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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Henry IV, Part II - Act I

Henry IV, Part II
Act I

So, so, thou common dog, didst thou disgorge
Thy glutton bosom of the royal Richard,
And now thou wouldst eat thy dead vomit up,
And howl’st to find it

I admit that I don’t get Falstaff. I gather that he’s a bit of a comic relief type of character but he’s quite verbose and half the time (at least) I’m fairly clueless as to what he’s going on about – as is the case in Scene II. Though I will say that he comes up with some highly colorful turns of phrase.

Otherwise, not much going on in the aftermath of the battle at Shrewsbury, except that another faction of rebels are plotting to take down the king, who is being threatened on three separate fronts.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Titus Andronicus - Summary

Titus Andronicus
Summary

For I must talk of murders, rapes, and massacres,
Acts of black night, abominable deeds,
Complots of mischief, treason, villanies
Ruthful to hear, yet piteously perform’d:

I don't have much more to say about Titus Andronicus. Except that if you're looking for Shakespeare's version of a splatter movie (or the Shakespeare play that inspired splatter movies?) this is the one, sports fans. Heartwarming.

Friday, December 26, 2014

White Corridor, by Christopher Fowler

White Corridor
By Christopher Fowler
2007

(No overt spoilers ahead, but perhaps a few mild ones. There’s your disclaimer.)

This site has been on an unofficial hiatus of sorts for the simple reason that I haven’t been reading as much mystery fiction lately. But not so long ago a light bulb went off above my head and I realized that there were a number of Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May books that I haven’t read yet. So I set out to clear up that problem forthwith, jumping back into the fray with White Corridor.

A lot of ink has been spilled in praise of the exploits of Bryant & May. They’re an aging pair of British detectives – one quirky and one normal – who take on a variety of offbeat crimes as part of their work with London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. I’ve spilled a fair amount of this ink myself, but I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about White Corridor as the others I’ve read.

Which is not to say that I didn’t like it because I did. I’ll just say that of the two primary threads that move the plot along I found that one didn’t quite work for me. It was the thread that felt more like it belonged in a “thriller” than a “mystery” and the device of a killer on the loose stalking people wasn’t really my cup of tea. Not to mention that the resolution to that plot line seemed to come from way out of left field. But it did make for some decent suspense and the bit with Bryant & May being stranded on the road in a blizzard was interesting.

The other thread of the plot – which involves a somewhat prominent member of the supporting cast – was more to my liking. Though this thread suffered somewhat because much of the legwork was carried out by the other members of the PCU, rather than our heroes. This due, of course, to the fact that our heroes were stuck in a snowstorm and could only offer limited assistance.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Titus Andronicus - Act V

Titus Andronicus
Act V

Why, there they are both, baked in that pie;
Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.

This Aaron feller turns out to be quite a villain, as we see when he is captured by Lucius and his troops and confesses to being behind much off the mayhem that has gone on so far. If that wasn’t villainous enough, not only is he not repentant for his “heinous deeds” but wishes he had done “a thousand more,” a number he later revises to ten thousand. Which is hardly any way to win friends and influence people.

As Tamora goes to pull a fast one on Titus, the tables are turned. After she leaves her sons are done away with and their bones and blood are used as ingredients for a dish to be served at an upcoming banquet. Which Titus kicks off in fine form by killing Lavinia. Tamora is next to go at the hand of Titus, but not before she’s had a chance to dine. Then Titus is knocked off by Saturninus, who is in turn done in by Lucius. Keep those scorecards handy, sports fans.

Lucius takes over as emperor and as for Aaron, he is unrepentant to the bitter end – which finds him being buried alive. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Titus Andronicus - Act IV

Titus Andronicus
Act IV

We will solicit heaven and move the gods
To send down Justice for to wreak our wrongs.

Titus and his crew - what's left of it - are beginning to plot their revenge for the various insults and injuries inflicted upon them. In the meantime Aaron and Tamora have had something going on the side and their secret is about to be spilled when Tamora gives birth to a baby that is suspiciously dark-skinned – like its father. This won’t do so Aaron kills the baby’s nurse and connives to swap it out with one that is suitably light-skinned.

Back at the palace word comes that the Goths are marching on Rome, with Lucius – son of Titus – commanding the troops. As things wind up Tamora goes forth to try to work some kind of wily deceitful stuff on Titus. Methinks this ain't gonna end well.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Titus Andronicus - Act III

Titus Andronicus
Act III

Tigers must prey; and Rome affords no prey
But me and mine: how happy art thou then,
From these devourers to be banished!

Hard times for old Titus, in an act where he finds out that his daughter has been assaulted and badly mutilated. But wait. There's more. Two of Titus's sons have been accused of the murder of Bassianus and carted away to answer for it.

But then word comes from the emperor that if Titus will sacrifice one of his hands his sons will be saved. He proceeds to do the deed and ships off the hand, which is then sent back to him along with the heads of the sons. Which seems like a helluva way to run a railroad but there you have it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Titus Andronicus - Act II

Titus Andronicus
Act II

Remember, boys, I pour’d forth tears in vain
To save your brother from the sacrifice;
But fierce Andronicus would not relent:
Therefore, away with her, and use her as you will:
The worse to her, the better lov’d of me.

Holla! what storm is this?

Lavinia gets the worst of it here, as opposed to Bassianus, who is merely killed. She loses her tongue, hands and virtue at the hands of Tamora’s villainous sons. As for Titus’s sons, they are in the wrong place at the wrong time and an incriminating letter fingers them for the killing of Bassianus. One can't help but believe that it’s not going to go well for them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Titus Andronicus - Act I

Titus Andronicus
Act I

I’ll find a day to massacre them all,
And raze their faction and their family,
The cruel father, and his traitorous sons,
To whom I sued for my dear son’s life;
And make them know what ’tis to let a queen
Kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain.

My plan was to go through Shakespeare’s plays in alphabetical order, thus imposing some sort of structure on the process. Which is what I’ve done for the most part. I didn’t know much about any of the plays before I started this, not even the big name ones like Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and so on. But I knew that Titus Andronicus had a reputation for being one of old Will’s more gruesome efforts. As a once upon a time fan of all things horror fiction and film-related my curiosity got the better of me and I thought I might just skip ahead a bit and see what it was all about.

It’s not exactly Friday the 13th, at least not at this juncture, but then we are only one act into it. In which several parties are clamoring to be leader of Rome when the title character returns triumphant from a war with the Goths. Titus is put forth as the next leader but he declines the honor on the grounds that he’s no spring chicken anymore.

Titus finally agrees to the sacrifice of one of the prisoners, one of the sons of Tamora, queen of the Goths. Who is then married off to Saturninus, the new Roman Emperor. In the meantime, Titus himself bumps off one his own sons, which prompts a bit of a row about where he is to be buried. This is finally settled but before things wind up it’s made pretty clear that Tamora, who seems to have adjusted to her own son’s death well enough, is actually not going to let that one ride.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Henry IV, Part I - Summary

Henry IV, Part I
Summary

Doomsday is near; die all, die merrily.

I'll make this brief. Henry IV, Part I was not what I was expecting. Or I should say that the first few acts - which seemed to focus on the antics of the prince and Falstaff and their pals - was not what I was expecting. Nor did I care for it much. As for the rest of it, where the battle looms and finally takes place, that was more what I was expecting and had a tone that seemed more appropriate to a play about a great historical figure.

Not much more to say than that. Next, please.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Henry IV, Part I - Act V

Henry IV, Part I
Act V

The southern wind
Doth play the trumpet to his purposes,
And by his hollow whistling in the leaves
Foretells a tempest and a blustering day.

As the battle is about to be joined, Worcester and Vernon come to the king’s camp to present their grievances. The king offers to go easy on the rebels if they’ll stand down. They strategically neglect to mention this to the rest of their rebel posse.

The battle is joined. Archibald, Earl of Douglas does away with Sir Walter Blunt, thinking he is the king. Then he happens upon the real king and they take each other on, with the prince, who has been wounded, getting into the fray.

Archibald “flies” and then Hotspur and the prince go at it and Hotspur is wounded. In the meantime Archibald returns and he and Falstaff go at it. Hotspur gets the worst of it and Archibald flees the scene again, only to be captured, along with Worcester and Vernon, who are eventually done away with.

As things wind up, at least for this installment, the king splits his forces and sends part of them to York and part to Wales to deal with various rebel factions.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Henry IV, Part 1 - Act IV

Henry IV, Part 1
Act IV

All furnish’d, all in arms,
All plum’d like estridges that wing the wind,
Baited like eagles having lately bath’d,
Glittering in golden coats, like images,
As full of spirit as the month of May,
And gorgeous as the sun at midsummer,
Wanton as youthful goats, wild as young bulls.
I saw young Harry, with his beaver on,
His cushes on his thighs, gallantly arm’d,
Rise from the ground like feather’d Mercury,
And vaulted with such ease into his seat,
As if an angel dropp’d down from the clouds,
To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus
And witch the world with noble horsemanship

Something happens! Or at least we’re given the impression that something is about to happen, in a play where not so much of consequence seems to have…happened up to this point. Much of the act is concerned with preparations and discussion of the impending battle and much of that is spent in the rebel camp, including a scene where the king sends an emissary to try to smooth things out.

The tone also seems to have changed, for the most part. Much of what has passed so far was rather colorful (to say the least), in terms of the language employed by the prince and Falstaff and the rest of the gang. Now things seem to have taken a decidedly more somber tone and old Will waxes quite poetic in some passages, including the one cited above.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Henry IV, Part 1 - Act III

Henry IV, Part 1
Act III

I had rather live
With cheese and garlick in a windmill, far,
Than feed on cates and have him talk to me
In any summer-house in Christendom.

Nothing much to see here. So little of significance (just an opinion, mind you) has happened thus far that the play could just as easily been called Much Ado About Nothing. But that's another story.

Act III finds the king’s enemies making warlike plots. Hotspur takes great delight in goading Glendower, who looks to be the head honcho in all of this. Hotspur is cautioned against said goading by some of the others but he doesn’t think much of their advice. Then it's back to the tavern again, where there's whole lot more nothing in a scene concerned primarily with Falstaff's pocket being picked. Ho hum.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Henry IV, Part 1 - Act II

Henry IV, Part 1
Act II

Out, you mad-headed ape!
A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen
As you are toss’d with.

Still a bit of a muddle, this one is, but the prince and pals apparently have pulled off their exploit and the rebellion is still in the plotting stages. There follows a scene in which the prince retires to a tavern and gets shit-faced and spouts a bunch of gibberish. But maybe that’s just my interpretation. In come Falstaff and his boys talking the big talk about how well they acquitted themselves in the earlier scrape, even though they ended up without the money they stole.

After a good bit of creative embellishment on this theme and plenty of very colorful language the prince finally reveals that Falstaff and the boys were punked. Soon after word comes that the king has summoned the prince. Falstaff and the prince play out a few scenarios of how this might go and as the scene ends the sheriff turns up, looking for a certain “gross fat man.” Not that Falstaff fits the bill or anything.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Henry IV, Part 1 - Act I

Henry IV, Part 1
Act I

He said he would not ransom Mortimer;
Forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer;
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I’ll holla ‘Mortimer!’

I’ve remarked before that I’ve found some of Shakespeare to be tough going and this first act of Henry IV, Part I was a good example. I’ve managed to divine that there are a bunch of wars going on and the king is at odds with some of his nobles. Many prisoners have been taken during the conflicts and the king is demanding that they be turned over to him. The nobles don’t dig it and it appears that a rebellion is brewing.

In the meantime, the prince and his pal Falstaff seem to be engaged in some comparatively trivial pursuits, planning to play a prank on a few of their pals who are plotting a robbery. Or something like that. I admit that I didn’t completely get the gist of all this but I think I'm close.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Hamlet - Summary

Hamlet
Summary

O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

Quite a grim piece of work, this Hamlet. But rather than offering my own summary of what transpires I'll leave that to Horatio, who manages to survive the mayhem and who has this to say.

And let me speak to the yet unknowing world
How these things came about: so shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters;
Of deaths put on by cunning and forc’d cause,

In my thoughts on Act I, I remarked that Hamlet quite a page turner and that if it kept on that way it would be my favorite of the seven plays I've read so far. It is.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hamlet - Act V

Hamlet
Act V

Alas! poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rises at it.

Hamlet, thou art slain.

Many of the players converge upon a graveyard for the opening of this act, musing upon great concepts like life, death and whatnot while two clowns dig Ophelia's grave. Laertes and Hamlet are there and things get out of hand a bit, with them tangling in an empty grave.

Back at the castle Hamlet reveals to Horatio that there was a plot to do away with him (Hamlet). Shortly thereafter Hamlet and Laertes make nice but honor requires that they go ahead and duel anyway. They both end up dead, as do the king and queen - the latter is poisoned from a cup apparently meant for Hamlet. After this bloodbath is finished, word also comes that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also dead.

No happy ending here, friends. Move along.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hamlet - Act IV

Hamlet
Act IV

Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service; two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end.

The king sends Hamlet off to England. Which doesn’t seem like it’s going to end well. Meanwhile, here comes Laertes busting into the joint flipping his lid over the death of his father, Polonius. A death that has apparently caused his sister, Ophelia, to go off the rails. After he calms down a bit and the king receives a letter stating that Hamlet is returning the two plot the demise of the prince. But not before one final injury added to insult and injury - the revelation that Ophelia has drowned herself, apparently singing merrily all the while.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hamlet - Act III

Hamlet
Act III

Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.

Things get rolling here with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. I had not realized how many phrases had seeped from this relatively short snippet into the culture at large, but here are a few of them.

To be, or not to be: that is the question.
To sleep: perchance to dream
Ay, there’s the rub
What dreams may come
shuffled off this mortal coil
the undiscover’d country

Following which we see a performance of the play that Hamlet has rigged to unsettle the king and queen and get them to display their guilt over the death of his father. Which seems to work pretty well, as strategies go.

Then Hamlet proceeds to rip the queen a new one and bumps off Polonius. Who should turn up just about then but the ghost of the old king. Whom the queen cannot see and who doesn’t really hang around for long. It’s just a brief interlude and then Hamlet goes back to berating his mom and then makes off with the corpse of Polonius.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hamlet - Act II

Hamlet
Act II

I have of late,—but wherefore I know not,—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

Seems that Hamlet has gone a bit nutso. Which causes no small amount of dismay among those who know him best.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s childhood friends, are called by the king and queen to sort out things out. It occurred to me at this point that he might be trying to pull a fast one and indeed, it turns out that this is the case. Hamlet is crazy like a fox and proceeds to cook up a plot to rat out the new king.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Interlude - Cento on Hamlet I

Have you eyes?
You may see the inmost part.
Kill a king.
Kill a king.
Such an act
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty.
Heaven’s face doth glow.
Roars so loud and thunders.
Rebellious hell.
Where every god did seem to set his seal.
Have you eyes?
Have you eyes?
Flaming youth
Frost itself as actively doth burn.
I see such black and grained spots.
At your eyes your spirits wildly peep
Upon the heat and flame.
Have you eyes?

Cento

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hamlet - Act I

Hamlet
Act I

I am thy father’s spirit;
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg’d away.

Holla! Bernardo!

I don’t know if Hamlet is the most popular or the best known of Shakespeare’s plays but I bet it’s near the top of the list. I’m only one act in but if it continues at this pace I’d say its ranking in the canon is well deserved. So far it’s been much more of a page turner than the other six plays I’ve read – or slogged through, as the case may be.

Things kick off in fine fashion with the night watch being upset by the ghost of their recently departed king. As for Hamlet, he’s having a tough time dealing with said death, not to mention the fact that the queen has recovered indecently quickly and taken up with the new chief bottle washer – Hamlet’s uncle.

When he finds that his father’s ghost has been lurking around, Hamlet plans to meet up with it (him?). Lo and behold, when they get a chance to chat the moldy old shade drops a bombshell, advising Hamlet off the following:

The serpent that did sting thy father’s life
Now wears his crown.

Well now, I’m no prophet, but methinks this just won’t do.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cymbeline - Summary

Cymbeline
Summary

The fingers of the powers above do tune
The harmony of this peace.

Cymbeline was said to be written near the end of Shakespeare’s life. For my money (keeping in mind that I only have five other plays to compare to thus far) it seems that he still had a pretty good handle on this whole playwriting thing even at this relatively late date. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that he did all this in about five decades, which makes me want to ramp things up a bit here in my own fifth decade.

Even though I’m only six plays in thus far I’ve noticed that certain plot devices are rather common. There’s the forbidden love thing, of course, which old Will is renowned for. There’s the one about the guy who bets that his beloved will remain truthful to him when her fidelity is put to the test. There’s also that bit about switching identities and cavorting about in disguise, with women dressing up as men a rather common device.

All of which and more made for a right entertaining piece of work that I placed just a smidgen below Antony and Cleopatra. About the only thing that put me off a bit was how it seemed – kind of like in a Hallmark movie – the author seemed to be doing backflips to make sure that everything ended happily.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cymbeline - Act V

Cymbeline
Act V

The imperial Cæsar, should again unite
His favour with the radiant Cymbeline,
Which shines here in the west.

Things wind up in fine form here. First Posthumus whips Iachimo in battle but leaves him alive. Then the Britons beat the Romans and when it's all over Cymbeline tosses Posthumus in prison. Where has a vision in which his dead relatives appear along with Jupiter.

It's looking grim for Posthumus but as things wind up all parties are gathered together, including Belarius and the king's long lost sons and Iachimo, the Roman leaders, and of course Imogen, who is still in disguise. It might seem a bit clichéd to say they all live happily ever after. But there it is. Calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Cymbeline - Act IV

Cymbeline
Act IV

With his own sword,
Which he did wave against my throat, I have ta’en
His head from him; I’ll throw ’t into the creek
Behind our rock, and let it to the sea

Cloten has lost his head several times thus far but now he loses it in the most literal sense of the word, at the hands of one of his step brothers - though he doesn't realize that's who it is. When Imogen comes upon his body she takes it for that of Posthumus and is understandably quite distraught. She throws herself on the body - pretty grim stuff, I say - and is still lying there, still in disguise, when Caius Lucius and a few of the other Romans happen to wander on by.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cymbeline - Act III

Cymbeline
Act III

Make pastime with us a day or two, or longer; if you seek us afterwards in other terms, you shall find us in our salt-water girdle; if you beat us out of it, it is yours; if you fall in the adventure, our crows shall fare the better for you; and there’s an end.

Something of a marathon, this Act III. As it opens it seems the Romans are about to declare war on Cymbeline, though I haven't ascertained why. Maybe it's just because they're Romans. Imogen receives a sharply worded letter from Posthumus and misinterprets it, since she’s keen to ride out and meet him. Next up, we’re introduced to Belarius, who was banished by Cymbeline and who has lived in the mountains since then, along with Cymbeline’s two sons, whom he kidnapped when they were young.

Posthumus’s servant shows Imogen a letter from his master ordering him to terminate her...with extreme prejudice. Pisanio is not keen to carry out the order but Imogen is distraught by the whole affair and encourages him to get on with it. Instead he cooks up a scheme whereby she’ll dress like a man – a favorite Shakespearian tactic, I’ve come to realize – and ingratiate herself with the Roman ambassador. For what reason, I’m not clear on.

Back at the palace they discover that Imogen is gone. Cloten finds out where and plots some nasty misdeeds to be perpetrated on her and Posthumus. Meanwhile, Imogen just happens to come across the mountain hideaway of Belarius and his two "sons." How's that for a coincidence?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cymbeline - Act II

Cymbeline
Act II

That such a crafty devil as is his mother
Should yield the world this ass!

Imogen has agreed to look after a trunk for Iachimo, rather naively, if I may be so bold as to say so. Sure enough, when she drifts off to sleep he pops out of the trunk, creeps around her bedroom for a while, takes her bracelet from her arm (sound sleeper, that Imogen) and disappears back into the trunk.

Next up, Cloten, the king's stepson, tries to put the moves on Imogen, but she's not having any of that. Then Iachimo manages to convince Posthumus that he has had his way with the alleged tramp Imogen. Some of Posthumus's pals try to encourage him not to be so easily swayed but he's not having any of that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cymbeline - Act I

Cymbeline
Act I

If after this command thou fraught the court
With thy unworthiness, thou diest. Away!
Thou’rt poison to my blood.

So the theme here is forbidden love, it seems. Cymbeline, the king, has banished the curiously named Posthumus for the crime of being unsuitable for the king’s daughter. As the play opens Posthumus is lurking around again and proceeds to get himself re-banished. Following that, he makes a sizable bet with Iachimo regarding the virtues or lack thereof of his beloved. If Iachimo can corrupt her he wins the bet. If not he loses the bet and there will be some throwing down as well. Iachimo tries a mix of sweet talk and deception on Imogen but she’s not having any of it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Summary

The Comedy of Errors
Summary

We came into the world like brother and brother;
And now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.

Are we there yet? Yes, we are. Thank the lord. Enough said.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act V

The Comedy of Errors
Act V

I see two husbands, or mine eyes deceive me!

The action builds and finally one of the Antipholus brothers is about to be executed for his perceived misdeeds. Which should have been the climax of the play and the good part and I guess for many readers or viewers it is. But by this time I just wanted to get through it. Not my cup of tea, as the saying goes.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act IV

The Comedy of Errors
Act IV

How now! a madman! Why, thou peevish sheep,
What ship of Epidamnum stays for me?

Good lord. More hijinks based on the premise of mistaken identity. Your mileage may vary but I'm finding it kind of tedious. If it weren't for the fact that I'm trying to work through all of the plays in their entirety I'd probably not have have bothered to finish this one.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act III

The Comedy of Errors
Act III

No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip: she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her.

Good grief.

I probably wouldn’t be the first to remark that Shakespeare can be tough going at times. That's definitely the case here. I have lost the thread of the narrative. Maybe I never had a firm grasp of it in the first place.

I’ve tried not to do any research into the plays before reading them but by the middle of Act III I was so befuddled that I took a peek at the Dramatis Personae. It reveals that there is an Antipholus of Ephesus and an Antipholus of Syracuse and that they are twin brothers and sons to Ægeon and Æmilia. And there is a Dromio of Ephesus and a Dromio of Syracuse and they are twin brothers and they are attendants on the two Antipholuses.

Not one of Shakespeare's finer moments if you ask me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act II

The Comedy of Errors
Act II

Why is Time such a niggard of hair, being, as it is, so plentiful an excrement?

A pair of women moan and complain about men. Then there's more bickering about money and battle of the sexes type stuff and I think there might be a case of mistaken identity but damned if I can figure out what the hell is going on. I guess old Will is working around to a point but I seem to be missing it thus far.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Comedy of Errors - Act I

The Comedy of Errors
Act I

Now, as I am a Christian, answer me,
In what safe place you have bestow’d my money;
Or I shall break that merry sconce of yours

A bit of a muddle so far, this one. Ephesus and Syracuse have an agreement whereby anyone from the latter who is found in the former must pay a fine or forfeit their goods and their life. Or something like that. Which is the case, if I've got it right, with a merchant who finds himself trapped in Syracuse after a shipwreck. Followed by a seemingly pointless scene in which a man and his slave bicker about some missing money. Which will presumably have some significance as the play progresses.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Coriolanus - Summary

Coriolanus
Summary

Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus. -T.S. Eliot-

It’s still too soon to draw any firm conclusions but once again I’ve found that one of Shakespeare’s tragedies works better for me than his comedies. Coriolanus didn’t do it quite as well for me as Antony and Cleopatra but it was more of a grabber than the two comedies I’ve read so far. As the story goes, these two plays were also among T.S. Eliot’s favorites (better than Hamlet, saith he, about Coriolanus) and he even wrote a poem that paid tribute to Coriolanus.

Coriolanus is many things, and especially a great warrior, but he seems to not have the knack of being a ruler – which ultimately leads to his undoing. It’s a story that’s fairly unornamented and to the point and, as I mentioned elsewhere, even though the hero triumphs at various points throughout there is a foreshadowing of how it’s going to turn out. Or maybe I just guessed right.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Coriolanus - Act V

Coriolanus
Act V

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill him!

I don't know if a 400-year-old play really needs spoiler alerts but consider yourself warned. Coriolanus certainly has his ups and downs throughout the play and as we near the end he is about to take his revenge on Rome. But as things proceeded I couldn't help feeling that it was going to end badly for him. Various Romans come to Coriolanus and try to dissuade him from ravaging Rome but he's not having it. Then his family tries and he finally relents. That doesn't sit well with his new allies and, just as I suspected, it doesn't end well for Coriolanus after all.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Coriolanus - Act IV

Coriolanus
Act IV

For I will fight
Against my canker’d country with the spleen
Of all the under fiends.

The act kicks off with a scene that’s comprised mostly of Coriolanus telling his friends and family not to blubber as he takes his leave of Rome and them telling him how wonderful he is. Following that, the great man’s wife and mother come upon Sicinius and Brutus in the street and mince no words in ripping them a new one for stirring up the populace against Coriolanus. Who has left Rome now and wastes no time in seeking out his old nemesis, Aufidius, of the Volsces. Not surprisingly, he is seeking to form an alliance and take revenge against the Romans. This can't end well.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Coriolanus - Act III

Coriolanus
Act III

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcases of unburied men
That do corrupt my air.

The rebellion against Coriolanus seems to be gaining steam. His mother and a few trusted advisers suggest that he might make nice with the rabble so he sets off to the marketplace to do just that. But Coriolanus is not really the type to take something like this lying down and so it doesn’t go so well. As the act draws to a close he has vowed to take his leave of Rome, to much rejoicing from those who were just as happy to see him flung from a cliff.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Coriolanus - Act II

Coriolanus
Act II

Good den to your worships: more of your conversation would infect my brain.

Coriolanus, the conquering hero, returns to Rome, to the adulation of the masses. But not everyone is quite so enamored of their new hero. Brutus and Sicinius seem to be the ringleaders when it comes to fomenting discontent. By the end of this rather long-winded act they have succeeded in rousing the ire of a mob of citizens and sending them off to overthrow Coriolanus. For whom things are starting to look rather bleak. But I wouldn't count him out just yet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Coriolanus - Act I

Coriolanus
Act I

You souls of geese,
That bear the shapes of men, how have you run
From slaves that apes would beat!

The villagers are gathering with pitchforks and torches looking for Boris Karloff. Or something like that. Actually it’s a bunch of poor Romans who have gathered up those primitive weapons that mobs are often stuck with and are expressing some advanced displeasure with the scarcity and high prices of food. Shakespeare’s economic inequality moment, if you will. A few authority figures, including Caius Marcius, show up and try to reason with them or berate them, as their inclination might be.

Next thing you know, word comes that the Volsces (whoever they are) are rebelling and Marcius is among those sent to put down the rebellion. At first it looks like his boys have been soundly thrashed and he wastes not words in laying into them for their failings. Then fortunes turn and the battle is won, with Marcius being proclaimed Caius Marcius Coriolanus.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

As You Like It - Summary

As You Like It
Summary

It’s a bit early in the game to be drawing any conclusions about Shakespeare’s plays. After all, I’ve only read three of them. But I’m not going to let that keep me from shooting off my mouth. The comedies – all two of them – haven’t really done much for me. The tragedies – all one of them – were more to my taste. Which is odd because nowadays I’m not much of a tragedy kind of guy.

As for As You Like It, it didn’t match up to Antony and Cleopatra, but it worked a little more well for me than All’s Well That Ends Well. As with All’s Well That Ends Well, the plot device of people in disguise is pressed into service here and once again the plot device of the scurrilous villainous chap turning over a new leaf is also employed and that’s not just once, but twice. Which seems a bit flimsy considering just how scurrilous Duke Frederick and Oliver were, not that anyone asked for my opinion.

Monday, October 27, 2014

As You Like It - Act V

As You Like It
Act V

There is, sure, another flood toward, and these couples are coming to the ark.

A bad egg, that Oliver. But it seems that after Orlando saved him in the forest he’s had something of an epiphany. Oliver is going to marry Celia and give everything he owns to his once reviled brother. Who should be happy about this sudden turn of good fortune but all he can manage to do is to mope about not being able to have Rosalind.

Turns out Rosalind is something like a cross between Match.com and the Reverend Moon presiding over one of his famous mass weddings. Various and sundry parties converge upon the forest to be wed and news comes along that nasty old Duke Frederick has gotten religious and become an all-around good guy.

As You Like It - Act IV

As You Like It
Act IV

I verily did think
That her old gloves were on, but ’twas her hands.

Rosalind is a stickler for punctuality. It doesn’t sit well with her when Orlando shows up an hour late to meet with her. She’s still in the guise of a man, by the way. But she agrees to overlook this if he’s prompt for their next get together. Turns out he’s late again but who should happen along but Oliver, with a bloody handkerchief and a fanciful story about how Orlando was attacked by a lion. Fortunately, the latter is still among the living. Must not have been that formidable of a lion, after all.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

As You Like It - Act III

As You Like It
Act III

Cry, 'holla!' to thy tongue, I pr'ythee.

Cranky Duke Frederick has got it in for Orlando, for reasons I'm not completely clear on just yet. Perhaps it's just his innate crankiness bubbling to the surface. He recruits Orlando's brother Oliver to round him up, under duress. Not that there's any love lost between the brothers, mind you.

In the meantime a bunch of the players are cavorting around the forest engaged in various mild antics and Orlando meets up with Rosalind. Though he professes his love for her he doesn't realize it's her because she's dressed as a guy at the time. Must be a helluva disguise.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

As You Like It - Act II

As You Like It
Act II

Holla, you clown!

A relatively uneventful act, in which various players venture into the woods, where Duke Senior and his men are already hiding out after he was banished by crabby Duke Frederick. They include Celia, Rosalind and Touchstone the clown, as well as Orlando and the elderly servant Adam, who have decided to pick up and go rather than deal with a good murdering at the hands of Orlando's brother Oliver.

As You Like It - Act I

As You Like It
Act I

Holla, Dennis!

One act into it and so far we've got wrestling, feuding brothers, people talking like rappers (Shall we go, coz?), and a cranky Duke with a penchant for banishing people. In spite of all this As You Like It isn't really floating my boat just yet. Perhaps it's just in comparison to Antony and Cleopatra, which I just finished and which I quite liked. Maybe things will pick up in the next four acts but it's not quite as I like it yet.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Antony and Cleopatra - Summary

Antony and Cleopatra
Summary

I dream'd there was an Emperor Antony.

I'm only two plays into this project so far, with 40-some plays to go. But there's a clear favorite already and that's Antony and Cleopatra. All's Well that End Well seemed kind of frivolous and the characters tended to pontificate on weighty matters to no real effect. There's no shortage of pontificating in this one, mind you, but in the context of the play it seems to work rather well.

Even as a Shakespeare novice I pretty much knew how this one ended, except for some of the nitty gritty details. I have to admit that I expected the ending to be rather melodramatic and perhaps even sappy, but it was executed pretty well.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Antony and Cleopatra - Act V

Antony and Cleopatra
Act V

Lay me stark nak’d, and let the water-flies
Blow me into abhorring!

As things kick off, Caesar and his crew are gathered in his camp to reminisce about what a spiffy guy Antony was. Even though just recently many of them were probably hoping to ram a spear through his head. In the meantime Cleopatra wants to be done with it all but first gives a rather effective speech about the late great Antony :

His legs bestrid the ocean; his rear’d arm
Crested the world; his voice was propertied
As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder.

And so on. A rather bang-up finish, this Act V, and it's probably not a spoiler to anyone to reveal how things wind up. Though Caesar promises to treat Cleopatra well she's not having any of it and proceeds to do what she must do. And curtain.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Antony and Cleopatra - Act IV

Antony and Cleopatra
Act IV

Let our best heads
Know that to-morrow the last of many battles
We mean to fight.

'Twas the night before the big battle and Caesar and Antony and their respective camps are discussing the morrow's adventures. Caesar has declined Antony’s challenge to one on one combat and Antony is a bit miffed. But like a pair of pro wrestlers they’re both talking the big talk. Then Antony switches gears and gets into such a melancholy mood that he upsets his servants and advisors.

When the day comes it appears that Antony’s forces have taken the upper hand but then things take a turn for the worse. Antony blames Cleopatra, assuming that she’s sold him down the river. He flips out and she runs off to fake her own death. Antony hears of this and tries to do the same but makes a mess of it. Just about then word comes to him that Cleopatra isn’t dead after all. Oops.

Antony lingers just long enough for his final scene with Cleopatra and then he’s done for. Even a Shakespeare novice knows pretty much how it goes from there. But there is that one final act.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Antony and Cleopatra - Act III

Antony and Cleopatra
Act III

He hath given his empire up to a whore.

Antony and Octavia take their leave of Caesar, having apparently tied the knot already. Back in Alexandria, Cleopatra’s not having any of this marriage crap and grills a messenger with regard to Octavia’s attributes or lack thereof. Meanwhile, things remain tense between Caesar and Antony and Octavia visits the former to try to smooth things over. Who makes some choice remarks about Cleopatra and advises Octavia that Antony has gone back to her.

Next thing you know Caesar and Antony’s forces are gearing up to duke it out. Antony’s advisers advise that he shouldn’t fight Caesar at sea but he doesn’t listen. It doesn’t go well and when Cleopatra’s ships turn tail and run at the height of things so does Antony. Caesar is hardly in a forgiving mood toward Antony after this but agrees to go easy on Cleopatra if she’ll bump off Antony. Methinks this ain't gonna end well. But of course even as a newbie I know that much.

Antony and Cleopatra - Act II

Antony and Cleopatra
Act II

The poop was beaten gold.

Antony is back in Rome now. He’s being called on the carpet, as the saying goes, by Octavius for the rebellious activities perpetrated by his recently deceased wife and others. Agrippa pipes in with the helpful suggestion that Antony should promote peace and understanding between the two by getting hitched to Caesar’s sister. Antony and Caesar agree that this is a worthwhile plan.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Antony and Cleopatra - Act I

Antony and Cleopatra
Act I

Thou didst drink the stale of horses and the gilded puddle.

So if I've got it straight - and I wouldn't swear to it - Antony is in Egypt kicking back and making nicey-nice with the ever so foxy Cleopatra while his wife is back in Rome. But there's some other stuff going on back there - rebellions and the like - and so Antony is called back. Oh yeah, and his wife kicks the bucket. Cleopatra decides she's not so keen on the idea of being parted from Antony and decides she wants to get really bombed so that she'll be out of it until he gets back.

All’s Well That Ends Well - Summary

All's Well That Ends Well
Summary

So that's that. My first experience with a Shakespeare play. I decided to go into each play cold rather than doing any research ahead of time. It was kind of hard to follow the thread in spots but I managed. I wasn't terribly impressed with All's Well That Ends Well and I can't imagine that it's one of the plays that gave old Will his lofty reputation but I'm hardly the expert here. For my money it seemed like a romantic comedy that had been stripped of most of the comic elements. And I didn't really get why Bertram made such an abrupt turnaround at the end regarding Helena and why she would ever want anything to do with such a dope. But 'tis not for me to say.

Next stop, Antony and Cleopatra.

All’s Well That Ends Well - Act V

All's Well That Ends Well
Act V

I will henceforth eat no fish of Fortune's butt'ring.

The key players end up back in France for this act and Bertram is set to marry again, now that his despised wife has apparently kicked the bucket. But not so fast, butthead, as Helena, Diana and the gang show up and reveal what a rat Bertram really is. He's so impressed by this deceit (I didn't get it either) that he agrees to be Helena's beloved after all. She's fine with it too (inexplicably) since he's clearly shown that he is a total loser. No accounting for taste, as the saying goes.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

All’s Well That Ends Well - Act IV

All's Well That Ends Well
Act IV

Tongue, I must put you into a butterwoman's mouth, and buy myself another of Bajazet's mule, if you prattle me into these perils.

A bunch of Bertram's men pretending they are not Bertram's men gang up on Parolles and kidnap him. If I've got it straight the point is to test his loyalty. In the meantime the spurned Helena has something up her sleeve for good old Bertram and enlists Diana to assist. Which results in the latter two trading a whole lot of sweet nothings and generally slowing down the pace.

Parolles shows what he's made of by singing like a canary at the first hint of duress. I'm unclear at this point if he knows who his captors are but it's not the first time I've been baffled and probably won't be the last. I've also missed a key plot point somewhere as it now seems that many of the players think Helena is dead. Spoiler alert - she ain't.

All’s Well That Ends Well - Act III

All's Well That Ends Well
Act III

I must go look my twigs.

Bit of a slow starter, this act. Early on, the Countess – Bertram’s mother – mutters and grumbles about what a cad he is for spurning the fair Helena. Things pick up a bit as the latter turns up at the front, disguised as a pilgrim. Then there’s a bit about a drum – I confess I have no clue what they were going on about – but apparently the loyalty of Parolles, Bertram’s flunky, is being called into question. Then Helena conspires to pull a fast one on good old Bertram. I’m not clear on exactly the nature of the deceit so that remains to be seen.

All’s Well That Ends Well - Act II

All's Well That Ends Well
Act II

Why, your dolphin is not lustier.

A breakthrough. After switching from audio to a text version for Act II I’m better able to grasp what the hell is going on. I’ve divined that the King is indeed ailing and that furthermore he is actually the King of France. Who chews the fat with a few of his lords as they prepare to head off to the Florentine war. I didn’t catch who Helena is but she offers to cure the big cheese of what ails him in exchange for being able to take her pick of a husband.

The fair lady cures the king and decides that she’ll have one Bertram, who prefers not to have her due to her low station in life. After a stern talking to from the King he sees the error of his ways. Then there’s a spat between Lafeu and Parolles – still not quite clear on who they are – with the latter getting the worst of it. And Bertram doesn't want anything to do with Helena after all and goes off to ware. Onward I go now and haste me again to Act III.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

All’s Well That Ends Well - Act I

All’s Well That Ends Well
Act I

My very first experience with Shakespeare – aside from a few stray sonnets – began recently with Act I of All’s Well That Ends Well. It didn’t go well. My first mistake was in listening to a audio dramatization of the work. That’s perfectly fine, if you’re suited to that sort of thing but I’m not. I tend to process printed words on a page better than audio and so when listening to the latter my attention strays approximately once every 4.3 words.

So thus far I’ve gathered that there’s a king and he’s not doing so well (I think) and there was a long and somewhat baffling discourse about the merits and drawbacks of virginity. That's all I've got.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

mystery movie series of 1930s hollywood

mystery movie series of 1930s hollywood
by ron backer
2012

when i started a mystery review site, way back in 1927 (or something like that), i did so because i thought it would be fun to have a record of my thoughts on the mystery fiction i was reading. i wish i'd done it a bit sooner, like before i read the majority of the nero wolfe books, but so be it. at the time mystery cinema wasn't really on my radar but it wasn't all that long before i started to discover some of the great mystery films that came out in the thirties and forties.

which is why i did something i rarely do anymore and that's to request a review copy of a book - mystery movie series of 1930s hollywood. though the name might suggest otherwise it's actually the second volume author ron backer wrote on this topic, after mystery movie series of 1940s hollywood.

and it's great stuff, mind you. i have yet to see the 1940s volume and i hope that i do so one day but this volume is packed to the rafters with more mystery movie series than i had ever imagined could exist. i found the book interesting on two levels. as for as sitting down and reading it, i discovered that i didn't have much use for most of the chapters that covered movies i've never seen. but i found those chapters worthwhile in that they pointed me in the direction of many movies i hadn't previously known about.

backer has done a thorough job with this volume, looking at 22 series and 167 films in all. he essentially does a fairly in-depth review of each of the films, along with plenty of background on the series itself and major figures such as actors, directors, writers and the like. in the case of those films that got their start as novels or stories, he also provides a section on how the film compared to the source material.

which is a pretty impressive piece of work and one that i'd highly recommend to anyone who has an interest in these movies. if you don't have an interest in mystery movies from this era check out a few.

from the table of contents, here are the series that backer covers.

1. philo vance: the upper class detective
2. bulldog drummond: the english adventurer
3. charlie chan: the chinese detective
4. arsene lupin: the gentleman thief
5. hildegarde withers: the teacher detective
6. thatcher colt: the police commissioner
7. inspector trent: the police detective
8. nick and nora charles: the thin man series
9. perry mason: the defense attorney
10. sophie lang: the lady thief
11. sarah keate: the nurse detective
12. torchy blane: the investigative reporter
13. alan o’connor and bobbie reynolds: the federal agents
14. mr. moto: the japanese detective
15. bill crane: the private detective
16. joel and garda sloane: the husband and wife team
17. nancy drew: the teenage detective
18. mr. wong: the other chinese detective
19. barney callahan: the roving reporter
20. brass bancroft: the secret service agent
21. tailspin tommy: the young aviator
22. persons in hiding: the fbi story

Saturday, April 5, 2014

granny get your gun - 1940

granny get your gun
based on a story by erle stanley gardner
(1940)

the obvious attraction with granny get your gun is the fact the story is based on one by erle stanley gardner. apparently it's somewhat loosely based on his perry mason novel, the case of the dangerous dowager, though perry mason is nowhere in sight in the movie. i haven't read the book but it appears the adaptation here is a rather loose one and the wild west theme was added by the filmmakers.

may robson is the star of the show and the granny of the title. her name is actually minerva hatton and she's a wealthy old bird who made her fortune supplying miners in nevada. she plays amateur detective here, but with her bold, no-nonsense approach and her skill with a gun she's a far cry from the dotty old miss marple type.

the whole affair is pretty lighthearted, as so many mysteries of the thirties and forties seem to be. the plot, such as it is, finds hatton trying to find out who bumped off her former son-in-law, who's resorting to some nasty tactics to help win custody of his daughter. hatton takes the rap for the killing at first to protect her daughter, who would otherwise be a prime suspect, and that's about all i'll say about the plot.

not a bad effort and, at a little less than an hour, it can hardly be accused of overstaying its welcome.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

the smiling ghost - 1941

movie: the smiling ghost
from a story by stuart palmer
1941

there are a few traces of a mystery in the smiling ghost, but things are played mostly for laughs with a few halfhearted chills tossed into the mix. which doesn’t make for great art but if you can put your brain on hold for an hour or so and take it as it comes you could do a lot worse.

lucky downing's luck has apparently been of the bad variety lately. when we see him at the beginning of the film he's fending off creditors and is therefore quite pleased when a wealthy heiress offers a tidy sum for him to pose as her fiancée for a month. when he gets to the requisite mansion full of eccentric relatives and starts to discover what happened to the heiress's previous fiancées he's not quite so pleased.

and so it goes, through various twists and turns and wacky antics until the baddie is finally revealed. if you're looking for something along the lines of palmer's hildegarde withers adaptations, such as the penguin pool murder or murder on a bridle path, look elsewhere. if you're simply looking for some good old-fashioned silly fun, look here.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Dark House, by George Manville Fenn - 1885

The Dark House: A Knot Unravelled
By George Manville Fenn
1885

Oh, we get to know a little, sir. We're a body of incompetent men that every one abuses, but we find out a few things a year. (Inspector Linnett)

A printer, publisher and editor of magazines, George Manville Fenn later became a prolific writer of children's books, social commentary and more. It wouldn't be completely off the mark to call The Dark House mystery fiction, since there is a mystery at the heart of it, but for my money it proceeds more in the manner of a gothic than a whodunit.

As the story opens we're presented with the tried and true convention of relatives and concerned parties gathering at the so-called dark house for the reading of the will of one Colonel Capel. A very wealthy fellow, the colonel spent a great deal of time abroad, particularly in India, and amassed a big old heap of treasures, curiosities and whatnot. He constructed a sturdy vault in his home where he stored his wealth. Following his death that wealth was to be distributed to his heirs with the vault becoming his tomb.

Not everyone is happy with the provisions of the will, with the main exception being Capel's great-nephew Paul, who winds up with most of the loot. Before long one of the footmen is found dead in the colonel's room, as is Capel's trusted and loyal "Hindoo" servant. Shortly thereafter the vault is opened and the treasure is found to be missing.

Which is where things start to go a bit astray. At this point in the proceedings the reader of mystery fiction is conditioned to expect an amateur detective or police inspector to come upon the scene and work their magic. And while there are various police officers and inspectors roaming about they don't seem to do much and things are made right at the end in spite of their efforts rather than because of them. As for the (temporary) members of the household who had gathered for the reading of the will they seem content to roam around, sleepwalk, bicker and wring their hands to no real purpose.

All of which makes it sound like I didn't like this book much, but I wouldn't go quite that far. Fenn actually does a great job, especially early on in the book, of creating a creepy atmosphere. Given that I'm a big fan of old dark house type stuff that counts for a lot with me. So while I can't recommend this one unreservedly, I'd go so far as to give it perhaps one thumb up, with the aforementioned caveats in mind.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Casino Murder Case - 1935

The Casino Murder Case
From a story by S.S. Van Dine
1935

This cinematic outing finds the esteemed Mr. Philo Vance investigating three cases of attempted murder by poison, one of which is successful, and a shooting which may or may not be a suicide. All of the victims of these crimes are members of a wealthy, eccentric family who own a casino.

I didn't find this one particularly exciting for about the first three-quarters of the movie but things began to kick into gear after that. Overall, I'd say I preferred the somewhat more offbeat The Dragon Murder Case to this one.

Trivia fans will want to note that the sergeant is played by Ted Healy, who worked with the Three Stooges before they hit it big. Also on hand, in an uncredited role as an auctioneer, William Demarest, later renowned for his role as Uncle Charley in My Three Sons.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

the dragon murder case - 1934

The Dragon Murder Case
From a novel by S.S. Van Dine
1934

A man dives into a pool in full view of his companions. He does not surface. The pool is drained, turning up nothing but what appear to be dragon tracks. Enter Philo Vance, a somber district attorney, and a wisecracking police sergeant, who convene to determine exactly what transpired.

This one's good fun all around, in spite of the somewhat farfetched nature of the crime. But then where would the golden age of detection have been without murderers who went to such ridiculous lengths to carry out such complicated crimes?

This actually marked my first exposure to Philo Vance. I had been meaning to read some of the books prior to seeing it, but those plans fell afoul of the "so many books, so little time" dictum.

the scarab murder case, by s.s. van dine

the scarab murder case
by s.s. van dine
1929

i'm putting a lot of trust in you - you confounded aesthete.
(john markham, to philo vance)

say what you want about philo vance but you can't say that he doesn't have a vast knowledge of pencils (a comment that will make more sense if you've read this book). you could also say that he's a quite unique and distinctive character, one whose adventures were chronicled in twelve novels from 1926 to 1939. many of these made their way to the big screen.

not long ago i decided that it was finally time to experience philo vance in print. i started with the fifth volume in the series simply because i'm a sucker for works that take egyptology as their theme. although the characters here never get any closer to egypt than manhattan (at least not during the course of the novel) this one, as the name suggests, is all about egyptology.

the novel kicks off with the murder of a wealthy new yorker who has backed a number of archaeological expeditions. his body is found in a private museum run by egyptologist dr. mindrum bliss and he's been given a one-way ticket to oblivion courtesy of a nasty knock on the noggin with a weighty statue.

which sounds like a job for philo vance, who is called in to help sort things out, along with the rather inept police and his old friend district attorney markham, who vacillates between deferring to vance and overruling him. as it so happens vance is something of an expert in egyptology and he wastes no opportunity to impart staggering amounts of detail (in those famed footnotes, no less), no matter how irrelevant.

not that vance's irrelevancies are limited to egyptology, mind you. i suspect that he was also an expert in just about everything else under the sun, but having only read this one volume i can't be sure. in any event there's a limited circle of suspects here, mainly the residents of and frequent visitors to the house/museum complex and it's not even forty-eight hours before vance has tied everything up in a nice neat package.

i have to say that i found the print incarnation of philo vance to be not particularly likable but you certainly can't deny that he's a memorable character. as is the case with those other great, memorable and not so likable detectives like sherlock holmes, nero wolfe and hercule poirot, just to name a few. i did find this book quite entertaining and when the to be read pile permits i'm sure i'll be checking out other installments.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

sherlock holmes and the case of sabina hall - 1988

sherlock holmes and the case of sabina hall
by l. b. greenwood
1988

i keep telling myself i'm going to catch up on my sherlock holmes. i've read very little thus far and despite my good intentions i keep getting sidetracked into other pursuits. given that gap in my traditional mystery background i recognize that i may be inclined to judge sherlock holmes imitators differently than someone who is acquainted with more of the real deal.

having said all that, i thought that sherlock holmes and the case of sabina hall was quite a fine piece of work. i wasn't able to locate too much information about the author, but what i found indicates that she is (or was) a schoolteacher based in canada. her other holmes knockoffs include sherlock holmes and the thistle of scotland and sherlock holmes and the case of the raleigh legacy.

as the proceedings get underway, watson takes on an assignment to care for an aging tycoon whose miserly tendencies make ebenezer scrooge seem like an okay guy after all. holmes tags along and by the time they arrive at sabina hall, the old coot is goners and quite possibly not by natural causes. his sister-in-law and sole heir turns out to be just as miserly and wastes no time preparing to dispose of the rickety old hall.

the plot thickens, of course, and a few more bodies stack up, but to reveal too much more would be at risk of throwing out spoilers. and it's not really for the plot, serviceable though it was, that i'd recommend this one. where greenwood really shines is in creating an unremittingly bleak atmosphere, with a drafty, rundown old hall located on the forbidding bristol coast, the weather relentlessly awful, and a group of characters that absolutely would not win any congeniality awards.

but i've always been kind of a sucker for this sort of thing, so in this case the author might just have been preaching to the choir.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

mystery house - 1938

mystery house
from a story by mignon g. eberhart
1938

'one of those people downstairs is a homicidal maniac.'

not a bad whodunit, this one, given that the running time is less than an hour. although one the crimes is a locked room mystery that could possibly be said to stretch the bounds of credibility just a bit.

a prominent banker gathers his company officers at his hunting lodge to let them know that he's discovered some financial malfeasance. a short time later he's killed in his locked bedroom and found with a gun in his hand.

the death is officially ruled a suicide but the banker's daughter is not buying that. she reconvenes the guests at the hunting lodge and invites detective lance o'leary to sort the mess out. which he does, but not before the body count rises and a number of red herrings are scattered in his path.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

most popular baby names for 2013

fuckwit
chagrined-horse
mississippi
bob
irritabilly
starbucks
melancholia
danny bonaduce
diphtheria
hamsterteeth

Saturday, January 4, 2014

the alfred hitchcock hour: an unlocked window

an unlocked window
the alfred hitchcock hour
1965

i'm a sucker for anything in the haunted house and old dark house realm so i was intrigued by the blurb for this episode of the alfred hitchcock hour, which is currently airing on the encore suspense channel. an unlocked window is adapted from a story by ethel lina white. her 1936 novel, the wheel spins, was made into the 1938 hitchcock film, the lady vanishes.

an unlocked window is pretty much dripping with old dark houseness and the house itself, or at least the exteriors, should look very familiar to anyone who's ever seen hitchcock's original version of psycho. the action is, for the most part, confined to said house, in which a pair of nurses are tending to a bedridden patient. also on hand, the man and wife in charge of keeping the household running.

the key issue here, from the viewpoint of the nurses, is that there's been a rash of killings lately and the victims have all been, well...nurses. while a storm rages outside the inhabitants of the house batten down the hatches and lock the place up tight (with one obvious exception) in hopes of keeping themselves safe.

given the way things are structured this is really more of a suspense tale than a whodunit but the former quality is in no short supply. there's also plenty of rain and bushes lashing the windows, thunder and lightning and a strategically timed power outage to enhance the general creepiness and tension.

this episode was redone twenty years later during a short-lived revamp of the hitchcock series. i have yet to see it but i can't imagine how it could possibly improve on the original.