Sunday, November 5, 2017

Excellent Quotes: Enter a Murderer

Agatha Christie was only the most famous of the British writers during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. An equally charming contributor to the genre was New Zealand import Ngaio Marsh, herself both an award-winning writer and a theatrical producer.

Marsh's Poirot was Inspector Roderick Alleyn--the hero of thirty-two stories. He is a gentrified Detective Chief-Inspector whose Oxford erudition and sarcastic humor belie a street-wise tenaciousness and a feeling heart.

The detective's second adventure, 1935's Enter a Murderer blended Marsh's two great loves, centering on a play wherein one actor is killed onstage by a gun that has mysteriously been filled with real bullets rather than the usual blanks. Alleyn is, of course, in the audience for the fateful event and you'll be shocked that the denouement of the story involves reassembling the cast on stage to walk the "it's you, unless it's you, but really it's you" bases:

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Alleyn, "I have asked you to come here this morning in order that we may stage a reconstruction of the first scene in the last act of The Rat and the Beaver. In that scene, as you know, the deceased man, Mr. Arthur Surbonadier, loaded the revolver by which he was subsequently shot. You are all aware that Mr. Jacob Saint is under arrest. He will not be present. Otherwise, with the exception of the deceased, whose part will be read by Mr. Simpson, we are all here."

-- Marsh, Ngaio. Enter a Murderer. New York, NY: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012. P. 186.

If I had a dollar for every drawing room conclusion I've read I'd be a jillionaire. Still, both as an example of the enduringly popular genre and as a too-little-known character, Detective Alleyn is worth spending time with.

PS - Speaking of classic Golden Age mysteries, this month Twentieth Century Fox is releasing a lavish, star-studded remake of "Murder on the Orient Express." I wonder whodunnit? But you don't have to wonder about whether or not you should listen to Dunez's "I'm a Rebel Just for Kicks"; now playing on iTunes.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Books I Have Read (and Donated)

I have a small book problem. It lives in my small apartment. I need to do something about the number of books I have and the answer is not more cowbell. Neither is it another bookshelf.

So, in an idiosyncratic deal with myself, I am posting a list of books I have read (so as not to ever forget each precious one) and passed on to another reader at the library's book donation center:

The Godwulf Manuscript - Robert B Parker
Death in Paradise - Robert B Parker
High Profile - Robert B Parker
Sea Change - Robert B Parker
The Secret of the Old Clock - Carolyn Keene
The Partner - John Grisham
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
The Broker - John Grisham
The Client - John Grisham
In Pale Battalions - Robert Goddard
Death By Hollywood - Steven Bochco
The Killing of Monday Brown - Sandra West Prowell
The Horse You Came in On - Martha Grimes
I am the Only Running Footman - Martha Grimes
A Man with a Load of Mischief - Martha Grimes
The Dirty Duck - Martha Grimes
The Old Fox Deceiv'd - Martha Grimes
Jerusalem Inn - Martha Grimes
The Anodyne Necklace - Martha Grimes
The Deer Leap - Martha Grimes
Our Kind of Traitor - John le Carre
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John le Carre
Our Game - John le Carre

PS - I cannot remember the plots of half these books. Why I should feel the need to know that I read them is beyond me. A perfectly good alternate solution would be to throw out all my other books and just read these over and over, being pleasantly surprised each time. Oh, and another thing not to forget is to listen to "Hope the High Road" by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; now playing on iTunes.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Excellent Quotes: A Catskill Eagle

My Mom fled the long winters, seasonal affective disorder, and blue collar parochialism of her neck of New England for warmer climes as soon as she graduated from college. But, some of the family still lives there and so do many friends and I have been going back more often for work lately. My travel has been all in the summer and spring, when a fella thinks, "Yeah, I could live in Boston. What a pretty place." (Note: I also regularly think this about Chicago; I have been advised to visit during the winter months before making any foolhardy decisions.)

Now, the Cradle of Liberty has many things going for it, Puritanical weather aside. One of them is Janet Echelman's aerial sculpture over the new Rose Kennedy Greenway. Another less ephemeral thing is the legacy of Robert B. Parker's Spenser mysteries. The books center on a laconic Beantown private investigator, known only as Spenser, with a sweetheart named Susan and A Man Called Hawk as a best friend.

I am a sucker for anything driven by a code of honor character--gimme an N, gimme an O, gimme an I, gimme an R, whaddya got? Heartache! Spenser indeed has an internal code. And Hawk has a code, too. Spenser's code makes room for a girlfriend--he is not actually a true Philip Marlowe clone--even if the relationship is sometimes rocky. Hawk's makes room for the occasional fine, foxy lady but his code is too close to the street to really let anyone all the way in. The bad guys don't stand a chance.

Spenser and Hawk are kindred spirits, but they cover their brotherly affection, book after book, with a steady flow of snappy, erudite banter as they track down the baddies. They are either the first post-racial detectives in history or they just don't give a crap what anyone thinks; they play the race card on each other like it was a long night at the card table in Vegas. In A Catskill Eagle, Spenser has just broken Hawk out of a false imprisonment and they are tracking down one Jerry Costigan, who has been horning in on Spenser's Lady Friend and may be involved in much more:

"Remember where Mill River Boulevard is?" I said.

"Un huh."

"Jerry Costigan lives off it on something called Costigan Drive in something called The Keep."

"The Keep?" Hawk said.

"The Keep."

"The more money you honkies get," Hawk said, "the sillier you get."

"Wait a minute," I said. "Didn't you grow up in a place called The Ghetto?"

"Shit." Hawk said. "You got me."

"See, you intolerant bastard."

Hawk drove quietly for a moment and then he began to laugh. "Maybe I move to Beverly Farms," Hawk said, "buy a big house call it The Ghetto." He made ghetto a two-word phrase.

"The Wasps would turn lime green," I said.

"Match their pants," Hawk said.

-- Parker, Robert B. A Catskill Eagle. New York, NY: Dell, 1985. P. 65.

There are a jillion Spenser novels. I think I have read every one. If you haven't read them, try out one of the forty on offer. If you haven't read one in a while--Parker died while writing a new novel in 2010--I suggest picking up a paperback for a long flight and getting reacquainted.

PS - Why the television series starring Hawk was set in DC, I will never understand. But understand this: "Time to Pretend" by MGMT is good stuff; now playing on iTunes.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Quite a while ago I went to the Noisebridge hacker space in San Francisco to be all rebellious and to learn me some hacking like a real hipster.

Now, I imagined that a Matthew Broderick figure dressed in subtle greys and designer blacks would be teaching me to code my way past the corporate ice of the New York Times to list myself in their database as an expert news source on hacking and computer security issues. Shazam! Super-size my irony, to go, please. What I got was a middle-aged dude in cargo shorts who somewhat phoned in our lesson on soldering Arduino boards to make one of a number of prefab kits.

The good news: I picked a kit to work on that allowed me to assemble a master remote control that issues the "shut off" command for every known major brand of television. Bwahahaha! It works up to 50 feet away. I have tried it on my own tee vee and it turns off the boob tube like a champ.

If only I weren't such a non-hacker chicken and were willing to take it with me to bars and airports to flip the kill switch on the droning ubiquity of cable "news" in public spaces. But I worry about explaining to the flight safety mandarins how my exposed wiring and inexplicable mini-UV light bulbs are just a fun project and not, wait, no, I don't need to visit the special room, no, it is just a fun project I did, and I have a plane to catch, please, please take off the surgical glove, there is no need for that....

Still, it was fun to re-learn to solder -- turns out I had completely forgotten how to do it correctly -- and to brush shoulders with Fog City's energetic maker culture. Not that I can actually make anything else without serious coaching and supervision. But, I do have my one hilarious remote. If your television mysteriously up and quits, look out the door for my car coasting down your street with the lights off.

PS - Prior to that, I went to a maker space and took a lesson in lock picking. Yeah, I can't do that by myself, either. But, speaking of the waterless Golden State, I can listen to "The Golden State" by John Doe; now playing on iTunes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Recipe: Balsamic Salad Dressing

Recently I took a cooking class. Never done it before and it was a lot of fun. Our chef/instructor was very, how you say in America, high-energy, but she knew her stuff. We learned to prepare a few Southern Italian dishes and drank a Sicilian wine that was full-bodied and didn't threaten to kill anyone, you know, the way a lot of full-bodied Sicilians do in books and movies.

So, a win. Yum.

Without giving away too many state secrets that would put my cooking class host out of business, below is her truly yummy recipe for a balsamic dressing for a Panzanella salad; I think it would go well with a green salad,too.

1/8 C balsamic vinegar
1/4 C olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey

Combine all in a jar with a tight lid and shake until well-mixed.

PS - As noted, we had it over a salad of large, toasted bread cubes, tomatoes, cucumber, shallots, and basil. Golly. Also delish is "The Unguarded Moment" by a very young The Church; now playing on iTunes.

Friday, October 2, 2015

5-4-Fri: View Count Zero

I have a surprising number of blog posts that Sitemeter now swears nobody has read. This cannot be true because some of them have posted comments from readers. Still, in a shameless, cable-television-like effort to boost ratings without going to the trouble of actually generating any new content, may I recommend five of them to you this Friday:

Excellent Quotes: The Sign of the Four
5-4-Fri: Mixed Drinks
The Inaugural

Let's see if the old Interwebs tracker will acknowledge hits going forward.

PS - Looking back, it seems that I only posted ONE blog entry in all of 2010. Such shameful slacking. Oh, but Digital Underground is not slacking on "Humpty Dance"; now playing on iTunes.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Recipe: Sauce Bolognese

The Italian cook and author, Marcella Hazan had an enormous influence on American cooking--bringing her Proustian memory of the great food back home to life in her recipes once she settled in New York. I think her most indelible contribution is the brilliant Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, published by Knopf in a sublimely beautiful green-jacketed edition as gorgeous as the meals inside. (The consistently amazing physical volumes produced by Alfred A. Knopf's crew ought to be the subject of its own blog post.) I got my copy from a couple of Foxes, but I have kept my Mom's meaningfully marked up edition, too.

My go-to Hazan recipe is Bolognese Meat Sauce:

1 T vegetable oil
3 T butter
1/2 C chopped onion
2/3 C chopped celery
2/3 C chopped carrot
3/4 lb ground beef chuck - get the butcher to grind a cut from the neck
1 C whole milk
1/8 t nutmeg (shaved from a whole nutmeg)
1 C dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Pino Grigio)
1 1/2 C Italian plum tomatoes with their juice; cut them first
Fresh grated parmigiano cheese

In a pot that retains heat, such as the excellent, blue Le Creuset pot I bought expressly for the purpose, add oil, butter, and onion on medium heat. When the onion is translucent, add the celery and carrot and cook 5 minutes more. Add ground beef  with salt  and light pepper (Hazan makes a point of adding salt when sauteing meat to extract the juices). Brown the chuck. Add the milk and simmer, stirring often, until it has bubbled away. Mix the nutmeg in. Add the wine and simmer until it, too, has evaporated. Only then add tomatoes and stir thoroughly. Cook at the lowest simmer your stove top can pull off for 3 hours or more--more is better. Taste and correct for salt prior to serving.

PS - I serve it over orecchiette because it is SO. DAMN. GOOD. Oh, and "Gun" by Emiliana Torrini is quite a smooth morsel, too--listen to it during that three-hour simmer-a-thon; now playing on iTunes.