Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Today happens to be the 132nd birthday of character actor Sydney Greenstreet.  Born in England, Greenstreet was a failed tea planter in Ceylon who turned to acting out of boredom.  From 1902 on he made his living on the stage, traveling back and forth across the Atlantic.  It wasn't until 1941, when he was 62, that Greenstreet finally agreed to make films.  His debut film couldn't have been better.

Another movie he did with Bogie is a classic:

And then there was this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And was there a more slimy villain than Count Fosco?

In 1948, Greenstreet retired from films, but in 1951 he returned as everyboody's favorite corpulent detective:

He died in 1954, but his spirit lives on.  He was in part the inspiration for Jabba the Hut and for the Marvel Comics villain The Kingpin.  The Nagasaki atomic bomb was nicknamed "The Fat Man", a nod to Greenstreet's Caspar Gutman character in The Maltese Falcon.

He's been immortalized in poetry:

And in theater:

And there has even been a sideways musical tribute to the man:

So, happy birthday, Sydney!  You made good movies even better.


For more Overlooked stuff this week, go to Sweet Freedom, where Todd will have all the links.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Another good week with more interesting items.  A lot of horror and thrillers here, but The Moon Conquerors was a special find.

  • Peter Abresch, Bloody Bonsai and Killing Time.  The first two novels in the Elderhostel mystery series.  Both signed.
  • Robert Crais, Hostage.  Thriller.  This copy was published as a tie-in to the Bruce Willis movie.
  • L. P. Davies, The Paper Dolls.  Mystery/horror/SF hybrid.
  • Charles de Lint, Tapping the Dream Tree:  New Tales of Newford.  Fantasy collection of 18 stories, four of which were originally published as limited edition chapbooks and another of which was published published as a limited edition book. 
  • Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major, The New Lifetime Reading Plan (Fourth Edition).  Yeah, like I needed this.
  • Tom Fassbender & Jim Pascoe, Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Creatures of Habit.  An "illustated novel", with art by Brian Horton & Paul Lee.
  • Christopher Golden, The Boys Are Back in Town.  Dark fantasy.
  • Brian Hodge, Nightlife.  Horror.
  • [Charles D. Hornig, uncredited editor], The Moon Conquerors.  This is a reprint of the first issue of the U.S. magazine Science Fiction Quarterly,  (Summer, 1940) re-paginated from 148 pages to 176 pages by British publisher Gerald Swan in 1943.  This one is printed on blue paper and has had its cover replaced by blue cardboard stock with the title hand printed.  Contains the title novel (by R. H. Romans, reprinted from Science Wonder Quarterly, Winter, 1930) and five original short stories by Eando Binder, Raymond Z. Gallun, Harl Vincent, and others.
  • James Herbert, Domain.  Apocalyptic horror with rats. 
  • Richard Laymon,  Island.  Horror.  This edition has a special introduction by Dean Koontz.
  • John le Carre, Absolute Friends.  Spy novel.
  • Brian Lumley, Necroscope, Necroscope IV:  Deadspeak, Necroscope:  The Lost Years, and Necroscope:  The Lost Years, Volume Two:  Resurgence.  Four horror novels.  Harry Keogh talks to the dead and kills vampires.
  • John Lutz, The Night Watcher.  Thriller.
  • Graham Masterton, Tengu.  Horror, or (as the cover blurb has it) "a novel of demonic nuclear terror."
  • Thomas F. Monteleone, The Blood of the Lamb.  Apocalyptic thriller.
  • Philip Nutman, Wet Work.  Apocalyptic zombie novel.
  • Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Dance of Death, The Ice Limit, and Reliquary.  Thrillers three, with the first and the last featuring FBI agent Pendergast.
  • [various writers], Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Volumes 1 & 2.  These volumes collect various stories from the Buffy comic book.  These are note presented in the order of their appearance, but in chronological order with in the television shows time.  Thus, in the first volume, the first story takes Spike and Dru from China in the Boxer Rebellion to the Chicago World's Fair in 1933.  The second story adapts the original movie and gives us Buffy's origin.  Buffy and Pike then travel to Las Vegas, and then Buffy returns alone to LA, slaying all the way.  The stories in the first volume were published in 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2003.  Scripts were by Christopher Golden, Dan Brereton, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, and Paul Lee; artwork was by Eric Powell, Joe Bennett, Cliff Richards, Paul Lee, Ryan Sook, Guy Major, Hector Gomez, Jeremy Cox, and Brian Horton.   Volume 2 continues the chronological timeline with the breakup of Buffy's parents and her move to Sunnydale, then leaps forward to the the end of the show's first season, then to the second and third seasons.  The stories were originally published in 1998 to 2003.  Writers in Volume 2 are Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Jen Van Meter, Christopher Golden, Doug Petrie, and James Marsters (Spike!); artists include Jeff Matsuda, David McCaig, Hakjoon Kang, Nolan Obena, Cliff Richards, Brian Horton, Luke Ross, Rick Ketcham, Guy Major, Ryran Sook, and Hector Gomez.  Phew.

Update, 12/24

     A few more came on Christmas while doing the annual chili feast at my daughter's.  I'll be on the road Christmas Day, so this post is going in Monday's queue.  Any way, these make me smile:
  •  Anna Dewdney, Llama Lama Holiday Drama.  I love llamas, alpacas, and vicunas, so naturally I ususally receive something llama oriented.
  • Jamie Frater,'s Ultimate Book of Bizarre Lists.  With this in my hands, I may not have to go to Bill Crider's blog everyday.  (Actually, I still will -- if only to find out the many spurious events wherein Texas leads the way.)   My eleven-year-old grandson told me I'll really like this book -- it has fifteen little-known facts about toilets!  "Hey, Pop, did you know the King George II died from falling off the toilet?"  "Hmm.  What were his last words, Mark?  'Oh, crap!'?"

I also think Mark had something to do with one of Kitty's gifts:
  •  Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie, Slow Death by Rubber Duck:  The Secret Danger of Everyday Things.  (Mark has my thirteen-year-old mental and emotional maturity two years ahead of schedule.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011


We're off to Massachusetts next week, so I probably won't be blogging except for a few items already in the queue.

I'm not sure what we'll be doing up there.  My wife was hoping for a seafood platter at her favorite restaurant, but it closed last year.  Any trip to Massachusetts automatically meant a visit (or two) to Kate's Mystery Books, but Kate has closed up her store.  Kimball's Ice Cream will be closed for the season.  Bah!

Luckily, Jessamyn and the girls will be around so we'll get some good family time in.

Have a great week!


Friday, December 23, 2011


Still Is the Summer Night by August Derleth (1937)

August Derleth's reputation as a regional writer stems from his massive Wisconsin Saga, of which the Sac Prairie Saga is a subset.  Novels, short stories, juveniles, poems, journals, history -- all went into the saga throughout his career.  Since his death in 1971, Derleth's regional writing has not had the prominence of other aspects of his work.  He's now better known as the man who gave birth to H. P. Lovecraft's resurgence as an important writer, as an editor and publisher of specialty press Arkham House, as a fantasy writer, and as the creator of the Holmesian detective Solar Pons.  Much of his work is in print today because of the efforts of George Vanderburgh's small Canadian press Battered Silicon Dispatch Box.

     Derleth's Sac Prairie is a thinly disguised version of his home town of Sauk City, Wisconsin, and Derleth has mined the history and the people of Sac City from its beginning to well into the Twentieth Century.  Still Is the Summer Night takes place over a period of three years, beginning in 1882.  Sac Prairie has grown from a frontier town to a safe farming village, no longer under threat by Indians.  Newspapers and magazines are now available, bringing the world and its issues to importance, from the latest fashions to foreign wars and the attempt to dig a canal in Panama.  The Wisconsin River and its shifting sands are being dammed, bringing an inevitable ending to commercial rafting traffic -- with a new railroad hastening its demise as a deliverer of goods.  Machines are about to do much of the work normally done by hand on the small farms throughout the country.

     Amid this change there remains a contant in the beauty of the land.  Derleth uses the sounds, smells, and colors of the land and sky to reflect his own deep appreciation of his homeland.  The variety of birds and plants is lovingly cataloged throughout the novel.  Despite an encrouching and ever-narrowing world, the years seem marked only by comparisons to earlier years -- is the soil richer than two years ago, is the corn fuller than last year, could the wheat be hardier this year, and will the weather be more cooperative? 

     Captain Charles Halder has left the running of his farm to his two sons, 34-year-old Ratio and 27-year-old Alton.  Rounding out the family are Ratio's wife Julie and their infant daughter Cynthia.  Marriage and  fatherhood have brought a change to Ratio:  he is now darker and morose, and he soon began ignoring his wife and started affairs with local women.  Alton realizes this, resenting his brother while Julie and the Captain remain ignorant of Ratio's infidelities.  Alton sympathizes for his sister-in-law, whom he has known affectionally since childhood.  But this sympathy soon turns into something deeper as Alton finds himself secretly in love with his brother's wife.

     As Ratio's actions become more and more flagrant and Julie realizes that he has been cheating, she finds herself getting closer to her quiet, supportive, and sympathetic brother-in-law.  Passion erupts and Julie and Alton find themselves in what appears to be a doomed situation.

      Still Is the Summer Night is not one of Derleth's better novels.  The plot is better fitted for a novelet than a full-length book and Derleth spends too much time describing the land and the historical events that are taking place.  Commonplace events do little to advance the plot.  The novel reads as though Derleth was trying to write two books, one about a pivotal time in Sac Prairie's history and the other about the lovers' triangle. 

     The book remains highly readable, though, and the characters and their situations are well-drawn.  The author's third-person study of motivation is also spot on.  The passing references to some of Derleth's more popular characters as such Doctor Grendon and Uncle Joe Stoll in their younger days are a welcome addition. 

     Bottom line:  a flawed but highly interesting book for Derleth fans.


     Todd Mason is collecting the links for Friday's Forgotten Books Today.  Go to Sweet Freedom to check them out.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


You have just got to check out this site.  And be sure to scroll down to view each piece of work.  It made my day!

The creative mind never fails to surprise, amuse, delight, and edify.

Hat tip to Dawn.  Thanks!


With the recent death of Joe Simon, co-creator of Captain America, I thought we should see how Cap was doing in 1944.  The link will take you to all fifteen episodes.

     Hmm.  Do I hear a loud "What!" coming from those of you familiar with the comic book character?  What happened to Steve Rogers, super-soldier?  Where's Bucky?  Shouldn't Captain America have a shield?  And where in hell are the Nazis, and where in flaming blue hell is World War II?   Well, seems Republic Studios claimed not to know about any of those things when they bought the rights to make the serial from Timely Publications, the comic book company for which Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America, and by the time Republic found out, gee, it was too late in the shooting to change.  Yeah, I don't believe it either.

     Most likely, Republic had a script but nothing to hang it on.  Jim Harmon and Donald Glut have suggested that the script was originally written for a sequel to 1940's Mysterious Doctor Satan (a serial which shares a director with this one).  More likely is Eric Stedman's theory that the script originally belong to a projected Mr. Scarlet serial, based on the Fawcett comic book hero who tanked on the news stands before a film could be made.

     Whatever.  Captain America is played here by a somewhat pudgy Dick Purcell, who usually played villains or he-men.  Captain America is the alter ego of Grant Gardner, a fighting District Attorney from Unnamed City, U.S.A.  His costume is just a bit off from the comic book character's, and he uses a gun -- not a shield -- to good (and deadly) effect.  Gardner is investigating several supposed suicides of museum officials.  (Possibly because of the strenuous role of Captain America, Purcell died of a heart attack before the film appeared; he was only 35.)

     Helping Gardner is his plucky assistant, Gail Richards, played by eye candy Lorna Gray.  Gray began her career at Columbia (which gave her her stage name -- she was born Virginia Pound), and moved to Republic around 1941.  She may best most recognized for her appearances in some early Three Stooges shorts, though she became a mainstay in western and horror films.  A year after appearing in Captain America, she changed her stage name to "Adrian Booth."  Plucky assistant she may have been, but there were no on-screen sparks between her and her boss.

     The criminal mastermind is Dr. Cyrus Malder, a. k. a. The Scarab, played by Lionel Atwill, a mainstay character actor with a strong background on both London and Broadway stages.  Atwill had the distinction of appearing in five of the eight Universal Frankenstein movies, as well as playing Dr. Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  He also had a memorable role in To Be or Not To Be, the Jack Benny film.  Atwill is easily recognizable for his many roles as mad scientists, doctors, and police officers.  (Interestingly, his third wife was the former wife of General Douglas MacArthur; she divorced him a couple of years after he was brought up on morals charges stemming from one of his "wild parties" in 1940.)  Dr. Malder is a museum curator who is killing off colleagues out of jealousy (and for money -- and because he's a mad villain, of course).  As The Scarab, Malder is going after some superweapons:  the "Dynamic Vibrator" (no, not something advertised on late night television) and the "Electronic Firebolt."

     The Scarab's main henchman is played by George J. Lewis, best known as Zorro's father in the old Walt Disney series.  Lewis was a staple in 1950s and 1960s television; IMDB lists 296 titles for Lewis in both films and television.

     The two directors credited are Elmer Clifton and John English.  Clifton directed over 90 films, and provided the story or screenplay to many of them.  English appears to have gone on  to direct (warning:  hyperbole ahead) almost every television show of the Fifties and Sixties, and helmed such classic (?) serials as Zorro's Fighting Legion, Drums of Fu Manchu, Adventures of Captain Marvel, Dick Tracy's G-Men, and the above-mentioned Mysterious Doctor Satan.

     General consensus appears to be that Republic serials began a twelve-year slide immediately after Captain America.  Considering its budget and its format, the serial is a fast-moving, slambang, gee-whizzer with plenty of action, fights, and explosions.  Is this enough to make up for screwing with a national icon?  I guess you will have to decide.


     For links to more of today's Overlooked Films, go to Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom.


Monday, December 19, 2011


A lot of SF and fantasy this week, mixed in with some good westerns.  Plus, Honey West (!) and the conclusion to Irving Shulman's Amboy Dukes trilogy.  I'm in a holiday mood now.
  • Robert Adams, Monsters and Magicians (Stairway to Forever:  Book II).  Fantasy.
  • Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason, The Trinity Paradox.  SF.
  • Piers Anthony, Bio of an Ogre.  Autobiography.
  • Rober Asprin, Phule's Company.  Humorous SF.
  • Ben Bova, Escape Plus.  SF collection of eleven stories, included the 1970 YA novel Escape!.
  • Terry Brooks, The Wishsong of Shannara.  Pseudo-Tolkien.  Number three in the series.
  • C. J. Cherryh, Cuckoo's Egg.  SF.
  • Arthur C. Clarke, Imperial Earth.  SF.
  • Walt Coburn, Coffin Ranch:  A Western Trio.  Three novellas from Action Stories and 10 Story Western, 1927-1937.  Edited by Jon Tuska.
  • "Jackson Cole" [Leslie Scott], The Death Riders.  A Jim Hatfield, Texas Ranger novel.
  • Aleister Crowley, Book 4.  The self-named "Great Beast" with a primer on Magick, Yoga, and mysticism.  Ho-hum.
  • Ellen Datlow, editor, The First OMNI Book of Science Fiction and The Second OMNI Book of Science Fiction.  The first volume has 14 stories from OMNI circa 1978-1982;  the second has 17 stories, all but one from 1979-1982, with an additional "original" story translated from the Russian.
  • Samuel R. Delaney,  Tales of Neveryon.  Fantasy; five stories.
  • Philip Jose Farmer, Gods of Riverworld.  SF; the sixth novel in the series.
  • "G. G. Fickling" [Gloria and Forrest E. Fickling], Kiss for a Killer.  Honey West, the female Mike Hammer, in a case involving an evangelical christian nudist camp and a car full of turantulas.
  • Alan Dean Foster, The Day of the Dissonance and The Moment of the Magician.  Books 3 and 4 in the Spellsinger fantasy series.
  • Eric Garcia, Anonymous Rex.  A PI novel with dinosaurs; first of a series.
  • Elizabeth George, With No One as Witness.  An Inspector Lynley/Sergeant Havers mystery.  Spoiler Alert:  This is the where Helen is offed!
  • Peter F. Hamilton, The Reality Disfunction, Part 2:  Expansion.  SF.
  • Graham Joyce, The Facts of Life.  WWII (and post WWII) family novel which takes place in England and shows us that magical realism is not a province strictly for Latin writers.
  • Katherine Kurtz, The Bishop's Heir, The King's Justice, and The Quest for King Camber.  Fantasy trilogy comprising The Histories of King Kelson.  Also, The Legacy of Lehr.  SF.
  • Louis L'Amour, Comstock Lode.  Western.
  • Sterling E. Lanier, Hiero's Journey.  SF.
  • Robert Lory, Dracula's Brothers.  Horror, number 3 in the Dracula Horror Series, one of a gazillion books packaged by Lyle Kenyon Engle in the 70s.
  • T. J. MacGregor, Vanished.  Thriller/horror.
  • D. Keith Mano, The Bridge.  SF.
  • Sharyn McCrumb, The Ballad of Frankie Silver.  An Appalachian novel;  McCrumb doesn't like to call them mysteries.  (I forgive her for that because she writes so darned well and because she looks a lot like my sister.)
  • Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey, Elvenblood.  Fantasy.  Book Two of the Halfblood  Chronicles.
  • Robert Rankin, Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls.   Fantasy with more than a twist of humour.
  • Mike Resnick, Martin H. Greenberg, and Loren D. Estleman, editors, Deals with the Devil.  Fantasy/horror anthology with 32 original stories.
  • Anne Rice, Merrick.  A mash-up of Rice's Vampire and Witch series, from her post-erotica, pre-Christian period.
  • Melissa Scott, Mighty Good Road.  SF.
  • Irving Shulman, The Big Brokers.  The third book in The Amboy Dukes trilogy.  The Amboy Dukes (1947 and the first in the trilogy) was a national best-seller and was the book that brought juvenile delinquents to the American forefront.   In Cry Tough! (1949) one of the gang members tries to go straight after a stretch in prison.   Finally, in The Big Brokers (1951), three of the gang members graduate to the mob and are sent to Las Vegas.  It's been over 40 years since I have read the trilogy and I was happy to find this book.  Tame stuff now, but it was pretty exciting in its time.  [Irving, by the way, added to his street cred by writing the preliminary script to Rebel Without a Cause; he later novelized his script as Good Deeds Must Be Punished.]
  • Duane Swierczynski,  Severance Package.  Crime novel.
  • Kenneth Von Gunden, K-9 Corps.  SF.
  • David Weber, The Armageddon Inheritance.  SF.
  • Roger Zelazny, Eye of Cat.  SF.


Sunday, December 18, 2011


Sad news.  Vaclav Havel, the playwright who brought democracy to Chezchoslovakia and toppled the Communist domination of his country, has passed away at age 75.  A longtime advocate of peace, Havel was more of a "Freedom Writer" than a "Freedom Fighter".  His plays and essays challenged a government that gtried to ban them.  He was instrumental in bringing about the "Velvet Revolution" and became the first democratically elected president of Chezchoslovakia. 

     What's also cool is that he was a big fan of Frank Zappa.


Airing for one season (1953-4) on the NBC radio network, The Six Shooter was a western series that seemed custom made for its star, Jimmy Stewart.  Stewart played Britt Ponset, a drifter with a deadly aim.  This was one of the better western series; its penchant for adding some humor seems to foreshadow Maverick, although I don't know of any creative relations.  (But, hey, Britt...Brett; just sayin'.)

The link below will take you to all forty episodes.  Enjoy.

     (Stewart refused to go along with the network, which wanted a cigarette company to sponsor the second season.  He felt this would be a betrayal to the children who listened to the show.  Knowing it would be almost impossible to replace Stewart, NBC cancelled the series.  Jimmy Stewart always was pretty cool.)


Here's Hank:


Saturday, December 17, 2011


One of the many joys of being a parent or grandparent is having the privilege of attending school concerts.  Last night, Erin (age 9) had her first winter concert, along with over a hundred of her nearest and dearest fourth and fifth grade friends.  (Yes.  Erin rocked, he said unbiasedly.  And she fully expected flowers from my wife at the end of the concert.)  Erin played flute with the Beginning Band, all of whom had begun playing their instuments a bit over three months ago.

     Since this was a public school, it was a "holiday" concert, not a Christmas concert.  To ensure that it was a holiday concert, we were subjected to secular music mixed with Chanukah songs.  (With so many better choices, why, o why do elementary school music teachers insist on "Dreidel, Dreidel"?)  The concert started with the Beginning Strings Orchestra performing "Dreidel, Dreidel", "Jingle Bells", and "A Mozart Melody."  Just in case there might be a quiz afterward, later on in the concert the Beginning Band played "A Mozart Melody", "Jingle Bells", and "My Dreidel", the last sure sounded a lot like "Dreidel, Dreidel" to me.  I'm assuming no effort was spared to mix up the program.

     Let me overcome my natural snarkiness to be emphatic about one thing:  it was a great evening.  The kids worked very hard and the entire program (including the Beginners sections) consisted of challenging arrangements.  Every child who took part in the concert should justly be proud.

     Of course, every child who participated had his or her name printed in the program.  Reading the program reinforced to me how much of a geezer I am.  I come from a generation and an environment where typical boy's names were Michael, John, David, Stephen, and James; girl's names gravitated to Patti and Cathy and Mary.  Idiosyncricies in spelling or phonetic spellings or just plain made-up names did not greatly prosper when I was growing up on a small New-England farm.

      In this year's fourth grade there is at least one Camryne, Cameron, Kamren, and Camron.  There's a Chloee (yes, two Es), and the fourth grade also hosts a Cheyenne, a Shayann, and a Shyenne.  There is a Sereniti, a Faithlin, a X'Zaveyon, a Ryleigh, a Draven, a Karly with a K, a Caitlyn with a Y, a Kaela, and a Morgen with an E.  Also on stage that night were an Abigal, an Alivia, an Areli, a Selia, an Alysa (one L), an Alanna (also one L), an Ashleigh, and a Nyla.  And there were (I hope) family names given as first names:  Deangelo, Pfeiffer, and Dillon (as opposed to the two Dylans also on the stage).  Not a single John (although one may have been hiding under the name JD), just one Michael, one David, one Stephen, and one James.  On the distaff side, I couldn't find a single Patti, Cathy, or Mary, although there was one Kate.

     (Full disclosure:  although I have been called "Jerry" since I was born, my given name is Ralph.  Ralph is a good solid name and I don't mind it, but it wasn't that common or popular when I was a kid; it didn't help that "ralphing" was a synonym for vomiting.)

     So I'm a geezer.  So what?  My hope is that every one of the kids on that stage last night embrace his or her name with pride.  I hope that each kid will nurture his or her talents and skills in a way that will bring honor to the name -- however it is spelled.  I hope that each nervous child and each cocky child I saw will bring to the future a kind heart and a passion for good.  I hope that music will always be with them, in good times and hard.

     I wasn't the only person to give them a standing O.  May they earn many more in the future.


Friday, December 16, 2011


No Forgotten Book today; I'm nearing the homestretch on Stephen King's 11/22/63.  You have just got to love a time-travel novel that deftly throws in an homage sentence such as this:  "If everything went just right, it was possible I could wind up with the girl, the gold watch, and everything."

     I almost always post Friday's Forgotten Book on one that I had read that week.  Since nothing I've read is forgotten (2 Joan Aiken collections, the first three volumes of Brian Vaughan's Runaways GN collections, and about 600 pages of the King doorstop) I'm going to just recommend a book I read a long time ago, Jane Langton's Good and Dead, the sixth in her marvelous Homer Kelly series.  It takes a long time, but man is murdered by his wife's cooking; she feeds him super-rich foods until his cholestrol-laden system gives up on him.  As stylish, witty and erudite as all of Langton's books, this one is an off-beat winner.

    ( Her next mystery, Murder at the Gardner, I happened to read shortly before visiting the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum.  About two weeks afterwards came the big art heist at the museum; several of the paintings stolen -- and never recovered -- were some that I particularly loved.  I'm glad I got a chance to see them.)


Thursday, December 15, 2011


Joe Simon, a co-creator (with partner Jack Kirby) of Captain America, died last night at age 98.  Simon also created the character The Human Torch in the 1940s.  Other characters created by Simon were Blue Bolt and The Boy Commandos.  Much of Simon's better-known work was for Timely Comics, the precursor to today's Marvel Comics.

     Simon not only created a national icon, he helped shape an industry.  An era has passed.

     Last month Titan Books released The Simon & Kirby Library:  Crime, with an introduction by Max Allan Collins.  Planned releases in this series include Heroes, Detective Adventures, Horror Tales, and Romance Stories, all of which will be worthwhile.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011


This week's contribution to Todd Mason's Forgotten Film series has been forgotten.  Well, not forgotten, actually, just not done.  I just got a copy of Stephen King's latest doorstop, 11/22/63, and all other business has been put on hold until I finish it; I'm a hundred pages in and only have about thirty thousand pages to go...

      I may have to send a note to Todd signed by my mother in my best handwriting, excusing me for this week.  You, however, should check out all the other Forgotten Films and/or A/V that are linked at Todd's blog Sweet Freedom, unless you, too, are wrapped up in King's new book.


Monday, December 12, 2011


A decent haul this week.  Over forty of them were a dime apiece.  God bless thift stores!
  • Edward S. Aarons, Assignment - Angelina.  A Sam Durrell spy guy thriller.
  • L. Frank Baum, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.  Juvenile fantasy from the creator of the Oz books.
  • Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld, Smallville:  See No Evil.  YA television tie-in; the second in the series.
  • William Peter Blatty, Elsewhere.  Horror novel.  This is the Cemetery Dance edition.  [See also Al Sarrantonio's anthology 999, below.]
  • Lawrence Block, Hope to Die.  Mystery, number 15 in the Matthew Scudder series.  I've fallen behind my Block. reading over the last few years and it's time to get back on track.
  • "Max Brand" [Frederick Faust],  Way of the Lawless.  Western.
  • Octavia Butler, Clay's Ark and Kindred.  Two SF novels by a powerful writer too soon gone.
  • Benjamin Capps, A Woman of the People.  Western.
  • D. G. Compton, Chronocules.  SF.
  • John Crowley, The Translator.  Literary fantasy.
  • Samuel R. Delaney, The Bridge of Lost Desire.  Fantasy.  Three tales from Neveryon.
  • "Drake Douglas" [Werner Zimmerman], Creature.  Horror.
  • J. T. Edson, The Big Gun.  Part of his Civil War series.
  • Alan Dean Foster, The Last Starfighter.  SF novelization of the film.
  • Randall Frakes, Terminator 2:  Judgment Day.  SF novelization of the film that had Arnold as a good cyborg.
  • Craig Shaw Gardner, Leprechauns.  Novelization of the television film.
  • Simon Hawke, Predator 2.  SF novelization of the film that didn't have Arnold.
  • Robert Hoskins, To Control the Stars.  SF novel
  • Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, April-March 1989.  A full year's run [13 issues, whole numbers 129-141] of the magazine.   Some great stories here.
  • William W. Johnstone, The Devil's Touch.  Horror.  The third of four in the series.
  • William W. Johnstone with J. A. Johnstone, The First Mountain Man:  Preacher's Assault.  I think this is #8 in the series.  This one was written after WWJ's death.
  • Sarah Langan, The Keeper.  Horror.  Her first novel.
  • Richard Laymon, One Rainy Night.  Horror.  Another writer too soon gone.
  • Eric Van Lustbader, Last Snow.  A Jack McClure-Alli Carson thriller.
  • Bentley Little, University.  Horror.
  • Graham Masterman, The Pariah.  Horror.
  • Andre Norton, Follow the Drum:  Being the Ventures and Misadventures of one Johanna Lovell, Sometime Lady of Catkept Manor in Kent County of Lord Baltimore's Proprietary of Maryland, in the Gracious Reign of King Charles the Second.  Very early (1942) Norton.
  • "P. J. Parrish" [Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols], The Little Death.  A Louis Kincaid mystery.
  • Steve Perry, Aliens, Book 1:  Earth Hive.  SF tie-in novel.
  • "Clarissa Ross" [W. E. D. Ross], The Haunting of Villa Gabriel and Mists of the Dark Harbor.  Two gothic paperback originals by Canada's answer to a writing machine (over 300 books!).
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Fey:  The Sacrifice.  The first book of the fantasy series.
  • Al Sarrantonio, editor, 999:  New Stories of Horror and Suspense.  Twenty-nine stories, including the original publication William Peter Blatty's Elsewhere [see above].
  • Tom Sharpe, Blott on the Landscape.  Classic humour from the other side of the Pond.
  • Bob Stickgold, The California Coven Project.  SF.
  • Cate Tiernan, Sweep #1:  Book of Shadows.  YA fantasy, the first in a looong series.
  • Jude Watson, Premonitions.  YA horror.
  • Henry Kitchell Webster, Who Is the Next?  A classic British mystery.
  • Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Night Blooming.  A Saint-Germain vampire novel, this time set in 800 A.D. Gaul.


Sunday, December 11, 2011


I just returned from this year's Tuba Christmas concert.  This is the tenth year they have had a Tuba Christmas in Southern Maryland although a Tuba Christmas has been around since the early Seventies when the first one was held in Rockefeller Center.  There are now Tuba Christmases held throughout the country (and the world).

     This year we had about twenty-five tuba players from Maryland and Northern Virginia, ranging in age from "twelve to seventy-four years and thirty-one months" (that last age was issued as a challenge to the mathematically disinclined).  There were all types of tubas represented and I have no idea what most of them were, but there were tubas and euphoniums and sousaphones and there were fancy tubas and plain tubas and new tubas and old tubas.  In previous years we have had Civil War tubas and homemade tubas, as well as a length of garden hose being used as a "tuba" in a demonstration.

     It's a fun time and lasts about an hour.  About a dozen Christmas carols are played, with the audience singing along in the second round of each song.  (FYI:  once you hear it on tubas, you will never think the same way about "Carol of the Bells" again.)  In the past few years the audience has continuously grown so large that they have had to keep moving to larger and larger venues.  This year about 500 people attended.

      So what is about a Tuba Christmas that makes it an annual tradition?  First, it's all about people wanting to share their music.  They come from all walks of life and all degrees of skill -- one young player admitted to playing the euphonium for only three days, but I'm sure he has played some type of brass instrument before.  For some of the players it's a family affair.  The audience is both social and appreciative.  Kids get to jingle bells during one number -- guess which one.  And you get to sing -- some very well and others (like me) not very well. 

     The concert ended this year just before sunset.  As we left, we could see the arching 2-mile bridge above the glittering Patuxent River, limned in a clear pink and orange sky.  It just added to the good feeling.  After the concert, a number of us stopped by my daughter's house so some could play with my grandson's ball python and others could ooh and aah at Christina's ever-growing Christmas village display (which really should have its own zip code by now).

     It was a great day.

      For a Tuba Christmas near you, check online at the Tuba Christmas site.  They're scheduled at various times and locations this month.  If a Tuba Christmas isn't in your area, you are always welcome to stop by Southern Maryland next year.

     Felice Navidad.


[hat tip to Dawn]


Saturday, December 10, 2011


With the normal week's worth of news concerning disasters, accidents, and politics [and sometimes the three are the same], we needed some good, exciting news.

     How about this?  Three women, two Libyan and one Yemani, are sharing the Noble Peace Prize.  A culture or a society can be determined on how women are treated.  We have a long way to go, but this gives me a good feeling.

     Or how about this?  There are rumors a-buzzing that scientists at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland have discovered the elusive "God Particle", also known as the Higgs boson.  It's the particle that is part of the field that gives mass matter.  The discovery could bring us closer to a Unified Field Theory, which is a good thing.  These are, of course, rumors; we'll find out next week if there is any truth to them.  In the meantime, I'm feeling good.



Sorry about this one...

Friday, December 9, 2011


A Fifth of Bruen:  Early Fiction of Ken Bruen (2006)

I spent the past few days savoring this omnibus of four short novels and two collections of short stories dating from 1991 to 1994.  These are the rare volumes that Bruen would sell by hand in the bars of Galway.  Bruen's writing -- deeply poetic, deeply painful, and deeply disturbing -- is to noir as Garfield the cat is to a raging beast; there are very few happy endings and even fewer undamaged souls...but the writing is glorious.

     The characters in these books are set upon by their culture, their economy, their religion, their drinking, and their own character.  Nobody gets off easy in a Bruen story.  Along the way, we see Bruen's trademarks:  a love of books and poetry and music, the influence of America, a Celtic tiger neutered and yet dangerous, fathers who distance themselves by violence and by drink, a church that uses arrogance and oppression, lists of everything under the sun, and quotations from writers great and small.

     Briefly then, the books:

     Funeral : Tales of Irish Morbidities is about Dillon, an alcoholic who works as a store security guard with an obsession with going to funerals.  Stephen Beck, "thirty-eight and going on dead," desperately wants to reunite with his youing daughter, whom his ex-wife has taken with her in Martyrs; the drink is getting to him:  he's having visions and his rage is tempered only by violence.  Ford, the protagonist of Shades of Grace, finds himself in a sham of a marriage to the sister of his boss; his one hope for redemption lies in an American woman named Grace.  Sherry and Other Stories is a misnomer:  most of these are brief sketches, many without an ending.  The one true story in the collection is "Priest," about (naturally) a priest, young and arrogant and whose church is being desecrated.  Danny, in All the Old Songs and Nothing to Fear, has lost his wife and young daughter to an underage driver on a joyride.  He decides to eliminate the city of punks.  Finally, The Time of Serena-May & Upon the Third Cross collects two major stories.

     Bruen did not write these books as much as he bleed them.  They are not to everyone's taste, but if you like sharp observation, writing that sparkles, and realistic characters, you should give them a try.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011


This paragraph from Ken Bruen's first novel,is an example of how he can write rings around just about anyone in the field.  The finely-chiseled, short sentences contain more meat than many books' giving us an entire culture in one brief paragraph -- Irish angst at its very best:

     "Padraig was laid in Billy's Acre...well away from the paying clients.  In the days of the poor house they took them there.  To the present, your status could be destroyed if anyone belonged to you had been put there.  It veered on the Protestant graves, and those were the pits.  On Cemetery Sunday, the priest blessing the graves ignored the paupers and the Protestants.  The area of Billy's Acre was neglected and overgrown.  The caretaker didn't bother with their upkeep, as who was there to complain.  The Protestants were well known for their non-tending of the dead.  I learned that at school.  They believed, 'You passed on.'  Why visit the graveyard when no one was home.  They didn't just chuck Padraig into the ground.  But there wasn't a whole lot of ceremony either.  The priest read that dirge in which 'man has but a short time to live and is full of misery.'  T'was more fitting to us around the grave than the fellah within it."

     -- from Funeral:  Tales of Irish Morbidities by Ken Bruen, 1991



Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Shortly after the Civil War a the Reno Brothers and their gang of outlaws terrorized Southern Illinois.  Frank, Sim, John, and Bill Reno had often been in trouble before.  As youths, they were rumored to be responsible for numerous acts of arson and violence.  During the war, at least some of them made a good living by joining the union army under one name or another, collecting their singing bonuses, then deserting -- only to start the scan over again.  After the war, the Reno Brothers and their cronies became the first organized gang of train robbers in America.  Their base of operations was the farm of their sister Laura; also on the farm was thier "good" brother, Clint.

     The historical events concerning the gang and their downfall form the basis of Tim Whelan's 1955 western Rage at Dawn.  The film was written by Horace McCoy, one of many the writer of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? did during his stint in Hollywood.  McCoy based the script on a story by Frank Gruber, a legendary mystery and western writer and later the creator of three television westerns:  Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan, and Shotgun Slade.  This was one of director Whelan's last films after a career that spanned four decades.

     The plot is a typical one.  After the youngest brother (Bill) is killed in a botched holdup, the brothers discover (and dispatch) an informant who was actually a spy for the Peterson (read Pinkerton) Detective Agency.  The Agency sends in operative James Barlow (Randolph Scott) to infiltrate the gang.  Complications arise in the form  (and a pretty good form at that) of Laura, the Reno sister, who despises what her brothers are doing.
The gang is captured and Barlow must race to save them when he hears there is a lynch mob after them.  (SPOILER ALERT:  He doesn't.)  This twist of an ending elevates the film from many other weterns.

     Since this one is based on history, we can't let a few facts get in our way.  The movie was shot in California, which (for some reason) viewers thought did not resemble Illinois -- especially with the California State flag in the background in one scene, along with telephone wires and a 48-star American flag.  Bill was never killed in an ambush; he was hung.  Laura was never the innocent as portrayed in the movie; she was complicent and abetting the gang.  John Reno was never hung; he ended up in jail.  The necktie party was actually three separate incidents.  And the gang actually ranged across the mid-West.

     The heck with history.  The film moves along quickly, even though Scott does not appear until 20 minutes into it.  The cast is great.  Along with Scott, we have Forrest Tucker (Frank Reno), J. Carroll Naish (Sim Reno), Myron Healey (John Reno), Richard Garland (Bill Reno), Denver Pyle (Clint Reno, the "good" borther), Edgar Buchanan (the crooked Judge), and the lovely Mala Powers (Laura Reno).  Also in the cast are familiar faces Kenneth Tobet, Jimmy Lyndon, Arthur Space, Ray Teal, and Howard Petrie.  At 87 minutes, this movie is certainly worth your time.  It's an above-average western and an above-average Randolph Scott flick -- although somewhat below those directed by Budd Boetticher.

     One year later, in 1956, Elvis Presley starred as Clint Reno in Love Me Tender, a musical verssion of the Reno Brothers story.

      In a showdown between Rage at Dawn and Love Me Tender, I wonder which would win.


     For more Overlooked Films today, check out Sweet Freedom, Todd Mason's interesting blog.


Monday, December 5, 2011


A baker's dozen this week.

  • Poul and Karen Anderson, The King of Ys, Volume Two.  Omnibus of the final two books in the fantasy quartet:  Dahut and The Dog and the Wolf.
  • [Anonymously edited], DragonLance Tales II, Volume Three:  The War of the Lance.  Gaming tie-in anthology with ten stories.  The introduction is by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman.
  • Todhunter Ballard, Blizzard Range.  Western.  Interesting fact:  Ballard was Rex Stout's cousin.
  • Wayne D. Dundee, Brutal Ballet.  P.I. Joe Hannibal and professional wrestling.  What's not to love?
  • Alan Dean Foster, The Howling Stones.  Sf novel about the Humanx Commonwealth.
  • Martin H. Greenberg, editor, Gateways.  SF anthology of 19 stories.
  • William W. Johnstone, Bats.  Horror.
  • Richard Kadrey, Sandman Slim.  Supernatural noir, the first of the Sandman slim novels.
  • "Frances Lynch" [D. G. Compton], In the House of Dark Music.  Gothic romance.
  • Gregory Maguire, Son of a Witch. Volume Two in the WICKED YEARS, following Wicked and preceding A Lion Among Men.
  • Greg Rucka, Patriot Acts.  An Atticus Kodiak thriller.
  • Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Proof of the Pudding.  Another mystery for the Codfish Sherlock himself, Asey Mayo.
  • Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, DragnLance Legends, Volume 3:  Test of the Twins.  Gaming tie-in novel.


Saturday, December 3, 2011


Blindside by Ed Gorman

Political consultant Dev Conrad is back for his third outing, this time doing a favor for an old friend of his father -- and it's going to get messy.

     Former Congressman Tom Ward once saved Conrad's father's life.  His son Jeff is now a Congressman and is in a battle for reelection.  Jeff Ward is a liberal who actually does a decent job in Washington.  He is also an egoistic megalomaniac who can't comprehend the phrase "zip it up."  His opponent, Rusty Burkhart,  is a charismatic and jingoistic multimillionaire ho wants to make "every sitting member of Congress sign a loyalty oarth and then he was going to suppoena the private e-mails of a target list of House and Senate members he suspected of being 'anti-American.'  During all this time he was going to permanently shut down the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency and he was going to prove once and for all that the president was a Muslim Manchurian Candidate."  Burkhart is ahead in the polls, in part because there is a mole in Ward's camgaign organization.

     The former Congressman asks Conrad to "consult" with his son's campaign for a couple of days and to try to find the mole.

     Ward's campaign is in turmoil.  The candidate resents Conrad's appearance and begins acting like a petulent child.  His decisions are hurting the campaign.  He is being blackmailed.  His speechwriter (and best friend) is missing because Ward slept with his wife.  The day Conrad shows up, another staffer is found murdered.  One of Conrad's rivals, a viscious and immoral campaigner, is running Burkhart's campaign.

     Conrad finds himself fighting for a candidate he despises, in part because the alternative is far worse.  But this is politics and Conrad has had to make these decisions many times before.  His personal life continues to darken when his ex-wife discovers she has third-stage breast cancer, a situation that causes Conrad to look back on all the wrong choices he has made in his life.

     Ed Gorman is one of the best suspense writers he have.  He knows the inside workings of political campaign well.  This series of down and dirty politics make for exciting reading.  Dev Conrad is a likeable character often placed in unlikeable situations and I hope he continues solving mysteries for a long time.


Friday, December 2, 2011


Last Seen Wearing... by Hillary Waugh (1952)

I'm not sure how "forgotten" this novel is but I'm willing to bet that not many modern readers have read it.  Which is a shame because Last Seen Wearing... still holds up very nicely, even after almost sixty years.

     This was Waugh's fourth mystery and his first major success.  British critic and mystery author Julian Symons included this in his list of the 100 best mystery novels.  Ditto the Mystery Writers of America and England's Crime Writers Association.  Considered one of the first modern police procedural novels, Waugh got his inspiration after reading true crime books and realizing that a mystery based on actual police techniques was worth attempting.  There are no subplots here, no overt sensationalism, no intimate details of the lives of the officers involved, no gimmicks, or maguffins, or distractions...just a straight-on narration of the investigation of the disappearance of a college co-ed.  It makes for a riveting read.

     Based on a 1946 unsolved murder that resulting in the formation of the Vermont state police, Waugh carefully builds his story step by step.  An eighteen-year-old student at a small Massachusetts college has disappeared and Police Chief Frank Ford is called in to investigate.  Even though Ford feels that this is probably a case of boy trouble (the girl might have been pregnant and was seeking an illegal abortion, or she may have run off with a man), he painstakingly follows the evidence.  Friends, family, and her diary all point to there being no man in her life, yet police determinedly check out every male mentioned in her diary with no results.  They follow every lead that comes their way but get nowhere.  A decapitated woman is found in Boston Harbor but it is shown not to be the missing girl.

     In the early spring a barrette belong to the girl is found near a small river.  Soon her body is found and is originally thought to have been a suicide.  Ford soon proves that this is a case of murder.  During autopsy it is discovered that she had been six weeks pregnant, something that astounded those who knew her.  Ford and his police department have to go back to square one and, in their plodding fashion, have to reexamine all the evidence.

     One amazing thing about this book is that the murderer never appears, nor does he have to.  Last Seen Wearing... is a tour de force that deserves a new generation of readers.

     Chief Ford made his only appearance in this novel, but seven years later Waugh created another classic police chief, Fred Fellows, who would be featured in eleven of Waugh's forty-six novels.

     Hillary Waugh (1920-2008) appears to be on his way to becoming a forgotten writer, despite being named a Grand Master by both the MWA and the Swedish Academy of Detection.  A past-president of the MWA, Waugh also edited one anthology for the organization and wrote a how-to book on mystery writing.


     For links to other of today's Forgotten Book, check out Pattinase.


Thursday, December 1, 2011


Today is Rosa Parks Day.  On this day sixty-five years ago, she took a bus ride that would help change history for the better.

     Today, I also read a news item about a church in Kentucky that voted to ban interracial couples from membership.  Said couples would be allowed to attend public church functions and funerals.  They'd just have to come in throught the back door, I presume.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011


It turns out that this one is not as obsolete as I had thought.  It is actually scheduled to be shown at the Bow Tie Theater at the Annapolis Mall in Maryland on December 10th at 10:30 a.m.  If you are anywhere near Annapolis that morning, leave.  Just leave.  Leave as fast as your feet can carry you.  You have been warned!

      There is absolutely nothing that redeems this film, not even cute little pre-pubescent Pia Zadora as Girmar, one of the Martian childern.  I saw this movie several years ago and have had bad dreams about it ever since.  I haven't the words to describe this film, so let's go with a brief description from Wikipedia (that trusted source of all human knowledge):

     "The story involves the people of Mars, including Momar ('Mom Martian') and Kimar ('King Martian').  They're worried that their children Girmar ('Girl Martian') and Bomar ('Boy Martian') are watching too much Earth television, most notably station KID-TV's interview with Santa Claus in his workshop at the North Pole.  Consulting the 800-year old Martian sage Chochem (a Yiddish word meaning 'genius'), they are advised that the children of Mars are growing distracted due to the society's overly rigid structure; from infancy, all their education is fed into their brains through machines and they are not allowed individuality or freedom of thought.

     "Chochem notes that he has seen this coming 'for centuries,' and says the only way to help the children is to allow them their freedom and be allowed to have fun.  To do this, they need a Santa Claus figure, like on Earth.  Leaving the Chochem's cave, the leaders decide to abduct Santa Claus from Earth and bring him to Mars.  As the Martians could not distinquish between all the fake Santas, they kidnapped two children to find the real one.  Once this accomplished, one Martian, Voldar, who strongly disagrees with the idea, repeatedly tries to kill Santa Claus, along with the two Earth children.  He believes that Santa is corrupting the children of Mars and turning them away from the race's original glory."

     Aaah!  I can't take any more!  There's a whole lot of bad movie (and summarizing) going on there!  And they don't even mention Vomview ("Vomiting Viewer").

     ***Steady, Jerry.  Breath deeply and relax.  You can do this.  You CAN finish this post.  Keep calm and carry on.  It will be all right.***

     OK.  Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was directed by Nicholas Webster, who had mainly done documentaries and commercials previously to making this film.  He went to direct a few television episodes for various series.   The script was written by Glenville Mareth from a story by Paul L. Jacobson.  IMDB lists no other film contribution by Mareth, making me wonder if the name was a "Cordwainer Bird."*  IMDB also gives this movie as Jacobson's only writing and only producing credit.  Hmmm.  Crackerjack team there.

      Actor John Call, who had some previous film and television credits, left the Broadway production of Oliver to play Santa Claus  -- his pentultimate Hollywood role; seven years later he had a small role in The Anderson Tapes.  Leila Martin (Momar) had one television credit six years earlier and one television movie credit rwelve years after SCCTM.  Leonard Hicks (Kimar) capped his career with SCCTM; his earlier credits consists of one episode of Route 66 and an uncredited appearance in a 1961 film.  Belarus-born Carl Don (Chochem) had a total of 19 television and movie credits -- all supporting roles -- from 1950 to 1998.  Vincent Beck (Voldar) began his film career with SCCTM and spent the next nineteen years playing various villains and monsters.  Chris Month (Bomar) played one episode in a 1964 television series I had never heard of;  three years earlier he had been on a segment of The Ed Sullivan Show (doing what I have no idea).  SCCTM was Month's only other credit; presumably the Martians finally did get him, or he was eaten by dingos, or something.

     And then there was Pia (Girmar), the New Jersey kid who got her start with SCCTM and then grew pneumatically to star in Butterfly eighteen years later as she began her career as a well-known actress and Penthouse model.  Somewhere along the line, she put on enough clothes so people could realize her other talent:  singing.  She became a popular vocalist who dabbled occasionally in acting.  So, perhaps, good things can happen to good Martian chikldren who believe in Santa Claus.

     Not unsurprisingly, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians finds itself consistently on lists of the 100 worst movies, which is why it was featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.  For those who are strong of stomach, week of will, and both brave and foolhardy, I've embedded the movie here:

Cordwainer Bird was the pseudonym Harlan Ellison used whenever a studio completely fouled up one of his scripts, making it almost unrecognizable.  This was Ellison's way of giving the "bird" to the studio.  Likewise, movie directors who wish to distance themselves from films that have been ruined by tinkering executives will often use the name "Alan Smithies" on the credits.

     For more obsolete films today, go to Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom.


Monday, November 28, 2011



Quiet week.  Lots of turkey, not many books.

  • "Jonathan Aycliffe" (Denis MacEoin, who is also thriller writer "Daniel Easterman"), Whispers in the Dark.  Horror.
  • Ronald Anthony Cross, The Fourth Guardian.  Book One of the fantasy series The Eternal Guardians.
  • "Harry Adam Knight" (John Brosnan), Death Spore.  Horror novel first published as The Fungus, as by Harry Adam Knight and Leroy Kettle.  I can't find Kettle's name anywhere on this edition.
  • Louis L'Amour, The Mountain Valley War.  Western.
  • Bill McCay, Stargate:  Rebellion.  Movie tie-in, a sequel to the movie and published a couple of years before the television series.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Receding floods in Thailand reveal that crocodiles are lurking in downtown Bangkok.  Check Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine for details, because I know Bill will jump on this story like a cat on a mouse.


A Night with the Thames Police

The following unsigned article appeared in The Strand Magazine, Volume 1, Number 2, February 1891.

There was a time when the owners of craft on the Thames pratically left their back doors open and invited the river-thieves to enter, help themselves, and leave unmolested and content.  The barges lay in the river holding everything most coveted, form precious cargoes of silk to comfortable bales of tobacco, protected only from wind, weather, and wicked fingers by a layer of tarpaulin -- everything ready and inviting to those who devoted their particular talents and irrepressible instincts to the water.  Goods to a value of a million sterling were being appropriated every year.  The City merchants were at their wits' end.  Some of the more courageous and determined of them ventured out themselves at night; but the thieves -- never at a loss in conceiving an ingenious and ready means of escape -- slipped, so to speak, out of their would-be captors' hands by going semi-clothed about their work, greasing their flesh and garments until they were as difficult to catch as eels.

     So the merchants held solemn conclave, the result of which was the formation, in 1792, of 'The Preventative Service," a title which clung to the members thereof until 1839, when they were embnodied with the Metropolitan Police with the special privilege of posing as City constables.  Now they are a body of two hundred and two strong, possessing twenty-eight police galleys and a trio of steam launches.  From a million pounds of property stolen yearly a hundred years ago, they have, by persistent traversing of a watery beat, reduced it to one hundred pounds.  Smuggling is in reality played out, though foggy nights are still fascinating to those so inclined; but now they have to be content with a coil or two of old rope, an ingot of lead, or a few fish.  Still the river-policeman's eye and the light of his lantern are always searching for suspicious characters and guilty-looking craft.  In High-street, Wapping, famous for its river romances, and within five hundred yards of the Old Stairs, the principal station of the Thames police is to be found.  The traditional blue lamp projects over a somewhat gloomy passage leading down to the river-side landing stage.  To us, on the night appointed for our expedition, it is a welcome beacon as to the whereabouts of law and order, for only a few minutes previously half a dozen worthy gentlemen standing at the top of some neighboring steps, wearing slouched hats anything but a comforting expression on their faces gruffly demanded, "Do you want a boat?"  Fortunately we did not.  These estimable individuals had only just left the dock of the police station, where they had been charged on suspicion, but eventually discharged.

     It was a quarter to six o'clock.  At six we are to start for our journey up the river as far as Waterloo and back again to Greenwich; but there is time to take a hasty survey of the interior of the station, where accommodation is provided for sixteen single men, with a library, reading-room, and billiard-room at their disposal.

     "Fine night, sir; rather cold, though," says a hardy-looking fellow dressed in a reefer and a brightly glazed old-time man-o'-war's hat.  He is one of the two oldest men on the force, and could tell how he lost his wife and all his family, save one lad, when the Princess Alice went down in 1878.  He searched for ten days and ten nights, but they were lost to him.  Another of these river guardians has a never-to-be-forgotten reminiscence of that terrible disaster, when the men of the Thames police were on duty for four or five nights at a stretch.  He was just too late to catch the ill-fated vessel!  He was left behind on the pier at Sheerness, and with regret watched it leave, full of merrymakers.  What must have been his thoughts when he heard the news?

     You may pick out any of these thick-set fellows standing about.  They have one and all roved the seas over.  Many are old colonials, others middle-aged veterans from the navy and merchant service -- every one of them as hard as a rock, capable of rowing for six or eight hours at a stretch without resting on the oar.

     "Don't be long inside, sir," shouts a strapping fellow, buttoning up his coat to his neck.

     "Aye, aye, skipper," we shout, becoming for the moment quite nautical.

     Inside the station-house you turn sharply to the right, and there is the charge-room.  Portraits of Sir Charles Warren and other police authorities are picturesquely arranged on the walls.  In front of the desk, with its innumerable wooden rails, where sits the inspector in charge, is the prisoners' dock, from the ground of which rises the military measurement in inches against which the culprit testifies as to his height.  The hands of the clock above are slowly going their rounds.  In a corner, near the strong steel rails of the dock, lie a couple of bargemen's peak caps.  They are labelled with half a sheet of notepaper.  Their history?  They have been picked up in the river, but the poor fellows who owned them are -- missing!  It will be part of our duties to assist in the search for them tonight.

     Just in a crevice by the window are the telegraph instruments.  A clicking noise is heard, and the inspector hurriedly takes down on a slate a strange but suggestive message. 

     "Information received of a prize-fight for L2 a side, supposed to take place between Highgate and Hampstead."

     What has Highgate or Hampstead to do with the neighborhood of Wapping, or how does a prize-fight affect the members of the Thames police, who are anything but pugilistically inclined?  In our innocence we learn that it is customary to telegraph such information to all the principal stations throughout London.  The steady routine of the force is to be admired.

     There are countless oars, capes, and caps hanging in a room through which we pass on our way to the cells -- cozy, clean, and convenient apartments, and decidedly cheap to the temporary tenant.  There are two of them, one being specially retained for women.  They are painted yellow, provided with a wash-basin, towel, a supply of soap, and a drinking cup.  Heat is supplied through hot-water pipes; a pillow and rug are provided for the women; and like "desirable villa residences," the apartments are fitted with electric bells.

     Here the occupier is lodged for the time being, allowed food at each meal to the value of four pence, and eventually tried at the Thames Police-court.  Look at the doors.  They bear countless dents from the boot-tips of young men endeavouring to perform the clever acrobatic trick of kicking out the iron grating over the door through which the gas-jet gives them light.  Those of a musical nature ring the electric bell for half an hour at a time, imaging that they are disturbing the peace of the officer in a distant room.  But our smart constable, after satisfying himelf that all is well, disconnects the current, and sits smiling at his ease.  Some of the inmates, too, amuse themselves by manufacturing streamers out of the blankets.  They never do it a second time.

     Now we are on our way to the riverside.  We descend the wooden steps, soaked through with the water which only a few hours previously had been washing the stairs.  Our boat is waiting, manned by three sturdy fellows under the charge of an inspector.  It is a glorious night; the moon seems to have come out just to throw a light upon our artist's note-book, and to provide a picture of the station standing out in strong relief.  The carpenter -- for they repair their own boats here -- looks out from his shop door, and shouts a cheery "Goodnight."  Our galley receives a gentle push into the water, and we start on a long beat of seven and a half miles. 

     Save for the warning of a passing tug, the river is as a place of the dead.  How still and solemn!  But a sudden "Yo-ho" from the inspector breaks the quietude.

     It is the method of greeting as one police galley passes another.

     "Yo-ho!" replies the man in charge of the other boat.

     "All right.  Good night."

     These river police know every man who has any business on the water at night.  If the occupant of a boat was questioned, and his "Yo-ho" did not sound familiar, he would be "towed" to the station.

     A simple "Yo-ho" once brought about a smart capture.  The rower was mystified at the magic word, got mixed in his replies, and accordingly was accommodated with a private room at the station for the night.  It transpired that this river purloiner had stolen the boat, and, being of a communicative disposition, was in the habit of getting friendly terms with the watchmen of the steamers, and so contrived to gain an entrance to the cabins, from which money and watches disappeared.  This piece of ingenuity was rewarded with ten years' penal servitude.

     Our little craft has a lively time amongst the fire-boats -- for fires are just as likely to occur on the river as on the land, and accordingly small launches are dotted about here and there, forfilling the same duties as the more formidable-looking engines on terra firma.  A red light signifies their whereabouts, and they usually lie alongside the piers, so as to be able to telephone quickly should a fire occur.  If the police saw flames, they would act exactly as their comrades do on land, and hurry to the nearest float to give the alarm.

     It blows cold as we spin past Traitor's Gate at the Tower, but our men become weather-beaten on the Thames, and their hands never lose the grip of the oar.  They need a hardy frame, a robust constitution, for no matter what the weather, blinding snow or driving rain, these water-guardians come out -- the foggiest night detains them not; they have to get through the fog and their allotted six hours.  At the time of the Fenian scare at the House of Correction, thirty-six hours at a stretch was considered nothing out of the way.

     Now the lights of Billingsgate shine out, and we experience a good deal of dodging outside the Custom House.  The wind is getting up, and the diminutive sprat-boats are taking advantage of the breeze to return home.  Some are being towed along.  And as the oars of our little craft touch the water, every man's eyes are fixed in order to catch sight of anything like the appearance of a missing person.  A record of the missing, as well as the found, is kept at the station we have just left a mile or two down the river.  Ten poor creatures remain yet to be discovered.  What stories, thrilling and heartrending, we have to listen to!  Yet even such pitiful occurrences as these, much that is grimly humourous often surrounds them.  Many are the sad recognitions on the part of those "found drowned."  Experience has taught the police to stand quietly behind those who must needs go through such a terrible ordeal, and who often swoon at the first sight.  Where is a more touching story than of the little girl who tramped all the way from Camden Town to Wapping, for the purpose of identifying her father, who had been picked up near the Old Stairs?  She was a brave little lass, and looked up into the policeman's face as he took her by the hand and walked her towards the mortuary.  As they reached the door and opened it, the bravery of the child went to the man's heart.  He was used to this sort of thing, but when he thought of the orphan, the tears came to his eyes; he turned away for a moment, lest his charge should see them and lose what strength her tiny frame possessed.  He hesitated to let her go in.

     "You're not frightened, are you, policeman?" she asked innocently.

     He could not move, and she went in alone.  When the constable followed, he found the child with her arms round her dead father's neck, covering his face with with tears and kisses.

     We shoot beneath London Bridge, and the commotion brought about by a passing tug causes our men to rest their oars as we are lifted like a cork by the disturbed waves.  As the great dome of St. Paul's appears in sight, standing out solemnly in against the black night, we pull our wraps around us, as a little preliminary to a story volunteered by the captain of the crew.  The river police could tell of many a remarkable clue to identification -- a piece of lace, a button of a man's trousers.  But the inspector has a curious story of a watch to relate -- true every word of it.

     "Easy!" he cries to his men -- "look to it, now get along," and to the steady swing of the oars he commences.

     "It all turned on the inscription engraved on a watch," he says.  "When I came to search the clothing of the poor fellow picked up, the timekeeper was found in his pocket.  It was a gold one, and on the case was engraved an inscription, setting forth that it had been given to a sergeant of the marines.  Here was the clue sought after -- the drowned man had evidently been in the army.  The following morning I was onmy way to Spring Gardens, when in passing down the Strand I saw a marine, whom I was half inclined to question.  I did not, however, do so, but hurried in my sorrowful mission.

     "On my arrival, I asked if they knew anything of Sergeant _____.  Yes, they did.  I must have passed him in the Strand, for he had gone to Coutt's Bank!  I was perfectly bewildered.  Hear was the very man found drowned, still alive!

     "I could only wait until his return.  Then the mystery was soon explained.  It seemed that the sergeant had sold his gold watch in order to get a more substantial silver one, on condition that the purchaser should take the inscription off.  This he failed to do, and he in turn parted with the timekeeper to another buyer, who had finally committed suicide with the watch still in his pocket."

     Our police galley is now alongside the station, just below Waterloo Bridge.  It is not far to seek why it has been found necessary to establish a depot here.  We look up at the great bridge which spans the river at this point, named alas! with only too much truth, "The Bridge of Sighs."  The dark water looks inviting to those burdened with trial and trouble, a place to receive those longing for rest and yearning for one word of sympathy.  More suicides occur at this spot than any along the whole length of the river, though Whitehall Stairs and Adelphi Stairs are both notorious places, where such poor creatures end their existence.  Some twenty-one suicides have been attempted at this point during the past year, and twenty-five bodies have been found.

     As we step on the timber station the sensation is extremely curious to those used to the firm footing of the pavement.  But Inspector Gibbons -- a genial member of the river force -- assures us that one soon becomes accustomed to the incessant rocking.  Waterloo Police Station -- familiar to all river pedestrians during the summer months, owing to the picturesque appearance it presents with its pots of geraniums and climbing fuchsias -- is a highly interesting corner.

     Just peep into the Inspector's room, and make friends with "Dick," the cat, upon whose shoulders rest the weight of four years and a round dozen pounds.  Dick is a capital swimmer, and has been nin the water scores of times.  Moreover, he is a veritable feline policeman, and woe betide any trespassers of his own race and breed.  When a cat ventures within the sacred precincts of the station, Dick makes friends with the intruder for the moment, and, in order to enjoy the breeze, quietly edges him to the extreme edge of the platform, and suddenly pushes him overboard.  "Another cat last night," is a common expression amongst the men here.

     The Waterloo Police Station on occasion becomes a temporary hospital and a home together.

     Only half an hour previous to our arrival there had been an attempted suicide, and in a little room, at the far end of the pier, there was every sign that efforts had only recently had been successfully made to restore animation to a young fellow who had thrown himself off Blackfriars Bridge.  He had been picked up by a passing skiff, and his head held above water until a steamboat passed by and took him on board.

     Here is a bed in the corner, with comfortable-looking pillow and thick, warm blankets, where the unfortunate one is put to bed for a period, previous to being sent to the Infirmatory, and afterwards charged.  Close at hand is a little medicine chest, containing numerous medicine phials, a flask of stimulants, and a smelling bottle.  A dozen or so of tins, of all shapes and sizes, are handy.  These are filled with hot water and placed in contact with the body of the person rescued from the river.

     It is often an hour before anything approaching animation makes itself visible, and even four hours have elapsed before any sign has been apparent.  The rescued one is placed upon a wooden board, below which is a bath, and rubbed by ready hands according to Dr. Sylvester's method, whose instructions are prominently displayed upon the wall, and are understood by all the police.

     It will be noticed in the picture [not copied here -- JH] that two men are apparently preparing to undress the hapless creature who has attempted her own life.  The first thought that will occur to the reader on looking at the illustration is, that a member of her own sex ought to do this work.  It must be remembered, however, that weeks may elapse without any such event, and there no place at Waterloo Bridge where a woman could be kept constantly in waiting.  Still, it is clearly not right that men should do this duty, and we think they might be enabled to go to some house in the neighbourhood, in which arrangements had been made for the services of a woman in cases of emergency.  We do not forget that great promptness at such times in order to resuscitate the body.  But, when we remember that every branch in the police system on the Thames is so perfect, it seems a pity that some means cannot be devised.

      Many remarkable things might be told about people who have been in this room.  One poor fellow was once an inmate who was humorous to the last.  When he was brought in, a pair of dumb-bells were found in his pocket, and a piece of paper on which was scrawled in charcoal the following: --

     "Dear Bob -- I am going to drown myself.  You can find me somewhere near Somerset House.  I can't part with my old friends, Bob, so I'm taking them with me.  Good-bye."

     The man was evidently an athelete, and the "old friends" referred to were the weighty dumb-bells.

     Many have been picked up with their pockets full of granite stones or a piece of lead.  One was found with the hands tied together with a silk handkerchief -- a love-token which the forsaken one had used so pitifully.  A woman, too, was discovered with a summons in her pocket, which was put down as the cause of her untimely death.

     Remarkable are the escapes of would-be suicides.  In one instance a woman threw herself off one of the bridges, and instead of falling in the water, jumped into a passing barge.  She had a child in her arms.  The little one died at Guy's Hospital, but the mother recovered.  Some time ago a woman jumped off Westminster Bridge, and floated safely down to the Temple Stairs, where she was picked up.  She had gone off the bridge feet first, the wind had caught her clothes, and by this means her head was kept up, and she was saved.

     Perhaps, however, the strangest case and one of the most romantic, was that of Alice Blanche Oswald.  Previous to comitting suicide she wrote letters to herself, purporting to come from wealthy people in America, and setting forth the most heartrending history.  Her death aroused a vast amount of public sympathy.  A monument to her memory was suggested, and subscriptions were already coming in, when inquiries proved that her supposed friends in America did not exist, and that the story contained in the missives was a far from truthful one.  She was nothing more than an adventuress.

     As we glance in at the solitary cell, built on exactly the same principle as those at Wapping, in which eleven enterprising individuals have been accomodated at one time, we learn of the thousand and one odds and ends that are washed up -- revolvers and rifles, housebreaking instruments which thoughtful burglars have got rid of; the plant of a process for manufacturing counterfeit bank-notes, with some of the flimsy pieces of paper still intact.  A plated cup was once picked up at Waterloo, which turned out to be the proceeds of a burglary at Eton College; it is probable the cup floated all the way from Thames at Windsor to Waterloo.

    Forty-eight men are always on duty at this station, including four single men, whose quarters are both novel and decidedly cozy.  This quartet of bachelors sleep in bunks, two above the others.  The watch of one of the occupants is ticking away in one berth, while a clock is vieing with it next door.  These men have each a separate locker for their clothes, boot-brushes, tea-pot, coffee-pot, food, &c.  The men do all their own cleaning and cooking; if you will, you may look into a kitchen in the corner, in which every pot and pan is as bright as a new pin.

     But our time is up; the chiming of "Big Ben" causes the genial inspector gently to remind us that we must be off, and once more we are seated in the boat, and, cutting across the river, move slowly on our way to Greenwich, where the old Royalist is transformed into a station, a familiar institution some sixteen or seventeen years ago at Waterloo.

     The whole scene is wonderfully impressive -- not a sound is to be heard but the distant rumbling of the vehicles over the London Bridge.  Our men pause for a moment and rest their oars.  The great wharves are deserted, the steamers and barges are immovable as they lie alongside -- there is no life anywhere or sign of it.  Again we get along, halting for a moment to look up at the old man-'o-war, the famous Discovery, which ventured out to the arctic regions under Captain Nares.  The old three-mast schooner -- for the vessel is nothing more now, being used as a river carrier of the stores from the Victualling Yard at Deptford to the various dockyards -- had on board when she went to colder regions a future member of the Thames police:  hence he was called "Arctic Jack" by his companions, a near relation to "Father Neptune," a cognomen bestowed upon another member of the force, owing to the wealth of white beard which he possessed.

     Past Deptford Castle Market, the red lamps on the jetties light up the water; a good pull and we are at Greenwich Steps, near to which is "The Ship," ever associated with the name of "whitebait."  Our beat is ended, and a hearty "Good-night" is re-echoed by the men as we stand watching them on the river steps whilst they pull the first few strokes on their way home to Wapping.


One of my favorite counting songs.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


Science fiction writer, editor, and futurist Frederik Pohl has a simple birthday wish for his 92nd birthday.  Just go to his blog and see how you can make him happy and help (maybe) make the country a better place:

     And if you have never read a Fred Pohl book, get one now!


Friday, November 25, 2011


Former New York Times columnist Tom Wicker died today from an apparent heart attack.  He was 85.  Wicker was a respected political reporter and columnist who wrote some 20 books, including the Edgar-winning A Time To Die about the 1971 Attica prison riot.  I met Wicker briefly during the 1970s and was greatly impressed with his presence, passion, and erudition.


What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies (1985)

This month, Forgotten Books is considering Canadian authors, which gives us participants a lot of great books from which to choose.  I suppose I could have picked any novel by Robertson Davies, but I zeroed in on one of my favorites:  What's Bred in the Bone, the second book in the author's "Cornish Trilogy."

     The Cornish Trilogy concerns the life and influence of Francis Cornish -- artist, art collector, and patron of the arts.  What's Bred in the Bone is bookended by The Rebel Angels and The Lyre of Orpheus.  The trilogy begins with Cornish's death and ends with his heirs producing a lost work by the great German fantasist E. T. A. Hoffman.  The middle book is the one that actually records Francis Cornish's life from its beginning in a small Ontario town.

     Magical reality is often considered the province of Latin American writers, but Davies puts his own distinctive stamp on the genre.  Davies (1913-1995) was one of the premier essayists and critics of the Twentieth Century.  His early career as an actor, playwright, director, and newspaperman prepared him for his future careers as an educator and as one of the best-known and most admired Canadian authors.  (It was said that he had been a potential candidate for the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature.)  His fiction often blended myth and psychology to portray individual struggles to maintain a Canadian identity.

     The story is narrated by the Recording Angel as he reviews Franicis Cornish's life.  On hand is a daimon who occasionally interrupts the narration to explain how and when he influenced Cornish's life to make him better himself.  (A daimon here is not to be confused with a demon; a daimon is more like a guardian angel -- a positive preternatural influence.)  The point being that greatness is often acknowleged only after the fact.  Davies has an easy but erudite style, leavened with humor and humanity.  The book can be enjoyed for the story alone, as well as for the subtext.

     I've read most of Robertson Davies' novels (they are readily available in paperback, often in omnibus editions) as well as several collections of his essays and have found them all worthwhile.  Some of his other writings are also worth looking up, such as The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks, an omnibus of humorous essays Davies wrote while he was editor of the Peterborough Examiner.  These essays cover day-to-day events, often concerning themselves with the author's struggles with a recalcitrant furnace during Canadian winters.  Also worthwhile is his collection of eighteen ghost stories, High Spirits, each of which was written for an annual Christmas party (a la M. R. James) while Davies was Master of Massey College in Toronto.
     Here's an interesting 1973 interview with Robertson Davies and his magnificent beard:


     Todd Mason is taking over Patti Abbott's duties this week while she takes a well-deserved break.  For further Forgotten Books, go to Sweet Freedom for the links.