Two book reviews this time: one old short story collection, one new.
I discovered Glen Grant’s noirish Honolulu detective Arthur McDougal in Grant’s collection Obake: Ghost Stories in Hawaii. The two McDougal tales in Obake have supernatural villains, so one could say that McDougal in these stories is a (reluctant) occult detective. The other tales in Obake, which mostly focus on aspects of Japanese supernatural folklore that “migrated” to Hawaii, are also delightful.
The short stories in Honolulu Mysteries are different. Although the tales include various aspects of Hawaiian folklore and sometimes even feature a touch of Hawaiian supernatural phenomena, the bad guys are all definitely human — just as they ought to be, in McDougal’s view.
I adore Columbo; I got addicted to reruns of the original Seventies-era series when I was in graduate school, and it’s still one of my favorite TV shows. Columbo’s sharp eye for apparently trivial incongruities, his deceptively bumbling manner, his mythical wife who’s a fan of everything and everyone, his equally mythical Captain who just hates loose ends — I love it all.
Columbo‘s format is the so-called inverted mystery, where the viewer (or reader) knows whodunit, how, and even why. The real mystery is how the murderer will be caught. You could make an argument that inverted mysteries existed in literature at least as far back as Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment ; I read somewhere that the creators of Columbo cite this novel as on influence on the Columbo format. That, and the “cozy English mystery” tradition of elaborately complicated murder amongst the upper classes (investigated by the not so upper class police). But the official original inverted mystery is R. Austin Freeman’s “The Case of Oscar Brodski” (1911). The story was popular enough that Freeman wrote four more and collected them with “Brodski” into The Singing Bone (1912).
Beyond the twist of presenting the crime before the investigation, Freeman’s stories are classic ratiocination stories. His protagonist, Dr. Thorndyke, is basically Sherlock Holmes, complete with a (portable) laboratory and a Dr. Watson (Dr. Jervis, in this case). Thorndyke notices things the police don’t, and awes them with his deductive prowess. As with most stories in the ratiocination genre, the detective and his extraordinary abilities are the center of the tales.
The stories in Roy Vickers’ The Department of Dead Ends (1949) are inverted mysteries of a different style. The Department of Dead Ends is a group within Scotland Yard whose sole purpose is to take “everything the other departments rejected:” clues that led nowhere, cases that can’t be closed (or that no one is interested in closing), puzzling but seemingly irrelevant information, lost items. The department solves cases (often cold cases) via this massive collection of minutia mostly by serendipity: someone happens to notice that a puzzling fact from one case, when put together with some irrelevant trivia from an apparently unrelated situation, becomes an observation neither puzzling nor irrelevant to either circumstance.
Jim Booth at the blog The New Southern Gentlemen recently took issue with a Business Insider called “The most famous book that takes place in every state”. Mostly, he takes issue with BI‘s nomination for his own state of North Carolina.
I have no opinion one way or the other about Nicholas Sparks, and given that my reading tastes runs to both genre and short stories, I’m probably not the most qualified person to weigh in on which full-length book should represent which state. But of course I couldn’t resist checking what they picked for California. I don’t know what I was expecting to see — but it wasn’t what they chose:
East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.
As my readers know, I sometimes share public domain ghost stories and other interesting reading here on Multo, in particular my yearly series on winter tales. Mostly these files are hosted from WordPress, but for larger files and epubs I have been hosting them from Dropbox. Dropbox has just dropped support for their Public folders, and so a few of the links on my pages have gone dead.
I have regenerated appropriate links and updated all the appropriate posts, but it’s always possible that I’ve missed one. So if you come across a dead Dropbox link, please do let me know.
As always, I hope you enjoy the stories I share, and I plan to keep sharing more!
Men at work sign — Source: Wikimedia
Time for another budget of (mostly ebook this time) reviews, featuring ghosts and scholars, mythological creatures and occult detectives. Really, the only thematic commonality here is that I’ve read all these books (and one magazine) recently.
Almost 160 years before Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill began The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, social novelist and ghost story writer Elizabeth Gaskell wrote this atypical (for her) piece of metafiction. An Englishman journeys to France to research his Calvinist roots, and a case of mistaken identity gains him entry to to an unusual party….
Ever wonder what happens to all those fairy tale characters in their happily ever after? Now you can find out.
I’ve added links at strategic places in the text to the relevant fairy tales; for the French tales, usually Andrew Lang’s retelling of Charles Perrault’s version. How many of the fairy tales can you identify before clicking on the links?
Even if you do recognize all the references, I recommend that after you finish Gaskell’s story, you click through and re-read the originals anyway; you’ve probably forgotten a lot of the details. In particular, one story has an entire third act that is omitted from popular renditions; I’m not sure I’d ever read it before, myself.
Some additional notes, hopefully not too spoilerish:
- The English fairy tale Tom Thumb is not the same as the French tale Le Petit Poucet, although Andrew Lang translated Perrault’s title in a misleading way. According to Wikipedia, Perrault’s story is often known in English as Hop o’my Thumb.
- “Gilles de Retz,” aka Gilles de Rais, was a historical person. Some believe he is the inspiration for a famous fairy tale. You can read a little bit about that here.
Image: The Chateau of Neuchatel at dusk, with Jura mountains beyond by John Ruskin (1866). Source: WikiArt
This winter tale offering isn’t a traditional Christmas ghost story — there isn’t a ghost to be found. But it’s just the kind of story I like.
“Christmas Eve” is from Nikolai Gogol’s two volume collection of short stories, known in English as Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, the collection that helped make his reputation. Gogol was born in the Ukraine, and all the Dikanka stories brim with bits of Ukrainian folklore and details about Ukrainian village life. This particular story is full of supernatural hijinks, witches and the devil. However, this devil is more comical than frightening, and the whole story feels a bit like a Chaucerian farce. “Christmas Eve” also has a rather cinematic feel, in the way it cuts back and forth between multiple simultaneous situations. No wonder Wikipedia lists four film adaptations, as well as three or four (depending on how you count) operatic versions. It’s a bit longer than the pieces I usually share, but if you haven’t read it before, it’s well worth it. Continue reading
Today’s winter tale is of the more traditional variety: a Christmas ghost story by Charlotte Riddell.
Struggling artist John Lester and his sister unexpectedly inherit a country estate, but the situation isn’t all roses. The previous owner, Paul Lester, refused to live at Martingdale. Though he never said why, the locals believe that Martingdale is haunted by Mr Paul’s predecessor, Jeremy Lester, who vanished without a trace on Christmas Eve, forty-one years before.
People said Mr Jeremy ‘walked’ at Martingdale. He had been seen, it was averred, by poachers, by gamekeepers, by children who had come to use the park as a near cut to school, by lovers who kept their tryst under the elms and beeches.
As for the caretaker and his wife, the third in residence since Jeremy Lester’s disappearance, the man gravely shook his head when questioned, while the woman stated that wild horses, or even wealth untold, should not draw her into the red bedroom, nor into the oak parlour, after dark.
John and his sister are skeptical, at first — and in any case they can’t afford to live anywhere else. So they have no choice but to hunt down the ghost. Things come to a head on Christmas Eve.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
Mrs. Riddell did love a good haunted house story. If you enjoy “A Strange Christmas Game,” then you might want to hunt down some of her other such tales, including:
- “The Open Door”
- “The Old House in Vauxhall Walk”
- “Walnut-Tree House”
- “The Uninhabited House.”
“Nut Bush Farm” is not a haunted house story — it’s a haunted path story — but it’s also excellent.
Image: Cribbage board photo by Geoffrey Franklin. Source: Flickr
I’ve long been a fan of Lord Dunsany’s beautiful prose, and I can’t get as much of it as I would like. Much of his early work, now in the public domain, is high fantasy, which is a genre I’m not fond of. His later (non-public domain) work isn’t much published anymore. So I was overjoyed to discover that Harper Collins has reprinted Dunsany’s only volume of crime stories, Two Bottles of Relish: The Little Tales of Smethers and Other Stories — and at a very reasonable price. An early Christmas gift to me! Continue reading