If you confront anyone who has lied with the truth, he will usually admit it – often out of sheer surprise. It is only necessary to guess right to produce your effect. — Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express
Summer’s fully upon us here on this Scottish estate. We generally get a summer much more pleasant than is commonplace in Scotland as we share a Border with what Yeats called the Celtic Twilight and the Fey really, really like warm summers. (And alas, cold winters as well, there being Summer and Winter Courts.) So I’m sitting under one of the Great Oaks planted a hundred and fifty-odd years ago by Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Estate Head Gardener here for a very long time, who’s buried beneath them.
I’ve got a murder of crows overhead looking to see if they can steal anything from me as I’m eating lunch outside, but there’s naught that catches their interest, mercifully. Oh, eventually I’ll treat them to something from my repast but not right now.
I’ve got my iPad in hand, a most tasty Lady in The Wood IPA named in honour of that Estate Head Gardener to drink, and I just got a note texted to me that Chasing Fireflies are doing a contradance this evening with Gus, our Estate Gardener calling, so I need to get this done soon. Go ahead and get yourself one of those ales and I’ll have this Edition for you soon… Now where was I?
Cat has a look at two novellas in an interesting series: ‘As I write this review just before Election Day, there have been but two novellas released in the fascinating Sub-Inspector Ferron series “In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns” and “A Blessing of Unicorns”. I’m not sure how I came upon the first novella but it was a superb story, both in terms of the setting and in the characters that Bear has created here, including a parrot-cat called Chairman Miaow.’
He also 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 Balladsseries 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.
Craig has a look at three mystery novels by the venerable Ray Bradbury, as collected in an omnibus. See for yourself why Craig says, ‘Where Everything Ends is a trio of fine detective novels (together with the short story that provided the starting point) from Bradbury in his inimitable style. He plays with the conventions, but since he so obviously loves the genre, this is easily forgiven — embraced, even — because the end results are, simply put, fine additions to the canon. This series is also dear to fans because it is likely the closest thing to an autobiography we will receive from this man who has brought so much joy to so many people for so many years.’
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.’
Lis thoroughly enjoyed a reissued classic mystery novel, Anthony Boucher’s Rocket to the Morgue, featuring LAPD Detective Lt. Terence Marshall. It has an SF tie-in, too: ‘… Marshall is investigating a locked-room attempted murder, questioning a selection of potential suspects from the Mañana Literary Society, the informal social circle of the science fiction writers living in and around Los Angeles at the time. For dedicated science fiction fans, this adds some extra fun, because these writers are mostly thinly disguised major sf writers of the period. However, if you’re only here for the mystery, you won’t notice, and it won’t distract from the story.’
Joel has a review of China Miéville’s intertwined cities as told in his Hugo winning The City & The City novel: ‘With acknowledgments to writers as diverse as Chandler, Kafka, and Kubin (to say nothing of Orwell), I don’t need to tell you this won’t be your typical detective story. But given this is Miéville, would you have really expected a typical anything?’
Next we have A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel that gets a look 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.’
A Britain that never was 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.’
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!
Cat, a lover of TV mystery series, reviewed a recent re-release of a British series about a Dutch detective. ‘Van der Valk is set in and around Amsterdam, where Commissaris van der Valk is a senior detective with a wife and children who are literally heard but not seen. Drugs, sex, WWII collaborators, political scandals, and, of course, murder are the primary themes of the series. But just as important to the feel of the series are the Amsterdam locations where all the exterior shots were done.’
Richard looks at a chapbook that covers a favored treat here at the Kinrowan Estate: ‘Ask anyone waving around a Drumstick cone or Klondike Bar where ice cream comes from, and you’re lucky if you get a smart-aleck response like “the freezer.” Ice cream may be near-universally loved (there’s an ice cream truck going down my block as we speak, and it’s not being shy about it), but it has an oddly shrouded history. Admittedly, most consumers of ice cream wouldn’t care if the first ice cream cone sprang, fully formed, from the forehead of Zeus, but for those who are actually curious about where their double-dip hot fudge sundaes originated – and who don’t want to read a tome the size of a cinderblock – there’s Ivan Day’s slender Ice Cream.’
‘It’s really hard to do a companion to a long running series well, Cat says, citing a couple of rare examples before he continues: ‘What had not seen a companion text was Mike Mignola’s Hellboy / B.P.R.D. (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) stories, which have spawned graphic novels, prose novels, lots of short prose fiction, not one but two critically acclaimed live action films, and two rather well-done animated films. Oh, did I mention a cornucopia of action figures? All of which is why Hellboy: The Companion exists!’
What’s David talking about here? ‘Hey man, don’t bogart that joint! This is some far out stuff. Shiva Jones, ex of the “mystical rock band Quintessence” and his musical partner Swiss recording artist Rudra Beauvert have combined their efforts to create a new mystical, almost psychedelic album of transcendent atmospheric rock.’ Find out more in his way out review of Shiva Shakti‘s self-titled record, which includes a brief visit from Sp!ke.
Eric discovered that Richard Shulman didn’t quite deliver on the promise implicit in his two albums Keeper of the Holy Grail and Camelot Reawakened. ‘It’s a lot to ask from an album – summoning up the sense of a divine presence in 45 minutes or so of conscientious listening. Camelot Reawakened and Keeper of the Holy Grail don’t quite achieve this goal, but the albums still have some merit strictly in the earthly appeal of the music. The high points are worth seeking out on each album, but don’t expect a transformational or truly inspirational experience. Maybe those results are just more than one can expect from a couple of CDs.
Gary joyfully reviews a new album from a familiar name: ‘Teddy Thompson is one of the best living interpreters of classic country songs (not counting Willie Nelson, who’s in a class all his own), and he only further cements his status on his latest album My Love of Country. On this album he rolls out a bunch of classics, a couple of deep cuts, and one well-placed surprise, and he does it all with tears in your beer authenticity that reveal his own love of the music.’
Gary enjoyed a new large ensemble jazz recording, Chuck Owen and the WDR Big Band’s Renderings. ‘I don’t know about you, but there are times when I just crave some swinging music with creative solos and lovely melodies over big horn charts. Renderings perfectly fits the bill.’
Gary also spent some time with Norwegian guitarist Morten Georg Gismervik’s Dunes at Night, an album that uses a variety of styles to tell a musical tale of sorts: ‘The music on Dunes at Night comes in two different styles, one portraying the outgoing and adventurous Kimri, the other the more introverted Winter. Kimri’s tracks for the most part involve propulsive grooves that often explode forth from quieter introductory sections, while Winter’s music highlights Gismervik’s sensitive guitar work along with delicate piano lines.’
Judith offered qualified praise to Silvery Moon, which she noted is by Aoife Clancy, who she notes ‘is the daughter of Bobby of the Clancy Brothers, and has been lead vocalist with Cherish The Ladies. Silvery Moon is her third solo album and is an amalgam of Celtic and American folk. If her name were not so Irish and were it not for the reputation of Cherish the Ladies, it would be easier to present this as a folk album with a few Celtic tracks, instead of a Celtic album with leanings toward American folk. But trust my words, Silvery Moon is a folk album.
Lars had kind words for Never Despair, an album by Cincinnati’s premier Celtic band, Silver Arm. ‘But in spite of doing a great job with the many Celtic tunes, it is when they move away from that territory that they really shine. They do a fine Swedish set of polskas (not to be confused with polkas) learnt from the now defunct Filarfolket. The first tune of the set is Ale Møller’s “Solpolska,” an intricate and beautiful tune performed on the oboe. They then move into “Magdalenapolska,” a faster, danceable tune with some lovely rhythm work. It is one of the best and most exciting tunes on the album.’
Michael interviewed Richard Thompson on the occasion of his solo acoustic trip to WOMADelaide in 2001, when it had been 35 years since he left Fairport Convention and struck out on his own. Said RT: I feel very fortunate to have people listening still, and a few young’uns. Thirty-five years is a terrifying prospect, but I shall enjoy the reunion in 2002. Fairport has survived by being good, and it gets a lot of local support.’
‘The first thing I thought about this album was “Hell, there’s nothing to dislike about it,” Peter said with typical straightforwardness, of Shirae’s Tiger’s Island. ‘Shirae are Shireen Russel and Reidin O’Flynn, two young ladies who are belting singers, to say the least. Their music is strong Irish folk rock, tinged with a bit of country & western. When they duet in harmony they have that magical sound that usually only sisters can produce. So I wasn’t surprised to learn later from their website that they are actually mother and daughter – that’s why they sound so good together.’
Rebecca felt like she was an an open mic night at the local coffeehouse when she lisened to Laura Siersema’s When I Left Loss. ‘Siersema writes some of her songs totally or partially in the third person, distancing herself from the characters so that the album does not take on the attitude of a confessional work. She seems to be trying to imagine life as other people live it. Perhaps the mood or some of the experiences are hers, and maybe she knows people like the characters she creates, but the album has a refreshing air of not being totally self-centered.’
Scott found the music on the Shetland band Shoormal’s Migrant pleasant enough, but not much more. ‘While Migrant does not suffer from any obvious weakness, the album does not really distinguish itself as something special, either. The music is quite pleasant, but one could argue that it is too pleasant and not really challenging. Having said that, any fan of straightforward female harmonies will find this worth a listen, and Trevor Smith is a first-rate guitarist as well. People looking for something light and melodic, in a mainstream, non-traditional sort of way, could do much worse than Shoormal.’
Stephen definitely liked the rootsy, bluesy rock on Ramsay Midwood’s Shoot Out at the OK Chinese Restaurant: ‘This album was originally released a few years ago by the artist himself, who’s been busy carving out an awesome live reputation, particularly on the European circuit. Fortunately, Vanguard Records have stepped in to prevent Midwood toiling as a “prophet without honour” in his own land, and have granted this CD the distribution it deserves.’
We’re not sure who wrote this Folkmanis review as our What Not this time, as that information does seem to have gone walkabout: ‘Folkmanis has gained an excellent reputation in recent decades for its overwhelming array of puppets. The plushies range from eerily lifelike to utterly fantastical. Right now I’m holding the Sea Serpent Stage Puppet in my hand. Well, okay, I’m wearing it on my hand…is that so wrong?’
So I’ve got some summery music for you that I think fits pretty much any season. It’s Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’from Rodeo. I sourced it off a Smithsonian Institution music archive which has no details where or when it was recorded (which surprised me given how good they usually are at such things), but it may have been around 2011.