Four random bullets

  • A Work-Place Conversation in which I learn the down side to being the guy who always has a joke to tell:
    Me: So I’m going to be interviewed for the radio tomorrow.
    Coworker: Oh yeah? [ waits… ]
    Me: Yep. For NPR.
    Coworker: Wait, really? I thought you were telling a joke.
  • I’ve been listening to The Current a lot lately. I love it. If you aren’t listening yet, you should. Get on it.
  • There’s something very satisfying in rearranging your office and adding hanging folders to the file cabinet. I’m enjoying it immensely.
  • Channeling Robert Ray in my Detective fiction class today, I extolled the awesomeness of the phrase the immense significance of the curried mutton in Doyle’s “Silver Blaze.”

Arsene Lupin: the George Lasenby of Gentleman Burglars

I think this is a leaf from a copy of The Gold Bug.
I think this is a leaf from a copy of "The Gold Bug."

The Hollow Needle: The Further Adventures of Arsene Lupin
by Maurice LeBlanc; narrated for Librivox by various readers

The second novel in the Arsene Lupin series by Maurice LeBlanc finds the master thief and head of a criminal underground hunted not only by his old police nemesis and by the copyright-avoidingly-named Homlock Shears, but also by a precocious high schooler. The tale involves a single long hunt, rather than a series of masterful crimes as in the first book. An enjoyable book with a shift in narrative scope that shows growth in LeBlanc’s style.

  • As before, Lupin is almost omniscient. He anticipates his rivals to a laughable degree, and his mastery of the art of disguise rivals that of any character in literature. But this time he faces a high schooler who can match him step for step. He also faces, again, the Doyle ripoff Homlock Shears, who tracks him to the last.
  • The extended tale works pretty well, but because of its length, the levels of intrigue get a little extreme for me.
  • I enjoy the incursion of historical mystery (a Dan Brown-ian lost treasure of the French kings becomes part of the story). Unlike The Scarlet Pimpernel, this book seems to feel sorry for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
  • The book also relies on cryptography for a significant part of its clue. The connection to various Holmes stories and to Poe’s “The Gold Bug” cannot be missed. That said, the translation of text clues into audio format doesn’t work very well.
  • Spoiler: The end of the book is particularly amusing, as Lupin surrenders his treasure-hoard and his secret lair to fake his own death and then start life anew with the woman he loves. Just as he thinks he’s getting away with it, though, Homlock Shears shows up, there is a pistol duel, and Lupin’s brand new bride falls dead. He’s left, Lasenby-style, lamenting both his lost career and his lost love.

The Librivox recording is really solid and enjoyable. Most of the readers do very well, with a nice mix of accents shading the reading. The reader of the second-to-last chapter had a hammy vocal style that was particularly amusing, if a little over the top.

Sherlock Holmes: The Woman in Green

Spoilers!

Watson investigates the abandoned house

1945. Holmes and Watson investigate a Bones-worthy mystery, a serial killer who murders women and cuts off their thumbs. Holmes discovers that, surprise surprise, Dr. Moriarty is behind this dastardly scheme. Rich marks are being hypnotized and left in odd places, with bloody thumbs in their pockets. Then, when they realize what “they’ve done,” Moriarty and his crew show up to shake them down.

  • The film proceeds at the usual pace, with solid jokes from Holmes and the expected bit of buffoonery from Watson–this time, Watson expresses disdain at the art of hypnotism and finds himself barefoot and harrumphing.
    Watson hypnotized
  • Holmes blusters his way around the movie, noting at one point that notable people in history (like he and Julius Caesar) have big noses; later, scoffing at the idea that he could have been hypnotized and leaving Watson to nearly tumble from the balcony. “Enjoying the view up here, old man.”
  • Watson also rails at the clearly hypnotized sniper who took a shot at Holmes while Holmes treats him gently. In this regard, Watson is the doofus of the movie. You’d think he’d come to understand Holmes’ methods, but no. Every time Holmes says something that seems odd to him, Watson blusters and disagrees. It really makes him a shallow character.
  • The mise-en-scene of the assassin’s lair, on the other hand, is the most interesting in the house. There are lots of cool shadows and a stuffed gorilla for us to enjoy.Watson discovers a gorilla umbrella stand
  • The lack of gruesomeness is a bummer — we don’t actually see even one severed thumb.
  • As usual, Moriarty has some awesome henchmen. The titular lady has the ice-queen look common to women in Hitchcock movies. Moriarty’s creepy doctor, seen dressing a doll and fondling surgical instruments, is the best of these. The shoelace salesman who badgers Watson is particularly amusing too.
    Moriarty's creepy doctor henchman
  • This is the second Holmes film I’ve seen where Moriarty falls to his death. In the first, The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty falls into an underground river, so he could have survived. Here, he falls onto the unforgiving cobblestones of a London back alley, and his resurrection would be surprising.
    Moriarty and Holmes

Worth my thirty-eight cents:
Holmes is a difficult subject
I thoroughly enjoyed the scene in which the woman in green attempts to hypnotize Holmes. The mystical quality given to the process, with its dissolves and overlays and swirling water, adds a magical quality to the film that belies the mundane ratiocination of Holmes. It’s also fun to ponder just how Holmes avoids getting hypnotized, because we know, of course, that he’s too strong-willed for it. He said as much to Watson:

Watson: How will you avoid being hypnotized?
Holmes: If I haven’t got a stronger will than her, I deserve to be.

The dig at Watson, who bumbles into his hypnotized state moments before, is clear and hilarious.

A Letter of Mary

Cover image, A Letter of Maryby Laurie R. King; narrated by Jenny Riley

The third novel in a series (but the first we’ve read) about Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes’ young wife.  An entertaining series that reminded me very much of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries.  Russell has the same intrepid spirit and emancipated ways.  The mystery is moderately interesting, but truth be told the end was a bit flat for my taste.  It’s really about the characters more than anything else.

  • King does a pretty good job with Holmes, I think, but I’m not a purist.  I wonder what hardcore Holmes fans think of this series.  See also: The Final Solution
  • I particularly enjoyed Russell’s matter-of-fact ability to shift and navigate the various personae that she adopts during the course of the investigation.  The balance between her inner feelings and her attempts to play the mousy secretary she’s pretending to be provides much of the entertainment of the story.
  • LeStrade comes off well in this book, as he usually does in the Doyle stories.  Not at all like in the television show, where he blusters and raves as Holmes solves all the mysteries.
  • This story inclines me to return to Doyle to see about Mycroft, as I’ve only read about half of the original Doyle stories.

This book also marked a return to one of my favorite things Jenny and I do together, which is to read books aloud.  It came from our Florida days, when we would take car trips of 18 hours or more.  I like listening to books on tape, and can pretty much drive forever if I have one to listen to.  Jenny gets sleepy listening to them, but can read for as long as her voice lasts if she’s reading aloud.  The result, we read a huge chunk of the Amelia Peabody series aloud during our trips back and forth.

Since Avery’s been born, however, we haven’t done as much of that since she doesn’t like it.  (We’re hoping when she gets a bit older and can follow sustained stories, we can start again.)  This week, though, I’ve been mudding and painting in our bathroom, and since Jenny’s seven months pregnant, she can’t really help much.  Also, paint fumes are a no-no.  So we put the speaker from the baby monitor in the bathroom with me, and the transmitter in the living room with Jenny, and she read the book to me as I worked.  It kicked ass.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar

Cover image from The Confessions of Arsene Lupinby Maurice LeBlanc; read by various

With grading finished and my intellectual activity relegated, for the next few days, to the backburner, I’m doing some home excavation.  We’ve gutted the bathroom and are putting in an exhaust fan, new drywall, new light fixtures, new vanity and mirror/cabinet.  As such, I have plenty of time to audiobook it.  So I just finished reading The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, a delightful collection of stories about France’s “national criminal” somewhat in the vain of The Scarlet Pimpernel, only he steals jewels and taunts his victims rather than stealing French nobles from the angry mob.

The book has lots to it, including at a couple interesting connections with my detective studies.  (I’ve placed several relevant quotes below the fold, for folks who’re interested.)

  1. In a couple spots, the book refers to the Bertillon system, a French protocol for documenting the physical characteristics of prisoners, so they can be positively identified later despite attempts at disguise.  Lupin regularly makes a mockery of this system, eluding the numbers and so on.  But the book also highlights a key idea from Robert Ray’s “Snapshots” essay, that photographs actually destabilize this process rather than enhancing it.  The Gentleman Burglar is able to evade the system through clever disguises because the photographs all “resemble” him, but not enough to be sure.  He also reveals several ways to disrupt his appearance so much that his nemesis doesn’t recognize him at one point.

    Along these same lines, at one point the story develops an analogy for the dangers of photography and their secret smuggling of disruptive details by having Lupin hide the jewels and money from a major theft inside the camera he’s carrying.

  2. Obvious connections with two literary detectives.  First, Poe’s Parisian detective is named “Dupin,” and the rise of a criminal named “Lupin” might just be coincidence, or it might be a magnificent rhyme.  Second, Sherlock Holmes shows up in the Lupin stories.  In the first one, he appears as Sherlock Holmes.  In later stories, because of protest from Doyle, he appears as “Herlock Sholmes,” apparently.

The counterpoint between Holmes and Lupin seems key here.  Both interface directly with photography, with Holmes performing the function of the classic detective story, to reinforce law and order, and also shoring up a rational worldview by reading the details that photographs reproduce in abundance.  Lupin does the opposite: using his superior intellect and attention to detail, he performs daring acts of theft and authority-taunting.  I’m not sure about how it connects yet, but Arsene Lupin seems an important figure in figuring out story of the detective and the emergence of electracy.

I read this book as a librivox recording.  It was pretty good, with several folks I’ve heard before making appearances.  Good work, everyone!

Below are some interesting quotes from the book.

Continue reading The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar

A Study in Emerald

by Neil Gaiman, read by the author

I don’t know where I got this audio-story.  I think it was mentioned on BoingBoing and I snapped it up right quick.  According to the Interwebs, Gaiman wrote it as  part of a book combining the worlds of Doyle and Lovecraft.  It’s a clever little twist that posits a world where the Old Gods of Cthulu have returned and taken over the ruling class of human culture.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of ruining the delights and twists that abound through the story, but just encourage you to check it out.

The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes

1935.  Holmes, descending into retirement, takes one last case to catch the elusive Dr. Moriarty.  He gets involved, somewhat obliquely, and Holmes ‘catches’ him at the end.  Sigh.  It was moderately entertaining, but the sound quality is pretty terrible on the 1930s movies in this set, so it was difficult to follow.  I enjoyed the bespeckled sidekick and Watson’s bumbling, and the image of Holmes fishing out the window with an umbrella worked pretty well for me.  I also liked the moment when the detective, assured by Holmes that they had no more need of the body in situ, tells the butler that he can remove the body now.  Geez.

Triumph of Sherlock Holmes: The boss of the scowlers threatens cecil barker

The film also features a long flashback sequence told by the widow of the victim.  She tells what essentially turns out to be a hard-boiled detective story, about her husband the renowned Pinkerton detective who broke up a vicious gang of thugs that ran a small coal town.  (The photo above shows the boss of the Scowlers threatening Cecil, the man whose death brings Holmes to the manor.)  These thugs swore revenge and it was through Moriarty’s help that they found the victim.  The priceless name of these bastards could have come straight from a Dick Tracy story: they’re The Scowlers.

Worth my thirty-eight cents:

Triumph of Sherlock Holmes: Watson nudges Holmes

Throughout the film, Holmes keeps snubbing Watson by forgetting to introduce him whenever they meet someone new.  Watson, for his part, gets bent out of shape about it, nudging Holmes in the ribs and getting a constipated look on his face.  Here’s the usual exchange:

Police Inspector: Mrs. Witness, may I present Sherlock Holmes.
Mrs.Witness: How do you do, Mr. Holmes?
Holmes: How do you do, Mrs. Witness?
Watson [elbows agitating furiously]: ahem
Holmes: Ah yes.  May I introduce my colleague, Dr. Watson.
Mrs.Witness: How do you do?
Watson: How do you do?
Holmes: On the night of the murder…

There is obviously some humor already at work in this setup, but it gets doubly funny when one considers that Watson is played by Ian Fleming, of James Bond fame.  I like the imagine that Bond is suave and debonair in all the ways Watson was not, and that perhaps Fleming imagined himself not as the bumbler of these films but rather as we see Bond fifty years later.

Follow-up: As I finished writing the above, it occurred to me that the Ian Fleming in these films was pretty old to be in espionage 5 years later.  So I checked IMDB and found this sentence: “Not to be confused with the creator of James Bond.”  Well, shit.

This is a big mental jump, but it makes me want to go back to my idea for the namesake series.  In looking back at that post, I see that Jeff Rice’s suggestion of Charlie Brown and Chuck D has been lost.  I think Brian Doan also suggested some. Darn.  Anyway, there seems to be some Derridian value in the idea that the man who played Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick and the man who created James Bond had the same name.