Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Sultry May Night at the Movies

We're in the midst of a late-spring heat wave, with sky-high temperatures and humidity to match. Folks are breaking out the linen clothes, the short sleeves, the summer dresses, and even the white shoes, and Memorial Day isn't here yet.

Our dinner at the familiar old restaurant is a light one, and conversation largely revolves around what we plan to this summer. Some are planning visits to conventions, or major vacations here and there, while a few are planning a long weekend at a quiet spot near the sea.

Once dinner is over, we wander up the street to that charming old movie house...

To match the sultry weather, we have the tropical setting of 1934's "Picture Brides," a classic B-movie thriller.

After the show, we head up the street, hoping for a cold drink at that little cafe....

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What I've Been Reading Lately

While the title may make you think of something very English-village-cozy, this is actually an interesting variation on the hardboiled formula, only set in the world of music box collectors. Dr. Thomas Purdue, an emergency room surgeon who's also a collector, gets a hot tip to buy an unbelievably rare music box for an indecently low price. It needs a few minor repairs, so he gives it to a good friend who's the best music box repairman around...only he is murdered and the box is missing. And then the dealer he bought it from is murdered as well. Soon nearly everyone who came into contact with the box is murdered. Why? Purdue is determined to find out before he becomes the next victim.

Purdue is tough, and while he cares for his friends and his estranged wife, his greatest devotion is to antiques, and you learn a lot about music boxes and other clockwork gadgets from this book. The mystery is well-constructed but not quite fair-play; there is a major clue hidden from the reader that would reveal the murderer too early. Still, it's an enjoyable enough book, and will make you want to browse for music boxes the next time you're out antiquing. This spawned a couple of sequels.

And I finally got on the bandwagon and started on the Lucifer Box novels by Mark Gatiss, and it matched my mood. I wanted something sexy and snarky and arch, and that was unashamed of having a pulpy plot, and his fit the bill.

Lucifer Box is a portrait painter who is also a secret agent for the British government in 1900. His superior meets him while sitting on the toilet, in a scene that's like a tarted-up version of "Get Smart." Box sets about seducing a young woman who comes to him for drawing lessons, but then gets summoned to Italy to investigate the disappearance of an agent...and of a number of scientists and geologists as well. It takes a number of enjoyable twists and turns, and quite a few characters are sexually ambiguous, so this isn't for the too conservative. (But if you're very conservative, what are you doing reading this?)

Seriously, though, this is a lot of fun, with a big pulpy plot. I've read too many Victorian/steampunk adventures that try too hard to be lit-ra-choor and lack the courage of their convictions to simply be enjoyable books with solid plots. Pick this one up for a good time.

I recently picked up a modern reprinting of Kathleen Winsor's notorious epic FOREVER AMBER and while it's massive (over 1,000 pages), so far it's enjoyable as a bodice-ripping romp. While somewhat sexually frank, it's hardly the smut it was made out to be in the 40s. And it's a very well-researched look at Restoration England and the court of the Merry Monarch, Charles II.

And I picked this up while used-book shopping; it's a 1950 edition of MISCHIEF, by Charlotte Armstrong, a crackerjack thriller writer of the 50s and 60s who is criminally forgotten today. This was filmed in 1952 as DON'T BOTHER TO KNOCK, starring Marilyn Monroe. Isn't that an amazing cover?

So that's what I'm reading lately....What are you reading?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Phantom Ballad for May

We've been out to a movie, and stopped by a slightly shabby yet still dignified bar by the harbor for a drink. Conversation is sparkling, and there's live music tonight. The drinks are good but although it's cozy in the bar, the threat of rain outside has lent an odd sense of forboding to it all.

Then one of the musicians gets up and sings this old folk ballad...

Was that a woman's face looking in the window? A shudder passes down your back as you avoid looking, afraid you'll see something you'd rather not deal with....