Friday, August 29, 2014

Defending Jacob by William Landay, 2012

© Random House
This is not a conventional review. Rather, these are my observations of a book, a legal thriller, which offers a profound insight into how bad things can happen all of a sudden to good people, happy families, and destroy their seemingly pleasant lives. 

In recent years, few novels have touched me as deeply and compellingly as Defending Jacob by William Landay. I think it is because as a father of a seventeen-year old teenager I could feel a sense of empathy for Andrew Barber and his wife, Laurie, whose fourteen-year old son, Jacob, is accused of murdering his classmate in the beautiful Cold Spring Park in a Massachusetts suburb. Jacob is like any teenager, reclusive and rebellious, and mostly preoccupied with his thoughts, his cellphone, and his laptop. The question is what lies beneath.

I read books with a certain level of detachment. I try not to get involved in what transpires between the covers of a book, however gut-wrenching the story may be. But sometimes it’s not possible to be a mere witness to the emotional drama unfolding in the pages in front of you. You leap right into the narrative because somewhere in the back of your head you feel you have a stake too, in this case knowing what happens to the once happy Barber family.

If you are a devoted husband and a doting father, you’ll feel the pain of Andy Barber who refuses to admit to himself that his son could be guilty because he loves him deeply and because he owes it to him. It’s a terrible choice for any father to make, especially if, like Andy, you are a respected and a successful assistant district attorney who has stood by his conviction that the law must take its course no matter who the suspect is. You know you have to stick by your son because you’re responsible for him and because he is your flesh and blood. Hell with conviction and all that. You know you are wrong but you also know you are right.

As I read through the book, I found myself frequently walking beside Andy, who is forced to go on leave owing to possible conflict of interest, and watch him do everything in his capacity to defend his son and prove he is innocent. He hires a close acquaintance to fight the case. For me, this is Andy’s story more than Jacob’s; the father is the pivot around which the son’s fate hinges.

Let’s not forget Laurie Barber. Once the cynosure of all eyes, Andy’s beautiful wife slowly disintegrates, first with the onslaught of her son’s indictment and the possibility of his guilt and then when, after years of a beautiful love marriage, she learns from Andy that his side of the family has a history of violent behaviour. She feels betrayed. In many ways Laurie suffers more than Andy because, unlike her husband, she is willing to acknowledge that their son could be the murderer of his fellow eighth grader Benjamin Rifkin. She feels responsible for Jacob and that they must have done something wrong raising him.

What Laurie Barber goes through would be any mother’s worst nightmare, as defending Jacob takes its toll on her and the family she has loved and cherished.

Final word
William Landay has produced a cracker of a novel. The suspense is intense, in a non-brutal way, and consistent throughout the 448 pages, alternating between the Barbers’ isolated existence at home and shamed public life in the courtroom, and finally culminating in an unforeseen end.

Defending Jacob is a legal thriller in every sense of the term as William takes the reader through a realistic and gripping homicide investigation and judicial process complete with jury and grand jury, and courtroom scenes. He explains the legal terms including how the system works as well as the theory of a murder gene that the prosecutor is more than keen to bring up in court. I found that aspect of the book very interesting. Can someone commit a crime because it’s in his or her DNA? Is it admissible as evidence in court? The writer offers plausible answers.

The author’s writing style is engaging and he keeps you engrossed with twists and turns every few pages so much so that you feel compelled to finish the book in two sittings as I did.

The author
William Landay was an assistant district attorney in Boston before he took to writing fiction and authored the award-winning Mission Flats and The Strangler—the latest in a long line of seasoned attorneys turned successful writers. He brings his firsthand experience as a legal brain to bear upon his third novel, Defending Jacob.

Earlier this month, when I wrote to William requesting an interview based on this novel, he replied saying that he was too busy at the moment to answer—he is working on his next suspense novel among other things—and, very thoughtfully, invited me to quote freely from a similar interview on his website. I thought that wouldn’t be right, but you can read it here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Real Steel, 2011

This Tuesday, a film from the near future for Overlooked Films, Audio & Video over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Real Steel is a futuristic movie about boxing, not between people but between robots. Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a former boxer turned promoter of robot boxing, except his robots don’t do as well in the ring as he himself once did, though he refuses to admit it. With mounting losses and debts, Charlie is at wit’s end. He desperately needs money for a new robot that will get him back into the ring. And then one day Charlie learns that his ex-wife has died leaving behind their eleven-year old son, Max Kenton (Dakota Goyo). That's the last thing he needs.

Max is a precocious kid who quickly endears himself to his newfound father who’d rather gladly surrender him to his sister-in-law Debra (Hope Davis) and her husband Marvin (James Rebhorn), for a million dollars and get on with his life, programming robots to fight other robots. There is no serious custody battle, only a rich aunt who would rather raise her nephew than leave him with her sister's struggling ex.

Max and his father Charlie bond over robots.

The rest of the film is about Charlie and Max discovering more than just their passion for robot boxing; they also discover each other as father and son. Helping them to bond is Atom, an old discarded robot Max finds in a scrapyard and has enough faith in to win them matches and moolah. Charlie is initially amused but then quickly realises that Max’s gaming brain is working wonders for their two-man team. In the end he finds a son who teaches him how to win at robot boxing, and at life.

Real Steel, directed by Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther, Night of the Museum), is a silly but an entertaining film. At one point I didn’t know if I was watching Real Steel or one of the Transformers. When my teenage son asked me why Hugh Jackman would do such a film, I said probably for the money. Who wouldn't? Jackman is mild-mannered throughout the film and acquits himself well as Charlie Kenton who teaches a robot how to box.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rest in Peace: Richard Attenborough

The actor’s director
August 29, 1923-August 24, 2014
I didn't know Richard Attenborough through his films as well as I knew him from reading about his films. I could relate to him as an actor, director, and producer of a little over a hundred films. I have, of course, seen less than ten that include The Great Escape, Miracle on 34th Street, and Jurassic Park in the three categories.

He was mostly an actor who catapulted into the limelight in India with Gandhi, his epic directorial venture. Suddenly, Attenborough was a household name, as was the man he cast in the Mahatma's slippers, Ben Kingsley, who by a coincidence happened to be half-Indian; he was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji, in England. Attenborough could not have chosen a more suitable actor to play Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Even today, for many in India Kingsley is still Gandhi.

When Gandhi won eight Academy Awards, an entire nation rejoiced as if the film was made by an Indian. The only thing Indian about Gandhi was its frail and sparsely-clad subject. The award-winning Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle evoked a similar response, though on a much smaller scale. Still, we felt a kinship with both the films, especially Gandhi as it was about a historically important period of time and because it had several noted Indian character actors.

Attenborough (left) directs Kingsley in Gandhi
© Frank Connor/

Richard Attenborough brought to life the larger-than-life persona of Mahatma Gandhi, more than scores of books and comic-books and audio and video documentaries ever had until 1982.

I think one of the primary reasons why Gandhi became a phenomenal success in India was because Attenborough did not deviate from the real-life script of the Mahatma’s life, his trials and tribulations, the freedom struggle, the partition of India into India and Pakistan, independence in 1947, and his assassination.
 Everything was as we'd learned about him since school. In fact, as the film rolled we could anticipate certain events that occurred during the freedom movement; like the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Punjab, in April 1919, when General Dyer ordered his men to open fire directly on a crowd of peaceful protesters. Over a thousand men and women died; scores of others jumped into the garden's wells to escape the bullets and were killed. It remains one of the bleakest periods and Dyer the most hated man in Indian history. 

Gandhi is one of my all-time favourite movies and I see it at least once a year when, in a spirit of patriotism, it is telecast on India's republic day, January 26, and on her independence day, August 15—a memorable tribute to a great man and to the human spirit. In India, at least, Richard Attenborough sealed his fame with that epochal film.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Kabuko the Djinn by Hamraz Ahsan, 2013

I have said elsewhere on this blog and in comments on other blogs that I rarely put a book away after I have started reading it, even if I’m plodding through the book. I will read it anyway because I always find something that redeems the book in my eyes. And sometimes I feel I owe it to the author.

In the case of Kabuko the Djinn, 2013, by the London-based journalist and author, Hamraz Ahsan, I didn’t make that exception because, much as I liked the storyline and writing style, which is really good, I lost interest after the initial few pages. I didn’t feel like reading further about the occult and the mystical world of the djinn who enters the body of a young boy, around which this story revolves.

There are two reasons. One, I wanted to get back to the fast-paced fiction, the thrillers, the mysteries, and the westerns, that I’m fond of reading. I’m a brainwashed prisoner of the American paperback. And two, however absorbing Indian fiction is, given its literary style, the narrative is often long winding, as I felt about Kabuko the Djinn. Indian fiction is also more descriptive and 
almost academic in tone.

I understand that you cannot judge a book by reading only a few pages and I’ll probably try and read it at some point in the near future. But not just yet. I
ve to be in the mood for a fictional tale involving “mystics, myths, and magic.”

For now, I’ll leave you with the synopsis of Kabuko the Djinn which has received much praise from more discerning readers.

“Kabuko the djinn is the evocative story of a djinn who journeys through human life in search of occult knowledge. Wishing to study the dynamics of the human species for himself, in order to unearth the secrets of human power, Kabuko enters the body of Ajee Shah, a boy born in post-independence Punjab, Pakistan. As Kabuko loses himself to the trials and tribulations of living an ordinary yet intrinsically exceptional human life through Ajee, sex and the supernatural collide, entangling them both in a cataclysmic event that is to change their lives forever. Woven throughout this tapestry of youthful yearnings and a desire for transcendental knowledge are real secrets of the Islamic occult, true stories of Muslim saints, and the folklore of the Punjab.”

I’m grateful to Fingerprint, an imprint of Prakash Books India Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, for my copy of this book. You can order your copy from Amazon.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How long? A poem by Ramabai C. Trikannad

Ramabai C. Trikannad, my late grandmother, was a writer, columnist, poet, and a deeply spiritual woman. She read a lot. Classics were her favourite. She wrote about family life and parenting in newspapers in the mid-20th century. One of her columns was called Cat 'N' Bells. She also published a book of short stories called Victory of Faith and Other Stories, 1935. I have most of her published and unpublished writings including a hardback of her short story collection. Once in a while I read her poems and stories and what she said more than half a century ago resonates with me even today. How Long? is one of her poems that I like very much. 

Inconsistent, changing — weary yet restless —
We dance to the rhythm of nature.
Hoping, fearful — lest we lose them —
We try to hold and keep the things
Our fancy rests upon.
We strive and strive — not towards the Eternal —
But for the empty shows of life.
Thus, while in silence Mother smiles and watches over us,
We jostle and struggle on.

In some quiet hour
The heart draws back from all the world.
Whence — to where? To what purpose
This fruitless, aimless hurry and rush?
How long before delusion is destroyed and freedom gained?
For a moment, for a single moment,
Before the mind drops again
Into the ever intricating web of fancies and desires,
From the solitude of the heart
Comes the cry: “O Mother! How long?”

© Ramabai C. Trikannad

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Woman on a Roof by Doris Lessing, 1963

A review of a short story by the British novelist for Friday's Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase.

There was a fine view across several acres of roofs. Not far off a man sat in a deckchair reading the newspapers. Then they saw her, between chimneys, about fifty yards away. She lay face down on a brown blanket. They could see the top part of her: black hair, a flushed solid back, arms spread out.

© Wikimedia Commons
It’s not everyday that I read a short story that can be interpreted in different ways by different readers. A Woman on a Roof (Encounter, March 1963) is one of those stories that leaves you nowhere long after you have read it, talked about it, and argued over it. But it won’t make this story any less tantalisingly charming.

The premise is simple: three men are working on the roof of a building on a hot June day in London when they see a woman sunbathing on the roof of an adjoining building. She is almost naked.

Harry, the oldest, is forty-five years old. Stanley is young and newly married. And Tom is only seventeen.

As the three men sweat it out on the roof and at times in the basement of the block of flats, to escape the wretched heat, they can’t take their thoughts away from the nearly naked woman. At least Stanley and Tom can’t.

The characters

Harry is mature and circumspect and with a son as old as Tom, he prefers to look the other way and do his work. He humours the other two, especially Stanley.

Stanley is the loudest and most affected. He sounds annoyed with the bare woman but you know he is annoyed with himself. He tells the others that she is a bitch for no apparent reason other than that she is tormenting him. He’d rather she wasn't lying lying around naked like that, for him to see and agonise over. He is married and there is not a damn thing he can do about it. He knows it and you know it.

Young Tom is quiet and reserved even though he joins Stanley in whistling and shouting loudly across the roofs. He dreams of the naked woman every night. He thinks she is lovely and that she belongs to him. Tom also happens to see more than Harry and Stanley. He likes to think of it as a secret between him and the woman.

Tom's report was that she hadn't moved, but it was a lie. He wanted to keep what he had seen to himself: he had caught her in the act of rolling down the little red pants over her hips, till they were no more than a small triangle. She was on her back, fully visible, glistening with oil.

Final word
In the story the mysterious woman appears oblivious to the presence of the three men and their whistles and catcalls from across the roofs. Of course, she knows they can see her but she doesn't give a hoot. She sleeps half-naked on her roof through a whole week. This angers Stanley even more.

Doris Lessing, the British novelist, playwright and poet who passed away in November 2013, has crafted a very clever story. She plays around with human emotions subtly, not just those of the workmen but also those of the readers. Through the naked woman, she brings out the best and the worst in the three men, particularly Stanley and Tom, who first love her and then hate her for what she is doing to them when, in effect, she isn't doing anything at all.

Lessing holds back more than she gives and still doesn't leave the reader unfulfilled. Her prose is simple and lucid. She doesn't beat around the bush. She comes straight to the point. I liked A Woman on a Roof mainly on account of the story, which is a real tease, and the brevity of words. I'd never read anything by Doris Lessing before. This was a good introduction to her writing.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reading Habits #13: Back of the book

My copy of the book
First question

Does the synopsis on the back cover help you decide whether to read a book or not?

In my case it does if I don’t know who the author is or if I'm familiar but not quite or if I'm reading his or her book for the first time. However, I’d make an immediate exception if the book is a western or espionage in which case I couldn’t care less if the back cover was ripped off.

It doesn’t if I'm really familiar with the author and I have read and liked his or her books. To give you an idea, I won’t turn the book over if it is a P.G. Wodehouse, Jack Higgins, A.J. Cronin, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Oliver Strange, John le CarrĂ©, Agatha Christie, John Irving, Louis L'Amour, Kurt Vonnegut or Erle Stanley Gardner because I have read and enjoyed many of their novels and know exactly how they will tickle me.

Second question

Do you have a favourite or a memorable blurb or summary, one that you remember?

I remember only one and it has stayed with me since I read the novel when I was sixteen. Not surprisingly, it is a western—The Marshal of Lawless by British writer Oliver Strange whose ten books take you through the adventures of his hero James Green alias Sudden, the Texas outlaw. He is not an outlaw and earns the nickname because he is fast with his twin guns. The Sudden series is my favourite western.

This is what the back cover of The Marshal of Lawless says.

“Being Marshal of Lawless is plain suicide!” That's what they told the young fellow who applied for the job. They figured that anyone who had hocked his horse, his saddle and his guns to get money for liquor, was not the kind of man who could hold down one of the toughest towns in the West. But then the young stranger redeemed his guns and strapped them on. Lawless looked again. “Gentlemen, hush!” said one inhabitant. “A man has come to town!”

One of the reasons why I like James Green is because of his near flawless character. He is just, brave, honest, friendly, caring, intelligent, and a dogged fighter. His quest for two men who cheated the man who raised him makes him bitter but he doesn’t show it as he quietly goes about fulfilling a promise he made to the dying man. Nor does it stop him from going to the aid of people in the towns and ranches he visits, and making friends along the way. His deeds speak for the kind of person he is. Green is modest as he seldom reveals that he is United States Deputy Marshal. In short, he is a man who wears a badge on his pocket and honour on his sleeve.

How about you?

For previous Reading Habits, see under ‘Labels’.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The day I launched my blog

Some time in August the 3Cs completes six years. I can’t recall the date. I was a few years younger and wiser and saner. But I remember it was in 2009 that I decided to launch Chess, Comics and Crosswords with fanfare and fireworks. It was a memorable day. Someday I will tell my grandchildren about it. You tell yours.

It was a gay and festive evening. Throngs of people gathered at the seaside venue, standing on their toes and pushing and jostling each other for a glimpse of the rare event the like of which they would never witness again. Not in their lifetime, not in this century. The mayor was going to cut the ribbon and give a speech on the creative hazards of blogging. Somewhere a band played Here Comes the Blog to the music of Wedding March. The air was rent with cries and laughter. The sky lit up with pyrotechnics, confetti, and colourful balloons. Young boys and girls went around with trays of food and drinks, and distributed little flags with 3Cs embossed in red and gold. They were sold at a discount by the sponsor. This was greeted with loud cheers which soon turned to loud jeers. There was no sign of the mayor.

As time passed the crowds grew restless and they rushed forward, pushing against the ropes that held them back. The few skinny khaki-clad home guards who were manning the ropes with their little bamboo sticks couldn’t hold them back. They dropped the ropes and their sticks and ran for their lives. I took cover behind one of the giant speakers just in time as two empty coke cans and a food tray whizzed past my head.

The situation became tense and there was pandemonium. The police had to use water cannons to disperse the crowds which made them even more angry as they were already drenched from the rain. There was much cursing and gnashing of teeth. Riot police stood nearby. They wore helmets and bulletproof jackets and carried batons and shields. They looked like they meant business. They were itching to smash a few heads and break a few bones. I prayed it wouldn
t be mine.

At one point, the situation looked so alarming that an aide to the mayor who huddled next to me wondered if it wouldn’t be wise to call off the launch. He was worried about the political fallout for the mayor who was running for the chief minister’s office. I looked at him grimly and said no. I had consulted an astrologer who had assured me the day and time was just right. God knows when the next auspicious moment would come.

A police inspector crawled up to us and said the mayor’s convoy had come under attack on the road leading to the venue and there was no way he was going to make it to the launch alive. He was whisked off to a safe place, into the basement of a hospital on the corner, where he was cowering behind a car and refusing to move out even under police escort.

As I peered over the speaker, something came flying out of the air and smacked me in the face and knocked me out cold. When I came to I found myself alone in the dark and on the floor next to my computer. I looked up at the screen and read “Welcome to Chess, Comics & Crosswords!” I must have dozed off and fallen off the chair. I pulled myself up and reached for the cup of tea. It was cold. I logged off and dropped my head on the keyboard. My first post could wait.

*    *    *

Thank you everyone for all your support and encouragement through my blog years!

Friday, August 08, 2014

The White Fruit of Banaldar by John D. MacDonald, 1951

An interesting story with a twist in the tail for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

The auctioning of the five planets marked the end of one part of life, the beginning of a new, for Timothy Trench.

September 1951
The White Fruit of Banaldar is a science fiction tale by John D. MacDonald and was published in the September 1951 issue of Startling Stories. It is about man’s curious nature and his innate desire to posses the very thing that is out of his reach.

Timothy Trench is a tall, young man with an entrepreneurial streak. He wants to buy the planet of Banaldar that his former employer, Transgalactic Development, is putting up for auction along with four other planets. He has a vision for Banaldar where he once worked. It is a beautiful earth-size planet with green hills, rolling seas, and a climate fit for man. After much pleading and begging he manages to raise two thousand mil-pesos from reluctant investors. The auction takes place in Mexico City, capital of the world. However, his hopes and dreams are soon dashed when he is outbid by Morgan, leader of the Free Lives, a group of seven hundred men, women, and children who live the way they were meant to live—naked.

“What are you going to do on Banaldar?” Timothy asked hopelessly.

Morgan turned. “Do? We live naked and eat berries and hunt with stones and clubs. What do you think men are meant to do? Live like this?” He included in an expressive gesture all of the glitter and bustle of the capital. “No. We live in caves and we fill our bellies and breed our children and sleep well at night.”

Timothy still has a chance of acquiring his beloved planet. As the second highest bidder he is entitled to the planet if Morgan does not develop or populate it at the end of three years.

The young man has little patience. He takes off for Banaldar almost immediately. When he lands on the planet, he finds it deserted and uninhabited. He searches far and wide but the Free Lives are nowhere to be seen. And then he sees them—hanging in clusters in five-hundred foot giant trees he thought were long dead. The Free Lives have undergone physiological changes. They are like pale fruit. They are white, soft, and bloated. They have green stalks entering the backs of their necks. Their eyes are almost closed and they look deeply contented. They sway helplessly in the breeze.

As Timothy stares in fascination at the new form of the Free Lives, one of the monster trees casts its hypnotic spell on him and begins to nuzzle him at the back of his neck and nibble at it with a million little needle-like teeth.

The White Fruit of Banaldar is traditional science fiction until you come to the end when John D. MacDonald takes you by surprise with an element of horror. I didn’t see it coming but I was a trifle disappointed with the end. As I see it, though, horror is not misplaced in science fiction, especially when you don’t know what’s out there. All in all, a nice little story told in JDM’s inimitable style.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case, 1930

After you read this don’t forget to hop over to Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom for more reviews of Overlooked Films, Audio & Video.

Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy decided that they needed a rest. They had been looking for work since 1921.

If the tagline of this classic Laurel and Hardy movie brings a smile to your face, this short film directed by old L&H hand James Parrott will have you in splits from scene one.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are sitting on the docks with their legs over the side. They are at peace with themselves and with the world. Laurel is trying to catch fish while Hardy is trying to catch forty winks. That is, if Laurel allows him to. Laurel is swinging his fishing tackle—a ball of string tied round a piece of wood—over his head, with the harmless intent of dropping it into the sea and baiting the fish; instead, he hooks it into his friend’s hat and tosses it into the water. And that is just the beginning of their troubles and our laughter.

Matters between the two friends would probably have taken a turn for the worse, if such a thing is indeed possible, if a fish-wrapped newspaper didn’t catch poor Hardy smack in the face. As he pulls the damp and smelly paper away, a news item catches his attention—Ebeneezer Laurel has just died and has left behind a vast estate. Relatives of the wealthy man are advised to gather at the Laurel mansion where the will is to be read.

Hardy, who thinks for both of them, usually with disastrous results, is convinced that Laurel is the long lost heir and that they, mind you, not Laurel alone, are going to become millionaires. He promptly throws his friend’s ingenious tackle into the water.

It’s another story that the only Ebeneezer Laurel our Laurel thinks he knew broke his neck a long time ago.

When Laurel and Hardy reach the mansion on a dark and stormy night, they are greeted by a devilish-looking butler, police detectives, and half-a-dozen claimants to the property. The chief inspector informs the pair that he had planted the notice about the will in the paper so that he could bring all of Ebeneezer’s relatives together in one place. Apparently, the rich man was murdered and the police are investigating the crime.

What follows next is the finest bit of slapstick comedy I have seen. Laurel and Hardy, already scared to death, are shown to their room, which just happens to be the one where Ebeneezer was murdered. The room is in darkness and all the furniture is covered in shrouds of white, giving the place an eerie appearance in candlelight. Our friends are convinced the mansion is haunted. In effect, they become their own worst spooks.

As Laurel and Hardy prepare for bed (they wear their night clothes under their suits), they see ghosts everywhere, in the howling of the wind, in the cat that darts across their bellies, in the bat that hides under their white blanket and takes to the air with it, in the wooden clothes rack that Laurel inadvertently drags through the hall. Each ghostly episode is followed by a fresh round of terrified screams both from Laurel and Hardy and from the assorted guests who run helter-skelter and fall over each other, to the irritation of the police inspector and his gun-toting men.

The film seemingly culminates with the real murderer, a man disguised as a woman, and his accomplice, the butler, luring all the guests one by one into Ebeneezer’s office where a trapdoor swallows them. But then, a film about Laurel and Hardy must end with Laurel and Hardy and it does so in a nice little anticlimax. You won’t see it coming.

If you like slapstick comedy as I do, then this film is for you, for there is no one better at it than Laurel and Hardy. They mean well even if they are not “there” most of the time. Their humourous appeal lies in their utter innocence and in the acceptance of their lot, as they chase one dream after another with little more than a smile to gain.

Highly recommended.

Incidentally, in 1934, MGM released Oliver the Eighth whose plot was loosely based on this film.

Monday, August 04, 2014

The Adventure of the Dying Detective by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1913

“He's dying, Dr. Watson,” said she. “For three days he has been sinking, and I doubt if he will last the day.”

November 1913
In The Adventure of the Dying Detective, the famous sleuth of 221B, Baker Street, London, is very ill and dying from a rare eastern disease. At least, that is what his landlady Mrs. Hudson and his friend Dr. Watson fear. As would his readers who may be forgiven for their initial startled reaction to Holmes' dire state.

Watson is especially horrified when he finds his friend confined to bed and ailing from a disease he didn’t know Holmes had. The detective is delirious and incoherent and his face is pale and gaunt with bones sticking out of it. His sickly appearance sends a chill into Watson’s heart.

Lest we forget, Holmes is a master of disguise and he uses it most effectively to divert Watson’s attention from his real purpose—to expose Culverton Smith as the man who murdered his own nephew, Victor, by injecting him with the same virus that has apparently made Holmes sick.

Smith is an expert in tropical diseases, including the one afflicting the detective, and he has already tried to kill Holmes in a similar manner. Only the sleuth knows about it.

Holmes in his bed.
Holmes is secretive and ingenious as he instructs Watson to summon Culverton Smith to his house at any cost, ostensibly to cure him but in reality to unmask him in a final showdown.

I liked Watson’s role in this story. He shows his worth as a true and loyal friend when he doesn't ask too many questions and does exactly as Holmes bids him to do. Admirably, Watson is not upset when Holmes summons another doctor to cure him or when Holmes speaks to him in a brusque manner and orders him around. 

In the end Watson realises why, as his dear friend solves Victor’s murder and his own attempted murder from his so-called deathbed. 

The thing with Arthur Conan Doyle's fiction is that, having tasted one, you want several more helpings of his well-crafted stories.

The Adventure of the Dying Detective was first published in Collier’s Weekly Magazine in November 1913 and subsequently in The Strand Magazine in December 1913. Later, it formed one of eight stories in His Last Bow collection. The short story is available free online.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Famous Monsters’ Film Fantasy Yearbook, 1982

Todd Mason, who hosts Friday’s Forgotten Books in place of Patti Abbott, will have more knowledge about this magazine and its background.

March 1982
If you like watching horror, fantasy, and science fiction movies, then you’ll like this annual yearbook on some of the famous monsters brought to life by Hollywood.

The 1982 edition of Famous Monsters’ Film Fantasy Yearbook looks at the “creatures” in eleven films, namely Raiders, Titans, Superman II, Halloween II, Dragonslayer, The Howling, Friday the 13th II, Wolfen, Excalibur, Outland, and Werewolf. The cover image is awful while inside the text is clear though the pictures are hazy.

Famous Monsters was one of several horror-fantasy-sf magazines launched by James Warren who founded Warren Publishing in 1957. Over the next twenty-six years, until 1983, he published magazines like After Hours, Creepy, Eerie, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Help!, Spacemen, and Vampirella. The last of these, reproduced below, has cover art by the legendary Frank Frazetta who was noted for his fantasy and sf artworks as well as covers of books and comic books, posters, paintings, and LP record albums. I just read about him.

No.1, September 1969.
Cover art by Frank Frazetta
Warren’s initial publications, Famous Monsters of Filmland and Monster World, were edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, an American collector of science fiction books and movie memorabilia.

I don’t know much about these magazines and chanced upon this hundred-page free yearbook at Archive. You can read more about Warren Publishing at Wikipedia.