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Archive for November, 2022

Mystery Monday Review – The Toff and the Deadly Parson

Monday, November 28th, 2022

The Toff and the Deadly Parson by John Creasy

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This 1944 thriller stars the series hero, The Toff, cockney slang for an aristocrat. The Toff, the Honorable Richard Rollison, employs a valet, the imperturbable Jolly, who has the PI skills of Paul Drake. Rolly has a tolerant view of bending the rules and tweaks the nose of Scotland Yard, but detests scoundrels who do harm by stealing from people who can least afford it, i.e. Rolly’s plain folk who live in the East End of London. And for that, the plain folk idolize him.

In the 12th of the 60 Toff novels, Rollison gets involved when one of his plain folks, Joe Craik, is framed for a murder. In his humiliation, Craik attempts to take his own life. Rollison figures that the way to clear Craik is to find the culprit.

Rollison also gets involved with a young Parson, new to the East End. The Parson is fired up about saving the folks from drink, gaming, and other vices. Rollison tries to tone down the parson’s activism. But Rollison and the parson run into a gang of malefactors that are bent on running the parson out of the district, even it means framing him for a murder.

Creasy jams a lot of action and machinations into a slim volume. Some plot turns are implausible as are the Toff’s open-handedness with funds and his Bruce Lee-like ability to defend himself. The plot unfolds rather confusingly near the end. Creasy is a good writer, if uneven, as he uses “said, sarcastically” and “said, quietly” and “said, patiently” often enough to begin jarring the reader, a tad. He’s a little old-fashioned with that quirk they had back then: avoiding using, “said” in favor of “demand” or “remonstrate” or “murmur.”




Non-Fiction Review – The Scandalous Lady W

Friday, November 25th, 2022

The Scandalous Lady W: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce

by Hallie Rubenhold

Review by jjares


The famous Joshua Reynolds created the portrait of Lady Worsley on the cover of this book. The riding habit is adapted from her husband’s regiment. Seymour Fleming married Sir Richard Worsley when she was 17, and the marriage fell apart quickly. Once Richard got an heir, he lost interest in his wife. Because his wife brought a great deal of money to the marriage (~ 52,000 pounds), Richard could concentrate on things that interested him, including his seat in the House of Commons, his military pursuits for protecting his lands from French invasion, and belonging to two famous groups — the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Royal Society. Unfortunately, they did not include Lady Seymour. To retaliate, Lady Seymour had many lovers.

The couple had one son, Robert Edwin (1776 – 1795), and Richard claimed paternity of Seymour’s daughter, Jane Seymour Worsley, to avoid scandal. However, George M Bissett was the child’s father. Wanting to be together, Bissett and Lady Seymour ran away together late in 1781. Richard begged his wife to return home, but she refused. The following year, Richard brought a ‘Criminal Conversation’ case against Bissett for 20,000 pounds, an incredible amount of money at the time.

This court case raised eyebrows and fed the rumor mills for a long time. ‘Criminal Conversation’ was the court’s title for the husband suing the man at fault for stealing his wife’s affections. Richard refused to get a divorce; he wanted to make the couple suffer. So he sued Bissett for a ruinous amount of money and washed his hands of his wife by refusing to give Lady Seymour her clothing or pay her bills (which eventually led her to become a kept woman by rich and powerful men). Lady Seymour turned the tables on Richard by asking some of her previous lovers to come to court and explain that Richard never contested her behavior — and, in some instances, aided and abetted it. She also encouraged her physician to go to court and explain Lady Seymour got the venereal disease from one of her paramours.

I will leave you to read the book to find out how the court case ended. However, in 1788, the couple entered into ‘Articles of Separation,’ which did not allow Lady Seymour to marry Bissett (until after her husband’s death). By the end of the court case, all the parties were socially ruined. Their story continued in the newspapers for months in rhyme, illustration, and prose. Finally, Seymour realized that humiliating her husband was her only recourse (to retrieve her clothing, etc.), and the public ate it up. Richard went into hiding, and Seymour paraded herself to humiliate him further. Incredibly, before it was all over, the couple wrote about their problems for all to read in the newspapers. Eventually, Lady Worsley and Captain Bissett separated. Bissett’s brother was entering religious orders, and he pressured his brother to cease the scandalous liaison. Captain Bissett married another, inherited property, and became a highly-regarded gentleman by the time of his death.

Lady Worsley was forced to become a professional mistress to survive. The book points out that a substantial group of upper-class women were in the same position. Women could not divorce their husbands because English law saw them as mere possessions of their husbands. Richard was so humiliated that he escaped on a world tour, and to redeem his reputation as an antiquarian scholar.
Lady Seymour had two more children. There was a second child with Bissett. Nothing more is known of the child. Seymour escaped to France, where infidelity was well-tolerated. She returned to England to have her fourth child, a girl, who was given to a farm family to raise (a common way to shed unwanted children amongst the aristocracy).

Part of her final separation decree stated that she must reside outside England for four years. If she returned before that time, she would forfeit the money her husband had settled on her. Unfortunately, the French Revolution occurred, and Lady Seymour was probably imprisoned during some of that time. She begged her husband’s solicitors to allow her to return to England because of the danger. However, they warned her of the consequences if she did so. Thus, she was in France when her son Robert died unexpectedly in England.

After Seymour returned to England, she was gravely ill for two months. Her mother, sister, and husband came to visit her. Seymour was relieved when her family forgave her and people saw them in her company. Meanwhile, Richard returned to Europe and invested in many antiquities. Unfortunately, Bonaparte commandeered them, causing a total loss to Richard. Richard was in financial straits with this loss and the tremendous expenses of court cases, and Seymour’s expensive lifestyle.

Richard retired to the Isle of Wight and had a relationship with a person listed as Richard’s housekeeper — Mrs. Sarah Smith. She stayed with him until his death. With Richard’s death, Seymour’s wealth reverted to her. One month after Richard’s death, forty-seven-year-old Seymour marched down the aisle with twenty-six-year-old John Lewis Cuchet. By royal license, Seymour took back her maiden name ‘Fleming’ and John took it as his surname too.

Eventually, Seymour and John moved back to Passy (France), where she died in 1818 (~ 61 years of age). Despite their age differences, the author claims that John Lewis was the only man to understand Seymour. He married again (1 and a half years later) but asked to be buried next to his first wife.

After starting this book, I learned that the BBC made a film based on this book in 2015. The author may have included too much detail, but there is no doubt that this is a fascinating story of infidelity in the 1700s.



Mystery Monday Review – The Pyramid: The First Wallander Cases

Monday, November 21st, 2022

The Pyramid: The First Wallander Cases by Henning Makell

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

When it comes to reading mysteries, there comes a time when the jaded reader must just read something new. So I got this through PBS, not knowing the series hero at all.

It appears that this 1999 book is the origin story of series hero Kurt Wallander, set at the beginning of his law-enforcement career in 1969 when he was only a twenty-something police officer in Ystad, an old town on Sweden’s southern coast, famous for its medieval town center with cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. Young Kurt has a keen sense of what’s proper and tends to brood – neither of which are strange, considering he’s Swedish. His father, an artist and bully, gives him guff for his career choice and passive-aggressively sells his house – Kurt’s childhood home – without even telling Kurt where he’s moving. And look up “high maintenance girlfriend” in the dictionary and see a picture of Kurt’s girlfriend Mona.

This book collects five pieces, thee short stories and two novellas. As is typical in noir police procedurals since the 1980s, the author sets the homicide investigators in the socio-economic conditions in which crimes are committed. “How could anybody be so alone,” Kurt wonders as he finds out more about the bleak daily life of an elderly neighbor whose death he is investigating.

These stories reminded me of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano novels. The protagonists live in traditionally close-knit societies, with a strong sense of belonging and value on acting in such a way that one can present a respectable face in society. Ystad, Sweden and Vigata, Sicily are situated far from national cauldrons of change in politics, fashion, education, publishing, entertainment, or economy but their cultures are fraying. Mankell and Camilleri seamlessly weave into the plots anxiety shared by many ordinary people, who feel the old ways are showing signs of strain, that if they want things to stay the same, things are going to have to change.





Non-Fiction Review – A Natural History of Lighthouses

Thursday, November 17th, 2022

A Natural History of Lighthouses by John A Love 

Review by jjares


Almost all lighthouses, including the British ones, are now automated and have no resident keepers. This book tells the story of Scottish lighthouses with fascinating histories (and over 100 photos of British lighthouses and attending wildlife near these lighthouses).

So you know, British waters are some of the most menacing in the world. Britain has a long list of shipwrecks and deaths. Until reading this book, I was unaware of how dangerous it is to build a lighthouse. However, this book brings the dangers into sharp focus.

Eilean Mor: Flannan Islands – There was a strange disappearance of all three of the keepers of this lighthouse a mere year after it was built in 1900. This site was challenging to build because workers could only access the site for three months of the year. As a result, it took four years to complete.

The storms were horrific, and the three keepers had not had a full year of experience at this site. However, the photos on this site add much to the understanding of how an accident could happen. Keepers noted that the storms were so powerful that the spray hit the lanterns about 1000 ft. above the sea. Amazingly, waves were seen that were 112 ft tall, moving at 63 mph.

Eddystone – Violent storms have overtopped even the tallest rock lighthouses. It is not unusual for rocks of 80 tons to move 12 – 14 ft in significant storms. Britain is surrounded by some of the most dangerous waters in the world. At one time, 550 ships were wrecked every year. By the 19th century, the number of wrecks climbed to 1800/year. Some lighthouses were moved and rebuilt because of erosion of the solid rocks upon which they were built. However, continuous shaking has seriously undermined the rock bases of lighthouses. It took five different towers at Eddystone to survive in place.

Early History of Lighthouses – The Romans are responsible for Britain’s early lighthouses. The author goes back to explain the Greek’s fires to protect seafarers at night. The author discusses significant beacon building during ancient and later times. This author is also a naturalist and explains some of the geological events in Great Britain.

Until medieval times, there were between 30 and 40 lighthouses on the British Isles. In those times, they were maintained mainly by monks and monasteries. However, because of the dissolution of the monasteries, the monks departed the lighthouses in the 16th century.

* * * * *

This book is rich in detail about the building, maintenance, and tragedies associated with Scottish lighthouses. I was surprised to learn how lighthouses evolved over their long history. They did not emerge fully fashioned. Author Robert Louis Stevenson’s ancestors (several generations) are integral to the history of British lighthouses, and their stories are interspersed in this book. Through experience and error, lighthouses became safer and more resilient to the forces of nature over time.

Unfortunately, the author didn’t stay with the topic of lighthouses in Great Britain. Instead, he strayed into his interests in the wildlife surrounding the lighthouses. This caused the book to lose focus and seem to be meandering. The author covers the geology of the British Isles, nature, ancient and medieval lighthouse history, the history of several islands, maritime history, ancient legends, Parliamentary laws related to lighthouses, poor payment of lighthouse keepers, and much more. This author needed some serious editing. Overall score = 4 stars.




Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Substitute Face

Monday, November 14th, 2022


The Case of the Substitute Face by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This is the twelfth Perry Mason mystery, published in 1938. Unusually for Gardner, this murder story begins not in the super-lawyer’s LA office, but on the high seas, on a cruise ship embarking from Honolulu and bound for San Francisco.

A distraught Mrs. Newberry seeks Perry’s professional advice. She suspects her family’s vacation is being paid for with newfound wealth that her husband Carl embezzled from his former employer. Mrs. Newberry is worried that exposure of her husband’s sticky fingers and the resulting scandal would damage the future prospects of their daughter Belle. Because Perry has been charmed by Belle’s vivacity and dislike of sham, Perry says he will help the family through its problem.

Mason calls his PI Paul Drake to execute a plan. He will try to cut a deal with Carl’s former employer whereby Carl can keep out of The Big House by agreeing to return the remaining money. The plan has a chance but is blown up when Carl’s murder takes place.

Excellent scenes entirely of dialogue feature Mason interviewing persons of interest. For comic relief, Mason performs a B&E with a Paul Drake, who plays a sidekick like Booboo, Ron Weasley or Bess Marvin with lots of doubt and trepidation but dependable loyalty in the end, no matter the trouble the hero drags them into. As for the damsel in distress, Della Street goes missing and an alarmed Perry pulls out all the stops to locate her. Before they find her is about as fretful and anxious as we’ll ever see our favorite lawyer.

The Mason mysteries written in the Thirties have a gritty feel. The characters talk in a fast-paced way and the slang and idioms are, of course, more than a little quaint by now. The cops are hard-boiled to the point of self-parody. Gardner’s prose has a tough and unsentimental style, but he’s not cynical or callous, keeps sex and violence offstage, and the settings and atmosphere are never sleazy. He’s tough on the rich and the guardians of the criminal justice system, especially when they aren’t giving The Little Guy a break.




Sci-Fi Review – Vortex

Friday, November 11th, 2022

VORTEX by Robert Charles Wilson

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

VORTEX by Robert Charles Wilson is the third in his Spin trilogy. The first, SPIN, told the story of how Earth became enclosed in a mysterious bubble, in which life continued as if normal while in reality, time was passing by outside by hundreds of years for every Earth hour. It was determined that some outside entity referred to as the Hypotheticals had done this for unknown purposes.   In the second, AXIS, the story shifted to another planet, accessible from Earth by means of a giant Arch created by the Hypotheticals. Humans on this other world had “infected” Isaac Dvali in the womb with Hypothetical nanotechnology, hoping to gain dialogue with them. Turk Findley, an itinerant man with a pilot’s license, was caught up the Hypothetical’s pass through the planet and he and Isaac disappeared.

We get two storylines in VORTEX. One is on Earth, set a bit before the timeline from AXIS, and concerns Orrin Mather. Orrin has a story he’s written, an odd one, and there are people who want to help him out and others who would like nothing more than to shut him up.  As it turns out, Orrin’s story is about Turk Findlay, and Isaac, and a woman we’ll know as Allison.

Switch to the future. Turk awakens, naked in the desert, but is soon rescued. Ten thousand years have passed and his rescuers are part of a community called Vox.  They think he has some special relationship with the Hypotheticals after being taken, but he has no memory of it. Isaac too has been found, but in bad shape.  The physical part of Vox is a huge complex of traveling islands, and its population is almost all networked together. There will be quite a lot about the various types of group minds which you may, or may not, care about.  But basically, Vox knows their prophecies have come true and they’re on their way to meet the Hypotheticals.  It isn’t going to turn out like they hope.

On Earth, Orrin’s friends are desperate to get Orrin to safety and figure out what he’s trying to communicate. The situation starts to sound really familiar to us, and yes, it is almost – not quite, but almost  – exactly what we think. And why is it “almost”? You may well ask. Keep reading.

There are such cool big ideas in this trilogy. The Hypotheticals, the longevity drug, Vox, more.  It will all come together in the end in a rather mind-blowing way, but – you will not be surprised by this if you’ve been paying attention – there is no godlike force directing it all (thank you, Wilson). I wouldn’t call it a happy ending, I guess, but not sad either.  Despite the huge scope and the astonishing time that’s elapsed, this is still a character-driven tale; the story of individuals in an unimaginably large-scale happening. But truthfully I found it hard to really care about most of them. In my opinion this last book has more suspense and action than the previous two, and I was able to relate to Turk and the others more easily.  I also think Wilson had a hard time figuring out exactly how to conclude it, but the end of the universe shuts things down nicely.

In conclusion: it was a good series. I doubt I’ll lie awake thinking about it, but if you like big SF, definitely worth reading.




Non-Fiction Review – Texas Bluegrass History: High Lonesome on the High Plains

Tuesday, November 8th, 2022

Texas Bluegrass History: High Lonesome on the High Plains

by Jeff Campbell and Braeden Paul

Review by jjares

This book is a different type of history of Texas Bluegrass Music. Individuals wrote portions of the book about a particular person or band, and the authors combined it into a book. A unique thing about this book is that many photos and newspaper clippings accompany the text. One author, Jeff Campbell, is a historic preservation professional. He aims to preserve the history of the critical figures of bluegrass music in Texas.
Although Bill Monroe invented the bluegrass genre, he had help along the way. The first man outlined is Howdy Forrester, the first to play double-stops with Bill Monroe.
The Mayfield brothers (Herbert, Smokey, and Edd) heard Bill and Charlie Monroe on the radio while they lived in Dimmitt, TX. Radio was the avenue for music, and the Grand Ole Opry played nationwide. The Mayfields were a musical family, from father William (fiddle), mother Penelope (piano and guitar), and all eight children.
After WW II, Herb, Smokey, and Edd started a band replicating the Bill Monroe sound. They also featured Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, and Chubby Wise. Edd met Bill Myrick, a musician with Bill Monroe, and they formed a band — Bill Myrick and the Mayfield Brothers.
When Bill Monroe’s band came to Texas, he had the Mayfield band open for his group. Soon after that, Bill Monroe offered Edd a place in his band. Edd worked for him three times. Unfortunately, however, Edd died of leukemia in 1958 at 32.
The rest of the First Generation of Texas Bluegrass Musicians were:* Tex Logan — The Fiddling Electrical Engineer with a Ph.D. He wrote, “Christmas Time’s a Comin.”
* Tom Uhr — Part of the family’s band, he started writing songs at nine. The family’s heroes were Bob Wills and his band.
The Second Generation emerged as part of the American Folk Revival of the 1960s.* Tom Uhr formed the folk group, the Shady Grove Ramblers, who were busy from the 1960s – 2010s. However, he continued writing music and creating albums.* The House Brothers and the Canaan Valley Boys formed a gospel music group with a bluegrass orientation. Eventually, they became more secular and renamed themselves – the House Brothers until the 1990s.*Southwest Bluegrass Club — Tom Uhr and some bluegrass friends formed this in Hurst, TX. Their goal was to keep Bluegrass alive through scholarships, training sessions, and festivals.* Holly Bond and the Bluegrass Texans — By 1968, this band began recording, and in 1969, they won The Original Amateur Hour. The band was active for 35 years.* Johnnie Martin and the Bluegrass Ramblers of Texas — Martin gathered a band, bought a bus and started performing around Beaumont and that region. They produced some albums, and the group disbanded due to Johnnie’s declining health.* Russell Moore – One of Martin’s members who struck out on his own, Russell formed the Southern Connection and then IIIrd Tyme Out. They won IBMA awards for the vocal group for six years, and Russell won vocalist of the year for six years.
In the 1970s,  ’80s, & ’90s — Bluegrass exploded in Texas, and South Plains College started a bluegrass music degree (associate). They also created the Central Texas Bluegrass Association in Austin. This book recounts how the music department developed. Tom T. Hall, who loved bluegrass music, brought a film crew and created a documentary about the school and program. As a result, Waylon Jenning’s son enrolled in the program.
Did You Know?* Steve Martin, a comedian, was born in Waco, TX. He’s a bluegrass aficionado and an experienced picker on the banjo. So when his family moved to California, Steve took up the banjo at 17. Eventually, his love for Bluegrass resulted in him establishing the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Winners have gone on to significant careers in Bluegrass.
Honorary Texans: This chapter recounts the influence of Alan Munde (from Norman, OK) and Peter Rowan (from Wayland, Mass), two legends in Bluegrass.
A New Millennium — With the film’s success, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, two new Texas-based groups emerged nationally — Greencards (of Austin, TX) and Cadillac Sky (from Fort Worth, TX). This chapter tells about their emergence and effect on Bluegrass. There are also short stories about Hot Pckin’ 57s (formed in 2016 in Austin, TX) and the Family Sowell (now of Tennessee, originally from Hempstead, TX). A unique band mentioned is the Beatlegrass band (combining Beatles and Bluegrass, which emerged into Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Bluegrass Band.
If you are interested in the beginnings of Bluegrass in Texas, this book draws on the knowledge of the movers and shakers of Bluegrass and how they have changed and improved over the generations. Great reading and extensive photos and newspaper clippings.