Hallowe’en Decorations Of The Week

Steven Novak does not hold back when it comes to Hallowe’en. He turns his garden in Dallas, Texas, into what looks to be the set for a low budget horror movie. The decorations include a wheelbarrow full of limbs, several corpses, and more gore and blood than you could shake a witch’s broom at.

There is a corpse impaled on a spike, another whose head has been crushed in a safe, and a wood chipper that spews out blood into the air and across the lawn. It took him months to find the chipper and rig it out. On the kerbside for passers by to view, there are 55-gallon drums, filled up with the shredded body parts of guests, made from mannequins filled up with parts from skeletons and packed with insulation form. Even the front door has had a makeover. It is made up to look as though it has been broken down by an axe-wielding murderer.

I shall be intrigued to see how he tops that next year.

Wedding Carriage of The Week

It was not quite the entrance they had anticipated, but Akash and Aishwarya, healthcare workers at a hospital in Chengannur in the Indian state of Kerala, made the best of what would otherwise have been a bad job.

The torrential rains, which have wreaked havoc on the state, causing flooding, landslides and at least 27 dead, left the streets surrounding the small temple where their ceremony was to be held, flooded. Unable to get there by car, they decided that the only way to get to the temple on time was to sail.

The only problem was that they did not have a boat. Showing the innovative spirit for which the Indians are renowned, they used the next best thing, a large aluminium cooking pot. Video footage shows them squeezed tightly inside the pot while two men and a photographer paddled them down the submerged street.

All’s well that ends well. They arrived safe and dry at the temple in Thalavady, which too was partially flooded, where they exchanged the floral garlands that Hindu custom demands.

Love will always find a way.

Two Of The Gang

It is an intriguing prospect. I wonder what I would get if I went to a café and ordered Adam and Eve on a raft. I would probably be met with a vacant stare, be called an Abram man, a 16th century abbreviation of the term Abraham men used to describe a beggar claiming to be a lunatic allowed out of restraint. Whether I would get my desired poached eggs on toast is questionable.

There is something appealing about being labelled an afternoon farmer, a virtuoso procrastinator. Far better that than an anythingarian, someone bland enough not to hold a decided opinion on anything.

To avoid being an Algerine, a penurious individual who persists in borrowing trifling amounts of money, you might consider a life of crime. A couple of the more recherché sidelines might be to practice angling, stealing objects from a shop window using a hooked stick, or avoirdupois laying, stealing the brass weights from a shop counter. Alternatively, you could amuse, the term given to throwing snuff into the face of your intended victim.

A life of crime as an Alsatian, a member of the London underworld, does have its own perils, not least being deemed an Anabaptist, the term given to a pickpocket has endured the judicial sentence of a ducking.

For women, there was always a life as an Ann-chovey, the term given to a female shop worker. What they probably did not want to be known as was an Athanasian wench, the term given to describe an easy lay, delightfully taken from the opening of the Athanasian Creed, “whoever desires”.

Slang seemed much more inventive in the 18th and 19th centuries.              

The Tiger In The Smoke

A review of The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

If, like me, you have been puzzled about what all the fuss was about Margery Allingham and why she is considered worthy of a place in the higher echelons of the Golden Age detective writers, then this is the book that settles any doubts once and for all. If you have never read any of her books, this, the fourteenth in her Albert Campion series and originally published in 1952, is the one to start with. It is a highly entertaining and impressive book which works on several levels.

It is less of a whodunit – there is no doubting who the murderer is – and more of a whydunit, less of a conventional detective story and more of a thriller. It has a profound sense of time and place, most of the action taking place in post Second World War London (the Smoke) where the smog is thick and law-abiding citizens can barely see a foot in front of them but ideal conditions for a miscreant, particularly one handy with a knife. Throughout the book runs a rich vein of terror and foreboding, menace and violence.

The most interesting character in the book is the self-styled Jack Havoc who lives up to his name by prowling the metropolis like a tiger, stopping at nothing, not even murder, to get his hands on any information that will inch him nearer to getting his hands on the treasure he learnt about whilst on a secret operation to the Normandy coast in the war. He is a psychopath and Allingham spends time in developing his character and allowing the reader to understand his blinkered ambition to get hold of what he believes will seal his fortune.

Havoc believes that he operates according to the Science of Luck, beliefs which, surprisingly, share some surprising similarities to Canon Avril’s own philosophy of life. While Havoc is beyond hope of redemption, Avril believes that everyone is worthy of salvation. As they discuss their philosophies in a terrific set piece towards the end of the book, it is clear that there are many similarities between the philosophies espoused by the rather unworldly Canon and Havoc, whom the priest recognises as someone who lived in the neighbourhood as a boy. Their debate leads to the story’s denouement, the canon inadvertently giving away the location of the treasure but unnerving Havoc sufficiently to miss his strike and only wound the priest.

The other intriguing aspect of the book is the part played by the quaintly named Tiddy Doll and his rag bag group of old servicemen who are waiting for the return of the Gaffer. They tramp up and down the streets, making a discordant noise with their instruments, demanding monies, and heralding the sense that something sinister is about to happen. When Havoc does appear, in rather dramatic circumstances, Doll realises that Havoc is more in need of their help than vice versa.

The trio tasked with resolving a case involving several murders, kidnap, and the hunt for treasure, are Campion, who adopts a customary low profile in the case, Inspector Luke, and Geoffrey Levitt, whose engagement to Meg Elginbrodde, throws him headlong into danger. Why is someone trying to convince Meg that her former husband, presumed missing in action during the War, is still alive? What is the treasure kept safe in his family’s deserted house on the Normandy coast? Loan sharks, blackmail, deliberate misidentifications, family secrets, the laying of ghosts all feature prominently in the story.

The thrilling denouement pits Havoc against Meg on the Normandy coast. The treasure proves to be monetarily worthless, albeit aesthetically beautiful, and a broken Havoc makes his peace in his own way.

To Wake The Dead

A review of To Wake the Dead by John Dickson Carr

These days I tend to read detective novels that form part of a series in chronological order, but I decided to dip my toe in the water by reading Carr’s ninth novel in his series of twenty-three featuring his amateur sleuth, Dr Gideon Fell. To Wake the Dead was originally published in 1938, a prolific period in Carr’s writing career when he was churning out a couple of novels a year.

I had enjoyed a couple of his novels from the early part of his career, Castle Skull (1931) and The Waxworks Murder (1932). I particularly liked his sense of place and his ability to create a Gothic atmosphere. By comparison this is a rather tame offering and, frankly, it proved hard going in places. Part of the problem, harumph, is Gideon Fell himself, a character I felt I could not warm to. Maybe that is because I had missed the development of his character over the previous eight books, but he seemed a rather undynamic figure, harumphing and pontificating in a chair in the corner of the room, although he does seem to enjoy his food and a flagon of ale.

There are some redeeming features, not the least the complexity of a well-worked out plot. There is little in the way of detailed interrogations of witnesses and suspects which can be wearisome in the wrong hands, but what moves the investigation and story line along is a series of discoveries, some beggaring more belief than others. Carr enjoys himself in stringing the reader along, allowing the reader to think in two different places, one fairly early on, that they had got everything figured. If only.

As Fell indicates, the resolution of the case revolves around the minutiae of the case. While one or two of the suspects could be convincingly fingered on the main thrust of the evidence, there are always a couple of minor details that leave cause for thought. Fell recognises this and spells out a dozen questions that need answering to identify the culprit and only when all twelve are convincingly answered will the case be resolved.

The book starts off with a bang and immediately sucks the reader in. Christopher Kent has struck a bet to return to London from South Africa solely relying on his wits and to meet the rest of his party at 10.00 am at the Royal Scarlet Hotel in Piccadilly. He is out of money and starving when he gets to the hotel but discovers a chit that enables him to claim to be a guest of the hotel and blag a much-needed breakfast. Unfortunately, the previous guest in the room he was claiming to have had left a bracelet there. When Kent goes up to the room, he discovers a woman’s body, and he makes good his escape.

There is an earlier murder, that of the woman’s husband some two weeks earlier, both murders sharing the same characteristics, the victims stunned with a blow to the head and then strangled with a towel and then their faces disfigured. The obvious suspect for the first murder, he was found drunk on the scene, has a cast iron alibi for the second. And what is the importance of a hotel uniform, obviously apposite for the second murder to avoid suspicion but rather out of place for the first murder which takes place in a country house?

The story resolves around things being not quite how they seem. A bigamous marriage and a vengeful first husband provide the motivation. Linen cupboards, uniforms and a father who delighted in playing tricks all play their part in a cunning resolution.

Whilst the book had its moments, I did not enjoy it as much as I have done others I have read recently.