Saturday, December 31, 2016

A year gone, a year to come

Since I did not write or review much this year, I thought I would at least end the year with a post on one of my favourite literary genres—classical poetry. Fittingly, a poem about New Year's Eve or New Year.

There was plenty to choose from. I read Alfred Lord Tennyson's The Death of the Old Year, Thomas Hardy's New Year's Eve, Christina Rossetti's Old and New Year Ditties, Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne, Helen Hunt Jackson's New Year's Morning, D.H. Lawrence's New Year's Night, Sylvia Plath's New Year on Dartmoor, and John Clare's The Old Year.

I liked them all.

A lot of people look at the old year with sadness, regret, and emotion. And a lot of writing, and especially poetry, reflect those feelings. We remember it mostly as just another year when we grew old and where we could have done so much more, personally and professionally. Fortunately, our minds are trained to conveniently hide unhappy memories, if not erase them completely. Every passing year brings in its anguished wake a new year filled with renewed hope, optimism, and purpose of life, where we dream of doing better than we did in the previous year, and where we truly believe—"This is going to be my year. And I am going to make things happen for me and my family."

Of all the beautiful poems I read, the one that resonated with me this evening, hours before New Year, was The Year by American author-poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919). I thought it was realistic and balanced. I liked the way it bids goodbye to the Old Year and ushers in the New Year, depending on how you read it. And it rhymes very well too.

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of a year.

Ella Wheeler's most famous poem was Solitude which gave us the equally famous opening lines:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth
But has trouble enough of its own.

I sincerely hope you will have lots of reasons to laugh in 2017 and beyond. I wish you a joyous New Year filled with health and happiness.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, 1905

"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied."
— Opening lines of the story

The Gift of the Magi is one of American writer O. Henry's most famous short stories. It is often read at Christmas time. It is also told to children as a lesson in love, giving, sacrifice, and morality. Basically, that which is good in people.

Jim and Della are much in love and happy in their marriage. The couple live in a small apartment, lead a simple life, and have just enough money to get by. In spite of their poor situation, they decide to surprise the other with Christmas gifts—by giving up their most important possessions.

On Christmas eve, Della sells her beautiful knee-length hair and with the money buys a lovely pocket watch chain for her husband. Jim sells his gold watch, a family heirloom, and uses the money to buy hair accessories for his wife.

As you might have guessed, both end up buying gifts that neither of them can use.  

The Gift of the Magi—an allusion to the Wise Men who brought gifts for the new-born Jesus—is a feel-good story even if somewhat poignant and sentimental. Jim and Della discover something more priceless than expensive gifts—their love for each other. Can there be a better Christmas gift?

O. Henry reminds me of two other great storytellers, Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant. All three authors are known for their very affecting stories—about ordinary people and their destinies, their lives and relationships—which usually end with a twist. My feeling is that O. Henry was wittier of the three. There is subtle humour in this story.

I thought this was the perfect story to read and review in the spirit of Christmas and the goodness and simplicity of life. I first read it a long time ago, probably in school, as my wife reminded me. It is a true classic and very relevant in our times. 

O. Henry, who was born William Sydney Porter, first published the story as Gifts of the Magi in The New York Sunday World, December 10, 1905. Apparently, he wrote it in one of New York's oldest bars called Pete’s Tavern. A year later, it appeared in the O. Henry Anthology The Four Million. The story has been adapted to various cultural forms including film and television.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen releases new novella

Award-winning Danish author Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen has announced the release of her second Tora Skammelsen novella, Miller's Cottage, which is about the curious writer from Thy, the north-western corner of Denmark. Dorte, who writes and reviews crime and mystery, lives in this beautiful region.

"The story can be read as a stand-alone, but for readers with an interest in Tora’s private affairs it may be a good idea to read North Sea Cottage first," Dorte says on her blog djskrimiblog.

In the nearly 100-page novella, "Tora buys her home near the North Sea, but village life does not quite live up to her expectations. Soon she develops a keen interest in the activities of her peculiar neighbour Margrethe. Why does the widow try to hide the fact that a man is living with her? Besides there is Rune, the charming sales rep at the Old Mill Inn, who all but sweeps Tora off her feet while her friend, Police Inspector Thomas Bilgren, is preoccupied with a bank robbery."

In North Sea Cottage, Book 1 released in June 2014, "Tora Skammelsen...retreats to her aunt's cottage to get away from it all. Here, on the Danish North Sea coast, she tries to make sense of her life and rid herself of the ghosts of her past. When the old stable catches fire leading to the discovery of a skeleton, Tora is faced with ghosts that go even further back, to the time of World War Two. Now she must uncover her own family secrets, but will she learn the truth in time to save herself?"

I like the thought of reading about a young writer dealing with family secrets on the picturesque North Sea coast. It sounds mysteriously haunting.

Dorte has also written two short stories featuring Tora — The Woman Behind the Curtain and Football Widow. Here's what these stories are about.

The Woman Behind the Curtain describes one week in Tora's life. "(She) returns home to her parents to unwind after her harrowing experiences in volume one, but life in the sleepy suburb seems tedious and repetitive—until the morning when a neighbour does not draw her bedroom curtains."

In the second story, "A football star is injured and returns to Thy after a glorious international career. His wife revives her friendship with Police Inspector Thomas Bilgren. Soon she asks Thomas and Tora for a lift home from the sports centre. An ugly surprise is waiting for them in the couple's kitchen."

This is the order of the four Tora Skammelsen novellas and short stories for Amazon Kindle.

1. North Sea Cottage — Book 1, June 2014
2. The Woman Behind The Curtain — Book 2, December 2014
3. Football Widow, Book 3 — May 2016
4. Miller's Cottage, Book 4 — December 2016

The 3Cs has previously featured blog friend Dorte and her books here and here. Readers can buy her books at Amazon and read her blog at djskrimiblog.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, 1969


The eerie moan rolled out across the valley in the twilight.

My copy of the book.
These are the best opening lines I have read so far this year. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought the lines belonged to a horror or fantasy novel.

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave is the tenth book in the original 43-book ‘The Three Investigators’ series and one unpublished title. Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews—who operate out of a house trailer inside a salvage yard in Rocky Beach, California—come to the Crooked Y Ranch on a vacation. The ranch, owned by the Daltons and located near Santa Carla along the Pacific coast, is straight out of a Western novel minus the crooked foreman and rustlers.

Instead of enjoying their holiday and working as ranch hands, the plucky investigators find themselves in the thick of an exciting adventure-mystery—investigating the source of a moaning sound coming from one of the caves in the belly of Devil Mountain.

The sheriff has made no headway in the case. Locals believe the eerie sounds are coming from legendary bandit El Diablo’s cave. Worse still, the people, including a historian and friend of the Daltons, think that Diablo must be alive. Never mind if that makes him almost a hundred years old.

Jupiter, Pete and Bob explore Devil Mountain in Moaning Valley with little more than flashlights and get more than they’d bargained for. The boys lose their way inside dark caverns, get ambushed and walled in, meet two shady old prospectors and a mysterious stranger with an eye patch, stumble upon a secret naval exercise, and finally confront the bandit himself.

So, what—or who—is making the moaning sound? Is it man-made or is it a natural occurrence? Or is it linked to the old diamond mine inside the mountain? 

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave is packed with suspense and surprises, and some tense moments. Although targeted at young readers, it can sit well alongside adult crime and mystery fiction. While the characters of the three investigators are amateurish, in the mould of Frank and Joe Hardy, they look for clues, take undue risks, and pursue the case like seasoned detectives. Jupiter’s “logical mind,” Pete’s “athletic skills,” and Bob’s “research and data keeping” eventually helps them solve the mystery of the Moaning Valley.

In terms of style and story, there are obvious parallels with the Hardy Boys, which I enjoyed reading in school. The book held up for me even after more than three decades because I didn’t think of it as YA fiction. I read it like I’d any other mystery. There is often a thin line between YA fiction and adult fiction.

Source: Wikipedia
About the author

My Armada (later Fontana Books) edition of the tenth novel says The Mystery of the Moaning Cave was written by Robert Arthur Jr (1909-1969), who created the series and wrote many of the early stories. But Arthur wrote only books 1 to 9 and 11. So there is some confusion. He believed using a celebrity name, like Hitchcock, would help popularise the series among young adults. Most of the novels involve baffling events and strange phenomena.

According to Wikipedia, Arthur wrote crime and speculative fiction, and was also known for his work with The Mysterious Traveler, a radio series (and a magazine and a comic book). He was honoured twice by the Mystery Writers of America with an Edgar Award for Best Radio Drama. He also wrote scripts for television, such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock's TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Arthur has also written short stories and has been credited with editing collections attributed to Alfred Hitchcock.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Drubble #1: A story in 25 words

I have written 50-word Dribbles and 100-word Drabbles. For the first time, I tried my hand at a 25-word story that might just come true someday. I'd like to call it a Drubble. The inspiration was a near-miss with a porter—or coolie as they're still known—at the suburban railway station where I get off. In fact, I've had several near-misses. Porters and deliverymen carrying their burden on their heads and shoulders are a common sight at most railway stations in India.

I saw a porter with a load on his head and ducked.
Then he saw an overhead cable and stooped.
And knocked me out cold.