Today I am distracted, or at least I’m pretending to be. Did two high-stress things — saw the dentist to repair the wisdom tooth I broke on Sunday evening (popcorn, if you must know), and then I paid my Minnesota sales tax online.
That, I figure, ought to give me an excuse to be lazy. (In fact, both worked out better than I feared.) Back when I was a school kid, there were days when the teacher would roll a projector into the room and show us some educational film, usually a generation old. Innocent that I was, I figured this was part of some highly strategized educational plan. Nowadays, I’m given to understand that it often meant the teacher wasn’t feeling up to it, and just needed to coast.
In the same way, when I post a YouTube video, it’s not unlikely that I’m loafing.
Last night, in my book review, I referred to Old Norse (Viking) words that have made their way into English. I thought there must be a video or two on that subject.
The selections weren’t as good as I hoped. There were a few, but they were either very short, or hosted by annoying young hipsters whom I hated on sight (or both). Jackson Crawford, who can usually be counted on for interesting stuff on Old Norse, had nothing.
But there is this, posted above. The Lord’s Prayer in Modern English, Old English, Old Norse, and modern Icelandic.
‘We did a project on it when I was at primary school. The Vicious Vikings. Although most of the settlements’ names are quite innocuous. Applethwaite, Brackenthwaite, Crosthwaite – quite often you can work it out.’
DS Leyton looks rather bemused.
‘So, what – did they speak English?’
DS Jones giggles as though she thinks he must be joking. But then she responds. ‘No – we speak Old Norse.’
It’s one of the charms of Bruce Beckham’s Inspector Skelgill novels (for me) that there are occasional allusions to the history of the Cumberland region where Skelgill operates. In the passage above, our detectives, Skelgill, DS Jones (female) and DS Leyton (male) are talking about local farm names, which often contain the element “thwaite,” which is related to the Norwegian word “tvedt.” Both mean “field.”
But that’s not what Murder at the Meet, the latest Skelgill novel, is mainly about. More than 20 years ago, a young wife and mother named Mary Wilson disappeared during the annual Shepherd’s Meet. As it happens, that was the same year a teenager named Dan Skelgill won the Fell Runners’ race, setting a long-standing record. At the time, the police employed brand-new technology, DNA testing, matching it to the one discovered piece of evidence, to try to identify her attacker or abductor (assuming she didn’t just run off). But without success.
Now Mary’s bones have been found, by archaeologists in a local cave. Skelgill and his team start interviewing surviving witnesses and family members, and discover – as you would expect – a number of old secrets and personal grudges. And all the while Skelgill does his own eccentric thing – applying his knowledge of local geography, biology and weather, along with the sensibilities of a fisherman.
It’s all enjoyable and familiar for the Skelgill fan. I did
think this effort was a little unfair to the reader, as we were denied the information
that finally unlocks the puzzle until after the climax – and so we didn’t know
what all the urgency was about. That reduced the suspense for me.
But that aside, Murder at the Meet was an enjoyable read, and is recommended.
Many people under the influence of science, and particularly neuro-nonsense, will say the sacred is an old concept, it’s just a hangover, but you can easily see that’s not so, because everyone has a sense of desecration: there are things everybody values which, when they are spoiled, are not just moved or destroyed, they are desecrated. Something that is vital not just to you but the world. People have this sense when they see their towns pulled apart and concrete blocks put in the middle of them. You only have to look at Aberdeen to see what happens to a beautiful place when the desecrators get their hands on it.
Politician Daniel Hannan said, “Roger Scruton changed the course of my life. He addressed my school’s philosophy society when I was 16, speaking so compellingly about Wittgenstein and language that, when he finished, no one wanted to ask the first question. So, more to fill an awkward silence than anything else, I stuck my hand up and asked him what he saw as the role of a conservative thinker. ‘The role of a conservative thinker,’ he replied, in his charmingly diffident manner, ‘is to reassure the people that their prejudices are true.’
I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
We used to have a tradition of posting “Friday Night Fights” here, showing videos of Viking reenactors going at it with blunt blades. Some of them were friends of mine; occasionally I was involved. We haven’t done that for a while, but I’ve decided to share this clip I found. It involves two fighters doing Macbeth’s death scene from Shakespeare’s play, while fighting with period swords and armor.
It’s not as good as I’d like it to be, and not only because the acting sucks. Macbeth wears a mixture of mail and lamellar (small plates) armor, and lamellar is not generally approved by serious reenactment groups nowadays. Macduff wears some kind of pelt, which is pretty much a Hollywood costuming thing, and they both wear greaves, which are also a faux pas among reenactors.
The fight isn’t bad – it’s quite good in places, certainly
better than what you’ll see in movies. Though I’m not sure what it’s about when
they both lose their shields and then reclaim them. Still, it’s interesting
from a combat point of view.
Why this video? Well, I’ve had Macbeth on my mind lately. I’m
strongly inclined to include him in my next Erling book. He was about 17 at the
time the story starts, and there’s no reason he couldn’t have been in Norway then.
His Scottish Highland home was definitely part of Erling’s world. I have an
idea that throwing him into the story might enhance some of the themes I’m
But I haven’t decided yet how to portray him – as a budding
villain, as Shakespeare paints him, or as a virtuous and pious young man, which
the actual historical record would indicate.
We’ll see. The story will tell me how it wants me to treat
There’s a lot of good to be said about Christ Collett’s new stand-alone mystery, The Truth About Murder. But I also found it somewhat aggravating.
First of all, full marks for originality in giving us a new
kind of investigative hero – Stefan Greaves is a lawyer in the (fictional, I
presume) middle English town of Charnford. From the beginning, it’s clear that
Stefan suffers from some kind of disability, but author Collett (annoyingly, in
my view) puts off naming it until nearly half-way through the book. I’ll risk spoiling
it by telling you that he has cerebral palsy. To reduce associated muscle
tension, he smokes pot regularly. Because social interactions are difficult (he
has trouble being understood when he talks) he sees an “escort” regularly.
Stefan gets a visit from a local nurse, who is concerned
about mortality rates in the neonatal ward where she works. Not long afterward
she disappears, and when her body is found in the river, the verdict is suicide
– though her daughter insists she was a Catholic and would never do that.
Investigating the disappearance and death is Mick Fraser, a local cop. Mick is concerned about his partner, whose time has been monopolized by their commander lately. He’s been secretive, and Mick begins to suspect him of corruption. In fact, it’s far worse than that…
As the plot thickens (rather slowly I thought, and with too
much reliance on coincidence) Stefan and Mick are drawn together to uncover a
sinister and heinous plot that threatens the whole country.
I never fell in love with The Truth About Murder, or with Stefan Greaves as a character. (He shares, with many fictional detectives, a gift for having attractive women throw themselves at him constantly, in spite of his disability. I complain of this trope often in my reviews, and if you think that means I’m jealous… well, I am.)
However, the book’s themes pleased me greatly. Without spoiling
it for the reader, I’ll just say that it involved controversial issues of
medical ethics. Author Collett seems to be unaware of (or is avoiding) the fact
that the evil in view here is more associated with the Left than the Right in
our time. But that may be a strategic choice intended not to alienate readers.
I don’t know Collett’s politics, but if he’s conservative I salute his
strategy, and if he’s liberal I salute his moral sense.
I can’t give The Truth About Murder my highest recommendation, but it’s worth reading. There’s a suggestion that this might be the start of a new series. I’m not wholly enthusiastic about that prospect.
Hard as it might be to believe, I’m still lacking a finished book to review tonight. I’m finding my current read a little slow, I guess – though it’s gaining interest as I proceed. It’ll probably be ready tomorrow.
What else to talk about? Today lacked the pulse-pounding social
interactions of yesterday. I watched the last half of a movie I’m fond of last
night, though. I can gas about that.
5 Card Stud (1968) is not a great movie, but I find it endlessly entertaining, and generally watch it whenever it shows up. Its attractions are many.
Dean Martin in the lead. Dino was the archetypal Italian-American and seems an odd choice as a western star. But he loved westerns, and excelled in roles where he could play breezy, wisecracking types. By all accounts he was a nice guy too, and faithful to his wife, at least for a long time. Similarly, he joked about drinking a lot, but didn’t actually… until the time came when he did. Here he plays Van Morgan, a gambler who tries to stop fellow card players from lynching a cheater, but fails. Later the participants in the game start being murdered, one by one.
Robert Mitchum plays Rev. Jonathan Rudd, a mysterious
preacher who comes to town and starts tweaking the surviving players’
consciences. Mitchum, I was interested to learn a while back, was half
Norwegian. His mother was Norwegian.
It’s odd when I think back, but I can recall as a young boy
thinking that Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum were the same guy. I guess tall,
dark guys like that weren’t very common in my world and they all looked alike
But the big draw in 5 Card Stud is Inger Stevens, who plays a prostitute named Lily Langford. It has been my contention for many years that Inger was the most beautiful woman to show up on the public scene in my lifetime. (My friend Mark Goldblatt calls her the “ultimate shiksa.”) She was a Swedish immigrant, but had assimilated to the extent that she had to re-learn her accent when she got the title role in the TV series, The Farmer’s Daughter. An unhappy woman, they say, a little like Marilyn Monroe in forever searching for fulfillment in a man’s love and never finding it. She would die just two years later, in 1970, probably a suicide.
But what beauty! At once regal and impish.
Sadly, most of the films she did that show up on TV from time to time are ones I don’t want to watch. Not even Hang ‘em High, with Clint Eastwood, which is pretty good for the most part, but includes a multiple hanging scene that I, wimp that I am, just can’t handle.
Anyway, 5 Card Stud is a mystery without much actual mystery, and the acting is sometimes over the top. The dialogue can be weak too, though the script was written by Marguerite Roberts, who would write the great True Grit a few years down the line. (However, it should be noted that True Grit follows Charles Portis’s novel very closely, so not a lot of creativity was required. Anyway, Roberts was a Commie.)
But it’s a treat to watch Martin, Mitchum, and Stevens go through
their paces. And Dean sings the title song.
Nothing to review today. My reading has slowed in the last couple days, which is not all bad. I’m trying to reduce my book spending, due to the current cutbacks.
Which will be exacerbated by the plumber’s appointment I had
today. My kitchen faucet succumbed to the corrosive water we enjoy in
Robbinsdale, and had to be replaced. I got the cheapest model they offered, but
Then out into the wide world and chill air, for a breathless visit to the drug store and the grocery store. Had my prescription filled at CVS. Later in the day, a somewhat pathetic e-mail showed up. Would I take a minute to fill out a form for them? Specifically, to indicate on a scale of one to ten how likely I am to recommend their enterprise to friends and family?
I don’t really want to fill it out. Because the truth would
be cruel. I am somewhere between zero and one on that scale. Not because I
dislike their stores. But because I can’t recall ever discussing drug store
choices with any friend or family member. For some reason it just doesn’t come
up. Maybe we’re atypical.
And in the back of my mind, the constant nagging voice of my inner publicist whispers: “This is what you should be doing, kid. If a big industry like CVS can send out plaintive appeals for affirmation, you can occasionally bug your fans about plugging your books and posting reviews on Amazon.”
Shut up, Nagging Publicist Voice. In these parts, we consider fishing for compliments a mark of weakness.
Then off to the grocery store. At checkout, the lady in
front of me in line noticed I’d bought a Marie Callender Honey-Roasted Turkey meal.
“Is that good?” she asked. “My husband and I eat a lot of that kind of meals,
but we’re looking for something less bland than what we’ve been having.”
I told her I like it quite a bit, and don’t find it bland at all. (“Of course I’m Norwegian,” I should have added.)
Oddly enough, I had a similar conversation some years ago, at the same store, with a guy who told me how much he enjoyed that very same frozen meal. I agreed with him, and we shared a moment of social harmony, then went our separate ways.
In my world, that’s how promotion ought to be done. Not by intrusive tub-thumping, but by people just recommending things they like to each other, in the natural course of things. Even, unlikely as it seems, drug stores.
So when you plug my books, pretend it’s just natural. Thank
Jonathan Quinn and his team of international agents return in The Unknown, the 14th book in the series. Regular readers will know what to expect, and author Brett Battles delivers.
On a winter night in Austria, a very important scientist named Brunner is traveling under the protection of bodyguards provided by the Office, the private security firm our heroes work for. It should be a routine mission, but they are attacked, there is loss of life, and Brunner is expertly extracted by kidnappers. This is bad news for the Office, which has only recently reconstituted itself as a business, so their operational chief contacts Jonathan Quinn. Though ostensibly a Cleaner, a wiper of evidence after “wet” operations, Quinn has a well-earned reputation for effective and efficient field work. He summons his regular team, including his wife Orlando, his old partner Nate, and a couple East Asian friends. As a concession, they allow Kincaid, the failed bodyguard, to come along. He has something to prove.
They face well-organized, efficient, and well-financed
opponents, but Quinn always finds a way. This time out they are assisted in
particular by Jar, a minor character in previous books. Jar is a Thai computer
genius, a woman. She is obviously autistic, but is learning to deal with
illogical normals. She provides a surprisingly charming addition to the cast.
They also get unexpected – and suspicious – help from a source they neither understand nor trust, though it seems to be leading them in the right direction.
Like all the Jonathan Quinn books, The Unknown was fun. It wasn’t deathless literature, but it offered interesting interactions and a fast pace. Recommended.
I need to write something extra-good tonight, because there’s a good chance I’ll be absent tomorrow. Being retired, I can usually figure on my schedule being pretty open, but tomorrow I have two long meetings . (Both, alas, meetings unconnected with the earning of money.)
But I’m short on subject matter. I drained my brain last
night; I’m fresh out of profound thoughts.
Fended off a Facebook con artist this morning. Got a friend request from a young woman in another state, suspiciously attractive judging by her picture. But we had a mutual friend, and she had the right kind of links posted on her home page, so I gave it a shot. It was but the work of a moment for her to message me and tell me she was looking for a boyfriend. I did give her a fair chance, telling her politely that I was much too old for her. When she told me she didn’t care about that, I severed our association. I may be a fool, as Lord Peter Wimsey once said, “but I’m not a bloody fool.”
I guess I can be proud I’m still sharp enough not to fall for such things.
I’m also a little sad that I’m old enough to have lost all
illusion in the area.
The sixth season of Endeavour is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Six seasons already? How did that happen?
I keep waiting for Shaun Evans to acquire that mark on his temple that his older self has.
I liked the original Morse series very much, but I’m strongly tempted to like this prequel even better. It’s a good recreation of the era when I came of age (though Morse was a little older than me) and it’s more character-driven, I think. The Morse series concentrated mostly on the interplay between Morse and Lewis – and that was excellent. But Endeavour has a larger continuing cast, characters about whom we have come to care. For my part, I particularly like Inspector Bright, who reminds me of a number of older men I’ve known in church work. He came in pretty unsympathetic, but we’ve come to see his finer qualities since then.
The first episode had a character I immediately marked as
the Culprit, simply on the basis of established contemporary TV stereotypes. I
was delighted to be wrong.
Maybe things will work out all right in the world.
I’m going to start by talking about a very private bodily
function… in the vaguest possible terms. Because I’m a sensitive soul. Then I’ll
go on to make a vapid point.
I clicked on an article that showed up on the Book Full of
Faces a little while back.
It was about the aforementioned Private Bodily Function. This is a function performed frequently by every person, saint or sinner, male, female, or delusional. The headline informed me that I was finishing up this function “THE WRONG WAY!”
Out of curiosity, I read the article. When I was finished, I
thought, “It appears that the author of this article has never actually
performed this bodily function.”
Which I find somewhat unlikely.
Then I noticed who published it. When I saw that the article was aimed at college students, all became clear. An academic wrote it. And academics, as you’ve probably noticed, literally don’t know… many things.
It takes an academic to analyze a commonplace physical act
and declare that all mankind has been doing it wrong from time immemorial. The
whole scam of modern higher education is based on taking what is known and
understood, deconstructing it, and rendering it mysterious and in need of
There was a time in history when the purpose of education
was to learn the higher mysteries, the beauty and wisdom concealed behind the
That changed (I think) some time around the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment decided there were no higher mysteries, and turned its
energies to deconstruction and demythologizing. Instead of learning what we’d
never known, the modern student is meant to unlearn what everybody already
I was reminded of the first line of Alan Bloom’s book, Love and Friendship (quoting from memory because I can’t locate my copy at the moment). Describing Rousseau, he writes, “A Swiss told the French they were bad lovers, and the French believed him.”
It seems to me one of the tragedies of our current literary situation (which I pray is transitional) that authors who have something to say and good author’s instincts often lack the “school of hard knocks” experience and editorial hoop-jumping that forced us old guys to learn our craft. John Sturgeon, author of Crimes of the Levee, strikes me as having that problem.
Crimes of the Levee is set in Chicago in 1905. “The Levee” is a vice district, where prostitution, gambling, and drug use are endemic (some of these things, like prostitution, are actually legal). Patrick Moses is a police detective who works there. He is a practicing Catholic, but embittered by the deaths of his wife and children. His chief friends are the prostitute he dates; his partner, a German-American named Gunter; and the priest who was his father figure when he was growing up in an orphanage. But he keeps them at a distance. When the pain gets too great, he drinks or uses opium.
He and Gunter are public heroes as the book starts. They arrested
Simon Kluge, a serial killer who has just been executed. Now they are asked to
hunt for a missing woman – the niece of the Italian ambassador, who is rumored
to have been kidnapped by white slavers and put to work in the Levee. At about
the same time, fabled merchant Marshall Field summons Patrick personally,
asking him to investigate the death of his son. Supposedly, Marshall Field, Jr.
shot himself while cleaning his gun, but the father doubts that story. To his
puzzlement, Patrick finds that the old man himself seems to have organized the
To top it all off, women are being murdered again, in the
very same way Simon Kluge killed his victims. Was the wrong man executed? Or did
Kluge have an accomplice?
Crimes of the Levee, taken as a story, is a pretty good “mean streets” sort of tale. There’s a good sense of place and atmosphere. However, I had trouble figuring out the story’s final resolution – I think I may have puzzled it out, but it seemed to me too subtle by half.
But my big problem with the book was the writing itself. Author Sturgeon has problems with basic spelling and punctuation – he has trouble with verb tenses. He uses question marks where they’re not wanted and leaves them out where they are. He employs redundancies, as in this passage: “This Sunday, I had hoped for rest, peace, and quiet. What I got was conflict, and this took away from everything else.” He confuses homophones, such as “vial” for “vile.” At one point the hero breaks an arm, but the author barely considers the problems that would create for a man living alone – such as in tying a necktie.
The author seems to have done a fair amount of research for
this book, but some subtleties pass him by – for instance, he doesn’t seem to
know that, up until the 1970s, unmarried women were addressed as Miss and
married women as Mrs. He uses “Ms.,” which in those days was nothing more than
a regional mispronunciation. And the diction was generally was too modern, something
that diminished the atmosphere for me.
Still, this was a pretty non-objectionable book considering
its subject matter, and there are no digs at Christianity. I recommend it
conditionally, with my criticisms in mind. I probably won’t read the next book
in the series, though I’ll admit I am mildly curious.
I read an article the other day criticizing a renewed push by some U.S. House conservatives as well as some writers to ban pornography in America. The writer took no moral stance for or against it, but defended it as a point of individual rights. But what is freedom if it is not moral freedom? What is law if not moral law?
It’s hard to ignore the implicit cries for help seen on Twitter by survivors of sexual abuse who say a parent groomed them with dirty images or that criminals are fueled by it. But being only one person, what can you do?
He says, “It’s not the temptation that leads you away—it’s your ‘foot.’ It’s not the sinful vision that leads you away—it’s your ‘eye.'” And the stakes for continuing in sin are far higher than you want to admit.
I got a free deal on Todd Borg’s Tahoe Deep, Book 17 in the Owen McKenna series. Not a bad read, though I have quibbles.
Back in 1940, a legally blind teenager named Danny Callahan
overheard and saw enough to know that his beloved sister murdered her
boyfriend, leaving his body on the SS Tahoe, a lake steamer about to be
scuttled and sunk. Today he is a curmudgeonly old man, surviving in his own
home with the help of a kindly neighbor, Mae O’Sullivan. When Danny is attacked
in his home and beaten up, Mae goes (against Danny’s wishes) to private eye
Owen McKenna. She hopes he can somehow fight through Danny’s misanthropic
shyness to identify and stop the people trying to extort information from him.
When the same criminals try to murder Mae, Danny starts cooperating. He has a
strange story to tell, but he still doesn’t understand what he has that the
Lake Tahoe detective Owen McKenna makes a pretty good hero, in the cheerful Spenser tradition. Owen is healthy and positive-minded, and has good relationships with his entomologist girlfriend and his gigantic Great Dane dog. His investigation stirs up conflict and danger, but he will not be intimidated until the mystery is solved and the criminals are stopped.
I liked the characters in Tahoe Deep, and the plotting was pretty good. But I saw again the problem that shows up over and over in contemporary novels – sloppy proofreading, enabled (I assume) by self-publishing. In particular, misspellings and homophone confusion. Also author Borg can be weak with his dialogue. When his characters go into exposition, they often drop into Encyclopedia Mode, talking like a (fairly dry) book.
Also, there seems to be an anti-gun thing going on here. McKenna
never carries a gun, he proudly proclaims, and the author’s attempts to invent
exciting non-gun action leads to occasionally far-fetched scenarios.
But not bad, all in all. No notable cautions that I can