Thursday, February 27, 2014

Three Recent Reads

Continuing on my quest to read all the Shadow pulp novels, I struggled through The Shadow Laughs. I love the character of The Shadow, but this book was a slog. I lost interest halfway through and set it aside for a few weeks until I made myself finish it. It's a rambling, unfocused story about gangsters and counterfeiters. The most interesting parts are a gangster's speculation about how The Shadow was really a hideously disfigured man fighting crime in a disguise, and an encounter between The Shadow and Lamont Cranston. In the famous radio show, The Shadow WAS Lamont Cranston. But in the novels, Lamont Cranston was a millionaire explorer whose identity was occasionally usurped by The Shadow when Cranston was out of town. And this is with Cranston's blessing.

So, not really thrilling.

I read this back when I was in elementary school and stumbled upon it in a used book store, so what the hey? And it actually turned out to be an interesting read.

The Mysterious Half Cat (1936) opens with teen detective Judy Bolton being excited about how her friend Scottie is coming back to town. But Scottie shows up grouchy and at her wit's end; she has a younger sister in tow, Carol, a strange creature who doesn't seem to hear spoken language but responds to music and whistling. Scottie is seeking her long-lost grandfather, who was first believed dead in a disastrous flood, but whom she now suspects is alive but laying low for some reason. And there's a series of thefts going on, and a reported haunting in the basement of a Chinese laundry...

It sounds a mess, but it works. Carol's problem is a real one, although it's called auditory verbal agnosia now, and Scottie's struggle to cope with it feels genuine. (Every Bolton book is said to be at least partly based on "something that actually happened" and this seems fact-based and decently researched for the time.) There's actually some psychological depth to the story of Scottie's grandfather and why he's laying low and not contacting his family. And there's some real detection in tracking down the ring of thieves.

But the best part is the character of Judy. She's different from Nancy Drew, who's so bland and so flipping perfect. Judy makes mistakes, she gets into tiffs with her friends, she experiences fear and second-guesses herself. Her friends can be short-tempered and sometimes play their cards too close to the vest. People don't always communicate. And the real thrust of the story is resolving the issues of Scottie, her sister, and their grandfather, and the thefts are almost a distraction, with the culprits never even being named! Nancy Drew and other detectives were often more about restoring material order, but Judy's about healing emotions and relationships, at least in this book, and I'm told that crops up frequently in the series.

Judy Bolton was the star of 38 books, all written by Margaret Sutton, a real person and not a house name. The series ran from 1932 to 1967. Judy actually ages in the series, gets married, and has a child. She's often called a better role model than Nancy Drew and others, because she's more believable and human. She's emotional and self-doubting, but conquers those self-doubts, while others never seem to experience fear at all. I read a few Drews long ago, and found her dull and priggish; even though this is directed at teen girls, Judy's a compelling character and likable.

I just finished this today. It's....peculiar. Not bad, but odd.

The Buried Pyramid has Sir Neville Hawthorne taking in his orphaned niece from American, Jenny Benet, a pistol-packing Western gal. Neville, a passionate Egyptologist, is planning an expedition to the land of the pharaohs to find a lost tomb of a good and holy king whose tomb was supposedly built by the gods themselves, then buried by sand to prevent their despoiling.

And so follows a very readable and enjoyable adventure story. It's well-researched and the milieu of Victorian Egypt is well-etched. There's hints of villainy around the edges but little real menace, unfortunately.

But that is all the first three-quarters. The last quarter of the complete fantasy.

The explorers go into another world and encounter Egyptian gods, and enable Ra to make his voyage to the east, defeat Apophis, and meet up with the wise king himself and undergo judgement.

The sudden shift is just freaking weird. It's as if the author realized she hadn't put in enough danger from the cult that supposedly guards the tomb zealously, or the rival archaeologist who wants to make the discovery their own, and threw in all the fantasy elements to make up for that. It certainly needed something. As readable as it was, there just wasn't enough danger and menace to really make it thrilling and exciting. The sudden entrance of the gods seems almost like a cheat...but I wonder if that was the author's intent all along. I don't know. It's readable, but it just didn't click for me entirely.

So, that's stuff I've read lately...what about you?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February's Night Out at the Movies!

It's a holiday weekend, and we've dug ourselves out from under the snow to meet for dinner and a movie. We laugh over our meals, telling tales of Valentine's Day misadventures and the horrors of the ongoing winter. The owner treats us to dessert, and we tip lavishly.

Down the street is our favorite movie theater, slightly shabby but still lovely, with comfortable seats and an eccentric selection. Tonight's is no exception.

First up is a delightful short from Segundo de Chomon, 1908's "The Frog."

It's followed by the nifty 1932 murder mystery, "Tangled Destinies."

After the show, we drift down the street for a drink at our favorite's been a fun night and it's not over yet...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Two Recent Reads

It's cold, the weather is sucky, and winter has ceased to be fun and instead is just damned tiresome. Even fans of cold weather and snow are fed up and waiting for spring. Today I was off work because a foot of snow fell, and right now we're having a mix of rain and ice pellets, with more snow and freezing temperatures expected tonight. Joy.

So there's a lot of reading to get done....

The second of Bowen's Molly Murphy series, Death of Riley was quite enjoyable. Molly, a new immigrant from Ireland, is set to make her own way in the world, and decides to be a private investigator, planning to specialize in helping immigrants like herself locate lost relatives. After a disastrous spell as a lady's companion, she attaches herself to a slightly shady private eye and convinces him to take her on as an apprentice. Pretty soon, though, he dies horribly, and she sets off to solve his murder.

Molly's quest takes her into New York's bohemian underbelly, where as an unconventional and independent woman finds herself allies and friends. The depiction of that milieu is charming, especially the sympathetic lesbian couple who take her under their wing, and an egotistical-yet-charming playwright who becomes a good friend. And Bowen brings reality into the story as well, with real people like anarchist Emma Goldman, and real events like the assassination of President McKinley.

Not great lit-ra-choor, but an enjoyable mystery novel. Bowen does tend to have people trust and like and do huge favors for Molly at the drop of a hat, but at least this time it made some sense.

The City Condemned to Hell was the story, really, but I can't help but think of it only as The Octopus. This was an experiment in pulp publishing; this was supposed to launch a entire magazine dedicated to the struggle between a hero (the oddly-named Skull Killer) and a villain (The Octopus). It only lasted one issue. Later on, a second story featuring the Octopus was tweaked and the villain's name changed to The Scorpion, and was used in another attempt to launch a villain-centered pulp magazine that lasted only one issue. Villain-centered pulps never did take off fully.

A mystery ailment is attacking the people of New York, turning them into twisted, mutated monsters. A hospital is set on fire, and a certain Dr. Skull is held responsible. Dr. Skull is really one of a couple of secret identities of a young, heroic doctor who is also the heroic Skull Killer, who bumps off gangsters and other lawbreakers. The mystery ailment causes chaos and then the villainous Octopus announces over the radio that those requiring treatment to come to him; apparently he seeks a monopoly on health care!

It's energetic, I'll give it that, but sometimes I found it slipshod and incoherent. It tries to do too much sometimes, without giving it the structure and internal logic that Doc Savage and The Shadow had. If the disease had some explanation as to its nature, I missed it. It's cured by the end, so at least there's that. The identity of the Octopus is never revealed, and obviously they meant for this to be an ongoing thing. There's even a few hints of a mystical/occult origin for the villain, but again, never delved into and probably intended for sequels. This was not the best, I have to say. So-so, even on the level of hokum, and its reached exceeded its grasp, I think. Still, interesting for students of pulp literature who want to look into the failed experiment of villain-centered pulps.

So what are you reading lately?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dust & Corruption Calendar for February 2014!

Ah, February. 2014 is really here. Those who know me or have been following me know that February is probably my least favorite month. Anyway, I won't delve into it, but here's some stuff going on.

As always, the Observatory in Brooklyn, NY, has a schedule of fascinating talks and workshops.

And Atlas Obscura always lists interesting things in different cities.

2/5 - Beauty + Brains/Burlesque. Nerdy burlesque and comedy, hosted by my beloved friend Eyrie Twilight. Third & Girard, 1176 N. 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA. Doors 9:00; tix $10.

2/7 - In the Mood for Love! An evening of burlesque from Hot Night Productions. Featuring Nona Narcisse, Mab Just Mab, Kiki Allure, Mourna Handful, and Cherry Brown, hosted by Hot Todd Lincoln. The Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St NW, Washington, DC. Doors 8:30, show 10:00, tix $15 at the door, $12 in advance.

2/7 - The Black & White Show. Valentine Candy presents its regular evening of bumps and grinds. With Reverend Valentine, Candy Del Rio, Maria Bella, Swami Yomahmi, and Cricket. The Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW, Washington, DC. Two shows, at 9:00 (doors 8:45) and 11:30 (doors at 11:00). Tix $15 at the door, $12 in advance.

2/8 - Fatal Follies. The Peek-A-Boo Revue presents an evening of "dangerous burlesque." Whatever that is. I'd love to see. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA. Doors 7pm, show 8:30. Tix $20 plus handling.

2/12 - Darwin Day. Celebrate science!

2/13 - Speakeasy Bash! Dress up in 1920s attire, nosh on light fare and guzzle from an open bar with vintage cocktails. The Woodrow Wilson House, 2340 S St NW, Washington, DC. 7pm to 9pm. Tix $45.

2/14 - That Day.

2/14 - Tassels & Champagne! Gilded Lily Burlesque presents their 5th annual Valentine's Day show, starring Maria Bella, Gigi Holliday Sophia Sunday, Amber Ray, Deepa DuJour, Dave Deneen, Lauren Marleaux, Mark Slomski, Miss Joule, Nona Narcisse, and Reggie Bugmuncher. This year they've got a Prohibition speakeasy theme. The Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave, Baltimore, MD. Shows at 7:30 and 10:00. Tickets $20 or more.

2/15 - Aphrodisia! The wonderful Tilted Torch troupe does their own tribute to love & eroticism. With Miss Joule, Amber Ray, Shortstaxx, Paco Fish, and Christylez Bacon. Opera House Live, 131 W. German St, Shepherdstown, WV. Showtime 9pm. Tix $15.

2/15 - Valentine's Day with Black Market Burlesque. Well, really, a post-V-Day show, with Bella La Blanc, Fox Martin, Azyra Izel, Eyrie Twilight, Anna Steasya, and Kat De Lac. The Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC. Showtime 10pm. Tix $10 at the door.

2/16 - Burlesque-A-Pades. The traveling show makes its Valentine's Day appearance in the mid-Atlantic. With the Pontani Sisters, Brian Newman, The Maine Attraction, and Kitten LaRue. The Metro Gallery, 1700 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD. 8pm. Tix $15.

2/22 - Love Letters to Baltimore. Burlesque, comedy, and music, with host Sunny Sighed, and featuring an array of some of my personal friends like Kay Sera, Ruby Rockafella, Valeria Voxx, Lady Miz Scarlett, Hot and Bothered, and Paco Fish! The Ottobar, 2549 N Howard St, Baltimore, MD. Doors 8:30, show 9:00. Tix $15 at the door, $12 in advance.

2/22 - The Weirdo Show: February Edition! Burlesque, dance, comedy, variety, weirdness, in all the best ways. With Prof. Sprocket, Cherie Nuit, Steve & Lily, Spinnabel Lee, Swami Yomahmi, and Buster Britches. The Bier Baron, Washington< DC. Doors 8:30, show 10:00. Tix $15 at the door, $12 in advance.

2/28 - The Molotov Hellraiser Fundraiser. DC's only theater troupe dedicated to horror & suspense has a fundraiser to increase their operating budget. Come on and support them! With raffles and many valuable giveaways. Millie & Al's, 2440 18th St NW, Washington, DC. 6pm to 10pm. Tix $20. It's a worthy cause, come on out!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

February in the Phantom Recital Hall

The spell of bitter cold weather has lifted, and now the normal temperatures of winter feel almost tropical. Our little group has ventured out for the first time in too long to enjoy some music. A talented pianist is doing a casual recital in a local venue, and after dinner, we hasten in.

The performance is lovely, and with moonlight streaming in the windows, this piece dominates.

During the intermission, we wander out on the terrace, even though it's chilly, to bask in the moonlight and dream...