian man commits several murders with a bizarre, Fu Manchu-ish indirect weapon. "The Silver Quarrel" smacks of M. R. James with its story revolving around a treasure hidden in an old English mansion, hidden by an elaborate trap.

"The Throat of Green Jasper" is as occult as this collection gets, a story revolving around Egyptian relics with hints of reincarnation. For me, it had echoes of Dion Fortune's Dr. Tavener stories. "The Duel of Shadows" is probably the best story in the book. A man is shot and wounded in his a bullet fired two hundred years earlier. How did it happen? Who was responsible? There's no time travel going on here, and the solution to the mystery, while unlikely and baroque, seems actually halfway plausible.

"The Catastrophe in Clay" is the least likely and most science-fictional story in the book, and is utterly implausible. People are being transformed into statues, by what appears to be some sort of gas. Who is responsible, and why is it happening? The solution may have seemed like legit science once upon a time, but is risible now.

"The Mantle That Laughed" and "The Tabasheeran Pearls" are both built on artifacts with seemingly strange properties, and that aren't what they seem. One is about a golden chainmail cloak, supposedly Aztec, that makes strange noises when shaken, and the other is a pearl necklace that seems to kill its wearer.

"The Gilt Lily" has a series of daring crimes committed with the aide of a strange plant, and "The Monster" is a twisted tale of family secrets and twisted souls....and believe it or not, the only story with a 100% plausible solution.

This was enjoyable reading, despite the preposterousness of the plots, and perhaps because of them. This is pulp nonsense, but fun pulp nonsense, and often with quite a bit of atmosphere. These are the kind of detective adventures I wish I could have, and I'm sure some of you are right there with me. This is a paperback from the good folks at Crippen & Landru, who are making it their business to resurrect lost and forgotten crime writers. Find it if you can, folks, this is fun stuff.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Just like a vampire or a fungal infection, you can't keep me down.

My FIOS connection just got hooked up today, and soon I'll be back to posting regularly. I finished a couple of books while I was away from the 'net, and given that I have to take the bus everywhere for the time being, I have more time to read.

Dad's death was a shock, and it's still sinking in. At least my car waited until I was back at the apartment before breaking down. Local mechanic says it's either the transmission or the onboard computer, and neither seems to be worth fixing given that it's a 2001 car in so-so condition anyway. So now I'm waiting on my cut of Dad's insurance money so I can get a half-decent used car. At least I have the local bus system to get to work, as annoying as it is.

My new lair is slowly taking shape; it's twice the space of my former space at the same rent, and walking distance from some great restaurants, a great liquor store, and the local library. A bus goes right by that can take me right into downtown Baltimore. The neighborhood is slightly better; I'm now in a former dental practice in a sold middle-working-class neighborhood rather than a cramped termite-ridden pesthole in a borderline ghetto. So much of my life is changing, but this part won't.

So, onward and upward! Halloween is almost here!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A little longer, maybe

There was a snafu with Verizon about getting hooked up to FIOS so I need to reschedule. So it may be a while longer before I'm back and posting regularly. Sorry folks.

If it's any consolation, I'm a mess. My car is having problems, too, so I'm going to have to bide my time until I have cash for a replacement. I'm also positive I'm coming down with something, and all the stress I've been under (moving, Dad's passing, car troubles, getting the new place organized, work) isn't helping at all. I may just have to let things sit for the next few days and get as much rest as I can.

My deepest apologies to my readers and I hope to be back soon.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I'm back

My break was a little longer than anticipated. Just as I finished moving I got news that my father had just passed away. (Double pneumonia, complicated by possible acute leukemia that had gone undiagnosed.) I had to go spend the week with the family. I'm still reeling from the blow. And still figuring out how to sleep in the new place.

My internet access from home is yet to be set up; hopefully by the weekend I'll start posting regularly again.