Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, February 29, 2024


 Inspector West Takes Charge by John Creasey (1942)

In this, the first of 43 mysteries featuring Inspector (later Superintendent) Roger West of Scotland Yard, John Creasey sets the template for one of his most popular series.  Previous to this Creasey had published over 80 mystery novels and, if they did include a policeman, he was a secondary character.  By 1940, Creasey had gotten to know and had become friends with a number of Scotland Yard policemen.  He felt it was high time he created a character who was as close to a real policeman as possible.

Enter Roger West, a man as realistic as the times and the market would allow.  West was Creasey's idealized policeman, a man of compassion and a man with an unswerving instinct to do what is right.  West was the youngest inspector in the CID and his sense of idealism did not diminish over the next 36 years.  His good looks earned him the sobriquet "Handsome."  His basic sense of decency earned his the respect of his fellow officers, both those above and those below him.  In this first book, West has an understanding young wife, Janet.  They would eventually have two sons, Richard ("Scoop") and Martin ("Fish") -- which happened to be the names of two of Creasey's sons and the source of the pen name he used for his Commander George Gideon novels, "J. J. Marric."  Writing of this first novel, Punch called West "a likable young slop," and famed Scotland Yard Inspector Robert Fabian said, "He behaves much like I would behave."

Inspector West Takes Charge starts with the death of three members of the Prendergast family, owners of the Dreem cigarette company.  Old Septimus Prendergast drowned in his swimming pool; his passing was recorded as death by misadventure.  Three weeks later, his son Monty fell off a cliff in Cornwall; in the absence of any contrary evidence, this became another death by misadventure.  The family fortune then went to Waverley Prendergast, who had been the victim of a hit and run.  Also, death by misadventure.  The money and the company now went to Claude Prendergast, a rather weak-willed man who had recently married Maisie, a cold and scheming woman who assumed control over her husband.  West is convinced the murder has been done and is obsessed with the case.

West's best friend, Mark Lessing, who often assists West unofficially, has been making inquiries for West.  Two thugs invaded Lessing's flat and attacked him, then  search the apartment thoroughly.  Lessing had hinted in a news interview that he knew more than he really did and the raid on his apartment was the result.  Enter the unscrupulous attorney Gabriel Potter (another character who appears in  the early West novels).  It turns out that Maisie has hired Potter.  Potter also represents a known criminal who West had brought in for the attack on Lessing.  Potter gives his client an alibi and suggests that West look at another known criminal for the attack.  Is it a coincidence that that criminal was then killed in a deliberate hit and run?

Claude Prendergast is getting nervous.  He fears his wife knows more about the deaths in the family than she is admitting to.  He believes that Maisie may be out to kill him.  Maisie meanwhile has located an unknown relative of Claude, a cousin who she tries to convince to take over the family business.  Blackmail, murder, and the control of a large estate keep the wheels turning in this mystery.  There's plenty of action and more than a few twists before Roger West wraps up the case.

A good start to a storied fictional career.

Thirteen years later, Creasey created another realistic and humane police detective, Commander George Gideon.  A number of critics feel that Gideon was Creasey's greatest character.  If so, it was because Roger West led the way.


 When the Simon Templar's taxi pulls up to his apartment building, he notices men finishing moving furniture into a large truck.  Someone must be moving out of the building.  Wouldn't it be nice if it were the occupants if the apartment above his -- the one with the large feet?  After the truck pulls away, he realizes that it was his furniture.  Why would somebody want to steal his furniture?   And so begins another puzzling episode in the life of the Saint, played by Vincent Price.


Tuesday, February 27, 2024


 "Hot Water" by Val Gielgud  (from The Great Book of Thrillers, edited by H. Douglas Thomson, 1935; earlier publication possible; reprinted in Great Tales of Terror, edited anonymously, 1991)

" 'The regrettable truth about all Secret Service work,' said Casimir Sipiaghin, 'is that it must be devastatingl;y boring, revoltingly squalid, or unspeakably tragic.  Personally I hate boredom, I abominate squalir, and I find tragedy does not suit me.' "  He went on, " 'Spyng is altogether a dirty business.  If you wish me to talk about it, you will have to buy me more vermouth cassis.' "

Sipiaghin was a pre-war Russian, the only person the narrator knew to have been a professional spy.  His story goes back to 1919, when he fled from Russia and landed in the Polish police, and was given the job of running the Frontier Intelligence Service against the Bolsheviks.  For four months, he was stationed in a run-down hotel in Kovno, Lithuania -- windows shattered, cramped quarters, and although modern conveniences had been installed, there was no running water.  The one bright spot ws that most of his agents were women, planted across the border in various capacities, usually as nurses or typists.  One of these agents was a girl named Tatiana, the daughter of a rich merchant who had been shot by the Reds.  Tatiana managed to be placed as a typist-stenographer to the political commissar attached to the Soviet Fourteenth Army.  Before being placed as a spy, she and Sipiaghin were lovers.  Although Tatiana had ended the affair, Sipiaghin remained deeply in love with her.

Returning from a two-day undercover mission, all Sipiaghin could think of was a hot bath.  The weather had been vile, his disguise had been that of a peasant, and he was feeling "dirty and depressed to the soles of my boots."  Climbing the stairs to his room, he called out to the landlosrd to prepare buckets of hot water for a bath.  When he got to his room, Sipiaghin was surprised to see Tatiana there.  

She evidently had something important to tell him, but that could wait until he had his bath.  Instructing the girl to wait for him, he crossed that hall to the bathroom, where the landlord had filled the tub half way with very hot water.  But the landlord had forgotten to provide a bucket of cold water to lower the temperature.  There was a jug of cold water by the basin in his bedroom, so Sipiaghin returned to his room for it.  There he found Tatiana with a black box that he had hidden under his bed; the box containing many important secrets gleaned from his spyng.  Tatoana stared at him, saying nothing.

Just then, his chauffeur, Stefan, entered the anteroom.  He told Stefan to remain in the rooms with Tatiana while he took his bath.  He needed the time to consider what to do.  He still loved Tatiana and to expose her would mean her certain death by firing squad.  (He later learned that she was forced to act because the Russians held her mother and threatened to kill her if Tatiana did not do their bidding.)  What to do?  What to do?

Spyng can be unspeakably tragic and an altogether dirty business...

A brief, sharp, poignant tale.

Val Gielgud (1900-1981) was a pioneering radio and television broadcaster and writer..  He was appointed Head of Production at the BBC in 1929, where he oversaw all radio drama produced over the next twenty years, and was credited with inventing many of the radio techniques still in use today.  In 1930, he successfully directed the first ever television drama in an experimental transmission of a short play by Pirandello.  Nine years later he was seconded to the BBC Television Service to direct a short play based on one of his short stories.  He returned to radio and in 1946, was named the head of BBC Television drama; but Gielgud's heart was in radio.  During the 1950s, he directed his brother, john Gielgud, in a radio series based on the Sherlock Holmes stories; Ralph Richardson appeared as Dr. Watson, and Gielgud himself appeared in one episode as Mycroft Holmes.  Gielgud had determined tastes in drama.   He abhorred soap opera, and had no truck with many modern playwrights, and rejected Beckett's Waiting for Godot as a radio drama.

During his career, he wrote or co-wrote twenty-six mystery novels, one short story collection, two historical novels, nineteen stage plays, four screenplays, forty radio plays, and seven nonfiction books, as well as editing two anthologies.  His best-known book was Death at Broadcasting House (1934; filmed that same year).

Giielgud was married five times.  His mother's third husband was the brother of Czar Nicholas II.  As mentioned above, he was the brother of actor Sir John  Girelgug.  He was a great-nephew of noted actress Dame Ellen Terry.  Val Gieldud was awarded the CBE in 1958.


Because of a reaction to my second shingles vaccine, I spent much of last week in bed, tired beyond belief.  (I'm fine.  My reaction consisted of a sore arm and more than usual sleepiness -- nothing more.)  I'm rather glad that my rerst did ot include the type of dreams experienced by Winsor McCay's Rarebit Fiend, the protagonist of McCay's comic strip that had begun in 1904.  The comic strip spawned several early films:

Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, 1906:

How a Mosquito Operates, 1912:

Bug Vaudeville, 1921:

The Pet, 1921:

The Flying House, 1921:

Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024


"Oh, Valinda!" by Michael G. Coney (first published in New Writings in SF 20, edited by John Carnell, 1972; reprinted in The 1973 Annual World's Best SF [also published as Wollheim's World's Best SF: Series 2], edired by Donald S. Wollheim with Arthur W, Saha, 1973)

A brief exercise in world building, with an emphasis on ecological concerns and the effect of colonialism.

The planet Cantek can be seen as a distorted image of Earth.  The four-foot humanoid natives of the planet have brought about ecological disaster through unthinking and irrsdposible use of fossile fuels.  The seas and the air are severely polluted.  A recent disaster involving an undersea drilling operation has left the ocean covered with inches (and sometimes, feet) of oil.  For the populace to survive, they must have fresh water from ice bergs navigated through the ocean to the cities.  This provides an opportunity for great profits for Earthmen who have the technoliogy to steer the ice bergs.

And how do they maneuver the ice bergs.  The oceans of Cantek are the home of giant marine worms, some 400 yards in length.  These worms attached themselves to the bottom of the ice flows, ech suspending from them like a large upside-down "U."  These giant worms suck in a large amopunt of water and dispel it one the other end of their bodies, creating a motive force.  A hole drilled through the ice sheet allows an instument to attach itself to the worm, providing shocks that allow the humans to steer the worms toward a preferred destination.  The native of Cantek have a mold psychic link to the worms, allowing them to locate them and to steer them.  Each ice floe is steered by a group of three -- two Earthmen and a Cantek native.

Skunder is a Cantek who has discovered a very large and powerful worm.  He is accompanied by Erkelens, an experienced Earthman working on ice floe, and Rosskidd, a younger man who is bigoted against the Cantek natives.  But their bigotry is a matter of degree; neither Earthman is pleasant.  Skunder, like others of his race is resentful of Earth; Earth has the power to pull Cantek out of the ecological disaster it is facing, but refuse to do it; preferring instead to let the backward planet solve its own problems -- something that will take hundreds of years and cosr ountless lifves.  As Erkelens put it, "Handing our reactors to all your various governments would be like giving lasers to chimpanzees." 

Previously, Skandar and his mate Valinda, worked for another Earthman, Lejour, who had caused the death of Valinda after she had gone underwater to try to steer a marine worm in a different direction.  Skandar vowed never to work for Lejour again, and now Lejour and his small crew have appeared on another ice flow and is racing Erkelens and Rosskidd to a nearby port -- whoever reaches there first will become fabulously wealthy; whoever comes in second will receive only dregs, if that.  Lejour is far better funded than his opponents and has much better equipment.  But Lejour's worm is smaller than his rival's worm, so the race for profits is up in the air.  

In an effot to sabotage Erkelens and Rosskidd, Lejour sets fire to the ocean surface, causng disaster for both parties.  Skunder takes a submersable underwater in an effort to salvage the situation...

In Coney's tale, stupidity and greed are not limited to a single race, and the destructive power of both has negative effects on both races.  A cautionary tale, of you will.  One that is well thought out and reasoned.and one that will leave a powerful impact.

Michael G. Coney (1932-2005) was an accountant who served as a hotel manager for several years in the West Indies, at which time he began publishing science fiction.  His first of twenty novels, Mirror Image, was published in 1972.  His 1976 novel Brontomek! won the British Science Fiction Association Award.  He was nominated for a Nebula Award for his 1995 novelette "Tea and Hamsters."  He had been nominated for the Prix Aurora Award five times.  He published on collection of short stories (Monoitor Found in Orbit. 1974) and two nonfiction books about his experiences as a forest ranger in British Columbia, where he livedduring the last half of his life.  Coney was a capable, talented, and diverse author whose works should have been better known.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024


The Cases of Eddie Drake was an early television detective show starring Don Haggerty as the wise-cracking New York PI. It was based on the radio show The Cases of Mr. Ace.  The first nine episodes were filmed in 1949 for CBS television, who finally released them for syndication in 1951.  The DuMont Network picked the show up the following year, airing the nine episodes and adding another four episodes. 

In the first nine episodes, Patricia Morison plays psychologist Karen Gayle, who is writing a book on criminal psychology.  The episodes are told in flashback as Drake stops by her office to relate his most recent case.  For the DuMont run, she is replaced by Lynne Roberts as criminalogist Dr. Joan Wright, who fulfilled the same function.

The show was popular enough that CBS regretting selling it to DuMont.  CBS then produced a somewhat similar show, The Files of Jeffrey Jones, which also starred Haggerty, and ran for 39 episodes begininning in 1954.

In "The Man with the Stomach Ache," a ticket for a Chinese laundry and a set of Chinese Army credentials with a message written on them in Chinese holds the key to three murders,

This episode appears to be one of the original nine filmed in 1949, but DuMont aired it as the thirteenth and last of the series on April 3, 1952.

Enjoy this oldie but goodie.

Sunday, February 18, 2024


Openers:   Afterward Migret had no difficulty in recalling the date, October 29, because it hapopened also to be is sister-in-law's birthday.  He even remembered the day, a Monday, since, as everyone at Quai des Orfevres knows, murder is rarly committed on a Monday.  And furthermore, as it happened, this case, unlike any other that year, had a flavor of winter about it.

A thin, cold drizzle had fallen all that Sunday, and the roads and pavements were black and glistening.  A kind of yellowish fog seeped in through the chinks in the windows, so much so that Madame Maigret had said:

"Maybe I ought to get them fitted with draft stoppers."

For the past five years, at least, as autumn approached, Maigret had been promising to fit them himself the following Sunday.

"You'd better wear your winter coat."

"Where is it?"

It was half past eight, still so dark that lightsd were on inall the houses, and Maigret's coat smelled of mothballs.

-- Maigret and the Man on the Bench by Georges Simenon (first puiblished as Maigret et l'homme du banc, 1953; trnslated as Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard, 1975; and under the cureent title, 1975)

An innocuous domestic scene.  Reference of an upcoming murder.  All emphasising Maigret's quiet, patient manner of solving crimes.  Through sixty-nine novels and a number of short stories, Maigret "does not see himself as an avenging angel, a bringer of justice, or an official agent of his society, but instead, as he says in Maigret's First Case, as 'a a repairer of destinies.'  Maigret understands that his great talent for criminal investigation derives from his ability to live other people's lives; he also recognizes that with this ability comes the reponsibility of caring about the lives he recreates within himself."  [ George Grella]  Simenon wrote quickly, but appeared to polishe each sentence until it emerged as sharp and brilliant. as a diamond.

In real life, I gather, he was not a decent human, being but some of his foibles helped enlighten his work.  We read Maiget for Maiget, not for Simenon.


  • Mark Adams, Meet Me in Atlantis.  Nonfiction.  "A few years ago, Mark Adams made a strange discovery:  Everything we know about the legendary lost city of Atlantis comes from the work of one man, the Greek philosopher Plato.  Then he made a second, stranger discovery:  Amateur explorers are still actively searching for this lost city all around the world, based entirely on the clues Plato left behind.  Adams racks up frequewnt-flyer miles tracking down these Atlantis obsessives, trying to determine why they believe it's possible to find the world's most famous lost city -- and whether any of their theories could prove or disprove its existence.  He visits scientists who use cutting-edge technology to find legenday civilizations once thought to be fictional.  He examines the musical and numerical codes hidden in Plato's writings and, with the help of some charismatic sleuths, traces their roots back to Pythagporas, the sixth-century-BC mathematician.  He learns how ancient societies passed on accounts of cataclysmic events -- and how one might dig out the 'kernel of truth' in Plato's original tale."  SPOILER:  There is no "kernel of truth."  Atlantis was a fictional device used by Plato, nothing more.  However, I do believe there is a "legendary civilizarion once thought to be fictional" -- it's Des Moines.
  • Doug Allyn, The Cheerio Killings.  Mystery.  "Lupe Garcia is a smart cop, but right now he's been caught in one of the pitfalls that threaten an overeager policeman; he's fixed on a suspect in the serial killings that haunt his native Detroit to the point where he can't consider any alternatives.  Lamont Yarborouigh is a musician playing a country music bar outside of town and his connection with the Cheerio killer's victims is so tenuous it's pactically nonexistent.  What if each of the women was alone in her car at night, and had had a few drinks during the evening -- does that have to mean that Yarborough was involved?  Yet Garcia spends too much time trying to trap the man.  He antagonizes the woman reporter he's beginning to care about; he is riduculed by the press; and he risks suspension from above.  The conflist between the literally quick-on-the-trigger detective and the talented ex-con musician is a subtle one; it's a contest of feints and starts and stange discoveries.  But if Garcia has temporarily lost sight of the forest for the trees, there  comes a time when his intelligence takes control and he is able to track down the serial killer."  Signed by the author.  This was Allyn's first novel.  He has won three Edgars, three Derriingers, and one McCavity Award for his work, as well as winning nine Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Awards.
  • John Appleyard, Fifteen Mysteries of Pensacola. Self-published collection of fiteen mystery stories.  The syntax of the preferatory note does not give me much hope for the stories:  "Pensacola at the turn of the 20th century was a most unique city.  While much of the post-war South still struggled economically, Pensacola was a boomtown, with lumbering naval stores, fishing and miltary activities generating thousands of jobs and great wealth.  It was a time to be remembered for those who later would live along the Gulf Coast.  Mysteries of Pensacola, first published in 1999, have been designed to tell the story of those days, with fun and intrigue in the bargain.  For this series of stories I created Pensacola's own Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  they are Patrolman Yelverton and scientific detective Henry Coburger of the series.  The places they go, the things they see, hear and do, are real.  So are most of the people who cross the pages.  However, the plots and the villains are fictional.  Hopefully, men and women, students and more will find these journeys back in time fun, entertaining and informative, too.  The plots disclose Pensacola as it once was.  And, if plans mature, there will be more mysteries featuring scientific detective Henry Coburger and his friend Corporal John Yelverton. -- John Appleyard, October 2001"  Signed by the author.  Appleyard, a local businessman, historian, and walking encyclopedia of all things Pensacoloa, died in 2020 at age 97.
  • Leigh Bardugo, Ninth House.  Fantasy novel.  "Galaxy 'Alex' Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale's freshman class.  Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealing boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse.  In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide.  Some might say she's thrown her life away.  But at her hospital bedside, Alex is offered a second chance:  to attend one of the world's most prestigious universities on a full ride.  What's the catch, and why her?  Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale's secret societies.  Their eight windowless 'tombs' are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street's biggest players.  But their occult activites are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.  They tamper with forboidden magic.  They raise the dead.  And, sometimes, they prey on the living."  A second Alex Stern novel was published last year. 
  • Christopher Buckley, Supreme Courtship.  Satire about the Supreme Court, about which there is little funny these days.  "After one of his Supreme Court nominess is rejected for insufficiently appreciating To Kill a Mockingbird, President Donald Vanderdamp chooses someone so beloved by voters that the Senate won't have the nerve to reject her -- Pepper Cartwright, America's most popular TV judge.  Will Pepper, a vivacious Texan, survive a Senate confirmation battle?  Will becoming one of the most powerful women in the world ruin her love life?  Soon, Pepper finds herself in the middle of a constitutional crisis, a presidential reelection campaigh that the president is determined to lose, and oral arguments of a romantic nature."
  • "Jack Cannon" (Nelson DeMille), The Hammer of God.  Men's action -dventure, originally published in 1974 and featuring Detective Joe Keller; the series was revised in the late 1980s for a different pubisher and the main character's name was changed to Joe Ryker.  Publishing can be strange like that.  "Witchcraft and ritual murder, an ugly crime -- and it's on Ryker's turf.  A man in monk's robes, The Hammer of God, is butchering women to cleanse the world of witches.  And Sergeant Joe Ryker's committing every sin in the book to cleanse New York of killers.  Beneath the wealth, the squalor and the hustle of Manhattan, a string of sickening murders has opened the door on a secret world of pagan worship and bizarre sex.  Joe Ryker is gpoing underground.  He's gor to find The Hammer of God and stop him -- any way he can." 
  • Paul Collins, The Murder of the Century.  True crime, subtitled "The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars " "On Long Island, a farmer finds a duck pond turned red with blood.  On the Lower East Side, two boys discover a floating human torso wrapped tightly in oilcloth.  The police are baffled.  There are no witnesses, no motives, no suspects.  The grisly find that began on the afternoon of June 26, 1897, plunged the detectives headlong into the era's most perplexing mystery.  Seized upon by battling media-mongols Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the case became a publicity circus, as an unlikely trio -- a hard-luck cop, a cub reporter, and an eccentric professor -- all raced to solve the crime.  What emerged was a sensational love triangle and an even more sensational trial."  
  • John Creasey, Another bunch of John Creasey books came in:  The Dissemblers (also published as Puzzle for Inspector West) A Roger West mystery.  "Chief Superintendent Roger West arrested James Liddel on a charge of murder.  On the face of it, it looked like a cut-and-dried case.  And yet, Roger West could not shake off the uneasy, unsubstantiated feeling that he had arrested an innocent man.  When Liddel's daughter arrived in London -- a beautiful and frightened woman -- she did not give West the help he needed, because she did not tell the truth.  But, sustained only by his hunch about Liddel's innocence, Roger West stubbornly groped his way through an investigation that grew increasingly puzzling -- and also hazardous.  It was a puzzle, with pieces that did not fit together; and West risked failure in ptder to find a motive and then a murderer."  The Figure in the Dusk.  (apa A Case for Inspector West).  Roger West, mid-career this time.  "The domestic tranquility enjoyed by Inspector West, his wife, Janet, and their two lively small sons is being disrupted by a mysterious figure in the dusk who has the disconcerting habit of stopping cars driven by solitary, properous businessmen and murdering their occupants.  The first driver to have met the figure was Wilfred Arlen,  He left a lovely widow, Muriel, and a young son.  It is Muriel, anxiously awaiting for her husband's homecoming, who phones the man she loves and is told by him to stop worrying, to wait a little longer before calling the police.  As she waits, a masked stranger enters her house using her husband's keys and knocks her out with the butt of a gun,  After that the police come.  It is a clouded case, for West cannot get the straight truth from the people he is trying to protect.  And it doesn't help when his chief assistant falls in love with a material witness, while everyone else is busy lying and the murder [sic] is moving dangerously ahead of the game."  Inspector West Takes Charge.  The very first Roger West mystery.  "John Creasey says:  'In 1940 I had policemen who played second fiddle to leaders of secret service departments; and even policemen who investigated crimes by themselves, although in those days they did some surprising things likely to make a real police officer choke with wrath or burst into laughter.  I had come to know several men at Scotland Yard by then, expecially among the Criminal Investigation Department; in fact one, who had retired, lived next door to me in a country village and introduced me to the others.  From then I simply had to write about a policeman who was as near to the real thing as I could make him.  So I wrote INSPECTOR WEST TAKES CHARGE, which was published a year later.  My police friends, neither choked nor laughed; "Not bad, not bad at all," was their verdict -- of the policeman, not the story.  Punch called him a "likable young slop."  Ex-Chief Inspector Fabian, famous in England for his television series, said: "He behaves much as I would behave."  Since then the total of West books has risen to forty-three.  I like to think that as a character he has improved, but when reading the proofs of this book revised for publication one thing stood out:  West as a man hasn't changed.  I'm pretty sure, now, that he never will.' "  Look Three Ways at Murder.  Another Roger West mystery.  "Cash and Carry turns out to be a poor policy when the cash is a payroll for a small London firm, and four tough customers get the impression that the amount is five thousand pounds.  By the time they discover that it's only five hundred, one good man is dead, and another man lies savagely wounded in the hospital.  This is a case that Chief Superintendent Roger West takes personally -- as a matter of fact. he's a bit shocked to find just how personally!"  Make-up for the Toff (also published as Kiss the Toff).  "It all started with a cry from across the river, during what was to have been a peaceful picnic.  The Toff might not have become so interested if it had been for the effect of Agatha Bell's new face-powder on her complexion, but once he was interested things began to happen rather quickly. And these things all led back to the question of make-up."  Murder London -- Miami.  Roger West again.  The "story centers on the complicated plight of Sir David Marshall.  A distinguished scholar and an expert in international affairs, Marshall leads a tragic private life because of the insanity of his wife, Yolande.  When she is murdered in a luxurious nursing home, Scotland Yard comes under strong pressure:  Marshall is an important man.  The case takes Chief Superintendent Roger West to the sunbaked glamour of Miami where he confirms, in a series of perilous encounters, that money, more often than not, is the root of evil."  Murder London -- New York.  Another Roger West.  "In London a beautiful young girl was murdered, her lovely face slashed to ribbons.  Then the bloody trail led across the ocean to New York where an elderly art dealer was killed -- in just the same way...What was the connection between these two crimes committed on both sides of the Atlantic?  What was the link between the young girl and the elderly man?  Roger West, newly appointed Superintendent of Scotland Yard, takes on one of his most baffling cases."  Murder London -- South Africa.  Yep.  Another case for Roger West.  "Two men are reported missing -- one a hard-bitten newspaper reporter, the other a South African diamond magnate.  In a veil of secrecy, Superintendent West of Scotland Yard is instructed to search night and day for the influential South African.  IS IT A COINCIDENCE that West also comes across the newspaper man -- and at the same time learns of a world-wide ring of diamond smugglers?  The tense search takes West all the way from a strip club in London to the primitive ruggedness of South Africa, there to encounter personal injury, kidnapping...and a tempting young seductress!"  (Oh, say it ain't so, Roger!  Do not fall for her wiles!)  A Part for a Poiceman.  Roger West again.  "Inspector Roger West of Scotland Yard is called from a movie, only to discover the leading man he has been watching has been viciously attacked in his apartment.  Danny O'Hara, the glamorous Irish film star, is dead...The next attack is concentrated on England's greatest male star, leading more than a few to think the British film business is the target of an international effort to crush the industry.  Inspector West, after getting his head cracked by a wild Irishman" [side note:  Aren't they all?] "follows the lines of the plot from the studios to a nursing home for pregnant girls, and finds himself under high-pressure to solve the case quickly."  The Toff and the Sleepy Cowboy.  "When Thomas Loman is found unconscious on a fliht from Tucson to New York, the police suspect foul play.  But their investigation is immediately thwarted -- for when the cowboy recovers, he boards the next plane to London.  When he arrives in London, again drugged with morphine, papers list his final destination as the home of Richard Rollison, better known as the Toff.  But the Toff has never heard of Loman.  Summoned to the airport to clear up the mystery, the Toff narrowly ecapes an ambush.  Loman doesn't know any more about the purpose of his visit than the Toff does.  Who drugged the cowboy and who tried to kill the Toff?  And why does a beautiful stranger seem to have the only answers?  The Toff is confronted by a senseless -- but sinister -- puzzle."  The Toff and the Trip-Trip-Triplets.  "The Honourable Richard Rollison would never have entered upon a long career of crime-busting if had been the kind of man to ignore the pleas of a lady in distress.  Nor would he have survived long had he not been tough, wary, and astute.  But when the 'lady' in distress turns out to be three identical rich sisters who like to play games with men, and when Jolly disappears in suspicious circumstances, the Toff begins to wonder if he hasn't bitten off more than he can chew."
  • Kendell Foster Crossen, The Green Lama:  The Complete Pulp Adventures, Volume 1-3.  The adventures of Jethro Dumont and his aides as they battle the forces of evil in the western world. through fourteen novels first published in Double Detective from 1940 to 1943 under the pen name "Richard Foster."  Volume 1 contains The Case of the Crimson Hand (April 1940 --"The first of a series of amazing, thrilling adventures of a crime fighter extraordinary, a retributive nemesis of the underworld, known and feared as..The Green Lama!"), The Case of the Croesus of Murder (May 1940 -- "Armed with the secret weapon of the world's most hated dictator, the mysterious masked fuhrer sought to subjugate the free people of the world -- but one man, The Green Lama, stood in his path...")  The Case of Babies for Sale (June 1940 -- "The Green Lama faces a new menace:  a ruthless, moneymad fiend who feeds on human misery; whose Sanctuary is a cloak for his nefarious schemes!")  The Case of the Wave of Death (July 1940 -- "A foreign nation sent its best men out to get this terrible and powerful new weapon.  But these clever spies found the Green Lama barring their way -- implacable, unwavering and invincible with his peculiar powers.")  And, The Case of the Man Who Wasn't There  (August 1940 -- " 'Man overboard!'  the dreaded cry of the sea rang out through the night and thus began a series of circumstances, and the beginning of a gigantic plot that tested to the utmost the powers of the Green Lama.")   Volume 2 contains The Case of the Death's-Head Face (September 1940 -- "The Green Lama meets The Man With the Death's Head Face again and encounters a diabolical murder syndicate led by a ruthless, bloodthirsty and power-mad leader.")  The Case of the Clown Who Laughed (October 1940 --  "The Green Lama promised miracles in his circus role and it was just slightly short of a miracle that he was able to clear up the two murders and the fiendish plot behind them.")  The Case of the Invisible Enemy  (December 1940; Double Detective moved to a once-every-other-month schedule -- "The great menace to the welfare of the country was placed squarely in the Green Lama's hands -- but another force, more than his avowed hated of criminals, drove the Lama on.")  The Case of the Mad Magi  (February 1941 -- "The fiendish mind of a mad killer applies a magician's stock-in-trade to crime and only a greater magician -- The Green Lama -- can cope with him.")  And, The Case of the Vanishing Ships  (April 1941 -- "It was the absence of clues, and the fact that everything that happened couldn't -- that led the Green Lama to the solution of the disappearing liners.")  Volume 3 contains The Case of the Fugitive Fingerprints  (June 1941 -- "The Green Lama faces a diabollically clever killer whose fingerprints are as mysterious as himself."; this novel was reprinted in paperback in 1945 as The Case of the Phantom Fingerprints by Ken Crossen)  The Case of the Crooked Cane  (August 1940 -- "The Green Lama meets a super-criminal, who anticipates his every move -- but the mysterious man from Tibet does ot slacken his efforts one bit to discover the secret for which two men died.")  The Case of the Hollywood Ghost  (October 1941 -- "The Green Lama finds a key to the supernatural forces in that studio murder when he learns the the Man from Nowhere has a mundane interest in Hollywood gold.")  And, The Case of the Beardless Corpse  (March 1943; the magazine's title changed to Love-Crime Detective for through 1942, printing only fiction billed as true stories; it reverted back to Double Detective for one issue only in 1943, bringing with it the final Green Lama novel written by Crossen -- "The Green Lama outwits a killer who shaves his victim after he's dead and plants clues to the police before he comits his crime."  Also included in Volume 3 is an all-new novel about The Green Lama by Adam Lance Garcia:  The Case of the Final Column  ("Jailbreak!  The Green Lama must face the consequences of von Kultz's reign of terror, while protecting the secret of his true identity.  It all comes to a violent end that touches unopnm the Lama's very beginnings and ultimate future.")  Also included in the three volumes are introductions covering the Lama's various forays into print, comic books, and radio.  The Green Lama stories are pure pulp at its best.  I am endebted to Barbara Robinson and Dave Lewis who sent me these volumes from the library of Barbara's late (and greatly missed) husband, Rick.
  • Norman A. Daniels, The Black Bat Omnibus, Volumes 1 & 2.  More pulp goodness from the library of the late Rick Robinson.  The Black Bat, a.k.a. D.A. Tony Quinn had been blinded by a criminal's acid.  A miraculous operation not only restored his sight but gave him the ability to see in the dark.  There were over 60 Black Bat novels published in Black Book Detective magazine between 1939 and 1953 -- the vast majority written by pulpster Norman A. Daniels, who work was published under at least 50 pen names over his career.  The Black Bat tales appeared under the house name "G. Wayman Jones."  these two volumes cover the first six books in the series.  Volume 1 contains Brand of Black Bat (July 1939), Murder Calls the Black Bat (September 1939), and The Black Bat Strikes Again (November 1939).  Volume 2 contains The Black Bat's Challenge (January 1940), The Black Bat's Spy Trail (March 1940), and The Black Bat's Crusade (May 1940).  Super criminals and foreign agents abound in these early Black Bat stories -- all fitting antagonists for this great pulp hero. 
  • R. L. Fanthope, Hyperspace.  Science fiction.  " 'Elpowa' industries, the mammoth electro-engiineering combine that controlled half of the galaxy, made a breakthrough with the discovery of  the Threshold, a scientific gateway to the fourth dimension.  The discovery promised to revolutionize the industry and the culture of a thousand planets.  It would mean the end of orthodox space transport.  Vast fortunes were at stake.  And a galatic war was in progress!  Was it the space men who were trying to sabotage the Elpowa process?  Who were the 'Others,' with their weird, superhumanpowers?  How could space liners and even whole cities disappear without a trace?"  Fanthorpe was a Britsh writer of science fiction and supernatural novles for John Spencer & Co., purveyors of quickly-written, instantly forgettable novels designed to fit a specified page count; Fanthorpe would write one of these a week, and it showed.  He has used at least 31 pseudonyms, not counting variations of his own name; some of the pseudonymns used were house names.  Evidently this book was co-authored by hs wife, Patricia.  The Us edition of this book was published by ASrcadia House, which issued many of Fanthorpe's books over here; these were cheaply produced items for the library market.  How cheaply, you ask?  The dust jacket cover and spine of give the author's name as "Fanhope" (the inside cover blub gives it correctly, however).
  • C. S. Forester, Hornblower and the Hotspur.  Historical naval adventure.  "Horatio Hornblower is always at his best when the odds are against him.  Now, the fate of the entire English nation hangs on his courage and his daring.  Napoleon is about to launch his long-threatened invasion of England.  In a desperate effort to stop him, young Commander Hornblower executes a spectacular raid on a French naval station.  Then, at the helm of the smallest three-masted frigate in the English navy, he engages in a blistering sea battle with the pride of the Spanish fleet.  Finally, he attacks a might Spanish flotilla on its way to Napoleon with a million dollars in gold!"
  • Martin Gardner, The New /Age:  Notes of a Fringe Watcher.  Nonfiction, a collection of articles.  "Gardner confronts new trends in pseudiscience, from the much-publicized past-life exploits of Shirley MacLaine to the latest in perpetual-motion machines, from 'prime-time preachers' to the 'channeling mania' of the past few years.  Many of these pieces were published in Gardner's column in the Skeptical Inquirer.  Others appeared in the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, Discover magazine, and other publications.  Gardner has added forewards and/or afterwards to most of the chapters to give background, to bring recent developments to light, or to include responses from his critics."  Wacky thinking seems to be the order of the day and Gardner's reasoned, scientific approach  is a great pallitive.
  • "Maxwell Grant" (Walter B. Gibson), The Shadow #4.  Two classic pulp adventures from The Shadow Magazine in the Sanctum Publications reprinted of the original adventures, containing The Murder Master (February 15, 1938; the 144th adventure from the pulp magazine) and The Hydra ((December 1, 1942; the 259th adventure from the pulp magazine).  In the first, "Thousands heard the death-dealing orders of the Murder Master over the air waves!  But only The Shadow dared take the one chance to uncover the fiend!"  In the second, "The original hydra was a beast that grew two heads for each one that was cut off.  The Shadow faced its counterpart -- a master villain who called hmself the Hydra."  Also, The Shadow #6.  Another collection of two novels from Sanctum Publications containing The Shadow's Justice (April 15, 1933; the 28th adventure from the pulp magazine) and The Broken Napoleons (July 15, 1936; the 106th adventure from the pulp magazine).  In Justice, The Shadow is "pitted against a traditional menace rather than a supercriminal operating on a grandiouse scale. and since he operates outside the law, The Shadow takes upon himself the role of judge, jury, and executioner."  In Napoleons, "Each one a broken life, a ruined fortune!  Who was the vulture who served as cashier?"  Probably the fault is with me,  but I have always found the Shadow a little bit stiffer, a little bit more of a slower read, than other pulp heroes.
  • Matt Haig, The Midnight Library.  Fantasy.  "Beyond life and death there is a library.  Up unitil now, Nora Seed's life has been full of misery and regret.  She feels she has let everyone down, including herself.  When she finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right.  The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently.  Each one contains a different life, a possible world in which she made different choices that played out in an infinite number of ways, affecting everyone she knew as well as many people she never met.  With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every decision she regrets as she tried to work out her perfect ife.  But things aren't always what she imagined they'd be and some of her choices place the library and  herself in extreme danger.  Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question  What is the best way to live?"
  • Elmer Kelton, Hard Trail to Follow.  Western, the seventh in Kelton's Texas Ranger series.  "Former Texas Ranger Andy Pickard, called "Badger Boy" when he lived with Comanches as a child, is following the plow in West Texas land until he learns that his friend Sheriff Tom Blessing has been killed during a jailbreak.  The excaped bank robbers are lef by a man calling himnself Cordell.  Andy gets reinstated as a Ranger so he can catch Cordell and get justice for Tom Blessing.  To Andy, Cordell is something of an enigma, expecially since the pursuit slowly reveals that he is very likely not the killer of Tom Blessing.  Even so, Cordell and his cohorts must be brought to Ranger justice first and whodunit sorted out later."
  • Peter O'Donnell, Modesty Blaise.  Campy spy-gal caper, the first book in the series based on the comic strip.  "DANGER!  Modesty Blaise craves it.  It was the electric crackle of risk that drew her into a life of crime, masterminding The Network -- a Middle-Eastern mafia that favored art theft and currency smuggling.  At 26, with half a million sterling in the bank, she had taken the Network as high as it would go.  The challenge and the excitement were gone, and so she quit.  Retirement, however, wasn't the answer for Modesty.  The call from British Intelligence, requesting her services, was!  All the danger and excitemnt Modesty needed was offered to her in the world of international espionage.  Teamed with her old sidekick Willie Garvin, a master knife-thrower, Modesty hurls herself into adventure after deadly adventure,  The action is non-stop, the pace breakneck, and the excitement unending as Modesty and Wille return again and again to their deadly arena."
  • Chuck Palahnuk, Lullaby.  Novel with fantasy elements.  "Ever hear of a culling song?  It's a lullaby sung in Africa to give a painless death to the old or infirm.    The lyrics of the culling song kill, whether spoken or even just thought.  You can find on page 27 of Poems and Rhymes from Around the World, an anthology on the shelves of libraries across the country.  When reporter Carl Steator discovers that unsuspecting readers are reading the poem and accidently killing their children, he begins a desperate cross-country quest to put the culling song to rest and save the nation from certain disaster."  And, Rant.  Serial killer novel with a diference.  "Buster 'Rant' Casey just may be the most efficient seriel killer of our time.  A high school rebel, Rant Casey escapes from his small-town home for the big city where he becomes the leader of an urban demolition derby called Party Crashing.  Rant Casey will die a spectacular highway death, after which his friends gather testimony needed to build an oral history of his short, violent life."
  • Barry Sadler, Casca #16:  Desert Mercenary.  Men's action-adventure about an eternal mercenary.  "Casca Longinus.  Cursed by Christ on Golgotha.  Condemed to outlive the ages, and wander the globe as a constant soldier.  Forever fighting, surviving, waiting for Him to return.  With a hardcore group of international mercenaries, Casca assaults a fortress on a mountaintop high above the blistering Algerian desert -- to rescue the son of a wealthy munitions dealer and his wife.  But even Casca's 'dirty dozen' might not be able to overcome two hundred of the toughest men the desert ever spawned."   A former soldier, the author was the guy who (with the help of author Robin Moore) wrote and sang "The Ballad of the Green Berets"  Sadler penned the first 22 books in the Casca series, which was then carried on by others; the series eventually totalled 56 books as of 2022.  In 1978, Sadler shot and killed Lee Emerson Bellamy, after a month-long dispute over a girl.   Sadler tampered with the evidence, evidently hoping to strengthen a case of self defense and was eventually found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and served a total of 28 days in the county workhouse.  In 1988 Sadler was shot in the head in Quatamale City in what many believed to be a robbery.  He underwent surgery and remained in a  coma for six weeks.  When he awoke, he was a quadripeligic with significnt brain injury,   He never recovered and died in 1989, just four days after his 49th birthday.
  • Geroges Simenon, Leslie Charteris, & George Harmon Coxe, a Detective Book Club omnibus with three books:  Maigret and the Man on the Bench by Georges Simenon ("Maigret's search for what happened to a young man who was known to sit on a certain park bench at a certain hour day after day coincides with the report of a missing husband.  Strangely enough, the men involved looks much alike though the man on the bench always wore brown shoes and somehat casual clothes while the missing husband wore a conventional black suit and black shoes."  Also published as Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard.  I read this one more years ago than I care to think about and don't remember a thing about it.)  Catch the Saint by "Leslie Charteris."  "The famous Simon Templar -- better known as the Saint -- a resourceful, engaging, clever private eye has two puzzles.  One is how to recover a famous painting, long neglected, that an innocent painter is copying for a crooked art dealer,  The other is to identify and capture Supremo, head of the Organization in Phildelphia.  In both cases the Saint's well-known empathy for people, especially attractive young girls, complicates the plot."  Yeah, this ia actually a collection of two novellas, which were actually written by Fleming Lee and based on comic book stories by Norman Worker -- who was cousin of Peter O'Donnell [see above] -- although there is some dispute over the origin of these two stories from the comic book, with some claiming these to be the first original, non-adapted Saint stories in eleven years.  Charteris supposedly had editorial control over the stories.  This Detective Book Club edition gives no credit to Fleming Lee.  I have not read either story, but I doubt that Simon Templar is acting as a "private detective" in them, as claimed by the publisher's blurb.)  No Place for Murder by George Harmon Coxe.  ("Jack Fenner, the famous Boston private investigator, is unpleasantly surprised one mornig by the sight of an unknown corpse on his office floor.  The corpse becomes a personal affront when he finds his next-door neightbor and friend is alo dead, apparently killed for his curiosity over the commotion in Fenner's office.  Anger and professional pride over the use of his own doorstep spurs on his efforts toward a speedy and clever solution of this mess.")
  • "Ken Stanton" (Manning Lee Stokes), The Aquanauts #3:  Seek, Strike and Destroy.  Men's action-adventure.  "A crazy Chinese sub captain has surfaced with his strange craft off the coast of California.  Incredibly, he lobbed a missile that luckily misfired.  But it was to set in motion one of the weidest, wildesr, goriest, sexiest assignments U.S. secret agent Tiger Shark had ever swum into.  From a Chinese Caine Mutiny to a swinging, richly endowed Madame Hee, to a Number One underground doll, the Bamboo Curtain cracked and split when Tiger Shark made the Yin Yang scene!"  Well, that sounds perfectly horrible.. Joe Kenney's Glorious Trash website panned this one, calling the third installment in the series "as slow-moving as his first.  Boy can this guy pad out the pages..."
  • Donald Thomas, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice from the Crypt and Other Tales.  Six Sherlockian mysteries in which he meets, among others, Oscar Wilde, Dr. Crippen, and a young (pre-Inspector) Lestrade.
  • Jeff Tibballs, editor, The Mammoth Book of Weird But True.  Miscellaneous hodge-podge.  One random example:  "Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas came under fire in 2008 for placing his faith in a mystic who wraps people in toilet paper to cure their ills.  Lena Lolisili claims to energize the toilet paper, which she then wraps around her patients.  She also says God tells her the future.  The country's largest newspaper commented:  'Lithuania risks becoming the laughing stock of the world.' "
  • Jay Williams & Raymond Abrashkin, Danny Dunn and the Voice from Space.  Juvenile science fiction novel.  "Can we communicate with other worlds?  Are they trying to reach us?  Danny has a chance to find out when he and his friends goon a trip to England with Professor Bullfinch.  They visit the famous Grendel Observatory -- location of three radio telescopes. the largest in the world.  They plan to try out the Professor's new machine -- a Zero-maker -- to help them listen in on any signals sent from space.  The exciting experiment is threatened when Danny's new friend -- a mishievious pet monkey -- makes off with the Zero-maker and scrambles up one of the giant telescopes.  The Zero-maker is dangerous and could wreck the steel beams and threaten the people on the ground.  Danny has to think fast and find a way to capture the monkey, rescue the machine, and save their scientific projet!"  This isone of my favorite juvenile series, and the one book in the series I had not read before.  The Danny Dunn books are uniformly well-researched for scientific background.
  • "David Wong" (Jason Pargin), This Book Is Full of Spiders.  [Full Disclosure:  I hate spiders.  Hate 'em.  Hate 'em. Hate 'em.]  "Warning:  You may have a huge, invisible spider living in your skull.  THIS IS NOT A METAPHOR."  Aargh!  That's enough!  Take it away.  TAKE. IT. AWAY.

Presidents Day -- In the Beginning:  Seldom taught in school (because who needs to be burdoned dow with facts?) is that there were fourteen presidents (14! -- Count 'em -- 14!) before George Washington.  Beginning in 1774, these fourteen men led the country in its earliest governmental bodies and each had the title of president.  Here they are:
  • Peyton Randolph (1721-1755)  a first cousin once removed of Thomas Jefferson and  a one-time miltary aide to Washington, Randolph served as the first president of the Continental Congress. having been elected unanimously.  The Continental Congress assumed duties for the colonies as a whole, including naming ambassadors; which is why many feel that Randolph was the first president of the United States, even though the United States as such did not yet exist.  Randolph signed the Continental Association (also known as the Articles of Association), which called for a boycott of Btitish merchants by the colonies in the hopes that Parliament would repeal the Intolerable Acts and in the hopes that a peaaceful resolution could be obtained regarding disputes with the British government.  What it actually did was enflame the British even more, eventually resulting in the Revolutionary War.  Randolph had health problems, which led to his resignation, but he returned to serve as the third president of the Continental Congress in 1775.  During that term, he negotiated with then Virginia governor Lord Dunmore for the removal of gunpowder from the Williamsburg arsenal during the Gunpowder Incident (a confrontation between Dunmore's forces and the Virginia militia led by Patrick Henry).  Randolph died shortly afterward of apoplexy while dining with Thomas Jefferson.
  • Henry Middleton (1717-1784) was the president of the Second Continental Congress for four days only.  He opposed declaring independence from Britain and resigned before that happened.  His son, however, appeared to made of sterner stuff and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  When the British captured Charleston in 1780, Middleton admitted defeat, sought protection, and lived the remainder of his life as a British citizen.  His third wife (her fourth marriage) was the daughter of the Earl of Cromartie, who lost his peerage for supporting the Jacobite Pretender.
  • John Hancock (1737-1793) may be best-known for his expansive signature or for having his name co-opted by an insurance company.  He was unaimously elected the fourth president of the Continental Congress and was serving when the Delclaration of Independence was signed.  Paul Revere's famous ride was an attempt to warn Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were coming, hoping to arrest them.  (Hancock's father, by the way, was the person who baptized John Adams.)  During his term, the Continental Congress was forced to change locations a numnber of time because of British incusions.  He spent much of his time raising money, supplies.and troops for Washington.  Hancock chaired the Maritime Committee, which created a fleet (however small) of American frigates.  He returned to Congress in 1785 to become its thirteenth president.
  • Henry Laurens (1724-1792) was a signatory of the Articles of Confederation, and, as president, presided over its passage.  Laurens was a partner in the largest slave-trading business in North America.  His term as president ran from November 1, 1777 to December 9, 1778.  In 1779 he was named ambassador to the Netherlands, where he negotiated Dutch support for the American revolution.  He was captured by the British on 1780 and spent a year in the Tower of London, the only American known to held prisoner there.  He was released in exchange for General Lord Cornwallis. He was said to have a great fear of being buried alive and left instructions to be cremated after his death -- his was reportedly the first Caucasion cremation in the United States.
  • John Jay (1745-1829) was the fifth president of the Continental Congress.  He also served as the second governor of New York and the first Chief Justice of the United States.  Jay, who believed in a stong central government was an important leader in the Federalist Party and was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.  He was a negotiator of the Treaty of Paris, in which  Britain recognized American independence.
  • Samuel Huntington (1731-1796) was elected to the office when John Jay left to become minister to the Kingdon of Spain.  He spent most of his tme office urging states and lelgislatures to invoke levies to supply the men, supplies, and funds needed to support the war.  He was president when the Articles of Confederation were signed.  He also sereved as the 18th governor of Connecticut and died while in office -- the first governor to have died while in office.  Huntington was largely self-educated, mainly from books in the library of the local minister (whose daughter he married much later) and from books borrowed from friends; his self-education was enough to have him admitted to the bar in 1754.
  • Thomas McKean (1734-1817) served as president of the Continental Congress for six months following the resignation of Huntington for health reasons.  At the time, the office was mostly ceremonial, but McKean was president when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, effectiely ending the war.  When his term ended so too did the Continental Congress, to make way for the new Confederation Congress.  McKeam was also the second predident of Delaware, the chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the second governor of Pennsylvania. 
  • John Hanson (1721-1783) was the first president of the Confederation Congress in 1781.  (When the Articles of Confederation were ratified by the states, the Continental Congress became the Confederation Congress.)  Hanson was the leading financier of the revolution in western Maryland.  When elected president of the Confederation Congress, he found the work tedious and considered resigning, but was dissuaded because the Congress had no quorum at that time to elect a successor.  In 1782, Hanson signed a proclamation for a Solemn Thanksgiving, one of many Thanksgivings that had been sporadically celebrated in the country since Pilgrim times; but this was the first such national proclmation.  Hanson was president when Washington presented Cornwallis's sword to Congress.  
  • Elias Boudinot (1740-1821) was perhaps a bit ahead of history as an early abolitionist and women's rights advocate. He had worked under Washington to improve conditions of prisoners from both the American and British sides.  He also helped found the American Bible Society and serfved as its first president.  As president of the Confederated Congress, he signed the Preliminary Articles of Peace.  In 1895 he was named the first Director of the Mint, a position he held for almost ten years until his retirement.
  • Thomas Mifflin (1744-1800) was Pennsylvania's last president (succeeding Benjamin Franklin) and the state's first governor.  Miflin's most important duty as the third president of the Confederated Congress was to accept the resignation of General George Washington.  Following the war, the importance of the Congress dininished to the point that Mifflin had a difficult time sending delagates to ratify the Treay of Paris, which was finally done near the end of his term.  Mifflin also appointed Thomas Jefferson as ambassador to France.  His nine years as Governor of Pennsylvania were marred by the Whiskey Rebellion, the Philadelphia Yellow Fever epidemic, and Fries Rebellion.  After serving as governor, he returned to the Pennsylvania state legislature, dying a month later.
  • Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) was best known for the 1776 Lee Resolution in the Second Continental Congress, calling for the colonies' independence from Britain, an act that led to the Declaration of Independence.  Lee did not believe in imposing federal taxes and felt that borrowing foreign money was unwise.  Instead, he used his term of office to push for the states to cede their claims to the Northwest Territory so that the federal government could fund itself through land sales.  The plan failed; not only did Native Americans refuse to give up their land, but much of the land was already occupied by squatters.  Lee married twice and had sixteen children.  Lee came from a family that would have deep roots in Virginia history and politics.  John Hancock succeeded Lee as the next president of the Confederated Congress, holding the position until..  
  • Nathaniel Gorham (1738-1796) became the sixth president of the Confederated Congree following Hancock's resignation.  Gorham served in the office for five months.  Gorham was one of the signers of the Constitution.  Over the years, Gorham's descendents numbered in the thousands, among them the author of the Christmas song "O Little Town of Bethleham" and Henry Adams, author of The Education of Henry Adams.
  • Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818) was born in Scotland, served with the British army in the French and Indian War, and was a major general in the Continental Army -- a command he lost after a contraversial retreat from Fort Tidondaroga.  During his presidency the Congress passed the Niorthwest Ordinance.  While he was president, the Philadelphia Convention was drafting the Constitution, which would eventually eliminate the Confederate Congress.  St. Claor was later named governor of the Northwest Territories, then of the land that eventually became the state of Ohio.  In 1791, he commanded American forces in the country's wost-ever defeat by Native Americans -- known as St. Clair's Defeat.  The Jefferson adminsitration replaced him as governor in 1802.  
  • Cyrus Griffin (1748-1810) was the eigth and last president of the Confederated Congress.  He served fromn Januarry 22 to November 2, 1788, when the office was abolished.  He was basically a place holder.
And then. along came George...

So, fourteen presidents before George Washington.  Some significant, some not.  Although the office itself was mainly ceremonial, some of these men did much to form the new country.  Various historians and supporters would point to one or another claiming this man or that man should be considered the first true president of our country, but their arguments come down to mere vebal posturng.  These men -- good, bad, or indifferent -- held the country together during its early years, paving the way for the republic we now have.  They should be honored as such.

Al Smith for President:  In an alternate reality he could have been president.  Here's the New Lost City Ramblers:

Popeye for President:  In this 1956 cartton, Popeye (the Spinach Party) faces off against Bluto (the Blutocratic Party).  Guess who has the swing vote.

Presidentiual Quirks:
  • Zachert Tyler ODed on cherries.  On July 4, 1850, he chomped down on a huge amount of cherries, following them with ice cold milk.  It ios believed that the acid in the cherries, combined with the milk, caused the gastroenteris.whjich killed hjim five days later.
  • Andrew Jackson taught his parrot to swear.  The bird had to be removed from Jackson's funeral because it began swearing loudly and constantly.  
  • Grover "The Rover" Cleveland became the guardian of an eleven-year-old girl after her father died.  They began a romantic relationship when she enter college and married when she turned 21, making her the youngest first lady in American history.  Cleveland also executed a man when he was serving as sheriff of Erie County, New York.  He opted to personally serve as the hangman in the execution of convicted murderer Patrick Morrissey.
  • Lydon Johnson was not known for this couth.  He would conduct interviews while sitting on the toilet and was known to urinate in public whenever the urge struck him.
  • Abraham Lincoln was a license bartender.
  • Thomas Jefferson learned to love Parisian food while serving as ambassador to France.  He helped popularize such items as mac and cheese, waffles. ice cream, and Parmesian cheese.
  • Benjamin Harrison had a phobia about electricity.
  • Bill Clinton once misplaced the nuclear launch codes for months.  Whoops!
  • Teddy Roosevelt was fond of both boxing and wrestling and did both while in the White House.  He lost sight in one eye due to a detached retina suffered in a boxing match.
  • Calvin Coolidge had some odd pets while at the White House, including Ebeneezer the donkey, Smoky the bobcat, and two lions named Tax Reduction and Budget Balance.  Coolidge would also sometime ride a mechanical horse in his bedroom -- in the buff.
  • Harry Truman once courted the Ku Klus Klan for political purposes.  Truman cut ties with the Klan when they wanted him to ditch his politcal patron, Tom Pendergast, because he was a Catholic.
  • Al Capone's car was impounded by the Treasury Department, and FDR used the highly modified vehicle whenever worries arose about his safety.
  • James Buchanan was a cocky guy -- he had one eye set slightly higher than the other.  As a result he cocked his head at all times.
  • John Quincy Adams would go skinny dipping in the Potomac every morning.  
  • Millard Fillmore married his teacher.  Yeah, there was only two years difference in age, but still...
  • During his presidency, James Polk secretly purchased enslaved children for his Mississippi cotton plantation.
  • Benjamin Harrison was the first president to hire a female White House staffer.
  • Richard M. Nixon was a pretty good poker player.  Winnings from game he had while serving in the Solomon Islands during World War II helped finance his political career when her returned from service.
  • I'm not going to mention Donald J. Trump's quirks because I firmly believe they are disorders rather than quirks.

Presidential Quotes:
  • "If wrinkles must be written on our brow, let them not be written on our heart.  The spirit should never grow old." -- James Garfield
  • "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."  Theodroe Roosevelt
  • "Tell the truth, work hard and come to dinner on time."  Gerald Ford
  • "On matters od style, swim with the current; on matters of principle, stand on a rock."  Thomas Jefferson
  • "I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards."  Abraham Lincoln
  • "It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't."  Martin van Buren
  • "I know two tunes.  One of them is Yankee Doodle and the other isn't"  Ulysses Grant
  • "When they call the roll in the Senate, the senators don't know whether to answer 'present' or 'not guilty.' "  Theodore Roosevelt
  • "I have long enjoyed the friendship and companionship of Republicans because I am by instinct a teacher and I would like to teach them something."  Calvin Coolidge
  • "People say I'm indecisive, but I don't know about that."  George H. W. Bush

Vice Presidential Quote:  "It's not worth a bucket of warm spit."  Vice President John Nance Garner on the vice-presidency (although he didn't use the word "spit.")

Florida Man:
  •  The streaker at the Super Bowl was a Florida Man.  Of course he was.  Did you have any doubt?  Miami day trader and Florida Man Alex Gonzales hoped to make some money on a prop bet that someone wold streak on the field before the game was over.  His unannounced plan was that the streaker was to be himself.  He scoped out the stadium beforehand and bought a $42,000 ticket to the game.  He and a friend went to Dicks and bought cleats to make it easier to run on the field.  The evening before the game, he told a number of people that they should place money on a bet that a streaker would insert himself into the game -- alledgedly among those he told were Dr. Phil McGraw and the YouTube Channel Neik Boys.  The day trader's financial plans went awry the next morning when he discovered that the listing wasn't there when he went to place his bet.  Oh well.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  Gonzales streaked across the field in the third quarter anyway.  He was hastily stopped and the game announcers and commentators basically overlooked his efforts, and the game delay was  minimal.  Streaking at the Super Bowl appears to be a Florida thing, a streaker also appeared at Super Bowl LV in Tampa.
  • In the yuckiest Florida Man story in recent times, a Jacksonville man had 150 live parasites pulled from his nose, some being "the size of the end of my pinky," according to the doctor in charge of removing the parasites.  The victim had had a tumor removed about 30 years before, leaving him with a compromised immune system, which may have led the parasites to thrive.  the little buggers had dug deep into their new home and, if left unchecked, they would have attacked the optic nerve and brain.  The victim is an avid fisherman and it ia thought the parasites originated in a dead fich.
  • Florida Man Nicholas Taylor, 39, of The Villages, was arrested for disorderly intoxication and abuse of 911.  Taylor had noticed a car that was allegedly parked in a handicapped zone without a handicapped permit outside a convenience store at a Wawa gas station.   He entered the store, made a disturbance, interupted the "flow of busines," and threatened to fight the person in question.  When the person attempted to leave, Taylor blocked his car and continued to threaten him.  He was still in threatening mode when the police arrived.  Officers then noticed a smell of alcohol on Taylor's breath and warned him not to drive his car home.  Taylor became abusive, picked up his phone, and called 911 to complain about the responding officers.  Ultimately, Taylor was arrested.  And what about the alleged non-handicapped driver?  Dunno.  The news story never mentioned.
  • I have to be careful with this story, inserting a lot of "allegedlys."  On November 12, 2023, Okaloosa County Sheriff deputies were sent to McLaren Circle in Fort Walton Beach (yeah, just a hop skip, and jump from where I live) to investigate reports of a car driving around, honking its horn, and disturbing the peace since 3:00 am.  Then a woman called the sheriff's office to report that her boyfriend, 22-year-old Marquis Jackson, had alledged;ly committed grand theft auto and had sent her threatening texts and phone calls.  When deputies arrived at her home, the woman showed them photos of a firearm silencer allegedly in her car.  Jackson arrived on the scene shortly after and was searched, handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a police cruiser.  The woman allegedly told police that Jackson had a silencer and more than one weapon, but that she did not know where they were.  Jackson was allegedly unarmed during the encounter.  Then the reports came in that the woman's car was found on McLaren Circle.  A deputy then returned to his car, allegedly to search Jackson one more time.  The deputy allegedly heard a "pop," and said he thought it was a gunshot, and that he believed he had been hit by gubfire.  Bodycam footage shows the officer rolling away from the car, repeatedly shouting, "Shots fired!", and then firing his gun at the car where Jackson was being held.  The deputy fired more than a dozen shots at and into the car without hitting Jackson, who said he ducked down and "played dead" the moment he heard the cry "Shots fired!"  Another deputy also fired toward car after hearing the first deputy yelling.  No gun was found on Jackson.  After the incident, deputies approached Jackson, still handcuffed, with their guns raised.  They then allegedly threw him onto the ground before taking him to a local hospital.  Afterwards Jackson was taken to the Okaloosa County Courthouse where his pictures and fingerprints were taken.  According to Jackson, he was never told what he was being charged with.  After sitting in a cell for several hours, Jackson said an officer told him the he was free to go.  Jackson was never charged.   The first deputy to open fire resigned several weeks later.  A lot of unanswered questions here.

Good News:
  • An ethical politician
  • Truck firm transports tons of snow from north to south for special needs kids
  • New zinc treatment can help restore lost hearing in mice
  • A touchdown for renewables -- Super Bowl was 100% solar powered
  • New prosthetic hand allows man to sense temperature
  • A "kinder than chemo" cancer drug cured this young man of leukemia
  • Scientists discover a potentail way to repair synapes damaged in alzheimer's disease

Today's Poem:
For Beauty I Am Not a Star

For beauty I am not a star,               
There are others more perfect by far,
But my face I don't mind it,
For I am behind it,              
It is those in front that I jar.              

-- Anthony Euwer           

(This was Woodrow Wilson's favorite limerick.  He repeated it so often that many attibuted it to him.)


Bill Monroe and Doc Watson.

Saturday, February 17, 2024


I don't know much about this one.  It's an Australian anthology comic that appears to be continuing stories from the previous issue.

From the inside front cover:

"Here they are again!  The Little Trimmer's Team of Heroes, already famous for their bold exploits, and busy piling up fresh glory in unparalleled adventures... 

Alan Grey and the Gold Smugglers"

Avian Tempest and the Lost Scientist"

Lew Mason "Atom Bombs the Moon"

Marcus Varius "The Peacemaker"

Wacky Potter in "A Goal in One"

Plus, Lou Blue, Primitive Man

and Newsreel...."Yours for more

laughs in a better comic"

[You may have noticed that the opening quotation marks above appear to be optional.  It's an Australian thing, I guess]

Throw another shrimp on the barbie. put your feet up, and take a gander.  Because there's "48 pages and every one a winner !!!!"

Friday, February 16, 2024


We lost one of our cats last night, suddenly and unexpectedly.  Sprout was a black female of inderterminate age, although Christina believed her t be about five years old.  She took seriously ill without warning and Christina and Erin rushed her to the veterinarian where she went downhill quickly.  to the point where she had to be put down.  The cause?  Rapid onset congestive heart failue with a saddle thromboisis.  Until it happened there was no indication of a problem.

Sprout had been abandoned by a family renting the house next door.  They pulled up stakes in the middle of the night, leaving the cat to roam outdoors.  She had evidently been the pet of their little girl, whom we would see carrying a placid animal all over the place.  Sprout had been mistreated, her left sde bulged out unnaturally, as if she had been repeatedly kicked and had internal damage.  Mark found her and took her in.  The original owners never came back to claim her.  Christina and Walt spent several thousand dollars to have the cat treated because you don't leave an animal in pain.  She became healthy but always had the bulge in her side as a reminder of how cruel some people could be.

After a bit of dicussion, she was named Sprout.  (Mark was lobbying for Pumpkin but was outvoted.) Almost immediately, we realized how affectionate this cat was.  She took an instant liking to Walt, who was never a cat person; she would drape herself around his shoulders like a shawl as he walked around the house -- Walt may never become a true cat person, but he did become a Sprout person.  Her favorite spot was on Christina's lap while she was reading in her reclining chair...a good book, a comfy blanket over her legs and feet, and Sprout on her lap were Chrstina's idea of an afternoon well spent.  Sprout was always friendly and affectionate with the rest of us -- and with the rest of the animals -- but she truly bonded with Walt and Christina.  She was a happy, loving, purring fur machine.

Cristina and Walt take their animals seriously.  I don't think they consider it ownership, it's more like a stewardship.  Their animals are a resposibility, not an onus.  Caring for an animal is never a task.  It is their duty to ensure the animals are safe, comfortable, well-fed, healthy, and loved.  The animals, in turn, give back tenfold in so many intangible ways.  It's a good partnership and one that we all respect without question.

The death of an animal hits us all hard  Because animals have a shorter life span than humans, it happens pretty often, but that does alleviate the sense of loss.  If we couldn't face up to animals dying on us, we have nothing but Galapagos turtles -- and those critters couldn't fetch a ball for beans.  But it does hurt -- not anyway near as much as losing a relative or a close friend, certainly, but the pain is still there.  Also there, however, is the great feeling of knowing that you gave a fellow creature some comfort in its life.  In the past we have lost dogs, cats, and goats, as well as snakes and lizards.  Each death has affected us -- some (like the cats and dogs, who are able to express their love and devotion) more then others, (like the snakes who probably don't give a damn about us).  But each animal has earned a place in our hearts and has taught us the value of existence.  Each animal, like each person, is special and unique.

The household is now down to thriteen animals (fifteen, if you count Jack and myself, as Christina sometimes does).  Thirteen is still a lot.  But somehow the house seems much emptier now.

Vale, Sprout.  You will be missed.

Thursday, February 15, 2024


The Case of the Crimson Hand by Kendell Foster Crossen  (first published as "The Green Lama" by "Richard Foster" in Double Detective magazine, April 1940; republished as by Crossen with the author's preferred title in The Green Lama:  The Complete Pulp Adventures, Volume 1, Altus Press, 2011)

The Green Lama was one of the odder heroes in the pulp magazines, and that says a lot.  He w the brainchild of the then-editor of the Munsey Publishing Company's Detective Fiction Weekly, Ken Crossen.  The Munsey executives wanted a character that would compete with Street and Smith's The Shadow, and Crossen was tasked to come up with a character.  At the time, The Shadow radio program was very popular and was ripe for exploitation by Crossen.  For the radio, the Shadow gained his power to "cloud the minds of men," rendering him virtually invisible, through occult knowledge he received while studying in Tibet.  Two real sources used by Shadow writer Walter B. Gibson were the books The Penthouse of the Gods by Theos Casimir Barnard and Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel -- both purporting to be first-hand accounts in the mysterious East.  Crossen mined these books, as well as any others he could find about Tibet, Lamaist Buddhism, and occult mysticism to provide a backdrop for his stories.  The Green Lama saga is heavily footnoted with such references, to the point that many readers followed the series merely to expand their knowledge of the subject, some even believing the Green Lama was a real person.

The Green Lama was not real, of course.  He was the fictional character Jethro Dumont (as name sounding as close to Lamont Cranston as Crossen felt safe to use), a man who had inherited millions and who became interested in Oriental religions while in college, causing him to travel to China and then Tibet, where he joined a lamastery and became a Buddhist priest -- a lama.  He learned many skills, including how to effectvely use a kata, a long scarf that the Green Lama would use as a garotte, his only weapon; the Green Lama was able to use it with such skill (he was taught by a master thugee) that he could control the pressure used by the scarf, rendering someone unconscious, but never killing him.  The Green Lama never killed his enemies.  With the kata and with his natural scientific knowledge and physical training, he had no need of any other weapon -- in fact, the Green Lama did not own a gun, nor had he ever fired one.  His knowledge of anatomy allowed him to paralyze an opponent in any number of ways for a specific period of time, all by applying the slightest pressure on various nerve centers.  His outfit, a dark green robe, allowed him to be almost invisible in the darkness and shadows.  He can often be heard chanting his catchphrase:  Om! Ma-ni pad-mi Hum! (Hail!  The Jewel in the lotus flower!).  Oh.  And he has one other trick.  He's radioactive, and by ingesting radioactive salts, he can also electrify himself.  Neat, huh?

It should be noted that Crossen originally intended his hero to be the Gray Lama, but a green outfit provided a more strikeing (and better-selling) magazine cover.

After studying for a number of years, Jethro Dumont decided to return to America to spread the message of peace that was at the core of his religion.  Almost immediately after arriving in New York, he witnessed a gangland shooting that also killed an innocent woman and three young shildren; one of the children died no more than fifteen feet from where Dumont stood.  Political and police corruption prevented the killers from being brought to justice, although Dumont found at least one policeman who had not been corrupted -- Lieutenant John Caraway, who would become an ally.  With the aid of his manservant Tsarong and reformed criminal Gary Brown, Dumont is determined to bring justice  for those who most need it, often in the disguise of Buddhist cleric the Reverend Doctor Pali and, more often, as the Greem Lama, the scourge of the underworld.  (Dumont mastered the art of makeup under the tutilege of the world's greatest makeup artist.)

All of which brings us to his first recorded adventure, The Case of the Crimson Hand.

 Dr. Harrison Valco has discovered a new ray -- a delta ray -- created by manipulating alpha, beta, and gamma radium rays in a special process.  In its gaseous form the new ray is "immediately lethal"; in its liquid form, a powerful anesthetic.  The ray travels at the speed of light and a small one-inch capsule could hold enough to reach all living organism within the space of a cubic mile.  The mysterious arch criminal known as the Crimson Hand is determined to get the ray and use it to bring the United States, a well as the rest of the world under his power -- starting with Cleveland.  Determined to stop the Crimson Hand is the Green Lama.  The Green Lama arrives too late to stop the Crimson Hand from kidnapping Dr. Valco and lovely young Evangl Stewart, but not too late to be caught in a deadly gunfight that left some of the Hand's thugs dead.  

Because super-villains are cocky, the Hand brags that he is going to Cleveland and the Lama cannot stop him.  A mysterious woman known only as Magga (she is as well acquainted with Buddhist teachings as the Lama; Magga is a word that means the way, or the path) tells him when the attack in Cleveland is scheduled to take place.  [Side note:  Magga is a recurring character; her true identity and motives are never revealed.  She remains an enigma thoughtout the series.]  Dumont takes a commercial flight to Cleveland and his plane is shot down personally by the Crimson Hand; the plane crashes and explodes and only Dumont and a woman who turns out to be Magga survive.  Joined by Gary Brown, the Green Lama arrives in Cleveland just as the Hand's gang of 80 men are looting all of the city banks.  The Lama manages to stop one robbery and learns that the loot from the others is being shipped to upstate New York.  Authorities are notified but do note realize that the gang's hideout has an escape tunnel through which all the bad guys vanished.

There's a lot of back and forth and, in just about every chapter, the Hand is sure that the Lama has been killed, but -- no surprise -- every time he survives.  (In one instance, he emerges after staying under the thick ice on a lake for over an hour.  Those Buddist tricks of controlling one's body come in handy.)  It is a given, of course, that the Green Lama will eventually prevail and that the Crimson Hand will meet a just end.  The identity of the Crimson Hand is patently obvious, although few clues are given (it's that type of story)  Later in the series, both Dr. Valco and Evangl Stewart join the Lama's ever-growing company of assistants.

Crudely written, laden with Buddist lore and terminology and samples of the Pali language, and straining credibility, The Case of the Crimson Hand travels at break-neck speed to a thrilling conclusion.  Literature, it ain't.  Pure pulp, it is.  And a heck of an enjoyable tale, which is all any reader could ask for.

Crossen wrote fourteen Green Lama novels before Double Detective gave up the ghjost and shuttered its doors.  All fourteen are included in the Altus Press volumes, along with a new Green Lama adventure penned by new pulp writer Adam Lance Gar4cia. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024


My Favorite Husband aired as a one-shot fill-in program for Eve Arden's Our Miss Brooks on CBS Radio on July 5, 1948, becasuse Arden's program was delayed goiong on the air.  It was based on two novels about the Cugat family written by Isabel Scott Rorick, the first of which, Mr. and Mrs. cugat, the Record of a Happy Marriage (1940) had been made into the successful film Are Husbands Necessary? in 1942.  The fill-in show had been an audition program starring Licille Ball as Liz Cugat and Lee Bowman as her husband, George.  It was popular enough for CBS to take it on as a series.  Bowman was not able to continue his role as George Cugat and was replaced with Richard Denning.  The series aired on July 23, 1948 through March 31, 1951 for a total of 124 episodes.  After 25 episodes, confusion of the name with bandleader Xavier Cugat lead the show to change Liz and George's last name to Cooper.  Gale Gordon and Bea Benederet played Rudolph and Iris Atterbury, George's boss and his wife.

One great revelation occured during the show's run:  executives discovered that Ball's talent as a comedic actress far outweighted her talent as a dramatic one and that her comedic talent was better displayed before an audience.  This eventually led My Favorite Husband to morph into television's I Love Lucy.  CBS and the program's sponsor, Jell-o, wanted Denning to continue to co-star, but Ball onsisted that her real-life husband Desi Arnez be the co-star.  Ball and Arnez took a show on the road and convinced the network that audiences would respond to the couple.  The network acceeded and television history was born.  In the beginning, I Love Lucy used recucled scripts from My Favorite Husband.

Television was not done with My Favorite Husband, though.  CBS brought the show to television in 1953, with Joan Caulfield and Barry Nelson as the stars.  This version reverted to the earliest radio shows in which George was a well-to-do bank executive, rather than the couple being solidly middle-class.  This version ran for three seasons, although the third season was shortened.

Here's a 75-year-old Valentine's Day treat for you, one day later.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024


 "Wild Wullie the Waster" by Tod Robbins (first published in All-Story Weekly, February 14, 1920; reprinted first in the collection Silent, White and Beautiful and Other Stories, 1920, then in the collection Who Wants a Green Bottle? and Other Uneasy Tales, 1926; reprinted in the anthology Shivers: A Third Collection of Uneasy Tales, anonymously edited by Charles Birkin, 1932, then in Creeps Omnibus, anonymously edited by Charles Birkin, 1935; reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries Combined with Fantastic Novels Magazine, September , 1942; reprinted in the Tod Robbins retrospective Freaks and Fantasies, 2008)

The tale is narrated by the ghost of the title character, Wild Wullie Campbell, the profligate younger brother of the twelfth Laird of Branstoun.  After forty years, the Laird has finally died, leaving his estate to Wullie, now an old man.  The brother, Alexander, was a penny-pinching, unlikeable man, and had drown in a lake grasping a sack of gold coins; had he dropped the sack, he could have able to make to the safety of the shore, but his miser's heart did him in.  Wullie travels to Scotland for his inheritance with his friend, Roderick Dingwell, another elderly, impoverished man.  There they plan to spend what time left to them dining lavishly, drinking fine spirits, and playing billiards -- billiards being the one passion each has left.

At first, all seems to go well as the pair are isolated on a lonely estate in the midst of a wild Scottish winter.  The dining and the drinking are exceptional and the billiards keep them happy through the long and bitter nights.  Sadly, as can happen when two are forced together for long periods of time, they began to get on each other's nerves.  The friendly games devolved into fierce contests.  Finally, after an unintended accident caused Roderick to miss a shot, the two came to blows, dueling and prancing back and forth with cue sticks like swords until Roderick struck Wullie a blow to the head, killing him.  In that instant, Wullie became a ghost, with a ghost's perspective of the world -- one that is completely separate from that of a mortal.  Wullie felt pity and concern for Roderick, who was horrified that he had killed his best friend.

Roderick fled into the winter night to the lake, intending to drown himself.  Wullie followed him.  At the shore of the lake, Wullie met the ghost of his brother Alexander and was horrified at the state of his brother's spirit.  Perhaps not technically a suicide, Alexander was practically one, because he had refused to give up to sack of gold that had led to his death.  Wullie was afraid of what effect suicide might have on Roderick's spirit, but because he was insubstantial was unable to plead him out of the proposed suicide.  But, since it was winter, the lake had a thick covering of ice and Roderick could not cast himself into it.  Disappointed, Roderick went back to the manor.  Wullie followed and was dismayed to see Roderick pull out a straight razor.  It is a well-known fact (in Scotland, anyway) that, at the stroke of midnight, a ghost can materialize.  Wullie's only hope to dissuade Roderick was to wait until midnight and hope that Roderick had not harmed himself before that hour.  Midnight came and Wullie materialized.  Unfortunately, this so startled Roderick that he slit his throat.  Roderick instantly became a ghost.  

Rodrick had always been persnickety about his appearance and he was not happy at the red gaping opening that now was permanently part of his throat.  Wullie persuaded him to wrap scarf arounf the wound, hiding it.  Both ghosts realized how silly their actions as humans were and began once again to play friendly games of billiards to pass the time.

Eventually, the new owner showed up -- a young cousin of Wullie.  His companion and best friend happened to be a relative of Roderick.  The two living occupants of the house settled in and enjoyed themselves.  Then they faced the billiards table.  The problem was that both men were terrible at the game and seldom could hit the ball, much less make a decent shot.  Nonetheless they insisted on playing thoughout the night, which meant that Wullie and Roderick could not enjoy their usual game because the table was occupied.  One talent that ghosts have over mortals is the ability to move things with their minds.  This meant that Wullie and Roderick could mentally control the shots for the other two.  the living players were amazed at how well they were playing.  Eventually the attention of the two spirits wavered just ever so slightly and an accidental nudge led to a missed shot, which led to a fierce argument, which led to the two living players facing each other with murderous intent and cue sticks in their hands.

Will history repeat itself with tragic circumstances?

The only way this coud be more of a distinct Scottish ghost story would be if the game in question was golf, rather than billiards.  

The tale is a bit of departure from the weird tales that are Tod Robbins's usual fare, which borders on the macabre and the grotesque rather than the tongue in cheek.  The author is best known for his novel The Terrible Three, which was filmed twice as The Unholy Three (1925, directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney; and it's 1930 "talkie" remake directed by Jack Conway, again starring Lon Chaney) and for his short story "Spurs," which was the basis of the classic 1932 Tod Browning film Freaks, as well as 2010's uncredited and unsuccessful The Museum of Wonders.  Both The Terrible Three and "Spurs" were used as episodes of the Argentinean podcast Cineficcion Radio several years ago.

Clarence Aaron "Tod" Robbins (1888-1949) published five other novels, including Mysterious Martin (1912) and The Master of Murders (1933); a seventh novel remains unpublished.  Among his most popular short stories are "Silent, White, and Beautiful," "Who Wants a Green Bottle?," "Toys" (a.p.a. "The Toys of Fate"), "Cockcrow Inn,", "The Bibulous Baby," and "The Whimpus" -- all of which are recommended.