Monday, September 28, 2015


Catching up with Christopher Fowler is always a delight. His books never fail to entertain.

Two teenagers go to a London park, ostensibly to stargaze. The park is really a long-disused cemetery, still kept up, and while on a romantic stroll, they encounter what appears to be a case of the living dead: a seeming corpse suddenly standing and moving toward them before collapsing.

Of course, the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called on the case. There's more to this than they anticipate; the corpse died recently, a seeming suicide, but there's something about the shady people he was working for that could have led to his desperate act. And now his wife is stalking her husband's former associates, and the teenaged son grows more surly.

It gets more complicated as one of the teenage witnesses is murdered, and more corpses pile up. There's another mystery going on, of how the famous ravens from the Tower of London are suddenly missing. Superstition has it that this is a sign of the collapse of the nation; is it really? And is that Crowleyesque Satanist who showed up in the last book somehow responsible?

This kicks off another investigation through modern London, which is every bit as bizarre and gothick as anything from a Hammer film. The story involves some strange forgotten corners of the city, a group of resurrectionists, and a jolly undertaker, before coming to a rational and satisfying end.

This is fabulous fun, a great old-fashioned tale with enough modernism to keep it from being out-of-date. There's some good exploration of Bryant and May's psyches and we delve into some of the other PCU members as well. The teenage daughter of one member gets pulled into some detective work as well....PCU, The Next Generation?

Any Bryant & May is a great read, and this especially is great reading as autumn gathers around us. As always, it's Required Reading.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Dreary September Night at the Movies!

Autumn chill is finally gathering around us, and it's a dank, drizzly night as we gather at our usual restaurant for a meal and conversation before the show. Many discuss plans for October...after all, it's always a busy month for us! There's always parties and shows and movies and whatnot, and September is a time to gather one's energy for the flurry of October and the frenzy of Halloween, and then the long slide into the winter holiday season...

Our bill paid, and a bit of the flavor of the pear crisp we all had for dessert lingering pleasantly in our memories, we head up the street to that old movie theater we also go to. The guy taking the tickets has a new piercing, it seems, and is always glad to see us. Maybe. But we still have a good time.

Tonight's show is the notorious 1934 trash classic MANIAC!

This is, without a doubt, the sleaziest film I've featured on this blog. Producer/director Dwain Esper was a schlockmeister and huckster, who loved to make sleazy shock films and cloak them in a veil of feigned morality. This flick pretends to have class credentials, pretending to be based on three different Poe stories ("The Black Cat," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and "The Tell-Tale Heart") but really it just does whatever it can to shock. Plot threads are left dangling, bizarre things won't believe your eyes.

The movie over, we stagger out, laughing in disbelief at what we've seen, and make our way up the street to that little cafe to dissect what we've seen and argue over its meaning....if it ever had any to begin with...

Monday, September 14, 2015

DEATH IN THE GARDEN by Elizabeth Ironside

A rawther genteel book cover belies a novel full of vintage suspicions and modern-day drama.

In 1925, beautiful Diana Pollexfen is celebrating her 30th birthday with a group of bohemian friends at the country house owned by her wealthy husband George, who himself is a bit of a stick in the mud who disapproves of her friends and of his wife's attempts at independence. Diana is actually a very talented photographer, and her friends number some writers and artists.

In the midst of all the Bright Young Things having fun, there's tension in the air as George wants Diana to give up photography once and for all and be a good submissive wife. But at the end of the long weekend party, George is found dead in the garden, poisoned by Diana's photography chemicals.

Fast-forward 60 years. Helena Fox is turning 30 with little fanfare. A lawyer in a London firm, she's having an unsatisfying affair with a married MP and desires a break from it all. She's thinking of going to visit her great-aunt Fox, only to learn that her beloved great-aunt, who had practically raised her, has died. Helena goes to her house in Rutland and starts to attend to the formalities...and makes some surprising discoveries. Her great-aunt had once been a famous photographer (under another name) and had been acquitted of murder! Examining her great-aunt's diaries, she gets a sense of guilt but is unable to get any resolution to the problem. So, she starts off trying to piece together the remaining bits to see if she can find out the real story....

So what we have is a story taking place in two timelines, with varying points of view involved. It's a good story overall, although I was a bit disappointed in the ending. However, it's got some ponderings about women's roles in society in the different eras, and how they can be shockingly similar. The 20's milieu is beautifully described and laid out before us, frankly presented although not entirely glamorized. (I mean, come on, any representation of the wealthy Bright Young Things of the Roaring 20s is going to be somewhat glamorous.) The language is lovely and the plot moves along from one Rashomon-style story to another, until the Truth is revealed.

A very pleasant read, and worth checking out.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kicking off September in the Phantom Cabaret

It's Labor Day weekend, and we're spending some of it at a nice little cabaret in town. We're having some drinks, talking, and enjoying an evening of Kurt Weill tunes. And then one very appropriate song is played...

OK, so Lou Reed isn't quite Lotte Lenya, but his version is quite fun, and a nice change from the usual renditions of the old familiar tune.

Autumn is coming, folks...lots of fun stuff on the way....