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review 2015-01-25 00:14
Review: True Detective Stories From the Archives of the Pinkertons by Cleveland Moffet
True Detective Stories - Cleveland Moffett

Free on Gutenberg or Internet Archive.

Wikipedia: Pinkerton Detective Agency

Reading in progress blogged about here.

2 1/2 Stars mainly for dull use of exciting stories and because it's not going on my Would Read Again list. Almost made 3 but some of the period stereotypes changed my mind (more on that nearer the end where I eyeroll over it).


This book is basically the true crime of the late 1800s. Unfortunately it's not as interesting as it should be - even with some really great crime stories the author makes them drag on in parts. I found it interesting here and there, but more as obscure history. (I do have a couple of other (free) Pinkerton books to read, but these were ones written by Allan Pinkerton. They're supposed to be really self promotional, so I'm curious to see how he'll write about himself.)


You could file these under history - but I'd really call them history-ish, or true crime. Mainly because the author is getting his material - I assume - from the Pinkerton archives. There's no preface so he may not have been able to interview any of the Pinkertons himself - who knows. True crime is always a slightly suspect genre for good reasons - it has a long history of being purposefully graphic to entice readers to buy it. Being factually accurate wasn't really a priority - telling a story was. But the author here isn't really going for graphic details or good story telling - this is far more police procedural type stuff. But again, not as exciting as that sounds. (It makes you wonder how much the author actually wrote and how much was just quoted directly from the files.)


As usual, I think the best idea I can give you about the book is to quote some parts of it. And also as usual, I'll warn you that the bits I've chosen may make the book seem more interesting than the whole thing actually is. (I should also add that I used this as one of my Books To Fall Asleep To, which I pick on purpose not to tempt me to stay up later in order to keep reading.)

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review 2015-01-24 22:22
Review-ish: J.S. Le Fanu's Ghostly Tales, Volume 1
J. S. Le Fanu's Ghostly Tales, Volume 1 - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Found here on Gutenberg.

Wikipedia: Sheridan Le Fanu


This is one volume of five, and I'm lazy at the moment, so the theory is that I'll come back and link to the final one for a review. Or something. Part of the reason for this is that each of these volumes only has a couple of stories each - so I really should just review them as a whole.


Contents of this particular one:


Schalken the Painter (1851)

An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street (1853)


Le Fanu is an author fairly well known for his ghost stories, mainly because they're in most of the anthologies - particularly the online ones that are free (or that the unscrupulous try to sell for money when all the contents are public domain material. Grrr.).


Also he's an author that I always think is French when he's actually Irish. Since I've been reading his stories for ages you'd think this would have sunk in by now.


Anyway, both of these stories are ones that are popular (anthology-wise), but I'll just share a quote from the first one, since it's more descriptive.


Schalken the Painter, opening paragraphs:

There exists, at this moment, in good preservation a remarkable work of Schalken's. The curious management of its lights constitutes, as usual in his pieces, the chief apparent merit of the picture. I say apparent, for in its subject, and not in its handling, however exquisite, consists its real value. The picture represents the interior of what might be a chamber in some antique religious building; and its foreground is occupied by a female figure, in a species of white robe, part of which is arranged so as to form a veil. The dress, however, is not that of any religious order. In her hand the figure bears a lamp, by which alone her figure and face are illuminated; and her features wear such an arch smile, as well becomes a pretty woman when practising some prankish roguery; in the background, and, excepting where the dim red light of an expiring fire serves to define the form, in total shadow, stands the figure of a man dressed in the old Flemish fashion, in an attitude of alarm, his hand being placed upon the hilt of his sword, which he appears to be in the act of drawing.


There are some pictures, which impress one, I know not how, with a conviction that they represent not the mere ideal shapes and combinations which have floated through the imagination of the artist, but scenes, faces, and situations which have actually existed. There is in that strange picture, something that stamps it as the representation of a reality.


H.P. Lovecraft was fond of Le Fanu, and I'm pretty sure he thought of this story when he was writing Pickman's Model (read the story online here). Which wins of the two for creepiness, though both are a pretty good short-story-double-feature.

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review 2015-01-09 22:57
Review: Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany
The Book of Wonder - Lord Dunsany

Gutenberg ebook: Book of Wonder (1912, short stories)

Wikipedia: Book of Wonder (has list of stories)


I'd been reading so many authors gush about or at least admit being influenced by Lord Dunsany (read his full name here and you'll see why everyone abbreviates it) that it seemed time to find out why. Unfortunately I started with his novel The King of Elfland's Daughter, because it had often been mentioned in the gushing. And it was not the right book to start with (I might try it again someday, but it was a boredom DNF and those don't usually change). Happily this book gives you both an example of why, but also why it's a better book.


First it's a series of short stories, which is usually a better place to get a feel for what an author can manage. If I'd been in a DNF mood this might have ended badly, because the first story was everything that made me stop reading the Elfland novel. Except added to that is a very giggleworthy line that - I'll stop myself there because yes, it's quote time.


Story title: The Bride of the Man-Horse

I'm skipping the first paragraph, but these are the 2nd through 4th ones. "She" is mama centaur, pondering her son leaving home:

She knew that today he would not drink at the stream coming down from the terraces of Varpa Niger, the inner land of the mountains, that today he would not wonder awhile at the sunset and afterwards trot back to the cavern again to sleep on rushes pulled by rivers that know not Man. She knew that it was with him as it had been of old with his father, and with Goom the father of Jyshak, and long ago with the gods. Therefore she only sighed and let him go.


But he, coming out from the cavern that was his home, went for the first time over the little stream, and going round the corner of the crags saw glittering beneath him the mundane plain. And the wind of the autumn that was gilding the world, rushing up the slopes of the mountain, beat cold on his naked flanks. He raised his head and snorted.


"I am a man-horse now!" he shouted aloud; and leaping from crag to crag he galloped by valley and chasm, by torrent-bed and scar of avalanche, until he came to the wandering leagues of the plain, and left behind him for ever the Athraminaurian mountains.

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review 2014-07-27 03:00
Review: The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley
The Mark of Zorro - Johnston McCulley

I'm no longer exactly sure where I found this ebook. Ah ha! Managed to figure it out - thank you Internet Archive (where I spend soooo much of my time):


Ebook: The Mark of Zorro (136 pages)

Info on the original 1919 story: The Curse of Capistrano (wikipedia)

Author: Johnston McCulley (wikipedia)


Zorro originated in the pulp magazine All Story Weekly, and, as most Zorro fans/historians will tell you, the character has a lot of similarities to The Scarlet Pimpernel (1908). While it wasn't used in the plot of the early Batman comics, the later ones have Bruce Wayne and his parents going to see a Zorro movie before - oh here, I'll just be lazy and quote wikipedia:

"Bob Kane has credited Zorro as part of the inspiration for the Batman. Like Zorro, Bruce Wayne is affluent, the heir of wealth built by his parents. His everyday persona encourages others to think of him as shallow, foolish and uncaring to throw off suspicion. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again both include multiple Zorro references like the Batman inscribing a Z on a defeated foe. In later tellings of Batman's origins, Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered by a robber as the family leaves a showing of the 1940 film The Mark of Zorro, starring Tyrone Power."

I can't really remember which masked crusader I was introduced to first: Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, or Batman. It was whichever version I saw on tv first: either the 1934 Pimpernel, the 1940s Zorro, or the 1960s Batman (I loved the comics once I had access to them). I really loved all of them.


So I was looking up various things on wikipedia (I think I was trying to figure out the order of the Pimpernel books, before I gave up trying to read them in order), and I wandered into the Curse of Capistrano page and there (at the end) was the link for the Mark of Zorro ebook. It seemed about time that I got around to reading the origin story, so I promptly did what I always do: downloaded it onto my ereader and then forgot to actually read it.


Jump to a year (at least) later - this past week - when I'm on a five day roadtrip and I'm getting my usual "I'm not really in the mood to read what I'm already reading" fidgets, and so I think I'll be tidy and read some of the shorter works sitting on my ereader. Just to sort through the files and pretend I'm being organized. And then I remembered that I hadn't read The Mark of Zorro.


I would sooo love to say that reading this was Captain Blood (movie link! I haven't read Sabatini yet, he's on the TBR pile) and Robin Hood (yes, there's a Flynn trend there) and sword fights and - sigh. It was so very cheesy. The up side was that I could see where parts of the movies came from - and I could also see how the movies had done so much with so little. There are a few redeeming parts - like the sword fights - but then I'm a bit of a sucker for a swordfight, so it could just be me.


I definitely have to say that the cheese, oh the cheese is heavy in this one. (Never fear, I'll be quoting some examples, read on.) Or if you prefer, sappy - as in sappy romance. Again, I don't know that I'm exactly one to critique, because I've read sappy romances, many of which I'm still too shy to write much about. (So far.) The important point is - I read this stuff anyway. But it's always better if I know the level of cheese/sappiness before going in.


Of course, McCulley wrote what is known as "pulp" - and most pulp writers weren't aiming for high literature. They were aiming at finishing the work quickly so they could get paid. While some authors emerged from pulp writing to become novelists, there were a lot who didn't become well known and continued to crank out the action, adventure and romance.


This book is something I'd prescribe to those authors who worry over using the word "said" too much. Please, please, authors, do not milk the thesaurus dry in order to avoid the word said. Because you'll end up like McCulley here, who gives us characters that howl so often you'd think they were werewolves. Also roaring, shrieking, and screeching. That's mostly coming from Sergeant Gonzales:


p 3-4: ..."Curse of the entire highway and the mission chain! Sergeant Gonzales roared. "A cutthroat he is! A thief! Ha! A common fellow presuming to get him a reputation for bravery because he robs a hacienda or so and frightens a few women and natives! Senior Zorro, eh? Here is one fox it gives me pleasure to hunt. Curse of Capistrano, eh? I know I have led an evil life, but I only ask of the saints one thing now that they forgive me my sins long enough to grant me the boon of standing face to face with this pretty highwayman!"


..."More wine!" Gonzales howled. "More wine, fat one, and place it to my account! When I have earned the reward you shall be paid in full. I promise it on my word as a soldier! Ha! Were this brave and cunning Senior Zorro, this Curse of Capistrano, but to make an entrance at that door now"


The door suddenly was opened.

There were multiple paragraphs between that roar and howl, but it doesn't help make Gonzales less annoying. Granted he's supposed to be an annoying blowhard, but the writing made me roll my eyes more than the character.


And now some of the romance (cheese sample!):

p 49, Zorro and Senorita Lolita have a moment:  "Senor," she breathed, "you saved me from insult. You saved me from the pollution of that man's lips. [Text has "hps"] Senor, though you deem me unmaidenly, I offer you freely the kiss he would have taken."

She put up her face and closed her eyes.

"And I shall not look when your raise your mask," she said.

"It were too much, senorita," he said. "Your hand but not your lips."

"You shame me, Senor. I was bold to offer it and you have refused.

"You shall feel no shame," he said.

He bent swiftly, raised the bottom of his mask, and touched lightly her lips with his.

"Ah, senorita," he said. "I would I were an honest man and could claim you openly. My heart is filled with love of you."

"And mine with love of you."

"This is madness. None must know."

"I would not fear to tell the world, Senor."

"Your father and his fortunes! Don Diego!"

"I love you, Senor."

"Your chance to be a great lady! Do you think I did not know Don Diego was the man you meant when we spoke in your father's patio? This is a whim, senorita."

"It is love, senor, whether anything comes of it or not. And a Pulido [her family name] does not love twice."

"What possibly could come of it but distress?"

"We shall see. God is good."

"It is madness."

"Sweet madness, senor."

He clasped her to him and bent his head again, and again she closed her eyes and took his kiss, only this time the kiss was longer. She made no effort to see his face.

"I may be ugly," he said.

"But I love you."

"Disfigured, senorita."

"Still I love you."


I think that gives you a good idea of the dialog, and the writing style. Like I said, in there you can see the glimpses of what a good screenwriter could - and did - make of the humor.


Random quotes time, for those of you wanting more examples...


p 50: "His blood was aflame with rage, his face was purple with wrath."


Did you notice how the Sergeant said "Ha!" in his quotes earlier? Well, I wasn't the only one getting tired of that:


 53% in, Don Diego

[spoiler, he's Zorro - er, everyone knows this, right?]

(spoiler show)

chatting with Bernardo: "Bernardo, you are a gem," Don Diego said: "You cannot speak or hear, cannot write or read, and have not sense enough to make your wants known by the sign language. You are the one man in the world to whom I can speak without having my ears talked off in reply. You do not 'Ha!' me at every turn."


I will say that the Bernardo I remember from the movies did indeed speak to Diego in sign language and was playing the fool only so he could get info to pass on to Diego. So again, better in the films.


Another quote about the 'Ha!':


61% Don Diego's father chats with his son:  "When I was your age, I was not a laughingstock. I was ready to fight at a wink, to make love to every pair of flashing eyes, to stand up to any caballero in sports rough or refined. Ha!"


"I pray you, do not 'Ha!' me, sir and father. My nerves are on edge."


"You must be more of a man."


"I shall attempt it immediately," Don Diego said, straightening himself somewhat in his chair. "I had hoped to avoid it, but it appears that I cannot. I shall woo the Senorita Lolita as other men woo maidens."


Whenever eyes seem to be alive like that, I always think of The Residents. (Which makes sense when you look at the image on that wikipedia page.)


Earlier Diego was quite surprised that the lady felt it wasn't acceptable to send his servant to play guitar for her rather than being there in person, serenading her under her window in the moonlight. There are multiple scenes of Diego saying "but that seems like such a bother, do I have to?" and everyone says "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!" In various ways.


67% Don Diego Vega brings his guitar to attempt the serenade thing: "...Don Carlos and his wife glanced at each other again, this time in apprehension, and wished that he would stop, for the scion of the Vegas had many superiors as a musician and vocalist, and they feared that he might lose what ground he had gained in the senorita's estimation."


76% Zorro's men doing the sneaking around passing messages thing: "...this gentleman was evidently wealthy since he had given the native a coin for carrying the message, when he might just as well have given nothing more than a cuff alongside the head...


...and to be sure that the caballero would come he had bade the native say that there was a fox in the neighborhood.

A fox! Zorro! the caballero thought, and then he ruined the native forever by giving him another coin."


There we go, a few bits of humor that are examples of McCulley's really nice details. They pop out now and then, so that even in the parts with the clunky prose, I kept reading. It helped that this was only 130ish pages.


Rating it two stars for amusement, but not higher because it's not one I'd ever reread. If you don't ever read this you won't be missing a hidden gem.

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text 2014-05-15 20:58
Reading in Progress: Haunted Houses: Tales of the Supernatural by Charles G. Harper
Haunted houses : tales of the supernatural with some account of hereditary curses and family legends 1907 - Charles G Harper

This is an example of the kind of free ebook that I'll find online without really looking for it. And by free I mean you can both read it online in your browser and download a copy to keep, depending on your preference. In this case it's a book I found while reading Necropolis (warning, link to long review), which led me to a wikipedia entry, where I bumped into a link to Haunted Houses: Tales of the Supernatural, with Some Account of Hereditary Curses and Family Legends by Charles G. Harper, published in 1907.


You can find it for free here on Archive.org, same copy is here at Open Library - while Amazon sells it for $1.50, [insert eyeroll here]. Here's a link if you want to read the original book pages' scan online at Archive.org (you can also see if you'll get any delay in page loading and whether that'll bother you). While you can't carry it around as easily as an ereader, this version does allow you to see the illustrations in their original layout with the text (you often can't quite tell much about this in ebook versions). Plus you can quickly get an idea if this is the kind of book you want to bother to download.


Many of the scans at Archive.org and Open Library exist thanks to that Google project with various university libraries to scan old, out of copyright texts - and in this case I know I never would have seen this particular book without its online presence. While I'm always one who loves browsing through books in the ghost stories section of the library, by the time I go to my local library this month I'll have forgotten my interest in this book. (I bump into new book references like this on a daily basis.) The only problem I have with a lot of the Google scan/Archive.org ebooks is that - with the ebook version for kindle (mobi) at least - there are scanning errors, sometimes a lot of them. This can happen when the scanning software and a book's font don't play nicely, and so some letters are misread. An "s" will be a 5, "up" turns into "vp," "voyage" is instead "voyi^e, "Haunted" becomes "Haimted" - and none of these problems happen consistently. Those are all examples from Haunted Houses, but I should quickly add that this isn't the first book I've found with such problems, or the book with the worst ones. It also won't cause me to put down the book - that depends on how frequent the problem is and how much I like what I'm reading.


[Added later, because, grrr: if you want to see what the miss-scan looks like go to the Amazon version, then check out the Look Inside preview. It had NOT occurred to me that they'd charge $1.50 and then NOT fix this problem, because it's insanely obvious - it's there on page one! Just, argh. Also, grrrr. I sent Amazon an email about it, but I doubt anything will change.]


I'm sharing this because I came to a point in my reading that made me say "ah ha, ok at this point I'm sticking with this author, despite the scan issues." And so I have a fun quote to pass along.


I'd been somewhat on the fence about the author/illustrator of the book, Charles G. Harper, ever since the Preface. He's the sort of author of collected ghost tales who genuinely thinks they exist, and that there are no other explanations for some of the tales that he considers "true." Like any author with a premise they want to push, that can get kind of old, especially if the author uses all the stories as a comment on "are ghosts real." Harper's definitely not as pushy as some spiritualists of his time that I've read (and for some it was definitely a religion). For me the quote that made the difference was one that I found amusing, because his previous joking asides hadn't really phased me.


14% in, discussing Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire - the house:

"...had a particularly devilish contrivance in the shape of a passage that led directly, without warning, into the deep waters of the silent moat. In the days when Baddesley Clinton was new, it was only with the utmost discretion that one visited such county houses, and never at all if one's host had anything to gain by one's disappearance.


"What was that?" a guest might ask, when that undesirable other guest had been artfully induced to stray into the moat, instead of walking into the banqueting-hall, and with a splash had gone to a particularly noisome death in the sewage-charged waters. (For we must recollect that in the "good" old days manor-houses, granges, and noble castles and mansions of every kind drained directly into the moats that surrounded them.)


"Only a fish," the host would reply; but the strayed guest nevermore appeared; and we may shrewdly suppose that the other who heard that splash made haste to quit so chancy a lodging."


Actually the author could have stopped at the end of the first paragraph - but I quoted the rest to give you an idea of how chatty he is. Anyway, that was enough to keep me reading for a bit longer. That and his artwork - I do like his sketches (I keep wondering if he did any in watercolor). We'll see if I actually finish the book or if it lingers and dies in the Still Reading list.


Extra links: some views of the Baddesley moat. And it was in a House With A Rich History type of story in the Birmingham Post last month.


Random question, do British day trippers still go for brisk 5 mile walks like this one to Baddesley? Americans hike, but that usually doesn't involve nice strolls from village/farmhouse to stately home. Well, maybe on the eastern coast of the US, where places are a tad closer together. Finding a walk like that in the US would take a great deal of research and route-planning, especially the farther west you go.


Oh and if you wondered about me and the ghost belief thing - because I do have a shelf full of anthologies on ghosts - I'm not one to say something "never could" exist due to the fact that I've grown up actually reading all those ghost stories. Traditionally the person who loudly (and obnoxiously) proclaims ghosts never have and never will exist always comes to an unfortunate end. Lesson learned! Similarly, Looney Tunes taught me not to make sweeping statements about anvils falling from the sky, because, hey, you never know. ...Well it was either a Looney Tunes reference or Scream - the first one where the characters critiqued other horror films by discussing Let's Not Do Dumb Things We've Seen In Those Movies That Resulted in Death (that was the first Scream, right? I haven't seen that film in ages, I may be referring to the wrong one in the series). And also the "more things in heaven and earth" Hamlet quote (Act 1, scene 5) is wildly overused.


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