Wednesday, February 25, 2015

THE INVISIBLE CODE by Christopher Fowler

Bryant and May are back! Fowler's "Peculiar Crimes Unit" series occupies a place of honor on my Required Reading shelf, and this one is a proud addition.

Bryant and May, the two aging detectives who form the core of London's Peculiar Crimes Unit, are still going their eccentric way in one of mystery fiction's great bromances. They form a longtime partnership that nurtures and sustains them both, and while one may never say to the other, "I love you," in that best-friends-forever way, you can tell that both realize it and understand.

This time, we open with a woman being stalked by two children who think she's a witch. They follow her into a church and determine to kill her....and she dies. Her death is mysterious; no cause found. Meanwhile, a Home Office superior, who's long threatened to shut down the PCU, asks the unit for help. His wife is behaving oddly, seemingly having a mental breakdown and thinking she's being persecuted by supernatural forces. Witches? They're assigned to track her and figure out what's going on.

It all comes together very nicely, in sometimes surprising ways. Fowler takes us into the world of Eastern European immigrants and the privileged ranks of government officials and private clubs. The plot takes surprising, but perfectly reasonable twists, and does flirt with the supernatural, including an encounter with a fellow who seems like he'll be a menace in a future work.

It has a very satisfying conclusion, and the next book in the series, "Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart," is now available. I'll have to start on that soon to find out if my hunch is right...

Anyway, read this. It's a lot of fun. And read the rest of the series as well. You'll thank me.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

An Icy Thursday Night at the Cinema!

It's a frigid February night. We thought we were over the hump with winter but now there's record colds and snow heaped everywhere....will spring ever come? Or will we just lurch into an overheated, humid summer?

Our dinner at the usual restaurant is marked by laments over the weather and Valentine's Day horror stories. We finally settle the bill and a blast of frigid wind and driven snow greet us as we stumble up the street to that old movie house...

Tonight's offering is a 1934 thriller, House of Danger!

The movie over, we hail a cab as that cafe is too far to walk in this cold wind...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tales of Hoffmann: Automata

"Automata" gives us Hoffmann in what appears to be an experimental mood, and not always succeeding. The story is in several parts, and it can seem as if the parts are greater than the whole.

It opens with the narrator going to visit his friend Vincent who's having a storytelling session. An attendee, named Cyprian (what a great name!) tells a memorably unsettling tale of a haunting which leaves people so traumatized that a teenaged girl is driven mad and now thinks she's a ghost. Some editors have cut that part from the story, and it's good enough to stand on its own, and has no bearing on the rest of the story.

Then another attendee, Theodore (maybe supposed to be Hoffmann himself?) tells a tale of the Talking Turk, a famous touring automaton which is very obviously based on the famous chess-playing Turk (pictured above) which I've written about before.

However, this Turk answers questions in a very macabre manner, and the story is of someone who asks a question, and gets a strange answer, and all sorts of twists and turns of fate that result. The automaton really doesn't play that big a role in the story, and it's more of romance and betrayal and fate...and then it just stops. Little is resolved, plot threads are left hanging, and the automaton's nature is unrevealed.

It's puzzling. The title really comes across as a misnomer. The structure is a bit odd and disjointed. The main story has no real ending and is unresolved.

But...given some thought, and a lot of this is coming to me as I write this, I wonder if this was meant to duplicate the experience of friends getting together and telling stories. Stuff just comes out, and sometimes an intriguing story just peters out because the person telling it doesn't know how it ends, or maybe, as so often in real life, things do just peter out unresolved.

So instead of an botched attempt at a weird tale, this could very well be a bold and experimental tale that prefigures postmodern literature. Damn, that Hoffmann was something else.

More Tales of Hoffmann coming soon!

Monday, February 2, 2015

An Evening at the Phantom Pub

It's a chilly February night, and for a change of pace we've gathered at a local pub for a pint and a bite. It's a warm, convivial place, and it turns out there's live entertainment on the menu...

This classic tune is known in many versions and has been around for centuries. Since President's Day is coming up, I'm posting it here as this good-natured song of humorous exaggeration was a favorite of George Washington, who was known to sing it to his friends' children.

Of course, I have no idea which version he sang, but this one is certainly charming, and now that I'm living in an actual port city, I like to imagine some sailors singing that in some smoky pub long ago...