Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, April 18, 2022


Openers:  Pine trunks in a double row started out of the mist as the headlights caught them, opened to receive the car, passed like an endless screen, and vanished.  The girl on the back seat withdrew her head from the open window.

"We'll never get there at this rate," she said.  "We're crawling." 

The older woman sat far back in her corner, a figure of exhausted elegance.  She said, keeping her voice low:  "In this fog, I don't think it would be safe to hurry."

"We'll see what Hugh thinks."

But the speaker did not move immediately,  She looked to tired to move.  Her face, under the sort veil and the close black hat, showed white in the dimness, of the same whiteness as the small pearls in her ears.  Presently she leaned forward, her high collared woollen [sic] coat falling softly away and showing the dark silk dress beneath.  She put a hand in a white glove on the back of the driver's seat.

"Can we go a little faster, Hugh?" she asked.  "It's so late."

-- Elizabeth Daly, Unexpected Night (1940)

A foggy night, a dangerous road, and a party of four on their way to a small to a small town on the Maine coast.  The older woman is Eleanor Cowden, the guardian of nineteen-year-old Alma Cowden and her brother Amberley Cowden, who will turn twenty-one at midnight, less than two hours away; when Amberley reaches his majority, he will inherit a large fortune in the area of one million dollars.  The money may not do Amberley much good -- he has a severe heart condition and had not been expected to live this long.  The party is on their way to a fledgling summer theater, the dream of Arthur Atwood, Amberley's cousin.  Despite his poor health, Amberly is interested in the theater and hopes to gain an actor role at the theater, despite his family's total disappointment.  (Arthur Atwood is also considered pretty much of a ne'er-do-well by Eleanor and Alma Cowden.)  The fourth member of the party is Hugh Sanderson, Amberley's tutor and companion.  

Before moving on to the theater, the four plan to stop for the  night and visit distant relations Colonel and Mrs. Barclay and their son Lieutenant Frederic Barclay.  With the Barclays for part of the evening was Mr. Henry Gamadge, an expert on old books, paper, and inks, who is there for some golfing.  Gamadge is a somewhat nondescript youngish man who listens intently and observes.  He live comfortably in New York City in the house he was born in with his wife, his cat, his manuscripts, and a young assistant who can get any piece of information need (don't ask how).

The Cowden party arrives at the Barclay shortly after midnight, making Amberley now a very wealthy man.  Knowing his life will be short, he has made a will to be signed and witnessed later that day.  Fate (?) intervenes and Amberley is found dead the next morning, having fallen off a cliff.  Death was determined to have happened around 2:00 am.  Did Amberley have a heart attack while standing on the cliff edge?  Had he fallen accidently?  Or on purpose?  Or was he pushed?  And what about Amberley's will, last seen in his jacket pocket?  It's missing.

And was it a coincidence that a faded actress now at the summer theater was also found dead from an (accidental?) overdose of morphine?  And that her death likely also happened about 2:00 am?

This was the first of sixteen novels that Daly wrote about Gamadge, ending in 1951.  The Gamadge books are in the classical detective style.  Agatha Chritie declared Daly to be her favorite American mystery writer, and it's easy to see why.  Well-written, sharply observed, fairly clued, with a likable detective, Daly's books were very popular at the time, and are still worth a read some seventy or eighty years later.

The Mystery Writers of America (of which she was an honorary member) award her a Special Edgar in 1961 calling her "the grande dame of women mystery writers."  Critic Charles Shibuk called her novels "always both civilized and literate."

Daly died in 1967 at the age of 88.  Twenty-two years later, and forty-eight years after Henry Gamadge's last case, Elizabeth Daly's niece, Eleanor Boyton, published the first of five mystery novels featuring Clara Gamadge, Henry's widow.  Clara, who first appeared in the Henry Gamadge series was a warm, witty, grandmotherly super-sleuth, happy to take up her late husband's mantle.  (I have one of these books and thought it very entertaining.)

Fourteen of the sixteen Gamadge novels, including this one, are available to be read online at the Faded Page (Canada) website.  Check them out.


  • Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Book of Facts.  A compilation of three thousand facts of all kinds, chosen by Asimov from "over six thousand (from the tens of thousands evaluated by our researchers)."  For Example:  "Nearly 87 percent of the 103 people asked in a poll in 1977 were unable to identify correctly an unlabeled copy of the Declaration of Independence.  (The poll was conducted at a shopping area in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.)"  Naturally, it had to be Florida.
  • Gregory Benford & Martin H. Greenberg, editors, Hitler Victorious.  Alternate worlds collection of eleven stories of the German victory in World War II.  Authors are Hilary Bailey, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Algis Budrys, Sheila Finch, Howard Goldsmith, C. M. Kornbluth, Brad Linaweaver, Keith Roberts, and Tom Shippey, with an introduction by Norman Spinrad.  Eight of the stories are reprints, many of them classic stories in the genre.  This one looks to be a good read. 
  • Clive Cussler, editor, Thriller 2:  Stories You Just Can't Put Down.  Original anthology of 23 stories from the International Thriller Writers.  Authors are Kathleen Antrim, Gary Braver, Sean Chercover, Blake Crouch, Jeffrey Deaver, Robert Ferrigno, Joe Hartlaub, David Hewson, Harry Hunsicker, Lisa Jackson, Joan Johnson, Jon Land, Lawrence Light, Tim Maleeny, Phillip Margolin, David J. Montgomery, Carla Neggers, Ridley Pearson, Marus Sakey, Javier Sierra, Mariah Stewart, R. L. Stine, and Simon Wood.
  • Charlaine Harris & Toni L. P. Kelner, editors, Death's Excellent Vacation.  Vacation-themed fantasy/supernatural anthology with thirteen short stories.  This was the third (of six thus far) themed anthologies from Harris & Kelner.  Authors are Jeff Abbott, L. A. Banks, Jeaniene Frost. Christopher Golden, Chris Grabenstein, Charlaine Harris, Toni L. P. Kelner, Katie MacAlister, A. Lee Martinez, Sharan Newman, Lilith Saintcrow, Sarah Smith, and Daniel Stashower...a pretty impressive line-up.
  • Susan Hill, editor, The Walker Book of Ghost Stories.  Children's collection of 17 ghost stories, four new.  Authors are Joan Aiken, Ruth Ainsworth, Walter R. Brooks, George Mackay Brown, Dorothy Edwards, Eleanor Farjeon, Leon Garfield, John Gordon, Pauline Hill, Susan Hill, Penelope Lively, Ruth Manning-Sanders, Jan Mark, Sorche Nic Leodhas, Phillippa Pearce, and Catherine Sefton.
  • Kim Newman, Anno Dracula:  Dracula Cha Cha Cha.  Horror/fantasy novel in Newman's popular Dracula series.  "Rome 1959 and Count Dracula is about to marry a Moldavian princess, returning him to the position of Lord of the Undead.  Journalist Kate Reed come to the city to visit the ailing Charles Beauregard and his vampire companion Genevieve.  Along with the undead British secret agent, Brand, Kate is swiftly caught up in the mystery of the Crimson Executioner, who is bloodily dispatching vampires elders in the city.."  Also included is a bonus novella, "Aquarius," featuring Kate Reed.
  • ----------The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School.  Horror/fantasy novel, the second in Newman's Drearcliff Grange School series,  "Amy Thomsett -- the girl who flies on moth wings -- is confident she can solve any mystery, sleuth out any secret and defy any dark force.  With her friends in the Moth Club she travels to London to take part in the Great Game, a contest of skill against other institutes of learning.  In a nightmare, and in the cellars of a house in Piccadilly, Amy glimpses a spectre who might have dogged her all her life, the Broken Doll.  Wherever the limping ghost is seen, terror strikes. And the lopsided, cracked-face. glass-eyed creature might well be the most serious threat the Moth Club has ever faced."  Think Harry Potter, Lovecraft, Professor X, Miss Peregrine, and Ann Radcliffe and you'll get a slight taste of the flavor of this novel.

Funny, You Don't Look Jewish:  CNN headline:  Powerful space laser detected by South African telescope

Sorry, Marjorie Taylor Greene, this space laser is what is called a "megamaser," a powerful radioactive laser, located some five billion light year away from Earth.  The light from this megamaser travelled over thirty-six thousand billion billion miles to reach us.  Megamasers are created when two galaxies crash into each other; the gas the galaxies contain become extremely dense, triggering intense beams of light to shoot out.  When galaxies merge, hydroxl (a chemical compound consisting of one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom) can be found inside the merger, hence this megamaser is also called a "hydroxl megamaser."  This megamaser is the most distant one ever discovered.  It has been named Nkalakatha, a Zulu word for "big boss."

Never a Cross Word:  British intelligence officials became alarmed that military secrets were somehow being passed through the crossword puzzle in the Observer newspaper.  The words GOLD, SWORD, and JUNO appeared as answers in the puzzle.  These were common words and they appeared far apart from each other that it may be considered a coincidence, but the fact that all three words were designations for beaches assigned to Allied troops led intelligence officers to wonder if this was indeed a coincidence.  Then, in May 1944, more concerning code words began to appear in the Observer's puzzles:  UTAH, OMAHA, MULBERRY, NEPTUNE, and OVERLORD.  These various puzzles were traced to one contributor, a mild-mannered boys' prep school headmaster named Leonard Dawe.

Officials swarmed on the unsuspecting Dawe's home and seized his notebooks.  After a thorough examination of both Dawe's records and his life, they could find no link between him and enemy agents, the intelligence service declared that he was not a traitor.  (This statement was made very reluctantly, it seems.)  The great crossword puzzle mystery remained unsolved.  Was it mere coincidence?

In 1984, the truth came out.  One of Dawe's former students said the and other students would often help Dawe with his puzzles by occasionally filling in words on a grid.  There was a military camp adjacent to the school and many of the boys would play there during recess and they would hear soldiers using these code words and the boys would add those interesting words to the grids.  After British intelligence swooped in on Lowe, the headmaster questioned his students and found out the truth.  Fearful that he had become an accidental traitor, he made the boys swear they would never tell.  And they didn't -- for some forty years.

Little Orphan Annie:  Everybody's favorite waif with a severe eye malformation made her debut appearance on August 5, 1924, in the New York Daily News.  Created by Harold Gray, the strip outlasted him for over forty years, finally being cancelled on June 13, 2010.  For many years, the popularity of the strip had consumed the country. with various tie-ins, comic books, juvenile novels, a radio show, two film adaptations, and a hit Broadway musical with spawned another four films.  Parodies and rip-offs of Little Orphan Annie abound.  Even after the comic strip's cancellation, the major characters from Annie lived through guest appearances in the Dick Tracy comic strip.

When I was a kid I enjoyed Annie, who was a tough scrapper, as well as her companions Punjab, the Asp, and the occasional Mr. Am.  I didn't care too much for Annie's dog Sandy, and I felt that 
Daddy Warbuck's relationship with Annie was tres creepy.  In today's environment that feeling I had has grown exponentially.

Anyway, here's the Little Orphan Annie song from The Coon Sanders Nighthawks in 1928:

And, a comic book from 1938:

Gilbert Gottfried:  Love him or hate him, he was a major influence in modern comedy.  Rest in peace.

Florida Man:
  • A Florida Man later identified as Darren Durant was caught on video stealing a crossbow by shoving it down his pants.  He also stole a pair of cutting tools to remove the zip ties on the crossbow before stuffing it in his trousers.  This happened at a True Value store in Mims.  The suspect, who used a walking crutch, put his jacket over the part of the crossbow protruding from his pants and walked out of the store undetected.  The whole episode was captured on the store security camera.  Durant was captured a few days later after he was after he was spotted in a local Walgreens.  When Durant realized that he had been spotted by a local deputy, he tried to flee on foot but did not get very far limping away on his crutch.
  • Florida Man Aaron Henderson, 43, had an undignified exit from this world by being crushed by a bulldozer while using a porta-potty.  Henderson had been working at a Polk County landfill in Winter Haven as a spotter, directing trucks as they dumped trash.  A bulldozer driver was taking his vehicle while the landfill was shutting down for the day; the blade of the bulldozer was elevated, restricting the driver's front view.  He heard a crunch and realized that he had run over a porta-potty.  Investigating, he found Henderson's body inside.  When you gotta go, you gotta go, but that is a bad way to go.
  • Florida Man Thomas Eugene Colucci bought two small baggies of methamphetamine from a man he met at a local bar.  An "experienced" methamphetamine user, Colucci did not get the expected high from the drug and believed he may have been sold bath salts instead.  What to do?  Call the local sheriff's department to test the drugs, of course.  Colucci told officers he did not want others to purchase phony meth from the man and that he wanted the man arrested.  Slight problem:  Colucci had no idea who sold him the drugs.  Another slight problem:  the drugs tested positive for methamphetamine and Colucci was arrested.
  • Sometimes flying the friendly skies may be too friendly.  Florida Man Donald Edward Robinson, 76, of Bonita Springs, was on a flight to Boston when he began fondling himself, exposing himself to a 21-year-old female passenger seated next to him.  For reasons I cannot phantom, the woman began videoing the act for some 24 seconds.  As they approached Boston, the man's genitals were fully exposed.  He then placed his hand on her thigh, removing it immediately when she objected.  When the plane landed she alerted security but could not locate Robinson in the crowd.  Robinson was later identified through the video the woman had taken of him.  According to an article in Newsweek, "If convicted for his current charge, Robinson could face up to 90 days in prison, a year of supervised release, and a maximum fine of $5000."  It's the use of the word "current" in that sentence has got me wondering, although the article makes no mention of any previous crimes.

Good News:
  • Celebrations erupt as baby cotton-top tamarins are born to one of the most endangered primate species
  • Pink Floyd reunites to record first new material in 28 years -- a protest song against the Ukraine War
  • Simple bacterial spray can solve India's air pollution and also enrich local farmers
  • U.S. House passes bill to cap insulin costs at $35 a month
  • Man wins $200 million in lottery and donates all all of it to save the Earth
  • Researchers find new strategies for preventing clogged arteries
  • Vancouver couple converts their large resort property into a Ukrainian refugee home for dozens

Today's Poem:  Today is the 116th anniversary of the San Francisco Earthquake.

What Remains

The squeal of horses buckling beneath a rubble rain;
the first smell of burn, the hiss of tugs
pumping Pacific spray to waterfront buildings.
Except for this last, it looks like Richmond
forty years before; the charcoal ruins of wooden buildings,
stone gutted like thought, the bowed steel of tracks;
the officers pointing or posing, hands
planted on their hips, in small groups.

They destroyed the grand boulevards with dynamite
to chasten fire and play homage
to fault-riddled earthen gods.
Pacific in location only -- to appease the saints
Francisco and Andreas.

Where the photos are vague,
someone has penned suggestions:  an outline
of a fallen horse, a woman's skirt,
the haphazard angle of building,
the bulge and twist of streetcar rails.

Yet all sources mark a cheeriness in the faces,
a generosity, attempts to continue without houses,
water, transportation;  the camps built for those who fought
pneumonia on those first unsheltered nights,
the women building stoves from rubble and brick,
the family at white-clothed table,
on fine chairs, dining in a wasteland.

The fire shepherded the people to Golden State Park,
the Presidio, the ferries.  Black figures scampered
like rats from house to house, gathering
what they could:  tables, dressers, chairs, 
the crippled children.  Dead horses littered
the narrow, gray, smoke-shrouded streets.
One statue, like the city, balanced on its head.

-- from The Overland Monthly, May 1906

And here's what it looked like:

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