In the middle of this poor life, we are surrounded by mystery, and the pity of it is that we would rather just be poor. No real tolerance for mystery at all. —
Come in… Let me pour you a pint of Dark Hollow Ale, one of our soon to be Autumn offerings here in the Green Man Pub — I think you’ll like it. A Brewer from Big Foot County in the States who visited us collaborated with Bjorn, our Brewer, on it. He said that it reminds him of wood smoke, brightly coloured falling leaves and of the promise of an Autumn just starting.
Yes, I’m playing music by the Grateful Dead and the various associated bands and solo performers as I like most of what they did and the Neverending Session’s off elsewhere this afternoon. They’re helping Iain, who is doing a hands-on music lesson for the Several Annies, his Library Apprentices, who are learning the grimmer side of Scottish ballads such as ‘The Cruel Sister’ as performed here by the Aberdeen based Old Blind Dogs at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica one November, twenty seven years ago.
I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries as late, so I included a number of my favourites this time. Most are traditional mysteries, though David Hutchinson’s Europe In Autumn, one of my choices, is clearly SF also.
Cat had high hopes for Philip DePoy’s The Devil’s Hearth as he has ‘a special fondness for mystery series set in the Appalachian Mountains, even though there aren’t a lot of good ones and a lot of not so great ones. Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballads series had some memorable outings, particularly among the later novels, and one which was outstanding, Ghost Riders.’ Read his review to see if DePoy lived up to his expectations.
A certain Charles looks at Charles Vess’ Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vess. Now as his detailed review’s as much about the friendship that grew between them, I’ll let you read this charming tale of friendship and art without further ado. Oh and the book itself is simply stunning — truly an art gallery in a book form!
Gary was initially confused by Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon, because he picked it up without knowing that it’s an alternate history type science fiction tale, involving female astronauts in the late 1950s and early ’60s. ‘Let’s say I was confused for a while to be tossed into the first-person narrative in the voice of Nicole Wargin, who claimed to be a former military pilot and an astronaut, but she was parading around in heels and diamonds, and fielding a lot of archaic sexist banter at a dinner party hosted by her husband the governor of Missouri, who’s thinking about running for president.’ 8/22 or 9/5
Leona gives an incisive review of Black Is the Colour of My True-love’s Heart, an Ellis Peters novel: ‘Originally published in 1967, ‘this is a book of music, of silence, of words; it has love, hate, and all their analogues. Myths and facts combine to wrap the storyline in a heavy cloak of authenticity. This is a story of high passion and cool deliberation; it dances through the morals and minds of another age and gives the reader a wide window into the world of folk music and ballad-singers.’
A Britain that never was also catches the interest of Lory: ‘Jo Walton has a knack for genre fiction with a twist. In the World Fantasy Award-winning Tooth and Claw, she gave us a Victorian family saga — complete with siblings squabbling over an inheritance, the woes of the unwed daughters of the house, and the very important question of What Hat to Wear — with a cast of dragons, literally red in tooth and claw. Now in Farthing, her material is the mid-century British country house murder mystery. The story is told in alternate chapters through the eyes of Lucy Kahn, a reluctant visitor to the family estate of Farthing, and over the shoulder of Inspector Carmichael, who has been sent from Scotland Yard to investigate the death of one of the other guests.’
Next we have A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel that gets a looked by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’
Richard has a look at a book containing a very big mystery: ‘David Hutchinson’s Europe In Autumn is really three books. There’s the first half of the volume, which is an elegantly crafted spy thriller set in an all-too believable near future Europe of endless “pocket” nations. Reminiscent of early period Le Carre (you’re going to hear that comparison come up a lot in connection with this series, and with good reason), it’s a slow burn that details the transformation of the laconic Rudi, a chef in a Polish restaurant, into a high-powered member of the secret organization Coureurs des Bois.’
He also has a look at, well, let him describe it: ‘Not So Much, Said The Cat is a largely themeless short story collection from five time Hugo winner Michael Swanwick. Apart from the byline, there’s little to unify these tales, which leap from the end of the Cretaceous to the deserted highways of post-apocalyptic Russia to the mean streets of Hell itself. Sometimes the stories themselves jump boundaries, as in “Goblin Lake,” which starts out as a Munchausen-style tall tale of old Europe and takes a sharp left turn into metafiction, or “The Dala Horse,” which starts as a fairy tale, veers into postapocalytpic grimness, takes a sudden left into cyberwarfare and sentient AIs, and then closes the circle with a fairy tale ending.’
A noir mystery is up next as Robert looks at Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm’s The Gypsy, which has been in his ‘peripheral vision for some time, and was brought front and center by Boiled in Lead’s CD Songs from The Gypsy. I’ve sort of put off Brust’s collaborations, of which this is one, although I can see that I’ve got to catch up on them.’ He goes on to say that he found this Hungarian folklore-tinged novel to be terrific, a comment I wholeheartedly agree with!
Warner says Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Chianti Flask ‘is a most enjoyable little story featuring the agony of a murder trial and the bizzare nature of what can often follow. This is a wonderful twisting mystery that deserves more attention than it currently gets. Although as in most romantic mysteries, there is some focus a man (in this case a doctor named Mark Scrutton) the lead of the story is without a doubt a woman.’
How about some horror? Warner has a nifty collection for us: ‘Joan Passey’s Cornish Horrors: Tales From the Land’s End is a well crafted theme anthology focusing upon strange and horrific tales relating to Cornwall. The stories in this collection were written over the better part of a century, ranging from the 1830’s all the way to 1912. They vary in subject matter, tone, style, and even the presence of the supernatural. The unifying elements are Cornwall and the out of the ordinary, a set of standards that creates an excellent assortment of stories for the reader.’
Next up he reviews a bit of pulp: ‘James Swallow’s Shadow is an enjoyable read. Something on an update of a very old formula, and a part of a series that still manages to stand on its own. If one enjoys this type of thriller it is easy to recommend, and skipping the previous volumes shouldn’t be much of a concern.’
Some classic fantasy is his final review this edition: ‘Gene Wolfe’s Sword & Citadel is a nice new omnibus of the third and fourth volumes in the series known as The Book of the New Sun. This new edition contains two classics of science fantasy The Sword of the Lictor and The Citidel of the Autarch in one package, with the bonus of a new introduction by celebrated author Ada Palmer.’
On June 11, Jennifer posted the megilleh for roasting a pig, Jenniferstyle. Today she’ll tell you how to keep your guests from gnawing your leg off while they’re standing around, drinking, and smelling the pig.
This is a pragmatic rather than a dramatic choice. You want to build suspense, sure, but more realistically speaking it’s very hard to predict the exact minute when a roast pig is donety-done-done. So invite people for three hours early. No need to tell ’em it’s pot luck – most people bring something anyway, and by people, we mean wives, because we have known husbands who say, “But there’s always way too much food, why are you cooking something to bring?” Cue eye-roll.
Just in case, however, and so’s not to let the table look bare or throw the first three arrivals back on their own bowl of potato salad, have these dishes ready before the first guest shows up: Tump chili, Chocolate trifle, Mint juleps, BBQ chicken wings and corn bread.
We start off our video reviews with a Tenth Doctor story, ‘The Unicorn & The Wasp’ which Cat reviews: ‘One of my favourite episodes of the newer episodes of this series was a country house mystery featuring a number of murders and, to add an aspect of metanarrative to the story, writer Agatha Christie at the beginning of her career. It would riff off her disappearance for ten days which occurred just after she found her husband in bed with another woman. Her disappearance is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily answered to this day.’
An English country house murder mystery also gets reviewed by David: ‘As traditional as the genres he chose might have been, in Altman’s hand they were turned upside-down, and sideways. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie became anti-hero and opium addict in Altman’s “western” McCabe & Mrs. Miller, set to the music of Leonard Cohen! A laconic Elliott Gould became Raymond Chandler’s private dick Phillip Marlowe in an updated LA for Altman’s “detective” classic The Long Goodbye. Robert Altman has been the most American of directors, and now, in Gosford Park, he takes on the English country house murder mystery. Altman’s Agatha Christie film? What could this mean?’
Christopher reviewed some Swedish jazz on Bobo Stenson and Lennart Åberg’s Bobo Stenson/Lennart Åberg. ‘As testament to Stenson and Åberg’s talents, there is never the sense of something missing in this album. When needed, they comfortably create the propulsion and rich bottom usually provided by bass and drums, but also make excellent use of the open, spare, quality inherent in the duo format. This is “chamber jazz” in the best sense of the term, intimate and personal.’
David has some thoughts on songs, improv and how they meet in his review of Stolen Roses: Songs of the Grateful Dead: ‘The Dead were not known for songs. They were the band of the long, free form jam. Deadheads reveled in the invention and magic created during what critics called “noodling”! Songs require structure and form. You might think that structure and form are concepts far outside the realm of improvisation, but the best improvisers require structure and form. It gives them something to hang their hat on.’ There’s much more, so check it out.
David has some good words for a project by three blues singers, Eric Bibb, Rory Block, and Maria Muldaur’s Sisters & Brothers. ‘The trio sound as if they were born to sing together. They capture the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the spiritual and the physical aspects of a life of blues. The sound is up to Telarc’s high standards. Producer Randy Labbe manages to capture pristine sound that never loses the essential humanity of the performers. Warm and real.’
Gary tried hard but couldn’t find anything not to like about Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trios‘ Songs From My Father. ‘It’s a tribute by one of the most creative musicians in contemporary jazz in honor of his father, himself a top player and bandleader since the early 1950s who’s still going strong today at age 96. And it contains the last recordings by a titan of the jazz world whom we lost in early 2021.’
Gary has mixed feelings about The News, a new project led by free jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille with a new quartet of guitar, piano and bass. ‘Throughout the program Cyrille’s stickwork, particularly on cymbals, is mesmerizing. The sort of control and focus this type of music requires of all the players can’t be overstated. Undoubtedly I’d find it enthralling live in a club or theater setting, but much of it doesn’t quite gel for me as a recording.’
Gary enjoyed another jazz album, this one featuring New York pianist Orrin Evans fronting a quartet. ‘The Magic of Now is pianist Orrin Evans’ 20th album as a leader, and it’s surely one of his best, the statement of a mature artist at 46 years of age.’
Gary reviews yet another in Naxos World’s series of the Folk Music of China. This time it’s Vol. 15 – Folk Songs of the She, Miao & Li Peoples. ‘Much of this volume has a slightly more informal feel than the others I’ve covered. In addition to that giggling we hear a rooster crowing twice during one song, other background noises, singers pausing to clear their throats – the sort of thing that reminds you these are field recordings, though with much higher production values than I usually associate with that genre.’
Speaking of the Dead, Jack took a good long listen to another tribute album that’s long out of print now but well worth seeking out. ‘Deadicated is a compilation celebrating the Grateful Dead’s 25th anniversary. According to the liner notes, proceeds from this CD were to be given to organizations combating the devastation of the world’s tropical rain forests, specifically Rainforest Action Network and Cultural Survival.’
Scott reviews some Finnish folk music by singer Anna-Kaisa Liedes. ‘Best known for her work in groups like Niekku and MeNaiset, Liedes has spent her career blending Finnish and Karelian song traditions with vocal improvisation and experimentation. She continues in this fashion with her new CD and new backing band, both called Utua.’
For our What Not this week, Robert takes us once again to the Field Museum of Natural History and a blast from the past as we wander Inside Ancient Egypt: ‘As we traverse Stanley Field Hall, the central main-floor atrium of the Field Museum of Natural History, we notice off in the southwest corner, behind a row of arches, what looks to be an ancient Egyptian mastaba. Well, close — it’s a reconstruction of a mastaba, more precisely, the mastaba at Saqqara that housed the tomb on Unis-Ankh.’ There’s more, of course, so feel free to investigate.
I’m going to leave you with the late Kage Baker reading one of her own works, that being her Empress of Mars novella. It was supposed to be included on a CD in the limited edition version of the story that was going to be published by Nightshade Books but that never happened, so she gave us permission to publish it digitally. So find a quiet place to listen and settle in to hear a most excellent SF story told by a master storyteller!
Kathleen, her sister and a damn fine writer as well, notes that ‘she was an old-fashioned storyteller. She loved adding dimensions, and felt that all her stories should be either copiously illustrated or read out to an audience.’