Peschel Press at Hershey Winter Arts Show

The Winter Arts and Crafts Show is coming up Saturday at Hershey High School, and this marks a milestone for the Peschel Press.

I haven’t talked much about what I’ve been doing since The Patriot-News let me go at the end of 2012. I’ll cover that in a later post, as it’s been an interesting two years, with lots of ups and down.

But Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., we’ll be in the high school along with about 130 other dealers, selling our line of six books, plus book/grocery bags that Teresa spent the last few months sewing up.

Here’s where you can find us, at table 91. Go in through the main entrance by the office, head straight down the hall, turn left, and we’ll be the first table on the right.

Peschel Press will be at Booth 91. Avoid the letters.

Peschel Press will be at Booth 91. Avoid the letters.

Books will be $15 each, signed, and if you buy three books, we’ll throw in the fourth one for free! Book bags will be $10 each, and if you buy three, you get the fourth for free!

We’ll also be serving Teresa’s famous (at least in our house) butterscotch crunchie cookies, and offering the recipe free for every book purchase.

While this is not our first show, there’s a different feel about it. For the first time, we bought banners and posters, and printed flyers to display and give away.

Rehearsal space for the show. Click on the photo to embiggen.

Rehearsal space for the show. Click on the photo to embiggen.

It’s one thing to get books printed and sit behind a card table talking to readers. It’s another to see your company’s name and products reflected in something that wasn’t hand-drawn using Sharpies. It’s not just a banner, it’s a mirror, telling you “this is real. Don’t blow it.”

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We may not sell a thing. I tend to be pessimistic about these things, and I’ve found that any kind of success becomes that much sweeter for it. If nothing else, it’ll be nice to talk to the shoppers and see what they’re looking for, and walk around and feel like part of Hershey for a bit.

Then it’ll be back down in the basement to work on the next book.

Categories: Peschel Press, Rough Draft | Leave a comment

Longmire’s Craig Johnson @ Mechanicsburg Mystery

After reviewing Craig Johnson’s new book of Longmire short stories, I attended his visit to the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore. He’s made bookstore appearances here for several years, and I had been told he’s excellent at it, so this was a great opportunity to see for myself.

Craig Johnson with Deb Beamer, owner of Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore.

Craig Johnson with Deb Beamer, owner of Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore.

And he was. After he was interviewed by the store’s owner, Deb Beamer, he charmed the mob of 80+ fans with stories about the TV show, actor Lou Diamond Phillips (who plays Henry Standing Bear in the series), his writing process, and the future of the Longmire book series. He told us about the future books in the series, and how far he thinks ahead. He’s finished the next book to be released in May 2015, and is working on the one after that. He also has some idea what’s going to happen in the three books after that.

(Note: He gave us details about the future books, including their titles, but swore that he only does this at Mechanicsburg. As a former journalist, I’d love to tell you, but — note the word former. He didn’t ask us not to tell, but I didn’t ask him if he’d mind, so I’ll just keep it on the QT here. If you want to know more, check out the tour dates at the bottom of this post and ask Craig yourself.)

He also mentioned that each book represents a season in Longmire’s life, and that he’ll shift a story idea around to take that into account. Calling himself a “blue-collar writer,” he appears to be a very focused writer. He’ll wake up on his farm, take care of the animals, brew a pot of coffee, head into his study and work. If he’s in the zone, he’ll work through lunch or dinner. And that’s how he gets his books written.

So what’s the secret to his stage presence? Here’s what I think:

1. His powerful voice. Both in volume and tone. You can tell he’s in the room, because he’s loud enough to cut through any conversation.

2. His fresh sense of humor. Authors on tour have a fund of stories to draw on that they tell at each stop. How they got into writing, what they plan to write next, if they’ve got a movie or TV show, something about that. Johnson laces these stories with extra humorous details. He also gives us something new. For example, he mentioned that, on his way here from Philadelphia (where his daughter lives, which explains what a Wyoming writer is doing in the middle of rural PA), he took a break at a ball field. When he started his rental car, he noticed that his speedometer pegged at 150 before returning to zero. He snapped a photo and sent it to his wife with the note “Pennsylvania turnpike” and joked that his smartphone is pinging with messages out in the car. He called back to this a couple times, a pro technique which leads me to believe that he could have a career as a standup comic.

3. His energy. Some people have it; some people don’t. That feeling like the Energizer Bunny is inside them and they have to let it out. Johnson’s bubbling with it.

4. Great storytelling chops. I suppose this can be a learned skill, but not in Craig’s case: “My father told me that I came from a family of bullshitters; I was the only one smart enough to write them down.”

5. Perfect alignment of image and product. One look at Craig, his beefy build, his cowboy hat, his call-the-cows-to-the-barn voice, and you can tell he was born to write minimalist flash fiction in Park Slope. And if you don’t know why that’s a joke, you might have a problem.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 2-minute clip should say it all. This is Craig talking about the first short story he wrote, “Old Indian Trick,” which lead to a meeting with Tony Hillerman. (Both stories are in “Wait for Signs,” so if I’m trespassing, it’s for a good cause.)

So if you want to learn how to do a public performance right, check out Craig Johnson. And look at his Longmire books, too. They’re excellent.

Craig Johnson “Wait for Signs” 2014 book tour

Oct. 26: Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas
Oct. 27: Books Inc. Alameda, San Francisco
Oct. 28: Once Upon a Time, Los Angeles
Oct. 29: Tattered Cover, Denver
Oct. 30: Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins
Nov. 1: Poisoned Pen, Phoenix
Nov. 1: Scottsdale Public Library, Phoenix
Nov. 2: Barnes & Noble, Billings, Mont.
Nov. 5: Barnes & Noble, Cheyenne, Wyo.
Nov. 7: New England Crime Bake, Boston
Nov. 10: Powell’s, Portland, Ore.
Nov. 11: Sunriver Books, Bend, Ore.

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Dogs as Passive Alarm Systems

Electricity is a wonderful thing and I really like it a lot. But I don’t like using more than I have to (I don’t want to pay for it) and I don’t like having vital systems depending on its constant presence. Electricity can and does go out due to bad weather, cars running into electrical poles, trouble at the sub-station, terrorists knocking out the grid (unlikely but it could happen).

My point here is that an alarm system is dependent on electricity. I suppose you could have your alarm system wired into your home generator but what if you don’t have a generator? What if you forget? Do you want to allocate scarce generator power to an alarm system instead of your refrigerator and lights? A small to medium size dog is far more useful in more situations than any alarm system.

Muffy's also effective against groundhogs and porcupines.

Muffy’s also effective against groundhogs and porcupines.

We have Muffy. She is a medium-sized German shepherd/terrier mix. Muffy has been a most valuable upgrade to our home security in a lot of ways. First of all, she is here. She barks to warn us if someone is coming into the house. She spends a lot of time roaming free in our fenced back yard. I have cowbells on each gate to make noise when someone enters. Muffy barks and races to the gate to see who is there.

I walk Muffy throughout my neighborhood, at various times of the day, meeting and greeting all my neighbors. This not only means that I get to know my neighbors as Muffy likes to say hello to everyone, it means they know me and they all know we have a dog.

Burglars hate dogs. Any dog. Even the tiniest yappy ankle-biter will bark — sometimes a lot! — when someone enters their territory. Word gets around. Many years ago, I had an acquaintance at church tell me that in her old neighborhood, they were the only people who never had their house broken into. They had a big Siberian Husky. Two weeks after the dog died, their house was robbed. Word got around.

You don’t have to have a hundred pound Rottweiler to improve your home security. In fact, unless you can handle, train, and work daily with an aggressive dog like that, you shouldn’t! Almost every dog, no matter what it’s size, will know its territory and bark and make a racket when someone enters the territory. That is what you want. A mobile, loyal, doesn’t need electricity alarm.

Having a dog ONLY works if the dog is with you. In your house. Especially at night. If you get a dog and keep it chained up in the far corner of your yard and only see it once every day or two to give it food and water, you should get an alarm. Don’t get a dog. This treatment is incredibly cruel and unfeeling towards the dog. Moreover, if your dog barks at a prowler, how will you even know? And why should the dog? Dogs show loyalty and love to the people who show loyalty and love to them. If you don’t want to care for another member of the family, and a dog IS a member of the family, then don’t do this. There are too many neglected, unwanted, abused dogs out there right now. Don’t add to the problem.

If you do get a dog, then learn not just how to feed your new family member but also basic doggy obedience. The vet, the humane society, the local kennel club, the pet supply store, and the groomer can all recommend someone who does dog training. The better trained you and your dog are, the happier everyone will be.

You don’t have to have a specific breed of dog to alert you. Almost every dog, purebred or mongrel, will be territorial enough to be a watch dog. By definition, a watch dog alerts you to a problem so you can deal with it. A Guard dog tries to handles the problem. If you can’t control the Guard dog, you lost control of both the dog AND the problem. Guard dogs and Attack dogs are usually certain specific breeds and absolutely require extensive dog handling experience and regular training to be safe around your family and effective in performing their duties. Unless you already know what you’re doing with aggressive dogs, don’t do this to yourself, your family, or the dog.

If you just want a dog, start with the local humane society. Every humane society has plenty of dogs that need good homes. Stop in regularly, get to know the staff, and meet the dogs currently in residence. Spend time with the dogs and see who seems to work well with you. Every family member should meet the dog prior to adoption. If the paperwork seems intrusive, it is because every dog at the SPCA was abandoned by someone. The staff wants a forever home for each dog and a good match means they don’t have to take the dog back, more traumatized than ever because worthless humans let the dog down. Again. Before you bring the dog home, have your house ready with dog food, leashes, beds, and a vet lined up.

If you want a specific breed, then you need to study up. A great book to start with is “Paws to Consider: Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family” by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson. After you read up on breeds, go to dog shows. Any veterinarian, pet supply store, and the local SPCA will know where to look for local ones. The reason is that it is very different reading about a dog breed and seeing the dog for real. The dog owners are generally quite happy to tell you all about their dog breed and why it is so wonderful.

I originally wanted a Newfoundland. They are great big dogs and extremely gentle around children. I liked everything that I read about them. The books did mention, in passing, that Newfies are big, shed and drool. Indeed, they do. You have to see the dog in action to appreciate that the dog is the size of a pony and looks like a black bear. Pictures don’t really convey that. Nor did I really understand what shedding and drooling meant until I saw that every single Newfie at the dog show left a trail of black hair (after they had been groomed to a fare thee well to be shown!) and each one was followed by an owner draped with towels to mop up the drool! They ate like horses and shat like elephants. There were demonstrations. We do not have a Newfoundland.

Don’t get a puppy mill dog. They tend to be the pedigreed breeds sold in pet shops. These dogs may have papers but that doesn’t mean that they have good, healthy genes. Many puppy mill dogs develop severe health and temperament problems. If you want a purebred, go with a breeder, local if you can, who cares enough about the dog to work with you. A reputable breeder will take the dog back if things don’t work out. They guarantee health and temperament (assuming you don’t abuse the dog). They can recommend local training and obedience schools. They let you see the parent dogs and inspect the kennel. Puppy mills don’t let you do any of this.

Another choice for a pure-bred dog is one of many breed specific rescue groups. There is one for practically every kind of dog there is. Like the humane society, rescue groups will want to do a pretty comprehensive investigation of you in order to assure a forever home for the dog. Rescue groups as a whole don’t care about your precious little feelings. They care a lot about a happy, permanent match for the dog. There will be fees of course, because like the SPCA, rescue groups spend plenty of money on dog food and vets.

Muffy has been a wonderful addition in our lives. She is always up for a long walk. Draw a one mile radius circle around your house and you, with your dog, can thoroughly explore your surroundings. My experience with Muffy is that, with a dog, I become effectively invisible, unless I choose differently by interacting with other pedestrians. I think that a man would also experience the same effect. That is, you become a harmless dog walker as opposed to a potential prowler casing the neighborhood for a future break-in. Knowing every street, alley, house, and business within walking distance to your house could be useful. You never know. It also means that if you see changes in your neighborhood for the worse, you might be able to do something about it.

Muffy has also proven her worth in the backyard. We do food gardening, both vegetable beds, fruit bushes, and future fruit trees and nut trees. Ground hogs and rabbits were becoming severe pests and eating everything in sight. Rabbits go under your fence and ground hogs can and will climb a four foot chain link fence to get to your beans. I have seen them do this and it is very peculiar to see. Rabbits and ground hogs are also pretty damn fast, so you will never catch one.

We no longer have a problem with rabbits or ground hogs. Muffy patrols faithfully, looking for varmints. She has killed or severely injured three ground hogs to date. The rabbits seem smarter and just stay out of the yard now. Muffy, of course, uses the yard to do her business. Her urine advertises to all sorts of critters that a predator lives here. Does this help keep raccoons, possums, and skunks out of the yard? It certainly doesn’t hurt.

A sign makes it easier to warn thieves when your pet's out of sight.

A sign makes it easier to warn thieves when your pet’s out of sight.

As part of letting everyone who sees your house know that you have a dog, put up a “Beware of Dog” sign on every gate. Get them down at the hardware store for a few bucks each. Make them last longer by laminating them with plastic or do-it-yourself with clear contact paper. Use good wire to hang them on your fence and they should last for years. Don’t use a cave canem sign (that is Latin for “beware of dog”) as thieves do not tend to have a Classical education. You want to be clear that you have a dog on patrol. The best dog sign I have seen had a silhouette of two Dobermans and the tag “We can reach the fence in 10 seconds. Can you?” Only put the signs up if you actually have a dog.

We installed a dog door in our Florida Room to make it easier for Muffy to get in and out. I suppose a really skinny teenage burglar could shimmy through it, but dog doors generally mean dogs. More than one prowler has gone through the big dog door and met the Rottweiler on the other side. If you do not have a dog and you do have a dog door, then close it off.

Who's a good dog? You're a good dog!

Who’s a good dog? You’re a good dog!

Your dog can also make it easier to hide a spare key on your property. You put it on a hook inside the dog house that your Great Dane sleeps in. He will let you reach your hand in, but not many other people will try this.

So if you like dogs and are willing to do the necessary work of keeping one, a small to medium size dog can be a terrific upgrade to your household security. Like any family member, dogs need to eat and they need regular medical care. Look into a dog for a host of reasons. Companionship, watchdog, garden patrol, deterrent, exercise machine, neighborhood exploration. Dogs do it all.

Categories: Suburban Stockade | Leave a comment

Wait For Signs review: Short Longmires

wait for signs review Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson will appear at Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore, 6:30 p.m., Oct. 24, 2014, as part of his national tour for “Wait for Signs.”

There’s something to be said, as H.L. Mencken said, for competence in anything from adultery to zoology. It’s easy to appreciate brilliance and genius. But we have a hard time honoring works with more modest goals, such as entertaining the reader.

So it’s not meant to be snarky when I say that the dozen stories about Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire in “Wait for Signs” are competent. This collection by Craig Johnson, beautifully designed and printed, make the perfect gift for his fans, even a welcome surprise coming so soon after publication of “Any Other Name.”

The stories are not just amusing in the telling. They dip into Longmire’s life, showing his capacity for patience and humor on the job, such as rescuing an old woman who’s waiting for Jesus to show up in a restaurant parking lot, or investigating the disappearance of a horse during a rodeo. Some are about moments in his life that reveal aspects of his character or his relationships. “Slick-Tongued Devil,” for example, tells the story of the death of his wife, paired with the visit of a Bible salesman, and how the events are intertwined.

For fans of the series, I can cut to the chase and say these stories go down as smooth as a shot of good whiskey. These stories are in turn mournful, elegiac, sweet on its characters and, in the case of “Messenger,” funny in that “oh-no-you-didn’t-go-there” way, involving a bear family, a ranger, an outhouse and Cheetoes).

For the rest of you, these stories are best described as episodes in a lawman’s life. There are small mysteries that mean a lot to the people involved, but no challenge is issued to solve them yourself. You’re just along for the ride, spending time with mostly good people and maybe being lured into staying awhile.

In fact, the only fault I have with the book is that the stories can be started on Christmas Day and finished long before New Years. But, then, that’s what the novels are for.

Craig Johnson “Wait for Signs” 2014 book tour

Oct. 26: Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas
Oct. 27: Books Inc. Alameda, San Francisco
Oct. 28: Once Upon a Time, Los Angeles
Oct. 29: Tattered Cover, Denver
Oct. 30: Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins
Nov. 1: Poisoned Pen, Phoenix
Nov. 1: Scottsdale Public Library, Phoenix
Nov. 2: Barnes & Noble, Billings, Mont.
Nov. 5: Barnes & Noble, Cheyenne, Wyo.
Nov. 7: New England Crime Bake, Boston
Nov. 10: Powell’s, Portland, Ore.
Nov. 11: Sunriver Books, Bend, Ore.

Categories: Mysteries & Thrillers | Comments Off

Home Security part 3: Automotive Safety

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Suburban stockade introduction

There are some easy security fixes for your car. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive: they work for any vehicle. First and foremost, is keep it locked! I don’t get out and about very much, yet I fairly often see a car, engine running, and left unattended. That driver is A) wasting gas and B) begging for someone to steal the car. If you simply must run the engine to thaw out the car, then either do it while scraping off the windshields or get a second set of keys and lock the vehicle back up while the engine is running.

Don’t leave your car unlocked, ever, unless you are loading and unloading. Not even in your driveway. Even if your car isn’t stolen out of your driveway, any casual thief can get in and steal change, phone chargers, gloves, anything movable they see, and most importantly: a wealth of personal identification from the glove box with your ownership papers, insurance papers, and registration. Don’t make it easier for someone to steal your identity. Just like with houses, car thieves have been known to walk down the street, testing doors to see which fool left their auto unlocked. Don’t be that fool.

Keep your doors locked while driving! Modern cars often will automatically lock themselves when you reach a certain speed. Get in the habit of locking the doors yourself as soon as everyone is in the vehicle. Don’t wait for the car to do it for you. That way, when you are still moving slowly in the parking lot, it will be that much harder for someone to open your door and rob you. Don’t make it easy for thieves or potential car jackers.

Don’t store anything in plain sight that you would mind being stolen. Keep your car interior empty and clean: this sends the message that there is nothing of interest and no reason to break into the vehicle. If you have a trunk, then use it to store your purchases. If you don’t have a trunk, you may have a built in panel that pulls across the back of the vehicle. If not, then a blanket will just have to do. If you have a separate GPS unit on your dashboard, cover it with a ball cap when not in use. No burglar will waste time on a dime store ball cap; the GPS is more inviting.

Back into the space when you park! This is a very worthwhile skill to learn. I was pretty terrible at this at first, but I have gotten better at it with practice. Why back in? It is easier and quicker to drive out as you can see exactly what you are doing and if anything or anyone is in the way. This is safer too, as you can assume that the parking space you are backing into is empty. That is why you choose it, after all. But you cannot assume that the lane behind you is empty as you back out into it while people and cars are using it to go about their own business. It takes a little bit longer to back into a parking space, but the ease, speed, and safety of exiting more than make up for the extra minute or two.

Pull through parking spaces work just as well, so always pull through even if it means being a few spots further away. Being further from the building means it is easier to park, easier to exit, and while you are still circling the lot looking for a space close to the door, I am already on my way into the building, having parked (in a pull through, natch) and locked my car.

When you park at home, you still want to back into the driveway. Same reasons apply: a few extra moments to back in save you time when you are leaving in a hurry for work or an appointment. This gives you a chance to check for bikes and other junk in the driveway too, before you park. When you pull into the space, your kids may leave stuff in the driveway behind your car. When it is time to leave, you will back right over those trikes, jump-ropes, and other car damaging junk. If you have backed into the space, you can see what is laying in wait in your driveway, ready to puncture your tires. This also means that you are much less likely to back over a toddler in the driveway. That can and does happen.

When you park, look for any identifying signs so you can find your car when you leave. This can be quite important in huge parking lots with thousands of cars. The anxiety of thinking your car was stolen makes you pay less attention to your surroundings and any possible threat, while looking up and down the rows takes time. Time that you could be using to get on the road and getting home.

When you park at a huge lot for some kind of event where everyone leaves at about the same time, don’t just back into any old space. Look where the parking lot exits are. Are you closer to an exit and farther from the building? You may have to walk a little more (good exercise!) but the farther you are from the building, the fewer pedestrians and cars you will have to maneuver around in order to leave. Take a moment before parking and think about how you will leave with the hordes of other cars.

Get a cell phone charger for your car and use it. Cell phones only work if they are charged, so you might as well use the time spent driving for this purpose.

Whenever your gas gauge goes below half way, fill up the gas tank. This prevents the emergency (power outage, weather, etc) where you cannot get gas from harming you as much. If you are running on fumes and can’t buy gas, you are stuck where you are. If something awful happens — terrorists flying airplanes into city buildings — you can leave more quickly if you don’t have to stop and refuel along with everyone else.

Every time you buy gas, wash your windshields. There is a little catch sort of a thing on the gas nozzle. It lets the gas flow into the tank while you clean all the windows. Dirty windows can be a safety hazard; they are harder to see through in general and just dreadful if you are driving into the sun. The glare is blinding. A clean windshield means a lot less glare. Take a moment and wash off your headlights and taillights too. Easier for you to see and easier for other people to see you.

Check all your vehicle fluids — windshield wiper fluid, oil, radiator, brakes, transmission — and the tire pressure on a regular basis, weekly if at all possible. You will catch any problems while they are still small and ensure you don’t run out of windshield wiper fluid when you really need it (that truck sprays your car down with mud and you can’t see through the windshield).

Have a complete set of road maps for your area and know how to read and use them. Yes, yes, yes, I know you have a GPS. Sometimes they don’t work. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes you need to find an alternate way because of accidents or unbelievable traffic jams as everyone in the city leaves at the same time to escape the overturned chlorine tanker car. A map can tell you alternate routes, allowing you to avoid skeevy neighborhoods you don’t want to drive through. It may be a longer trip, but also a safer one.

When you drive in your daily routine, take alternate routes. This makes your mental map of your driving area larger, more complete, and more flexible. If you have to go a different way, you can. You know where more gas stations and other services are. That could be useful.

Get a milk crate and carry some basic supplies in your trunk at all times. You should have a quart of oil, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, brake fluid, fix-a-flat in a can, dry gas, a tire gauge, powdered aluminum for the radiator, space blankets, a flashlight, a poncho, and some water and snackies. These are all items to help you get home. Carefully packed, they will fit into a standard milk crate. Make sure your spare tire is full of air and in operable condition. Do you know how to change a tire? Is the car manual in the glove box?

The powdered aluminum will fix tiny radiator leaks and it really works. If your radiator develops a slow leak, dump in the entire vial of powder, put in more antifreeze or water and you can manage to drive home. The powder works so well that it can fix radiator pinhole leaks for years. It gave our mini-van an extra fifteen years of life. The fix-a-flat can keep a tire going, without you having to change it. The tire will be ruined but you can get your car home or to the garage safely. The dry gas treatment will remove water condensation that may be in your gas lines. Sometimes, especially in the winter, that can make your car drive more poorly.

The poncho lets you change a tire or check fluids in the rain. The flashlight? The same things, only now it is dark and raining. The space blanket traps heat or repels heat depending on which side is out. If you have to stay in the car, in the winter, it can be a life-saver. A space blanket is the size of a deck of cards and is only a few dollars in the camping department. Get several, one for each person who routinely rides in your car.

Water and snackies are for that emergency that leaves you trapped on the road for hours. You can buy U.S. Coast Guard approved bags of water and emergency food bars. They are VERY expensive but they are made to be stored, without trouble, in all kinds of weather in the trunk of your car (or in your boat) for years. If you need them, you have them. If you don’t want to go this route, then store whatever granola bars and water bottles you like, BUT, you will have to rotate them as they get stale and the water bottles may freeze and break in the winter.

Faithfully follow the maintenance schedule for your car. Changing the oil regularly can add years to the life of your vehicle as can changing air filters, oil filters, and fuel filters. The maintenance schedule isn’t just to make money for the dealership. It really does help keep your car running better and longer. If you feel handy, you can get a Chilton’s guide for your car and do a great deal of this work yourself in your very own driveway.

Keep your car washed to keep corrosive road salts from damaging the finish and eventually causing rust. Your headlights will, overtime, become cloudy. There is a buffing compound available at any auto parts store that will let you polish out some of the scratches. This will help you see better at night. Doing the taillights means other people can see you better.

What does this have to do with security? A well maintained auto is far less likely to leave you stranded somewhere, at the mercy of strangers. Brakes are less likely to fail when you need them; timing belts get replaced when worn and not when they break. Clean, clearly visible signals might mean the difference between an accident and a near miss.

The final and most important piece of car security advice is to pay attention! If you drive on autopilot, yakking away on your cell phone, you may miss the accident that is about to happen. We all drive so much that it becomes easy to drive by rote. Carelessness is a big cause of accidents, just like fatigue, recklessness, and substance abuse. Not paying attention can lead to unlocked doors, and someone opening your door when you stop at the red light. Not paying attention means leaving out valuables in the back seat and then wondering why you got targeted for a smash and grab. It is hard to be mindful all the time and harder to train recalcitrant family members to do the same. But your safety and theirs can depend on you seeing that SUV blow through the red-light right in front of you.

You may think that talking to passengers would be just as distracting as talking on your cell. It isn’t, simply because your passenger will scream that a truck is headed right at you whereas your cell conversation partner has no idea that some pick-up truck just ran a stop sign and is about to t-bone you. And all those other things that distract your driving: texting (dear God, no), eating, reading, applying make-up, reaching around behind you to swat your mouthy kids, driving while drinking, getting high, or being blurry with fatigue. The less you do anything that takes your attention from the road, the less likely you are to have an accident. You either don’t cause it yourself, or, you see it coming and are able to avoid it. Oh, and wear your seatbelt, and buckle in all your passengers.

When you replace your car, before you spend any money, ask your insurance agent (or Consumer Reports) how likely your potential new car is to be stolen or vandalized. There are differences between makes and models; some types (and not necessarily the ones you expect) are far more valuable to car thieves than others. Check into the reliability of the car you are buying. How likely is it to fail unexpectedly and leave you on the side of the road? There are differences and Consumer Reports can tell you them.

If you have a choice, a light colored car is easier to see, particularly in poor visibility conditions. Dark matte finish cars disappear in the fog, the rain, dawn or dusk. Hot pink or safety yellow cars are far more visible, no matter what the conditions are. Visibility can mean the difference between an accident and a near miss.

Cars are transportation. They can be used to haul cargo and supplies. Once you get past reliability, safety, and gas mileage, they start becoming demonstrations of ego. When you look at the vehicle you are considering, how important is safety to you compared to how people admire you when you drive by? Think about your choice so you don’t have to pay more than you really want to, both upfront and over the years you drive it.

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Mystery in Marseilles

Murder on the Ile Sordou. By M.L. Longworth.

Mary Lou Longworth has been living in the south of France for 17 years. That is apparently long enough to populate her mystery series with enough French attitude to satisfy this wannabe tourist.

murder on the ile sordou marseilles mysteryThe fourth Antoine Verlaque novel, “Murder on the Ile Sordou” the examining magistrate and his law professor girlfriend Marine Bonnet are spending the week on a newly reopened hotel on an island off Marseilles. The guests on this isolated Mediterranean rock include Marine’s friend the free-spirited artist, a newly retired teacher and poet, a couple from America, and an arrogant, skirt-chasing French actor, his wife and her stepson. Throw in the couple who have mortgaged their future on the hotel, the manager with a shady past, the rising chef, the history-minded bartender and the inexperienced maid, and you have a long medley of French names to keep track of.

It’s a set-up for murder a la Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” but not for long. There’s only one murder, and the guests do not feel particularly threatened by the possibility of another. Verlaque calls in the police to cordon off the island and launches the investigation.

But before the murder, which takes place about a third of the way in, we’re treated to a slow build-up. Like P.D. James, whom she admires, Longworth takes her time, letting us get to know the guests and staff and enjoy relaxing on a sunny island resort where the hardest question is which wine to enjoy with the coming meal. She also takes us into the history of each character. Their stories have the flavor of real life, with its struggles and small victories, and although one is a murderer, no one is a serial killer, or manic-depressive, or suicidal.

There are other byways to follow. There’s the island’s lighthouse keeper, the eccentric old man with a name reminiscent of “The Tempest”: Prosper Buffa. The young maid, Marie-Therese, learns to cope with the routines and rules of her new job, and Hugo Sammut, the boatman and gardener, finds himself in trouble while carrying on an affair with one of the guests.

mystery in marseilles. Murder in the Iles Sordou

M.L. Longworth

I don’t know how accurate the French character is represented, but I felt nothing that contradicted what I’ve experienced before. These are lives being lived, and a murder just happens to be one of the events to live through, like a bathe in the sea or a dinner of sea bream braised in olive oil with lavender cookies and apricot tart for dessert. The mystery was like a moderate mid-priced wine: competent but with an unexpected finish. I knew early on who did it, but a twist in the story that I missed.

“Murder on the Ile Sordou” is for readers who want to savor a book that’s more interested in being there than in describing a puzzle that needs a solution.

M.L. Longworth’s web site.

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Home Security (part 2)

Suburban Stockade BannerSuburban stockade introduction

Signs for Emergency Personnel (and delivery guys)

Take another walk around your house, looking at it from the street. Do you have large, legible house numbers for your house that are clearly visible at all times of the day and all seasons of the year? If not, you need to get some. Put them on the house, the mailbox, and on a reflective sign by the street at the end of the driveway. If shrubbery will grow and obscure a house number, then you need to put the number somewhere else or put up a another set. Put the house number on the street edge so it can be seen from both directions, not just one way.

home security

Imagine your an EMT trying to find this address in the middle of the night. Imagine your life riding on them finding you quickly. Imagine spending half an hour saving your own life.

Why is this? After all, your mother, your friends, and the mailman all know where you live. However, the paramedics, the police, and the firemen do not. People have died, waiting, while the ambulance tried to find them. Houses have burned down to the ground while firefighters looked for the house. Don’t make it hard for EMTs to find you when seconds count. Good signage makes it better for them, for you, and for the family next door when their house is broken into; the police will use your house sign to find their address.

Older son is a pizza delivery guy. He routinely sees what the paramedics see: no house number, confusing house numbers, illegible house numbers, dark brown house numbers on black backgrounds, white house numbers on cream backgrounds, house numbers twenty feet off the ground where you would never look, house numbers painted on the curb with cars parked over them, house numbers so small they can’t be seen from the street, house numbers that appear to have been installed at random; the list is endless. The pizza guys would like to find your house quicker as time is money for them. The ambulance guys would like to find your house quicker as they hope to save your life. The FedEx guy and the UPS guy would like to find your house quicker too. So do plumbers, electricians, paper boys, and furniture delivery guys.

Home security

Many rescue groups, ambulance crews, local fire stations, and sheriffs departments sell this kind of sign.

House numbers are available at your local hardware store and at the big box hardware stores in a variety of designs, some quite legible and others not so readable at night in the rain. The very best house numbers are reflective signs that you mount on a post at the end of the driveway so the ambulance crew can see where to pull in on a dark and stormy night. In fact, many many rescue groups, ambulance crews, local fire stations, and sheriffs departments sell, as a fundraiser, this kind of sign. Ask around; someone in your area is probably doing this. If not, suggest it as a fund raiser for whatever local group you are active with. Boy scout and girl scout troops can sell these signs too. I am partial to the bright blue reflective sign as opposed to the green reflective sign. I think it is more visible, day or night.

Proper identification on your house is used by EMTs and delivery people for your neighbor’s houses as well. They triangulate the location they are going to, by pinging off of the reflective house address signs they pass. This is especially important on back country roads where driveways are obscure and may be hundreds of feet apart. If every third or fourth house is marked so the firemen can find it, then they can find the ones in between more easily. After you install your new house number signs, check them once in a while to see if shrubbery has overgrown them; if so, cut it back and make the sign visible once more. And mark your mailbox clearly too. The substitute mailman will thank you.

Back, Side and Garage Doors

I have never owned a house with a garage and a garage door. The closest we ever came was a carport. Now we just have a driveway.

All the rules about valuables apply, whether you are talking about a driveway, a carport, or a garage. Leaving something theft worthy in plain and unsecured sight is just asking for a casual thief to stop by. Keep your carport or driveway clean and clear of bikes, lawnmowers, yard equipment, etc. You will have more room for your car and less incentive for someone to stop by and help themselves.

Check all your doors, windows, garage doors, etc, every evening when you lock up for the night. Bicycles left out overnight can easily disappear.

Check all your doors, windows, garage doors, etc, every evening when you lock up for the night. Bicycles left out overnight can easily disappear.

If you have a garage, then only open the door when you are entering or exiting the garage. There is absolutely no reason to display your expensive wood-working shop for all the world to see, if you aren’t in it and using it. Garage doors do come with locks; use them, particularly when you are on vacation.

The door between your house and your garage has to be treated just like any other exterior door. Get a big heavy, exterior grade door, mount it correctly with extra long screws, and install proper hardware and locks. If someone forces his way into your garage, then that door is all that stands between your family and a home invader. Will some flimsy luan mahogany interior door be enough security? Doubtful. Very doubtful.

Tool sheds can and should have their own locks. Even if you only lock the shed when you are away on vacation, it can save your lawnmower, weed eater, hoes, whatever tools you store there. In addition, your tool shed (if it is large enough) can store other things you would normally leave out like patio furniture and gas grills. If you are going to be away for a few weeks, lock up anything you don’t want to lose. This protects things from the weather too.

Porches are lovely for sitting on and keeping you out of the rain when you are trying to get the door unlocked. Don’t leave anything on your porch that you would object to being stolen. This can and does happen. Several streets over from us, a homeowner had a pair of heavy concrete dwarf statues stolen from right by his front door. Each one weighed (he told me) about 75 pounds. He now has another set and they are chained down. In some cities, so I am told, you have to chain down your shrubbery! If I lived in a place where I had to chain my azalea bushes, I would move.

For heaven’s sakes, don’t put a spare key for your front door under the door mat. Burglars know where all the typical hiding places are. They know what all the fake key-hiding rocks, flower pots, and turtles look like. Now you may want to put a false key under the mat, and then store the real key elsewhere. If so, the only really safe place is inside your German shepherd’s dog house. If your dog isn’t using his dog house — because he is in the kennel — then don’t leave a key hanging around. A trusted neighbor is a better choice.

As part of your overall household security, make it a point to check all your doors, windows, garage doors, etc, every evening when you lock up for the night. Get your kids to bring in any bikes or sports equipment they left on the lawn or driveway. Bicycles left overnight alongside the street can easily disappear. Don’t make it easy. Does this take time, to check your house and property every night? Yes. Will that time be worth it, when the neighbors get broken into and you don’t because your house was secure? You bet it will! Most burglars are looking for easy opportunity. Don’t give it to them.

Magazines like Family Handyman regularly do articles on home and garage security. Read up on what to do, and then do it. There are plenty of websites and books on the subject so information won’t be hard to find. What is hard is actually doing the work and then maintaining it all.

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Mystery of Pinkham’s Diamond Stud (Bangs Sherlock parody)

bangs sherlock parody 3

John Kendricks Bangs

Today’s parody is from the prolific pen of John Kendricks Bangs (1862-1922). Bangs had a varied career as an editor and writer for American magazines, including the humor magazine Life, Harper’s Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Munsey’s and Puck. He also was a success on the lecture circuit, which he wrote about in “From Pillar to Post.” He also ran for mayor of New York City, which he wrote about in “Three Weeks in Politics.”

Bangs was the most imaginative of the writers who appropriated Holmes. In addition to the work below, he sent the detective to Hades twice, where he organized the chase of a house-boat swiped by Captain Kidd (“A House-Boat on the Styx”) and again to open another detective agency in a series of syndicated stories. He also created Raffles Holmes (son of Sherlock, grandson of Raffles) for a series of stories collected in “R. Holmes & Co.” (1906). What did Conan Doyle feel about all this? When Bangs dedicated “A House-Boat on the Styx” to him, Conan Doyle responded with a note thanking the author for inscribing “your most amusing and original book to me! I begin to have hopes of immortality now that I have got onto your fly-leaf.”

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

“It is the little things that tell in detective work, my dear Watson,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat over our walnuts and coffee one bitter winter night shortly before his unfortunate departure to Switzerland, whence he never returned.

“I suppose that is so,” said I, pulling away upon the very excellent stogie which mine host had provided — one made in Pittsburgh in 1885, and purchased by Holmes, whose fine taste in tobacco had induced him to lay a thousand of these down in his cigar-cellar for three years, and then keep them in a refrigerator, overlaid with a cloth soaked in Chateau Yquem wine for ten. The result may be better imagined than described. Suffice it to say that my head did not recover for three days, and the ash had to be cut off the stogie with a knife. “I suppose so, my dear Holmes,” I repeated, taking my knife and cutting three inches of the stogie off and casting it aside, furtively, lest he should think I did not appreciate the excellence of the tobacco, “but it is not given to all of us to see the little things. Is it, now?”

“Yes,” he said, rising and picking up the rejected portion of the stogie. “We all see everything that goes on, but we don’t all know it. We all hear everything that goes on, but we are not conscious of the fact. For instance, at this present moment there is somewhere in this world a man being set upon by assassins and yelling lustily for help. Now his yells create a certain atmospheric disturbance. Sound is merely vibration, and, once set going, these vibrations will ran on and on and on in ripples into the infinite — that is, they will never stop, and sooner or later these vibrations must reach our ears. We may not know it when they do, but they will do so none the less. If the man is in the next room, we will hear the yells almost simultaneously — not quite, but almost — with their utterance. If the man is in Timbuctoo, the vibrations may not reach us for a little time, according to the speed with which they travel. So with sight. Sight seems limited, but in reality it is not. Vox populi, vox Dei. If vox, why not oculus? It is a simple proposition, then, that the eye of the people being the eye of God, the eye of God being all-seeing, therefore the eye of the people is all-seeing — Q. E. D.”

I gasped, and Holmes, cracking a walnut, gazed into the fire for a moment.

“It all comes down, then,” I said, “to the question, who are the people?”

Holmes smiled grimly. “All men,” he replied, shortly; “and when I say all men, I mean all creatures who can reason.”

“Does that include women?” I asked.

“Certainly,” he said. “Indubitably. The fact that women don’t reason does not prove that they can’t. I can go up in a balloon if I wish to, but I don’t. I can read an American newspaper comic supplement, but I don’t. So it is with women. Women can reason, and therefore they have a right to be included in the classification whether they do or don’t.”

“Quite so,” was all I could think of to say at the moment. The extraordinary logic of the man staggered me, and I again began to believe that the famous mathematician who said that if Sherlock Holmes attempted to prove that five apples plus three peaches made four pears, he would not venture to dispute his conclusions, was wise. (This was the famous Professor Zoggenhoffer, of the Leipsic School of Moral Philosophy and Stenography. — Ed.)

“Now you agree, my dear Watson,” he said, “that I have proved that we see everything?”

“Well—” I began.

“Whether we are conscious of it or not?” he added, lighting the gas-log, for the cold was becoming intense.

“From that point of view, I suppose so — yes,” I replied, desperately.

“Well, then, this being granted, consciousness is all that is needed to make us fully informed on any point.”

“No,” I said, with some positiveness. “The American people are very conscious, but I can’t say that generally they are well-informed.”

I had an idea this would knock him out, as the Bostonians say, but counted without my host. He merely laughed.

“The American is only self-conscious. Therefore he is well-informed only as to self,” he said.

“You’ve proved your point, Sherlock,” I said. “Go on. What else have you proved?”

“That it is the little things that tell,” he replied. “Which all men would realize in a moment if they could see the little things — and when I say ‘if they could see,’ I of course mean if they could be conscious of them.”

“Very true,” said I.

“And I have the gift of consciousness,” he added.

I thought he had, and I said so. “But,” I added, “give me a concrete example.” It had been some weeks since I had listened to any of his detective stories, and I was athirst for another.

He rose up and walked over to his pigeon-holes, each labelled with a letter, in alphabetical sequence.

“I have only to refer to any of these to do so,” he said. “Choose your letter.”

“Really, Holmes,” said I, “I don’t need to do that. I’ll believe all you say. In fact, I’ll write it up and sign my name to any statement you choose to make.”

“Choose your letter, Watson,” he retorted. “You and I are on terms that make flattery impossible. Is it F, J, P, Q, or Z?”

bangs sherlock parody 1He fixed his eye penetratingly upon me. It seemed for the moment as if I were hypnotized, and as his gaze fairly stabbed me with its intensity, through my mind there ran the suggestion “Choose J, choose J, choose J.” To choose J became an obsession. To relieve my mind, I turned my eye from his and looked at the fire. Each flame took on the form of the letter J. I left my chair and walked to the window and looked out. The lamp-posts were twisted into the shape of the letter J. I returned, sat down, gulped down my brandy-and-soda, and looked up at the portraits of Holmes’s ancestors on the wall. They were all J’s. But I was resolved never to yield, and I gasped out, desperately,


“Thanks,” he said, calmly. “Z be it. I thought you would. Reflex hypnotism, my dear Watson, is my forte. If I wish a man to choose Q, B takes hold upon him, If I wish him to choose K, A fills his mind. Have you ever observed how the mind of man repels a suggestion and flees to something else, merely that it may demonstrate its independence of another mind? Now I have been suggesting J to you, and you have chosen Z—”

“You misunderstood me,” I cried, desperately. “I did not say Z; I said P.”

“Quite so,” said he, with an inward chuckle. “P was the letter I wished you to choose. If you had insisted upon Z, I should really have been embarrassed. See!” he added. He removed the green-ended box that rested in the pigeon-hole marked Z, and, opening it, disclosed an emptiness.

“I’ve never had a Z case. But P,” he observed, quietly, “is another thing altogether.”

Here he took out the box marked P from the pigeon-hole, and, opening it, removed the contents — a single paper which was carefully endorsed, in his own handwriting, “The Mystery of Pinkham’s Diamond Stud.”

“You could not have selected a better case, Watson,” he said, as he unfolded the paper and scanned it closely. “One would almost think you had some prevision of the fact.”

“I am not aware,” said I, “that you ever told the story of Pinkham’s diamond stud. Who was Pinkham, and what kind of a diamond stud was it — first-water or Rhine?”

“Pinkham,” Holmes rejoined, “was an American millionaire, living during business hours at Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, where he had to wear a brilliant stud to light him on his way through the streets, which are so dark and sooty that an ordinary search-light would not suffice. In his leisure hours, however, he lived at the Hotel Walledup-Hysteria, in New York, where he likewise had to wear the same diamond stud to keep him from being a marked man. Have you ever visited New York, Watson?”

“No,” said I.

“Well, when you do, spend a little of your time at the Walledup-Hysteria. It is a hotel with a population larger than that of most cities, with streets running to and from all points of the compass; where men and women eat under conditions that Lucullus knew nothing of; where there is a carpeted boulevard on which walk all sorts and conditions of men; where one pays one’s bill to the dulcet strains of a string orchestra that woo him into a blissful forgetfulness of its size; and where, by pressing a button in the wall, you may summon a grand opera, or a porter who on request will lend you enough money to enable you and your family to live the balance of your days in comfort. In America men have been known to toil for years to amass a fortune for the one cherished object of spending a week in this Olympian spot, and then to be content to return to their toil and begin life anew, rich only in the memory of its luxuries. It was here that I spent my time when, some years ago, I went to the United States to solve the now famous Piano Case. You will remember how sneak thieves stole a grand piano from the residence of one of New York’s first families, while the family was dining in the adjoining room. While in the city, and indeed at the very hotel in which I stopped, and which I have described, Pinkham’s diamond stud disappeared, and, hearing that I was a guest at the WalledupHysteria, the owner appealed to me to recover it for him. I immediately took the case in hand. Drastic questioning of Pinkham showed that beyond all question he had lost the stud in his own apartment. He had gone down to dinner, leaving it on the centre-table, following the usual course of most millionaires, to whom diamonds are of no particular importance. Pinkham wanted this one only because of its associations. Its value, $80,000, was a mere bagatelle in his eyes.

“Now of course, if he positively left it on the table, it must have been taken by some one who had entered the room. Investigation proved that the maid, a valet, a fellow-millionaire from Chicago, and Pinkham’s children had been the only ones to do this. The maid and the valet were above suspicion. Their fees from guests were large enough to place them beyond the reach of temptation. I questioned them closely, and they convinced me at once of their innocence by conducting me through the apartments of other guests wherein tiaras of diamonds and necklaces of pearls — ropes in very truth — rubies, turquoise, and emerald ornaments of priceless value, were scattered about in reckless profusion.

“‘ D’ yez t’ink oi’d waste me toime on an eighty-t’ousand-dollar shtood, wid all dhis in soight and moine for the thrubble uv swipin’ ut?’ said the French maid.

“I acquitted her at once, and the valet similarly proved his innocence, only with less of an accent, for he was supposed to be English, and not French, as was the maid, although they both came from Dublin. This narrowed the suspects down to Mr. Jedediah Wattles, of Chicago, and the children. Naturally I turned my attention to Wattles. A six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl could hardly be suspected of stealing a diamond stud. So drawing on Pinkham for five thousand dollars to pay expenses, I hired a room in a tenement-house in Rivington Street — a squalid place it was — disguised myself with an oily, black, burglarious mustache, and dressed like a comic-paper gambler. Then I wrote a note to Wattles, asking him to call, saying that I could tell him something to his advantage. He came, and I greeted him like a pal. ‘Wattles,’ said I, ‘you’ve been working this game for a long time, and I know all about you. You are an ornament to the profession, but we diamond-thieves have got to combine. Understand?’ ‘No, I don’t,’ said he. ‘Well, I’ll tell you,’ said I. ‘You’re a man of good appearance, and I ain’t, but I know where the diamonds are. If we work together, there’s millions in it. I’ll spot the diamonds, and you lift ’em, eh? You can do it,’ I added, as he began to get mad. ‘The ease with which you got away with old Pinky’s stud, that I’ve been trying to pull for myself for years, shows me that.’

bangs sherlock parody 2“I was not allowed to go further. Wattles’s indignation was great enough to prove that it was not he who had done the deed, and after he had thrashed me out of my disguise, I pulled myself together and said, ‘Mr. Wattles, I am convinced that you are innocent.’ As soon as he recognized me and realized my object in sending for him, he forgave me, and, I must say, treated me with great consideration.

“But my last clew was gone. The maid, the valet, and Wattles were proved innocent. The children alone remained, but I could not suspect them. Nevertheless, on my way back to the hotel I bought some rock-candy, and, after reporting to Pinkham, I asked casually after the children.

“‘They’re pretty well,’ said Pinkham. ‘Billie’s complaining a little, and the doctor fears appendicitis, but Polly’s all right. I guess Billie’s all right too. The seventeen-course dinners they serve in the children’s dining-room here aren’t calculated to agree with Billie’s digestion, I reckon.’

“‘I’d like to see ’em,’ said I. ‘I’m very fond of children.’

“Pinkham immediately called the youngsters in from the nursery. ‘Guess what I’ve got,’ I said, opening the package of rock-candy. ‘Gee!’ cried Billie, as it caught his eye. ‘Gimmie some!’ ‘Who gets first piece?’ said I. ‘Me!’ cried both. ‘Anybody ever had any before?’ I asked. ‘He has,’ said Polly, pointing to Billie. The boy immediately flushed up. ‘Ain’t, neither!’ he retorted. ‘Yes you did, too,’ said Polly. ‘You swallered that piece pop left on the centre-table the other night!’ ‘Well, anyhow, it was only a little piece,’ said Billie. ‘An’ it tasted like glass,’ he added. Handing the candy to Polly, I picked Billie up and carried him to his father.

“‘Mr. Pinkham,’ said I, handing the boy over, ‘here is your diamond. It has not been stolen; it has merely been swallowed.’ ‘What?’ he cried. And I explained. The stud mystery was explained. Mr. Pinkham’s boy had eaten it.”

Holmes paused.

“Well, I don’t see how that proves your point,” said I. “You said that it was the little things that told—”

“So it was,” said Holmes. “If Polly hadn’t told—”

“Enough,” I cried; “it’s on me, old man. We will go down to Willis’s and have some Russian caviar and a bottle of Burgundy.”

Holmes put on his hat and we went out together. It is to get the money to pay Willis’s bill that I have written this story of “The Mystery of Pinkham’s Diamond Stud.”

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The Sign of the ‘400’ (223B Casebook series)

ad-Sherlock-Holmes-1904-safe-adToday’s entry is one of the more popular pastiches. “The Sign of the ‘400’ by R.K. Munkittrick appeared in the Oct. 24, 1894, issue of Puck magazine, where Munkittrick was the editor. It was republished in Ellery Queen’s “The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1944) and “The Game is Afoot” anthology.

Here’s how Queen described the story:

“It was brought to your Editors attention by Mr. Christopher Morley, “Gasogene” of The Baker Street Irregulars and a charter-enthusiast in all matters Sherlockian. Printer’s copy was generously provided by Edgar W. Smith, Hon. “Buttons” of the same devotional organization}. “The Sign of the ‘400’ ” an exceptionally felicitous parody-trifle that belongs to the “Punch” school of burlesque. Like the Picklock Holes series by R. C. Lehmann and “The Adventure of the Table Foot” by Zero (Allan Ramsay}, it exploits the reductio ad absurdum technique, leaning heavily on mere farce and lacking the really clever plot framework which is so essential to classic permanence.

Richard Kendall Munkittrick (1853-1911) was a humorist and editor of Judge magazine (1901-1906). He was born in Manchester, England, but moved to Jamaica and then the U.S. He was editor of Puck from 1881-89. When the New York Times asked him to contribute some biographical notes, he replied with this:

“Descended from a race of clergymen and drunkards, I am a natural born lotus eater. Would rather loaf a week than work an hour. Left school at 15 and went into the dry goods business. Remained five years, and knew less of the mysteries of business than when I started. Then a position was secured for me on an East River steamboat. I once received a load of bran in a thundershower, and I showed my sympathy for the family of Gen. Rawlins by shipping his body to Connecticut for 50 cents — putting him through at the rate charged for a barrel of apples. Then I quit. Have been hammering a living out of writing since ’76.”

He was the author of “Some New Jersey Arabian Nights.”

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

The Sign of the ‘400’

For the nonce, Holmes was slighting his cocaine and was joyously jabbing himself with morphine — his favorite 70 per cent solution — when a knock came at the door; it was our landlady with a telegram. Holmes opened it and read it carelessly.

“H’m!” he said. “What do you think of this, Watson?”


“Why, it’s from Athelney Jones,” I remarked.

“Just so,” said Holmes, “call a cab.”

We were soon at the address given, 72 Chinchbugge Place being the town house of the Dowager Countess of Coldslaw. It was an old-fashioned mansion, somewhat weather-beaten. The old hat stuffed in the broken pane in the drawing room gave the place an air of unstudied artistic negligence, which we both remarked at the time.

Athelney Jones met us at the door. He wore a troubled expression. “Here’s a pretty go, gentlemen!” was his greeting. “A forcible entrance has been made to Lady Coldslaw’s boudoir, and the famous Coldslaw diamonds are stolen.”

Without a word Holmes drew out his pocket lens and examined the atmosphere. “The whole thing wears an air of mystery,” he said, quietly.

We then entered the house. Lady Coldslaw was completely prostrated and could not be seen. We went at once to the scene of the robbery. There was no sign of anything unusual in the boudoir, except that the windows and furniture had been smashed and the pictures had been removed from the walls. An attempt had been made by the thief to steal the wallpaper, also. However, he had not succeeded. It had rained the night before and muddy footprints led up to the escritoire from which the jewels had been taken. A heavy smell of stale cigar smoke hung over the room. Aside from these hardly noticeable details, the despoiler had left no trace of his presence.

In an instant Sherlock Holmes was down on his knees examining the footprints with a stethoscope. “H’m!” he said; “so you can make nothing out of this, Jones?”

“No, sir,” answered the detective; “but I hope to; there’s a big reward.”

“It’s all very simple, my good fellow,” said Holmes. “The robbery was committed at three o’clock this morning by a short, stout, middle-aged, hen-pecked man with a cast in his eye. His name is Smythe, and he lives at 239 Toff Terrace.”

Jones fairly gasped. “What! Major Smythe, one of the highest thought-of and richest men in the city?” he said.

“The same.”

In half an hour we were at Smythe’s bedside. Despite his protestations, he was pinioned and driven to prison.

“For heaven’s sake, Holmes,” said I, when we returned to our rooms, “how did you solve that problem so quickly?”

“Oh, it was easy, dead easy!” said he. “As soon as we entered the room, I noticed the cigar smoke. It was cigar smoke from a cigar that had been given a husband by his wife. I could tell that, for I have made a study of cigar smoke. Any other but a hen-pecked man throws such cigars away. Then I could tell by the footprints that the man had had appendicitis. Now, no one but members of the ‘400’ have that. Who then was hen-pecked in the ‘400,’ and had had appendicitis recently? Why, Major Smythe, of course! He is middle-aged, stout, and has a cast in his eye.”

I could not help but admire my companion’s reasoning, and told him so. “Well,” he said, “it is very simple if you know how.”

Thus ended the Coldslaw robbery, so far as we were concerned.

Of course, Jones got all the credit. I showed the newspaper accounts to Holmes. He only laughed, and said: “You see how it is, Watson, Scotland Yard, as usual, gets the glory.” As I perceived he was going to play “Sweet Marie” on his violin, I reached for the morphine, myself.

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Basic Home Security

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Suburban stockade introductionWhen it comes to military bases, nuclear power plants and other high-value targets, good security is tedious, expensive, intrusive, and requires constant vigilance. You have to be right all the time; terrorists have to be right only once.

Effective home security operates on the same principal. You have to safeguard your home 24/7 against that one time the drug abuser needing money for his next hit walks down the street, testing the doors.

Fortunately, there are a lot of simple things you can do, both active and passive, that will improve the security of yourself and your household. These suggestions are the easy ones to implement; other security measures are harder, take more time, and more money. I will discuss those in future posts. Which is to say, you can start keeping your doors locked right now but 6-foot-high thorn hedges take a long time to grow.

Basic Security

Before we begin, understand that if someone really, really wants into your house, they can do it. A sledgehammer will take out your picture window in a second. A fire axe to a door. Driving a car into the side of your house. A concrete block tossed through a patio slider. But for most of us, most of the time, that isn’t the concern. The concern is the casual burglar or home invader.

Burglars, like everyone else, prefer easier jobs to harder jobs. So, the first line of defense is to keep your doors locked! Even when you are at home during the day! Why do this? Because burglars have been known to go down the street, checking each door. A locked door means move along. An unlocked door says come on in. The same principal applies to cars parked in the street. Police routinely check out reports of someone walking down the street, testing the handles on car doors.

Good dog!

Good dog!

At Fortress Peschel, we never unlock the front door unless it is actually in use and then it gets relocked at once. We compromise on the back door for a few reasons. I have multiple family members coming and going at odd hours. I have a fenced-in backyard with a free-roaming dog. I live in a safe, low-crime area. I know my neighbors. My back door is not easily accessible from the street nor is it visible. I don’t advertise my possessions and I don’t try to look rich (easy to do: we aren’t). I don’t have a 60-inch flat-screen TV proudly displayed so it can be seen from the street through the front window. But when everyone is in for the night, the back door gets locked top to bottom as well.

In fact, you don’t see into my windows at all. During the day, it is much brighter outside than it is inside. That, combined with semi-sheer lace panels at all my windows, makes it pretty hard to see into my house. We do the window dance so window shades may be drawn to block out summer sun and heat. As soon as it gets dark, shades get pulled, quilts put up, and drapes are drawn. If I am cooling the house in the evening, then only the screens are exposed; all other glass is covered.

When I walk Muffy in the evening, I notice all the houses around me with their lights on and a clear view into their rooms where I can see the glow of giant TVs and computer monitors. Don’t do this for two reasons. First is security, of course. It isn’t that easy to see into someone’s windows during the day because of the light imbalance from bright sunlight to dim interiors. But at night, the opposite is true. It is really easy to see into a room; in fact, the light catches your eye! Secondly, if light is escaping, then so is heat. In warmer months, if you want to let out heat and let in coolness, keep the screens uncovered for free air passage. Block the rest of the glass and block the sun. In the winter, as soon as the sun goes down, put up and close all the layers of window treatments. Trap your heat, and keep out potential prying eyes.

All your doors should have working locks. Your door knob (get exterior ones for heaven’s sake) has a lock in the knob, but that isn’t enough. You also need a separate deadbolt. If you are reasonably handy, this is a do-it-yourself job or have the locksmith do it. Have all your locks rekeyed, especially if you are not the first owner. You have no way of knowing how many keys to your house are floating around, distributed over the years, to previous owners or tenants, relatives, friends, helpful neighbors, cleaning services, etc. If you are renting, save up the hundred dollars this might cost and have it done yourself. You may have to supply a key to your landlord but again, you’ll have more control over how many keys there are; i.e., one or two versus dozens.

We keyed our front and back doorknobs (exterior ones!) to match and our front and back deadbolts match. This was a compromise between convenience and security. This way, you need two keys to get through either door. Four separate keys might have been more secure, but that would also be a pain in the tucus to remember which key went where.

You may want to upgrade your door knobs. There are lots of styles, some made of heavier metal than others. Get exterior ones! They are different from interior knobs! We use the lever style as it is far easier to work when you are tired, carrying bags, or you are in a hurry to get inside. There are better quality knobs and poorer ones. Do a little research and get the best ones you can afford; this is your first line of defense.

Get deadbolt locks. These come in two styles: single key and double key. What that means is, do you have to use the key to operate the lock on both sides or just the exterior? A single-key deadbolt has a knob to open the lock on the inside of the door. A double has to have the key.

The double-key deadbolt is supposed to make the door more secure. Maybe. What I do know is that if your house is on fire and you have to get out in a hurry and you are dazed with shock and fatigue at being awakened at 4 a.m. by the alarm, you aren’t going to be handling keys very well. If you can find them. Some people keep the key on a hook by the door so they can unlock the double deadbolt. If you are going to do that, you might as well get the knob-opening single-key style.

The idea behind the double deadbolt is that the burglar will punch through the glass sidelight by the door (or the window in the door), reach in, and unlock the door from the inside. The way to forestall this is to install a chain bolt. Get the heaviest one. Do not put the chain bolt by the door knobs! Instead, install it at the top of the door or at the bottom of the door so it is as far away from the windows as you can get. It is unexpected and will slow down an intruder; maybe enough to alert your dog while you phone for the police. The intruder might even abandon the attempt rather than make more noise kicking the door down.

When you install the locks and strike plates, use better screws than what came with the lockset. Get the longest ones that will fit for the strike plate in particular: these screws are going into the door frame and then the house itself so you can go pretty long, three or four inches sometimes. You will need a power drill or power screwdriver for this (dabbing the screw with a bit of oil will help it into the wood). Even if you could manage a screw driver for the amount of time doing this would take manually, you will strip the head of the screw long before you finished the job.

When you are upgrading the screws on the strike plate, upgrade your hinges as well. Get the heaviest hinges and use screws three inches long or more. This will support the door better and make it harder for someone to kick it off the hinges and out of the door frame.

Look at your front door. Is it solid, heavy oak? All steel? Is there a peephole or a small, high window so you can see who is outside? If the answer is no, you need a better door. Glass front doors look lovely and let in tons of natural light. Anyone can get through one in seconds with a brick. Get the solid door and the beautiful, all-glass storm door (with it’s own lock of course). That way, you can still let in light during the day and have multiple layers of locked doors at night. A storm door will also help cut down air infiltration and protect your solid-oak door from the rain.

004While you are upgrading your doors, weather-strip them too. Install a really loud door knocker so you can hear it anywhere in the house. Door knockers don’t require electricity to work. If you don’t have a peephole, install one. As a final touch, install shopkeeper’s bells on the inside surface. When the door is opened, they make noise, potentially alerting you and your dog to someone coming in. If you want a DIY substitute for the shopkeepers bell, arrange a lot of large jingle bells on a hoop and hang that up. Put the bells on every exterior door, including back doors and French doors leading to your patio. Use stick on hooks to mount them to patio sliders.

Fortifying Windows (not your software)

Next up is windows. A window is, essentially, a hole in the wall of your house. Because they are glass, they are quite vulnerable to a rock being thrown through them. A burglar is unlikely to throw a brick through a window as it makes noise and might alert you or the neighbors. If, on the other hand, you proudly display your collection of hunting rifles, your big-screen TV with its game consoles, and your framed rare coins on the wall and this is easily visible at night from the street for everyone to see; well! You might as well invite burglars inside.

Walk around your house during the day. What can be seen when looking in from the street? Then do it at night when the lights are on inside and your purely ornamental window treatments don’t conceal your house contents. What do you see? This is what a burglar sees. The window dance tells you ( **** refer back to this one *** ) how to dress your windows for heating and cooling; it also works for security. If there is nothing to see, there is less reason to break in.

I highly recommend a layer of lacey, semi-sheer panels at each window. Use whatever pattern you like as they all work the same. They make it a little harder to see into the house during the day without blocking all the free sunshine and they add another layer of insulation at night. The thicker or heavier the pattern, the more light they block and the more they conceal. Choose what works best for your situation; more lightweight panels on a rod will equal out to fewer heavy panels as the added bulk of another panel compensates for the thinner fabric. Layers and layers of window treatments are also a little harder to struggle through than just a single set of vertical blinds.

Do your windows lock? I am most familiar with double hung windows but every style of window should have some kind of locking mechanism when it is closed. The lock serves two functions: making it harder to open from the outside when the window is closed and making sure the window is tightly closed against the elements. If your windows don’t have any kind of lock, you will have to research what you can do to fix this. Just like your doors, if your windows are not in use to air out the house, they should be kept locked. Make sure all family members know this and know how to operate the window lock in case of fire.

If you have old-fashioned wooden double hung windows, most hardware stores will carry replacement locks. Most hardware stores will also carry the special lock for a wooden double hung window that lets you open them at night to a few inches and no more. Get the heaviest brass ones you can afford. Mount these air venting locks so the window goes up about two or three inches from the sill. More than that is a judgment call as you get more cooling air but it is also easier to pry the window up from outside.

If you have new fangled double hung windows of vinyl or aluminum and the cheapie, fragile built-in air venting locks don’t work, got broken, don’t exist, or you don’t trust that flimsy tab of plastic, you will have to use 1/- inch oak dowels as a substitute. It isn’t elegant but it does work. Cut dowels to about three inches, one per window. Open the window, insert the dowel, then close the window onto the dowel. Next, measure the space between the top of the lower window and the top of the window opening. Cut the second dowel to just fit into this space. Working together, both dowels will keep the window from being opened from the outside with anything other than a brick. If your windows are quite large, you may want to use two sets per window, placed at each side. When you place the dowels, tuck them into the sides of the frame where the molding will conceal them and they can’t be seen from the street.

You should have screens on all your windows for airing out your house and you may have storm windows as well. If you have a choice, get screens that cover the entire window. Those screens that cover only half the window are easier to slide aside. A full screen is just a tiny bit harder because of its larger size. It also lets you vent the room better and screens out bugs a little better.

Storm windows get opened and closed with the rain and the seasons; fully closed against the winter night they do offer another layer to get through. They don’t do much for security on a summer night when the screens are open. If however, you are running an air-conditioner, make sure your storm windows are tightly closed. It is a bit more security AND you make a tighter seal to trap that expensively cooled air. When you close your storm windows do it right. The outer most pane of glass is at the top and over the lower, inner pane so the window sheds rainwater. If you reverse this, you chance rainwater leaking inside. This seems a minor point, but I routinely see incorrectly closed windows when I walk Muffy. Muffy and I also observe open storm windows in the dead of winter. They aren’t keeping in the heat and they aren’t giving another layer of security.

If you have to replace windows, ask about any security features and make sure your new ones come with locks and full size screens. Why have a hole in your wall if you can’t get the benefits of light and air and safety? I understand that there are films that you can adhere to the inside of the glass that will make your windows less breakable. They will probably let in a little less free sunlight, but then, so do sheers. If you live in a hurricane area, then storm shutters would be invaluable; their cost is sure to be less than that of rebuilding your house after the storm and they would be easier to use than storing, installing, and removing sheets of plywood. Their presence may also give you a discount on your home-owners insurance.

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