Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten Film: THE BIRDS (1963) starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy

Not a film that is 'officially' forgotten, for sure, but what the heck. It's one of the more perfect Chilly October viewing pleasures and always worth talking about. In fact, I can envision a Halloween party with everyone dressed as one type of bird or another, all siting around eating wings (ha!) and watching the Hitchcock classic - although perhaps the liquor content should be kept to a minimum lest some birds get carried away with the film's theme of anarchy and destruction.

At any rate, THE BIRDS (1963) is directed by Alfred Hitchcock, from a screenplay by Evan Hunter based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier and starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy. It is a film that these many years later, still retains the ability to shock and awe. The gifted Hitchcock, more a master of mystery, suspense and spy thrillers and not especially known for this sort of thing - special effects and 'end of the world' scenarios - still manages to adorn THE BIRDS with his own peculiar touches in between murderous avian attacks.

Haven't seen the film recently, but sometimes that's the best time to write about a movie -  I've been thinking about various scenes which have remained (despite old lady memory) in my mind. It's funny how that works, some movies you forget completely - or almost - others, like THE BIRDS, continue to live for one reason or another.

THE BIRDS: Sounds and sights I remember (off the top of my head).

Playful Hitchcock: The pet shop scene in the beginning with the two quiet little parakeets (or canaries) in a cage. So sweet. So non-threatening. Not happy to be caged, but surely...

The blond society deb, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), spontaneously deciding to follow hunky Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) - wouldn't you? And into the pet shop they go. She, assured of her icy allure, he instantly intrigued by it. In Hitchcock films, blonds get away with all sorts of forward behavior.

But what is is about sleepy Bodega Bay, California that attracts the sudden influx of avian life to its shores? Curiously, down near the water, a bunch of sea gulls seem to be holding a class reunion.

Speaking of classes, there's the scene of a bunch of screaming kids being sent home from school - chased by birds. Horrific. Children in a Hitchcock film are rarely safe.

Remember the jungle gym covered in birds perched and waiting?

Then there's the brunette (and therefore automatically sultry) Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleschette), small town Bodega Bay teacher who resents the influx of a sophisticated deb with eyes for the guy she's got a crush on. Poor Annie. Her gruesome death I've always seen as more a Hitchcockian comment on brunettes with romantic dreams than anything else. I mean, how dare she aspire to the hero when Tippi (with a decidedly elegant French chignon) is in town?

The vivid gas station explosion which, to my mind, suddenly catapults the film outward in a very vivid way makes for an unforgettable scene. Hitchcock knew that fireworks would be required at some point and this comes out of the blue.

Later, the barricading of the cozy, private house (Jessica Tandy lives there for goodness' sake!) against the assaulting forces of nature. The birds in the chimney. Beaks piercing through the wood door. Obviously more is at work here than just birds run amok. But what?

Yeah, pretty good stuff and I'm really happy that this is one film that hasn't had a modern day re-do.

Perfect Chilly October viewing.

To read more specifically about the film itself, I like this excellent post by iluvcinema 

Madame Alexander doll - source

Sometimes you just have to shake your head.

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten and/or Overlooked Films, Television or other Audio/Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Salon: The Gothic Imagination in Artwork: Being That It's October and All

Austrian artist/illustrator/print-maker Alfred Kubin (1877 - 1959) - source

French painter Robert Delaunay (1885 - 1941) - source

Canadian/French artist/illustrator Nicholas De Lort - source

British illustrator Louise Brierly - source

American painter/illustrator Mark English / Dracula - source

Ukrainian painter Sigismund Ivanowski (1879 - 1944) - source

American painter/illustrator Aaron Westfield - source

Danish illustrator John Kenn Mortensen - source

German Painter Casper David Friedrich (1774 - 1840) - source

English painter and illustrator Frederick Walker (1840 - 1875) - Theater poster art for Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White - source

This is my Part One of a two part post - the Second Part will feature the Gothic Imagination in books perfect for Chilly October Reading. You know the sorts of things I mean but stay tuned anyway.

And if you, like me, can't get enough of all this gothic gloominess, here's a link to my Pinterest board: A Gothic Imagination.

Friday, October 17, 2014

FFB: THE VERGE PRACTICE (2003) By Barry Maitland (Chilly October Reading)

Detective Chief Inspector David Brock and Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla of Scotland Yard are the appealing duo of Barry Maitland's terrific police procedural series which I've just recently begun reading. I'd read one out of sequence (the excellent NO TRACE) a couple of years ago and always meant to go back, but you know how that goes.

The truth is that I've discovered that the books don't have to be read in sequence, anyway, so wherever you begin is good.

Author Barry Maitland was born in Scotland, grew up in London and now lives in Australia. He was a Professor of Architecture at a university there and has since retired from teaching to write full time. This intriguing series set in England, is the happy result. David Brock and Kathy Kolla are an effective team even if they often work separately and Kolla has a seeming penchant for placing herself in danger. There is no romance between them as Brock is quite a bit older than Kolla whose own love life seems to be of the hit or miss variety. (One does wish she'd settle down with 'the right man' but then it wouldn't be a 'modern' sort of series.)

I've lately been in the mood for 'thumping good reads' and THE VERGE PRACTICE is a perfect example - it is imaginatively conceived and executed, the sort of book which draws you immediately into its midst and doesn't let up until the very end (an ending which will definitely leave you wanting more).

I urge you to read this enticing (if slightly far-fetched) thriller even if it is the seventh entry in the series. Trust me, you will not be missing anything important as each book is more or less self-contained. The 'far-fetchedness' I mention is not a fault - it all depends on how likely you are to accept that an ace can be palmed right in front of your face by a very fine magician - metaphorically speaking. There - I can say no more.

When a young wife is found murdered, the husband, naturally enough, is the first suspect. Most especially since said hubby, the famed architect Charles Verge, has disappeared without a trace. The police remain stumped as to his whereabouts. The high profile case draws to a standstill.

It is several months later when Brock and Kolla are asked to delve into the cold case. Expediency is paramount as a brand newly finished prison designed by the missing architect is scheduled to be opened with great fanfare. But if Verge is, indeed, a murderer than his work can't be lauded by personages of the Royal sort, but if it can be proven that Verge is dead, a victim alongside his wife (as his rather imposing mother insists), then all is forgiven and the prison (acknowledged to be Verge's finest work) can be unveiled with proper pomp and circumstance.

As Brock and Kolla delve into the case with fresh eyes, they almost immediately come up with a small something overlooked by the previous detective team. You and I both know that there are no small somethings when it comes to a murder investigation and this first lead in a heretofore unfathomable mystery will soon draw the current investigative team into an even bigger conundrum.

We're in the middle of a case in which nothing is as it first appears, nothing is to be taken at face value. Just when you think you've figured it out, trust me, you haven't. All I can say is that the denouement is a doozy, unlike anything I've ever read before.

A terrific book in keeping with our Chilly October Reading theme.

Link to Barry Maitland's Fantastic Fiction page for a complete listing of his books. Other Barry Maitland books I've read and highly recommend: THE MALCONTENTA, THE CHALON HEADS, SILVERMEADOW, NO TRACE, DARK MIRROR.

And don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: HOLD THAT GHOST (1941) starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello

If you have low tolerance for foolishness, you probably won't like this film much. But if you're feeling indulgent and you have an idea of how Abbott and Costello get on, this is a fun film to watch on a chilly October eve, with maybe a plate of accompanying vittles and a hot chocolate.

"Are you scared?"
"No. But if you see a pair of pants flying across the room, don't grab 'em cause I'll be in 'em."

HOLD THAT GHOST (1941) is an RKO film directed by Arthur Lubin and starring the once upon a time famed comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello who are an acquired taste which you may not have acquired unless you too grew up watching them on television. Their brand of comedy is of the slapstick variety with Costello (the chubby one) being on the receiving end of many of Abbott's occasionally cringe-inducing slaps and digs. It takes getting used to. But when we were kids we thought it was hilarious.

That being said, some of their schticks are still funny and I've always had a secret liking for this particular film and for ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) (which I think is their best) and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF (1949) and WHO DONE IT? (1942). Obviously there's a theme going on here, admittedly I'm not a fan of the Abbott and Costello movies NOT featuring a mystery gimmick of some sort. The exception to that rule would be THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES in which Lou Costello played a ghost left over from the Revolutionary War and Abbott played a modern day psychiatrist - although maybe playing a cowardly ghost could be considered gimmicky enough.

In HOLD THAT GHOST the pair are up to their usual idiocy playing two numb-skulls who go from inept waiters, to inept gas station attendants to inept inheritors of a gang-land chief's road house: a spooky old place in which it is rumored, the dead guy hid all his money. Such a strong rumor naturally enough lures all sorts of bad-guy types to the house looking for the dough on a dark and stormy night.

Chaperoned by Charlie Smith (the very long-lived, sneery-faced actor, Marc Lawrence) playing a crooked lawyer's henchman (the first to die of course), and three travelers (Evelyn Ankers, Joan Davis and Richard Carlson) Lou and Bud are soon up to their ears in spooky doings and dead bodies. The famous 'candle scene' alone is worth the price of admission which, since you can watch the film for free at the link below, amounts to zip, but you know what I mean.

Joan Davis and Lou Costello. Uh-ohsource

And as if that weren't enough, in the end you get a nifty song and dance number from the Andrew Sisters, "Is it me or just my money...oh, oh, oh, Aurora."  FUN.

Link to watch HOLD THAT GHOST online.

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten (or overlooked) films, television or other audio/visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Salon: The Best Time of Year

Canadian painter David Langevin - 'The Colors of October' - source

Swiss painter Felix Vallotton 1921 (1865- 1925) - source

American illustrator Eric Drooker - source

Canadian Plein Air painter Adam Noonan - source

American illustrator Edna Eicke (1919 - 1979) - source

It's Autumn and you know what that means: one day it's too chilly, the next it's too warm and there's no point trying to figure out in advance what to wear. But besides that, it's a beautiful time of year - always been my favorite. I think it all has to do with that 'back to school' thrill of excitement which, no matter how old we get, we never seem to shake. And that's a good thing, I think.

Vintage Little Golden Book - source

Friday, October 10, 2014

FFB: THE VAULT (1999) by Peter Lovesey (Chilly October Reading)

It's a funny thing, but I don't have much affection for Lovesey's main protagonist and I really feel for his underlings who often receive the brunt of his short temper. He is Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Bath Police aka 'the murder man' as he refers to himself. I find the unkempt Diamond unpleasantly curt, a bit too churlish, and all together not my cup of tea. Though admittedly he does occasionally have moments of likability, those moments are few and far between.

Yet I do like and recommend the books which, in my view, is a tribute to prolific author Peter Lovesey's writing and plotting ability, even if his characterization of Diamond takes getting used to. But then, I suppose, being a hardened bloodhound is not necessarily a job for nice folk. Even if Bath, England doesn't jump immediately to mind when one is thinking of murder capitals of the world - apparently even this ancient and beguiling city has an underbelly of unsavory crime.

The setting resonates with me (I was fortunate enough to visit Bath years ago - it is a splendidly beautiful place) and I like that once in a while the historic Roman Baths (for which the city is named) come into play as settings for murder and whatnot.

And I do especially like the older SoHo Press editions of Lovesey's books. They are just the right size for night time reading.

THE VAULT is a particularly flavorful murder tale with a nice creep quotient - something which doesn't necessarily resonate in all the Diamond books - but which makes this an excellent choice for the month of October. The story features two murder investigations which, in the end, converge, sense is finally made of senseless notions and clues as Diamond sorts out the truth and we even learn a little literary history in the bargain.

In the beginning were the bones. Yes, some bones are found buried in concrete in an underground vault under The Pump Room, a vault with was once part of a demolished building next door. Don't you love it when a mystery begins with newly discovered bones? I do. But here's where it gets even better: turns out that the long forgotten demolished building was the one in which Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote most of her manuscript for FRANKENSTEIN. Who knew? Well, apparently nobody in the story does know, except for a book collecting American professor traveling in Bath with his wife and eager to discover the provenance of a book he's recently acquired which features Wollstonecraft's inscription and address.

Once the press learns of this bizarre coincidence - bones being discovered under the house where the most famous monster tale of all time was written - well, you can imagine the furor. (And Detective Superintendent Diamond's disgust, except when lunching at the Pump Room Restaurant - perks of the current game.) But when a tourist goes missing and another murder is added to the mix along with an inquisitive female reporter who yearns to be a cop, an enigmatic puppeteer, several unknown watercolors purportedly by William Blake, the writing box of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and an especially galling attempted murder, it all makes for a very entertaining tale of death and chicanery.

Along the way we also find out that the Hollywood version of FRANKENSTEIN had little to do with the literary version and that Mary Wollstonecraft scandalously married the poet Shelley just two months after the suicide death of his first wife, Harriet. (Of course, Mary had already borne Shelley a child. Despite what some would have you think, the Regency world was not all Jane Austen manners and propriety.)

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books is a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Don't forget to check in and see what other books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993) starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton

I am not a Woody Allen acolyte but I do love New York and I do love mysteries. Though at first I didn't love this film, thought it too meandering around the plot as usual with Woody Allen. But after reading Dorian's wonderfully adoring review of MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, I decided to give it another look-see.

Lo and behold, I am now a convert. I do love this movie even with its meandering faults. Thanks be to Dorian. 

The unfancy title, MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, is exactly what it says, a murder mystery set in Manhattan, a film directed by Woody Allen, screenplay by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman and starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, Anjelica Houston, Joy Behar (we love Joy Behar around these parts), Ron Rifkin, Jerry Adler and Lynn Cohen.

The big attraction for me, of course, is the setting: Manhattan. The streets, the restaurants (even the famed 21 Club where I (trying not to gawk) once attended a business lunch alongside Helen Gurley Brown, my boss the fashion editor, and several other important business types), the ambience of the film is all so wonderfully New Yawk as I remember it from having spent a good portion of my life there. I love that Allen always shows people walking and talking on location, on the streets of the city. (Well, he lives there, so he should know the best locations I'd think.)

In fact, the murder in the title takes place inside a comfortable Manhattan high rise. (The sort with an awning and a doorman.) On the case are Carol and Larry Lipton (Diane Keaton and Woody Allen) who are, conveniently, neighbors of the murder victim. 

At the beginning and in oh-so-typical Woody Allen style, Larry is all over jittery and reluctant to get involved, Carol is the one who thinks murder is afoot even when everyone else (including the cops) assumes the victim died naturally of a heart attack. But Carol can be persuasive and after many at length conversations, the couple is drawn into a series of fumbling sleuthing adventures which are, in a low-key comedy kind of way, fun to watch. 

Larry Adler, Lynn Cohen, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton - the evening before the murder most foul. 

An elderly couple, Paul and Lillian House (Jerry Adler and Lynn Cohen) are the neighbors which capture Carol Lipton's nosy (let's face it) interest. When Lillian suddenly dies of a heart attack, Carol is suspicious though it was a known fact that Lillian had a heart condition. After much discussion (lots of smart New Yawkese talky-talk going on in this film), with Larry and with skeptical friends, Carol manages to come up with a couple of clues and drags the still VERY reluctant Larry (he'd rather mind his own business in typical New York fashion) into the mix.

That's the plot. Not exactly earth-shattering, but intriguing enough. It's the sort of tale that works best, I would imagine, if you've ever lived or visited New York and gotten a hint or two of the flavor of the city. The 'flavor' of the city is what Woody Allen does best. He knows these sorts of people, he understands the workings of the city and its many well-heeled professionals. 

Though Alan Alda is not my first choice when I think of Manhattan, he actually fits right in as Ted, a friend of the sleuthing couple. Ted has a roving eye on Carol - she, well aware of it, doesn't reciprocate though I don't see how she could not be tempted - I mean, Woody Allen.

By the way: someone explain to me the coupling of Diane Keaton and Woody Allen. Please. Although they look funny enough together on screen (and did in real life). It still takes a bit of work for me to accept that Carol would walk down the aisle with Larry. 

But maybe he makes her laugh. 

Since this is Tuesday, don't forget to check in later with Todd's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten (or overlooked) films, television or other audio/visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Think Pink: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

American illustrator Anna Whelan Betts 1875 - 1952 - source

Henri Matisse 1869 - 1954 - 'The Pink Blouse' 1924 - source

Tokyo based illustrator Yosuke Yamaguchi - source

Czech painter/illustrator Alphonse Mucha 1860 - 1939 - source

Contemporary watercolorist Marni Maree - source

English illustrator/author Beatrix Potter 1866 - 1943 - 'The Tailor of Gloucester' - source

American painter Milton Avery 1885 - 1965 - source

English Illustrator Mary Shephard 1909 - 2000 - source

As some of you may know, I am a breast cancer survivor, still feeling blessed and fortunate almost a full five years after surgery and a year of chemo. Since October is officially Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it may be a good time to make an appointment with your doctor or clinic for a mammogram if you haven't already done so this year and you're of an age where this is recommended. And of course, don't forget your monthly self-exam - that's how I found the lump which led to my surgery which saved my life.

The worst thing you can do is be afraid to check, afraid to know.

I'm the world's biggest scaredy cat and yet I did what had to be done and lived to tell about it. Don't be a wimp. Take charge. Do it.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation, a good place to learn more.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten Fillm: THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING starring Buddy Ebsen, Peter Graves, Arthur Kennedy, Raymond Massey, Rip Torn and Joseph Campanella

Is it me or did all men look smarmy and sweaty in the 70's? I ought to remember since I lived through those years, but I suppose in real life they didn't look as bad as they do on screen. It's just that in films of that era, everyone looks as if they need a shower. Maybe it was just the haircuts and the synthetic fibers, and the type of film used. Made for television movies were much different then than they are today.

Actually, the only one in this cast who looks as if he might currently walk down the street and not cause a sartorial stir is Raymond Massey whose grooming and tailoring are impeccable.

It's a wonder to me how films from the 40's (and even the late 30's) manage to look better than anything done in the 60's and 70's. Were the fashions and hair styles really that dreadful?

I suppose they must have been.

But that's not what I want to write about.

To my surprise, THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING isn't a bad film at all. Directed in a pedestrian way by Daryl Duke, it still manages moments of suspense and bits of insider intrigue. I watched it merely because of the title and because I vaguely knew that the screenplay was based on a novel by Robert J. Serling which someone had mentioned as being pretty good.

Here's the plot:

A truculent Chinese government is waving their missiles around and a confrontation between us and them seems likely. Washington is tense, the country is tenser. On the eve of a possible show-down, President Jeremy Haines (Tod Andrews) decides to take a trip.

When Air Force One crashes in the Arizona desert all on board are presumed dead and Washington, the press and the country are thrown into a tizzy. The Vice President, a hapless and underwhelming character named Kermit Madigan (Buddy Ebsen) is reluctant to take the oath. The President had failed to brief him on his intentions, re: the Chinese, and he is completely at the mercy of an unscrupulous White House operative (Rip Torn) who is urging him to take aggressive action. Though the Secretary of State Freeman Sharkey (Raymond Massey), the President's closest adviser, counsels strongly against it.

In the meantime, Mark Jones (Peter Graves) a reporter for a wire service suspects that the President isn't really dead but caught up in some conspiracy. He decides to dig around helped by his boss, Gunther Damon (Arthur Kennedy) who is reluctant to believe that anyone connected to the President would conspire in such a plot.

The acting is basic 1970's, as is the general tone of things and the view of the world. Even so, the result is a dandy little political thriller without many bells and whistles, but intriguing enough to pass the time if you, like me, enjoy these sorts of things.

(I read online that the film was actually finished in 1971 but that it was held up because of President Nixon's trip to China.)

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what forgotten or overlooked films, television or other audio/visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

5 British Crime Thrillers Lately Read

English painter Harold Knight 1874 - 1961 - source

Lately I've hit the jackpot, reading-wise. Though there have been a few non-starters which were promptly returned to whence they came - the library - there have also been quite a few intriguing surprises. I am, of course, delighted to share them with you. Fall is almost upon us and you know what that means: Full throttle READING TIME!

I recommended THE RIVER OF NO RETURN by Bee Ridgway in a previous post and now for a few more recommendations to wile away the chilly days ahead.

THE CUCKOO'S CALLING by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling continues to amaze me. What a brilliant imagination - she is indefatigable. When she could be resting on her Harry Potter laurels (and millions) she continues to write, primarily I suppose, because she wants to - she enjoys it. It is her craft.

As Robert Galbraith she's written the first in a series which I hope will last at least as long as the Harry Potter books, but which has the excellent grounding to continue even further. She's created a bruised and flawed hero with an intriguing name, Cormoran Strike. Strike has angst to grind - what self-respecting private dick doesn't? - he's just broken free from a long-term destructive relationship with a woman he still loves. Large, rumpled and unkempt, sleeping in his office, the miserable Strike is only very barely making ends meet.

Strike is the bastard son of a famed rock star whom he's only met twice in his life. His mother, a once-upon-a-time groupie, is long dead and Strike, late of Special Forces, runs his struggling business from a small, shabby office in a London walk-up.

There he is aided and abated by Robin, a young woman first sent to him as a temp (though Strike cannot really afford to keep her on) who later proves (despite her protesting fiancee who'd rather she take a high paying job at some corporation) a tenacious and determined, not to mention, intuitive, assistant. She is someone who has always dreamed of being a private eye and now that she's found a job with Strike, she's not about to give it up without a fight. Strike, for his part, is smart enough to recognize sleuthing talent when he sees it.

Who killed Lula Landry, the rich and uber-famous super-model? When she goes flying off the balcony of her London apartment, the police label it a suicide. But when her brother shows up at Strike's office, refusing to accept the official verdict, he convinces Strike to take on the case. A case which will go a long way towards changing Strike's life.

THE SILKWORM by Robert Galbraith 

Here, in the second book in the Cormoran Strike series, Rowling takes on the dark asides of the publishing industry with gusto. Owen Quine, a pretentious, pompous, untalented and unloved writer with a taste for Jacobean dramatics, goes missing and his hapless wife asks Strike to find him primarily because she's run out of money. One grisly murder discovery later and said wife quickly falls under suspicion. But Strike believes she's getting a raw deal.

Though I enjoyed the Potter books very much and recommend them highly, what I loved best about these two Strike novels is that they are completely different from the world of Harry Potter, in tone, in flavor, in style and certainly in language. Rowling has revealed a modern gritty edge which serves this sort of book well. And though both books are slightly longer than your regular mystery/thriller, they read quickly, the pages fly by. In fact, when I got to the end I regretted having to leave Strike and Robin and wished there were even more pages.

As I said: J.K. Rowling continues to amaze.

Other books I've read lately that you might want to take a look at:

THE MALCONTENTA (1995) by Barry Maitland - The second in the Brock and Kathy Kolla, British police procedurals. On the strength of this one, I went to the library and got out as many Maitland books as I could carry.

THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES by Alan Bradley - A Flavia de Luce book. I had the feeling reading this that it was the last of the series, but turns out, not. Of all the books in this intriguing mystery series featuring a precocious 12 year old girl living in 1950's England, this is the one in which the author allows 'magical realism' to take a hand in the surprising turn of events.

VERTIGO 42 by Martha Grimes - The latest Richard Jury book and I'm happy to report that Grimes has gotten her mojo back. If you love Jury, don't miss this. If you don't know Jury, go back to the beginning (THE MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF 1981) and prepare yourself for one of the more intelligent and offbeat series. Very quirky, mind you - but that's what I love about them. Well, that, and the fact that Grimes is a terrifically inventive writer.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Television: STILL LIFE - A THREE PINES MYSTERY based on the books by Louise Penny, starring Nathanial Parker

I wasn't going to post about this at all, but what the heck, I feel the need to vent.

Imagine my delighted surprise when I found that Louise Penny's excellent debut, STILL LIFE, an Inspector Armand Gamache novel - first in the award winning series beloved by everyone - had been filmed for television.

Nathanial Parker of Inspector Lynley television fame, (Parker starred in the series based on the books by Elizabeth George) is not my idea of Gamache certainly, but I thought well, let's see what he does with it. Casting-wise, I would have preferred Colin Firth (if it had been made into a theatrical release, that is) or, at least, someone of that physical heft and presence.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when this made for television botch-up (in what I hope will NOT be a series, at least until they get their act together) was revealed to me in all its dismal ineptitude.

How could anyone go so wrong with so much fertile original material to work with? (I know, I know, asked and dubiously answered a million times over many years of film adaptations gone disastrously wrong.)

STILL LIFE - A Three Pines Mystery - What the heck happened?

Much of the fault has to go to the director. To begin with, Peter Moss seems not to have any idea of how to build suspense other than by standard run-of-the-mill stock shots. The scene set-ups and lead-ins are ineffectual - almost as if no one had any clue how to go about it - worst of all, THERE IS ZERO ATMOSPHERE - benign, menacing or otherwise. And the choppy pedestrian editing adds NOTHING to the mix. When all else fails, they rely on yet another aerial view of leafy fall foliage.

Most confusing is the inept murder build-up and attack on a well-liked villager, a 'naive' artist whose demise is mourned by all. The woman is shot by an arrow but there is NO arrow in the wound even at the moment of attack. WHERE did it go? Maybe it was an invisible arrow. This scene should definitely not have been filmed at point blank range because later, when the arrow theory is placed before us, we wouldn't have to sit there and go, 'huh'?

And near the end when a magnificent living room mural is key to motivation and a previous murder, said mural is barely shown to us at all except in bits and pieces and not very illuminating bits and pieces at that. This was a pivotal moment in the story and should have been filmed in a manner which caught the viewer up in the wonderful work of art. A work of art which, for various reasons, the victim had long kept hidden away from friends and fellow artists. As filmed by Peter Moss, the whole thing just falls flat.

And by the way, a word to the wise:

When filming a murder mystery in which the victim lives alone and has a dog (or for that matter a cat), it is most distracting not to know what happens to the dog or cat left behind at the house once the dead person is carted off to the morgue.

Not a thing that occurs in the murder aftermath in these sorts of mysteries matters as much to animal lovers who will be bothered if no one seems to be concerned that a pet has lost its owner. It would only take a comment or two to settle our minds as to the fate of said pet.

In this particular instance, showing the dog much later being walked by the victim's friend comes just at the moment when I began to think they'd left the animal to starve to death. VERY unsettling. Yes, I worry about these things.

By the way, this also applies to books in which the victim lives alone with a pet.

Casting woes:

Nathanial Parker is all right (I really like him so I'm giving him a bit of a pass) in the pivotal role of Armand Gamache - he affects an odd low-key staccato voice, speaking in English. (The series is based in a small, colorful and hard-to-find village more-or-less outside of Montreal, in the Canadian Province of Quebec) When called upon to speak a few bits of French, Parker's accent, I thought, was excellent though of course I'm not French and what do I know - it sounded good.

But the cast surrounding Parker is so woeful (except for Deborah Grover as the cranky poet, Ruth Zardo) as to be almost laughable. Nothing engaging or interesting about any of them.

As for the writing:

The plotting didn't remind me in any way of the book I'd read and one of the characters (a female cop) is so annoyingly written and played that I was forced to fast forward her scenes (don't remember this person from the book but that's not saying too much, what with my old lady memory and all).

And oh, by the way, where was Madame Gamache in all this? Or at least a mention of the fact that Gamache is married and away from home and hearth. (A phone call would have taken care of this quickly and efficiently.)

A little about the books:

Louise Penny's ingenious mysteries are wonderfully conceptualized with a particular, distinctive style and flavor. The stories mainly revolve around the characters' emotional lives (including Gamache), but they also feature a very specific sense of place. I read the first three or four books, but lost track when I veered off in another reading direction. (That happens sometimes.) I've always meant to go back to Three Pines. (This is a series that probably needs to be read in order.) Maybe this winter I'll set aside a chunk of time.

Here's the thing:

Those of you familiar with the books will know that Three Pines is a very special place, a kind of 'magical' setting, an out of the way refuge for artists, writers and eccentrics galore (the fact that it also appears to be the murder capital of Canada is merely an odd coincidence). The village is uniquely peopled with the enigmatic and the unconventional, it has a haunting beauty which lures Gamache and settles into his consciousness as he works to solve some very human (and often bizarre) mysteries. (Occasionally a crime does take place away from the village. But never too, too far away.)

NOTHING of Louise Penny's Three Pines is apparent in this amateurishly filmed version. Nothing. The town used as a setting is no different and no more intriguing than any one of an assortment of pretty upper New York State, Vermont, New Hampshire or Canadian towns. NOR is any of it photographed in any meaningful or imaginative way. Lots of helicopter shots of colorful trees do not a special place make. The film-makers might just as well have inserted a standard travelogue in between scenes, perhaps that would have added more of a Quebec atmosphere.

Oddly enough, the finished product somehow has the look and feel of adaptations done in the 1980's for American television consumption.

If you've seen STILL LIFE: A Three Pines Mystery and formed an opinion, I'd love to hear from you. Am I in the wrong? Do you agree or disagree? Can we commiserate?

P.S. I didn't make it to the bitter the end, I'm just not that much of a masochist - was there something there that I missed? Something that might possibly have made up for the dismal abyss of everything that went before?

I'm willing to listen. But it will take a lot of convincing.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten and/or Overlooked Films, Television or other Audio/Visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: THE RIVER OF NO RETURN by Bee Ridgway

THE RIVER OF NO RETURN is a first novel by Bee Ridgway, as such, it  has its bumpy moments and bits of clunk, but on the whole works very nicely and is, dare I say it? - remarkably engrossing. At 452 pages, it still reads quickly and soon enough you're at the end and left wanting more. So I'm assuming this is the first in either a series or, very popular right now, a new trilogy. Only time will tell.

"When we first encounter the book's protagonist, Nick Davenant, he's a 21at century gentleman farmer who supports an artisanal cheesemaking operation in Vermont.  His tastes are slightly arcane for a contemporary man of means: "Nick had no favorite childhood commercials and he craved boiled mutton, beef jelly, blancmange and bits of pig, pickled." When a mysterious envelope arrives with the L.L. Bean catalogue in the morning mail, it proves to be a summons to an earlier life - a much earlier one."

Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post

THE RIVER OF NO RETURN sports a fast-paced, enjoyable plot: part time-travel opus. part Regency romance with the romance aspect being the least interesting. Why? Well, because the Regency aspects appeared to me to be a bit forced and lacking in 'oomph'. But then I'm currently listening to several Georgette Heyer - queen of Regency authors - audio books and it's difficult NOT to make some slight comparison which, of course, is totally unfair to Bee Ridgway, but life isn't always fair.

The Plot:

It is early days in the nineteenth century and the Most Honorable Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Falcott - Lord Nick to his men - is just about to die on the field of battle in the hills south of Salamanca, Spain (Napoleon's troops). Nicholas looks up to face his mortality in the form of a plunging saber when he is suddenly whisked away to 2003. 

When he wakes up he is rather disconcerted to find himself in a white room with bright ceiling lights (well, what else?). It is explained to him that he has traveled forward in time and must now place himself in the hands of a cabal of time managers known as the Guild. He is told the four rules under which he will live, now and for all time: 

There Is No Return.
There is No Return.
Tell No One.
Uphold the Rules.

The Guild's explanation for this extraordinary event is kind of vague, but since they're willing to pay him an exorbitant yearly income to move to America (no 'traveler' is allowed to stay in their own country of birth) and under a new name, live out his new life as he pleases, Nicholas sees no reason to challenge much of the nonsense he is being told despite his yearning dreams for a young woman he left behind in 1812. In fact, Nick's quick acceptance of all this is one of the book's slight faults, but what the heck, let's move forward.

First Nick must attend a modern day indoctrination school which is situated in an isolated spot in the Andes. Once there he meets other 'travelers' who have arrived there from different eras, ready for indoctrination and whatever comes their way - though some are still befuddled and bewildered. Well, wouldn't you be? It is there that Nick's suspicions of the Guild are first awakened but then, rather pragmatically, he decides he might just as well go along to get along - things being what they are.

He settles nicely into a sybaritic life style in Vermont, enjoying dalliances with any willing and beautiful female who happens by, including the local cheese inspector who, lo and behold, turns out to be....wait, I'm getting ahead of myself, as usual.

Remember The Four Rules? Well, turns out that as with any rules of any import whatsoever, they were made to be broken.

And soon enough Nick is back in 1812 doing mysterious work for the Guild. He learns about 'the Ophans' who, according to the Guild are time renegades out to destroy the world by enabling the end of time itself. They must be infiltrated and stopped at any cost.

But are they as black as they're painted - really? Or is the Guild merely guilty of pathological overreach? Who can Nick trust?

In the meantime, Julia, the girl Nick had been yearning for and who, coincidentally, was raised on a neighboring estate by a loving grandfather who, apparently kept one too many secrets, is added to the tumult of Nick's return to the past.

What is a poor Marquess to do?

Especially when it turns out that unknown to Nick, Julia has recently discovered that she has the ability to stop time in its tracks. A very intriguing talent to be sure.

Bee Ridgway loads her book with engaging characters, colorful settings and imaginative details, i.e. the cozy underground Ophan hideout situated beneath the streets of 19th century London and full of modern day quirks - fast food, an electric generator, etc - unknown to the Regency era citizens going about their business on the streets above. I admit this was my very favorite part of the book, perhaps because it was the most visually realized.

Except for a totally unnecessary sexual interlude which brings the story to a dead stop but which is easy enough to skim through - as I did - not to mention a bit of a flat ending, this is a definite Must Read for those of us who enjoy an imaginative tale, sumptuously told.

THE RIVER OF NO RETURN is not perfect, but it IS one of those - lately hard to find - books that the reader will get giddily lost in and that is definitely the highest praise I can give it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Flash Fiction Challenge Links

Links to other stories written for this year's one and only Flash Fiction Challenge, are followed by my own story sparked by a painting by Polish-American illustrator, W.T. Benda. Thanks so very much for participating.

Prashant C. Trikinnad - The Confession

Elizabeth Grace Foley - The Letter

John / Pretty Sinister Books - Come Like Shadows

We're a small group but we're select and famed for our exclusivity. 

W.T. Benda 

A Simian Fairy Tale

“Monkeys, who very sensibly refrain from speech lest they should be set to earn their livings.” Kenneth Graham, ‘The Golden Age’

In one of London’s finer neighborhoods, on the top floor of a darkly decaying Gothic house, in a smaller room set aside for servants years ago and now used mostly for storage, a woolly monkey named Percival LaFarge sat idly atop an old trunk, enjoying a brief respite, munching on a filched banana tart. Happy enough not to be wearing the inelegant cap, jacket and plus fours he was obliged to cavort around in five afternoons and one evening a week, he scratched his plump belly and used the end of his long tail to destroy several ancient spider webs clinging to the draped furniture.

When the dust cleared and he’d finished sneezing, the monkey spotted an old metal box whose lock appeared ripe for the picking.

Most of London by now, knew of Percival LaFarge’s incredible gift for human-like gab, never suspecting that the seemingly impossible trick was NOT due to the cleverness of his master, the reclusive Hugo Hicks, whose gift as the finest ventriloquist – a talent he claimed to have picked up from a band of roving gypsies - in all Europe was an absolute fabrication. This secret was known only to himself and his sister Harriet (called Harry) who lived with him, their peripatetic parents having been killed by bandits in Egypt years before, leaving the siblings impoverished.

Needless to say, it was essential no one realize that Percival LaFarge’s speaking ability was the real thing lest he be removed from the brother and sister's care and shut up in a laboratory to be studied or worse, dissected.

Afternoon teas with Percival at which the monkey discoursed on a variety of subjects at five pounds a head (10 pounds for High Tea) had become so popular that Harry had happily quite her job and given herself over to designing outfits for an occasionally reluctant Percival to sport – he loved the jaunty red fez with black tassel best and it was often difficult to get him to switch hats to accommodate the rest of his stylish outfits.

Very important talks were currently in the works for Percival to star in a stage production WITH music – Cole Porter had been approached - as well as an illustrated book, a project which had captured the interest of Salvadore Dali. The brother and sister had also exchanged exploratory telegrams with film star Charlie Chaplin. Though of course, silent film would defeat the whole purpose of Percival’s chatty charm, but Chaplin felt this could be overcome in some way.

How this fairy tale came about:

Percival LaFarge realized very early on that humans being what they are, keeping his gift of gab a secret would be paramount to his continued good health. But when he’d first stumbled through a broken window and into the lives of that sad, woebegone pair of humans living in that big empty house near the Thames, it had seemed like fortune had finally smiled on him. The kind-hearted young woman who’d found him battered and bruised, wounds incurred while fleeing from a bunch of raucous boys down a dark alley, gasped with horror at his condition. The quick-witted simian was no stranger to rough handling, but it seemed a good idea at the moment to play up his condition for all it was worth.

After much lamentation, ‘Oh, poor thing, poor thing,” encouraged by Percival’s (slightly exaggerated) piteous cries, the young woman gently treated and bandaged him.  “Oh look how thin he is, Hugo. He must be famished, poor thing.”

“Yes, so you said. Someone’s pet, do you think?” said a tall young man in a frayed dressing gown. “Or maybe a runaway from the circus?” He gave Percival an assessing look. “Didn’t we see some handbills recently? DeWhite's Circus of Incomparable Delights.” But at the sound of the dreaded name, the monkey had let out a shriek and covered his eyes – piteously. He had found that with humans, ambiguity never did any good.

“Oh my goodness, Hugo That must be it. That horrible circus. We can't send him back. Look how he shakes.”

“Well, we can’t keep him, Harry. He’s a Woolly Monkey. Class: Mamalia, Order: Primate, Family: Atelidae, Genus: Lagothrix, Species: Simia lagotricha. It’s not as though he were a dog or even a cat.” He adjusted his eye glasses and looked more closely. “Not a bad specimen of his type, I’d say. They keep a stuffed pair at the museum.” 

At this, Percival was seen to role his eyes. Piteously.

“I don’t care,” said Harry, “he’s in a terrible state. We don’t have much, Hugo, but what we have we can certainly share with this sad creature. I insist.”

When it came to his sister, Hugo could be amiable and if it pleased her to keep a monkey in their dark gloom of a house, then so be it. It was the liveliest he’d seen Harry in months. He went down to the kitchen and returned with a crust of bread and a bit of fruit which the monkey, with squeaks of ecstasy, quickly made a feast of.

“It’s best not to get too attached though, someone will probably come looking for him.” said Hugo and left the room. He still had several hours of work to put in, studying notes he’d brought home that afternoon. His part time job at the university cataloguing rare species of lichens for a book the head of the department, a famous botanist, was currently writing, only brought in the barest minimum of income but it suited Hugo's meager talents. His love of plant-life and the decrepit greenhouse up on the roof were the reasons he fought tooth and nail with their creditors to keep the family home from being sold. To that end, Bianca had been forced to take a job as companion and general dogsbody to an old and rather unpleasant French countess.

Percival LaFarge to the rescue:

LaFarge had always been extremely cautious while in captivity, but he now realized that perhaps, the time had come to do something with this cumbersome talent of his. After his escape from the brutish circus animal trainer who’d bought him from a seedy first mate who’d stolen him from the cabin of the deceased sea captain who’d captured him in Brazil, the primate was looking for a change of pace.

Essentially a pragmatist with the occasional bout of optimism thrown in for good measure, a tight-lipped Percival had, for a full week, observed the fatigue and worry which plagued the brother and sister and resolved to do something to repay their kindness to him. One evening, having decided on a course of action, he shocked the pair almost out of their wits by introducing himself and commenting on the terrible weather.

After much swooning (on the part of the sister) and incredulous sputtering (on the part of the brother) a plan was hatched at the wily Percival’s instigation.

The monkey was happy enough now to pretend that his chatter was all due to Hugo’s manipulation.  The story would be given out that the young man’s incredibly realistic and heretofore undiscovered ‘talent for ventriloquism’ was something he’d never revealed before simply because he had not thought it necessary.

With the cunning of his species, Percival knew that their intended audience would want to believe him to be speaking but choose to think that it was all due to Hugo even as their eyes and ears told them otherwise – humans, he’d found, were always ready to deceive themselves. No one would suspect a monkey might be truly capable of speech. In fact, if questioned, Percival himself would have shrugged his little shoulders and pretended that no one else in his large jungle family had ever spoken a word - the truth being quite the opposite.

Six Months Later:

Word about the monkey’s propensity for charming conversation while sitting prettily at a tea table (he had his own petite china tea set) in a red fez, bow-tie, paisley waistcoat, little tweed jacket and corduroy plus fours, soon got around and before too long, even the Queen herself had requested a special Percival performance. The brother and sister’s success was thus assured. The benefits of a reigning monarch’s approbation were incalculable – the Queen was actually heard to titter. “We are amused.”

The architecturally gothic horror of a house was saved from the indignity of being sold at auction. Hugo and Harry paid their bills, renovated the greenhouse, brought in comfortable furniture, had the walls replastered, papered and/or freshly painted and settled in, for the first time in years, to enjoy their lives. There had even been enough left over for Hugo to purchase the rare plants he coveted.

The plot thickens:

Matters would take an unexpected turn when a year into their ruse and the public having showed no inclination of tiring (children throughout Britain were now often spotted carrying Percival monkey dolls and sales of Percival monkey clothes had never been better), the crafty simian attracted the attention of Martin Cavendish, a reporter who, in the guise of a gentleman (unfortunately in trade, but one can’t have everything) began courting the naive Harriet, attempting to insinuate himself into the lives of the brother and sister.

Harry had, in her first giddy days of imagining her spinster status coming to an end, talked freely (perhaps too freely when prodded by a glass or three of champagne) about Percival LaFarge and what the dear monkey meant to her and her brother.

One evening when a tear in the hem of her gown necessitated Harry’s leaving the room for a few moments and Hugo had just excused himself to fetch a bottle of brandy  - brother and sister being understandably reluctant to hire much staff – Cavendish used the time to investigate the large salon (in which the family received company) for any interesting papers, notes or journals. Surely there must be something, some proof. He had, as yet, been unable to search Hugo's study. 

At the precise moment when he was looking behind a large Henri Matisse portrait of Percival LaFarge, feeling for hidden crevices, the hall door opened and Percival sauntered in holding, with as much disdain as it was possible for a monkey to express, an egg yolk yellow waistcoat, “Harry if you expect me to actually be seen in public in this execrable - !” But he got no further, caught off guard, the monkey took one look at the startled Cavendish and let out an intense oath (learned in his sea-faring days). 

A white faced Cavendish, in his turn, found himself leaning against a wall for support all the while pointing a finger and gasping, “I knew it, I knew it!”

What happened next, happened so quickly that by the time Hugo and Bianca returned, running and out of breath, alerted by the commotion and scream, it was all over.

“What is the meaning of this!?” said Hugo attempting calm, glancing up at Percival who, wearing nothing but pale blue plus fours, was at the moment hanging from the chandelier by one long arm and an even longer tail. The monkey squealed in agitation and did his own pointing - at a large sack which had been flung on the floor.

“That bloody creature bit me!” shouted Cavendish forgetting there was a lady in the room. “He bit me. Look!” He held out a hand and showed them a jagged scratch on his thumb.

“I’m so sorry, Martin. I can’t imagine why Percival – “ she stopped, her look of initial concern turning to suspicion. “Where did this come from?” she asked, picking up the burlap sack.

Percival’s screeching rose to a crescendo and Hugo suddenly realized what the monkey was trying to tell him. “Okay, Percy, I've got it," he said. The monkey instantly quieted down though an unintelligible muttering could still be heard roiling about in his throat. 

"What about that sack?" asked Hugo. "Harry do you remember bringing a sack in here? I certainly don't."

"No," said his sister in a barely audible voice.

“It was on a table," said Cavendish. "Maybe I knocked it to the floor when the monkey attacked me. Monkey bites are nothing to laugh at,” he added when he noticed Hugo’s grin.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” said Hugo.

“Never mind,” said the disgruntled reporter gingerly wrapping a handkerchief around his wounded hand, “That bloody monkey can talk. Try and get out of that one. I heard him. Just now. Clear as day."

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Harry, folding the sack mechanically, giving her hands something to do.

“Please watch your language, Cavendish.” Said Hugo coldly, don’t make me have to knock you to the floor."

The crystal teardrops on the chandelier tinkled softly as Percival swung back and forth, keeping a close eye on events below. This was a side of Hugo he’d never seen before. It was interesting.

“I'm sorry, Harriet," said Cavendish,"but this is news. I suspected there was something strange about that b – that blasted monkey all along. All right, here’s my proposition, I want to be the first to write the story. Give me an exclusive and I'll see that my paper pays you both plenty."

“How could you, Martin, how could you?” said Harry in a choked voice.

W.T. Benda - source

Slightly shame-faced, Cavendish mumbled a few words but Hugo interrupted. "Are you mad? I don't know what you think you heard here today but whatever it was, it was certainly not a talking monkey." He poured himself a brandy. “Look, why don’t we sit down and talk this over calmly.”  He sat on the sofa and gave the appearance of a reasonable man making a reasonable request.

“You can’t fob me off," said Cavendish, "I know what I heard. You’ll have to give him up now anyway." He held up his injured hand. "You can’t keep a dangerous beast in the middle of London. So let me write up my story, interview the three of you and then we’ll see what’s what. You’ve had a good run. But you can’t stop the truth coming out now.”

Percival let out a screech. Startled, the angry reporter looked up and said, “Come down and tell me that to my face, you ugly little freak. They’re going to lock you up and probably cut you open and won’t that give me a laugh."

“Martin!” said Harry with an anguished cry.

Percival swung from the chandelier to the top of a bookcase and out through an open window, grabbed at the vines and climbed up towards the roof.

 “Aren’t you going after him?” asked Cavendish making a movement towards the window.

“There’s no need,” said Hugo. “We couldn’t catch him if we tried. I don’t think he’ll go far.”

“Hugo, do you think I ought to – ?” asked Harry, giving Martin a dark look of loathing.

“Oh yes, you wouldn't want to lose your meal ticket,” said Cavendish with a sneer. At which point, Harry stepped forward and slapped his face, hard.

Hugo pretended nothing untoward had occurred. “Don’t worry, if I know Percy he's just feeling a bit sulky. He'll be back."

With a hand on his cheek, Cavendish sat on the nearest chair, “Why don’t I wait with you then?”

“I think you’d better leave,” said Harry, steely voiced.

“No, I don’t think so, Harry, my dear. That gabby monkey of yours will make for the biggest sensation the world has ever seen. After this I’ll be able to write my own ticket.”

“An excess of hyperbole,” said Hugo as he poured a brandy and handed it to Cavendish. “You can’t prove a thing.”

“Maybe I’d better not drink this,” said Cavendish with raised eyebrows. “I wouldn’t want it to cloud my senses.” He poured the drink into a vase of flowers and watched the water turn a reddish purple.

"How melodramatic you are," said Hugo, grinning. "You don't supposed I'd try to poison you?" 

But Cavendish just lit a cigarette.

The explosive denouement:

Upstairs, Percival opened the metal box he’d found weeks ago and retrieved the object he’d known would come in handy some day. He did what needed to be done with a few deft movements of his long thin fingers then climbed out the window and  back down the way he’d come.

In the salon, brother, sister and craven reporter made for a cheerless evening tableau.
“This is so preposterous,” said Harry after a few minutes. “No one will believe you no matter what you write. Everyone knows that Hugo is a wonderful ventriloquist. Percival is one of the most beloved animals in all England. But. He. Doesn't. Really. Talk."

“How stupid do you think I am? Yes, you had me fooled at first,” said Cavendish with a nod. “But some things here and there didn’t make sense to me. I have a good reporter’s nose. And what I heard this afternoon – with my own ears – proved that I was right. I'm staying here until I get the truth."

Two shots rang out.

“Percy, what have you done?!” cried Harry jumping up from her chair.

“He tried to put me in a sack,” said the monkey, placing the derringer on a table top.

"I'd better find a shovel," said Hugo.