Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 30, 2012


The Man on the Ceiling by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem (2008)

The Man on the Ceiling is an expansion of a 2000 novella of the same title which won the World Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the International Horror Guild award.  From that alone, one might expect the book to be horribly creepy, perhaps filled with blood and gore.  What we have instead is a powerful, open, and courageous biography of the Tems' imagination, to paraphrase Steve's words.

The man on the ceiling is their code word for every irrational and rational fear one can have.  The man on the ceiling can also be uncertainty.  The man on the ceiling is someone who takes and sometimes gives.  The man on the ceiling is a sometimes quiet, sometimes roaring creation who follows us through life.

In a rambling, discursive memoir laced with fantasy, dreams, and nightmares, Steve and Melanie Tem explore their lives and those of their children, grandchildren, and parents.  Hopes, fears and secrets are laid bare, exposing the fragile nature of love and humanity.  Don't expect a plot -- the man on the ceiling does not allow a logical sequence of events.  Expect instead (as the back cover states) a "surreal tone and redemptive heart."

One character prominent in the book is story.  Story is something elusive, but it's solid enough to form our lives.  There is the story we tell ourselves and the story we tell others; there is the story others tell about us and the story we tell about others; and there is the story that shapes and the story that becomes us, and the story thaat shapes others and becomes them.  This biography of the imagination becomes, of necessity, a biography of story which, itself, becomes a biography of life.

If all that sounds confusing, I apologize.  I find it difficult to explain what Harlan Ellison has called "exquisively compelling."  Love, loss, family, hope, fear...all the emotions that comprise our lives are here.  And as the Tems explore these items, they guide us in exploring ours.  This is a fantasy unlike the fantaasy we are used to.  Because, as we are told over and over again, every contradictory and imagined word is true.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Zig Ziglar, perhaps the best-known motivational speaker of the modern day, has died at the age of 86.   Ziglar wrote over 30 books, many of them best-sellers, and usually had several of them for sale whereever he spoke.  Ziglar had over a dozen other speakers on his payroll -- all advocating the Zig Ziglar way.

And just what was the Zig Ziglar way?  How does one achieve personal and professional success?

Well, as near as I can figure out, all those books and all those speakers and all those inspirational speeches boiled down to two words: 

Make lists.

There you have it.  The secret to success.

No, you don't have to thank me. ** Shucks, 'tweren't nothin'. (He said, boyishly)**  And all that money I just saved you?  Use it wisely.

And enjoy your success.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012


A guy walks into a bar and sees that the only other person at the bar seemed gloomy.  He says."Hey, pal, let me buy a drink.  It might cheer you up."

The other thanks him and, as they are downing their drinks, explains that he was getting blue because he was homesick.

'Where are you from?" the first guy asks.


"No kidding?  I'm from Ireland too!  That deserves another drink!  Whereabouts in Ireland?"


"Well, what do you know?  I was originally from Dublin.  Where were you raised?"

"Off Halloran Lane."

"That's amazing.  I was raised there too!  We should have another drink."

The next round of drinks came and the pair discovered that they went to the same school in 1997.

About that time a regular customer comes in and asks the bartender if anything was going on.

The bartender nodded his head toward the pair and said, "Nothing much.  The O'Hara twins are drunk again."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I admit it:  I'm a Dean Stockwell fan.  I mean, the guy played Nick Charles, Jr., right?  That should be enough of a street cred for any mystery fan.  And he was one of the Carstairs kids in Home, Sweet Homicide.  And he was the Leopold (or was it Loeb?) character in Compulsion.  Not to mention his role as The Boy With Green Hair or his much-much-later stint as Al Calavicci in Quantum Leap.  Stockwell has been in films for longer than I've been alive.  Among the many movies he appeared in as a juvenile were Anchors Aweigh, Gentleman's Agreement, The Secret Garden, and (in the title role) Kim.  (Stockwell got his acting chops naturally -- both parents were in the business and his father was the voice of Prince Charming in Disney's Snow White.)  In the 1950s and stetcching into the 1960s, he was one of those "teen" matinee idols who sent my sister swooning.  Among his many television roles were appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The A-Team, Battlestar Galactica (the good one, not the crumby one), Bonanza, Burke's Law, Cannon, Captain Planet, Checkmate, Chicago HopeClimax!, Columbo, The CommishThe Danny Thomas Show; Dick Powell Theatre, The Drew Carey Show, The Eleventh Hour, Ellery Queen, The F.B.I., The Greatest Show on Earth, Hart to Hart, Hunter, JAG, Johnny Staccato, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Lois & Clark, Mannix, McCloud, Miami Vice, Mission:  Impossible, Miami Vice, Murder, She Wrote, Night Gallery, Picket Fences, Playhouse 90, Police Story, The Restless Gun, Ripcord, Simon & Simon, Stargate:  SG1, Star Trek:  Enterprise, The Streets of San Francisco, Tales of the Unexpected, The Tony Danza Show, The Twilight Zone (old and new series), and Wagon Train.*  (Phew!  Thank you, IMDB.)  No stranger to Lovecraft, Stockwell appeared in both the 1970 (as Wilbur Whateley) and the 2009 (as Dr. Henry Armstrong) versions of The Dunwich Horror.

All of which is a long-winded way to inroduce Stockwell as The Werewolf of Washington.Stockwell plays Jack Whittier, a reporter who has been bitten by a werewolf in Hungary (and we all know what that means).  He travels back to the United States to become a press assistant to the President, so we can easliy predict that this is a political horror movie with bite.  Character actor Biff McGuire plays the president.  Look closely and you might see well-known character actor James Tolkan.  Look even closer and you might see Dean Stockwell's father, Harry, among the military.  And, as Marion, there's Jane House, an actress I had never heard of, but I do like her name.

This movie is pretty bad.  How bad?  Well, to quote one on-line reviewer, The Werewolf of Washington is "[P]roof that Ed Wood was by no means the worst director."  So, to whom goes that honor?  None other than Milton Moses Ginsberg, who has directed only five movies (two of them shorts) in his career.  And who penned this turkey?  Why, none other than Milton Moses Ginsberg, whose only five writing credits are for the five movies he directed.

Put a clothespin to your nose, click on the link below, and watch Dean Stockwell try to give some class to a very bad flick.

*How he missed appearing on The Love Boat is anyone's guess.


For a much better selection of today's Overlooked Films and Such, saunter on over to Sweet Freedom, where linkmaster Todd Mason will do his stuff.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Some pretty good stuff among the eight books for this week.
  • John Dickson Carr, Papa La-Bas.  Historical mystery set in 1858 New Orleans.  Supposedly Carr's work flagged late in his career, but I'm very interested in reading this, his fourth from final novel.
  • Gordon R. Dickson, Space Winners.  YA SF from one of the greats.
  • Arthur Henry Gooden, Smoke Tree Range.  A 1936 western from Gooden, who was best known for screenwriting for the silents.
  • Jason Goodwin, The Janissary Tree.   Historical mystery (1836 Ottoman Empire) that won an Edgar.
  • Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg, editors, Once Upon a Crime.  Two dozen tales of crime based on fairy tales.
  • Brain Lumley, Hero of Dreams.  Horror novel, the first in Lumley's Dreamland series.
  • Alaexandra Sokoloff, The Shifters.  Supernatural romance, the first of the keepers series.
  • Marth Wells, Stargate Atlantis:  Reliquary.  Television tie-in novel.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


This song embraces my personal philosophy.

Julian of Norwich was a 14th century mystic.  She famously had a vision of the Virgin Mary and she asked the Virgin Mary why God would permit so much suffering in this world.  The Virgin Mary responded simply that all shall be well again. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Milt Gross (1895-1953) was an American cartoonist best known perhaps his Yiddish/American dialogue and for his 1930 graphic novel He Done Her Wrong:  The Great American Novel and Not a Word in It -- or Music Either.  Other works included Nize Baby (1926), Hiawatta Witt No Odder Poems (1926), De Night in de Front from Chreesmas (1927), Dunt Esk (1927), Famous Fimmales witt Odder Ewents from Heestory (1928), What's This? (1936), That's My Pop Goes Nuts for Fair:  A Cartoon Tour of New York (1939), Dear Dollink (1945), and I Shoulda Ate the Eclair (1946).  Working at his trade since he was a teenager, Gross produced a number of illustrations, animated features, and at least eleven comic strips, including That's My Pop!, which also became a summer replacement for Kate Smith's radio show in 1945.

Here's the first issue of Milt Gross Funnies, featuring That's My Pop!

And as a special bonus, here's someone (and I have no idea who) singing "Banana Oil," a song written (in part) by Milt Gross, celebrating one of his catch phrases:

Friday, November 23, 2012


The Green Queen by Margaret St. Clair (1956)

[Here's last week's intended Forgotten Book.]

The Green Queen, St. Clair's second published book, is an expanded version of her novella "Mistress of Viridis," which was published in the final issue of Ray Palmer's Universe Science Fiction magazine in March 1955 -- something that may help explain the book's weaknesses.  Palmer was as much a huckster as he was an editor, publisher, or author.  Reaching about four feet tall and a hunchback, Palmer was an enthusiatic science fiction fan and author who talked his way (with the help of a recommendation by SF author Ralph Milne Farley) into the editorship of Amazing Science Fiction magazine.  Palmer immediately turned that staid magazine into a wild and garish vehicle for juvenile space opera.  To the disgust of many science fiction fans, Palmer's Amazing was an immediate hit and the magazine's sales figures went through the roof.  Writing skills took a distant second place to action for Palmer's lurid pulp sensabilities.  I'm pretty sure Palmer never met a pseudo science he didn't like; I'm not that sure he believed in all the stuff he promoted.  He cofounded Fate, a magazine that deified pseudo science.  He started the whole flying saucer craze when he cowrote and published Kenneth Arnold's The Coming of the Saucers.  Through his interest in spritualism, he published an unabridged edition of the Oahspe Bible (the first full repint since 1888) written by dentist John Newbrough via "automatic writing."  He fervently supported and publicized the "Shaver Mystery," which proposed the existence of an underground race that controlled the world, and parts of which may have been absorbed into L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology.  In later life, he promoted a man who claimed to be a not-killed-by-Robert-Ford Jesse James.  By 1955, though, Palmer's science fiction career was drawing to an end and the science fiction magazines he edited were uninfluential and struggling.

Case in point, this final issue of Universe Science Fiction.  (The magazine would continue under the name Other Worlds Science Stories, bringing back a title of one of the science fiction magazines Palmer edited prior to Universe Science Fiction;  This incarantion ran for another twelve issues, when Palmer changed the title [once again] and the focus as Flying Saucers From Other Worlds.)  A look at the contents of the final Universe is revealing.  Besides  the St. Clair novella, the issue had six very short stories, including one by Palmer ("The Atomic Age...Sex Murders" -- Palmer did like sensationalism), one by T. P. Caravan (who published a total of seventeen stories, thirteen of which were published by Palmer and one of those thirteen was published without the author's knowledge or payment), and four stories that could well have been written by Palmer under pen names -- three of the four were credited to authors whose only stories appeared in that issue; the fourth author is credited with two stories, one in this issue and one in the previous issue.  All minor stories marked by haste and little editorial interaction.

"The Mistress of Viridis" (disclaimer:  I have not read the original story) was expanded the following year and published as one half of an Ace Double as The Green Queen.  (It was backed by a reprint of Thomas Calvert McClary's 1938 3 Thousand Years.)  The Ace Doubles are very collectable and the publishing line came out with many good and important books, but also produced a number of slap-dash clunkers.  The Green Queen comes across as slap-dash while avoiding a complete clunker status.  The book (and I presume the original magazine version) needed a sure editorial hand and, had it not had fit into Ace's length restrictions, could have benefited by a further expansion by about fifty per cent.  As it stands, The Green Queen is jumpy and skitterish, making uncomfortable plot leaps in inconvenient places.  It book is not helped by a number of jarring and confusing typos.

And the writing?  In the third paragraph, we have this:

     "He ought, by now, be showing some sign of the cargo he had taken on, even of such a superior intoxicant as ethel-eugenool."

That's the only intoxicant mentioned in the book and it is imbibed a number of times.  I assume the drink was intended as a tribute to Ethel Merman and Eugene O'Neill.  Or maybe not.  In either case, the writing throughout the book displays St. Clair's pulp origins and evinces little of the controlled and flowing style of many of her short stories.

Viridis is a radioactive planet controlled by a small minority called the Uppers.  The Uppers live in the capital city of Shalom, behind a dome that protects them from the radiation.  There's a menial class -- the Body-servants -- of servants and breeders.  And then there's the Lowers, the short-lived slave caste that lives in the radioactive areas below the stairs to the dome.  An important function for the Uppers are the masks.  Derived from a type of hypnotic instrument called a Verbal and now created by something called a Veridal which uses from three to five senses in the creation of living images, these masks can draw the Uppers from their living circumstances.  One of the greatest mask creators is Bonnar, an Upper who -- with one  popular mask -- created the myth of the Green Queen, a psi goddess (for want of a better word) who would free Viridis from the deadly radiation.  Bonnar's lover is the Earth-born Upper Leaf Amadeus until Bonnar is ordered to break off the relationship and to convince Leaf to join the (approved) cult religion of the Apple Pickers.  Leaf has some small ESP powers and the Apple Pickers use that to slowly convince her that she is the true Green Queen.  The government then orders Bonnar to renew his affair with Leaf even though Leaf is now involved with the historian Horvendile.

In jumps and starts we learn about a power battle using an Anti-Leaf who tries to usurp the title of Green Queen, and about the tree, an object that would allow the Green Queen to feed the Lowers and to usher in a new age with her consort -- whoever that might be.  In the end there are plots and counterplots an the discovery of a twenty million-year-old insect which turned Viridis into a sprawling mess of psychosis.  If this recap sounds jumbled, that's because it is.

And yet...and yet there is great power to this book.  Underlying themes strike hit the reader hard.   Leaf is a strong and powerful character whose stength becomes her downfall.  Bonnar may or may not have been redeemed.  The social structure of Viridis displays a struggle that has plagued mankind throughout its existence and resonates to today's one percent and forty-seven per cent. 

The Green Queen is a pot-boiler and I wish that St. Clair had the time to refine the bones of this book into something great..  Throwaway ideas and passages need expanding.  Viridis -- with its flying frogs, writhing trees, and two-brained raptors -- is a planet that could, and should, have been better explored.  In the end The Green Queen is a pot-boiler, and I wish that St. Clair had made the time to refine it into something great.  It coulda been a contender.


World's Great Mystery Stories edited by Will Cuppy (1943)

Will Cuppy (1884-1949) was an American humorist, essayist, and critic, best known for his book The Decline and Fall of Practically Everyone.  Beginning in 1943 he edited three anthologies of mystery stories, of which this was the first.  (The others were World's Great Detective Stories [1943] and Murder Without Tears [1946].)

As couple of things should be made clear.  "World's" in the title does not refer to a truly global selection; indeed, all the stories came from England and America only.  The book was published as a Tower Book Edition from The World Publishing Company in Cleveland, hence the "World's" in the title.  Also, the word "mystery" does not necessarily refer to detection.  For Cuppy's purposes, a mystery is just that -- it may include detection, but it may also cover suspense, crime, or the outre.

I have no idea how long I have had this book and I have no recollection of buying it.  (Does that qualify as a mystery?  I guess it does.)   Tower Books specialized in cheap editions (this one originally sold for 49 cents) and the flimsy paper has browned and faded and chipped, and the book gives off that sweet/sour acidy scent that comes from almost seventy years of existence. 

There were not that many mystery anthologies back then.  Ellery Queen had published only three anthologies, the Mystery Writers of America would not begin publishing their anthologies for another three years, Carolyn Wells had published her American Mystery Stories a few years earlier, there were (I believe) a couple of attempts to produce a best mystery stories of the year anthology, both Pocket and Avon had put out a few original anthologies, and there were the large and anonymously-edited doorstopper anthologies from (most often) England.   Basically, though, mystery stories were available either in their original magazine appearances or in single-author story collections.  For an anthologist in 1942 or 1943, the pickings were pretty good.

What was good pickings back then has often become fairly familiar today.  Most of the stories in this anthology are readily available -- many for free on the internet.  There are still some, however, that remain fresh in original execution, if not in theme.  Francis Brett Young's psychic tale of love, "A Message to Laura," is touching even though it's ending is telegraphed for the modern reader.  And Irvin S. Cobb gives us a murder trial where the chief witness for the prosecution is a parrot.

Here's the run-down of the twenty stories in the book.  How many are you already read, and how many can you find on the web within a minute?

  • William Faulkner, A Rose for Emily
  • Agatha Christie, The Adventure of the Clapham Cook
  • Francis Brettt Young, A Message to Laura
  • Dorothy L. Sayers, Suspicion
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Fiend of the Cooperage
  • Edith Wharton, Miss Mary Pask
  • Charles Dickens, The Signal-Man
  • Arthur Machen, The Cosy Room
  • Irvin S. Cobb, A Bird in the Hand
  • Algernon Blackwood, The Listener
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Short Trip Home
  • Edgar Wallace, The Magic of Fear
  • H. G. Wells, The Door in the Wall
  • W. W. Jacobs, The Interruption
  • Wilkie Collins, The Dream Woman
  • Ambrose Bierce, The Boarded Window
  • Katherine Fullerton Gerould, Vain Oblations
  • Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death
  • William Mudford, The Iron Shroud
  • Stephen Leacock, Who do You Think Did It? or, The Mixed-Up Murder Mystery

A great line-up of authors.  A good cross-section of the mystery genre back then.  Recommended to those who are not already familiar with most of the contents.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Today and everyday, I am thankful for those things I believe in.

I live by the Chesapeake Bay and I believe in sunsets.  Many places in the world have beautiful sunsets but those on the Chesapeake sing to me.  Even on gray days the clouds become tinged with purple and fade into a soft pink.  On bright days orange plays with yellow and red for an awe-inspiring splash of color. At their best, the sunsets seem to morph into a Maxfield Parrish painting.  These sunsets give me a chance to pause, to admire, to reflect, to appreciate.  I become acutely aware of the precious beauty that surrounds me.  It's a sort of zen thing, I guess.

And I believe in my front yard, that untamed monstosity that rejects grass while accepting the underground tunnels that bulge up to its surface each spring and fall when shy rodents expand their empires.  From my front window I can look across the street to a wooded area where trees fifty, sixty feet and higher flaunt their unique shapes and branches.  By the front of those trees, next to the road, is a smaller tree which, every autumn, startles me with its brilliant red leaves.  The leaves in Southern Maryland are muted in the fall; they are not as vibrant as the fall foliage in my native New England.  Except for the flaming red leaves on this little tree:  as if the tree was putting on its annual display just for my pleasure.

I believe in Kitty's smile.  It centers me.  It forces me to acknowledge my worth.  It melts my heart and burrows into my soul.  And I am lucky enough to have her smile with every single day.

And I believe my utter pride in my children is well-placed.  Despite the pain of being a widow, Jessamyn is building a life for herself and her girls.  She and the girls are whip-smart, loving, caring people and the world needs many more like that.  Christina has so many balls in the air that it's hard to count them all.  How she balances home, work, family, animals, and school boggles my mind.  She does it all and she does it well.  Each of my girls have displayed a kind heart throughout their lives.  Pride is too soft a word about my feelings for them.

I believe in my grandchildren's laughter.  It's spontaneous and infectious.  The laughter of children is very special and always welcome,

I believe in the Kangaroo and his older sister.  Despite the turmoil that has placed them in the foster care system, they are both happy, loving kids.  They are lucky to have landed at Christina's house and to have become a part of her family.  While they are with us they are both loved and safe.  What the future holds for them depends on the court and the social services systems.  If and when they leave my prayers are that they take this cacoon of love and safety with them.

I believe in our dumb dog.  He gives his love unquestionably.  He dances when I feed him.  He barks at invisible air monsters.  He snores and passes gas.  He is a good companion.

I believe in the internet.  It has made our lives easier.  It has given us access to knowledge and to idiots.  It allows us to exchange ideas.  It lets us make unseen friends throughout the world.

Despite the hatred and devisiveness in the world, I believe in the goodness of people.  I have seen people who have swallowed the Kool-Aid and spout the talking points of hatred, I have seen these people open their hearts and homes without question to people in need.  The  overwhelmingly vast number of people in this world care for each other and only want a safe and secure future for their loved ones.  No different than you or me.

These are just a few of the things I'm thankful for.  There are many more: Drake's Devil Dogs, kittens, cold pizza, Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Marc Chagall's paintings, banjos, clean underwear, my morning coffee, modern medicine, memories of people now gone who have impacted my life, llamas and alpacas and vicunas, can openers, the higgs boson particle, sunshine, rain, Tom Paxton, dimples...I could go on.

As you reflect on the things you are thankful for, know that I am also thankful for you.


Does anything say Thanksgiving more than jug bands?   Okay, you can have your traditions and I'll keep mine.

From 1929, Here's Cannons Jug Stompers with a familiar tune:

The Memphis Jug Band recorded this one in 1934:

Not be confused with the above, here's Jack Kelly  and his South Memphis Jug Band:

And "Pig Meat Blues" from the Old Southern Jug Blowers:

Like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition, you never know when jug bands will strike.  Case in point -- The Perch Creek Family Jug Band:

And the great Ma Rainey, back by the Tub Jug Washboard Band, singing "Deep Moaning Blues:"

Tampa Red's Hokum Jug Band was preaching the gospel of "Good Gordon Gin" in 1928:

Not that many jug bands add a piano, but let's "Get the 'L' Down the Road" with Bill Johnson's Louisiana Jug Band:

5 Cent Coffee came up with it's own blend of jug band, skiffle, and blues:

The Even Dozen Jug Band included David Grisman, Maria D'Amato (later Muldaur), Stefan Grossman, Joshua Rifkin, Steve Katz, and the occasional John Sebastian:

Maria D'Amato moved on the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, marrying member Geoff Muldaur.  Others in the band were Bill Keith, Fritz Richmond (who had figured out a way to play quonset hut while in the army), Richard Greene, and the certifiable Mel Lyman.  Kitty and I used to catch them at the late, lamented Club 47 in Cambridge; we often got seats right next to the stage, about two or three feet from Maria Muldaur and the shortest skirts in existence.  Wowza.

I can't do a jug band post without closing with this:

I hope everyone has a toe-tapping wonderful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Some Thanksgiving outfits for the discerning diner.  They are very baggy so there's no need to loosen your belt after your Thanksgiving feast.  The green one has reportedly been sighted in Alvin.  I'm wondering if the brown one comes in an XXXXXXXXX-Small.


Mutant Rats WBAGNFARB.


A three-legged dog hobbles into a saloon in the old West.  He slides up to the bar, orders a shot of red-eye, and tells the barkeep, "I'm a-lookin' for the man who shot my paw."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Here's thirteen other uses for WD-40.  Go wild.


A lot of people I know have seen Breaking Dawn Part 2, the final episode of the Twilight Saga, and loved it.  I thought I'd present a differing opinion.  This review by Diana Beechener comes from the November 15 - November 21 issue of Bay Weekly, a paper based in Annapolis.  (Copyrighted 2012 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc., and reprinted with permission.)  Full disclosure:  I have not seen the movie but, based on the earlier ones I endured, Diana's opinion is spot-on.

                                              Twilight Saga:  Breaking Dawn Part 2

     Our long national nightmare is ending.  Breaking Dawn Part 2 is the final nail in this overwrought vampire-love story's coffin.  The movie picks up where Part 1 left off, with a newly dead Bella (Kristen Stewart:  Snow White and the Huntress) awakening as a vampire.
     Now she's free to zoom around the forest and have super-strength sex with her husband Edward (Rob Pattinson:  Cosmopolis).  The only thing standing in her way is the evil Volturi clan, who believe that  Edward and Bella have broken vampire law by turning out a child.  Apparenly they didn't get the message that Edward and Bella are super-special snowflakes whose love is unparalled in any universe, meaning that they were the only vampire-human couple ever able to naturally conceive and birth a human-vampire child.
     Now the couple must prepare for a vampire civil war and deal with the news that their dear friend, werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner), is in love with their baby daughter.
     As the last in the simpering Twilight Saga, you can expect horrendous acting, ridiculous scripting, squealing teenage girls and their even creepier squealing mother.  If you're going to buy a ticket to see this mess, there's nothing I can do to discourage you.  But I implore movie goers who have managed to avoid the series so far to keep their streak going.
Prospects:  Bloodless - PG-13 - 115 mins.

by Diana Beechener for Bay Weekly, the independent weekly newspaper of the Annapolis capitol region in print and online at

For today's actual Overlooked Films and/or A/V, stop by Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom for all the links.  (And, yes, sight unseen, I plan to overlook Breaking Dawn Part 2 well into my dotage.)

Monday, November 19, 2012


It's been a quiet (?) week in Lake WoeIsMe, and I still managed to increase my treasure trove by a baker's dozen.
  • The Beano Annual 2009.  Gary Dobbs, the pride of Pontypridd, has often mentioned this UK comic book on his blog, The Tainted Archive.  (Check it out, it's a great site.)  Thought I'd check it out.
  • Friedrich Durrenmatt, Play Strindberg.  A play by the Swiss dramatist who often had one foot in the crime and mystery genre.  Translated by James Kirkup.
  • Andrew Dymond, Farscape:  Dark Side of the Sun.  Television tie-in novel.
  • Radu Florescu, In Search of Frankenstein.  Non-fiction that answers the question, "What do you do after having gone In Search of Dracula?"  Well, now we know what Dr. Florescu did.  The title page notes that Alan Barbour and Matei Cazacu contributed to the book.
  • Alan Dean Foster, Greenthieves.  SF crime novel.
  • Daniel Graham, Jr., The Gatekeepers.  Near-future SF novel about the private development of space.  There's an introduction by Buzz Aldrin.
  • Roger Lancelyn Green, King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table.  A classic retelling for children of the saga.
  • Paul Lieberman, Gangster Squad.  True crime, based on a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times written by Lieberman.  The book was published in August as a movie tie-in, so look for Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn (as Mickey Cohen), Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, and Giovanni Ribisi to hit the screens soon.
  • John Ringo, Emerald Sea.  SF novel, sequel to There Will Be Dragons.
  • Allen Steele, Coyote Rising and Coyote Frontier.  The second and third books in the Steele's Coyote SF series.
  • Liz Wolfe, Natural Selection.  Thriller.
  • Jack Zipes, Don't Bet on the Prince:  Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England.  Anthology of sixteen stories (by Tanith Lee, Angela Carter, Judith Viorst, Joanna Russ, Jane Yolen, Anne Sexton, Margaret Atwood, and others) and four critical essays.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Headed off to the big city for a medical appointment.  If I do a Forgotten Book today, it will be posted late.  (Hoping to do Margaret St. Clair's The Green Queen.)  In the meantime, check out today's Forgotten Books at

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


What goes klip-klop-klip-klip-klip-klop-bang-bang?

An Amish drive-by shooting.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Let's talk about cheesiness.  What was the cheesiest radio show ever?  Cheesiest television show ever?  Cheesiest movie ever?  I don't know which you would choose, but I think a claim on all three could be made by Queen for a Day.

April 30, 1945, was a sad day for good taste and comportment, for on that day the Mutual Broadcasting Company unleashed Queen for a Day over the radio waves.  This reality-based popular contest show was emceed by vaudevillian Jack Bailey (actually the first shows were emceed by Ken Murray, but few people remember that) and featured three or four contestants, each with their own sob story.  The studio audience would then vote (by their applause) for the sobbiest story and the winner would get a crown, some flowers, gifts from sponsors, and whatever would help alleviate their sob story (rent money, a new refrigerator, a trip to Des Moines, medical equipment, or whatever).  Five days a week this would go on.  And on.  And on.  Until 1957 when the radio plug was mercifully pulled.

By that time, however, the sappy juggernaut, complete with Jack Bailey, had branched into television.  Beginning in 1956, Queen for a Day began an 8-year run on NBC (and was soon expanded to 45 minutes), followed by a 5-year run on ABC, where it died in 1964.  Like the evil undead it rose again in syndication in 1969 with Dick Curtis replacing Bailey as host; Curtis was a character actor best known for his roles as a villain in oaters and for his comedy work in Three Stooges films.  Thankfully, the show only lasted a year before it once again died.  Let us hope for the last time.

As a kid, my occasional babysitter was an old (really old, to my mind) woman named Minnie Brown. (Coincidently the very first radio Queen for a Day was a woman named Millie Brown.  Small world.)  Minnie was hooked on the show (her very next favorite show was Dragnet -- so her taste wasn't totally bad, surprisingly).  One episode that I remember had a contestant whose husband was sentenced to be executed soon and she needed some money to finance an appeal; the audience, however, voted for a woman who needed a new refrigerator.  (Hand to heart, I swear that's the truth.)  And in my mind's eye, I also recall Jack Bailey as being a bit smarmy (with his slicked-back hair) and his mustache as being more than a bit smarmy.

Since no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the masses, Queen for a Day was a big hit.  So much so that they made a movie based on the show in 1951.  This comedic drama or dramatic comedy was based on short stories by Faith Baldwin, Dorothy Parker, and John Ashworth.  Jack Bailey was there, of course, along with some now-well-known names (Darrin McGavin, Leonard Nimoy), veteran character actors Tristram Coffin and Phyllis Avery, and a pre-Mickey Mouse Club Lonnie Burr.

I haven't been able to find a copy of the movie on-line, so here's a 1958 (?) episode of the television show:

And an "unusual" opening segments for the show, followed by some commercials.:

And another opening for the show, which I am posting only because I feel sorry for the girl in the Ex-Lax costume:

And a 1951 episode of the radio show:

Mark Evanier said it best* when he wrote the the show was "one of the most ghastly shows ever produced" and was "tasteless, demeaning to women, demeaning to anyone who watched it, cheap, insulting and utterly degrading to the human spirit."

*Quotes stolen by me from Wikipedia.

Update:  I spoke to soon.  IT HAS RISEN AGAIN!  It's now (oh, the humanity!) a musical starring Alan Thicke and was scheduled to premiere this past September in Toronto.

And in 2009, a radio station was experimenting rebroadcasting old episodes of Queen for a Day.  I don't know if the experiment worked.


For more of today's Overlooked Film and/or A/V go to sweetfreedom, where Todd Mason will help you fill in the Overlooked gaps in your knowledge.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Another good week, heavy on SF and fantasy.
  • Steve Alten, The Loch.  SF thriller about Loch Ness,
  • Piers Anthony, For Love of Evil.  Fantasy, Book Six of the Incarnations of Immortality series.
  • Piers Anthony & Julie Brady, Dream a Little Dream.  Fantasy.
  • Greg Bear, Legacy.  SF.  A prequel to Bear's Eon.
  • Robert Sidney Bowen, They Flew To Fame.  YA non-fiction, nine stories of famous aviators by a prolific pulp writer.
  • Martin Caidin, Exit Earth.
  • John Connolly, The Unquiet.  A Charlie Parker mystery.
  • Lonnie Cruise, Fifty-seven Traveling.  A Kitty Bloodworth mystery.
  • Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, editors, Snow White, Blood Red.  Anthology of twenty fantasy and horror stories reimagining fairy tales.
  • David Drake, The Forlorn Hope. Standalone military SF.
  • David Drake and Eric Flint, An Oblique Approach.  Military SF, the first novel in the series about Byzantine General Belisarius.
  • Alan Dean Foster, Bloodhype (#11 in the Pip & Flinx series), Codgerspace, Dirge (Book Two of The Founding of the Commonwealth), Running from the Deity (Pip & Flinx #10), Sliding Scales (Pip & Flinx #9), and Trouble Magnet (Pip & Flinx #12).  SF all.
  • "B. M. Gill" (Barbara M. Trimble), Dying to Meet You.   Mystery.
  • Heather Graham, Haunted.  Paranormal romance-thriller.
  • Joe Haldeman, Tool of the Trade.  SF.
  • "Adam Hall" (Elleston Trevor), Quiller Meridian.  Spy-guy thriller, number seventeen (of nineteen) in the series.
  • Harry Harrison and David Bischoff, Bill the Galactic Hero on the Planet of Tasteless Pleasures.  Volume Three the later series following Harrison's original book.
  • Patricia Highsmith, Mermaids on the Golf Course.  Collection of eleven suspense stories.
  • James P. Hogan, The Multiplex Man.  Libertarian SF, winner of the Prometheus Award.
  • Mary G. Houston,  Medieval Costume in England and France:  The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries.  Non-fiction, complete with patterns.
  • Michael Jecks, The Merchant's Partner and A Moorland Hanging.  The second and third books in the Knights Templar mystery series. (a.k.a. the Medieval West Country mystery series) featuring Sir Baldwin Furnshill, Keeper of the King's Peace, and Simon Puttock, bailiff of Lydford Castle. 
  • Keith Laumer, Retief:  Emissary to the Stars.  SF collection with seven stories about the galactic diplomat.
  • Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Music for Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents:  Harmonies and Discords of the First Hundred Years.  Non-fiction.  A fascinating and heavily illustrated history of songs patriotic, praising, partisan, and bileous from this country's first century.
  • "Jeff Lindsay" (Jeffry P. Freundlich), Dearly Devoted Dexter.  Everybody's favorite serial killer's second outing.
  • David Liss, The Coffee Trader.  "Historical noir."
  • Jeean Markale, The Celts:  Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture.  Non-fiction.
  • "Jack McKinney" (Brian Daley and James Luceno), three Robotech novels:  Battlecry (#2), Forceof Arms (#5), and Death Dance (#3 in The Sentinels sub-series).  Gaming/toy/television tie-in.
  • Larry McMurtry, Sin Killer.  Western, Book 1 of The Berrybender Narratives.
  • Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, editors, The Web She Weaves.  Mystery anthology with twenty-three stories written by women.  A good combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar.
  • Warren Murphy, The Destroyer #38:  Bay City Blast.  Men's action-adventure.  Richard Sapir is not credited on the cover or the title page but is included in the copyright notice.
  • Thomas Perry, Silence.  Thriller.
  • S. J. Rozan, No Colder Place.  A Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mystery.
  • R. A. Salvatore, Promise of the Witch King (Book II of the Sellswords) and Streams of Silver (Bood Two of The Icewind Dale Trilogy).  Gaming (Forgotten Realms) tie-in novels.
  • Robert Sawyer, Factoring Humanity and Frameshift.  SF.
  • "Mike Shepherd" (Mike Moscoe), Kris Longknife:  Deserter.  The second in this long-running military SF series.
  • Lewis Spence, The Myths of the North American Indians.  Folklore.  Originally published in 1914.
  • Richard Martin Stern, The Tower.  Thriller.  One-half the basis of Irwin Allen's The Towering Inferno.
  • Ross Thomas, The Fools in Town Are All on Our Side.  Crime novel.  Thomas was a master; is he even in print anymore?
  • Lawrence Watt-Evans, The Misenchanted Sword.  Fantasy.
  • Margaret Weiss & Tracy Hickman, Dragons of Winter Night.  Gaming (DragonLance) tie-in novel, Volume II of the Dragonlance Chronicles.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012


Blood Dance by Joe R. Lansdale (2000) [The Lost Lansdale, Volume Three]

Blood Dance is an early Eighties western that had been orphaned when Ace Books was sold to Berkeley Books, where the western line was cancelled.  According to Lansdale's introduction another publisher was interested but wanted the story told in the third person. A friend, Jeff Banks, revised the book for Lansdale but the other published folded.  Fast forward a number of years when Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press read the original manuscript, liked it, and made it part of the Lost Lansdale series Subterrranean was publishing.  This is early Lansdale, no doubt about it.  But this is pure Lansdale also, no doubt about that.

Jim Melgrhue and Bob Bucklaw are former Confederate soldiers down on their luck.  They are hired by Beau Carson as part of a crew for an unnamed job.  Turns out the job is to rob a train that is supposed to be carrying a large shipment of gold.  The pair are hesitant to go along but their financial straits overcome their good sense.  Of course, Carson's information is wrong; there is no gold.  Carson robs the passengers, the decides toleave no witnesses behind.  Melgrhue and Bucklaw can't go along with this and draw on Carson's crew.  During the battle, Bucklaw is shot down and Melgrue's last memory is of Carson pointing a Colt .44 at him and pulling the trigger, the noise mixing with the death cries of the men, women , and children from the train.

Melgrhue is rescued by one of the legendary men of the old West, Liver-Eating Johnson.  Once healed, Melgrhue is determined to get vengeance on Carson an his gang.  Melgrhue is joined by a mysterious Crow warrior called Dead Thing; the Indian is also after Carson and forges a loose alliance with the former Confederate, stating that their paths are intertwined.  Dead Thing has Mulgrhue join him in a mystic, torturous rite -- the Sun Dance.  Melgrue also meets up and befriend Wild Bill Hickok and gets a bird's eye view of the Battle of Little Big Horn before his final confrontation with Carson.

Fast-moving, mythic, and bloody, Blood Dance is pure pulp western told Lansdale-style.  And that's a pretty good recommendation.


For more of today's Forgotten Books, see Patti Abbott's blog, pattinase.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Reformer and feminst Frances Gage wrote this optimistic song (to music by John Hutchinson) in the 1850s.

                                                       A HUNDRED YEARS HENCE

One hundred years hence what a change will be made,
In politics, morals, religion and trade;
In Statesmen who wrangle or ride on the fence,
These things will be altered a hundred years hence.

Our laws the will be non-compulsory rules,
Our prisons converrted to national schools,
The pleasure of sinning -- 'tis all a pretence,
And the people will see it a hundred years hence.

Lying, cheating and fraud will be laid on the shelf.
Men will neither get drunk nor be bound up in self;
But all live together as neighbors and friends,
Just as good people ought to a hundred years hence.

Then woman, man's partner, man's equal shall stand,
When beauty and harmony govern the land,
And to think for one's self will be no offence,
The world will be thinking a hundred years hence.

Oppression and war will be heard of no more,
Nor the blood of a slave have its print on our shore;
Conventions will then be a needless expence,
The world will be thinking a hundred year's hence.

Instead of speak making to satisfy wrong,
All will join the glad chorus to sing Freedom's song.
And if the millennium is not a pretence,
We'll all be good brothers a hundred years hence.

from Music for Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents:  Harmonies and Discords of the First Hundred Years by Vera Bodsky Lawrence (Macmillan, 1975)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I try to see the best in everyone, but sometimes it's hard.  Very. very hard.

(Hat tip, of course, to BuzzFeed.)


Lawyer:  I have some good news and some bad news.

Client:  What's the bad news?

Lawyer:  The DNA tests show that your blood was all over the crime scene.  With that extra evidence you're bound to be convicted, and this state has the death penalty.

Client:  Oh, no, no, no...Wait, you said there was some good news.  What's the good news?

Lawyer:  You managed to get your chloresterol down under 130.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Before the votes are counted, let me prognosticate.  Obama with 283 electoral votes (after any and all legal wrangling).  Please note that I have been wrong about so many things in my lifetime, and that track record may well continue.  Kitty thinks I'm too high:  she's guessing Obama with about 273 electoral votes.

What's your guess?  Romney or Obama?  By how much?


Arthur Lucan (born Arthur Towle, 1885-1954) was a stage, music hall, and film actor with a fifty-five year career -- forty of them as Old Mother Riley, a popular character in England.  Old Mother Riley was a charwoman, a laundress, a shopkeeper, or whatever profession would help spin the plot.  Usually, some sort of mix-up or misunderstanding would be enough to start the plot -- in Vampire Over London it's a misdirected package.

Bela Lugosi plays a mad scientist known as The Vampire.  His plan to rule the world includes a radar-controlled robot which has accidently been delivered to Old Mother Riley.  The Vampire uses radar to get the robot back to his lair.  The robot just happens to bring Old Mother Riley along.  Slapstick and (sometimes) hilarity ensue.

Old Mother Riley evolved from characters Lucan created in his music hall acts.  In 1913 he married fifteen-year-old Kitty McShane and his act soon incorporated Kitty and transformed into skits featuring Old Mother Riley "and her Daughter."  Old Mother Riley shifted to films in 1936 with Stars on Parade.   Sixteen more films followed.  Popular?  In 1941 Lucan (as his Old Mother Riley character) was voted the seond most popular film star in England.

Which begs the question:  What is it with the English and their fondness for characters in drag?

Anyway, this was the last of the movies in the series.  Lucan was planning on another  film, Old Mother Riley's Trip to Mars, when he died.  His relationship with Kitty had grown acrimonious to the point where their scenes in the penultimate Old Mother Riley movie had to be shot separately.  Kitty was replaced for this final film.

And why was Lugosi in the film?  According to a comment on IMDB, Lugosi needed the money to fly his wife and himself home following a unsuccssful London stage stint.

I remember catching a couple of Old Mother Riley films on television when I was a kid and not being impressed.  But what the heck did I know? -- I was a kid.  Vampire Over London may not be a great film, perhaps, but it has its entertaining moments.

(Also known as My Son the Vampire, Dracula's Desire, and Mother Riley Runs Wild; pre-release titles were Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, The Robot and the Vampire, and The Vampire and the Robot.)

For more Overlooked Films, go VOTE today, then stop by sweetfreedom, Todd Mason's always-interesting blog.

Monday, November 5, 2012



  • Isaac Asimov, The Tyrannosaurus Prescription and 100 Other Essays.  Miscellaneous essays from all sources, including 20 from his column in SciQuest and 42 introductions and forewards that Asimov wrote for various books.
  • Pierce Askegren, Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Afterimage.  Television tie-in novel.  Askegren was a local (well, D.C. area -- well, actually Northern Virginia) writer; another who left us far too soon.
  • Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, The Bridge to Never Land.  The fifth book in the authors' Starcatchers series, based on Peter Pan.
  • Paul Cornell, Doctor Who:  The Shadows of Avalon.  Television tie-in novel featuring the eighth Doctor.
  • George Harmon Coxe, The Jade Venus. A Kent Murdock mystery.
  • Gordon R. Dickson, The Dragon in Lyonesse.  Fantasy novel in  the Dragon Knight series.
  • "Tabor Evans" (house nme), Longarm and the Colorado Manhunt.  Number 349 in this long-running adult western series.
  • Gherbod Fleming, Gangrel.  Gaming (Vampire: The Masquerade) tie-in novel of The Clan.
  • Geronimo (as told to S. M. Barrett), Geronimo:  His Own Story.  Autobiography.
  • "Brett Halliday" (Davis Dresser), When Dorinda Dances.  A Mike Shayne mystery.
  • Caroline Hart, Merry, Merry Ghost.  A Bailey Ruth fantasy/mystery.
  • "Iceberg Slim" (Robert Beck), Doom Fox.  A ghetto crime novel.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go.  Lit'ry novel with SF overtones.
  • Barry Letts, Doctor Who:  The Paradise of Death.  Television tie-in novel featuring the third Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, and the Brigadier.
  • Joseph M. Marshall III, The Journey of Crazy Horse:  A Lokata History.  Non-fiction.
  • "J. D. Masters" (Simon Hawke, born Nicholas Yermakov), Target Steele.  Sixth in the men's action-adventure series about a cyborg cop.
  • Warren Murphy and James Mullaney,  three books in The New Destroyer series:  Dead Reckoning, Guardian Angel, and Killer Ratings.  Men's action-adventure following the characters created by...
  • ...Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir, twenty books in The Destroyer series:  #1 Created, the Destroyer, #3 Chinese Puzzle, #5 Dr. Quake, #6 Death Therapy, #7 Union Bust, #8 Summit Chase, #9 Murder's Shield, #11 Kill or Cure, #12 Slave Safari, #20 Assassins' Play-Off, #26 In Enemy Hands, #27 The Last Temple, #28 Ship of Death, #30 Mugger Blood, #32 Mugger Blood, #32 Killer Chromosomes, #33 Voodoo Die, #36 Power Play, #40 Dangerous Games, #41 Firing Line, and #70 The Eleventh Hour.  Men's action-adventure.
  • "J. D. Robb" (Nora Roberts), Immortal in Death.  Futuristic detective novel in the never-ending Eve Dallas series.  Haven't read any of these, but I thought if I picked this one up. I'd get to it sooner or later.
  • Harry Turtledove, American Empire:  The Victorious Opposition (the fourth (I think) in this particular alternate history series) and Curious Notions (more alt history, Book Two of Crosstime Traffic).
  • Charles G. West, Shoot-Out at Broken Bow.  Western.
  • Lady Wilde, Ancient Legends of Ireland.  Folklore.
  • Jim R. Woolard, Cold Moon.  Packaged as a western novel, this is a frontier novel of the 1793 Shawnee war in Ohio.

And the following were ones Dawn contributed to the cause:
  • Janice Hamrick, Death on Tour. Winner of the 2010 Mystery Writers of America/Minataur Books First Crime Novel.
  • Kathy Reichs, Bones Are Forever.  A Temperance Brennan mystery.
  • Robert Sawyer, Mindscan.  SF.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Grrrr...I hate the ads imbedded into Youtube clips.  Luckily what follows here helps bring my soul peace.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


From page 136 of The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell (1996) by Harry Harrison

         It was a lovely night.  With their salamis at slope arms and in perfect step, the marines charged straight into Hell behind Sybil.  My family followed.

Doesn't that paragraph make you want to keep reading to find out what the heck is going on?

BTW, this is a literal description of what was happening in this SF novel.  Not an allegory.  not a metaphor.  Not a dream or a hallucination.  My admitration for Harrison's work continues to grow.

Friday, November 2, 2012


The Dead Boy Detectives by Jill Thompson (2005)

First introduced in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman:  Season of Mists, Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine are young ghosts (ages 13 and 12, respectively) who form Rowland and Paine Detective Agency (home office:  The Tree house, London, England).  Artist and writer Jill Thompson used the two, plus Gaiman's character Death, in an earlier book Death:  At Death's Door.  Now they are back (with a cameo appearance by Death) in this manga digest.

Annika Abernathy, a 13-year-old student at the International Academy in Chicago, has written to the agency asking for their help in locating her missing roommate and best friend, Elizabeth.  All the adults at the school are acting as if Elizabeth never existed -- something she feels is "ultra dodgy" and she fears the worst.  Well, what young detective agency could resist that appeal?

The dead lads make it to Chicago and manage to find Annika and her friends Fiorenza, Michiko, and 6-year-old Frederika.  Charles (who died in 1990) is gobsmacked when he sees Annika (she's quite a 13-year-old dish); Edwin (who died in 1916) is a bit more blase and eager to solve the mystery. The girls tell them they could stay at their boarding school while they investigate, forgetting to mention that it's an all-girls school.  The girls solve this problem by raiding their closets and using their make-up and Charles and Edwin are transformed into a pair of exceptionally uncomfortable girls -- making them the only YA drag dead detectives (to my knowledge) in literature.

On to the investigation!

There are suspects a-plenty including les itches bay (three older bully-girls), young teacher Mr. Bourne (very snoggable, according to the girls), Ms. Caine (a world lit teacher who picked on Elizabeth), science teacher Mr. Drake (who loved to experiment), history teacher Professor Pimm (who was overly interested in Elizabeth's mysterious term paper), and the surly and prying janitor Mr. Jones.  There were also clues a-plenty:  hidden treasure, a torn diary, a briefcase full of photos of Elizabeth, a pile of receipts for Elizabeth's favorite food, and hidden panels all over the boarding school.

The investigation is complicated by no one knowing the boys are dead, and most not knowing the boys are boys -- causing some complications in a girls school.  And the girls who do know that the boys are not girls are displaying a great deal of pubescent lust, making both dead boys very uncomfortable  -- especially Edwin with his Edwardian/Georgian sensibilities.

I'm not that much of a manga fan, but I was entranced by The Dead Boy Detectives.  The writing is smart and sassy, the artwork lends itself to the story, and the resolution is  unexpected and quite satisfying.

Enjoyable and worth checking out.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Chapter VIII of The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame

                                                            TOAD'S ADVENTURES

When Toad found himself immured in a dank and noisome dungeon, and knew that all the grim darkness of a medieval fortress lay between him and the outer world of sunshine and well-metalled high walls where he had lately been so happy, disporting himself as if he had brought up every road in England, he flung himself at full length on the floor, and shed bitter tears, and abandoned himself to dark despair.  'This is the end of everythin,' (he said), 'at least it is the end of the career of Toad, which is the same thing; the popular and handsome Toad, the rich and hospitable Toad, the Toad so free and careless and debonair!  How can I hope ever to be set at large again' (he said), 'who have been imprisoned so justly for stealing so handsome a motor-car in such an audacious manner, and for such lurid and imaginative cheek, bestowed upon such a number of fat, red-faced policemen!'  (Here his sobs choked him.)  'Stupid animal that I was' (he said) 'now I must lanquish in this dungeon, till people who were proud to say they knew me, have forgotten the very name of Toad!'   With lamentations such as these he passed his days and nights for several weeks, refusing his meals or intermediate light refreshments, though the grim and ancient gaoler, knowing that Toad's pockets were well-lined, frequently pointed out that many comforts, and indeed luxuries, could by arrangement be sent in -- at a price -- from outside.

     Now the gaoler had a daughter, a pleasant wench and good-hearted, who assisted her father in the lighter duties of his post.  She was particularly fond of animals, and, besides her canary, whose cage hung on a nail on the massive wall of the keep by day, to the great annoyance of prisoners who relished an after-dinner nap, and was shrouded in an antimacassar on the parlour table at night, she kept several piebald mice and a restless revolving squirrel.  This kind-hearted girl, pitying the misery of Toad, said to her father one day, 'Father!  I can't bear to see that beast so unhappy, and getting so thin!  You let me have the managing of him.  You know how fond of animals I am.  I'll make him eat from my hand, and sit up, and do all sorts of things.'

     Her father replied she could do what she liked with him.  He was tired of Toad, and his sulks and his airs and his meanness.  So that day she went on her errand of mercy, and knocked at the door of Toad's cell.

     'Now, cheer up, Toad,' she said coaxingly, on entering, 'and sit up and dry your eyes and be a sensible animal.  And do try to eat a bit of dinner.  See, I've brought you some of mine, hot from the oven!'

     It was bubble-and-sqeak, between two plates, and its fragrance filled the narrow cell.  The penetrating smell of cabbage reached the nose of Toad as he lay prostrate in his misery on the floor, and gave him the idea for a moment that perhaps life was not such a blank and desperate thing as he had imagined.  But still he wailed, and kicked his legs, and refused to be comforted.  So the wise girl retired for the time, but, of course, a good deal of the smell of cabbage remained behind, as it will do, and Toad, between his sobs, sniffed and reflected, and gradually began to think new and insoiring thoughts:  of chivalry, and poetry, and deeds still to be done; of broad meadows and cattle browsing in them; of kitchen gardens, and straight herb-borders, and warm snap-dragon beset by bees; and of the comforting clink of dishes set down on the table at Toad Hall, and the scrape of chair-legs on the floor as every one pulled himself close up to his work.  The air of the narrow cell took a rosy tinge; he began to think of his friends, and how they would surely be able to do something; of lawyers, and how they would have enjoyed his case, and what an ass he had been not to get in a few; and lastly, he thought of his own great cleverness and resource, and all that he was capable of if he put his great mind to it; and the cure was almost complete.

     When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like hony from the honeycomb.  The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one's ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on  the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.  Toad sat up on end once more, dried his eyes, sipped his tea and munched his toast, and soon began talking freely about himself, and his doings there, and how important he was, and what a lot of his friends thought of him.

     The gaoler's daughter saw that the topic was doing him as much good as the tea, as indeed it was, and encouraged him to go on.

     'Tell me about Toad Hall,' said she.  'It sounds beautiful.'

     'Toad Hall,' said the Toad proudly, 'is an eligible self-contained gentleman's residence, very unique; dating in part from the fourteenth century, but replete with every modern convenience.  Up-to-date sanitation.  Five minutes from church, post-office, and golf-links.  Suitable for --'

     'Bless the animal,' said the girl, laughing, 'I don't want to take it.  Tell me something real about it.  But first wait until I fetch you some more tea and toast.'

     She tripped away, and presently returned with a fresh trayful; and Toad, pitching into the toast with avidity, his spirits quite restored to their usual level, told her about the boat-house, and the fish-pond, and the old walled kitchen-garden; and about the pig styes, and the stables, and the pigeon-house, and the hen-house; and about the dairy, and the wash-house, and the china-supboards, and the linen-presses (she like that bit especially); and about the banqueting hall, and the fun they had there when the other animals were gathered round the table and Toad was at his best, singing songs, telling stories, carrying on generally.  Then she wanted to know about his animal-friends, and was very interested in all he had to tell her about them and how they lived, and what they did to pass their time.  Of course, she did not say she was fond of animals as pets, because she had the sense to see that Toad would be extremely offended.  When she said good-night, having filled his water-jug and shaken up his straw for him, Toad was very much the same sanguine, self-satisfied animal that he had been of old.  He sang a little song of two, of the sort he used to sing at his dinner-parties, and had an excellent night's rest and the pleasantest of dreams.

     They had many interesting talks together, after that, as the dreary days went on; and the goaler's daughter grew very sorry for Toad, and thought it a great shame that a poor little animal should  be locked up in prison for what seemed to her a very trivial offence.  Toad, of course, in his vanity, thought that her interest in him proceeding from a growing tenderness; and he could not help half-regretting that the social gulf between them was so very wide, for she was a comely lass, an evidently admired him very much.

     One morning the girl was very thoughful, and answered at random,and did not seem to Toad to be paying the proper attention to his witty sayings and sparkling comments.

     'Toad,' she said presently, 'just listen, please.  I have an aunt who is a washerwoman.'

     'There, there,' said Toad graciously and affably, 'never mind; think no more about it.  I have sereval aunts who ought to  be washerwomen.'

     'Do be quiet for a minute, Toad,' said the girl.  'You talk too much, that's your chief fault, and I'm trying to think, and you hurt my head.  As I said, I have an aunt who's a washerwoman; she does the washing for all the prisoners in this castle -- we try to keep any paying business of that sort in the family, you understand.  She takes out the washing on Monday morning, and brings it back on Friday evening.  This is a Thursday.   Now, this is what occurs to me:  you're very rich -- at least you're always telling me so -- and she's very poor.  A few pounds wouldn't make any difference to you, and it would mean a lot to her.  Now, I think if she were properly approached -- squared, I believe is the word you animals use --you could come to some arrangement by which she would let you have her dress and bonnet and so on, and you could escape from the castle as the official washerwoman.  You're very alike in many respects -- particularly about the figure.'

     'We're not,' said the Toad in a huff.  'I have a very elegant figure -- for what I am.'

     'So has my aunt,' said the girl, 'for what she is.  But have it your own way.  You horrid, proud, ungrateful animal, when I'm sorry for you, and trying to help you!'

     'Yes, yes, that's all right; thank you very much indeed,' said Toad hurriedly.  But look here!  you surely wouldn't have Mr. Toad, of Toad Hall, going going around the country disguised as a washerwoman!'

      'Then you can stop here as a Toad,' replied the girl with much spirit.  'I suppose you want to go off in a coach-and-four!'

     Honest Toad was always ready to admit himself in the wrong.  'You are a good, kind, clever girl,' he said, 'and I am indeed a proud and stupid toad.  Introduce me to your worthy aunt, if you would be so kind, and I have no doubt that the excellent lady and I will be able to arrange terms satisfactory to both parties.'

     Next evening the girl ushered her aunt into Toad's cell, bearing his week's washing pinned up in a towel.  The old lady had been prepared beforehand for the interview, and sight of several gold sovereigns that Toad had thoughfully placed on the table in full view practically completed the matter abd left little further to discuss.  In return for his cash, Toad received a cotton print gown, an apron, a shawl, and a rusty black bonnet; the only stipulation the old lady made being that she should be gagged and bound and dumped in a corner.  By this not very convincing artifice, she explained, aided by picturesque fiction which she could supply herself, she hoped to retain her situation, in spite of the suspicious appearance of things.

     Toad was delighted with the suggestion.  It would enable him to leave the prison in some style, and with his reputation for being a desperate and dangerous fellow untarnished; and he readily helped the gaoler's daughter to make her aunt appear as much as possible the victim of circumstance over which she had no control.

     'Now it's your turn, Toad,' said the girl.  Take off that coat and waistcoat of yours; you're fat enough as it is.'

     Shaking with laughter, she proceeded to 'hook-and-eye' him into the cotton print gown, arranged the shawl in a professional fold, and tied the strings of the rusty bonnet under his chin.

     'You're the very image of her," she giggled, 'only I'm sure you never looked half so respectable in all your life before.  Now, goodbye Toad, and good luck.  Go straight down the way you came up; and if anyone says anything to you, as they probably will, being but men, you can chaff back a bit, of course, but remember you're a widow woman, quite alone in the world, with a character to lose.'

     With a quaking heart, but as firm a footstep he could command, Toad set forth cautiously on what seemed to be a most hare-brained and hazardous undertaking; but he was soon agreeably surprised to find how easy everything was made for him, and a little humbled at the thought that both his popularity and the sex that seemed to inspire it, were really another's.  The washerwoman's squat figure in its familiar cotton print seemed a passport for every barred door and grim gateway; even when he hesitated, uncertain as the right turning to take, he found himself helped out of his difficulty by the warder at the next gate, anxious to be off to his tea, summoning him to come along sharp and not keep him waiting there all night.  The chaff and the humourous sallies to which he was subjected, and to which, of course, he had to provide prompt and effective reply, formed, indeed, his chief danger; for Toad was an animal with a strong sense of his own dignity, and the chaff was mostly (he though) was poor and clumsy, and the humour of the sallies entirely lacking.  Hoever, he kept his temper, though with great difficulty, suited his retorts to his temper and his supposed character, and did his best not to overstep the limits of good taste.

     It seemed hours before he crossed the last courtyard, rejected the pressing invitations from the last guardroom, and dodged the outspread arms of the last warder, pleading with simulated passion for just onefarewell embrace.  But at last he heard the wicket-gate in the great outer door click behind him, felt the fresh air of the outer world upon his anxious brow, and knew the he was free!

     Dizzy with the easy success of his daring exploit, he walked quickly towards the lights of town, not knowing in the least what he should do next, only quite certain of one thing, that he should remove himself as quickly as possible from the neighbourhood where the lady he was forced to represent was so well-known and so popular a character.

     As he walked along, considering, his attention was caught by some red and green lights a little way off, to one side of the town, and the sound of the puffing and snorting of engines and the banging of shunted trucks fell on his ear.  'Aha!' he thought, 'this is a piece of luck!  A railway station is the thing I want most in the whole world at this moment; and what's more, I needn't go through the town to get it, and shan't have to support this humiliating character by repartees which, though thoroughly effective, do not assist one's sense of self-respect.'

     He made his way to the station accordingly, consulted a time-table, and found that a train, bound more or less in the direction of his home, was due to start in half-an-hour.  'More luck!' said Toad, his spirits rising rapidly, and went off to the booking-office to buy his ticket.

     He gave the name of the station that he knew to be the nearest to the village of which Toad Hall was the principal feature, and mechanically put his fingers, in search of the necessary money, where his waistcoat pocket should have been.  But here the cotton gown, which had nobly stood by him so far, and which he had basely forgotten, intervened and frustrated his efforts.  In a sort of nightmare he struugled with the strange uncanny thing that seemed to hold his hands, turn all muscular strivibgs to water, and laugh at him all the time; while other travellers, forming up in a line behind, waitedwith impatience, making suggestions of more or  less value and comments of more or less stringency and point.  At last -- somehow -- he never rightly understood how -- he burst the barriers, attained the goal, arrived at where all waistcoat pockets are eternally situated, and found -- not only no money, but no pocket to hold it, and no waistcoat to hold the pocket!

     To his horror he recollected that he had left both coat and waistcoat behind him in his cell, and with them his pocket-book, money, keys, watch, matches, pencil-case -- all that makes life worth living, all that distinquished the many-pocketed animal, the lord of creation, from the inferior one-pocketed or no-pocketed productions that hop or trip about permissively, unequipped for the real contest.

     In his misery he made one desperate effort to carry the thing off -- a blend of the Squire and the College Don -- he said, 'Look here!  I find I've left my purse behind.  Just give me that ticket, will you, and I'll send the money on to-morrow.  I'm well-known in these parts.'

     The clerk stared at him and the rusty black bonnet a moment, and then laughed.  'I should think you were pretty well known in these parts,' he said, 'if you've tried this game on often.  Here, stand away from the window, please, madam; you're obstructing the other passengers!'

     An old gentleman who had been prodding him in the back for some moments here thrust him away, and, what was worse, addressed him as his good woman, which angered Toad more than anything that had occured that evening.

     Baffled and full of despair, he wandered blindly down the platform where the train was standing, and tears trickled down each side of his nose.  It was hard, he thought, to be within sight of safety and almost of home, and to be baulked by the want of a few wretched shillings an by the pettiflogging mistrustfulness of paid officials.  Very soon his escape would be discovered, the hunt would be up, he would be caught, reviled, loaded with chains, dragged back again to prison, and bread-and-water and straw; his guards and penalties would be doubled; and O! what sarcastic remarks the girl would make!  What was to be done?  He was not swift of foot; his figure was unfortunately recognizable.  Could he not squeeze under the seat of a carriage?  He had seen this method adopted by schoolboys, when the journey-money provided by thoughtful parents had been diverted to other and better ends.  As he pondered, he found himself opposite the engine, which was being oiled, wiped, and gently caressed by its affectionate driver, a burly man with an oil-can in one hand and a lump of cotton-waste in the other.

     'Hullo, mother!' said the engine-driver, 'what's the trouble?  You don't look particularly cheerful.'

     'O, sir, said Toad, crying afresh, 'I am a poor unhappy washerwoman, and I've lost all my money, and I can't pay for a ticket, and I must get home to-night somehow, and whatever I am to do I don't know.  O dear, o dear!'

     'That's a bad business indeed,' said the engine-driver reflectively.  'Lost your money -- and can't get home -- and got some kids, too, waiting for you, I dare say?'

     'Any amount of them,' sobbed Toad.  'And they'll be hungry -- and playing with matches -- and upsetting lamps, the little innocents! -- and quarreling, and going on generally.  O dear, o dear!'

     'Well, I'll tell you what I'll do,' said the good engine-driver.  'You're a washerwoman to your trade, says you.  Very well, that's that.  And I'm an engine-driver as you well may see, and there's no denying it's terribly dirty work.  Uses up a power of shirts, it does, till my missus is fair tired of washing 'em.  If you'll wash a few shirts for me when you get home, and send 'em along, I'll give you a ride on my engine.  It's against the Company's regulations, but we're not so very particular in these out-of-the-way parts.'

     The Toad's misery turned into rapture as he eagerly scrambled up into the cab of the engine.  Of course, he had never washed a shirt in his life, and couldn't if he tried and, anyhow, he wasn't going to begin; but he thought, 'When I get safely home to Toad Hall, and have money again, and pockets to put it in, I will send the engine-driver enough to pay for quite a quantity of washing, and that will be the same thing, or better.'

     The guard waved his welcome flag, the engine-driver whistled in cheerful response, and the train moved out of the station.   As the speed increased, and Toad could see on either side of him real fields, and trees, and hedges, and cows, and horses, all flying past him, and as he thought how every minute was bringing him nearer to Toad Hall, and sympathetic friends, and money to chink in his pocket, and a soft bed  to sleep in, and good things to eat, and praise and admiration at the recital of his adventures and his unsurpassing cleverness, he began to skip up and down and shout and sing snatches of song, to the great astonishment of the engine-driver, who had come across washerwomen before, at long intervals, but never one at all like this.

     They had covered many and many a mile, and Toad was already considering what he would have for supper as soon as he got home, when he noticed that the engine-driver, with a puzzled expression on his face, was leaning on the side of the engine and listening hard.  Then  he saw him climb on to the coals and gaze out over the top of the train; then he returned and said to Toad:  'It's very strange; we're on the last train running in this direction to-night, yet I could be sworn that I heard another following us!'

     Toad ceased his frivolous actions at once.  He became grave and depressed, and a dull pain in the lower part of his spine, communicating itself to his legs, made him want to sit down and try deperately not to think of all the possibilities.

     By this time the moon was shining brightly, and the engine-driver, steadying himself on the coal, could command a view of the line behind him for a long distance.

     Presently he called out, 'I can see it clearly now!  It is an engine, on our rails, coming along at a great pace!  It looks as if we were being pursued!'

     The miserable Toad, crouching in the coal-dust, tried hard to think of something to do, with dismal want of success.

     'They are gaining on us fast!' cried the engine-driver.  "And the engine is crowded with the queerest lot of people!  Men like ancient warders, waving halberds; policemen in their helmuts, waving truncheons; and shabbily-dressed men in pot-hats, obvious and unmistakable plain-clothes detectives even at this distance, waving revolvers and walking-sticks; all waving, and all shouting the same thing -- "Stop, stop, stop!"'

     Then Toad fell on his knees among the coals and, raising his clasped paws in supplication, cried, 'Save me, only save me, dear kind Mr. Engine-driver, and I will confess everything!  I am not the simple washerwoman I seem to be!  I have no children waiting for me, innocent or otherwise!  I am a toad -- the well-known and popular Mr. Toad, a landed proprietor; I have just escaped, by my great daring and cleverness, from a loathsome dungeon into which my enemies had flung me; and if those fellows on that engine recapture me, it will be chains and bread-and-water and straw and misery once more for poor, unhappy, innocent Toad!'

     The engine-driver looked down upon him very sternly, and said, 'Now tell the truth; what were you put in prison for?'

     'It was nothing very much,' said poor Toad, colouring deeply.  I only borrowed a motorcar while the owners were at lunch; they had no need of it at the time.  I didn't mean to steal it, really; but people -- especially magistrates -- take such harsh views of thoughtlessness and high-spirited actions.'

     The engine-driver looked very grave and said, 'I fear that you have indeed been a wicked toad, and by rights I ought to give you up to offended justice.  But you are evidently in sore trouble and distress, so I will not desert you.  I don't hold with motor-cars, for one thing; and I  don't hold with being ordered about by policemen when I'm on my own engine, for another.  And the sight of an animal in tears always makes me feel queer and soft-hearted.  So cheer up, Toad!  I'll do my best, and we may beat them yet!'

     They piled on more coals, shovelling furiously; the furnace roared, the sparks flew, the engine leapt and swung, , but still their pursuers slowly gained.  The engine-driver, with a sigh, wiped his brow with a handful of cotton-waste, and said, 'I'm afraid it's no good, Toad.  You see, they are running light, and they have the better engine.  There's just one thing left for us to do, and it's your only chance, so attend very carefully to what I tell you.  A short way ahead of us is a long tunnel, and on the other side of that the line passes through a thick wood.  Now, I will put on all the speed I can while we are running through the tunnel, but the other fellows will slow down a bit, naturally, for fear of an accident.  When we are through, I will shut off steam and put on brakes as hard as I can, and the moment it's safe to do so you must jump and hide in the wood, before they get through the tunnel and see you.  Then I will go full speed ahead again, and they can chase me if they like, and as far as they like.  Now mind and be ready to jump when I tell you!'

     They piled on more coal, and the train shot into the tunnel, and the engine rushed and roared and rattled, till at least they shot out at the other end into fresh air and the peaceful moonlight, and saw the wood lying dark and helpful on either side of the line.  The driver shut off steam and put on brakes, the Toad got down on the step, and as the train slowed down to almost a walking pace he heard the driver call out, 'Now, jump!'

     Toad jumped, rolled down a short embankment, picked himself up unhurt, scrambled into the wood and hid.

     Peeping out, he saw his train get up speed again and disappear at a great pace.  Then out of the tunnel burst the pursuing engine, roaring and whistling, her motley crew waving their various weapons and shouting, 'Stop! stop! stop!'  When they were past , the Toad had a hearty laugh -- for the first time since he was thrown in prison.

     But he soon stopped laughing when he came to consider that it was now very late and dark and cold, and he was in an unknown wood, with no money and no chance of supper, and still far from friends and home; and the dead silence of everything, after the roar and rattle of the train, was something of a shock.  He dared not leave the shelter of the trees, so he struck into the wood, with the idea of leaving the railway as far as possible behind him.

     After so many weeks within walls, he found the wood strange and unfriendly and inclined, he thought, to make fun of him.  Night-jars, sounding their mechanical rattle, made him think that the wood was full of searching warders, closing in on him.  An owl, swooping noiselessly towards him, brushed his shoulder with its wing, making him jump with the horrid certainty that it was a hand; then flitted off, moth-like, laughing its low ho! ho! ho! which Toad thought was in very poor taste.  Once he met a fox, who stopped, looked him up and down in a sarcastic sort of way, and said, 'Hullo, washerwoman!  Half a pair of socks and a pillow-case short this week!  Mind it doesn't occur again!' and swaggered off.  Toad looked about for a stone to throw at him, but could not succeed in finding one, which vexed him more than anything.  At last, cold, hungry, and tired out, he sought the shelter of a hollow tree, where with branches and dead leaves he made himself as comfortable a bed as he could, and slept soundly till the morning.