Archive for October, 2009


The Talleyrand Maxim

October 23, 2009

After reading The Middle Temple Murder, I downloaded another J.S. Fletcher book: The Talleyrand Maxim (is this where Robert Ludlum got his book-naming scheme? There’s another one called The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation. I think I’m saving it for last.)

I started The Tallyrand Maxim, decided it wasn’t remotely like The Middle Temple Murder, realized that stories about blackmail tend to make me really uncomfortable, and abandoned it for a Joe Muller mystery.

Then I picked it up again, and immediately became completely absorbed. Read the rest of this entry ?


Emma McChesney

October 23, 2009

There are, apparently, three books of stories about Emma McChesney, a travelling saleswoman, but I wish there were more. They’re by Edna Ferber, and they are…kind of fantastic, actually. I was skeptical, and I shouldn’t have been.

Emma McChesney is in her mid thirties, but looks younger. She has a teenage son named Jock, who has both faults and flashes of brilliance. She travels for the T.A. Buck Featherloom Skirt Company, and she is almost, but not quite, too good to be true. Read the rest of this entry ?


Orphans of the Storm

October 21, 2009

So, once upon a time there was this French melodrama called Les deux orphelines. It got made into movies a few times in the 1910s. Then, around 1920, D.W. Griffith was looking for a story to make into his next movie. He’d just had a big success with a beefed-up melodrama, Way Down East, so he decided to use Les deux orphelines and stick it in the middle of the French Revolution. He changed the name to Orphans of the Storm, got Lillian Gish to be in it, and filmed the whole thing in Westchester County. And it was awesome, in spite, or perhaps because, of the frequent references to Bolshevism in the intertitles.

I watched Orphans of the Storm last week on a college TV station, so when the movie ended there were a couple of guys talking about the movie, which is where I came up with the bit about Westchester. They seemed to be more interested in talking about how Griffith’s place in Mamaroneck was called Satan’s Toe than the movie itself. Anyway, this morning I checked Project Gutenberg’s New eBooks feed and found that they’d uploaded the novelization of the movie, also called Orphans of the Storm and full of pictures from the movie. I have not read it yet, and I’m not sure when I’ll get around to it, but I thought it was a very nifty thing and I wanted to share it.


Six Recommendations

October 15, 2009

I decided this morning that I wanted to make a list of ten books I’ve covered in this blog that I would wholeheartedly recommend. Not my favorites, because there are a lot of books — Tracy Park, for one — that I love too much to be able to think about them objectively. I’m not totally sure I’m looking at these objectively, but I do think they’re good, and I can’t see any reason why people shouldn’t still be reading them. I’m a little bit sad that I was only able to come up with six, though. Keep in mind that my standards, as usual, are incredibly inconsistent. Read the rest of this entry ?


When a Man Marries

October 14, 2009

I’m having trouble putting into words how much I liked When A Man Marries. The is the second Mary Roberts Rinehart book I’ve read, and it’s not much like Dangerous Days. For one thing, nothing particularly tragic happens. For another, it’s mostly pretty funny (I suspect these two things are related). Also, it’s a mystery novel. And at first, I thought  a lot about those differences, but then it occurred to me that the things that make the two books similar–good writing, for example–are at least as important. After that, I got really absorbed, and mostly stopped thinking about anything that wasn’t actually happening in the book for a while. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Middle Temple Murder

October 7, 2009

The Middle Temple Murder, by J.S. Fletcher, is another bestselling mystery novel, this time from 1912. Apparently Woodrow Wilson was among its fans. And although there are some iffy bits–there’s something amusingly unlikely about the beginning, and one too many coincidences at the end–I think it deserves fans.

The main character, Frank Spargo, is a journalist, a sub-editor on a paper called The Watchman. Strolling home from work in the small hours of the morning, one of the policeman he always says hi to as he passes by is like, “Hey, check it out! We found a body; come see!” The policeman then invites Spargo to accompany the body to the morgue. Eventually an actual detective shows up, and invites Spargo to investigate the crime with him. It’s kind of bizarre. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

October 6, 2009

Fergus Hume’s Mystery of a Hansom Cab was hugely popular in, like, 1887, but I’m not quite sure why. I mean, I didn’t figure out who the murderer was, sure, but I felt like Hume’s attempts at misdirection were more important to him than the integrity of the plot. Trying to figure out the solution isn’t a huge part of reading mystery novels, for me, but I like to at least have the option, and I think lying to the reader is the ultimate sin a mystery writer can commit.

Also, the crime wasn’t that exciting. Read the rest of this entry ?


Her Kingdom

October 6, 2009

Objectively, I’m pretty sure that Her Kingdom, by Amy Le Feuvre, is a terrible book. But it’s also old and fat and printed on thick, soft paper, and really nice to curl up on the couch with when the weather is beginning to get cool.

Anstice Barrett’s father has just died, leaving her almost penniless. She goes to her elderly cousin Lucy for advice, and Lucy tells her to marry Justin Holme, who is a bitter widower with three uncontrollable children. This is a totally ridiculous idea, made more so by the fact that Justin is only home about two months out of each year, that his house is in a very rural area, and also that Justin hates women. It’s so ridiculous that the only reason Amy Le Feuvre can come up with to have Anstice accept the offer is to that she’s haunted by a dream of drowning children. Or something. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Gold Bag

October 2, 2009

The first two Carolyn Wells mysteries I ever read were The Gold Bag and Vicky Van. I think the choice was dictated by them being the only two available on PG at the time, but it worked out well, since they sort of represent the best and the worst. I’ve read Vicky Van three or four times now, but I never reread The Gold Bag until last week.

The main thing I took away from my first reading of The Gold Bag was that Herbert Burroughs, the narrator/detective, was gullible and fond of leaping to conclusions. The book opens with Burroughs’ supervisor telling him, “Burroughs, if there’s a mystery to be unravelled; I’d rather put it in your hands than to trust it to any other man on the force…you go about it scientifically, and you never jump at conclusions, or accept them, until they’re indubitably warranted.” My Delicious bookmark (dated June 2006) says, “I’m sorry, an air of truth isn’t evidence, Mr. Burroughs.”

Actually, now that I’ve said that, I’m not sure anything else needs to be added. But I suppose I can’t let that stop me. Read the rest of this entry ?