Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, November 30, 2020


 Openers:    You will not know where Quartermouth is, and I shall not tell you.  It is as well, for the comfort of those of us who do not like large crowds, that not too many people should know where to find, on the South Coast of England, a place that is more like a Continental casino than a seaside resort -- a place where there is a real little town of some antiquity with a real harbour and a quay where fishing-boats land, a Fore Street of old grey cottages and smelly fishing-nets, and a High and other streets of clean modern shops where visitors can purchase all necessary and unnecessary objects.  A place, moreover -- and this is the point -- where the Mrs. Grundy of the seaside has not found a home, where the bathing restrictions are nil, where the licensing hours are long and loosely enforced. and where the public-houses, one and all, possess as well as their stuffy little bars for the fishermen, small or large courtyards or gardens, hung with fairy lights, where one can sit for hours, German or French fashion, sipping at a ong drink in the evening, in the soft southwestern air.

-- G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, "The Toys of Death" (from their collection Mrs. Warrender's Profession, 1938)

George Douglas Howard Cole (1889-1959) and his wife, Margaret Isabel Cole (1893-1980; who was often by-lined M. I. Cole), published 34 detective books together from 1925 to 1946  (G. D. H. Cole had published on mystery novel previously).  Much of their early stories were in the vein of Freeman Wills Crofts (who never met a railroad timetable he did not like) with their emphasis on the scientific approach to evidence and to false alibis.  The early books tended to emphasize crooked businessmen, and provide sharp characterization; they are intelligently framed and often provide ingenious ideas.  The later books became more plodding and provided weak solutions.  The Cole's chief detective was Superintendent Henry Wilson, a smart and principled detective who, in at least one case, stood back and let someone else solve the murder.  Not everyone has been enamored of the Coles' mystery novels or of Superintendent Wilson; critic Jeanne F. Bedell said that Wilson "in fact, is surely on of the most colorless detectives ever created."

Mystery writing was a pleasant sideline for the couple.  George Cole is best remembered outside of the mystery field as a major political theorist, economist, and historian.  A libertarian socialist (which is neither a Marxist nor a social democrat), he published over 150 nonfiction books.  One student of his, future Prime Minster Harold Wilson, was greatly influences by Cole and was convinced by him to join the Labour Party.  Margaret Cole, who shared her husband's beliefs, published more than 30 books on her own.  She held a number of prominent political positions following World War II and was given an OBE by her husband's former student Harold Wilson and was later awarded a DBE for her service to Local Government and Education.  Many of the mystery novels published by the pair are thought to have been the work of one or the other of the authors.

"The Toys of Death" features another of the Cole's detectives, the lesser-know Mrs. Elizabeth Warrender, the mother of a private detective James Warrender (readers encountered him in other novels by the Coles) whom she helps on occasion, and sometimes does the detecting on her own.  Like Jane Marple (although no way as sharp), Mrs. Warrender has a sharp sense of human nature, which provides her in good stead.  Mrs. Warrender's Profession contains four novellas about the elderly sleuth:  "Death in the Sun," "In Peril of His Life," "Fatal Beauty," and "The Toys of Death."  The very perceptive J.F. Norris on his blog Pretty Sinister Books had this to say about "The Toys of Death" when he reviewed Mrs. Warrender's Profession back in 2012:

"-- Easily the best of the lot.  A true detective story and the second tale in which Mrs. Warrender is present at the scene of the crime.  She also does the only real detective work here (discovering pieces of blue glass for instance) rather than doing her kind of deductive guesswork based on her 'observations of real people.'

"Crampton Playdell is found dead in his locked study.  His death appears to be a suicide from cyanide poisoning.  As the story progresses we learn that Playdell has a strange hobby -- replicating Renaissance Italian glass.  His specialty was designing duplicates of Vetturi's poison toys -- glass ornaments and glass jewelry filled with poisons that were used by the Medici's to commit assassination.  this is something that seems to be more up John Dickson Carr's alley than the Coles.  that aspect of the story held my interest and make it the most original and intriguing of the bunch.  The motive for the crimes (there are other deaths) makes the most sense out of all the stories and the characters are the most interesting.  No shop girls, beauty parlor employees, gorgeous dancers or office gossips on hand in this one which was a relief."

Academy Mystery Novellas:   I should also mention that I found the above story in the four-volume set of Academy Mystery Novellas edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Bill Pronzini in 1985.  Each volume here contains four novellas and should be required reading for any mystery fan.  The details on each volume follow;

Volume 1:  Women Sleuths

  • G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, "The Toys of Death" (from Mrs. Warrender's Profession, 1938; featuring Mrs. Elizabeth Warrender)
  • Mignon Eberhart, "The Calico Dog" (from The Delineator, September 1934; featuring Susan Dare)
  • Cornell Woolrich, "The Book That Squealed" (from Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine. August 1939; featuring Prudence Roberts)
  • Marcia Muller, "The Broken Men" (original to this volume; featuring Sharon McCone)
Volume 2:  Police Procedurals
  • "Ed McBain" (Evan Hunter). "The Empty Hours" (from Ed McBain's Mystery Book #1, 1960; featuring the 87th Precinct}
  • Donald E. Westlake, "The Sound of Murder" (from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, December 1962; featuring Abe Levine)
  • Georges Simenon, "Storm in the Channel" (originally published in French as "Tempete sur la Manche" in the collection Les Nouvelles Enquites de Maigret, 1944; first English publication in Maigret's Pipe; this version taken from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, December 1978, translated by Jean Stewart.; featuring Inspector Jules Maigret)
  • "Hugh Pentecost" (Judson Philips), "Murder in the Dark" (from The American Magazine, February 1949 [which originally credited Blake Cabot as co-author]; featuring Lt. David Pascal)
Volume 3:  Locked Room Puzzles
  • John Dickson Carr, "The Third Bullet" (from The Third Bullet, 1937, as by "Carter Dickson"; published as by Carr in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 1948; featuring Dr. Gideon Fell)
  • Bill Pronzini, "Booktaker" (from the collection Casefile, 1983; this may have originally appeared as an audiobook narrated by Nick Sullivan, 1982; featuring The Nameless Detective)
  • Clayton Rawson, "From Another World" (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 1948; featuring The Great Merlini)
  • Edward D. Hoch, "Day of the Wizard" (from The Saint Mystery Magazine [UK], August 1963; featuring Simon Ark)
Volume 4:  Great British Detectives
  • Leslie Charteris, "The Beauty Specialist" (from the Thriller Library, March 27, 1937, as "The 'Z' Man"; featuring Simon Templar/The Saint)
  • G. K. Chesterton, "The Oracle of the Dog" (from Nash's and Pall Mall Magazine, December 1923; featuring Father Brown)
  • Michael Gilbert, "The /Cleaners" (from the collection Petrella at Q, 1977; featuring Inspector Patrick Petrella)
  • Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey" (from the collection Hangman's Holiday, 1934; also known as "The Power of Darkness"; featuring Lord Peter Wimsey)
Some pretty good stuff here.

I Say:  One of the best things about watching (and re-watching and re-re-watching old Poirot episodes is the character of Captain Arthur Hastings, as played by Hugh Fraser.

The Death of Mike Fink:  Mike Fink, the legendary keelboatman, is seldom remembered today, save for those who followed the adventures of Davy Crockett as viewed by Walt Disney.  Jeff York played "the King of the River":

The details below are from an account written by noted folklorist Vance Randolph.

Unlike other folk heroes, Mike Fink was an actual person, born at Fort Pitt in 1770.  Even as a youth, Mike Fink was known as aa expert rifle shot and was said to have been regarded as an Indian-killer.  He became a keelboatman on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  The work was grueling and dangerous; many battles broke out between rival boatman and with the "less civilized inhabitants of the Lower Ohio and Mississippi."  Fink was equal to the task, being over six feet tall and with symmetrical proportions and "Herculean powers."

Many believed that Fink's skill with a flintlock surpassed that of Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, or Kit Carson.  He was said to have shot the tail off a pig at 100 yards.  He shot the ears off a tomcat at 150 yards, the scalplock from the head of a Cherokee at 50 yards, and "trimmed" the heel of a Negro without touching bone -- this last escapade rightly got him arrested.  He was a heavy drinker and womanizer; his sexual escapades with women -- red, white, and black -- have been greatly weakened by bowderization.  As hi health failed he became (even more) aggressive and irritable, and retired to live in a cave along with a young man named Carpenter.

Both Fink and Carpenter were great shots and one of their favorite things was to shoot cans off the other's head.  It did not matter to them whether they were drunk or sober.  One time, they performed the trick at the urging of spectators and Carpenter's bullet cut Fink's hair and marked his scalp, perhaps because Fink had jumped a bit.  Fink told the young man, "That ain't the way I taught you to shoot."  Then it was Mike Fink's turn and he shot Carpenter directly in the forehead.  Some thought this had been done deliberately and accused him of cold-blooded murder.  Fink seemed dazed and did not say a word, but quietly went back to his cave.

One of the most vocal accusers was a gunsmith named Talbott.  When Mike Fink heard this he said he would kill Talbott at the first chance.  The one day, Fink met Talbott.  Fink was carrying his rifle and Talbott had two cocked pistols.  Witnesses said that Fink appeared to be sick and absent-minded.  Talbott, shaking like a leaf, warned Fink to stay away, but Fink kept heading to him.  After a final warning which Fink Ignored, Talbott fired both pistols into Fink's chest.  As he lay dying, Fink was heard to say, "I didn't kill my boy!"  As the story goes, Talbott drowned a month later trying to cross the Missouri in a skiff.

Delusion:  President Dazed and Confused held his first interview since the election.  ome of the highlights:

January cannot come soon enough.

In the meantime, Biden is quietly putting together an effective team for his Presidency.  Sadly, I have the feeling the Mitch and the Boys  (worst rock band ever) will be trying to block many of these appointments; happily, a number do not need Senate approval.

Florida Man:  
  • Florida Man Richard DeLisi, now 71, is being released early from prison after spending 31 years for a nonviolent marijuana crime.  He had received a 90 yer prison sentence.  File under Florida Justice. 
  • The mother of a eighteen-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy was herself wounded at the boy's burial service.  Quasheda Pierce suffered a wound in her leg.  The shot was evidently accidently fired by a sixteen-year-old who had carried the gun to the service.  The bullet first passed through the leg of a sixteen-year-old mourner before hitting Pierce. 
  • Part-time Florida Man and full-time Connecticut physical therapist Anthony Todt has been arrested for the murder of his wife three children at their home near Walt disney World.  Also dead was the family's dog, Breezy. Todt confessed to the murders when he was arrested, which makes his current claim of "I wasn't there" brought into question.  According to Todt, he believes his wife had drugged the children, then stabbed and suffocated them, after which she ingested a bottle of Benadryl and stabbed herself herself in the abdomen.  Despite it's location near to Mickey Mouse and others, Todt's home was definitely not the Happiest Place on Earth 
  • Florid Man Marc O'Donnell, of Clearwater, may not be a top chef but he stands by his tradition of eighteen years of thawing his Thanksgiving turkey by immersing it in his swimming pool for a day before cooking it.  The turkey is sealed and O'Donnell says he carefully inspects it so there are no leaks that might let chlorine in.  Yum!
  • In my own county, Florida Man Jaden Skye Morris, 23, of Pace, has been arrested for the rape of a 17-year-old girl.  The girl told police that Morris came into the living room, threw $500 at her, raped her, the passed out on the couch.  The girl called the police, who then found Morris asleep on the couch.  Alcohol was involved.  Romance was not.

Good News:  
  • Moving company helps victims of domestic abuse leave homes at no coat
  • CRISPR-based technology editing system destroys cancer cells permanently in lab
  • Mom pays for multiple strangers groceries on a whim; "I just wanted to bring smiles to people's faces"
  • Queen Elizabeth lunches her own gin featuring botanicals grown on her country estate (okay, this may not technically be "good news," but I thought it was interesting)
  • "Frankie, the Adventure Goat" goes travelling
  • Long-gone plant reappears after 100 years when restoration work on a pond released a seed
  • Customer buys beers and toasts the staff with a $3000 tip as restaurant is forced to close because of Covid
  • Prison camp survivor is casually building and donating a $50 million children's hospital in New Zealand

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is is happiness doubled by wonder."  -- G. K. Chesterton

Today's Poem:
The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate,
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to me
The Century's corpse outleant,
Its crypt the crowded canopy,
The wind its death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead,
In a heart-filled evening song
Of joy illimited.
An aged thrush, pale, gaunt and small,
With blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembed through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed hope, whereof he knew,
And I was unaware.

-- Thomas Hardy

1 comment:

  1. Tony Todt, Death Man Walking? Seems too on the nose to be true.