Sunday, October 30, 2016

Six Puzzles for Nero Wolfe

     Rex Stout. Triple Jeopardy (1952) & Three at Wolfe’s Door (1960) 6 novellas, nicely plotted, with the usual rather nasty motives of twisted love and money. Archie Goodwin makes a good narrator, he’s not too full of himself, he has a dry sense of humour and, like Wolfe, a strong moral compass. His wide circle of friends, acquaintances and cops helps him produce the clues that Wolf needs.
     Here, the murders involve arsenic at a special gourmet dinner (cooked by Fritz), a dead body in a taxi (driven to Wolfe’s door), a lasso doubling as a hangman’s noose, a poison-spiked vitamin pill, a newspaper apparently read by no one, and a knife in the back (observed by a pet monkey). Great entertainment for any Nero Wolfe fan, and pretty good for anyone who likes a gently witty send-up of the hard-nosed PI genre.
     Stout’s books are occasionally re-issued, but can also be found in better 2nd-hand book stores. There’s an on-line fan club: ***

Friday, October 21, 2016

Three lads on a quest

     The Quest (2002) [D: D. Jason. David Jason,  Hewell Bennett, Roy Hudd] Coming of age story shown as a flashback beginning when Charlie rear-ends Dave at a stop light. He invites Dave to his retirement party, a at which Ronno, the third of the “three musketeers” also shows up. This sets off a round of reminiscences of their trip up north to the Lake District on motorbikes, in search of girls. It’s Charlie, the shy, soft-spoken one, who gets a girl, or rather, she gets him, but she rejects him later when he persuades the other two to go to Blackpool where she lives. A nicely done study of horny adolescent males. The girls are of course much wiser, and know perfectly well how to handle the lads. The movie ends with the men leaving a pub and agreeing to get together again.
     Part two begins with Charlie receiving a phone call from Sondra, an old flame. He’s on a ladder fixing the roof, and falls. When Dave and Ronno visit him in the hospital, we see the flash back to the lads’ trip to the Isle of Man, this time to ride the TTC course. But Charlie really wants to find Sondra, whose mother has other plans for her daughter and has forbidden the romance. This movie is much piecier than the first one, there’s no solid central narrative line, things just happen. Charlie of course discovers that Sondra isn’t really interested in him, in fact she’s a little tart, but a nice beauty pageant contestant takes an interest in him, etc. When that episode falls apart, three older women pick up the boys, but the desired rendezvous is kiboshed by the landlady of the B&B at which the women are staying. So that’s that.
     There’s a part three, which I don’t have. I recorded these two parts on VHS years ago from TVO. I’m tossing the tapes, but decided to see what was in this one. If you like mildly amusing, nostalgia-inducing movies, you’ll probably like The Quest. It’s resolutely male point of view is unusual. **½

A Stale Raisin

    M. C Beaton. Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate (2003) A potboiler, written in a flat, unobtrusive style, better plotted than narrated, with cardboardy characters just colourful enough to carry the plot. Even Agatha Raisin fans will find this tale below average. The plot is about the only thing that kept me turning the pages.
The new curate, Rev. Tristan Delon, is too beautiful for words, and a narcissistic charmer who specialises in separating susceptible women from their money. He gets his comeuppance, as does his murderer, who is as nasty a piece of work as Tristan himself. Agatha’s new neighbour, a crime story writer, helps her detect, but the spark is missing, and he leaves the village at the end of the story. Enough twists to keep you guessing, perfunctory updating of various back stories and tying up of loose ends. I think the series is wearing Beaton down. Her forte is comedy and cheerful satire, but there’s not much of that on offer here. *½

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Not really about trains

     Louis L’Amour. North to the Rails (1971) Tom Chantry comes West to buy cattle for his future father-in-law. His father was killed many years ago, after which his mother moved East, and raised him as an anti-gun pacifist. First thing: Tom fights a guy and wins: he’s trained as a boxer. He buys the cattle and starts north with French Williams as his trail boss. But meanie outlaws, just plain mean men, and sneaky thieves of one kind or another interfere. There’s also a cousin of Williams who wants the money; she teams up with two especially nasty types. Tom fights a Kiowa, but doesn’t kill him, and later his father’s history with the Kiowa adds to his winning hand. Anyhow, the tale ends with a gunfight, and great gobs of poetic justice.
     Not L’Amour’s best work, but a well crafted entertainment that any fan of Westerns will like. Chantry drives his herd to the railhead, which has moved further west, which will improve his profits **½

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Canadian Satire

     Barbed Lyres: Canadian Venomous Verse (1990) Foreword by Margaret Atwood. This Magazine asked readers ro write satirical verses, and this book is one of the results. The verses in it for the most part express annoyance rather than venom, but the standard of both content and form is high. An example relevant to the current US Presidential election:
     Of Brian and Ronnie and Free Trade
     How wonderful his breath must smell
     From his bid to be famous
     He sold our nation straight to hell
     And kissed old Ronnie’s anus
              (S. Piatkowski, Ottawa)

     Found in the Sault Ste Marie library’s book sale for $1. A keeper. ****

Monday, October 03, 2016

A Water Landing

     Sully (2016) [D: Clint Eastwood. Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart et al].
     Chesley Sullenberger landed American Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River after losing both engines to a birdstrike shortly after take-off. The movie is built around the Aviation Safety Board hearing into the “crash” (Sully insists it was a “water landing”), presented as attempting to show that a return to LaGuardia was possible, which would imply that instead of being a hero, Sully was a fool. The film convinces us he was a hero. Or rather, that he was a man. He didn’t want to die, so he did the best he could do, and it worked.
     Excellent reconstructions of the crash, nice flashbacks into Sully’s 40-year flying career (beginning with his flying lessons as a teenager), believable characterisations of men and women who just do their job. The cross-cutting between past and present, indoors and out, in the plane and on the ground, hearing rooms and streets, the hotel and Sully’s home, heighten tension: We know that all 155 people on the plane survived, that Sully was vindicated, but the movie still engages us so thoroughly that for a while we feel that things could turn out very badly indeed. Hanks respects the character he plays.
     Simulation of the event is available on on YouTube:
     Watch the movie in a theatre if possible. ***½

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Century-old view of the Earth

     Joh. Georg Rothaug. Vaterländischer Geographischer Schulatlas (ca. 1913) Authorised by the Imperial-Royal Ministry for Culture and Education in December 1912. The maps show the pre-World War 1 boundaries, the aerial views were taken from balloons. Part one is a general introduction to maps and geography, part two is a series of maps beginning with Austria, part 3 is an appendix showing the “principal races” of the world. There’s also a diagram of the planetary system (no Pluto) and of the starry sky as seen from the median latitude of Austria-Hungary.
     The binding is falling apart, many of the pages are loose, and a Birnecker Gottfried has written his name in several places. A very well-used volume, no doubt serving as reference work even after the Empire collapsed.
The colour printing is outstanding, the maps are very well drawn. Comparison with modern maps shows that in 1912 railways still mattered more than roads. A fascinating look at how Austria saw itself 100 years ago. ***

Catherine Aird. Last Respects (1982)

Catherine Aird.  Last Respects (1982) A body floats in the estuary of the Calle River, but the man was dead before he was dropped in the water. Aird tells a leisurely tale of Det. Insp. Sloan’s investigation, with nicely sketched characters and settings, and four or five plot-threads converging neatly in the end. One of the blurbs accurately claims Aird’s “witty aside and funny riposte are her fortĂ©”. I enjoyed this well-crafted entertainment. The Sloan novels (there are about 20 of them) would make a nice series of one-hour TV shows. Or two-hour ones if the adapters wanted to elaborate on all the back-story hints and red herrings thoughtfully supplied by Aird. ***

Art & Artists (reference book)

Peter and Linda Murray. A Dictionary of Art and Artists (1960) Just what the title says, and a good reference if you want to know about European and US art. A mass of obscure painters mentioned, good definitions and discussions of technical art terms. Based on other reference works, and shows the limitations of 2nd hand research. Heavy on medieval and renascence art, light on anything post-1800. Should be titled “A Dictionary of European and US art to 1950". As such it could be worth keeping, but a quick test shows that online information is as good if not better. **