Explore Southwest in Mystery Novel’s App Edition

It used to be that annotated books were rare sights in Bookworld. They were not thought to be profitable unless a) the book out of copyright (no royalties); and b) someone could be roped into doing the donkey work involved in researching the book and author and writing a manuscript that could be as thick as the work being annotated.

Book-Cover-App-Edition-225x300When I started serious annotation with “Whose Body?” I began collecting works along a similar line to steal be inspired by those who went before me.

Then Corey Lynn Fayman comes along and blows all of our work out of the water. He recently published his latest mystery novel “Border Field Blues,” in a special App Edition for Kindle and iTunes that includes author’s notes, videos and interactive maps.

So, for example, you’re following Rolly Waters through San Diego’s Border Field Park preserve on the track of eco-vandals. At the end of that chapter, you can call up a video of the place to get a better idea of the landscape (which looks more deserty than I would have thought). When Rolly, who is a guitar player, talks about the “Three Kings” of the blues, you can watch concert footage of Freddie, Albert, or B.B. King and understand who he’s talking about.

Fayman also added various social-media gee-gaws, such as the ability to comment on the action, share your opinions on Facebook, or even email the author. I can imagine many authors, who tend to be as sociable a hermit crabs, fleeing from that suggestion.

Here’s a brief YouTube video that shows what I’m telling:

As if that wasn’t bad enough competition, “Border Field Blues” is priced at $4.99, low enough to make James Patterson and Scott Turow rend their Armani jackets.

It’s exciting to see experiments like this in independent publishing. Personally, I’m having a blast putting out books like “The Deluxe Complete, Annotated Secret Adversary,” that have footnotes, essays and art. These are books that wouldn’t be profitable to an international publishing house, but possible from indy publishers. I hope we’ll see more like this.

(And, no, I wasn’t paid for this. I don’t have a smartphone or iPad so I can’t use this. I was just impressed by what I saw.)

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The Old Age of Holmes (Parody from the Victorian Age)

Writers never let Holmes’ death at Moriarty’s hands at the falls stop them from imagining him as a spry elderly detective.

Sherlock parody with a vaguely Uncle Sam-looking Sherlock!

A vaguely Uncle Sam-looking Sherlock!

The most recent example can be found in Mitch Cullin’s “A Slight Trick of the Mind” (2005), which finds a 93-year-old Holmes reflecting on his life as his great mental powers are failing. The Baker Street Babes recently sat down with Cullin to talk about his book. Ian McKellen will star as Holmes in the movie adaptation that will appear in 2015.

Today’s Sherlock Holmes parody was published in The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette on Dec. 2, 1894. The artist is unknown.

Howard Fielding is the pseudonym of Charles Witherle Hooke (1861-1929). After graduating from Harvard in 1883, Hooke wrote humorous pieces while working for newspapers in Boston and New York. Heavily influenced by Conan Doyle, he turned to the mystery genre, writing several novels and numerous stories — two of which were turned into silent movies — as well as 33 Nick Carter stories.

Stories from the 223B casebook — stories published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here.

An Unauthorized Extract from the Diary of Dr. Watson.

By Howard Fielding

The fact that my friend, Sherlock Holmes, was killed before reaching middle life did not, as the experienced reader will understand, prevent him from attaining a ripe old age. In order to be in line with the most popular detective fiction, I should, in fact, have killed him several times in the courses of each of the adventurer which it has been my privilege to chronicle. On the contrary, it has been my aim to distinguish these records from fiction, and to convince the reader that they are as near the actual truth as anything founded on a married man’s diary can be. Therefore, while making a slight concession to the general prejudice by injecting fatal doses of cocaine into Holmes on every possible occasion, I have permitted him to die only once.

My gifted friend is an old man now. His lofty forehead extends all the way around to his shirt collar behind; his few remaining teeth are tied in with string; but his eye is as bright as ever, and, with the aid of a little extra cocaine, he can still see things which are not present. With this brief introduction. I will proceed to relate a series of incidents not intended to form a connected narrative, but simply to throw light upon my remarkable friend’s character, as it has developed in these later years.

Referring to my diary I find that it was in the fall of 1913. Holmes, by the continued exercise of his rare intellectual faculties, had remained a bachelor. He had the old rooms in Baker street, where the landlord, being quite deaf, did not object to Holmes’ performances on the violin. It was late in the evening, and I was dozing before my stove, when a ring at the bell called me to the door. Holmes entered.

“Ah, my dear Watson,” he said, “can I intrude upon your leisure for a few minutes?”‘

I assured him with an Englishman’s politeness that his company was better than none at all.

“So you’ve been smoking, have you?” he said, as he treated himself in my office.

“My dear fellow,” I cried, “how is it possible for you to know that?”

“It is perfectly simple,” he replied; “‘there is a strong odor of tobacco in the air. Now, as I happen to know that you and Mrs. Watson are the only persons in the house, what follows? It is true that your stove smokes, but it does not smoke tobacco. So you see that, though seemingly complex, the problem is easy.”

“To be sure it is,” I rejoined, quite vexed at my own stupidity.

“Ah, my boy.” he said, “I fear that I make a mistake in giving explanations. They destroy the magic of the thing. But they fill space, and, at a guinea a word, that is worth considering. And now to the point. Can you go to New York with me?”

‘Why certainly,” I hastened to say. “My neighbor, the doctor, is as accommodating as ever. He will take my practice for a few months, and my patients will not be much worse off than they are now. When shall we sail? And what is the case?”

“We shall sail at once’” he said, “and as for the case, it concerns the Society for the Discouragement of Thieves.”

“I never heard of it.”

“Perhaps not. I am its president, and, in fact, its only member at present. I have been unable to find anybody else who could be admitted without decreasing by one the number of persons whom the society is organized to discourage. That, of course, would not be desirable.”

“And you intend to admit me?”

“My dear Watson, when you give up the regular practice of your profession we will consider that question. Will you come with me to New York? There I expect to find thieves who really need to be discouraged. They have been having things all their own way for three hundred years, since the island of Manhattan was stolen from the Indians.”

“I’ll be ready in two minutes,” said I. “Let me mention to my wife that I’m going. She never objects, you know. In fact, a reader of these chronicles once suggested that she seemed anxious to get rid of me.”

The Workings of the Society

Our voyage across the Atlantic was uneventful, except that it served to initiate me into the workings of the society. Its purpose, as Holmes admitted, was almost purely amusement. He had amassed an enormous fortune by his profession, and was no longer compelled to do detective work for pay. His services to the Prince of Wales — chronicled in “The Adventures of the Thin-Edged Deal-Box” — put him in a position of independence before the close of the last century. He now returns his vast talent to the beneficent task of making life uncomfortable for thieves, through the medium of simple tricks devised by his powerful imagination. Holmes handles a pack of cards in a way to make the king of diamonds wink his other eye, and he discouraged a large number of thieves around the card tables in the smoking-room before we reached New York.

Our first considerable adventure in the metropolis of the new world occurred on a Fourth avenue car on the third day after our arrival. We stood on the front platform as the car bowled along. Suddenly Holmes touched my elbow with an imperceptible gesture.

“You observe,” he said, “the gentleman in checked pantaloons waiting at the next crossing. He will board the car, and will stand with us on the platform.”

No sooner had my companion spoken these words than the man whom he had indicated raised his hand and signaled to the driver to stop the car.

“Holmes, this is marvelous,” I whispered. “How did you know that he would do that?”

“The fellow is a thief,” replied Holmes. “Anybody could deduce that from the obvious fact that he has got along well in New York. His attire told me that. Seeing that he was a thief, I took this” ? here he showed me a large and handsome watch ? “from my pocket, while the man had his eye upon us. He will board the car with the intention of taking it.

Holmes wound the watch in an ostentatious manner, and replaced it in his waistcoat pocket. He then stared up at the top of the buildings. I kept my eye on the stranger and in a few minutes had the pleasure of seeing him deftly abstract the watch from Holmes’s pocket. No sooner had he taken it than a bell inside of it began to ring with a noise like fifty alarm clocks. The man was so startled that he forgot to put the watch into his pocket. He stood and stared at it. Whereupon the watch’s case parted and the works fell out. They consisted of a large steel spring and a bell such as is used on alarm clocks.

“The watch is made of brass,” said Holmes as we gathered up the remains of the thief from the platform. “It is a very simple device but somewhat surprising in its action. I do not wonder that the shock has proved too much for our friends here. Let us hope that when he recovers he will see cause to adopt a better mode of life.”

Holmes parody pocketbook scamIt may well be imagined that, after this amusing incident, I kept close to Holmes during all his rambles through the city. We were frequently disguised as visitors from the rural districts. On such occasions Holmes was always provided with a large, black leather pocketbook, which protruded conspicuously from the side pocket of his coat. A stout elastic band was fastened to it, and the other end of the band was secured to a strong belt around Holmes waist. Nothing could be more amusing than to see a member of the light-fingered fraternity seize the pocketbook and rush away The band would stretch to a length of nearly a rod. and then it would bring the thief back with the velocity of a shot out of a gun. for not one of them ever failed to hold on to the pocket book. Holmes always braced himself for the shock, and received the thief in his arms on the recoil. Some of his brief homilies on such occasions were models in their way.

When he tired of the pocketbook trick, he would frequently stroll into the Grand Central railroad station with a large carpet beg. This he would place upon the floor while he went to the window and made a pretense of purchasing a ticket. The bag contained self-acting machinery which drove two strong screws into the floor the instant it was set down. It never could remain upon the floor more than two minutes before one of the gentlemanly fellows who are always waiting there to welcome the coming and speed the parting jay, would grab it and attempt to hurry away. The chances were that he would catch the handles “on the fly,” as they say in America, find that the unexpected resistance would cause him to turn over as neatly at if he had been brought up in a circus.

Holmes parody suitcase scam“This device,” Holmes said on the first occasion of its use. ‘”has enabled me to discourage two thieves at once.”

“My dear Holmes,”‘ I replied, “how do you make that out? I only observed one.”

“Ah, my dear Watson,” he rejoined, “how often must I tell you that your observation is defective. Did you not see that I pretended to buy a ticket?’


“And I didn’t do it?”

“Certainly not.”

“Well, such conduct as that discourages the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company.”

“Just like my stupidity,”‘ I exclaimed. “I saw only the thief who attempted to steal your bag.”

“He was very small potatoes compared to the other one,” said Holmes, as he set the bag again, and walked back toward the window.

Working the Umbrella Trick

I think the neatest of his games, and the one which will be the most generally appreciated since it deals with the oldest of crimes, was played while we were at a millionaires’ luncheon club downtown.

As we sat at the table Holmes directed my attention to a gentleman of imposing appearance who was lunching near us.

“You would not suppose.” said Holmes to me, “that that man, so eminently respectable in appearances was to be the next victim of the society.”

“I will bet you five to one,” said the gentleman who had invited us to the club, “that he will not be the victim of anybody or of anything. That’s old Sam Rhodes, and he’s been in Wall street forty years. He’s been the controlling spirit in more than a thousand railroad deals, and it is estimated that if all the rope with which despairing stockholders have hanged themselves on account of Sam Rhodes were joined in one piece it would reach around the world twice and tie a double bow-knot.”

“And he has never been punished for any crime,” said Holmes.

“Punished!” cried our host, “why he’s worth $40,000,000.”

“His time has come,” said my friend impressively.

We watched Mr. Rhodes while he finished his lunch. When he rose, we followed him, obeying a sign from Holmes. The millionaire went out into the vestibule of the club where the hats, coats and umbrellas of the members were left while they wore at luncheon.

Mr. Rhodes selected his hat and coat.

“Did you have an umbrella, sir?” asked one of the attendants. “It’s raining outside, sir.”

“Eh? Umbrella? Certainly, certainly,” said Rhodes.

He hastily selected one from the rack.

Holmes clutched my arm. The millionaire hurried out upon the steps. He opened the umbrella over his head.

Holmes parody umbrella scamAbout a quart of some dark substance, which I took to be ink, fell out of the umbrella upon Rhodes’ head, and at the same time a thin stream of the same fluid trickled out of a hole in the handle and went up Rhodes’s sleeve.

“Will you claim the umbrella?” I whispered to Holmes.

“Not just now,” he responded in the same guarded tone. “Mr. Rhodes is a very large man, and from his language and demeanor at this moment I judge him to be of a violent disposition. I am not so young as I was, and perhaps it would be safer not to introduce myself just now.”

We went to the club’s smoking-room, where our host insisted upon opening a bottle of champagne. The mystery in the affair which I had just witnessed weighed heavily upon me. and I could not resist the temptation to ask Holmes for an explanation.

“How is it possible,’” said I, “that you I were able to predict with certainty that Mr. Rhodes would steal an umbrella, and not only that, but that he would take yours?”

“It was perfectly simple,” said Holmes. “I had bribed the attendant not to let anybody else have it. As for Rhodes’s desiring to take it. I have only to say that it was the best-looking umbrella in the rack.

“So you see I had laid out the whole thing in advance, and that is the whole secret of this detective fiction. It is easy enough for the detective to find the criminal. He is in the confidence of the author who controls destiny as I did in this case. But in real life the detective is obliged to contend against the disadvantage of having to find out about it. Thus but two courses are usually open to him. One is to do nothing but draw his pay, and the other is to convict the first man he can get hold of, whether he is guilty or innocent.”

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Pastis Reveals Bill Watterson Collaboration

This certain made my year in comics when Stephan Pastis confirmed what I predicted a couple days ago: That Bill Watterson contributed several wonderful panels to “Pearls Before Swine” this week.

Pearls Before Swine panel Wednesday June 4 2014

Pearls Before Swine panel from Wednesday.

In a post Saturday on his blog, Pastis tells the story of how he got Watterson to do what his comic syndicate and millions of “Calvin and Hobbes” fans could not.

And this strip helped:


Afterwards, Pastis sent him a thank-you email, and was shocked when Watterson wrote back.

And not just a thank you note:

Let me tell you. Just getting an email from Bill Watterson is one of the most mind-blowing, surreal experiences I have ever had. Bill Watterson really exists? And he sends email? And he’s communicating with me?

But he was. And he had a great sense of humor about the strip I had done, and was very funny, and oh yeah….

…He had a comic strip idea he wanted to run by me.

Rather than reprint the entire post (which would be bad because bad), here’s the link to the rest of Pastis’ story.

What a great week.

So thank you, Stephen, for making it happen.

And thank you, Mr. Watterson, for everything.

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Agatha Christie News | June 2014

The publicity machine is gearing up with promotions on several fronts with the run-up to the September publication of Sophie Hannah’s Poirot novel (which Publisher’s Weekly gave a starred review).

While I try not to turn my blog into a news site, I do have an interest in Christie. Also, I’m fascinated by the way someone or some thing is pushed into the mainstream, especially in these days when it’s not enough to buy air time on one of the three U.S. networks or launch a newspaper ad campaign.

Miss Marple Returns

Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple.

Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple.

Those who have followed Julia McKenzie’s turn as the aging spinster will see three more episodes on PBS’ “Masterpiece Theatre” in September: A Caribbean Mystery, Greenshaw’s Folly and Endless Night. Sundays, September 21 and 28, 2014. A kind fellow at PBS confirmed that two episodes will be broadcast on one of the nights. Sort of a double Marple event.

Of the three “Endless Night” might be the most interesting, if only to see how they’ll shoehorn Miss Marple into it. I thought it was a good book, marred by the unconvincing coincidence regarding how the murderer acquired the poison. The novel also reflected Christie’s interest in homes and how they’re designed. The modernist home in the book reminded me of the Isokon Building, a Bauhaus-designed apartment complex she lived in during World War II.


(“But what about David Suchet and Poirot?” I hear you cry. He’ll be back on July 27 and August 3 with “The Big Four” and “Dead Man’s Folly,” (the latter will be especially interesting to Christie fans for its filming location at Greenway, Christie’s home in Devon where she set the book). As for the rest of the shows this season, the Los Angeles Times explains “the final three films will be available only on the British TV streaming service Acorn TV. The final three episodes are “Elephants Can Remember” on Aug. 11, “Labors of Hercules” on Aug. 18 and “Curtain,” the final Poirot mystery, on Aug. 25. (The series concluded on British TV in November.)”

The Agatha Christie Web has exact details on broadcast dates and times for “Poirot” and “Marple.”

William Morrow Promotes Reading

agatha-christie-summer-of-readingTo promote “The Monogram Murders,” William Morrow arranged with the Book Club Girl blog to hold an Agatha Christie Read-along. Beginning on June 30, the site will organize discussions of “And Then There Were None,” “Dead Man’s Folly” (tied to the Masterpiece airing, of course), and “After the Funeral.” Sophie Hannah will also participate in a discussion in October over “Book Club Girl on Air.”

To participate, or to see the schedule of readings, visit Book Club Girl.

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Hedges and Fences (part 3)

Suburban Stockade Banner

Suburban stockade introduction

Last week, we looked at how to determine what hedge would be right for your yard and how to plant them so that they don’t grow into your power lines or too close to your fences.

This week, we’ll look at our testing ground — a.k.a., Fortress Peschel — and share our experiences and what we learned in the process.

Learning from Trials & Errors

The first thing we recommend is to line the northern side of your yard with evergreens. Yews, cedars, thuja, boxwood, holly, junipers: anything that will keep its needles all winter long. This will provide a permanent screen against those frigid winter winds blowing down from Canada.

A hedge would have kept her from seeing Crankshaft naked. Don't let it happen to you.

A hedge would have kept her from seeing Crankshaft naked. Don’t let it happen to you.

We learned this lesson the hard way. Our home’s previous owners planted a forsythia hedge, which bloomed beautifully for one week and looked like a pile of sticks for 51. It also wanted to entangle the power lines and had to be trimmed several times a year. We replaced it with a mixed hedgerow of native shrubs, all of them about 6 inches high at planting time. I would guess I had a 50 percent failure rate due to inadequate soil preparation and those freezing, desiccating winds. I was amazed at how much wind that loose, open line of forsythia blocked and how it improved the microclimate of the yard in January.

I kept trying to make the new hedgerow work, when what I should have done was widen it, move the survivors further into the yard, and line the fence with yews. I would have had the privacy and a permanent windbreak. Instead, we have a messy hedgerow of mixed native shrubs, Jerusalem artichokes, volunteer goldenrod, mixed weeds, and blackberries.

Alongside the fence, First Son installed three salvaged A’s from the supports of an old swing set. He lined the interior triangle of the A’s with scrap fencing and now Arctic Beauty Kiwis are struggling up them. I am also trying to grow Castle Spire and Castle Wall hollies to fill in the gaps and block the wind. We keep trying to make this work. I wanted the hedgerow to act as a screen to winter winds, to provide wildlife habitat, to give privacy, and to supply food production. It isn’t doing any of these things very well. If I had read this essay years ago, it would have saved me a lot of time, money, and aggravation!

The west side of the yard faces the Reese factory, a 24-hour operation so there is always lights and noise. There is also the neighborhood’s main power line about 15 feet in the air. This location demanded a wall and Hicksii yews (taxus) fit the bill beautifully. They grew really well, so well that I had to widen their bed and move the underplantings of daffodils and daylilies. The yews were shading them out! The yews are now about 8 to 10 feet tall and still have some room to grow up. They have filled out to about 2 feet in diameter. With the fence and the neighbor’s hedge we have an impenetrable wall.

The south side of the yard faces the highway with the dentist’s office at the southwest corner and the two story neighbor’s house at the southeast end. The noise and light from the highway never stop. The dentist has 24 hour security lights. The neighbors have a second floor balcony and the slope of the land puts their entire property two feet higher up than ours. The narrow side yards between the houses put us really close together. Their house blocks a lot of morning sun. This is ok in the summer but very bad in the winter and directly affects the window dance (see the essay on this). There is also a power line, connecting the main line to the house. This demanded multiple strategies. The back third of the fence got more Hicksii yews. The middle third got arborvitae (thuja) that grow as very narrow cones and top out at 8 to 10 feet. This comes in under the power line as it gets closer to the house.

The front third was the most difficult. We got the least privacy where we needed it the most as the change in elevation was highest here. This gave their porch almost as good a view into our yard as their second floor balcony. Both side yards, ours and theirs, are about 15 feet wide. This is a rental property so the tenants change regularly. Larry the landlord insists on the privet hedge being kept to four feet. I needed as tall a screen as I could get that was two feet wide (the yard was so narrow, I didn’t want to sacrifice more space) and let in the winter sun to light and warm the house. That meant a deciduous hedge.

The first attempt was with ornamental grass. I had two varieties and neither was satisfactory. Even when the catalog says column form, the stuff is grass and will spread into a fountain. Both varieties took up way too much horizontal space. I could have lived with this but they weren’t tall enough! And — I did not know this — ornamental grass has to be hacked back to the ground every spring for it to grow well. So every spring, we had no hedge at all.

Back to the catalogs. A field trip to Longwood Gardens led me to columnar apple trees. These get really tall (20 feet!) and grow no more than two feet in diameter. As a bonus, you get flowers in the spring and you may get apples. So First Son dug out all 12 clumps of ornamental grass and they went to the school district for their landscaping projects. The columnar apples went in and are now heading into their third year. They were about four feet tall when they arrived from Stark Brothers’ nursery and are now getting past six feet. They leaf out well but do require trimming at the graft. I have a mix of crabapples, red apples and green apples. Up until now, only the crabs have set flowers and fruit. For the first time this year, the red and green apples are old enough to flower and set fruit. As far as I was concerned, this was a (delicious) bonus. I mainly wanted the screen.

If the apples fail, I might have to go to evergreens or clumping bamboo. The bamboo would certainly give me height: some forms can be 100 feet tall! However, bamboo can be very aggressive and you must make certain to get the type and variety you want. Don’t go cheap and get a running form. You and the neighbors will regret that forever.

The backyard: 2001 (above); 2014 (below.

The backyard: 2001 (above); 2014 (below.

Screening with Curb Appeal

Now we come to the front yard. I refused to buy a house in a gated community, so I do not have some group of narrow-minded Nazis telling me what I can and can’t have in my yard or on my house. My neighbors don’t care how we landscape the property. I do, however, want the yard to look somewhat normal from the street. This side faces east and has a lot of solar gain; bad in the summer and good in the winter.

This has led to lining the street-edge of the yard with a wide bed planted in carefully spaced trees, with an underplanting of shrubs. There is no fence. The flowerbed alongside the driveway is full of mixed perennials, some very tall; five to seven feet high. This gives a pretty good screen between the house and the street. It is much better in the summer, of course, when all is grown and thick. Even in the winter, we still get screening from the branching structures of the trees and shrubs. They do not make a formal hedge; rather a loose, flowy, fluffy mass of greenery and flowers. It is kept weeded and edged and the lawn area is mowed. That sends a signal that the yard is maintained as a naturalistic garden and not that we let it run wild. The alternative is neatly clipped hedges trimmed to about four feet tall. I don’t like pruning so I went with the loose fluffy mass of shrubs.

If you don’t want to have a hedge in the front yard and you don’t like the loose mass of mixed shrubbery with taller trees, you are back to a picket fence or wrought-iron. Mark your property off with something: low walls of brick or stone look great and can be built a little at a time by you as you get time and money. Rows of ornamental grass, tall daylilies, herbaceous borders, anything but a bare expanse of grass leading right up to your front door. Shrub roses are very pretty and have the added defensive benefit of coming with vicious thorns. No one could ever object to a row of rose bushes. No one will ever walk through one either.

Front yard: 2001 (above) and 2014 (below)

Front yard: 2001 (above) and 2014 (below)

As you can see, a lot can happen in 13 years, so get started now! Study those catalogs, talk to the local nursery, ask other homeowners what is that attractive hedge that they are growing, and think about your own needs for privacy, food production, security, pruning tolerances, light and solar gain as the seasons change, wildlife habitat and space limitations. Get the fence in and then get those hedges growing.

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Sherlock Holmes parody featuring the Rover Boys

sherlock-holmes-parody-rover-boysToday’s installment from the 223B Casebook is a multiple parody. “Three Rousing Cheers!!! The Parody Adventures of Our Youthful Heroes” is a Sherlock Holmes parody. It is a Rover Boys parody. It is a “Green Hat” parody.

The Rover Boys were the heroes of a series of boys’ stories. It was created in 1899 by Edward Stratemeyer. Like the Hardy boys (which Stratemeyer also created), they investigated mysteries and experienced adventures of all kinds. The 30 volumes published between 1899 and 1926 are still in print today, and many can be found at Project Gutenberg.

While it’s natural to equate the Rover Boys with Sherlock Holmes, “The Green Hat” is odd beast. Michael Arlen (born Dikran Kuyumjian in Bulgaria) is best remembered for “The Green Hat” (1924). This satirical novel of London’s smart set was a roaring success on the scale of “Less Than Zero,” only without the cocaine. Arlen became instantly famous, particularly for his impeccable clothing and driving around London in his yellow Rolls-Royce.

“The Green Hat” and Arlen is forgotten today except as a curiosity, but little more than a year after its publication “The Green Hat” was still worthy of parody.

The author, Corey Ford (1902–1969) was an American humorist, author, outdoorsman, and screenwriter. He is probably best known, if that, for giving the name Eustace Tilley to the New Yorker magazine’s mascot, a dandy with a top hat eying a butterfly through a monocle.

Stories from the 223B casebook — stories published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here.







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Intelligence Report from the Job Hunt

When I was looking for work after leaving the newspaper industry (or, more accurately, when the industry left me), I signed up with a number of job-search sites. I still receive emails from them.

I suppose some jobs can be worse than this one.

I suppose some jobs can be worse than this one.

Normally, they’re deleted without being read, but this one from Bentley Mobility Services Ltd. caught my eye, as an example of teaching students to think:

We are now seeking applications from individuals with experience working in accounting to work as part of our team. We are currently offering part time positions that include all-round training.

There is NO essential fee to start. There is NO relocation necessary.

Salary Rage: $63,300.00 – $86,300.00 per year. The salary is highly competitive and corresponding with experience

Industry: Retail

Benefits package available: Medical, Dental, Life Insurance, 401K , Paid vacation and sick leave

All applicants applying for job opening must be authorized to work in the United States, must be a U.S. Citizen, and must be 21+.

Duties of the Role:

- Providing timely and accurate follow-up to telephone inquiries.

- Coordinate with management to resolve billing issues.

- Create reports and business correspondence and ability to effectively present information and respond to questions from customers.

- Work with finance in payable information for timely payment.

Minimum requirements:

- Ability to organize internal working relationships with main purchasing representatives.

- Ability to handle a variety of issues in a professional and tactful manner.

- Ability to build and maintain positive, productive, problem-solving and high performance work.

- Good written, interpersonal and verbal communication skills.

- Proven computer skills, including Word, Excel, Adobe Acrobat; faculty to adapt to new computer system upgrades as required.

If you would like to get an Application, please reply to present advertising

For your final exam, count the number of red flags raised by this offer:

1. This is an accounting that seems to require no actual accounting. No, handling billing issues, dealing with customers or “organizing internal working relationships,” whatever that means.

2. The salary range is extraordinarily high.

3. Especially for a “part time position.”

4. So I assume “Salary rage” is what you experience after your first paycheck.

5. Telling us upfront there are NO fees is like the guy selling Rolexes on the street that they’re NOT fakes.

6. There’s no such thing as “faculty to adapt to new computer system upgrades as required” unless they’re hiring you to teach.

What’s sad is that, in my year of job-hunting, this is about par for the course.

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A Sonnet Review of ‘The Serpent of Venice’

serpent-of-veniceIt takes awhile for me to know an author enough to put on my “must read” list. With “The Serpent of Venice,” I think I must put Christopher Moore on that list.

“Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” was an amusing story that steered clear of blasphemy without going too far into reverence.

But I really liked the cleverness of “Serpent.” Moore treated Shakespeare’s words like dialect, retaining enough of the original to convey the flavor without bogging down the text. Take this example: Pocket, the Fool from “King Lear,” and former king of England and France, is disconsolate after the death of his queen, Cordelia, is rescued by Othello after falling drunk into the Grand Canal:

“She is dead. My love.”

“I know,” said the Moor.

“You don’t know love. Look at you. You’re a soldier — a hard, scarred, killing thing — a weapon. You’ve had an alehouse whore or the odd widow of the conquered, maybe, but you don’t know love.”

“I know love, fool. Love may not be mine, but I know it.”

“You lie,” said the fool.

The Moor looked at torchlight reflecting on the canal and said, “When a woman looks upon one’s scars with wonder, and sees not the glory of battles won, but sheds tears for the pain of injury suffered, then is love born. When she pities a man’s history and wishes away his past troubles with present comforts, then is love awakened. When that which makes a warrior hard is met with beauty offered most tender, then can he find love.”

It should also be noted that “The Serpent of Venice” is a beautiful book. The page edges are tinted blue to match the cover, and the chapter titles and headers are printed in red on luscious cream paper. Also reddened are the words of the Chorus, which pops up to comment on the story and sometimes argue with the players. All of it is clever fun.

Here are two shots to show what I mean. .

serpent-of-venice 002

(Click on the one below to embiggen)

serpent-of-venice 001

Finally, let me apologize in advance for the below:

The ghost of the Bard might rise and cry “hold!”
And file a copyright suit with menace,
But Christopher Moore created a mash-up,
Of Othello and the Merchant of Venice.
“The Serpent of Venice”” is a sequel,
To “Fool” starring that foul-mouthed clown,
Seeking revenge for his queen foully killed,
And breaking his love, his life and his crown.
The stories unfold along Shakespeare’s lines,
Iago plots, Portia whines, Othello rides stallions,
Fool rescues his friends in motley and tights,
As a snake snacks on red-shirted Italians,
“Serpent” takes stories many find a chore
And make us rise from our chair crying “Moore!”

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Bill Watterson, Stephan Pastis Create Awesome Mashup

Given my cautious nature, and a record of being wrong, I have to really push myself to be the first to point out anything. But Stephan Pastis has managed to perform the impossible: Lure “Calvin and Hobbes” Bill Watterson back to the comic page.

The first clue came on Pastis’ Facebook page with this enigmatic announcement:

Bill Watterson Stephan Pastis announces special surprise for Pearls Before Swine

The week’s strips begins with the appearance at Pastis’ door of Libby, a little girl looking to interview a cartoonist. She also refuses to believe that Pastis is one.

Pearls Before Swine Monday June 2 2014 strip

Pearls Before Swine Tuesday June 3 2014 strip

Not so long as “Reply All” still exists.

When challenged to do better — the usual response by those less talented — she whips out two amazing panels, both of which has that amazing Bill Watterson style.

Bill Watterson Stephan Pastis Pearls Before Swine panel Wednesday June 4 2014

Awesome panel #1

Pearls Before Swine panel Thursday June 5 2014 strip

Awesome panel #2

So, it is Watterson, or is it a fake?

Examine the Evidence

As regular readers of the strip know, Pastis loves taking the piss out of established comic strips, such as “Cathy,” “B.C.”, “Mutts” and so on. When his characters were banned from joining “Blondie’s” 75th anniversary celebration, he spent at least a week mocking it. Just a few weeks ago, he did a Sunday strip recasting his characters like those from “Zits.” It looked 90 percent like Jim Borgman’s work, except for the little tells, such as the eyes and the nose on Jeremy’s face.

Zits by Pastis on left; the original Jeremy on the right. If I start saying "The President going back and to his left. Shot from the front and right," you'll stop me, right?

If I start saying “Back, and to the left… back, and to the left” from “JFK,” you’ll stop me, right?

But what really brings it home to me is the lettering. Compare the way the words “That” and “Sometimes” are between the two panels. They’re really close. Take particular note of the way the “A” slants to the left, and the right peak of the “M” is higher than the left.


Calvin and Hobbes dialog bubbles

“Back, and to the left… back, and to the left … back, and to the left …”

And if … and if Pastis was having us on, I’d still buy him a beer, because it’s a pitch-perfect mimicking of the Watterson style. But since we all know he draws like @$#@%, it’s Bill.

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Publisher’s Weekly STARS Sophie Hannah’s Poirot Novel

With the ebook version of “The Complete, Annotated Secret Adversary” heading into the home stretch, I’m naturally interested in the coming Poirot novel by Sophie Hannah.

s_Sophie-HannahWould a writer of psychological thrillers be able to handle the tight plotting and the plain writing style of the Mistress of Misdirection? Would Agatha Christie’s fans take to Hannah’s Poirot? Or would they be as mixed in their opinions as Dorothy L. Sayers’ readers about Jill Paton Walsh’s Lord Peter? (This year also saw the publication of the fourth book in the Wimsey series with “The Late Scholar”.)

The first sign that “The Monogram Murders” might have legs surfaced in Publisher’s Weekly when the anonymous reviewer gave it a star, saying Hannah did a “superb” job channeling Christie:

The rest of the novel lives up to the promise of the opening, complete with dazzling deductions, subtle cluing, false endings, and superb prose.

Couldn’t ask for a better review than that!

I’m relieved. Interest in Christie will be building in the coming year. Sophie Hannah’s Poirot will be coming out ahead of the celebration in 2015 of Christie’s 125th birthday. There’s been a big push by rights owner Agatha Christie Ltd. to put out more products based on her works.

“The Monogram Murders” will be published on Sept. 9.

(PS: In the initial post I had missed the big red star next to the book’s title, so correction made. Thanks to author Carole Shmurak of the Susan Lombardi Mysteries for pointing it out.)

Categories: Agatha Christie, Books, Publishing and Writers | Comments Off