Saturday, June 25, 2016

BAUDELAIRE'S REVENGE by Bob van Laerhoven

This was a random find at the library, but I found it enjoyable.

It's 1870. Paris is in turmoil, with the Franco-Prussian War and the populace's attempts to distract themselves from what seems like inevitable doom. Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and carnal pleasures, investigates a gruesome murder in a brothel, and finds the killer has left behind a note...which is a quote from Baudelaire, and seemingly in the poet's handwriting. But the poet has been dead for three years! Has he risen from the grave?

More murders ensue, with some gruesome mutilations as well. What is the point? What is the goal of the murderer? There's lots of historical detail here, and we also start seeing things from the killer's point of view, but it's obvious it's an unreliable narrator here, and it's not until the end that we know what their motivation is, and the nature of their secrets.

It's not bad at all, but it has its weaknesses. From the start I knew a certain character was going to be more than they seemed and would be a traitor. Author van Laerhoven seems to push certain ideas and concepts almost too much. The sexual content is somewhat explicit and often quite perverse. (Even from my jaded viewpoint, it was a bit much.) There's occasional blips of racism but they're always in the context of a first-person narrative so they can be forgiven for being the viewpoint of a person of the time...and a bad person at that.

The big problem for me was that it was a bit too reminiscent of another work I'd read years ago, that involved a similar plot device with another famous author. (NEVERMORE, by Harold Schechter, if you must know.) I'm sure it was a coincidence but it was a bit of a letdown.

Still, it's Paris, it's decadent, and it's got an appealing character in Commissioner Lefevre, and I almost wish van Laerhoven would bring him back. We'll see about that.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Sultry June Night at the Movies!

We stumble into the theater, thanking whatever gods are listening for air conditioning. They just had a new system put in, obviously at the expense of a coat of paint, but hey, priorities. It got to over 100 today, and even though the sun's down, it's still oppressive out there.

Cold drinks at the refreshment stand! Hallelujah! And the ticket-taker with the biceps and tattoos is greeting us with a wink and a smile. Pardon me, he and I have something to discuss....

OK, I'm back. Get settled in, take a sip of something cold. We've got a fun program tonight.

We're having a silent short to kick off the's a 1919 short, "The Haunted Curiosity Shop."

And then our feature presentation, the 1935 crime drama "Circumstantial Evidence."

Although not directly based on the Lindbergh case, "Circumstantial Evidence" does take a few cues from it, and reflects the tone of the time, when many were pondering the idea of someone being convicted (like Bruno Hauptmann) solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. It's an interesting little time capsule of a film.

OK, show's over...let's go get another cold drink, shall we?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Lewis Barnavelt has gone off to Boy Scout camp for the summer, and his best friend Rose Rita Pottinger is left at home feeling resentful. She's also turning into a teenager, and dealing with enormously ambivalent feelings about growing up.

Her friend, the good witch Mrs. Zimmermann, offers to take Rose Rita with her on a trip to visit a farmhouse she inherited from an eccentric cousin, who claimed in a letter to have found a magic ring while digging in a nearby field. They drive up there, encounter an unfriendly neighbor with a grudge against Mrs. Z, and go to the house to find the ring stolen.

They continue on a long rambling holiday around Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but eerie happenings keep popping up, and at one point Mrs. Z becomes mysteriously ill. They head back to the house...and then Mrs. Z disappears, and Rose Rita must figure things out on her own.

THE LETTER, THE WITCH, AND THE RING (1976) is a bit different for Bellairs; this time he was seriously trying to explore Rose Rita's emotions and feelings about getting older. I'm not sure it always rings true, but it's good he was stretching himself.

The villain, Gert Biggers, is probably Bellairs' most sympathetic villain; she's someone who has led a hard life and wishes for a fresh start. Too bad she's consumed with bitterness and resentment, and a psycho to boot. There's some interesting background to Mrs. Zimmermann, and she also presents a good example of self-acceptance as she adjusts to life without her powers, which were lost in the last book.

There's some good atmosphere here, with the empty farmhouse and the storm-tossed fields, but sometimes the book drags a little with the descriptions of them driving around small-town Michigan. Rose Rita makes a new friend with local farmgirl Aggie Sipes, who's kind of interesting, but she never appears again.

In the "About the Author" bit at the end, it's claimed this is the final volume of the Barnavelt trilogy, but many years later the series was continued. More about that later....

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

June at the Phantom Concert Hall!

We're off to that old concert hall again this month; the city orchestra has a special guest violinist and he's going to show off tonight by performing Pablo de Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen."

Pablo Martin Meliton de Sarasate y Navascues was born in Pamplona, Spain, in 1844. He was a child prodigy on the violin and had a long, successful career as a violinist and composer. He composed mainly to show off his own amazing technique, and his works aren't for amateurs.

Zigeunerweisen is Sarasate's most popular piece, and is regarded these days as a test of a violinist's ability. Enjoy it!