Monday, April 12, 2021

Fatal Descent by John Rhode and Carter Dickson

Here's some Liszt.

 Here are some cards I've been working on for spring.



 


 And here is Herr von Ringneck plotting his next nefarious scheme. "They'll never find the bodies buried under the Azalea Bushes...hoo hoo ha, ha, ha!"





 

This was a blistering good mystery. I had no idea what to expect and there were surprises at every turn. Not even close to predicting the ending even when the authors seemed to be leading up to a certain culprit...bam...surprise!

Lots of shady and lovable characters. Nobody's who you think they are.

The whole story takes place in a publishing house. I won't tell you who is murdered or even how. Needless to say someone is and in a seemingly impossible way. Another "locked room" mystery, except it's not in a locked room. But I won't tell you where. I don't want to spoil anything for all you who would want to read this and I would think every crime mystery fan would want to.

One thing I'll reveal: A Doctor who specializes in psychology and a Homicide Detective work together to solve the problem. I especially liked how everyone was treated with respect and there were no straw man (usually buffoonish policemen, which I hate). It made a nice story with characters I could sympathize with and respect.

OK, the one female character was annoying, but it furthered the plot, so, whatever. 
 
 
Meanwhile Josh is worried that Furry Little Maurice might be the guilty party who buried tiny little pellets under the blanket next to his head.

 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Ruffian Dick: A Novel of Sir Richard Francis Burton by Joseph Kennedy

I won't publish tomorrow because today I want to wish all my blogging friends a very blessed weekend and Happy Easter.  I love you all!!

Here's a young hot shot playing Grieg Piano concerto in A minor, Op.16.
 
I realized that this is a post from a year and three months ago when I spent the new 2020 year with my mom and dad.  As I've already posted, my mother passed away January 14, 2021.  I was going to change the caption, but decided it's a nice memory:
 

I've been staying with my parents in Florida this week, bringing in the New Year with them.  I've told you all that my mother has stage four lung cancer, but she is doing very well.  She's back home and, while her energy is gone, we're able to drive to the area beaches and enjoy the sand, sun and, in the case below, rain:



Artistic, isn't it?  It's because it was raining hard and I took the photo from inside the car.  What you see is the distortion caused by the rain on the windshield.  I like it.  Rather like an impressionistic painting.

The second day the sun came out.





Ruffian Dick: A Novel of Sir Richard Francis BurtonRuffian Dick: A Novel of Sir Richard Francis Burton by Joseph Kennedy
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I gave this book a one star rating, not because it was horrible, but because it was OK. According to the Goodreads rating system that is what one star means. How one would rate "horrible" I don't know. Maybe they should have a negative graph system.

Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS was a British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, Freemason, and diplomat. 
 
I got the above from Wikipedia. He sounds like someone who would be fascinating to read about, doesn't he?  Maybe he is, but you won't get an inkling from this book.
 
First of all, I thought this was a work of non-fiction and it isn't. It is the product of the author's imagination, supposedly based on Burton's actually diaries and letters. Other reviews say that Kennedy is a reliable source. Fine. His writing is still a bore.

Also, he dwells far too much on the salacious and vulgar. Not inspiring. Maybe Burton really led that sort of life. Maybe he really wrote about every...single...sexual proclivity... he suffered from, but who cares? If I wanted to read that junk, I'd read Judith Krantz.

I got this at a warehouse for three dollars and, I know it seems cheap on my part, but I am returning it and exchanging it for a biography on Duke Ellington. I have a self-imposed budget limit and I chose this over Duke. Let's hope Ellington's biographer is more interested in giving a balanced picture of one of my favorite big band, jazz artists. I'll let you know.



View all my reviews
 
As I said before I want to post a few photos with my mother (and father, of course) in memory of her.  My parents on their wedding day, July 11, 1957. They got married at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, Texas.  When they visited, we loved to drive to Fort Worth and visit their old haunts.  The house they lived in has been torn down, but the site is still there.
 

 


Monday, March 29, 2021

The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda

 

Here's some Vivaldi.

 Hercule has been in suspense all week.




And now to relieve you all of the suspense you've been feeling all this week:

 

Last week our music library at the University where I work decided to give away all their vinyl records.  They were free to anyone who wanted any as long as they promised not to sell them.  

 I waited until the students got what they wanted and took the rest.  I am now the proud owner of  over 500 classical records, most of them in prime condition.

It took some rearranging, but I got most of them on the bottom shelf of the dining room bookshelf.

 

 The ones I am currently listening to are under the table in my work room:




My record player is in my work room where the birds, pigs and I can enjoy them.

 


 

All I need is a tower and I could run my own Classical Radio station.  The only drawback is having to jump up every ten minutes to change sides.

 

But I'm not complaining.  It's said that vinyl has a "warmer" sound than digital.  Maybe it's a cognitive bias, but I think it's true.



I do not know if this is the best biography of Lawrence of Arabia, but I certainly felt I learned a lot about the Middle East during WWI and Lawrence's role in helping the Arabs and consequently the British gain control of several of the Arab countries and bring about the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

This book does not glamorize, nor romanticize Lawrence's life, nor T.H. Lawrence as a person, but neither did it seem slanted the other way. Lawrence is enigmatic as a person, but also quite fierce as a warrior.

War is brutal and Lawrence had to act brutally as well as be brutalized. We gain a lot of insight in just how inhumane soldiers can be to each other. Think of the most inhumane practices you can imagine and then double it and you have how the Arabs treated their enemies. Double it again and you gain an idea of how vilely the Turks treated their enemies.

And then there were the western countries who fought through the Arabs (the British, the French) and those that fought through the Turks (the Germans, and the Russians) in order to gain access to valuable oil land and sea ports. It allows one to gain insight as to how leadership in various countries, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey was appointed and why the Middle East has the sort of 0leaders it has today.

Considering the profoundly significant role these countries play today in world events, it behooves all of us to learn the history of the Middle East.

 


 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Trial of Lizzie Borden: a true story by Cara Roberston

 I'm listening to the Sonata no. 8 by Prokofiev, performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

 

 Hubby cubby and I have been busy little bees these past two weeks.  After living with it for a year, we finally bit the bullet and switched my art room and the library.  Even with sky tubes, there was no view for my birds and me when I worked, which was not good since that is where I spend most of my time.  

 

Now my library has just enough light for reading. I keep my fiction here.

 


 

 

 

And now my work room has light with views, which I enjoy while working.



Even my birdies have a view.  I got a branch from the woods and propped it up in an old Christmas tree stand.

 

 

 I have another surprise but it will have to wait until next week.  (That's called a "teaser", folks.)



 

The Trial of Lizzie Borden was a good, step by step exploration of the mystery of the Borden murders.

We all know the rhyme:

Lizzy Borden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
Gave her father forty-one.

But did she? She was acquitted for the murder.

To start at the beginning:

Lizzie Borden was ironing handkerchiefs in the dining room and Maggie, the house servant, was washing windows on the top floor.

Around 11:00am, Lizzie called to Maggie to come downstairs quickly for someone killed her father. Later her stepmother was also found dead in the upstairs bedroom. Both had been murdered with an ax.

According to autopsies, and blood coagulation, the mother had been killed an hour and a half earlier than the father.

The community of River Falls, Massachusetts, was completely unprepared for such a grotesque crime. The police seemed to be the least prepared. They couldn't find the murder weapon, they found no clothes of Lizzie's that had any blood on it, and although fingerprint samples were available at the time, they refused to use them, considering them unreliable.

Friends seemed to have incriminating evidence, such as one who had a note written by Lizzie, refused to cooperate and the police refused to press the issue.

Eventually an ax head was found but without the handle. It turns out Lizzie burned a dress the next day of the murders and her statements and alibis were tenuous and contradictory.

However, all the police had to go on was circumstantial evidence.

Cara Robertson takes the reader through everyone's testimony, the events themselves and the court trial. Some of it gets a bit long, but is still interesting. I felt both the prosecutor and defense lawyers used too much speculation and subjective feelings as to how or why Lizzie Borden, a wealthy young woman, could or could not be capable of such a heinous crime.

In the end, the defense won. It took the jury barely ninety minutes to decide the Lizzie was not guilty. Apparently Lizzie's gender and station in society won the day.

But did it?

After being set free, Lizzie determined to return to her home and continue as she left off. But the support that her friends and church gave her while she was on trial eroded and she soon found herself alone.

She and her sister
Emma decided to move and bought an expensive house on an estate. Lizzie then began to show peculiarities that showed another side to her. She kept strange, bohemian friends. After a while the home life became so unsupportable for her sister that she moved away.

It also came out the Lizzie was a thief. Furniture and jewelry stores discovered she was stealing from them and refused to accept her patronage after that.

The case has been cold since 1893 and some questions will never be answered:

If Lizzie Bordon didn't kill her parents, who did? The house was securely locked. And where was the murderer hiding for an hour and a half undetected between the murders?

Was Lizzie a psychopath or temporarily insane?

What happened to the murder weapon?

We'll never know.

Or will we? Robertson mentions concealed documentation of the trial that is classified because of some ruling over 120 years old. Maybe a law can overturn the classification and the documents can be unsealed and shed new light on one of the most famous cold cases in America. 
 
 
The only books in the art room I put on the top shelf for Percy to shred.  Cheapest parrot toy ever and no more than what those authors deserve. 


 
And a hint for next week:
 
What are those things on the bottom of my art book shelves in the dining room? 
 
 

 
 
 Tune in next week to find out. Same Bat time; same Bat channel.


 
 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr

 
 Love Chopin?  I do.  Here's Maurizio Pollini playing his Nocturnes.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I believe this is my first John Dickson Carr. I've learned to trust publications that focus on mysteries from the first half of the 20th century. They won't have gratuitous violence, language or sex. Maybe because of bad old censorship, but these poor authors had to rely exclusively on story line and character development.

At first I wasn't really sure who the hero was going to be, assuming there was a hero. Dr. Gideon Fell doesn't come into it until much later. Perhaps if I had started with the first of the series, I'd have been clear about who the detective was going to be. It did become apparent after a while.

 
The plot is original in many respects: It is the 1930s. The Local Squire, Sir Dudley Fairleigh has died. His younger brother, John, is the next in line but has been gone since he crossed the Atlantic on the Titanic in 1912. A year previously, it turns out he did, in fact survive the crossing and comes to claim his title. He married Molly, the little girl who was sweet on him in his youth, and has been living quietly ever since.

Then another man, a Patrick Gore, arrives on the scene. He claims to also have traveled on the Titanic and also survived. In fact, Gore claims that he is the real John Fairleigh, and the current Fairleigh is an imposter. He is really Patrick Gore and they switched identities when they met on that ill fated crossing.

So. Who is telling the truth? The answer is not so straight forward and there are many surprises and unexpected twists. I really had no idea who was what and when a main character is unexpectedly murdered, the reader is even more lost.

This is an unusual detective story because it not only has a murder to be solved, but is creepy. One of the characters practices witchcraft and may have discovered the secret to a 18th century mechanical doll called the Hag, that is stored in the closet. Is this Hag somehow responsible for the murder?

It certainly scared a maid to the point of death.

The ending is completely a surprise, coming out of left field, but then again so do many turns and twists. However, I must admit the whole story is logically put together, although I think the author is sometimes guilty of drawing it out longer than it needed to be by inserting extra little twists and turns here and there. It reminded me of the old Dickens' serials.

Anyway, I'm glad to find a new author to enjoy. 
 
 
                                        But is it art?

 

 

Monday, March 8, 2021

Strangers in the House by Dorothy Gallagher

 I wrote this review two weeks ago.  Today it is 75 degrees outside.  Crazy Texas weather.  The saying is if you don't like the weather in Texas, wait around.  It'll change.

 

What a crazy week!  As I write this I am stranded in my house because, unlike the north, we do not have equipment to clear our roads.  What am I talking about?  This:

Our back porch:



From our 2nd floor:

 



 At least we still have power.  My sister lives in Denton, just north of Dallas and they are having rolling blackouts.

 

 

Still listening to Carols from King's College Choir.

 


 

I bought this book because I enjoyed the author's previous book, "How I Came Into My Inheritance."

While the writing here is as witty and sparkling as that book, I must say that I felt that it would been more appropriately titled: "How all these People Used Me, Treated Me Poorly, and Ripped Me Off Because of the Really Bad Choices I Made in my Friends and Sex Partners."

Maybe I just found the history of her parents and their relationships with her more intriguing.

The most interesting part are the chapters devoted to when she did finally settle down and marry the Publisher, Ben Sonnenberg (author of Lost Property:  Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy). They got married with their eyes wide open, because he already had M.S. and reading about the road they took as his condition disintegrated from using a cane, to a wheelchair, to being paralyzed from the neck down before finally succumbing is poignant and alone worth the price of the book.

Well, no. Also the chapters about her Russian relatives who somehow survived Stalin's genocide, including the ones who moved to the U.S. and then moved back to the newly minted Soviet Union to live in a "Socialist Utopia" is painful and touching as it imparts a fascinating part of history: Anti-Semitism. Somehow her relatives thought Communism would eradicate that defect in Russia's make up. They were wrong.

Gallagher lived in an interesting world (still does for all I know, she's in her eighties). She's a writer, living in New York City. Her life is right in the middle of other writers, artists and all sorts of bohemian folk that are the ingredients to an interesting story, or so Kerouac believed when he wrote, "On the Road."

I don't find them all that interesting. After reading about so many immoral, selfish people with chaotic lives, they start to blur together.

Still, I would rank Strangers in the House above Kerouac's On the Road, maybe due to Gallagher's writing, which is very good, or because she was able to delineate the different people in her life, giving them a little more individualistic color.

Anyway, the book is still engaging and I read it in two sittings.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Cult of the Mother-Goddess by E.O. James

 Here's Brahms Piano Sonatas.

 My house Friday, February 19:

My house the following Monday:



 As I write this on Tuesday, it is 78 degrees Farenheit outside.  I'm trying not to put on the air conditioner.

 



 Fascinating read of the origins of the worship of female idols.

James is mostly empirical with his observations with very little speculation, which I appreciate. He does not try to tell us who these goddesses were or why they were worshiped. He mostly describes the archeological finds and where they were discovered. The reasons they were worshiped are evidenced in early manuscripts or can be derived from surrounding artifacts.

In a nutshell, they were worshiped for fertility of both the land and humans.

He begins with the earliest known civilizations as developed in Mesopotamia, and works his way into surrounding Middle Eastern countries, Syria, Anatolia, Palastine and Egypt, then goes east as far as India.

He then turns around to go west and compares and contrasts the earlier goddesses and how they were possibly, if not probably, absorbed into the Greco-Roman Pantheon.

Finally he compares the attributes of the mother goddess and her relationships with men, both as husband and son and makes a case for how this resulted in a syncretism of Christian and pagan beliefs, explaining the rise of Mary as, not only the earthly mother of Jesus, but into the Mother of God, perpetual virgin, and co-redemptix of mankind.

What I find striking is that the exaltation of Mary did not occur before the 4th century and she was not offically recognized as the Christian Magna Mater until the 19th century, the same century when the infallibility of the pope was made official Roman Catholic doctrine.

The reverence of Mary as Magna Mater in the Greek Orthodox Church must have occurred earlier since the schism between Roman and Greek churches occurred during the middle ages.

In conclusion, this book answered a lot of questions I had concerning the history of Mariology in the Roman and Orthodox Churches. 

A question that does arise for me is how fertility goddesses morphed into the Co-Savior of mankind.  These are two very different functions.  The one is worshiped in order to provide earthly needs, the other for the salvation of the soul.

James' conclusion is a valid one.  Since both religions developed on parallel lines, starting at the turn of B.C. to A.D., it is logical to assume that, as Biblical illiteracy increased due to less people knowing Latin, that some pagans converting to Christianity could create sects deviating from the original faith and retained vestiges of their old worship practices. 

 But it is remarkable they carried over the attributes of the mother goddesses, but changed her purpose.  I also feel he did not satisfactorily explain how the relationship of Mother reigning over a subordinate son cropped up in pagan religions and then was attached to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox religion.  I felt James created the one relationship in order to explain the other.


However, there is still enough attributes of both pagan goddesses and the Mother of God to gain an understanding as to how Mary, who is mentioned only a few times in the Bible, rose to such prominence in Roman and Orthodox Churches, as well as the hundreds of years this development took place after the dawn of Christianity.

One wonders what Mary herself, who humbly referred to herself as the Lord's handmaiden "to do with as he pleased" would think of all this.

 

The author:

 The Reverend Professor Edwin Oliver James (1888 – 1972) was an anthropologist in the field of comparative religion. He was Professor Emeritus of the History and Philosophy of Religion in the University of London, Fellow of University College London and Fellow of King's College London. During his long career he had been Professor of History and Philosophy of Religion at the University of Leeds, Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam and Wilde Lecturer at the University of Oxford.

 He received his education at Exeter College, Oxford and at University College London, where he studied under the famous egyptologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie.

From Goodreads.