Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, May 31, 2024


 Artifact by Kevin J. Anderson, Janet Berliner, Matthew J. Costello, and F. Paul Wilson (2003)

For the curious, this is the first book in the Daredevils' Club series.  It's also the least book in the Daredevils' Club series.  There ain't no more.  One and done.  After reading the book. I think I know why that is.

In the prologue to this tale, It's 1982, and Arthur Marryshow, the 31-year-old friend and mentor of 16-year-old Peta Whyte, is being held prisoner by Communists on Grenada on a trumped-up (?) charged of suspected espionage.  Working with two of Arthur's friends, Peta is determined to free Arthur before he is place before a firing squad.  Arthur's friends are demolitions expert and stuntman Ray Arno and South African oil magnate Frik Van Altman.  Peta kills two guards and they manage to free Arthur on New Year's Eve, Arthur's birthday.  Since Peta was 13, she and Arthur celebrated both his and her birthdays at Danny's Grotto restaurant in New York.  Proud of his daring escape, Arthur, Ray, and Frik decided to form a Daredevil's Club," where each would have at least one exciting adventure a year and meet annually to relate it to the others.  Peta, being female, was not allowed to join.

Fast forward to 1999.  Peta and Arthur have long become lovers., and Peta is now a medical doctor.

Frik is exploring potentially rich oil deposits in the ocean by Trinidad.  His crew has drilled through the ocean floor, finding an underground river.  There, they have found pieces of some sort of artifact of an unknown composition.  The artifact appears to have been deliberately divided into pieces.  It has strange properties and Frik soon discovers that it can be a tremendous source of energy -- one that could eventually make the need for oil obsolete.  Frik's assistant, Paul Trujold, fears Frik will misuse the artifact -- Frik being greedy, amoral, and ruthless -- so he steals pieces of the artifact and sends them secretly to several friends, including Arthur and Paul's estranged daughter, Selene, who is the leader of a subversive group of Greens, fighting Frik's plans of destroying the environment.  Frik kills Paul and is determined to regain the artifact pieces.

By this time, the Daredevil's Club had frown to include underwater explorer Simon Brousseau, freelance security specialist Terris McKendry, and McKendry's partner Joshua Keene.  Moments before the annual meeting of the Daredevils' Club, Arthur Marryshow is killed in a violent explosion in the men's room of Danny's Grotto.  Peta suspects Frik is responsible and was attempting to regain the artifact piece that Trujold had sent to Arthur.

Later, Frik sends Simon down to explore the underground river.  It leads to a large sunken chamber whose walls are carved with strange, unearthly images; the chamber itself is void of any underwater life.  But Simon now has a bad heart and Peta fears for his safety. She goes after him and finds him floating in the chamber, dead; in his hand is another piece of the artifact.  Someone (sent by Frik, naturally) has followed Peta to the chamber.  She is attacked and her air line is cut and the intruder makes off with the artifact, leaving her to die.  But Peta is made of stern stuff and does not die.

Selene's group of Green vigilantes raid Frik's oil platform and a battle ensues.  Terris and Joshua happened to have snuck on board and find themselves in the middle of the battle.  Terris is shot in the chest and Joshua is injured in a explosion.  Neither one dies but each thinks the other has been killed and swears vengeance.  Joshua is nursed back to health by Selene and eventually becomes her lover.  Terris is put in charge of Frik's security and vows to kill Selene, whom he feels is responsible for Joshua's death.  Terris leads a group of mercenaries and attacks Selene's jungle camp; Peta accompanies him in the raid.  Most of Selene's people are killed and Selene, who has gone underground, is fatally wounded by a knife thrust.  Joshua returns to the camp and views the carnage and manages to come across a dying Selene.  He vows vengeance.

More violence  More killings.  More threats.  It culminates in the next meeting of the Daredevils' Club where all the pieces of the artifact are joined and something strange and horrifying happens.  Ho hum.

There are a number of problems with this novel, which appears to be case of too many cooks spoil the brother.  The sum of the parts is not greater.  The book takes us into too many diverse directions.  The characters -- one and all -- are unpleasant, unthinking, and unlikable,  even the titular "good" guys, Peta and Arthur.  Nobody rings true.  When Terris and Joshua each discover the other to be alive, Joshua forgives Terris for being responsible for killing his true love Selene, and Terris immediately turns against his employer Frik, while still not feeling guilty about slaughter Selene's Green army.  Frik, although responsible for may deaths and betrayals is punished only by being excluded from the Daredevil's Club.  And the artifact?  Despite the Lovecraftian overtones, we are left oto wonder if we are dealing with Cthulhu or with ET.

A jumbled mess with individual parts very readable, but the whole?  Meh.

So, yeah, there's a reason why this was the only Daredevils' Club adventure.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024


The Higher the Flight, the Lower the Fall

by Jacob Cats (1577-1660)

A Tortoise -- like certain me -- once fell a prey to ambition.  Puffed up with an overweening sense of his own importance, he desired to change his earthly lot for a more exalted one.  His friends failed to recognize in him any extraordinary powers, doubtless because of their limited tortoise-like point of view.  He was none the less resolved to convince the earthly creatures of his ability to shine in a sphere where they could never hope to rival him.

One day, seeing an eagle, the bird of Jupiter, alight after his journey through the clouds, he politely asked him to take him aloft, in order that he might prove to all tortoise-kind that he was eminently qualified to grace a position more exalted than that which he now held on earth; to be able to look down upon the glories of land and sea, to watch the glories of the rising sun high above the flat earth, where groveling tortoises are wont to regard things.

The eagle, who perceived at once the silly tortoise's vanity, answered that he was only too happy to comply with the tortoise's request.  Seizing him quickly, he flew up into the air, so high that the tortoise could scarcely see the ground, and secretly wished he was down there at that moment.  Higher and higher flew the bird, with the intention, as he declared, of showing the other as lofty and extensive a view as would best satisfy his ambitions.

A thousand feet below, the winding rivers looked like threads of silver; earth, sea, and sky were bathed in one effulgent light -- far too bright for the poor tortoise's eyes.  Presently the eagle asked him how he was enjoying the the change from his earthly home?  Would he perhaps like to be higher still?  Did he feel quite at home?  How did he like being so high up in the sky?

The tortoise, in dismal, could not answer a syllable, and the eagle, with a shriek of scorn, released his grip and let the tortoise go.  The poor animal was dashed to pieces on the rocks below, learning too late, alas, of the evils that beset ambition.

So it is at courts when men of low degree and servile mind are suddenly elevated to high rank.  How often are they raised up only to be cast down so much more quickly, and into what deep disgrace?

Cats, popularly known as Father Cats, was a lawyer, statesman, ambassador, and poet. who returned to his native Holland after studying law abroad.  He was known for his lyric poems, epigrams, and his collection  of fablers, Emblems (Emblemta or Minneebelden with Maegdenplicht, 1618), from which this little piece was adapted by Barrett H. Clark and Maxim Lieber for their 1925 anthology Great Short Stories of the World.  Cats remained popular in Holland for more than three centuries, and his fables were widely known among the Dutch people.  According to Clark and Lieber, "This little fable here printed is characteristically trite in its philosophy, but is easy to understand how the practical merchants who read Cats found in such things a comforting day-to-day rule of life."

The fable gives a clue to how the prosperous Dutch of the 17th century viewed their government.

Monday, May 27, 2024


Openers:  Texas, 2016.  Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father.  Late morning sunlight pinpricked through the trees, dotting a constellation of light on the blanket of pine needles at Geneva's feet as she snaked the cord between Mayva's sister and her husband, Leland, Father and Brother in Christ.  She gave the cord a good tug, making her way up the modest hill, careful not to step on the graves themselves, only the well-worn grooves between the headstones, which were spaced at haphazard and odd angles, like the teeth of a pauper. 

She was lugging a paper shopping bag from the Brookshire Brothers in Timpson along with a small radio from which a Muddy Waters record, one of Joe's favorites, whistled through the speakers -- Have you ever been walking, walking down that ol' lonesome road.  When she arrived at the final resting place of Joe "Petey Pie" Sweet, Husband and Father and, Lord, a Devil on the Guitar, she set the radio carefully on top of the polished chunk of granite, snapping the power cord into its hiding place behind the headstone.  The one next to it was identical in shape and size.  It belonged to another Joe Sweet, younger by forty years and just as dead.  Geneva opened the shopping bag and pulled out a paper plate covered in tinfoil, an offering for her only son.  Two fried pies, perfect half-moons of hand-rolled dough filled with brown sugar and fruit and baptized in grease -- Geneva's specialty and Lil' Joe's favorite.  She could feel their warmth through the bottom of the plate, their buttery scent softening the sharp sting of pine in the air.  She balanced the plate on the headstone, then bent down to brush fallen needles from the graves, keeping a hand on a slab of granite at all times, ever mindful of her arthritic knees.  Below her, and eighteen-wheeler tore down Highway 59, sending up a gust of hot, gassy air through the trees.  It was a warm one for October, but nowadays they all were.  Near eighty today, she'd heard, and here she was thinking it was about time to pull the holiday decorations from the trailer out back of her place.  Climate change, they call it.  this keep up and I'll live long enough to see hell on earth, I guess.  She told all this to two men in her life.  Told them about the new fabric store in Timpson.  The fact that Faith was bugging her for a car.  The ugly shade of yellow Wally painted the icehouse.  Looked like someone coughed up a big mess of phlegm and threw it on the walls.

She didn't mention the killings, though, or the trouble bubbling in town.

-- Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (2017)

Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger who had left the state as soon as he could for Chicago, has been pulled back to Texas.  Two seemingly unrelated murders, one of a black Chicago lawyer, the other of a local white woman, have stirred up racial tensions in the small east Texas community, placing both his job and his marriage in jeopardy.  Bluebird, Bluebird won the Edgar Award and the Anthony Award for Best Mystery of the Year, as well as the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for best novel.

Attica Locke (born 1974) is also the winner for the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, and the Staunch Book Prize, as well as being a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and being nominated for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction.  She is a writer who has earned every accolade she has received.  IMDb lists eighteen television episodes written by her, including for Empire (where she also served as series  producer, co-producer, and supervising producer), From Scratch (which she created and served as showrunner), and Little Fires Everywhere (where she was also co-executive producer).


  • John Joseph Adams, editor, Wastelands:  Stories of the Apocalypse.  Science fiction anthology with 22 stories of the last days.  How many ways can we destroy the Earth?  At least 22, it seems.
  • "Max Brand" (Frederick Faust), Singing Guns.  Western.  "Sheriff Caradac had found his man.  As he sighted his rifle muzzle over the broad muscular body of his unsuspecting victim, he realized that in all the West there was no other pair of shoulders like these, there was no other such head, and for a moment he hesitated. Then, almost automatically, he lifted his gun and shifted his left foot a bit forward.  As he fired, he felt a stone turn beneath him, and even before his fingers fell away from the trigger he knew that he had missed.  From that miss there grew one of the post extraordinary relationship s those green, snow-capped mountains had ever seen.  Sheriff and bad man, a strange friendship, yet one which took them both on a trail of high adventure, a trail which led at last through a hidden hole in the mountain to an amazing discovery and a certain rancher's daughter."
  • Erskine Caldwell, Kneel to the Rising Sun and Other Stories and The Sure Hand of God.  Two more old Signet paperbacks that found their way to a local thrift store.  Kneel contains seventeen short stories which present "writing of such concentrated brilliance that it is har to see how Caldwell can surpass himself in this particular type of literature."  In Sure Hand, we read "about a life-loving widow and her calculating campaign to snare a rich man and respectable husband for her very beautiful daughter."  Times change and tastes change; people seldom read Caldwell -- once a mega-best-selling author -- any more.
  • Thomas M. Disch, Camp Concentration.  Science fiction, the book that helped establish Disch as a major science fiction writer.  A near-future novel "set during a war, projected from the Vietnam War, in which the United States is criminally involved."  Military and political prisoners are sent to a camp where they are injected with a form of syphilis intended to make them geniuses, but eventually causing their deaths within a few months.  The president of the United States in the novel is Robert McNamara.  An angry, brilliant book, but I wonder how well it would play for today's audience.  Copyrighted by The American Civil Liberties Union, Inc.
  • Peter Enfantino, The Wild World of Off-Best Detective, Crime and Sleaze Digests and The Wild World of Two-Fisted Detective, Mystery and Terror Digests.  Non-fiction.  "Once upon a time, magazine racks overflowed with crime fiction.  For thirty-five cents you could lose yourself in another world for a couple of hours while riding the train back home from your office, or sitting on the beach, or enjoying a bit of quiet time while the brats napped.  The '50s and '60s were decades ripe for violent escapism in the digests, and Manhunt, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine each sold thousands of copies every month.  But what if you were the kind of reader who wante something a little naughtier; a little more taboo; a little more dangerous?  You'd have to kneel down and look at the bottom row, way in back behind the Farmer's Almanac and Fate, to find such jewels as Justice, Keyhole Mystery, Keyhole Detective, Sure Fire Detective, and Off Beat Detective.  Crammed cover to cover with feuding JDs, greedy wives, adulterous husbands, and serial killers, the 'sleaze' crime digests were an acquired taste, and a bitter pill for the traditional mystery fan to swallow.  Combining elements of Black Mask and Dime Mystery, the sleaze digests spit in the face of the old fuddy-duddies and dared readers to try something different.  Within these digests, you'll make acquaintance with:  a morally bankrupt high school teacher who impregnates one of his teenage students; the beautiful Renfreda. who's being chased through the swamp by an evil marijuana harvester; the gorgeous Peggy Ann, who my be the notorious Ice Pick Murderer; the brave small-town reporter who investigates a local cult and risks her life (and her clothes) for a good story; the printer who unknowingly becomes a publisher of smut; and a young couple who discover their neighbors are Stan worshippers."  Each book contains an issue-by-issue dissection of the following magazines:  Justice, Keyhole Mystery Magazine, Keyhole Detective Stories, Sure Fire Detective Stories, Off Beat Detective Stories, (Saturn) Web Detective StoriesWeb Terror Stories, Shock Mystery Tales, Two-Fisted Detective, and Terror Detective.  A total of 87 issues with 933 stories! Also included with Enfantino's personal opinions about each story are occasional notes about the story authors, who include Lawrence Block, Harlan Ellison, Henry Slesar, Donald E. Westlake, Marion Zimmer Bradley, William F. Nolan, Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown, Anthony Boucher, Roald Dahl, Avram Davidson, Stanley Ellin, Edward D. Hoch, John Jakes, M. R. James, William F. Nolan, Richard Matheson, Richard S. Prather, Theodore Sturgeon, Harry Whittington, and Cornell Woolrich, along with a gazillion far lesser-known and less capable authors.   Enfantino knows his digest beans, and for a reader like me, this books are a godsend.
  • "Charlotte Jay" (Geraldine Halls), The Voice of the Crab.  Suspense.  "A man named To'ula returned home to Kipi Island (where only seven people had wrist watches) in the southeastern division of Papua-New Guinea after having served three years in prison in Port Moresby for the murder of his wife.  He'd just come back when the Voice of the Crab burned in his body.  He fell, foaming at the lips, onto the sand -- and when he regained consciousness he hurried to tell the village elders that he had a message.  There were very few whites who lived in Kipi.  Among them was tall, handsome Bruce Harding, the district officer, and his restless though calm-eyed wife, Alice.  There was Sam Creeby, who was bitter and suspicious, who kept tinned food locked in a closet, who'd been a partner of a man named Dutch Willy (an undesirable, who had been told to keep away from Kipi).  There was Arthur Knox, who'd once been a Queen's consul, and his proper wife, Elsie, who wore stockings attached top a tight corset.  And there was Father Paul.  There was also Ivan West, an anthropologist, who had been the first to write about the Kipis and their ancient Kula rituals.  And whom when he returned to the island, recognized that something was very wrong, and not entirely because the Kipi chief was mysteriously ill, perhaps dying."  Originally published as by Geraldine Halls.  Jay won an Edgar in 1954 for Beat Not the Bones, a novel also set in New Guinea.
  • Tony Medawar, editor, Ghosts from the Library:  Lost Tales of Terror and the Supernatural and Wicked Spirits:  Mysteries, Spine-Chillers, and Lost Tales of the Supernatural.  Anthologies of previously unpublished and uncollected supernatural mysteries by such authors as Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Josephine Tey, John Dickson Carr, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy L. Sayers.
  • James A. Moore, Avengers:  Infinity.  Comic book tie-in, adapted from the graphic novel by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer.  "The Avengers discover the vanguard of an invasion.  The enemy are the Builders, members of an alien race determined to purge all life on Earth.  The first assault comes from Mars, launched by the forerunners of a vast  new fleet that has already destroyed countless worlds.  Earth's Mightiest Heroes respond, then journey into deep space to unite the Shi'ar, the Kree, the Skrulls, and other intergalactic races -- many of them sworn enemies -- against the coming invasion.  together they must stand, or separately they will be doomed.  With the majority of Earth's defenders away, the Mad Titan known as Thanos sets his sights on Earth.  With his Black Order he launches an assault across the globe, devastating city after city.  It falls to the planet's remaining heroes -- including Iron Man, Doctor Strange, the Inhumans, and Black Panther -- to fend off an inexorable invasion."
  • "Andre Norton" (born Alice Mary Norton, or Andre Mary Norton -- sources differ), Key Out of Time .  Science fiction.  "Time Agents Ross Murdoch and Gordon Ashe, aided by a Polynesian girl and her team pf telepathic dolphins, probe the mystery of the sea-planet men have named Hawaika.  Its cities and civilizations have vanished, but our agents are snatched back through a Time Gate and marooned in the midst of the struggle for power that must have destroyed the planet."  Dated 1963, this was the fourth and final solo Time Traders novel written by Norton; three others, one with P. M. Griffin, and two with Sherwood Smith, beginning three decades later in 1994.
  • T. (Tonya) Pines, editor, Thirteen, also published as 13 Tales of Horror.  YA horror collection.  Includes stories by R. L. Stine, Caroline B. Cooney, Christopher Pike, Jay Bennett, Diane Hoh, and others.
  • "Kenneth Robeson" (house name, used here by Lester Dent, unless otherwise indicated, nine "Doc Savage" novels reprinted by Bantam Books, all originally appearing in Doc Savage MagazineThe Man Who Smiled No More (issue #38, April 1936, written by Lawrence Donovan, Bantam #45),"It started with senseless murder-- Then it spread -- all over New York men were becoming robot-like automatons without emotion"; The Seven Agate Devils (issue #39, May 1936, written by Dent with Martin E. Baker, Bantam #73), "Murder on an international scale was being committed by a sinister mastermind.  His method -- an unusual, unescapable form of death.  His trademark -- a small statuette left next to the corpse"; The South Pole Terror (issue #44, October 1936, Bantam #77) "What was the fabulous treasure Velma Crale had discovered in the South Pole?  And why was Cheaters Slagg willing to kill to keep her from talking?"; The Pirate's Ghost (issue #62, April 1938; Bantam #62) "At his supersensational best, THE MAN OF BRANZE finesses an international band of modern day pirates in possession of the master invention by the Mad Genius of Death Valley!"  The Motion Menace (issue #63, May 1938, written by Dent with W. Ryerson Johnson, Bantam #64) "The Man of Bronze and his cousin Pat face an inordinate challenge:  a machine that makes all modern weapons worthless.  a gang of international thieves in control of the invention are shooting high:  World Control"; The Submarine Mystery (issue #64, June 1938, Bantam #63) "It might be  a hoax, and it might not be!  People are dead!  The Man of Bronze ably confronts a dangerous crackpot scheme that has a baffled world wondering what will happen next"; Mad Mesa (issue #71, January 1939, Bantam #66) "THE MAN OF BRONZE is jailed!  But all the prison bars in the world could not hold Doc when he was on his way to dispelling the madness in the desert that changes people into other identities!"; The Yellow Cloud (issue #72, February 1939, written by Dent with Evelyn Coulson, Bantam #59) "The navy's new ultra-secret super weapon vanishes from the skies -- pilot and plane eaten up by a yellow cloud a quarter of a mile long .  The country's military safety hung in the balance until THE MAN OF BRONZE uncovered the deadliest spy apparatus ever"; and The Gold Ogre (issue #75, May 1939, Bantam #42) "A legion of tiny terrorists launches a startling series of raids against Crescent City.  Death, destruction, and a disease which drives men mad, are the results of the audacious attacks.  THE MAN OF BRONZE meets a new quartet of allies -- and confronts the oddest opponents he's ever challenged..."  Truth to tell, Doc Savage is best read in small doses.  These books will last me several months.
  • "James Rollins" (James Czajkowski) and Rebecca Cantrell, Innocent Blood.  Vampire thriller, the second in the Order of the Sanguines series.  "In The Blood Gospel, brilliant archaeologist Erin Granger embarked on a mission to recover a miraculous artifact tied to Christ.  Her journey put her in the path of a diabolical enemy and introduced her to an ancient and deadly secret Vatican order known simply as the Sanguines.  Now, an attack outside Stanford university thrusts Erin back into the fold of the Sanguines.  As the threat of Armageddon looms, she must unite with the eternal spiritual order and a terrifying power to halt the pans of a ruthless and cunning man determined to see the world end -- a man known only as Iscariot."  This edition also contains a related bonus novella, "Blood Brothers."
  • "Nevil Shute" (Nevil Shute Norway, Slide Rule.  Autobiography, detailing the author's "second life" as an aviation engineer and designer "in  the exciting pioneer days of light."  Shute is the acclaimed author of On the Beach, In the Wet, An Old Captivity, No Highway, Trustee from the Tool Room, and A Town Like Alice.
  • Lolja Sigurdardottir, Cold as Hell.  Mystery, the first in the An Aurora Investigation series.   "Icelandic sisters Arora and Isafold live in different countries and aren't on speaking terms, but when their mother loses contact with Isafold, Arora re4lunctantly returns to Iceland to find her sister.  But she soon realizes that her sister isn't avoiding her...she has disappeared without trace.  As she confronts Isafold's abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend Bjorn, and begins to probe her sister's reclusive neighbours -- who have their own reasons for staying out of sight -- Arora is drawn into an even darker web of intrigue and manipulation.  Baffled by conflicting details of her sister's life and blinded by the shiveringly bright midnight sun of the Icelandic summer, Arora enlists the help of police officer Daniel, as she tries to track her sister's movements and begins to tail Bjorn -- but she isn't the only one watching."  The author should not be confused with the other best-selling Icelandic crime writer, Yrsa Sigurdardottir.
  • "Martin Cruz Smith" (born Martin William Smith), Tatiana.  An Arkady Renko mystery, the eighth in the series.  Renko "has survived the cultural journey from the Soviet Union to the New ?Russia, only to find the nation as obsessed with secrecy and brutality as was the old Communist dictatorship.  When the reporter Tatiana Petrovna falls to he death from a sixth-floor window in Moscow, Renko is transfixed by tapes he discovers  of Tatiana's voice describing horrid crimes in words that are at odds with the Kremlin's official versions.  A mysterious notebook written in the personal code of a dead translator sends Renkp on a surreal chase to unravel a conspiracy as complex and dangerous as modern Russia itself -- and save himself in the process."
  • Thomas Burnett Swann, Moondust and The Not-World.  Fantasies.  Moondust "take as its time the city of Jericho, under the siege, yet it is not a Biblical story nor a tale of warfare, but rather a marvelous science fiction novel about a non-human intelligent species hidden from the world's eye, about their human and humanoid subjects, and filled with the wizardry of a science older than humanity."  In Not-World, "one would not have expected to find the last hideout of the ancient weird folk or legend and prehistory in an English forest of two centuries ago...and yet in that land which has always been haunted by the lore of little folk there had to be some truth behind such universal belief.  [...] Here is the story of Dylan and Dierdre, of Thomas Chatterton...and of the balloon flight that brought them into an older and more enchanted land to mingle their fates with those of Arachne and the Night Mares in whom a rising industrial materialism could no longer believe."  Always lyrical, Swann's fiction is a rare treat.
  • Donald E. Westlake, The Road to Ruin.  A Dortmunder novel.  "Westlake's infamous gang of wayward thieves, led by the unlucky and unflagging John Dortmunder, has hatched another perfect plan.  They're going to dress up as a personal secretary, a driver, and a butler (Dortmunder -- learning on the job).  And they're going to work for one of the most crooked men in the world -- for the sole purpose of robbing him blind...'Pariah!'  Monroe Hall wishes that people would stop using that word.  So what if he was born rich but scammed his own conglomerate for more than the boys from Enron and Worldcom combined?  And so what if he takes a little pleasure in reporting people to the IRS, or stealing quarters from visitors to his home?  Does that mean he has to be a 'pariah'?  The truth is, poor old Monroe can't find anyone to staff his sprawling, antique-laden Pennsylvania estate.  Until, by a stroke of utterly undeserved luck, a wonderful group of servants arrives at Monroe's door with spotless credentials and a remarkable willingness to please.  For Dortmunder's crew, going to work for Monroe is like being kids let loose in a candy store.  When it comes time to start emptying the place of its treasure -- especially those vintage automobiles -- Dortmunder makes a sobering discovery:  There are some people out there who just hate Monroe Hall.  Now the pariah has vanished and the police are at the door.  And, as everyone knows, whenever there's mischief in a mansion...the butler did it!"  Count me in as a big Dortmunder fan.
  • Cornell Woolrich, Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Crime thriller, first published as by "George Hopley."  "He was a strange and simple old man whose predictions always came true.  Jean Reid's father became obsessed with him -- until the final terrifying prophecy:  Reid's imminent death at the jaws of a a lion.  Now its a race against death and fear as a lion escapes from a local circus and Reid discovers the horror and madness of knowing the future..."  When Woolrich hits the mark, as he often did, no one could surpass him for tales of terror and desperation.

Memorial Day:  The last Monday in May.  A time to honor those who have died while in military service to the United States, including my namesake, Harold "Jerry" Speed, who was killed in the Pacific during World War II.  My parents never really talked much about their younger days, so I know little beyond Jerry Speed other than his name, yet because his name lives on in me, I cannot help but think that I owe him a great deal above and beyond his service.  There is no such thing as a good war, but there are some wars that are fought for good causes and the sacrifices made in those remain just as painful as when they were made.

Here's my go-to song for Memorial Day, for Veteran's Day, and for every time I reflect on sadness if wars anywhere throughout the world:

National Hamburger Day:  National Hamburger Day always falls on Memorial Day, but it also falls on May 28, July 28, and December 21.  My personal National Hamburger Day is any day that ends in a "y."  There are a lot of hamburger recipes on the internet and I have to ask why.  To cook a hamburger, you just throw some meat on a grill.  But there are always some people who want to fancy it up by adding this and adding that -- and that's fine, but in the end, it's meat thrown on the grill...

Here's a classic juicy hamburger recipe from tastesbetterfromscratch,com which tells you how to make seasoning for your hamburger (or, you can just throw some meat on a grill):

And here's some music for National Hamburger Day:

National Grape Popsicle Day:  Yep, it's also that day.  I'm not going to give you a recipe for grape popsicles, so how about some Moby Grape instead?

And, "Popsicles and Icicles" by the Murmaids:

Old Time Player Piano Day:  Another holiday worth celebrating today.

"Mr. Sandman":

"Yes We Have No Bananas":

"Ain't She Sweet":

"Pineapple Rag":

"Oh You Beautiful Doll":

National Cellophane Tape Day:  I'm not sure how to celebrate this one.  Today is National Cellophane Tape Day because it was first patented om My 27, 1930.  The invention of cellophane tape is credited to Richard Curley Drew (1899-1980), who had invented masking tape five years earlier while working for 3-M.  Supposedly, the first masking tape (which had adhesive only on the edges) would often fall off a car during painting, prompting one frustrated auto painter to tell Drew to "take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it."  [In this case, "Scotch" meant "cheap" -- stereotypes abounded in 1925.]  The improvement was made to the masking tape and the nickname stuck.  Cellophane tape was originally named Scotch Cellulose Tape, then Scotch Transparent Tape.  Scotch tape was used during the Depression to repair items, rather than throw them out.  The wide-spread use of Scotch tape led to 3M's diversification into other marketplaces and helped the company survive the Depression.

Here's Ben Vereen singing "Mr. Cellophane" on The Muppet Show:

BTW, as an inclusionist at heart, I feel a grave injustice has been done because Wednesday is National Paper Clip Day and I really feel that it and National Cellophane Tape Day should be celebrated together.  Why they are not is a mystery to me.  Feel free to investigate the cause of this travesty if you are so willing.   I'll expect your reports next week.  That is all.  fismissed..

Two More Holidays:  Today is also Nothing to Fear Day.  Well, except for spiders.  (Hate 'em!  Hate 'em!  Hate 'em!)

And, Prayer for Peace Day -- which really should be every day.

Sink the Bismark!:  They did that on this day in 1941.  

Here's the 1960 film, starring Kenneth More and Dana Wynter,   Directed by Lewis Gilbert.  Screenplay by Edmund H. North, from the book by C. S. Forester.

And the song by Johnny Horton:

Some Notable Birthdays:
  •  Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894).  Women's rights advocate and the first woman to own, operate, and edit a newspaper for women, The Lily, 1849-1853.  She helped popularize the garment for which her name is attached -- the bloomer.
  • Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910).  Author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and of the original 1870 pacifist Mother's Day Proclamation.  Abolitionist and social advocate, especially for women's suffrage.
  • Jay Gould (1836-1892).  Railroad magnate and robber baron.  Involved in the Tammany Hall scandal with Boss Tweed, and partial responsible for the Black Friday of September 24, 1869, which led to months of economic turmoil in which many farmers were ruined and some of Wall streets most venerable financial institutions going bankrupt.
  • "Wild Bill" Hickok (1837-1876).  Western folk hero, gunslinger, lawman, outlaw, gambler, and mythomaniac.  Originally nicknamed "Duck Bill" because of a cleft palate (or, perhaps, protruding lips; sources differ), later hidden by his mustache, he left his Illinois home ate age 18 (some sources say 15) as a fugitive from justice (evidently he murdered someone -- or it was an accident; sources differ).  Shot while holding a poker hand of aces and eights, later to be called the "dead man's hand."
  • Louis-Ferdinand Celine (1893-1961).  French author of Journey to the End of Night.  the author's pessimistic view of the human condition, along with his anti-semitic leanings and his ambiguous support of fascism have made him a controversial figure in French literature.
  • Dashiell Hammett ((1894-1962).  He gave us Sam Spade, the Continenetal Op, and Nick and Nora Charles, and took murder out of the drawing rooms and back on the streets where it belonged.  A talented and tragic figure.
  • Rachel Carson (1907-1964).  The Sea Around Us and Silent Spring.  Need I say more?
  • Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978). The "Happy Warrior."  U.S. Senator, Vice President, and presidential candidate who lost to Nixon.  Lead author of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  He introduced the first initiative to create the Peace Corps.  Supporter of liberal causes.  From Wikipedia:  "Humphrey spent his last weeks calling old political acquaintances..  One call was to Richard Nixon, inviting him to his funeral, which Nixon accepted.  Staying in the hospital, Humphrey went from room  to room, cheering up other patients by telling them jokes and listening to them."  Eulogizing his old friend, then-Vice President Walter Mondale said, "He taught us how to live, and finally he taught us how to die."
  • Vincent Price (1911-1993).  Actor, art collector, gourmet cook.  A man whose many talents were overshadowed by his contribution to the horror movie genre.
  • John Cheever (1912-1982).  Novelist and short story author.  "The Chekhov of the Suburbs." 
  • Herman Wouk (1915-2019).  Author of The Caine Mutiny, Marjorie Morningstar, and Youngblood Hawke.  His Winds of War really ticked off my wife because he wouldn't get Natalie out of Europe...  ("For God's sake, get Natalie out of Europe, already!" was a sentence I heard quite often back then.)
  • Christopher Lee (1922-2015).  Another great actor often categorized for his work in horror films.  Count Dooku in the Star Wars franchise, Bond villain Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun, Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, death in the Terry Patchett Discworld films,  He was also a singer and recorded opera and musical pieces (including heavy metal)
  • Henry Kissinger (1923-2023).  Controversial Secretary of State and political scientist.  Considered by some an effective secretary of state and by others a war criminal because of his support for authoritarian governments, Kissinger, rightly or wrongly, was an advocate of realpolitik, which concerned shifting pragmatisms and resulted in the death of civilians.
  • Sumner Redstone (1923-2020).  Billionaire and media magnate, head of Viacom.  I never knew him, but I did work briefly for his brother Ed.
  • Tony Hillerman (1925-2008).  American mystery author, whose depictions of Navajo and Zuni Indians were both sincere and respectful.
  • John Barth (1930-2024).  Author of The Sotweed Factor, Giles Goatboy, Chimera, and Lost in the Funhouse.  Literate, playful, and imbued with a sense of fantasy.
  • Harlan Ellison (1934-2018).  Literary enfant terrible throughout his entire life.  A cultural and counter-cultural hero who racked up more honors than any single person really needs.  His The Last Dangerous Visions is scheduled to be published this September.  Finally.
  • Ramsay Lewis (1935-2022).
  • Louis Gossett, Jr. (1936-2024).  He won an Oscar, a Black Reel Award, a Daytime Emmy, two Golden Globes, a Moscow Indie Film Festival Award, two NAACP Image Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Satellite Award, and was nominated for 20 other major awards.  
  • Todd Willis (born 1965).  actor.  "Whatcha talkin' 'bout, Willis?"
  • Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (1971-2002).  Rapper, sadly killed in a car accident in Honduras while volunteering at a children's development center. 
  • Marjorie Taylor Greene (born 1975).  Self-serving politician, muddled thinker, whack job, and what's wrong with America.
  • Jamie Oliver (born 1975).  Celebrity chef.  In 2005, he initiated the "Feed Me Better" campaign to educate British schoolchildren towards eating healthy foods and cutting out junk foods.  Oliver has not been without controversy:  in 2005, he angered animal rights advocates by slaughtering a lamb on his television show without first stunning it.
  • Lily-Rose Depp (born 1999).  Actress, the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis.  she's a Gemini.

Florida Man:  From the archives, mainly from 2023:
  • Florida Man Juan Pablo Ramps-Nieto, 41, was arrested for slashing 27 tires on 17 different vehicles.  His very Florida excuse was that he was being "sabotaged" and that he was "exposed to secret government information."  This was revealed after he had once again been advised of his Miranda rights.  He shouted in the courtroom that he was dealing with "secret government information" and that he was told to "act like a security guard at an airport...I'm being sabotaged too.  I'm being demonized.  I warned the CIA that.   That if I'm not that if I continue being demonized  more like a government building on fire that's unoccupied."  All of which makes sense to me, because Florida.
  • Key West Florida Man Kyle Mortimer, 20, celebrated Halloween dressed as a banana.  Then he decided to whip out his "little banana."  An officer caught him in the act but Mortimer ran way, slipping through the crowd.  The officer caught up with the offender, who continued to try to escape until the officer "utilized a leg sweep" and brought the banana down.  Mortimer continued to resist handcuffing by lacing his fingers together.  But in the game of Florida law and order, the police will win over a banana every time.
  • Who knew we actually needed a law for this?  Florida Man Robert Wilcox, 45, was arrested for defecating on a dead possum on a street in Clearwater during rush hour traffic.  Although police actually witnessed the act, Wilcox denied having done it, accusing the police officer of "not seeing straight."  An investigation proved the officer's vision was correct and Wilcox was arrested and fined $150.
  • 41-year-old homeless Florida Man Michael Ray Few did the totally unexpected"  he broke INTO jail by crawling through an X-ray machine.  He also knocked over a tale and damaged computer monitors before running into a nearby lobby; he was then subdued by officers, but not before being tased.  an explanation of Few's actions may be found in the meth pipe found in his pocket.
  • Florida Man James Gregory Cunningham of Niceville (just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I live) decided to drink two liters of vodka, then burned down his house while baking cookies on a George Forman grill.  Did I mention that he was naked?  Of course he was.
  • Before there was Kristi Noem, there was Escambia County (yeah, just one county over from where I live) Florida Man Jerry Allen Bradford, 37, decided to shoot his seven three-month-old shepherd-mix puppies because he could find them a home.  One cagey cur, however, got the drop on him, got his paw caught in the trigger, and shot Bradford in the wrist.  Deputies found three of the puppies in a shallow grave behind Bradford's home.  Bradford was taken to the hospital and the four remaining puppies -- including the "trigger dog" -- were taken to an animal shelter.

Good News:
  • Cheaper and safer, "green" batteries with iron may soon be used to power EVs and phones
  • UMass Dartmouth commencement speaker fives graduates $100 each, asking them to give away half of it
  • Pennsylvania school superintendent fulfills marine's dying wish by granting him a high school diploma
  • 90-year-old man finally makes it into space
  • Flabby feline loses weight by swimming
  • Grandson surprises grandpa by restoring 1954 pickup truck that sat idle and broken for 40 years
  • Viva la France!  They put a baguette on a scratch-and-sniff postage stamp

Today's Poem:
Ode for Memorial Day

Done are the toils and the wearisome marches,
Done is the summons of bugle and drum.
Softly and sweetly the sky overarches,
Shelt'ring a land where Rebellion is dumb.
Dark were the day's of the country's derangement,
Sad were the hours when the conflict was on,
But through the gloom of fraternal estrangement
God sent his light, and we welcome the dawn.
O'er the expanse of our mighty dominions,
Sweeping away to the outermost parts,
Peace, the wild-flying, on untiring pinions,
Bringeth her message of joy to our hearts.

Ah, but this joy which our minds cannot measure,
What did it cost for our fathers to gain?
Bought at the price of our heart's dearest treasure,
Born out of travail and sorrow and pain;
Born in the battle where fleet Death was flying,
Slaying with sabre-stroke bloody and fell;
Born where the heroes and martyrs were dying,
Torn by the fury of bullet and shell.
Ah, but the day is past; silent the rattle,
And the confusion that followed the fight.
Peace to the heroes who died in the battle,
Martyrs to truth and the crowning of Right!

Out of the blood of a conflict fraternal,
Out of the dust and the dimness of death,
Burst into blossoms of glory eternal
Flowers that sweeten the world with their breath.
Flowers of charity, peace, and devotion
Bloom in the hearts that are empty of strife;
Love that is boundless and broad as the ocean
Leaps into beauty and fullness of life.
So, with the singing of paeans and chorals,
And with the flag flashing high in the sun,
Place on the graves of our heroes the laurels
Which their unfaltering valor has won!

-- Paul Laurence Dunbar
from The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1913

Thursday, May 23, 2024


 The Black Spot by "Kenneth Robeson" )Laurence -- sometimes given as "Lawrence" -- Donovan, this time)  (first appeared in Doc Savage Magazine, July 1936 [issue #41]; reprinted as Doc Savage Adventure #76 by Bantam Books, 1974; reprinted with The Midas Man by "Kenneth Robeson" [Lester Dent], 2005; probably also included in one of the countless Girasol Collectable Doc Savage reprints; also available online at Project Gutenberg Australia, 2006)

Laurence Donovan was the first pinch-hitter for Lester Dent at Street and Smith's Doc Savage Magazine.  Donovan penned nine Doc Savage adventures (The Black Spot) before moving on to create Captain John Fury for S and S's The Skipper (as "Wallace Brookner") and The Whisperer (as Clifford Goodrich).  He also ghosted the adventure of Pete Rice in Wild West Weekly (as "Austin Gridley"), as well as stories for most of Street and Smith's fiction magazines under such pseudonyms as "Walter Wayne," "Patrick Everett," and "Patrick Lawrence."  Donovan's career at Street and Smith can to an abrupt end after a "liquor-induced falling out with [editor] John Nanovic in 1938."  He then moved to Thrilling Publications where he ghosted the adventures of The Phantom Detective (under house name "Robert Wallace"), eventually ghosting most of Thrilling's heroes, including G-Man Dan Fowler (The Masked Detective) and D.A. Tony Quinn (The Black Bat).  

Donovan's life is partly shrouded in mystery.  He claimed to be born in County Cork, Ireland, but records do not support this.  He preferred the spelling of his name "Laurence," although he may have been born "Lawrence."  He died "in seclusion" in 1948 at age 62.  Pulpster Walter B. Gibson remembered that Donovan had changed his last name from something like "Donegal."  He married in 1924 and fathered two sons; but indications are that he had been married previously and had fathered a third son.  He deserted his wife in the late 1930s.  As hinted in the above paragraph, he may have had a problem with alcohol.  He died "in seclusion" in 1948 at age 62,

Donovan put Doc Savage through his paces in The Blind Spot.  Doc is captured, beaten, wounded, set on fire, blown up, and nearly dies a number of times in the book.  I don't remember Lester Dent treating the hero so shabbily.

We open at a large party on the Westchester estate of multi-millionaire Andrew Podrey Vandersleeve.  (Multi-millionaires often use their full names, that way you know they are rich: another example is Cedric Cecil Spade.)  The party has a gangster theme, with guests posing as criminals and their molls.  Actual gangster "Jingles" Sporado has his men invade the party.  They gun down a wealthy playboy (known as "Happy Joe") and two policemen, and easily get away.  This excitement detracts from another murder:  unknown to the partygoers, Andrew Podrey Vandersleeve has been murdered in his locked study.  The locked room was the least puzzling part of the crime.  The Victim had a black circle on his chest; the circle did not penetrate the skin but, below the skin, a circular tube of "something" penetrated into his heart, turning all the blood in his body to a thick, black mass of goo.  Whatever had killed the millionaire was a weapon that made all others obsolete.

It happened that a guest at the party was Doc's cousin, Pat Savage.

Pat alerts Doc, who soon realizes that he is up against a fiendish killer who strikes without warning.  Doc is afraid that his associates -- Monk, Ham, Renny, Long Tome, and Johnny -- may be targeted and orders them, and Pat,  to stand down.  (Doc is spot-on with this hunch; we later learn that the black spot killer had decreed that Doc's five associated be killed before Doc Savage is killed -- the logic here is specious, but what the hell.)  More people die from the black spot and Doc is too late to save them.

We learn  that Jingles Sporado has teamed with the black spot killer.  The killer has targeted a number of people and Jingles and his men have strict orders to steal only a relatively small amount -- $131,549.20 -- from each victim; once all the victims of the black spot killer are eliminated (including Doc and his gang), the black spot killer will withdraw, giving Jingles his deadly weapon, which will allow Jingles to start a crime spree beyond imagining.

Among the suspects are Arthur Jother, Vandersleeve's secretary, who may or may not be dead; millionaire James Mathis, one of the intended victims, "Red" Mahoney, an eager news videographer;  Ronald Doreman, a trusted employee of the Electro-Chemical Research Corporation; and "reformed" bootlegger Silky Joe Scarnola.

Complicating things are a seemingly invisible man through whom bullets pass without effect.

Truth to tell, this story is a muddled mess and perhaps not worthy of the Doc Savage heritage.  But the pace is rapid-fire and the pulpish business of the tale is pretty inventive. leaving the reader pulled along (and hopefully, unaware) before he realizes just how bad the story is.  Have you ever watched a juggler and, after the performance was over, was not sure if all the balls that went up in the air actually came down?

And what about the suicide of a man years ago in a mansion now rumored to be haunted?

Tuesday, May 21, 2024


 "A Cabin in the Woods" by John Coyne  (from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July 1976; reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology #2,Spring/Summer 1978,  edited by Eleanor Sullivan [the hardcover edition was titled Alfred Hitchcock's Tale to Take Your Breath Away]; in Modern Masters of Horror, edited by Frank Coffey, 1981; in Alfred Hitchcock's Tales of Terror, edited by Eleanor Sullivan, 1986; in The Second Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction, edited by Edward Gorman, 1988); and in Coyne's collection A Game in the Sun and Other Stories, 2018)

John Coyne (b. 1934) burst on the horror scene with The Piercing in 1979, followed by seven more best-selling horror novels through 1990, including The Legacy and Hobgoblin (which was influenced by both Dungeons and Dragons and his father's stories of his native Ireland.  Although he was a "brand name" horror writer, much of Coyne's latter work  was influenced by his love of golf and his experiences in the Peace Corps.  He has published three novels and three non-fiction books about golf, and has edited at least six books about the Peace Corps.  Coyne served in the Peace Corps between 1962 and 1964, and currently edits the website PeaceCorps/  Coyne is also the author of three advice books on higher education.

 Coyne has not published many short stories, although a number of his stories have been reprinted in prestigious anthologies.  "A Cabin in the Woods" was Coyne's second published short story.

Michael is a best-selling author anxious to get away from the city.  He and his wife bought a five-acre lot in the mountains by a peaceful lake and have arranged to have their dream getaway home built.  Hiring a local architect to design the place, Michael and Barbara wanted the place to feel completely different from the city.  The green, unfinished lumber used and the paneling used in the house came from trees harvested in the nearby woods.  The foundation and the fireplace that covered one entire wall was from boulders the came from the area.  Michael had hired two local craftsmen and he and they spent the winter building a 40-foot dock to harbor his two boats; the pier was constructed from hand-sawn local timber.  The spacious deck faced east to take advantage of the morning light.  This was a place to relax, to get away from it all, a place to be proud of.

Construction done, the winter over, Michael is ready to enjoy his new spacious cabin.  He arrived early in the week, ostensibly to work on the final galley corrections for his latest book, in reality to enjoy the quiet and solitude before Barbara joined him on Friday and they opened the cabin to guests for the first time that weekend.  That morning while shaving, he notice a bit of mold on the raw wood on the bathroom wall.  It pulled off easily, and he threw in the trash.  A bit later, while putting away some of the stores her had bought for the weekend, there was the same gray mold on the shelf in one of the kitchen cabinets.  Again, it was easy to pull off.  Michael then thoroughly cleaned the cabinet and the bathroom wall with soap and water. and thought no more of it after he had made an extensive search of the cabin and found no further mold.

Michael cooked himself breakfast and went to the deck to eat it.  As the mist lifted, he saw that the new dock was covered with the same grayish mold.  The entire 40-foot deck.  He grabbed a shovel and cleared off the mold, then washed the deck with detergent.  Again, he searched the cabin for signs of further mold but found none.

He drove to the offices of his architect in town.  The architect was mystified about the mold.  (And perhaps he didn't believe Michael.)  The architect put him in touch with a professor of mycology at the local college, who was a bit baffled.  From Michael's description, the professor was able to identify the mold, but averred that it should not be growing this fast.

Arriving back at the cabin, there was mold growing on the boulders that made up the foundation of the cabin.  Again Michael removed them.  Now there was mold growing elsewhere in the cabin; it took Michael three hours to remove all the mold and to sanitize the cabin.  By then it was after three and Michael, tired from all the work, Michael fell asleep, waking just before sundown.  The mold had taken over much of the building, covering the floors with a soft, spongy, gray mass.  It covered the walls and spread to the ceiling.  It began to take over the furniture, the bathroom sink, and the toilet.  Opening the door to the cellar, Michael found the entire cellar area be full of  mold.  The mold grew so heavy oin the deck that the deck supports collapsed.  The mold again appeared on the dock.  Michael could see the mold growing and moving from beneath door toward him.

Michael doused the entire cabin with gasoline and set it on fire, then had to shovel his way to the door to escape.  When he got to his car the mold had inched closely to the vehicle and began to touch his tires.  

As his dream escape home was consumed by fire, Michael drove blindly away from the horror.

Back in the city, he tried to explain to Barbara what had happened.  shaken and fearful for his sanity, she held him close.

But the nightmare was not over...

A strange but effective tale, one that was not the ordinary fare for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  "A Cabin in the Woods" palpably moves to an effective and terrifying conclusion.  It has the flaws of an early work, but Coyne's sure hand with the narration easoly overcomes them.   Neither the reader nor the protagonist has any explanation for the mold or why its consumptive growth happened, nor do we need to know.  Explanations here are superfluous.

It would be more than two years before Coyne published his next work of fiction, the best-selling first novel The Piercing.

Thursday, May 16, 2024


 It's difficult for me to believe how lucky we were, but 50 years ago today with the perfect baby girl.  It was somewhat strange because two years earlier, with the birth of her older sister, we were also blesses with the perfect baby girl.  How we could have ended up with two superlatives is beyond me.  Go figure.

Shortly after Christina was born, Kitty was wheeled into her hospital room by a nurse's aide, with me trailing behind,  As we waited for Christina to be cleaned up and gussied up and brought to us, the nurse's aide asked if there was anything we needed.  Of course there was.  "I'm hungry," Kitty said.  The young girl scurried off to find us something to eat and when she came back a few minutes later, with two bowls of red Jell-o and covered with a congealed white topping (there wasn't much available that time of day), she found Kitty and me waltzing around the hospital room to music that was only in our heads. Soon, they brought Christina in.  From that moment on, our family was complete.

I have lauded Christina's praises may time before, waxing enthusiastically about her kindness, her intelligence, her empathy, her common sense, her willingness to sacrifice for others, her delightful sense of humor, her ability to face any obstacle and overcome it, her generosity, her dedication, her absolute humanity, her appreciation of nature and of animal and of children, and -- yes -- her beauty.  We have been very lucky

From that very first day 50 years ago, she has given us a sense of wonder and joy that continued through Kitty's last and still continues for me.  Christina has often commented on how our support and encouragement has helped her so much through her life.  (Full disclosure, most of that was due to Kitty, whose talent was in finding the solution to any problem; me?  I just muddle through and try my best.)  What Christina has yet to understand that it was she who has helped us, it was she who has inspired us, and it was she, who, with her sister and our grandchildren, has given us meaning.

To show what a magnificent person our youngest daughter it, she has even (finally) forgiven me for sending Callandra Jan, her Cabbage Patch doll, on a solo trip down a store escalator some forty years ago.  You just have to love someone as gracious and (almost) non-judgmental as that.  And I do love her.

Happy birthday, my love.!

Tuesday, May 14, 2024


 "The Massacre of the Innocents" by Maurice Maeterlinck  (first "appeared in 1886 in a small magazine" in Belgium; this version translated by Barrett H. Clark for the anthology Great Short Stories of the World, edited by Barrett H. Clark & Maxim Lieber, 1925)

In their introduction to the section on Belgian literature in Great Short Stories of the World, the editors explain that it was not until 1880 that Belgium could truly claim a national literature of its own.  Prior to that, Belgian authors either joined French authors in Paris or "remained more or less isolated phenomena in their own country.  This changed with the founding of the magazine Le Jeune Belgique, followed by the works of such authors as Charles de Coster, Maurice Maeterlinck, Camille Lemonnier, and Emile Verhaeren.  Their stories , at least in this volume, were "little more than paintings in the manner of the earlier Flemish artists transferred to the medium of literature."  Modern Belgian literature tends to feature "a melancholy note that is attributable doubtless to the tragic history of that small country, a mysterious and mystic insistence upon the darker aspects of life; above all, a sense of the picturesque decay of a nation once immensely prosperous and powerful."

Such is the case of "The Massacre of the Innocents," which can easily be discerned from the story's title.

The tale opens on December 26th, when a small shepherd boy rushes into the town of Nazareth with alarming news.  A small group of Spanish soldiers had appeared at the family farm.  The took the boy's mother, stripped her naked, and hung her from a tree, while also taking the boy's nine sisters and tied the to another tree.  Then they robbed the place of valuables, stole the sheep and cattle of the boy's uncle, and set the home on fire.  The soldiers were slowly making their way with the stolen livestock to the wood.  The townspeople armed themselves with forks and spades and made their way to the wood, planning to attack the soldiers if they were not too numerous.

When the soldiers entered the wood, the townspeople rushed them and, after a brief battle, killed all the soldiers and their horses.  They stripped the soldiers of their booty and returned the stolen livestock.

A week passed quietly, then a large group of Spanish soldiers appeared and headquartered themselves in a large orchard.  The soldiers were led by an white-bearded officer who told his men to go through the village and take every child two years old or younger.  as he intended to massacre them, "in accordance with what is written in the Gospel of St. Matthew."  At first they found only one young child, who was immediately beheaded.  As the soldiers went through the village, they found more and more children hidden; these children were then dragged to the orchard and slaughtered.  Some of them were beheaded, others had their limbs chopped off.  The massacre soon spread to parents and villagers who resisted.  Bodies were everywhere.  Few children escaped.  Villagers who did not resist were spared.

Finally, the white-bearded officer tired.  All the younger children were dead.  "The weary soldiers wiped their swords on the grass and ate their supper among the pear-trees, then mounting in pairs, they rode out of Nazareth across the bridge over which they had come."

The villagers carried off their dead in silence.  Then they began to wash the blood off benches, tables, chairs, cradles, and the like,  Some went to retrieve strayed beasts. Others silently set to work Mending their broken windows and damaged roofs."

:As the moon quietly rose through the tranquil sky, a sleepy silence fell upon the village, where at last the shadow of no living thing stirred."

A horrifying tale of senseless violence that had become merely a way of life for a down-trodden people.  What happened, how it happened, and what the consequences were resonates far deeper than the mere telling of the story.  The country's "tragic history," the "darker aspects of life," and the "decay of a nation" are all on display here in this powerful story.  And, of course, the meaning of this story is that there can be no meaning.

"The Massacre of the Innocents" was the very first story that Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949) published.  The author, who was awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in Literature, is best remembered as a playwright, and the author of L'Oiseau bleu (The Blue Bird), 1908, which popularized the phrase "the blue bird of happiness;" the story was eventually filmed as a popular movie starring Shirley Temple.  The Nobel Prize committee cited Maeterlinck's wealth of imagination and poetic fancy.  Maeterlinck's main themes in his plays were death and the meaning of life.  From the 1880s Maeterlinck was one of the leading authors forming a Belgian literature, and was an important force in the Symbolist movement.

One interesting story.  When Maeterlinck was visiting the United States, Samuel Goldwin asked him to submit some scenarios for filming.  Maeterlinck submitted two, but none were ever used.  Reportedly, when Goldwyn read the scenario based on Maeterlinck's famous play The Life of the Bee, Goldwyn read a few pages, then burst out of his office, and shouted, "My God!  The hero is a bee!"

Monday, May 13, 2024


Openers:  "Mary Vetrell," he said, his dark, malevolent eyes flashing, "I want your answer."  The girl looked into his crafty face.  It had power, and one glance was enough to know he would stop at nothing to gain his ends.  His figure was dark and sinister against the linen fold paneling.  He was taller than Mary -- a good six feet, which seemed even more due the long black robes he wore.  He was all dark -- hair, eyes, under thick black brows which met over his nose.  His skin was sallow, and craft had etched deep lines beside his narrow, cruel mouth.  He was handsome in an evil way, and, without the churchly robes and tonsure, might have been a fine figure of a man.  The only touch of color about him flashed from the jewels on the huge cross he wore suspended from a gold chain about his neck and the ring on his finger, which was a ruby heavily mounted in gold.

Mary Vetrell was afraid of him.  Fear flowed through her like angry waters, but she held her head up high and let no trace of it show.

If the man was dark Mary was light itself.  She was tall and slim with all the grace of a young willow tree.  Her eyes, brown with little golden flecks in them, under straight brows with heavy lashes, looked calmly at the man who threatened her.  She had a mobile face, exceedingly lovely, her hair was a deep bronze -- what little could be seen under her coif, which was of the type Holbein painted.  She wore a rose-colored gown over an underdress of heavy green satin.  The stiff skirts billowed away from her slender waist which was encircled by a gold girdle.  The low cut square neck of her dress was outlined in gold thread and the glint of emeralds shone from the embroidery, of which there were also touches on her sleeves.

-- "The White Lady" by Dorothy Quick (from Weird Tales, January 1949)

Abbott Tevla is trying to force Mary to wed his nephew, a union he desperately needs for both political and financial reasons.  But Mary is in love with her childhood playmate, John de Winton.  As Mary discovers, it is not wise to thwart the Abbott, who has influence with both the king, Henry VII, and his current bride, Anne Boleyn.  Little does Tevla realize that Mary has the silent support of the spectral White Lady... 

Dorothy Gertrude Quick (1896-1962) met Mark Twain in the summer of 1907 while sailing on the Minnetonka en route to America.  They formed a quick friendship, bonding over shuffleboard. and corresponded for the next three years until Twain's death.  The young girl was interested in writing and twain encouraged her.  In 1961, Quick published Enchantment:  A Little Girl's Friendship with Mark Twain, filmed in 1991 as Mark Twain and Me, with Jason Robards as Twain and Amy Stewart as Quick.

Quick may be best-known for her nearly two dozen science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories, most of which were published in Weird Tales.  She was an accomplished poet and published nine volumes of poetry between 1927 and 1960, as well as a planetary romance novel, Strange Awakening (1938), and a series of cozy mysteries featuring Diana Blakeley and her psychologist husband Allen.  Her "Patchwork Quilt" series of three stories in Unknown in the early 40s, about the eponymous quilt which allowed person to time-slip to various era; the demise of Unknown dur to World War II paper restrictions also brought an end to the promising series.

Many of Quick's short stories are available online in issues of their original magazine appearance.


  • Steve Alten, The Loch.  Cryptid-enthused thriller.  "Loch Ness holds secrets, ancient and deadly.  Does a monster inhabit its depths, or is it just a myth?  Why, after thousands of reported sightings and dozens of expeditions, is there still no hard evidence?  Marine biologist Zachary Wallace knows, but the shock of his near-drowning as a child on Loch Ness has buried all memories of the incident.  Now, a near-death experience suffered while on expedition in the Sargasso Sea has caused these long-forgotten memories to resurface.  Haunted by vivid night terrors, stricken by a sudden fear of water, Zach finds that he can no longer function as a scientist.  Unable to cope, his career all but over, he stumbles down a path of self-destruction...until he receives contact from his estranged father...a man he has not seen since his parents divorced and he left Scotland as a boy.  Angus Wallace, a wily Highlander who never worked an honest day in his life, is on trial for murdering his business partner.  Only Zachary can prove his innocence -- if he is innocent, but to do so means confronting the nightmare that nearly killed him seventeen years earlier."
  • "Victor Appleton II" (house pseudonym, used by Jim Lawrence this time), Tom Swift and His Electronic Retroscope.  A Tom Swift Jr. adventure, the 14th in that series.  "Enraged Jaguars, violent winds of hurricane force, and a mysterious 'giant' who roams the jungle around the Mayan village in Yucatan, where Tom is encamped, are only a few of the perils that the young inventor encounters during his thrilling expedition.  But even more feared by the young inventor is an unknown saboteur, intent of destroying Tom's two latest inventions -- the electronic retroscope camera and his 'parachute' plane, designed for landing in small areas.  Undaunted by the hazards that surround him and assisted by the friendly natives, Tom perseveres in his objectives.  He tests his paraplane for landing maneuverability in densely grown jungle areas, and uses his retroscope (magic to the natives)  to restore -- photographically -- ancient carvings and writing on old Mayan ruins.    Tom is astounded when he discovers that some of the carved symbols are similar to the mathematical symbols used by his mysterious friends in outer space to communicate with him."  I've read and enjoyed the original Tom Swift novels despite their racism and jingoism, but I've never been able to get into the Tom Swift Jr. books. I thought I might give them one more try.
  • Kelley Armstrong, Tales of the Underworld.  Urban fantasy collection with eight stories from her Underworld series.  "Some of Armstrong's most tantalizing lead characters appear alongside he unforgettable supporting players, who step out of the shadows and into the ight.  Have you ever wondered how lone wolf Clayton Danvers finally got bitten by the last thing he ever expected:  love?  Or how the hot-blooded  bad-girl witch Eve Levine managed to ensnare the cold ruthless corporate sorcerer Kristof Nast in one of the Otherworld's most unlikely pairings?  Would you like to be fly on the wall at the wedding of Lucas Cortez and Paige Winterbourne as their eminently practical; plans are upended by their well-meaning friends?  Or tag along with Lucas and Paige as they investigate a gruesome crime that looks to be the work of a rogue vampire?"  No, actually, I haven't wondered any of those things because I have not read any of Armstrong's 15 Underworld novels or her six Underworld story collections, nor any of the spin-off novels or collections.  I do have some of them buried on Mount TBR though, and I'll be reading them real soon.  Sometime. 
  • Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel.  Non-fiction.  An updated and expanded edition of Block's 1979 book Writing the Novel:  From Plot to Print.  Block's advice on writing is always interesting, always welcome.
  • Suzette Haden Elgin, The Communipaths.  Science fiction, one half of an Ace Double.  "Gentle Thursday was not so gentle to Anne-Charlotte ir her baby.  Four Fedrobots came and took the baby away.  Later they charged Anne-Charlotte with high treason against humankind because the baby was needed as a Communipath.  Anne-Charlotte screamed foul and dreadful things, and her mind projected an obscene sticky blackness the tried to drown us.  She flew over the ground like a low-flying bird, and then teleported herself in fits, popping up all over the landscape.  We don't know what to do about Anne-Charlotte.  Patrick says she is insane and not responsible.  But what if her baby is insane too?  Now we won't know until the baby gets mad enough to rip apart the galaxy..."  Bound with Louis Trimble, The Noblest Experiment in the Galaxy.  "In the midst of his uneventful life, Zeno Zenobius awoke to find himself a gentried citizen of Wooten Dorset, England -- a most unusual little town.  A utopia of perfect, pleasant weather.  A cornucopia of jasmine, eucalyptus and banana trees. He gave little thought to the mazing anachronisms amid the Victorian elegance:  hovercrafts, electric lights, typewriters, and Zeno's very own computer.  But the a nagging worry just below the depths of his conscious finally burst out like an infected boil, and Zeno discovered there were two of him:  Zeno Past and Zeno Present, Zeno I and Zeno II.  And the purpose of Zeno I was to find out what Zeno IO was doing in Wooten Dorset..."
  • Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg, editors, Once Upon a Crime.  Twenty-four original crime stories reimagining fairy tales.  Authors include Bill Crider, William L. DeAndrea, Edward D. Hoch, John Lutz, Simon Brett, Doug Allyn, Sharyn McCrumb, and Ed Gorman.  Sounds like fun.
  • Sue Grafton, N Is for Noose and O Is for Outlaw.  Omnibus of two Kinsey Millhone novels.  At one time I read (and enjoyed) each of Grafton alphabetical novels as they came out.  For some reason I stopped at M and I really don't now why.  It's time to pick up where I left off.  I've met that author several times and found her to be a gracious and kind woman; she was truly thrilled when I asked her to sign one of her father's mystery novels.  I am sorry she never got to complete the alphabet.
  • "David Grinnell" (Donald A. Wollheim) & Lin Carter, Destination:  Saturn.  An Ajax Calkins science fiction novel, one-half of an Ace Double.  "In his own way, Ajax Calkins was a modest man.  Modestly wealthy -- he was just a multi-billionaire.  Modestly ambitious -- he only wanted a world of his own.  Modestly cooperative -- he'd let the rest of the universe alone if they would let him alone.  and he did have a world of his own, too.  the strange planetoid Ajaxia with its load of pre-asteroidal science was all his -- and even Earth recognized that, provided they could some to an agreement.  But it was the sneaky Saturnians that were upsetting his applecart.  Rather than make a deal, they fabricated their own Ajax Calkins, set him up, and walked off with Ajaxia.  It was the sort of thing sure to make Ajax lose his modesty -- and set off after his kidnapped world single-handed -- with the rest of the Earth-Mars fleet too many millions of miles in the rear!"  Bound with Philip E. High, Invader on My Back.  "What are you, stranger from a century to come?  Are you a Delink:  Tough, warped, always anti-social, impossible to trust?; Are you a Scuttler:  A seemingly nice guy who dares not go out in the daylight, who scuttles along in shadow and fears to look up?;  Are you a Stinker:  The kind of person everybody else want to kill on sight, someone they've got to stamp out in fury real fast?; Are you a Norm?:  A guy who just wants to get along in the world, and never will with all those others around?;  Or are you one of the terrible new ones -- a Geek:  Who thinks the world is his oyster and that everyone else has got to be crushed ...and maybe has the talent to do it?  Because whatever you are, you better find out why and fast -- or, stranger from the future, there isn't going to be any future for you or for us, your ancestors, either!"
  • Stuart Kaminsky, The Rockford Files:  Devil on My Doorstep.  Television tie-in novel, the second of two Rockford novels by Kaminsky.  This one "has Jim Rockford in one hell of a mess -- the credit card companies are after his stuff, his buddy Angel has cooked up another scheme that is a sure thing (sure to get them both killed), and he's way behind on everything.  When a beautiful young girl shows up at his door claiming to be the daughter of an old flame, he's dubious.  When she claims that she's his daughter, all the bells go off.  She's on the run, scared, and tells Jim that she thinks someone has killed her mother...and that that someone is her stepfather.  Whatever the outcome, Jim will do what it takes to find the truth, no matter how painful it may be.  And he'll even try not to get killed in the process."  It been more than twenty years since I've read Kaminsky and I've never read either his Rockford or his CSI tie-ins.  It might be time to rectify that.
  • Laurie King.  The Moor.  A Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes mystery.  "In the eerie wasteland of Dartmoor, Sherlock Holmes summons his devoted wife and partner, Mary Russell, from her studies at Oxford to aid in the investigation of a death and some disturbing phenomena of a decidedly supernatural origin,  Through the mists of the moor there have been sightings of a spectral coach made of bones carrying a woman long-ago accused of murdering her husband -- and of a hound with a single glowing eye.  Returning to the scene of one of his most celebrated cases, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes and Russell investigate a mystery darker and more unforgiving than the moors themselves."
  • James Patterson & Brendan DuBois, The Summer House.  Thriller. "Is there anybody who doesn't like the idea of getting away from it all?  But seclusion can have its dark side.  Take the Summer House.  Once a luxurious getaway on a rustic lake in small-town Georgia, then a dilapidated crash pad, and now the grisly scene of a nightmare mass murder.  Eyewitnesses point of four Army Rangers -- known as the Ninja Squad -- recently returned from Afghanistan.  To ensure that justice is done, the Army sends Major Jeremiah Cook, a war veteran and former NYPD cop, to investigate.  But Cook and his elite team are stonewalled at every turn.  Local law enforcement resists the intrusion, and forces are rallying to make certain that damning secrets die alongside the victims.  With his own people in the crosshairs, Cook takes a desperate gamble to find answers -- even if it means returning to a hell of his own worst nightmares..."  Bought because of DuBois, who has never been less than readable.
  • Stefan Petrucha, Ripper. Thriller.   "There is a killer loose in New York City, and Carver Young is the only one who sees the startling connection between the recent string of murders and the most famous serial killer in history:  Jack the Ripper.  Time is winding down until the killer claims another victim; but Carver soon sees that, to the Ripper, this all a game that he may be destined to lose."
  • Robert Thorogood, The Marlow Murder Club.  Mystery, the first in a series.  "To solve an impossible murder, you need an impossible hero...Judith Potts is seventy-seven years old and blissfully happy.  She lives on her on in a faded mansion just outside Marlow, there's no man in her life to tell her what to do or how much whisky to drink, and to keep herself busy, set sets crosswords for national newspapers.  One evening while out swimming in the Thames, Judith witnesses a brutal murder.  the local police don't believe her story, so she decides to investigate for herself and is soon joined in he quest by Suzie, a salt-of-the-earth dog walker, and Becks, the prim and proper wife of the local vicar.  Together, they are the Marlow Murder Club.  When another body turns up, they realize they have a real-life serial killer on their hands.  And the puzzle they set out to solve has become a trap from which they might never escape."   Thorogood is best -known for creating Death in Paradise (I'm anxiously awaiting the 14th season, now being filmed).  The first season of The Marlow Murder Club premiered in the UK this past March.
  • Richard Wheeler, Richard Lamb. Western.  "Richard Lamb was a peace-loving man hoping to live out the rest of his days with his Indian wife and their large extended family, but the Partridge brothers had other plans -- deadly plans to advance their careers.  All they needed was a little Indian resistance."  Few people wrote of the historical west better than Wheeler; he should be on everyone's reading list.

Roger Corman:  The "Pope of Pop Cinema" and the :"King of Cult" died this week at age 98.  Known for his low-budget independent films, Corman still managed to become a major force in cinema, helping to launch the careers of noted directors Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, and John Sayles, and the acting careers of Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Diane Lane, Robert Vaughan, George Hamilton, and William Shatner, and hired scripters such as Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Robert Towne, R. Wright Campbell, Ray Russell, and Howard Browne.  Corman gave us a slew of films inspired by Edgar Allan Poe titles (if not the plots), and he gave us Little Shop of Horrors.

He also gave us a gazillion forgettable but enjoyable films, such as 1961's Creature from the Haunted Sea, starring absolutely no9 one you have ever heard of:

Duane Eddy (1938-2024):  A lot of instrumentalist have had hit records, but Duane Eddy made the twang cool.


Forty Miles of Bad Road:

Peter Gunn:




Julian of Norwich:  Julian (c. 1343 - after 1416) was a British anchoress who was seriously ill and thought to be on her deathbed 651 years ago on this day in 1373, when she received a vision (or visions, accounts vary) of Jesus (or the Virgin Mary (again, accounts vary and there was no one there taking notes).  Tradition has it that she asked the vision why there was so much suffering in the world.  The answer was simply that all will be well again.  This is a message that I have had to hold onto at various times in my life, and it was the message of one of my favorite songs:

Ole Worm:   What a great name!  Put an accent over the e and you're celebrating the little critter sometimes found floating in a bottle of tequila.  Even without an accent, you might be referring to Ole Yeller's more unfortunate cousin -- the one with trichinosis.  But Ole Worm was a real person, a Dane who was born in 1588 and shuffled off this mortal coil some 66 years layer in 1654.  His name has often been Latinized to Olaus Wormius, and under that name he has been immortalized by H. P. Lovecraft as the fictional translator of the Necronomicon from Greek to Latin; Lovecraft's Olaus Wormius did the translation in 1228, some three centuries before the real-life Ole Worm lived -- Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn, indeed.

But who was the real-life Ole Worm, and why does he merit our attention (other than that today would be his 436th birthday, of course)?  Worm was a physician, natural historian, and antiquary who taught at the University of Copenhagen and was the personal physician to Denmark's King Christian IV  
When a bubonic plague raged through Copenhagen in 1654, he remained in the city to tend to the sick, an act that led to his own death from the plague.

Many of his scientific contributions were in the field of embryology.  The small bones that fill the gaps in cranial structures are named the Wormian bones in his honor.  In the field of natural history, Ole Worm was a bridge between science and superstition.  In 1638, he determined that unicorns did not exist and that purported unicorn horns actual came from narwals.  He was unsure about the supposed poisonous properties of the horns, however, and -- Kristi Noem take note -- ground up narwal horns and fed then to his pets to see if they become poisoned; I'm not sure whether this proved the poisonous properties of the "unicorn horn" or not, but the pets survived -- on second thought, Kristi Noem, don't bother.  Worm also proved that lemmings were rodents and not spontaneously generated by the air.  He was the first to show that the bird of paradise actually had feet -- there were a lot of strange ideas floating around before Worm came on the scene.  

Worm was a great collector of curiosities, many assembled from the new world.  He had taxidermed animals, fossils, and samples of many minerals, plants, animals, and man-made objects.  Worm had a pet auk and his drawing of the bird is the only one of a living auk in existence.  Engraving of his collection , along with musings (some pretty speculative) about them were posthumously published as the four-part Museum Wormianum.

Worm was also a great student of Danish runes.  Fasti Danici, or "Danish Chronology," 1626, examined Danish runic lore; Runir seu Danica literatura antiquissima, or "Runes, the Oldest Danish Literature," 
1636, transcribed runic texts; and Danicorum Monumentorum, or "Danish Monuments." 1643, was the first written study of runestones, and depicted many runestones and inscriptions that are now lost.  At least once Worm saw more than was really there -- he "read" a word inscribed on one rune that turned out to be just a natural striation of the rock

Ole Worm, at heart, was a perpetual student, aiding in this endeavor by coming from a wealthy family.  It didn't hurt that his wife, a daughter of a friend and colleague, also came from a prominent and wealthy family.   His father-in-law was a noted mathematician and physicist who coined the terms "tangent" and "secant."

Worm's peripetetic curiosity helped set the stage for an age of scientific discovery, and he should be honored for something other than a fiction translation of the Necronomicon.

"...and Sullivan":  Today is also the birthday of Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), who collaborated with W. S. Gilbert on fourteen light operas, including The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, and The Mikado.

Who can forget this classic Gilbert and Sullivan "song"?

Gef, the Talking Mongoose:  Today is also the birthday of Nandor Fodor (born Nandor Friedlander, 1895-1964), a leading authority on poltergeists, ghosts, mediumship, and other paranormal phenomena during the 1930s, although by the 1940s he rejected the paranormal and became a skeptic and offered a psychoanalytic approach to paranormal investigations.  (Fodor had at one time been an associate of Freud and worked with him on subjects such as prenatal development and dream interpretation.)  One of Fodor's investigations concerned the "Darby Spook," also known as Gef, the Talking Mongoose.  To be fair, I'm more interested in the mongoose than I am in Fodor.

Gef was owned by the Irving family, farmers in Cashen's Gap, near the small town of Darby on the Isle of Man.  In September 1931, James and Margaret Irving and their 13-year-old daughter Voirrey met an "extra extra clever mongoose" named Gef, who claimed to have born in New Delhi in 1852.  Gef told them that he was "a  ghost on the form of a mongoose" and that "I am a freak.  I have hands and I have feet, and if you saw me you'd faint, you'd be petrified, mummified, turned into stone or a pillar of salt."  Well, eventually they him.  Gef was the size of a small rat, with yellowish fur and a bushy tail.  The Irvings and Gef developed a nice symbiotic relationship.  They fed him biscuits, chocolate, and bananas left in a saucer hanging from the ceiling; Gef took the food when he thought no one was watching.  in return, Gef watched over the farm, guarding the house and warning them of any approaching persons or unfamiliar dog.  If they forget to put out the stove fire at night, Gef would fo that for them.  He woke them up when they might oversleep.  If mice invaded, Gef would scare them away (which he preferred to killing the rodents).  Gef would often accompany them to the market, staying hidden in bushes while still talking to the family.  Gef soon became the talk of the village (and soon, of the country).  Several neighbors claimed to have heard him speak, and several claimed to have seen him.  James Irving died in 1945 and Margaret and Voirry left the farm (and.presumably, Gef).  The new owner, Leslie Graham, claimed that he had shot and killed Gef in 1946, but the body he produced was black and white and much larger that Gef was said to be.  So perhaps he's still there.

The story of the talking mongoose brought many investigators to the Irving farm, including noted  paranormal investigators such as Harry Price, Hereward Carrington, and Nandor Fodor.  Alas, there was not much physical evidence; Footprints, hair samples, and stains on the wall supposedly from Gef turned out to be from the Irvings sheepdog; a few blurred photographs supposedly of Gef also turned out to be of the dog.  Harry Price was careful not to call Gef a hoax, but he noted that the double-walled structure of the farmhouse's interior rooms, left air spaces that could be a type of "speaking tube."  Fodor did not believe that Gef was a deliberate hoax; instead he came up with a complex psychological theory about the 'split-off part" of James Irving's personality.  The most logical explanation, and the one most favored, was ventriloquism, usually pointed toward the young daughter.  One reporter wrote that when he caught Voirry making certain noises, James Irving tried to convince him that the noises came from elsewhere.  Voirry died in 2005, denying that Gef was her creation.

A 2003 film, Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose, starred Simon Pegg, Minnie Driver, and Christopher Lloyd, also featured the voice of Neil Gaiman as Gef.  Gef and Fodor are also part of a 2022 audio drama, Doctor Who:  The Eight Doctor Adventures: What Lies Inside?

Other May 13 Birthdays:  Boxer Joe Louis, novelist Daphne du Maurier, Golden Girl Bea Arthur, Weaver Fred Hellerman, scum of the Earth cult leader Jim Jones, science fiction great Roger Zelazny, "My Guy" singer Mary Wells, Stevie Wonder, and Stephen Colbert.

National Apple Pie Day:  What can be more American than that?  For my money, the best apple pies use at least two, preferably three, varieties of apples, blending both tart and sweet flavors.  Some people claim one should use only one kind of apple so the slices cook evenly, BUT THEY ARE WRONG! 

Here's one recipe that sounds pretty good:

Quote:  "The love of beauty is one of nature's greatest healers." -- Ellsworth Huntington  (I realized that the first time I saw my wife.)

Florida Man:
  • Florida Man Alexander Deltoro Jr. shot his mother to death in an argument with his father on December 14, 2019.   Deltoro failed this week to have the charges dismissed  by using the state's "stand your ground" law.  The family had been out for dinner celebrating Deltoro's 28th birthday,  On the way home, the son got into an argument with his father.  At home the argument devolved into pushing and shouting.  When 60-year-old Cynthia Deltoro stepped between the two and separated them, Deltoro pulled out a concealed gun and shot her in the face.  Deltoro said that he wasn't wearing his glasses and couldn't see and that he was convinced that his father was armed.  Florida's stand your ground law is pretty lax, but this was just a step too far.
  • Florida Man If You Can Find Him Virgil Price, 39, of West Palm Beach has vanished after freediving a World War II wreck some 13 miles southwest of a Fort Pierce inlet.  Price was last seen diving for the wreck of the USS Halsey, a 435-foot-long ship destroyed by a German U-boat in 1942; all crew member managed to escape and the ship now lies in three pieces buried in the sand some 65 feet from the surface.  Deputies are hoping that Price is not below the surface and have asked that if anyone has seen him to notify the authorities.
  • Florida Man "El Gato," aka Julio Alvera-Hernadez, 54, has been arrested for beating a man with a golf club before stabbing him in the neck and stealing the victim's wallet and gold chain.   Alvera-Hernandez also allegedly threatened the man with a gun.  The golf club used in the attack was shattered into three pieces.  Alvera-Hernandez is being held without bail.  In a sadly typical reporting error, the WFLA news story of the event said at different times that both the victim and the accused was known as "El Gato."  Fact-checking is a lost art.
  • Somewhat outside the purview of this Florida Man review, we have 42-year-old unnamed Alabama Man Who Really Should Have Been a Florida Man who crashed his car into a pole outside the Bass Pro Shop in Leeds, Alabama, then stripped naked, ran into the store and dove into a fish tank, playing in the water for about five minutes before law enforcement arrived.  When the cops arrives, the man exited the water, shouted at the cops, then jumped back into the aquarium, before exiting a final time, falling on the concrete floor, and knocking himself out.  The man's family told police that he is suffering from mental health issues.  I am just so sad that this did not happen in Florida because it should have.  It really should have.

Good News:
  • Man with 25-year history of diabetes cured by stem cell treatment
  • Dogs shown to make a big difference in mental health and academics among elementary school children
  • Cancer vaccine triggers "fierce" immunity in malignant brain tumors
  • Number of fish on US "overfishing" list reaches an all-time low
  • Drones find dozens of land mines in Ukraine so they can be defused
  • Here's a rope-dangling rescue of young mountain lion cubs before an oncoming deluge

Today's Poem:

When I was ten, I thought the greatest bliss
Would be to rest all day upon hot sand under a burning sun...
Time has slipped by, and finally I've known
The lure of beaches under exotic skies
And find my dreams to be misguided lies
For God!  How dull it is to rest alone.

-- Daphne du Maurier

(a hand-written poem found on a sheet of paper hidden behind a photograph; the other side of the paper had another unknown handwritten poem, titled "Song of the Happy Prostitute")