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THE LAST OF SHEILA Dir. Herbert Ross, (1973)

Directed by Herbert Ross ("The Seven Percent Solution") and with a script written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, this is a fun and fast-paced murder mystery.

James Coburn plays a meglomaniacal Hollywood producer who invites a group of friends, which includes Richard Benjamin as a down-on-his-luck screenwriter and James Mason as a down-on-his-luck director, for a weeklong cruise on his yacht.

Once they arrive, the group discovers that a murder game has been arranged, and you don't have to be a mystery fan in expecting that pretend murder will soon turn into real murder.

What you might not be expecting is how wildly and wittily the story goes off the rails in the final act.

This is an incredibly fun movie that seems to start off simply but continues to accumalate surprising twists and turns right through to the very end. Highly recommended.
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I *love* the first (and, so far, only) book of this series, _Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead_, so this is pretty exciting for me, and I may even try to find the TV. The series is set in New Orleans and, while the blurb for the series makes it sound like the female protagonist is a goofball, the book doesn't portray her like that at all.

Claire DeWitt follows in a long tradition of occult detectives and, in addition (a twist which just tickles my metatextual soul), she often cites a mysterious manual written by a French detective who seems to be fond of dwelling on the metaphysical. I'm hoping that the TV series sticks to this sort of character, because the curmudgeonly Claire is one of my favorite female investigators, and I would rather the character not end up being another Harry Dresden in drag. I realize that this will probably be problematical for TV, which seems to require at least one sexual interlude per episode, because viewers tend to prefer titillation over characterization, sigh.
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I'm currently reading a collection of short story mysteries set during the holiday time. Most of the stories are by golden age detective story writers such as Marjorie Allingham, Agatha Christie, and G. K. Chesterton. A few of the stories are more recently however. "Mr. Big" by Woody Allen is the second story in the collection, and I really enjoyed it, so I thought I would share. Here is alink to the story online:,Woody_Allen.htm

Now I'm off to search for the source of the final philosophical quotation.
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_The Case of the Counterfeit Eye_ by Erle Stanley Gardener (1938)

I wasn't very interested in reading any of the Perry Mason books--I grew up with the TV show in perpetual syndication, and I didn't think it was very interesting, aside from the fact that it featured another disabled investigator.

However, this title features a client who comes to Perry Mason with a pretty unusual story: someone stole his prosthetic eye and replaced it with a cheaper version, and he's pretty sure he's going to be set up.

This is probably my favorite WTF? plot for a mystery, and it even includes some very good information about prosthetic eyes, and that the better ones are a work of art, made to suit the individual user, as opposed to the cheaper out-of-the-box variety. I kept checking the copyright date. I was also surprised that the original Perry Mason of the book series was a lot less of a rule-abiding conservative in a suit than the TV series created. The original character (who is not disabled) plays pretty fast and loose with the letter of the law, and half of the fun is watching him pull another fast one.

My least favorite WTF? mystery was _Star Island_ by Carl Hiaasen. IT doesn't really matter what the blurb says a Carl Hiaasen mystery is about, as it always turns into a crazy free-for-all. Sadly, this mystery featured a crazy kidnapper eco-terrorist with a poorly-made prosthetic eye. If I had a dollar for every time I read a book with a crazy and/or evil guy with a badly made prosthetic eye. (My favorite is a Christopher Fowler Bryant and May book in which the antagonist is the Anti-Christ himself and, despite being the richest man in the world *and* the Anti-Christ, he still couldn't get a decent prosthetic ey; I kept thinking, If *I* was the Anti-Christ I would get a nice glow-in-the-dark yellow eye with the slitted pupil, and I'd get my enslaved mad scientists in Hell to make a vaporizing ray come out of it.).

Anyway, to get back to the book, the fact that the eco-terrorist was both crazy and had a funny fake eye just annoyed me too much to finish the book.

_It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye_ by Christopher Brookmyre

A kickass suburban granny turns international spy, so more of a spy thriller than a mystery. Also, no one actually loses an eye. It's pretty much all fun and thrills, and incredibly more interesting than _The Ex-Pats_, which got a lot of hype as a regular mom-is-secretly-an-international spy thriller. I was on something around page seventy when I realized nothing of any interest had happened yet. I bet the NY Times book reviewers put this on their "Best of 2012" list, as the NYTimes seems to really love serious writers trying to write genre books in which nothing interesting happens.
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I'm not normally a big fan of Ngaio Marsh because 1) I think her detective protagonist is pretty dull (really, what's the point of being a detective if one isn't going to be eccentric?) and 2) I find the pacing of her mysteries somewhat boggy and slow.

However, how can one resist a mystery involving mummers?

Well, maybe one can, but I couldn't, especially as there don't seem to be very many mysteries set on the winter solstice, which seems somewhat odd since, as this mystery points out, there are a lot of dark doings on the winter solstice, and that's even leaving aside all the werewolf birthday parties.

There's also a fanatical folklore lady and a number of rustic entertainments--including a pub called The Green Man and yes, there is a landlord's daughter--which kept reminding me of "The Wicker Man" in that creepy-cool way I enjoy (if this story had been written by John Dickson Car, it would have probably slipped in some gothic touches, like a coven of drug-crazed witches,* but this is Marsh, so that doesn't happen.)

The one element which I found rather icky was that there is a very negative stereotype of an epileptic man, and he is pretty much verbally abused throughout the story, and this is contextualized as allowable by other characters who like to talk about morals. The book was published in 1956, so one can mostly put on one's timetravel blinders and try to not dwell on it, but still, ick.

* I have been reading some John Dickson Carr stories which often feature murderers whose homicidal inclinations have been triggered by the use of...marijuana!
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From the Quote of the Day:

My experience of life is that it is not divided up into genres; it’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography if you're lucky.
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I include the context at length because it is just so delicious. The setting is an annual conference of Poe scholars.

block quote start
In Stockholm, the Argentinian had called the German a racist and a Euromaniac; the German had accused him of philocretinism. Intellectual controversies tend to be like dog fights without the teeth, in which the barking not the biting does the damage. In the case of Rotkopf and Urquiza, however, according to the report in The Gold-Bug, they had very nearly come to bites. So much so that Oliver Johnson had to break off his discussion of Poe's influence on
Lovecraft - in which he defended the revolutionary theory that a supposed twentieth-century invention of Lovecraft's the Necronomicon or book of dead names, was, in fact, an esoteric code dating back to the beginning of time and to which Poe had already made cryptic references - and leave the stage, with Rotkopf congratulating him, saying that every time an imbecile stopped talking, the intellectual climate on Earth improved slightly.
Oliver Johnson had sworn to kill Joachim Rotkopf one day, and Rotkopf and Urquiza had continued their argument in the pages of The Gold-Bug, in a series of increasingly vitriolic articles, which I had followed with fascination, never dreaming that I would one day hear those magnificent, erudite dogs trading insults for real.
block quote end

_Borges and the Eternal Orangutans_, pp. 16-17, by Luis Fernando Verissimo
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As an antidote for my extreme dissatisfaction with my most recent novelistic experience, I have decided to reread one of my favorite books: _The Name of the Rose_ by Umberto Eco. Not only does it suit my year of living mysteriously theme, but I've been wanting to reread it since I acquired another book about it, _Postscript to The Name of the Rose: Teaching Medieval Studies through The Name of the Rose_, edited by Alison Ganze.

I feel much better now, especially after reading the final lines of the "Naturally, A Manuscript" introduction:

For it is a tale of books, not of everyday worries, and reading it can lead us to recite, with Kempis, the great imitator: "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro."
[Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book.]

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Am I supposed to find Dief quite so adorable? I keep hoping that the female science fiction professor will ditch the oblivious engineering prof/writer and sweep Dief off his tweedy feet.

Now I must google for fanfic...
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I am currently reading Dorothy Sayers's introductory essay to her classic anthology, _The Omnibus of Crime_. My favorite passage of the day is written in regard to the fiction of "That voluminous writer, Mrs. Henry Wood," of whom DLS says: "Whether her problem concerns a missing will, a vanished heir, a murder, or a family curse, the story spins along without flagging, and, though she is a little too fond of calling in Providence to cut the knot of intrigue with the sword of coincidence, the mystery is fully and properly unravelled, in a workmanlike manner and without any loose ends."

"...calling in Providence to cut the knot of intrigue with the sword of coincidence..."--that is high-quality literary snark.

If you are interested in acquiring the etext of _The Omnibus of Crime_, go to and type "Dorothy Sayers" in the edit field, then select "texts" from the combo box. You will find a Daisy format ebook, which you can either keep as a Daisy ebook or, after unzipping the files, extract the .xml file and then change the extension to /html and read it in whichever browser or device you wish.
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So, there were these three historians: a medievalist, a prehistoric historian, and a World War I historian (I'm sure there are jokes which begin like this, but all I could think of was one which began: "There were three engineers...", so if any of my historian friends know historian jokes, please post so I can address this sad oversight in my education).

Anyway, like a lot of historians, their studies have gained them much knowledge but little in the way of monetary riches, so they decide to share a house together. When their next-door neighbor disappears, the historians, who are very good at doing research and digging up obscure clues, decide to get involved.

And then it's as if the three musketeers decided that this time, rather than doing yet another adventure story with basically the same plot, they said, fuck that, this time we're ditching the poofy hats and doing a mystery!

I'm not sure that Fred Vargas intentionally rewrote _The Three Musketeers_ as a mystery, but once the idea occurred to me, I kept finding parallels. I'm not going to share them here, because they would be spoilers but, needless to say, there is a very evil cold-hearted woman who is working against them.

If you liked Arturo Perez-Reverte's _The Club Dumas_, I would recommend this book If you don't know who Perez-Reverte is, I would recommend this book anyway. If you have a thing for historians (swoonswoon), I would definitely recommend this book.

I've been averaging one Fred Vargas book a day for most of this week and, sadly, I'm almost out of Fred Vargas books, but I lovelovelove her novels. Before she wrote mysteries, Vargas was a historian and archeologist, so I'm thinking most of my friends would like her books.

I have one last Vargas mystery left and, oh look, it's supposed to be a rainy day tomorrow, so I won't even have to save it.
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Just because it's the season of lights doesn't mean you can't look on the dark side.

Aside from such party games as flinging small twigs of mistletoe at people who are all sunshine and light--oh, wait, that's just me--there are other fine seasonal traditions, like, um, oh yes, the subgenre of murder mysteries set at hollyday time!

Thanks to my new reading chair (it's name is Ektor and yes, it is an Ikea chair) along with many cups of Earl Grey tea and many clementines, I have been snuggling up to a number of seasonal mysteries. Two of my favorites have been _Envious Casca_ by Georgette Heyer (1941) and _Corpus Christmas_ by Margaret Maron (1989).

A pile of Heyer mysteries recently showed up on Bookshare and, sad to say, her mysteries have not aged nearly as well as those of her contemporary, Dorothy Sayers (although Sayers seems to be one of the few detective fiction writers since Christie who didn't write any mysteries set during Christmas).

Heyer's mysteries follow a very narrow pattern: a female protagonist, not wealthy but not in a situation where she has to do anything as tedious as rub shoulders with the working class, finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery, often at an English country house and typically featuring the murder of a rich old curmudgeonly male relative. The rest of the cast are types, including the saturnine smarter-than-everyone-else male lead, who often treats the female protagonist like an annoying and intellectually inferior younger sister. Heyer's mysteries show particularly poorly if you read a series of them close together, as the sexism and classism becomes difficult to ignore. I would recommend _Envious Casca_ as one of the best, however, along with _Death in the Stocks_.

_Corpus Christmas_ features a murder set in a historical Victorian house, and the protagonist is a female New York City detective. I really enjoyed this unique female character. There is also a mentally disabled character who features prominently in the story and does not ultimately prove to be an evil gimp.

[Dear Mystery Writers of the World, pay attention! Novels such as Away with the Fairies by Kerry Greenwood (2001) and _Larceny and Lace_ by Annette Blair (2009), which both end with the twaddle that the gimp did it because being disabled makes you psychologically twisted and feeling that the world owes you, is both blatant stereotyping and poor writing.]

Back to seasonal murder mysteries, the next on my list is the anthology _Murder is No Mitzvah_. _A Puzzle in a Pear Tree_ was skipped over because, although I understand that people do say things like "Whatcha" and "gonna" etc., reading these words in every other sentence really irks me. Also, just for fun, I'm reading _Norse Code_ by Greg van Ekout (2009)--valkyries, Ragnorak, and Loki's kids running amok, how cool is that??

Lastly, Here is a nice bit of dark tradition which I hadn't known about: Krampus

Now I'm off to play Christmas carols and scan a book on serial killers and philosophy which I need to read for review. It's amazing how ominous many holiday songs sound when you really listen tot he words...
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LJ user alexx_kay and I have been terribly lax in mentioning that we attended the gala opening of The Dante Effect a couple of weeks past.

A murder mystery wrapped up in a steampunk larp set within a gorgeous Victorian house, the evening was most entertaining. Xavier Stone in particular is the sort of person whom, if one spends much time in the company of those scholars of scientific fiction, one feels one has known forever, even though I am quite certain that I had never met the gentleman before.

Unfortunately, due to my delicate constitution, I was not able to stay until the end, but I will say that the more you interact with the house's internees, ehem, inhabitants , the more interesting the experience is.

I just discovered that there exists
The Dante Effect blog
which is a document quite amusing in its own right, especially if one is a scholar of the Victorian gothic.


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