Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: HEIR TO MURDER (1953) by Miles Burton


This is the third time I've run into Miles Burton's creation, Desmond Merrion, wealthy criminologist and former intelligence officer. And it is also the third time I've come away unimpressed. Lucky for me, then, that Burton's books (at least the three I've read so far) work pretty well despite the banality and uninspired crime-solving of Merrion and Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard, Burton's detecting duo. Obviously, there is more to these books than who solves the crimes or I would not have sat down to read a third one.

The crimes in HEIR TO MURDER begin on a rainy windswept night overlooking the rush of a storm swept sea - so of course we are hooked right off the bat. The author is then smart not to let the time lag between a second murder and more chicanery. Crimes that seem at first to be accidents - unrelated coincidences - turn out to be links in a nefarious chain. (As we knew they would.)

There are NO coincidences - especially in murder mysteries, so off we go.

Miles Burton's obvious forte was plotting, at least so it seems to me. His characterizations suffer by comparison and though I am usually a 'character' person, occasionally I will be drawn in to a story where plot and setting are intriguing (or familiar) enough to satisfy my craving for a good stormy night English village mystery. The setting is Carmouth on the Southwest coast of England. (I'm big on windswept English villages - well, you probably already knew that.)

Not that Burton's characterizations are awful, that would be too much to bear, but just that they are not memorable in any way. Even the killer, once exposed (and those of us who are long time mystery buffs will probably figure out who the murderer is before Merrion does) is not anyone who is sharply drawn and his motivation isn't clear until we are given information near the end which should have been (in a fair play mystery which I believe this is supposed to be) revealed earlier. But again, that didn't stop me continuing to read and so I give the author credit for that particular deft trick.

HEIR TO MURDER begins right off the bat with the death of a local doctor in a cruelly staged accident. Then later a nurse is done in cliff-side by 'accidental' fall.

Desmond Merrion and his wife are vacationing nearby and get drawn into the mystery early. Scotland Yard finally shows up on the scene after a third violent incident with more to come. At first I had the suspicion that we were dealing with a serial killer - English village style, but after awhile that seemed not to be the case.

Lady Violet Ventham, a wealthy elderly woman turns out to be the fulcrum around which events are progressing though she herself remains untouched, keeping her own secrets while inviting Merrion and his wife to stay with her and her resentful niece at the local manor house. Of course Lady Ventham is rich enough that her will is an item of more than casual interest. Could it be the reason for all the violent happenings?

What do you think?

But the resolution of the mystery takes more than the usual twists and turns and even if the ending is a tiny bit of a let-down, the author still brings it off.  It is in the oft misleading way in which the story unfolds that keeps the reader guessing and wondering what will happen next. In a mystery, 'what  happens next' can make up for any short-comings if there are certain other elements present.

Foremost of these elements is style of writing which often makes up for other sins. Miles Burton is a good writer and sometimes that's just enough when coupled with plotting dexterity. He is adept and clever enough to interest the reader and keep him or her riveted despite his lackluster characters. How that works I don't know, I just know that occasionally it happens. There's no accounting for the mysterious.

I recommend HEIR TO MURDER even if you haven't read any of Burton's books before. It is the 46th (!?) entry in the series but this type of thing doesn't need to be read in order.

Miles Burton was the pseudonym for Cecil Street, a decorated soldier and later prolific writer of mysteries.

It is Friday once again, so don't forget to check in at Edgar Award nominated author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: CORPSES IN ENDERBY (1954) by George Bellairs


I was not bowled over by this, my first George Bellairs book, but I was engaged enough. I am very fond of murder mysteries that take place in English villages and are written with some wit and imaginative detail. I am also fond of mysteries in which the characters have eccentric names. Bellairs has a gift for naming his characters, no question.

From reading about Bellairs on a couple of other blogs, I got the impression that he is not considered top notch, but then there are not all that many 'top-notchers' that remain unread. And once you've read those, what do you do? You go to the next tier, and the next one below that and hope for the best. Otherwise, you'd have to stop reading vintage mysteries altogether or read the same ones over and over. The choices are not infinite.

Bellairs was the pseudonym for a British author named Harold Blundell (1902 - 1982) who also wrote as Hilary Landon. That's all I'll say about him, because really, if you're interested, you can find out all you want to know by googling. Frankly, those kinds of details don't interest me that much. I prefer to concentrate on his wares: the book (or books) as the case may be.

CORPSES IN ENDERBY hints at more than the usual amount of murders but doesn't deliver more than the usual - this time, two. With a title like that you'd have expected the plot to be littered with...well, corpses, but to no avail. Still, I enjoyed the book once I realized that two was it.

However, I was not all that impressed with Bellairs' cop duo: Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Littlejohn and his associate, Cromwell. Neither of them made any long-lasting impression on me. But we'll see as I get further into the series.

The plot:

Ned Bun is not a well-liked denizen of the English village of Enderby. He is a bully with money - the type that usually winds up prematurely dead in mysteries of this type. So when he's murdered on a dark and stormy night there's not much sadness in evidence though of course, there's the usual consternation in the village. The real question to my mind is - why wasn't he killed sooner?

Enter Scotland Yard after Bunn's body is found sprawled on a rainy street just outside his shop.

Almost immediately we have a suspect. A man named Wilfred Flounder (I told you, Bellairs has a gift for names), a would-be suitor of Bunn's daughter Bertha - they were planning on running away since Bunn was not keen on the match. In fact Flounder seems to be the last person to have seen Bunn alive and judging by the police's interest he is convinced he's going to be arrested.

"In the afternoon following the murder of Edwin [Ned] Bunn, Wilfred Flounder took a rope from the shop and prepared to hang himself. He was highly strung and impulsive, and he thought he might as well get it done before the public hangman did it for him."

Ned Bunn was an unlamented member of a large clan of country folk who see it as familial duty for all to descend on Enderby for the funeral draped in black like a bunch of beetles gathering at a dung feast.

I loved the parade of eccentrics as they show up either on the local bus or in taxis. Though the family is known to have lots of money, they certainly don't lavish it on themselves or their methods of transportation.

"Mr. Blowitt [the publican] was still standing at the window watching the procession of Bunns coming and going at the shop opposite. The coffin with the corpse had just been taken in and figures in black kept entering eagerly and coming out with either tearful or resigned expressions. A large taxi, like a hearse itself, drew up bearing a black burden of such weight that the vehicle heeled over dangerously.

"Hullo. Aunt Sarah's come."

Several of the family emerged, fawned on the contents of the taxi, and then hoisted out an enormous woman, larger than any two of the reception committee."

The author parades three viable suspects before us as the story progresses, it's not only Wilfred Flounder (he survives the botched suicide attempt) who looks suspicious. There is also a desperate man named Hetherow who has the shop next door to the dead man and unable to pay his mortgage to Bunn was about to be foreclosed upon, he and his sick wife thrown out into the street.  Then there's Jubal Medlicott who has a roving eye and a habit of wearing spats (even though this is the 1950's) and strutting about like a dandy with a flower in a buttonhole. Medlicott had long ago gone through his wife's money and they and their silly twin daughters were now reduced to living in the attic of their former home while renting the rest of the building out to noisy tenants. His doormat of a wife, Anne Bunn, is due to come into a very welcome share of Ned's money.

There are all sorts of secrets, red herrings and village shenanigans to be exposed and exploited and about three quarters of the way through, we kind of know who did the dirty deed. Unlike Christie and the other 'top-notchers' Bellairs isn't able to hold the plot together strongly enough NOT to give away the identity of the killer. But I still read through to the end and didn't resent the fact.

Since I haven't read any other Bellair books, I have to say that judging by this one, I will be reading a couple more now and then as they are readily available as e-books for Kindle. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Since this is Friday once again, don't forget to check in at author and Edgar Award nominee Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Salon: Women in Red (In celebration of this past week's International Women's Day.)

American painter Bessie Hoover Wessel (1888 - 1973) via


Russian painter Alexej Jawlenski (1864 -  1941) - via 


Chilean painter Claudio Bravo (1936 - 2011) via


Hungarian painter Geza Voros (1897 - 1957) 


English painter Dame Laura Knight (1877 - 1970)


American painter Laura Wheeler Waring (1887 - 1948) via


British painter Henry Young Allison (1889 - 1972) 


Contemporary Chinese painter Xi Pan


Spanish painter Montserrat Gudiol (1933 - 2015) 


Polish contemporary painter Zofia Blazko - via


Painters of all sorts from different countries, art of all types, women and dabs of red in common. International Women's Day was Wednesday, March 8th, but any day is a good day to celebrate women who now, more than ever, need to band together. NEVER forgetting that we have NO ALLIES in the current American administration.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday Forgotten Book: BLACK HEARTS AND SLOW DANCING (1988) by Earl Emerson



This is a  re-working of a post from 2011 because I got to thinking it was time again to talk about author Earl Emerson (I haven't done so in a while) and this is one of my very favorites of his many books.

Shamus Award winning author Earl Emerson was a Seattle firefighter for 32 years so when he writes about fire, fire-fighters, fire-fighting and all relevant accoutrement, he knows whereof he speaks. His on-the-job knowledge adds a rich verisimilitude to his writing -  if the plots concern fire in any way (and they often do), all the gritty details will be right. Besides that, Emerson has a fine sure hand with an intricate plot and a gift for inventive characterization and smart-guy dialogue.

Often labeled a 'regional' author, because he lives in and writes books set in the Pacific Northwest, Emerson is not, perhaps, as well known here in the east as he should be. I discovered him a few years ago and have been a fan ever since.

BLACK HEARTS AND SLOW DANCING is the first book in the Mac Fontana series. (Did I mention that Emerson also has a gift for titles? One of my other favorites is, HELP WANTED: ORPHANS PREFERRED.

Staircase, Washington, is a small town at the base of the Cascade Mountains. It is 'interim' Sheriff and ex-firefighter MacKinley Fontana's current neck of the woods. A 'live and let live' kind of guy, he's happy enough there, sorting out his life and raising his son Brandon.

But now that he's found a dead body lashed to a tree, Mo Costigan, the major, is having second thoughts about Mac's interim job. It's not as though he were the 'real' sheriff. But Mac is no pushover. Just see the way he handles Satan, the ex-sheriff's intractable German Shepherd.

The dead man turns out to have been a firefighter and Mac, an ex Seattle firefighter himself, wants to find out why he was killed - beaten to death. Against the mayor's wishes, he heads up to Seattle to nose around - Mac has a nose for greed and corruption. But by doing so he winds up opening old wounds and making himself a few more enemies.

Mac's been trying to settle into 'normal' after some hard times involving his firefighting past and a mysterious job out east in that 'other world' he doesn't like to think about. But someone in Staircase doesn't like the way Mac's investigation into the fire fighter's death is going.

When he's shot at and left for dead and the town's biggest church goes up in flames Mac comes to the realization that life in a small town is not going exactly the way he envisioned it.

Mac Fontana is a hard-driven guy with a twisted sense of humor and a fondness for the relative quiet of the countryside. But it's going to take him a while to get into the slower, easier rhythm. (Being shot and church fires not withstanding.) In the meantime, he's raising his boy and doing the best he can. Emerson's writing in the scenes between Mac and his son is especially appealing. He writes those so naturally, yet when Mac is dealing with some ugly, nasty types, those scenes evolve equally well. There's nothing forced here, just a kind of fluid writing ability I like. I think this stems from having well-rounded characterizations - Mac's interactions arise organically from who he is.

Last but not least, I love that Mac Fontana, bad as he wants to be, loves to slow dance at the local weekly dances. There he and the Mayor, Maureen known as 'Mo' work out their antagonisms with a few smooth moves.

Mac Fontana, a man of many talents.
Earl Emerson, author of many talents.

I really do wish there were more books in this particular series. But not to worry, Earl Emerson has also written several stand-alone books as well as the very engaging Thomas Black series featuring a private eye working in Portland, Oregon who gets involved in often bizarre cases. Check out his Fantastic Fiction page for all the titles.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author and Edgar Award nominee Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE EMPTY HOUSE (1978) by Michael Gilbert




Another Michael Gilbert book to talk about. Admittedly I was very disappointed in the rather boring and unpleasant PAINT, GOLD & BLOOD by Gilbert, which I read after the oh-so-brilliant SMALLBONE DECEASED, but THE EMPTY HOUSE makes up for the lapse.

(I'm currently reading a third Gilbert book which we'll talk about at some point - if I like it. So far so good.)

The thing is, from what I understand, Gilbert had no inclination to follow a set routine. Where SMALLBONE DECEASED was a wonderful whodunit set in a London law office, the other two books I've read have been more thrillers than anything else. So take that into consideration. Occasionally this kind of thing can be disconcerting. But I'm willing to adapt if the writing is good enough and the stories engage me in some way.

And now for THE EMPTY HOUSE:

Tall ("I'm 6' 5") and string thin Peter Manciple is an insurance adjuster with a quirky talent.  He is blessed with a kind of selective photo memory thing which helps him in his work and makes him a valued investigator even at his youngish age. His cautious firm is quite willing to send him off on an important case even if he is considered a bit of an occasional loose cannon.

The plot:

When a car carrying a local man plunges over a cliff at Rackthorn Bay,  no one expects the car or the body to be found since the waters there are treacherous. This particularly jagged coast of Devon is known as a spot where ships, in the past, had often been lured by smugglers to their doom.

"What Rackthorn takes, Rackthorn keeps."

The occupant of the car is presumed to be Dr. Alexander Wolfe, a geneticist who was working on a hush-hush project involving potential biological warfare at a nearby government installation. Turns out his insurance policy has an odd provisio involving death by water which is one of the reasons adjuster Peter Manciple is on the job.

Was it accident or suicide or something else? As Manciple begins his investigation it almost immediately becomes apparent that 'something else' might be involved. Dr. Wolfe was being stalked by both Israelis and Palestianian agents so his 'death' came at a very opportune time. When Manciple visits the sinister government labs where Wolfe worked, he is aware that all is not as it should be. One of the scientists seems especially jittery and later calls Peter to arrange a secret meeting. Uh oh.

In the course of the investigation, Peter also visits a local archaeological dig where he spots some incongruities which cause him to wonder if the workers there might not be involved in nefarious activities having to do with Dr. Wolfe's death. Peter's trick memory plays a valuable part in deciphering visual clues as he begins to put two and two together. To that end he will hook up with a beautiful young woman traveling about the countryside with her brother.

When he is advised to leave well enough alone and sign off on the investigation, Peter is more determined than ever to do his job even in the face of obvious threats to his life. As a result he will be drawn into a treacherous conspiracy of cold blooded army types, Israeli assassins and equally murderous Palestinians all vying for the notes Dr. Wolfe is presumed to have left behind.

Though I was not especially happy with one aspect of the ending, I still highly recommend THE EMPTY HOUSE even though I have no idea why the book is titled thus since no empty house has anything to do with anything in the book. Not really. But you'll like the engaging leading character (and isn't that always half the battle right there?) and his quest for the truth simply because it is his job.

And since this is Friday once again, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom - he is doing hosting duties this week - to see what other forgotten or overlooked book other bloggers are talking about this week.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE GRAND SOPHY (1950) by Georgette Heyer


Isn't it wonderful when you discover you've been wrong all along about an author and then - oh heavenly day - you have a whole roster of books to cruise through. (I snobbishly had thought that Georgette Heyer's work was not for me because who knows why. I was ignorant, that's all I can say.)

Georgette Heyer's Regency books (as well as her mysteries) are for EVERYONE who enjoys a certain style of historical British wit, elegant stories, charmingly written, well researched, filled with great characters, occasional bits of brilliance and laugh out loud moments. I discovered her a couple of years ago and since then I've read and listened to (on audible) many of her books and my enthusiasm and respect for her work have never lessened.

Heyer didn't invent this sort of story-telling except maybe she did.

***************************

THE GRAND SOPHY is first and foremost, a 'domestic comedy'. The kind of story you either like or you don't. All I require of this sort of thing is that it be well and wittily written and that it makes me smile, maybe even laugh out loud. Fortunately, Heyer delivers the goods.

Sophy Stanton-Lacy is an unfashionably outspoken and bossy young woman with flash, cash and dash. She is a domestic hurricane of quick wit, intelligence and common sense. In action, she reminds me a bit of Flora Post, Stella Gibbons' heroine in COLD COMFORT FARM - though Flora is less outspoken and has no money. Sophy on the other hand, is loaded.

But like Flora, Sophy is a natural born manager. She can't help wanting to set things to rights. It's in her nature. She can't be happy until she organizes everything and everyone to her (and their) true satisfaction. She sounds insufferable, I know, but really she isn't. She's actually a hoot. She is also a pretty emancipated miss, a Regency feminist if there ever were such a thing.

Sophy makes you smile and shake your head - she is outrageous (even going so far as to carry a pistol when necessary (needless to say, she is a keen shot), but always with the best of intentions. Proven usually right in the end, she simply isn't the type to stand by and watch everything about her go to rack and ruin - not when she's sure she can figure out the right solution. In her plots and ploys, she works with the reader to fashion the ending the reader wants. Very clever.

Simply let yourself be guided by the Grand Sophy and all will be well.

When this dynamic whirlwind is sent - temporarily- to live with her uncle Lord Ombersley's family, while her father Sir Horace goes on a government mission across the sea to Brazil, Sophy immediately sees that her uncle's fretful family needs fixing.

Unconventional and outspoken, Sophy doesn't stand on ceremony. She was raised on the Continent traveling with her widowed father during the unpleasantness with Napoleon and she's seen and done things most young Regency girls can only read about - if they they are allowed to read newspapers and novels that is (which many aren't.). Sophy knows everyone who's anyone, including the Duke of Wellington himself. Sophy is, of course, a 'lady' but one who is impatient with ridiculous Regency rules and regulations. 

Lord Ombersley's eldest son Charles Rivenhall (Sophy's cousin) is, for all intents and purposes, the head of the family now, having inherited an estate from a relative who rightly skipped over Charles' father because of the elderly parent's well known profligate ways. Charles is a bit of a martinet, what with having the weight of his father's gambling debts, his mother's clinging indecision, careless teenage brother Hubert and four sisters to be properly married off each in their turn, on his shoulders. The entire family treads lightly around his infamous temper. Sophy wonders almost immediately how the family has allowed Charles to become so tyrannical and set in his ways. 

Stiff-necked Charles is recently affianced to Miss Eugenia Wraxton, daughter of a Viscount and a stickler for Regency propriety. She is also an unprincipled snoop and an all around pain in the butt. But Charles, of course, will not realize this until Sophy opens his eyes to Miss Wraxton's unlovely persona. Charles is hoping for a 'comfortable' marriage, but Sophy soon begins to make him realize that the grim Miss Wraxton would be anything but.

As for the rest of the family: Charles' sister Cecelia, a sweet but stubborn young chit, has fixed her attentions on a beautifully handsome young poet, Augustus Fawnhope, a penniless 'younger' son who refuses to get a real job. He is writing his 'magnum opus' - an epic poem he hopes someone will buy and stage. Augustus isn't a bad sort at all, he's just oblivious to reality. The equally beautiful Cecelia had been intended for the slightly older but elegant, charming and kindly, Lord Charlbury, a wealthy man who adores her. But Cecelia refuses to comply. And then of course, Charlbury would go and get an attack of the mumps at a most inauspicious time.

The likable but ineffectual Lady Ombersley cannot be relied upon to deal with any family exigencies involving domestic life as she is the type who cannot abide fuss - it sends her into spasms. She lives in dread of discomfiting her eldest son Charles who holds the purse strings.

When one of the younger daughters becomes deathly ill, it is Sophy who dismisses the alcohol sloshing 'nurse' and takes over round-the-clock nursing duties herself - Lady Ombersley's spasms having prevented her from seeing to her little daughter's needs. Charles' eyes are opened by Sophy's forthright goodness as he realizes that Miss Wraxton's fear of disease has prevented her from even entering the Ombersley's household until all contagion has been eliminated.

As trials and tribulations come and go, there are some colorful characters to meet, including a wonderfully indolent Spanish Marquesa and an ineffectual hypochondriac popinjay, Lord Bromford. who fancies himself in love with Sophy. But as family dramas pop up, Sophy steps in and takes charge, annoying and bedeviling Charles every step of the way.

Why she even goes so far as to visit an odious money-lender on the seamier side of town, carrying a pistol hidden in her fur muff! Yegads, does this young woman have no propriety? 

Fortunately for the Ombersleys, she has. And fortuitously she has landed in the middle of this fractured family, intelligently intuited what is wrong and used her special talents to set things to rights. In the end, all will be well and the grand Sophy will emerge triumphant.

This is such a delightfully entertaining book that if I were you I'd save it, like a special box of expensive chocolates - until the right moment. You can then sink into a pile of pillows (the chocolates are up to you), retreat from the strife and drama of daily reality and enter the agreeable make-believe Regency world of THE GRAND SOPHY.

This Friday, Todd Mason will be doing meme hosting duties at his blog, Sweet Freedom, so don't forget to check in to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The MOVIE OF THE WEEK BLOGATHON

 

GARGOYLES (1972) starring Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt and Bernie Casey.

Rick's Classic Film and TV Cafe is a very enticing movie and television oriented blog where those of us in the know go for pertinent and impertinent (as the case may be) vintage film and TV information of the most intriguing kind. Rick's enthusiasm is genuine and catching and there's little he doesn't know about early television and films. So when he announced a Blogathon of classic mid 1960's - 1989 TV Movies of the Week – I wanted to be a part of it. I begged, I pleaded, he said okay and here we are.

(It occurred to me after I'd chosen this movie to write about that I'd written about it a few years ago. But that was then and this is now and anyway, there are only finite movies to write about.)

GARGOYLES (1972) is my Blogathon entry and boy did I pick a humdinger to exemplify the classic 'movie of the week' style back then. It's entirely possible that I chose this because it's the only movie I remember from way back then, but that's another story for another day.

This is actor Cornell Wilde near the end of his long film career, he is playing the father here, sleep-walking though the part of Dr. Mercer Boley, a combination paleontologist/anthropologist who specializes in debunking old monster myths, fetishes and practices and writing best-selling books about it all. On the relevant summer in question, the professor is joined by his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt), as together they haphazardly tour the desolate southwestern desert while he completes his latest research for an upcoming - as he describes it - '...nice,coffee table book.'

Salt is a baby-voiced, would-be journalist in a fetching 1970 'hippie' ensemble - flowing pants, beads and skimpy halter. No wonder she captivates a certain horned and lurking apparition of which more shall be revealed shortly.

Heading out from the airport, Dr. Boley and his daughter stop at an eccentric old geezer's road-side 'museum' to check out some promised rare specimens. Unwisely lingering until the sun goes down, they are promptly attacked by unseen creatures in the night - the 'museum' goes up in flames and so does the old geezer. But not before he'd shown Dr. Boley his prize possession, a giant skeleton of an upright humanoid animal with bat-like wings and horns. Uh-oh.


Father and daughter make a tentative escape in their station-wagon as out of the noisome night something large drops onto the roof of their car. That ‘something large’ is a reptilian, scaly-skinned creature who causes the winsome Miss Boley to emit ear-splitting screeches.

This attack is very vividly done, considering the low budget propensities of these sorts of movies and no computer gadgetry. Just great costume, make-up, camera work and stunt tenacity. Was it scary? Yes. But wait, it gets better.


Somehow the much put-upon car makes it to a local gas station in the middle of nowhere - this whole film takes place in as gloomy and desolate a desert town as hasn't been seen since the height of 1950's monster movies. Remember THEM? You get the idea.

The gas station is within walking distance of a convenient motel and oh, by the way, the nearby lonely police station.

Anyway, once Dr. Boley, the daughter, the sheriff and his deputy head out to investigate the museum crime scene, they run into some dirt bikers - one of whom is a young and lanky Scott Glenn in a very early role. The sheriff is eager to close the case so he pounces on the dirt-bikers as likely culprits. Boley and Diana haven't mentioned the 'monsters in the night' thing going on because Boley says they have no real proof - yet. (How about some giant claw marks on the roof of the car?) He is foolishly hoping to keep things quiet until he gets his book written. Yeah, right, that's gonna' work.

Well, one scary thing leads to another and before you know it, Diana has been spirited away by the king of the gargoyles played rather effectively (with some ferocious make-up) by Bernie Casey.


The king is quite taken with the nubile young human with gold hoop earrings and white halter top. (So it wasn't only my brother who lusted after Jennifer Salt back in the day.) Since as explained by the king, gargoyles have been around for thousands of years and they only show up to procreate every few hundred or so years, they have to make optimum use of the time they're allotted.

There is something about the king as played by Bernie Casey, which, after a while humanizes him to the point where you can almost see his point of view. He cannot help who and what he is, he cannot help wanting the survival of his species at all costs. And there is something confoundingly alluring (in a decidedly repellent way) in the unknown, the hideous and mysterious, the idea of winged humanoid creatures. Or maybe it's just Bernie Casey's mesmerizing voice which is so attractive.

 At any rate, the gargoyle king drops his captive back at the cave in the hills where the other gargoyles reside. And as these things usually go, a jealous female gargoyle (with more bird-like feathers than the male) instantly catches on that human-girl might be competition.


"You must teach me, Diana," says the king. Her father's books have turned up in the cave (I think some of the wingless gargoyle youngsters earlier took them from the motel room or maybe the car), books whose contents the king needs to understand in order to save his species from annihilation. Hey, I don’t know, that’s the explanation.

There are lots and lots of scenes showing Diana in her halter top.


The gargoyle egg nursery - incubation time: 400 - 500 years. 

In the meantime, while Diana is learning about gargoyle sociology, the dirt-bikers, the sheriff, the deputy and Dr. Boyle are busy fending off attacks out in the desert as they get closer to the caves.

Boyle will eventually be helped in his endeavor to save his daughter by - you guessed it - the jealous female of the species who is apparently the gargoyle king's mate.

In the end, the doctor decides the eggs must all be destroyed (there are tens of thousands) to save mankind. In the resulting melee, the king and his consort, exhausted and wounded, are allowed to fly away into the night. What happens next? You'll have to wait another 400 to 500 years to find out.


Despite the desperately low budget, lackluster dialogue, wooden acting (except from Bernie Casey who is marvelous) the film is a hoot and does have its creepy moments. You will definitely need some popcorn to wile away the dull stretches - mostly shots of cars driving on deserted highways - and also because movie monsters and popcorn just naturally go together.

I can't quite tell you why I have such lasting (and perhaps idiotic) regard for this movie, but I do. With all its faults and banality of acting, I still remember it fondly. Maybe I just watched it at the right moment in my life, or maybe I just like gargoyles or maybe the whole idea of such creatures in hiding alongside us sparked my imagination. I was never big on 'movies of the week' but this one remains fixed in memory and that's why I didn't mind sharing my enthusiasm and hopefully most of you won't remember the last time I talked about it and we'll just make believe it didn't happen.

Thank you Rick, for allowing me the opportunity to talk yet again about a movie that for whatever reason, remains tucked away in my memory of a time when I was a young mother (my daughter was two) and color television was just becoming the 'norm' - 1972, the year this movie was televised, was also the first year in which color televisions outnumbered black and white sets in the U.S.

Good times.

Be sure and link to Rick's Classic Film and TV Cafe to see what other Movies of the Week other movie loving bloggers are talking about today.

And as an added treat: link here, to watch GARGOYLES on youtube. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: SMALLBONE DECEASED (1950) by Michael Gilbert



Where have I been that I've missed reading Michael Gilber's work until now? I recently saw a review on one of your blogs about SMALLBONE DECEASED (can't remember where of course) and I was immediately intrigued with the catchy title. Then I looked around and continued to read about Gilbert's many mysteries and the bigger mystery was why I'd never heard of him.

So I am since making up for lost time - after finishing SMALLBONE I ordered three more Gilbert books (Abe Books, of course has them cheap, cheap and free delivery) - can't wait to see if they'll be as good. Hard to beat perfection though. Michael Gilbert has completely won me over with this puzzler of a mystery, fourth in the Major Hazelrigg series.

And okay, I admit it, I didn't catch on to the killer's identity until near the very end and at that point, the author was practically telling me who the culprit was. I thought it was one person and then suddenly it was someone else. Slipped by me completely. I love when that happens.

Most of the 'action' in SMALLBONE DECEASED takes place in an English law office so not a lot of room for physical to-ing and fro-ing. The language is occasionally legalese and precise but still deliciously witty. Gilbert has a knack for the calmly delivered humorous phrase, wording which on second thought makes you laugh out loud. He has the keen wit of a natural observer, someone who perhaps had seen and done it all and found it all amusing.

In truth, he probably had. After graduating from law school, Gilbert joined up and served in WWII. He was captured but escaped with another soldier and endured a 500 mile journey back to the Allied front. After the war he joined a law firm and eventually became partner - all the while writing his mysteries. So between being a lawyer and a soldier he HAD probably seen it all. 'All' comes in handy when you're a prolific writer.

Back to the book:

When Marcus Smallbone, a slightly disreputable trustee whom nobody likes, is found dead at the law offices of Horniman, Birley and Craine (Gilbert had a gift for names), Inspector Hazelrigg is soon on the case. Though in this book he hardly makes any kind of impression since most of the sleuthing is
done by Henry Bohum (pronounced Boon), a young lawyer newly hired by the firm.

Henry is a likable guy with a rare disorder which allows him only about an hour and a half of sleep each night. (Though this disorder has little to do with the case in hand.) Bohun is taken into Hazelrigg's confidence and asked to keep his eyes open and make leading conversation with the rest of the staff, Hazelrigg having decided that Bohum could not be the killer. (Of course, in some other book this would be the tip-off but here it is not. Gilbert is too sly for that.)

And while the mystery itself is complicated and intriguing (who knew that attorney's metal deed boxes were that accommodatingly large?), Gilbert's wickedly amusing writing style enlivens what might have otherwise been a too remote (it is 1950 after all) enterprise set in the supposedly dull confines of an office full of grayish lawyers and clerks.

Here is a brief bit of gossipy dialogue between the firm's secretaries:

"Do you know, I believe Miss Chittering has a boyfriend.,
"Nonsense," said Miss Cornel. "She doesn't know one end of a man from the other."

I enjoyed the interaction between various employees of Horniman, Birley and Craine and most especially loved the grumpy and unpleasant style of Bill Birley, a partner who delights in making his underlings cower.

After a verbal altercation with Inspector Hazelrigg who brooks no nonsense from possible murder suspects, Birley vents:

'Mr. Birley then rang for Miss Chittering, and as soon as she got inside the room started to dictate a lengthy lease at high speed. Miss Chittering was a competent short-hand typist, but no one other than a contortionist could have taken down dictation at the speed at which Mr. Birley was speaking. As soon as she was forced to ask for a repetition Mr. Birley snapped at her and increased his speed.

Five minutes of this treatment was sufficient to reduce Miss Chittering to tears and to restore a certain amount of Mr. Birley's amour-propre.

...Mr. Birley, having disposed of Miss Chittering, looked around for fresh conquests. After a moment's thought he rang the bell and summoned Mr. Prince to his presence.

Mr. Prince, who has already flitted vaguely on the outskirts of the story, was an elderly Common Law clerk. He has spent his professional life with the firm of Cockroft, Chasemore and Butt, whom he had served efficiently, and on the whole, happily for forty years. Unfortunately the firm had failed to survive the war and Mr. Prince had found himself thrown on the labour market. Bill Birley had snapped him up gratefully, made full use of him and paid him a good deal less than he was worth. Since Mr. Prince stood in considerable awe of Mr. Birley, and in even greater fear of losing his job, he was a very convenient whipping block. Mr. Birley reduced him to a state of quivering impotence in something less than five minutes, and then clumped downstairs to plague Mr. Waugh, the cashier.'

Okay, this all had me laughing out loud. Maybe it stops the whodunit forward motion, but I really don't care. This is the sort of thing I always hope to find in British mysteries.

Speaking of which:

The story has several red herrings and an incident with a mirror which is a major clue had we but known that it wasn't the mirror. Though each chapter heading has some legal mumbo-jumbo and a quote, it doesn't necessarily uncomplicate (or complicate, as the case may be) things. The main clue is very neatly passed right in front of our eyes though in truth, the assumption made from the incident might be a bit far-reaching. However, it does make sense I suppose, so I'm not going to make too much of a fuss about it.

When a second person in the law firm is killed, the investigation intensifies primarily because the killing seems cruelly senseless and the victim is an innocuous sort who is killed because of something deadly she knows but doesn't know she knows. Nobody likes when a foolish innocent is killed.

As SMALLBONE DECEASED has been highly recommended already, there's not much I can add except that I too highly recommend it. This is the sort of thing that nobody writes anymore and isn't that just too bad. May be the reason that vintage is still so popular.

Well, since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at Edgar Award nominee and best selling author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Today is Troublesome/Evil Children day at Pattinase, but I'd forgotten, hence my review is not in keeping with the theme. Old lady memory strikes again.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Overlooked Book: FEATHER BRAINED My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder & Find a Rare Bird on My Own by Bob Tarte


This is not by any means a 'forgotten' book at all, maybe not even overlooked, but I had to figure out how to fit it in on our regular Friday round-up and here we are. Bob Tarte might be thought of as a regional writer and occasionally they do tend to get overlooked by those outside the relevant region. He is an amiable guy prone to worry and grump who nevertheless writes delightful memoir-like books. He lives in Michigan with his remarkable wife Linda in near harmony with the local flora and fauna as well as a mind-numbing collection of beloved pets including parrots, parakeets, bunnies, cats, geese, ducks, turkeys and other assorted animalia. One of my fondest wishes is someday, somehow, to meet the one and only hooligan parrot Dusty.

"Linda's parrot Dusty was enjoying his morning out-of-cage time playing inside the closet at the bottom of the stairs, indulging in a favorite activity of biting a pair of shoes. He paid to attention to me as I padded stocking-footed down the steps to warm up a cup of coffee. I should have known better than to underestimate such a calculating bird. When I reached the landing he whirled around and launched himself at my feet, forcing me to vault over the back of our L-shaped couch, coffee cup in hand. Having reasserted his status at the top of the pecking order, he turned his attention back to the closet."

Linda rehabilitates wild birds orphaned or injured, from time to time, so there is a constant variety of life (wild and otherwise) to be looked after and day to day adventures in animal husbandry to write about. This is something that, thankfully, Bob Tarte does for a living.

FEATHER BRAINED is Bob's lively journey to be taken seriously as a birder and to find a rare species he can brag about online to fellow birders. Fortunately for Bob and for us, his slightly skewed sense of humor explains all this in often laugh out loud episodes in which he never spares himself or his misadventures. Honestly, Bob and especially Linda's patience with natural foibles sometimes seems super-human.

In addition to laughing as I read along, I also got to learn quite a bit about birds, birding, birdsong, avian habitats and the peculiarities of bird aficionados in general. I also shared Bob and Linda's sense of wonder and awe when an especially beautiful bird showed up at their backyard feeder or foraged in the nearby woods or down by the pond or in a neighbor's tree. I went with Bob and Linda or Bob and his friend Bill (the non-birder birder) on their occasional treks to bird gathering spots across the state all in the name of Bob trying to find a rare species to call his own.

"Jeez, what is that?" I blurted out, startled by a face so fiery orange, it might have been painted with a fluorescent highlighter pen. Two birders told me its name. A charcoal black, triangular patch across the eyes contributed to the blackburnian warbler's black, burning appearance. At that moment I understood why I'd really come. Not so much for the numerical exercise of adding species to my list - though there was that undeniable pleasure - but for fleeting encounters with beings too splendid to exist."

You don't have to know much about birds to enjoy this book, God knows I'm no expert (and I'm not a birder, though my daughter and her family do enjoy occasionally going out into the woods looking for birds) since I have always maintained that nature is best viewed from the inside of a moving car and the only birds I can readily recognize in real life are your standard assortment of sparrows, yellow finches, cardinals, starlings, blackbirds, crows and robins. (Well, yes, I can identify Canada geese and swans and ducks and the like and thrill when watching them in flight.) Anything else, I have to reach for a bird book or check online. That doesn't prevent me, however, from still being fascinated by avian variety and beauty.

Anyone interested in memoirs, birding, birds in general, humorous encounters with nature, the fine points of marriage and stories about grumpy men finding their natural calling will delight in this book. I did, for all of the above reasons.

"I loved birds, and every bird was my favorite bird. But no bird was a better bird than a bird I saw with Linda. This had been true from when we had first met, and it was even truer now."

My hint to the University of Michigan Press towards the betterment of the next edition is this: the black and white photographs which add no real value to the look of the book should be replaced with line illustrations, perhaps by local highschool art students (?) I know color photography is expensive to print, but at the very least, black and white stylized illustrations would add a bit of visual 'oomph' to the charm of Bob Tarte's prose.

Either/or. Read the book. Then check out Bob Tarte's other writings, particularly ENSLAVED BY DUCKS.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at Edgar Award nominated author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked (or not as the case may be) books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: ANY TWO CAN PLAY (1981) by Elizabeth Cadell


An author I've never read before (never even heard of before), recommended by Nan at LETTERS FROM A HILL FARM. Thank you, Nan.

I'm a big fan of D.E. STEVENSON, ANGELA THIRKELL and E.F. BENSON - each has their own quirky (and often stealthily hilarious) way of telling basically the same story set in an England of long ago, an England made familiar to us by so many BBC and PBS television programs. Thanks to them, we are as familiar with fictional English village life and life up at the manor house as any Englishman or woman, maybe even more so.

I wondered if there were more of these types of stories out there. Happy to say, that Elizabeth Cadell fits the bill though her work is a bit quieter and perhaps a bit gentler than either Thirkell or Benson. She is closest to D.E. Stevenson from what I can tell. Of course if you haven't read any of those authors, then you won't know what I'm talking about - you'll just have to play catch-up. But for those of you who are familiar, then you know whereof I speak.

I did try a couple of other recommended authors from this era and wasn't all that impressed, but Cadell stood out for me. In these times of political turmoil, nothing could be further from reality than her endearing romantic story of village life and English quirkiness. A perfect getaway.

In fact, I will probably begin rereading all of my Thirkell, Stevenson and Benson books - as a way of staying sane - if you know what I mean. (I may even go back and reread all of my Jan Karons. These are desperate times.)

At any rate, back to ANY TWO CAN PLAY.

Elizabeth Cadell (1903 - 1989) was a prolific English author of 52 novels, two of which I've read recently and more of which I hope to read throughout the year. Fortunately, many of them are available on Kindle, though I prefer ordering the actual books in used form whenever possible. But it's nice to know that a bunch are available electronically just in case.

The setting for ANY TWO CAN PLAY is the small and typically gossipy English village of fiction. Downing is just the sort of enclave we love to spend time in when retreating from reality.

Natalie Travers, our accommodating twenty seven year old unmarried heroine, must step in to help her academic younger brother Julian when he is left alone and struggling with twins - his wife having left him and the babies in the lurch. Wifey was of the sort who tried domesticity for a short while but upon deciding it wasn't for her, off to London she went, back to the life preferred.

Julian, who is musical director of a private school, is not exactly parental material himself, as his preference is to be buried in his work or out playing golf. He will willingly leave it up to someone else to step in and handle the chores, take care of the kids and do the heavy lifting of day to day life. Unfortunately, daily help is hard to get in Downing, so his very obliging sister Natalie must temporarily save the day. Natalie, as Julian knows very well, is the sort to be counted on in times of domestic crisis.

Meanwhile, the local manor house owned by Downings immemorial for hundreds of years is apparently on the market. Henry Downing, the wealthy owner who'd been living in Italy, has returned bearing his young nephew who will be enrolled in the local school which Downings immemorial have traditionally attended. Henry is looking to sell his large ungainly ancestral home and as the local golf aficionados are looking to purchase the house to turn into an exclusive golf club, all seems to be moving smoothly towards a mutually approved end.

But soon, Henry becomes taken with village life and especially taken with Natalie, who is herself taken with domesticity and her brother's infant twins. She is independently single and not looking for entanglements but Henry's low-key style and inclination to show up when needed earns her spinsterish approval.

Among the rest of the characters, there's a voraciously hungry baby sitter who will eat anything that isn't hidden away, three dotty Downing aunts - one with a secret, Henry's engaging young nephew and his friend a young African student who, because of revolution in his country has nowhere to go, as well as assorted others including Natalie's stiff-necked older brother who would prefer that she take his advice in all things. and is aghast that she, once again, has offered to help Julian in a crisis of his own making.

There are no real problems or troubles that can't be ironed out between rational people and of course, a happy ending which accommodates all loose ends.

A light and lovely story, delightful and charming and endearing and all those good things that these sorts of books specialize in. But just because the story is light doesn't mean that the writing is lightweight, not at all. Cadell is expert at that sort of thing and her elegant touch and quiet humor is evident, as well as her affection for these sorts of people and their problems. I didn't want the story to end and would have still been reading if there'd been more.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author and Edgar Award nominee Patrica Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: ESCAPE (1932) by Philip MacDonald

Couldn't find a cover to display for this book so I invented one.


You know how I am, I get a crush on a writer and away I go. Lately I've been crushing on Philip MacDonald's work and so I sent away for a couple of his books (little by little, I hope to read all his mysteries). And am I glad I did. This one is a pip. The perfect momentary 'escape' from our current and provoking political climate.

A guy and gal on the lam from the cops, from a murderer, stealing cars and careering all over the English countryside. I mean, come on, what could be better?

ESCAPE is another delightful escapade from the man who gave us the classic, THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER and a couple of other humdingers. Not an Anthony Gethryn book, but still a plot committed to excitement and the thrill of the chase. Actually, it's more thriller (in the middle and second half) than mystery since about half way through you do figure out, despite the big red herring, who the killer must be, but that shouldn't dim our enthusiasm by any means.

The main character is Peter Craven, thirty five years old, ex-Army, ex-many things, down on his luck and literally out on the streets without a bean in his pocket. In soiled evening clothes (his landlord took everything else in lieu of rent and only let him have the few clothes he's wearing because he couldn't throw him out on the street naked) Peter is wandering about on a dark London street, no money, no food, no place to go.

He spots a house on a side street from which three women (obviously servants) are leaving - Peter assumes they're taking an evening break and wouldn't all do so together unless the place were empty. So he breaks into the house and helps himself to whatever food he can find. He's famished, one can hardly blame him.

Little does Peter know that this wee bit of breaking and entering will catapult him into a bizarre adventure and role as knight errant. Soon he will be carting a dead body over wintery London streets looking for a convenient dumping ground.

You see, the house isn't empty. There's a mysterious young woman in residence who will intrigue Peter and who will lead him to the dead body of her step-father slumped over a desk in the library upstairs.

(As a result of this, an unbelievable occurrence of the sort which could probably only happen in a book, will shortly unveil itself and we are asked to go along with it willy-nilly. It's up to you to decide if the far-fetchedness of it dooms the book for you. I went along and gullible reader that I am, swallowed it hook line and sinker.)

But from that moment, the chase is on as events spiral out of control for Peter and the young woman (whose name we discover is Frances Brandon) as they flee London and head out into the English countryside, helping themselves to a series of convenient cars along the way.

Eventually in their head long flight, in a remote cottage, Peter and Frances will stumble across a wonderfully written and rather enigmatic man who will guide them in their quest to learn the truth and avoid being charged with murder.

Though, as I mentioned, most of you long time mystery readers will soon decipher who the bad guy is, this is still a fun thrill-ride of a book and since it's Philip MacDonald at the helm, the writing is top-notch.

It's Friday once again, so don't forget to check in at author and Edgar nominee Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Books other bloggers are talking about today.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Today in America


Don't normally talk politics here and I don't intend to begin in any major way. But I had to say something and this brilliant take by Tim O'Brien on the alternate reality we seem to be living in - says it all.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS (1960) by Agatha Christie


It's possible I've spoken about this book before, if so, forgive me for rattling on about it yet again. But it is among my top five favorite Agatha Christie books so my enthusiasm for it will hopefully be indulged.

CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS is kind of unique in the Christie lexicon in that Hercule Poirot doesn't make an appearance until about two thirds of the way into the story. Everything develops quite nicely without him, moving back and forth as it does, from several points of view and one country to another. Before all dramatis personae are free to convene at Meadowbank School, scene of the various crimes, there is a revolution in the Middle East to be dealt with and a fortune in jewels to be hidden away.

By the time Poirot is summoned to investigate the mystery, two murders (with a third murder yet to come) and a kidnapping will have occurred. He is brought into story by Julia Upjohn, a young school girl who has intelligently figured out a thing or two, decides that an expert in crime is needed to sort things out and goes off to London to call on Poirot. Julia's intrepid mother is at the moment traveling to Anatolia (Turkey) on a bus and therefore incommunicado, but Julia's self-sufficiency comes to the rescue since she, unlike her gullible friend Jennifer, fully understands the meaning of the Arabian Nights story of 'new lamps for old'.

Meadowbank is an exclusive private English boarding school, the fulfillment of the life's work of two women: imposing Miss Bulstrode, head honcho respected by all and admired by many and the much less imposing but dependable Miss Chadwick, an older bustling sort, ready to smooth any ruffled waters and a math whiz besides. But in general, what Miss Bulstrode says, goes and just as well - she is the senior partner. The school has an excellent reputation and attracts girls from all over England and Europe. The two women are very proud of their accomplishment.

Early on we learn that Miss Bulstrode has lately been thinking of retiring and everyone assumes she will turn the school over to the redoubtable Miss Vansittart who is an exact copy of the Bulstrode in manner, voice and one supposes, thought. But Miss Bulstrode has doubts.

In the meantime, the new term begins and before you can swing a tennis racket, Miss Springer the gym teacher is shot dead late at night in the new gym or 'sports pavillion'. It is known that Miss Springer liked to pry.

A low-key investigation ensues since the police value the school and champion Miss Bulstrode. She calls in a few favors from old government friends and gets the story down-played in the papers. A couple of girls are withdrawn from the school by their parents and/or guardians but no major harm done.

That is, until the kidnapping of a princess and the second murder of another school mistress.

This is really one of Agatha Christie's more fiendish plots though there is a kind of snafu at the beginning which only becomes apparent after the story is nearly done. It's one of those, well why didn't she make a bigger fuss about what she saw?? But other than that, it's a book I never get tired of re-reading. It has a grand list of characters, including two realistic young girls very much of their time and place, amusing dialogue, clever plot machinations, a vicious killer hiding in plain sight, international complications, the sleepy Colonel Pikeaway, not to mention, the mysterious Mr. Robinson and last but not least, MI-6.

I might not begin here if I'd never read any Christie before, since Hercule Poirot arrives as a fully fashioned figure already many years into his career (career apres retirement, that is), but then again, why not?

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at Edgar nominated author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THE MONUMENTS MEN by Robert M. Edsel


"What if we win the war, but lose the last five hundred years of our cultural history on our watch? 
Lieutenant George Stout, U.S. First Army and U.S. Twelfth Army Group

A towering figure in the then obscure field of art conservation, Stout was one of the first people in America to understand the Nazi threat to the cultural patrimony of Europe and pushed the museum community and the army toward establishing a professional art conservation corps."

While reading this brilliant non-fiction account of the heroic quest - as WWII slowly wound down in Europe - of a handful of Americans (and others) for the hiding places of thousands upon thousands of artworks looted by the Nazis, I was once again lost in admiration for that so aptly named 'greatest generation'. Men and women who not only rescued the world from madness, but saved European civilization's cultural history as well. It's about time someone wrote about these long forgotten men of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section aka MFAA (and one valiant French woman) and their struggles to keep the world's cultural masterpieces from being destroyed or disappearing into an abyss.

"Hitler would use new laws, his laws, to gather the great artwork of Europe and sweep it back into the Fatherland."

Naturally the salvation of art masterpieces and monuments took a back seat to the lives of millions caught up in the desperation of war, but it was understood that the Nazis were bent not only on destroying whatever and whoever stood in their way, they were bent also on rapacious plundering of anything and everything that took their thwarted fancies:  Great works of art, paintings, sculpture, jewels, decorative artifacts, reliquaries, church altar pieces, religious artifacts, ancient books, all looted from their original owners, museums, churches and dwellings. No venue was sacred.

"Shortly we will be fighting our way across the continent of Europe in battles designed to preserve our civilization. Inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve.

It is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols whenever possible...." General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander


*******************************************

How a group of stalwart and dedicated men worked day and night under extreme conditions, in the field, sometimes under enemy fire, with little help, no supplies, not even transportation, is one of the great unheralded stories of WWII. The Monuments Men (so-called) were generally in their late thirties and early forties - men who had walked away from careers to join the military and do what they could to save the world's artistic treasures. They were curators, historians, conservators, artisans, architects, and in the case of Walker Hancock, a well-known sculptor, men who understood the beauty and meaning of art not only as a historical necessity but as a human one.

"As impossible as it seems, it was the duty of ...eight officers to inspect and preserve every important monument the Allied Forces encountered between the English Channel and Berlin."

Once on the ground, these officers were often out in the field alone, carrying a map, hitching rides with any available Allied truck or jeep, making their unheralded way through ruined towns and villages, occasionally lost behind enemy lines, attempting to track down known art works. They interviewed suspicious townspeople as best they could since they were rarely in company with a translator, often without the knowledge of the current supervising Allied officers who had only vaguely heard of the monuments work.

*****************************************

Inside the Mountain
Seigen, Germany
April 2, 1945

Half a mile inside a hill:

"As the door swung open, [Walker] Hancock caught a glimpse, just visible in his flashlight beam, of a massive brick-vaulted gallery. Then he felt the air: warm and humid. The ventilation system had been damaged beyond repair by Allied bombs, and water was dripping from the ceiling. George Stout entered the room first, his flashlight beam falling on a series of enormous wooden racks. The racks, Hancock noticed, went all the way to the ceiling. And every nook was filled with art: sculpture, paintings, decorations, altarpieces...In the beam of his flashlight, Hancock recognized works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cranach, Renoir, and especially Peter Paul Rubens the great seventeenth century Flemish painter who had been born in Siegen. On some of the canvases he noticed mold, while the paint on several wood panels was noticeably bubbled and flaked."

The salt mine at Altaussee, Austria, 1945:

...throughout the centuries, as cities and empires rose and fell, the Steinburg mine in the Sandling Mountain of Austria, just above the village known as Altaussee, continued to produce salt....

But in the winter of 1943-1944, the salt mine at Altaussee was assaulted by the modern world. First came the tracked vehicles necessary for maneuvering over the roads in the winter, when the five meters of snow were almost level with the treetops. They were followed by supply jeeps, and eventually a seemingly endless line of trucks going back and forth through steep mountain passes. Nazi officers descended on the mine as guards. Workers arrived, expanding catacombs and building wooden floors, walls and ceilings in dozens of salt chambers. Giant wooden racks were assembled in workrooms deep within the mountain and hammered into position, in some places three stories high. Experts and clerks moved in; a shop was built deep inside the mine where technicians could work and even live for days at a time. And it was all done for art.

...the mine was soon requisitioned by Hitler for his personal use. Worried by increasing Allied air raids, the Fuhrer ordered all the treasures destined for his great museum at Linz...sent deep into seclusion....Dug straight into the side of a massive mountain, the horizontal mine was impregnable to aerial bombardment - even if the bombers could locate it in the vast Sandling mountain range.

Inside the mine:

6577 paintings - among them two Vermeers, 'The Artist's Studio' and 'The Astronomer' stolen from the Rothschilds.
230 drawings or watercolors
954 prints
137 pieces of sculpture - among them Michelangelo's long sought Bruges Madonna.
129 pieces of arms and armor
79 baskets of objects
484 cases thought to be archives
78 pieces of furniture
122 tapestries
181 cases of books
1200 - 1700 cases apparently books or similar
283 cases contents completely unknown

Earlier, the salt mine had been designated for destruction (bombs were already in position and needed only detonators) by the Nazi mayor of Altaussee who was a devoted Hitler fanatic. It was only through the unsung heroism of Dr. Emmerich Pochmuller, general director of the salt mine and several mine workers, that this event was forestalled.

Because of exigent circumstances, once the Monuments men arrived, they would have just four days to empty the mine or risk the contents being handed over to Stalin. (Truman had agreed, under pressure, to withdraw American forces to pre-war geographical boundaries.) Working under horrendous conditions, George Stout and his men ran over the four day deadline, but, working sixteen hour days, managed to get the job done.

Story upon story of such dedication are chronicled in this remarkably detailed and researched book. (Included are many touching letters written home to their wives from several of the monuments men.) I was moved to tears at one or two points when reading about the hardships (these men were not immune from death) and struggles of these resolute men and women - most of whom would earn no accolades or thanks until many years later, if then. In fact, though it continues today, there are many who have no clue or conception of the challenges faced, the non-stop work that went into saving the masterworks of Europe. The beauty we take for granted when we travel and visit museums, churches and cathedrals might have been completely lost to civilization had it not been for a small band of brothers intent on making sure that the masterpieces of our artistic history would survive.

But - "Despite the best efforts of the men and women of the MFAA, hundreds of thousands of works of art, documents, and books have yet to be found. The most famous is perhaps Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man, stolen from the Czartoryski Collection in Cracow, Poland and last known to be in the possession of the notorious Nazi governor-general Hans Frank. Tens of thousands were no doubt destroyed. These include the personal collection of SS Heinrich Himmler, which was burned by SS stormtroopers before British troops could intervene. The famed Amber Panels of Peter the Great, looted by the Nazis from Catherine Palace outside St. Petersburg (formally Leningrad)...Thousands of paintings and other works of art have never been claimed, either because their provenance could not be determined or their owners were among the millions who died or were murdered in Hitler's military crusades. Sadly, not all museums, the interim custodians of some of these works of art, have demonstrated the determination of the Monuments Men to locate their rightful owners or heirs."

Link to learn more about The Monuments Men.

Link to current news and work of The Monuments Men as it continues.

THE MONUMENTS MEN is a fascinating book not only about history and art but about heroes who went unsung for far too long. There are plenty of intriguing photographs, even a 'cast of characters' photo gallery at the beginning which I found very helpful.

To my mind, this is a book that needs to be read by anyone who has any interest in art, European history, civilization and/or WWII.

It's too bad that the movie based on this book was such a dud. Maybe if it had been in more capable and experienced hands. They certainly had a good cast, but somewhere along the way, they lost the thread of the story and were unable to visually express the thrill of the hunt for artistic treasure and the idealism of the characters involved. These men were, in many ways, larger than life and the film failed to realize this.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.