Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sex Pistols The Inside Story by Fred and Judy Vermorel

Here is Rapsodie Espagnole by one of my favorites, Maurice Ravel, performed by the Montreal Orchestra.

In its atmosphere, the Rapsodie reflects the profound influence of the Spanish musical heritage imparted to Ravel by his Basque mother. As a child, Ravel would listen to his mother sing him folk songs from her country. Later works by Ravel, such as Boléro and the opera L'heure espagnole, also claim similar sources of inspiration. From the blurb on Youtube.

Sex Pistols: The Inside StorySex Pistols: The Inside Story by Fred Vermorel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I am fascinated by movements, especially ones that I have heard about, but never really focused on. So this year, almost forty years after the fact, I am reading up on Punk Rock and the movers and shakers who propelled that movement to international attention.

This book is comprised of a diary of Sophie, the Sex Pistol's secretary, and the interviews that Fred Vermorel and his wife Judy conducted with each member of the band as well as people associated with the band.

Some of it was insightful in that it showed how a group of ill-educated, low class punks could become world famous. You get the right promoter behind you and you can go places and it's not wholly due to personal ability in the realm of musical talent, or financial or business knowledge.

Which is probably why when the Pistols disbanded a couple of years later, they did not have much money to their name.

John Lyden, aka Johnny Rotten was able to move on and create his own band and brand of experimental type of music. The rest seemed to sink into anonymity, except for Sid Vicious whose sensational death along with the death of his girl friend, Nancy, has become legendary, in no small part because of the movie made about them.

It fascinates me why so many people flocked to this genre of music. Did it really speak to them? Or was it promoted in such a way that made it appealing and attractive to young people? I'm still trying to discover how it works.

The interviews themselves are not very interesting in my opinion because the young men did not have a whole lot to say for themselves. We learn what they hate and what they're against, but what they stand for or like is unknown. Being reactionary only survives if there's something already established to react against. As their own type of music became popular, they lost their raison d'etre.

I have a few more books about The Sex Pistols and the Punk Rock movement in general. We'll see what they have to say about it all.

View all my reviews

 One of the postcards I received from St. Petersburg, Russia.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace by Robert M. Coates

Here is Jascha Heifetz playing Brahms' Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 77

My husband got me a present the other day.  We have had to cut down a few of our trees before they fell down due to the tornado winds we've been getting.  I hated to do it, but the limbs were hanging over our neighbors' yards and next door they have five little kids who play outside all the time.  If one of the branches fell on them I would never forgive myself.

Unfortunately, this has reduced the population of birds in our backyard.  So Josh bought me this cute bird feeder.  At first we saw no birds, but yesterday a bright red Cardinal and a nut hatch came by. Today we have a sparrow.  Yay!

And finally I'm seeing birds visit our bird bath.  Right now a Mockingbird is taking a dip.  He flew away before I was able to take his photo, but I hope you can see the little bird helping himself to seed.

Well, he's gone.  Now two mockingbirds are fighting over it.

The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez TraceThe Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace by Robert M. Coates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Living many years in the South I have developed a taste for Southern novelists and Southern history. I have driven across the Natchez trace, starting in Huntsville, Alabama all the way through to Grenada Mississippi. I have also spent a weekend in Natchez the small town on the border of Mississippi on the river of the same name, across from Vidalia, Louisiana, which has the best barbecue restaurant I have ever before eaten at. If I'm not mistaken, it's called "The Butt Hut". Just FYI, if any of you pass through there.

I am reading through an encyclopedia of Tennessee places, people and history (yes, I read encyclopedias; I'm that sort of nerd). Outlaws came up as well as mention of some books that record their dastardly deeds. This book is one of them.

If nothing else, this book makes the reader appreciate the value of an effective police force. Police forces were non-existent back when our country was just born. And many a psychopathic maniac took advantage of that fact.

As people started traveling out west to stake their claims and try their fortunes in unknown parts, many traveled through the vast forest land that came to be known as the Natchez Trace. There is now a paved highway through the forest, if one would like to drive through. I can say from personal experience that it is worth it.

We like to think of ourselves as civilized, but there was a time when some European settlers could prove themselves as savage as any barbarous murderers of any brutal times past.

These gangs killed to rob, to ravish, and murder, many times just for the sheer pleasure of it. The first known serial killers in America are the Harpe brothers and they kept people from Tennessee to New Orleans in constant terror from 1797 to past the turn of the next century.

Of course, people reach a point where they've had enough and after years of searching and chasing, one Harpe brother's career came to an end when his head was nailed to a tree as a deterrent to other would-be criminals.

His brother ran off and joined another gang and did not meet his just desserts until years later.

Other Outlaws were Samuel Mason, a cowardly ex-soldier, who nevertheless, enjoyed hiding in the woods and surprising isolated travelers, stealing all their possessions and killing them.

The worst, and also the last, was a man named Murrel who was a respected plantation owner in town. He had a wide network that involved the seediest criminals as well as professional bankers and lawyers.

He would "rescue" slaves i.e. steal slaves, promising them freedom and a passage to the north, only to turn around and sell them farther south and west. If he couldn't sell them, he shot the poor deceived slave dead, leaving their weighted bodies in the Mississippi river. I am not going to describe how his gang weighted the bodies.

He and his clan planned a huge uprising where the slaves were to murder their masters and their families and then travel to freedom with Murrel and his clan. Of course Murrel's real purpose was to sell them. Luckily the wife of one planters overheard a couple of slaves talking and got the story out.

One man, Staunton, on his own by becoming perhaps the first undercover detective, joined Murrel's clan, got a list of the members and turned it over to the authorities.

But Murrel knew the law and he had good lawyers. They set out to destroy Staunton's good name and character so he would be thrown out as a witness. It worked in that Staunton's reputation was destroyed, but eventually Murrel was convicted.

As I said, he was the last outlaw gang leader. It was by now the 1850s and things began to change. Townspeople began to understand the need for law enforcement, but also the trace and the surrounding forest became more populated, settled and less isolated. Criminals did not have the invisibility and places to hide as before. No doubt they moved farther west to more desolate areas. Which reminds me that I read a very good history of the Texas Rangers, but that's another book review.

As horrible as their deeds were, these Outlaws were a part of American history and I think it is important to read all aspects of our past: the good, the bad, and the dastardly.

I wonder why Clint Eastwood never made a movie about the outlaws of Natchez Trace? Someone needs to.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Jack the Ripper: A Chilling Insight Into One of the World's Most Infamous Killers by Geoff Barker

Here is Papa Haydn's Piano Sonata in B, no. 47, played by the brilliant Emmanuel Ax.

Jack the Ripper: a chilling insight into one of the world's most infamous killersJack the Ripper: a chilling insight into one of the world's most infamous killers by Geoff Barker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am writing my own "ghost" story and I mention Jack the Ripper in it. As I was writing, I wondered if my information was accurate. Jack the Ripper is a nefarious legend about a serial killer, his victims were prostitutes but that was as far as my knowledge went. I did not want to include erroneous information in my book, even if it is fiction.

As I was visiting my local bookstore I came across Jack the Ripper: a chilling insight into one of the world's most infamous killers by Geoff Barker. It was on sale for five dollars. Well, who could resist such an enticement? Not me.

This book is good for a number of reasons. It's not very long, imminently readable, and filled with illustrations and photographs, some a bit graphic, so please use discretion. It's not a children's book.

Also, the author is methodically thorough. He starts with the part of Victorian London where the murders took place, giving the reader a history of the neighborhoods and people who populated them. He provides maps to show the neighborhoods and also the scenes of the crime. He also provides information as to where to find those sites today, since some of neighborhoods have changed considerably.

After that we get a couple of pages for each murder victim. There were five that are recorded as positively resembling each other enough to create the conclusion they were done by the same hand.

What's nice is that we get a brief history of each woman. She's not merely a murder statistic, she's a person who has her own history that abruptly stops with her murder.

What all of the women had in common was they were alcoholics that supported themselves through prostitution. What I found interesting is that none of them started out that way. They started out married with children, even coming from working class households. However their alcohol addictions ruined their marriages, caused them to desert husband and children and basically live from one bottle to the other.

The scenario is similar with each case. They spent their money on drink and then couldn't pay for their night's lodgings, so they went out to ply their trade to get enough money to pay for a night's lodging. Little did they know they would not be needing lodgings that night because they would end up at the morgue.

I mention this because I think I tend to think of these women as poor helpless, born into poverty and as a result they took to drink to drown their sorrows, so to speak. This book does not paint that picture at all. They started out well off with a working husband and family and it was the alcohol that caused their degradation into poverty and prostitution, not the other way around.

Barker tells us details of the serial killer by how he killed. It was always with a knife and, well I won't write the details because they're gruesome, but just to say that the method of killing seemed to indicate someone with medical knowledge, which lead some to suspect the murderer was of the medical profession.

However, there are several suspects and this is how Barker rounds up his history. He describes each suspect and why they might be Jack the Ripper. One reason these men are suspected is because they died or ended up in insane asylums, or left the country which would explain why the murders after a couple of months abruptly stopped.

I read this book in one sitting. And, as perverse as it sounds, I'm glad to finally know the facts about this horrible legend.

View all my reviews

A postcard I sent to someone who likes Van Gogh.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

In the Fog by Richard Harding Davis; The Big Knockover : Selected Stories and Short Novels by Dashiell Hammett; The Flemish House by Georges Simenon

While writing these reviews, I have been listening to a collection of Bach Chorales.  If you like Baroque choral works, you will enjoy these.  When Bach wrote these, hymns were limited to Latin chants.  It was considered radical at the time, but Bach took the chorales and put them into the language of the people (in his case, German).  One of my music professors, who was Catholic, said Bach's Chorales stripped away the sense of the mystical away from worship when he did that.  Well, I disagree.  I think, regardless of your personal beliefs, you can enjoy well-written music.

In the photo above you may notice some toy soldiers.  I got these for my birds so they wouldn't chew on my books.  You can see how successful that has been.  Incidentally, I bought some books at the dollar store to give them to chew on.  Naturally, they are in perfect condition.

This is what is happening on my shoulder while I am trying to type.  It's how I divert the little green monster so he doesn't chew on my phone, Kindle or computer.  Or books.

Maybe I should make my own Godzilla movie.  Hercule the Terrible.

Because my mystery reviews are kind of short, I thought I would publish three of them all in one blog post.

In the FogIn the Fog by Richard Harding Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was really a fun short mystery. A group of men are at the club, you know, back in those days where men had dinner, drinks and cigars at men only locales, at least in England. I don't know if that tradition made it across the pond to here. On the other hand, here in Texas, good old boys and cowboys do enjoy meeting at local diners to just hang out and "chew the fat" as it's called.

As I was saying before I diverted myself, four men are seated around a table, four strangers as it were. One, known only as "the man with a pearl" is talking out loud to himself, but his companions soon join his conversation.

The man's complaint is toward another man who is seated in a comfortable chair in front of the fire and out of hearing. He is engrossed in reading the newspaper.

The man with a pearl laments to his companions at the table that the man yonder is a VIP in Parliament and is trying to get a particular bill passed. The vote will soon arrive and he wished he knew of a way to detain the man in order to keep him from making any influential speeches in Parliament.

One of the other men comment that the man seems to be an avid reader and quite an intellectual. The man with the pearl snorts. No! The man only reads mysteries.

Soon the man in question folds up his paper, puts it under his arm and makes his exit.

As he passes the group at the table, the man with the pearl hails him. The Parliament man says he is in a hurry and cannot stay, but the man with the pearl tells him that he is working on a very serious murder case.

This intrigues the Parliament man (sorry, I don't know what else to call him. Let's say P.M.) and he stays to hear the story.

What happens next is all the men at the table conspire to detain the man so each pick up the thread of the story when the previous man finishes.

Each story is complete in itself and very diverting, as the P.M. also finds and is glued to their every word.

And the ending is one of the best I've read in a long time, but I refuse to say more. Read the story for yourself. I'm sure it's in the public domain. I bought it as a part of the British Mystery Pack for my Kindle.

View all my reviews

The Big Knockover: Selected Stories and Short NovelsThe Big Knockover: Selected Stories and Short Novels by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a group of short stories, the first three connected to each other and longer stories, mostly starring our un-named Continental Operative. Those are my favorite. They have all the ingredients of a great story and I enjoy following the short, heavy-set detective around as he gathers up clues, makes discoveries and finally at the very end, gets the bad guys, although he is also adebt at letting the bad guys get each other. Saves on court costs and taxes.

Some of the stories take place in San Francisco, where the Op is stationed. Some specifically in China Town, one in an island of the coast of San Francisco and a couple away from 'Frisco on a ranch and lawless cowboy town.

If you like mysteries and hard boiled detectives, Hammett is the master and you'll enjoy these stories. The table of contents are:

The Gutting of Couffignal
Fly Paper
The Scorched Face
This King Business
The Gatewood Caper
Dead Yellow Women
Tulip (an unfinished manuscript and rougher in development)
The Big Knockover
$106,000 Blood Money

View all my reviews

The Flemish House (Maigret, #14)The Flemish House by Georges Simenon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Another Maigret. What can I say? I cannot stop reading about this Parisian detective.

This particular mystery does not take place in Paris, however, but on the Belgian border in the town called Givet. Maigret is not officially on duty, he only comes because a young woman has specifically asked him to. So while Maigret assists the detective in charge, Monsieur Machere, he insists that he is not responsible for anything.

The woman, Anne, and her family are Flemish and not especially liked by the French inhabitants of Givet. To make matters worse, a young French girl has disappeared. It is feared she has been murdered and the number one suspect is Anne's brother. After all, he has the biggest motive: he got the girl pregnant and he is paying a lot of money every month to support, not only her and the baby, but also the nanny of the little boy, and also her lout of a brother who is constantly demanding more and more money.

But did he? Did anyone else have a motive for killing this girl?

That is what Maigret sets out to discover..

Possible spoiler, read on at your discretion:

My only quibble with the entire book is the lax attitude Maigret seems to have with right and wrong. He seems to think it is not his responsibility to administer justice, even with a murderer, since he is off-duty.

View all my reviews

My small, blue T-Rex would rather nibble on me.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and The Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Here is the meditative Liszt's Benedition de Dieux.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper LeeFurious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I went to Books a Million and the salesclerk volunteered information that I had never known. As someone employed by the local university (I'm a musician; I don't teach) I get a discount card for free AND every purchase 20% off. Well, sign me up!

What this mostly means is I get a lot of cheap coffee, but I must admit my book purchasing at BAM has increased. Those wily sales team marketers in BAM administration know what they're doing.

Which is why I bought a book I never would have otherwise. I mean at full price...well, with the twenty percent discount. If I had waited for it to become a best seller, it would have been 40%.

Still, I really could not resist the premise of this book.

Casey Cep researches into a long, forgotten episode in the deep South, made more interesting by the fact the Harper Lee collected thousands of records and notes about it.

In a small Alabama town, the Reverend Willie Maxwell is an itinerant, black preacher. One evening his car breaks down and he calls his wife to pick him up. After telling her neighbor she was off to fetch her husband, she leaves and disappears.

The next day her body is found inside her car. She had been beaten to death.

And the Reverend collects on a substantial amount of life insurance from several insurance companies.

Reverend Maxwell is suspected but nothing is proven and he's acquitted. The prime witness, the next door neighbor recanted her original story about the wife coming over.

And guess who the next Mrs. Maxwell is? The neighbor, whose husband has conveniently died.

Thus starts a series of murders of the Reverend Maxwell's family members, yes, the second wife doesn't last. Her body is found much the same way the first one was. A nephew is killed. A step daughter....all of whom had massive life insurance claims.

Yet every time the Reverend was acquitted. Because of an ambitious lawyer who saw himself as a pioneering Civil Rights attorney. The case against the Reverend was racism..blah, blah, blah. I think the Lawyer, Big Tom was more interested in making a name for himself than protecting the rights of black people. All the murder victims were black. Where was their justice?

The black community held the Reverend in awe and fear, but one man decided that he would take the law into his own hands.

At the funeral of Maxwell's step daughter, another man, Robert Burns, stands up, turns around, and fires point blank at the Reverend, who is dead before he falls out of the pew he was sitting in.

Robert Burns goes to trial and guess who defends him? Big Tom. And how does he defend him? By proving that the man he murdered, Reverend Maxwell, was in fact a cold blooded murderer. Burns gets off with an insanity plea and is a free man a few weeks later as the mental hospital deems him "sane" again.

That is the bare bones of the story. There is a lot I liked and enjoyed reading, with a few, I won't call them complaints, but things I wish were included.

First of all, don't buy this book thinking you're going to get a real life thriller. At this point in time, almost fifty years after the fact, there are few living witnesses of what happened. Most of the people in the book are dead, so Casey Cep did not have a lot to work with.

In order to rectify that, she adds a lot of filler in the form of background information of everything mentioned in the book: the history of life insurance companies, of property domains, the insanity plea, the political career of Big Tom, naturally a bit of the racial tensions in Alabama and finally, a fairly good if cursory biography of Harper Lee, her friendship and work with Truman Capote. She writes almost as much about Lee and Capote's research for his book Cold Blood as she does the trial of Maxwell.

It's like a beef stew with a few ounces of meat suffocated with potatoes and flour and broth.

Now, personally, I found all the background information interesting if not also a bunch of rabbit trails. I wish Cep had been able to find more information about Maxwell than describe in detail her personal speculation about the black communities' superstitions, concerning the Reverend's involvement with VooDoo. First of all, she admits that the black community is "very quiet" about these beliefs, but she is sure they are there.

This is the seventies, not the 19th century. She does not hold a very high view of black people in the south if she thinks they are all crippled with superstitious fear. I mean, I know that movie with Kate Hudson (The Skeleton Key?) depicts black people in New Orleans like that and it's meant to be a compliment, but I think it's condescending.

Not to say that no one was superstitious, it just isn't limited to black people. My father grew up in the hills of North Carolina and Virginia and my grandmother and cousins could terrorize me with some of their ghost stories. My cousin Mark would come over and regale me and my sisters with the scariest stories...always at the time he left, we would be shivering under our covers.

But I digress.

As I said, I found all the background information very interesting, if only loosely related to the main plot. I wish there had been more information about the actual murder. More background on the victims as well as the Reverend and his murderer, Burns.

Harper Lee sat in on the trials and took copious notes and then sat on them. Cep speculates as to why the book never materialized.

I wonder as well. How many books are great writers expected to produce? The best did not write more than a few. Some wrote more but many only wrote five or six, and Lee wasn't the only one to write only one.

That must be a lot of pressure for a writer. You finally get a publisher, you turn out to be a cash cow, so now they want lots more of your stuff. But what if you only had one good book in you? Is that so wrong?

The writers that plow them out year in year out, are more on the level of entertainers and I quickly add there is nothing wrong with that. I'm addicted to Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout and Georges Simenon and grateful they wrote so many books for me to enjoy.

But I wonder about myself. I have five books I am currently writing (yes, long story, no pun intended), but do I really have anything else to say?

Well, I have digressed again. I hope that I have given an adequate enough overview to allow those of you reading this review to make an informed decision as to whether this book is your cup of tea, or not, as I am fond of saying.

Speaking of which, my tea is getting cold so I will sign off.

View all my reviews