Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wanna see something really scary? Look at the calendar.

Halloween tomorrow, huh? I'll tell you what's scary.

I'm irritated by the speed of Hollywood "reboots." You know, Bryan Singer's Superman Returns (2006)1 didn't exactly set the box office in fire, so we have to start the saga all over again with Zack Snyders' Man of Steel2 last year. Or the Spider-man trilogy begun by Zack Raimi only wrapped up in 20073, but a mere five years later we're heading back to the trough with the new Amazing Spider-Man series.4 Short-attention-span movie-making.5 (Ah well, at least it gives employment to all those British actors playing American icons.)

So I'm sharing my frustration with Primus on the way to school, this time in the context of this year's Godzilla,7 which in my opinion seems to have appeared before the ink was fully dry on the well-deserved death notices for the previous version starring Matthew Broderick.8

"Too soon?" echoes Primus. "Dad, that version came out before I was born."

Shit, he's right. What the hell happened? But on the other hand, sixteen years still isn't long enough to shake off the vision of a nest of dinosaur eggs in the middle of Madison Square Garden.

1Didn't see it.
2Didn't see it.
3Saw all three.
4Didn't see it.
5Okay, I know, I know, it's not without precedent: Bogart's 1941 The Maltese Falcon came only ten years after the first, overshadowed version of Hammett's novel, starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. Still, a good movie and worth a look. Dwight Frye of both Dracula and Frankenstein6 plays the gunsel Wilmer, portrayed by Elisha Cooke, Jr. in the later movie.
6See how I brought this Halloween-inspired rant about aging back to classic horror?
7Didn't see it.
8Saw it. Almost, but not entirely, a waste of time. But try to see the superb original 1954 Japanese film9, not the Americanized version which has a lot of Raymond Burr staring upwards.
9Did it again. You're welcome.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Big Brother is bothering me.

Phone rings. Long Island number. I pick up and mutter a "hello." Long pause and fuzzy background. Then a distant, accented voice says its "hello," as if it hadn't heard me.

"Yes?" I snap, now completely convinced that this is an illicit marketing call -- I am firmly on the Do Not Call register and these scofflaws piss me off.

"This is Winston Smith, may I speak to the homeowner?"

Aha, rookie mistake, Mr. Telemarketer, giving me the chance to say "no." So I say no and hang up. Ha! I could, of course, vent or string him along, but really, it's not his fault that his employer breaks the law and pushes him into firing line. If that's the only job he could find, he's already having a bad enough day. But my point is that these calls --

Hang on.

"Winston Smith"?

Winston Smith?

Makes me wonder now what he was trying to sell me. Surveillance cameras? Rodent spray? I mean, I know these guys use assumed names, but am I now going to be interrupted on a daily basis by a stream of characters from 20th century British fiction? Mrs. Dalloway doing kids' birthday parties? Leopold Bloom offering package tours to Dublin? Constance Chatterley plugging her live webcam?

If the next one claims to be Bertie Wooster, I'm staying on the line. I could use Jeeves's hangover cure.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What makes you think I live for these moments?

"A riveting and entertaining read by a master of the mystery genre, Alan Beechey's "This Private Plot" is highly recommended . . ." (Julie Summers, Midwest Book Review)
Wow. Okay, that's gotta be my title from now on. I'm off to get new business cards printed.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Necessary roughness?

Yesterday, the Rye Garnets met the Harrison Huskies for the 84th time in the annual football game that's been described as Westchester county's "premier high school rivalry." (Rye beat Harrison 24-13, thanks for asking.)

The game was played at Rye High School's Nugent stadium, with the visiting Harrison supporters wisely directed to stands on the opposite side of the field from the home team's noisy fans (myself and Tertius included).

Before the kick-off, we have the usual introductions, including the presentation of an award to an outstanding scholar from each team, named in honor of a Rye resident who died on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. This is dutifully followed by a few moments of respectful contemplation of 9/11, fresh in all our minds from the anniversary a couple of days earlier. Silence falls.

Well, not quite. A few Harrison kids in the faraway stands didn't seem to get the message, keeping up the pre-game whoops. There's a swift flurry of  "shushes" from their neighbors that don't get an immediate reaction. And then one exasperated male voice, clearly heard across the entire width of the hushed field: "Shut . . . the fuck . . . up!"

From an earlier year, the Garnets celebrate a victory over the Huskies with the traditional jump into the Blind Brook, which runs beside the High School's sports field. (Used without the photographer's permission, but she won't mind.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dark side? What dark side?

My late mother always told me not to show off. So having posted a set of glowing reviews of This Private Plot yesterday, I'm now required by upbringing, personality, culture, and nationality to appease the universe by trashing myself.

The only trouble is (he said cautiously, fearing the lightning strike from beyond), the reviews have been pretty exclusively, uh, positive.

What do to then to be gloomy and British and self-deprecating? What all publicists do -- take the words out of context!

“Alan Beechey may not win the Pulitzer Prize for This Private Plot."1
Reviewing the Evidence 

"Snarky."2
Booklist

"It's easy to forget that there is a potential crime to investigate."3
Mysterious Reviews

"Tangled with twists and odd revelations."4
Joseph’s Reviews

"You'll be wondering about the recesses of the author's mind."5
Reader’s Favorite

"Tangled."6
"It was the first one I’ve read and worked very well as a stand-alone mystery."7
Laura Hartman for Oswego Patch and other blogs

"He has littered his writing trail with breadcrumbs."8
"Bizarre . . . does it work?"9
Feathered Quill

"The wit gets supercilious at times."10
"As far as literacy is concerned, reading the book is like playing hide-and-go-seek with Shakespearean quotes . . . The constant quoting gets a bit old after a while."11
I Love a Mystery

"Outlandish. Convoluted."12
Long and Short Reviews

"I get a lot of books to review and some are more enjoyable than others. This one I rationed."13
New Mystery Reader

"Awkward,  mentally meandering."14
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine

"Twisty. Absurd. Silly. A bit dim."15
Rambles.net

1Meredith was referring to the long gap between the second and third novels. "Much has been made of Donna Tartt's decades between novels, but The Goldfinch, while slow in arriving, ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize. So what, then, of a novel that has been fifteen years in the making? Alan Beechey may not win the Pulitzer Prize for This Private Plot, but Oliver Swithin fans won't be disappointed."

2“. . . . This snarky cozy is full of humor and British quirkiness. Agatha Christie meets Monty Python.”

3"An abundance of wry humor and clever wordplay sprinkled throughout, so much so that at times it's easy to forget that there is a potential crime to investigate."

4"Artfully tangled with twists and odd revelations."

5"You'll be wondering about the recesses of the author's mind as you tease yourself to solve the ongoing mystery." I love this comment.

6"Deliciously tangled plot that is perfectly tied up by the end of the book, with a beautiful, unexpected twist at the end."

7So you needn't bother to read the earlier ones, I guess.

8"He has littered his writing trail with breadcrumbs and is confident his readers will gobble them up."

9"Bizarre, perhaps; but does it work? Absolutely!"

10A quite genuine negative criticism.

11It's this book's puzzle within a puzzle. As Simon Brett once memorably said: "Well done, you spotted it."

12"The whole story is full of outlandish secrets (that really aren’t secrets to anyone except Oliver) and a very convoluted path to the person who finally got tired of Uncle Dennis and tried to clear the path to money and marriage."

13"This one I rationed to make it last longer."

14"If the situation weren’t already awkward enough, the unclothed group discover the body of a well-known BBC storyteller hanging from a tree. Thus begins the third Oliver Swithin mystery featuring the sneezing, mentally meandering, Wodehouseian hero."

15"The plot is nice and twisty, and mostly character-driven. The absurd moments are very absurd. . .  There were silly situations that yet proceeded naturally from the course of events, and there were twists that I didn't call at all -- and I've read enough mysteries that I can generally predict the main twists. . . . Our hero, Oliver, is a nice but occasionally a bit dim chap . . ."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nope, modesty does NOT forbid.

Some well-chosen snippets from recent reviews of This Private Plot:

“Witty, entertaining, and highly recommended.”
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine 

“Entertaining . . . . colorful . . . riotous . . . suspenseful.”
Publisher’s Weekly 

“Delightfully entertaining. A very enjoyable mystery all around, one that's highly recommended.”
 Mysterious Reviews 

“Greatly superior to the average formulaic cozy. Recommended”
 I Love a Mystery 

 “A great mystery. Interesting plot twists . . . keep the pages turning and the reader guessing.”
Reviewing the Evidence 

“What a fun read! a great mystery filled with secrets and British shenanigans!”
Mysteries, Etc. 

“Imagine that Caroline Graham, author of the intricately-plotted ‘Midsomer Murders’ series got together with P G Wodehouse to write a murder mystery. . . . A really amusing and charming book.”
New Mystery Reader 

 “A subtle humor floats through the story, bringing a touch of whimsy to a serious plot. Delightful.”
Bookloons 

“The book is full of believable and interesting people. Beechey has created an entertaining puzzle.”
Roberta Alexander – syndicated in the San Jose Mercury and other California newspapers. 

“. . . . This snarky cozy is full of humor and British quirkiness. Agatha Christie meets Monty Python.”
Booklist

“Artfully tangled with twists and odd revelations. Highly recommended.”
Joseph’s Reviews

“Thoroughly enjoyable British humor abounds in this delightful novel.”
Reader’s Favorite

“A wonderful romp. . . Wonderfully British in the spirit of Agatha Christie with the humor of P.G. Wodehouse.”
Laura Hartman for Oswego Patch and other blogs

“Solid entertainment . . . Beechey anchors the reader’s heart with the whimsy of Swithin and the reader is intrigued to turn the page and learn more.”
Feathered Quill

“The author writes a good book with some tongue-in-cheek jokes, plenty of action and a good flow to the story. I was impressed.”
Long and Short Reviews

“I loved it. Oliver’s girlfriend rocks!”
Rambles.net

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Twist, Martext, Cromwell, Hardy, Reed, North, Goldsmith, Wendell Homes . . .

My lead character, Oliver Swithin, is not a fictional version of me, although I'm vaguely aware that he voices a lot of my opinions and prejudices. I will, however, grudgingly allow that he may be living somewhere along one of my own roads not taken.

That forename stuck in my head after a vacation reading of Dickens's Oliver Twist in the incongrous surroundings of sun-soaked Majorca. We don't even have any Olivers in the family.

Or so I thought.

But a recent burst of family tree research has turned one up at last. Yep, I have a 13th great-grandfather called Oliver Chadwick, direct ancestor of pompous Victorian poet and all-round mountebank "Professor" Richard Sheldon Chadwick, whose dubious doings have graced these pages before. I don't have any dates for Oliver, but his son Nicholas, my 12th great, was born in 1550 in Staffordshire, England.

Mathematically, I've inherited an average of 0.000031% of Oliver's genes. That means we have about one in 32,000 genes in common. And since the Genome Project has estimated that humans have only about 24,000 genes, this particular generation gap crosses the line where -- in terms of DNA, anyway -- Oliver's ancestry becomes completely irrelevant to me, and I'm no more related to him by blood than I would to any other sixteenth-century English citizen from the Midlands, such as, oh, William Shakespeare.

Unless, of course, Oliver's name eventually pops up more than once in my lineage, which is increasingly likely the further back you go, with twice as many branches for each generation and a fewer people around to sit on them. At Oliver's level there are already about 16,000 slots to be filled. (Effie Strongitharm has more to say about this stuff in This Private Plot. Just thought I'd mention that. If you're interested.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

"If Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse had a child, he'd have written this book."

Okay, if you know me by now (get to know me!), you'll know that's probably the best imaginable headline for a review of one of my books, ever. (Well, maybe "Spielberg offers half a billion for movie rights to mystery series" might just cap it.)

So special thanks to Laura Hartman, reviewer for Patch in the Oswego area, for all her enthusiasm. And for a magnificent piece of wordplay.

You see, I have a character in This Private Plot called "Lesbia Weguelin," and Laura speculates that it's a double-entendre for something like "let's be a wiggling."  

I love this. It's entirely appropriate in a book that includes a character whose name is the Swedish word for penis. (Quilt-Hogg and Mormal also have dubious etymologies, and An Embarrassment of Corpses includes a company called "Woodcock and Oakhampton." So far, nobody's spotted the filthy joke behind that one.)

Unfortunately, the wiggling is entirely accidental. Here's the true story.

I'm a devotee of the early 20th century "English musical renaissance," and I have quite an extensive collection of CDs by British composers from this period. Hyperion is one of several recording companies that have done an outstanding job of reviving the works of many lesser known composers, with well-chosen artwork for the CD covers. Back in the dark times when we indulged in CDs.

Lesbia - Weguelin. (See?)
For several recordings of big works by Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946), Hyperion astutely chose paintings by contemporaneous neo-classical artists -- you know, all Mediterranean sunlight, diaphanous gowns, and a marked absence of underwear. But this was okay for the Victorians, because the young ladies thus depicted were (a) foreign and (b) from classical literature, so it was educational. Besides, you could always blindfold the piano legs.

And for Sir GB's 1906 hour-long orchestral song cycle "Sappho," coupled with his "Sapphic Poem" -- I'm not making this up -- the selected image was an 1878 picture called "Lesbia" by John Reinhard Weguelin (1849-1927), an English artist despite his name.

You might think this pairing coyly matched the implied sexual theme. You'd be wrong. The real Lesbia was a pseudonym for a former mistress of Catallus, the first-centry BCE Roman poet, and from what was said of her at the time, she was decidedly heterosexual and seemed intent on proving it to as many famous men as possible. A good sport, we might say euphemistically. Well, if you looked anything like Weguelin's slice of Victorian soft-core porn -- history lesson, I mean -- you wouldn't keep it to yourself, would you?

Where was I? Oh yes. I don't have this particular CD, but I saw it a while ago in the Hyperion catalogue with a credit for the cover art abbreviated to "Lesbia Weguelin." And I knew immediately that I had to invent a character with that name.

Boring stuff this, eh? Let's pretend instead that Laura was right all along . . .

"Knock knock."

"Who's there?"

"Lesbia Weguelin."

 "Lesbia Weguelin who?"

"Lesbia Weguelin, Miley, your fifteen minutes are nearly up."

Incidentally, were Agatha and PGW to have paired, they'd have been one of those rare couples to have received name-changing honors quite independently. (The wife of a knight get to be called "Lady Whatever" anyway, but in this case, the damehood would be in Agatha's own right.) Other examples are Dame Cleo Laine and the late Sir John Dankworth and Dame Agatha herself, whose second husband, Max Mallowan, had been knighted for services to archeology. Alas, Dame A and Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse could not have sired me, since poor PGW was apparently unable to have children, possibly because of a childhood case of mumps. Oddly enough, I read a 1934 comic story by Agatha last week called "The Girl in the Train" (it's in The Listerdale Mystery collection) that was clearly inspired by PGW and could almost have been written by him on one of his off days. I guess there's more than one way to reproduce.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Daily Insult . . . the adventure continues.

Secundus -- born in Manhattan, schooled in the Westchester burbs -- does a very fine English accent, although he's reluctant to demonstrate it in public.

"Do you get it from listening to me?" I ask. "Or from all the British shows you watch?"

"Actually, I don't notice that you have a different accent," he answers. "That's probably because, in all my life, you're the person I've heard talking the most. Ever."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Call that a silly walk, Hercule?"

Reviews for This Private Plot are coming in. Here's what Booklist said:

"This snarky cozy is full of humor and British quirkiness. Agatha Christie meets Monty Python."

Yup. Nailed three of my teenage influences right there, if you include the implied Lewis Carroll reference. It's like she knows me.

Hmm. What if Agatha really did meet Monty Python . . .


"Look, why did the parrot fall flat on his back the moment I got him home?"

"The Norwegian Blue prefers kipping on its back. Remarkable bird, innit, Squire? Beautiful plumage. It's probably pining for the fjords."

"Pining for the fjords? It's not pining, it's passed on. This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He's expired and gone to meet his maker! He's a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed him to the perch, he'd be pushing up the daisies! His metabolic processes are now history! He's off the twig! He's kicked the bucket, he's shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible! This . . . is an ex-par--"

Mr. Praline broke off as the door to the pet shop opened suddenly. Silhouetted in the doorway was a man whose erect stance and air of dignity made you instantly overlook his lack of height. The newcomer took a couple of paces forward, a slight limp now noticeable, until the harsh fluorescent lighting fully revealed the dandified neatness of his appearance, from his dapper shoes to the freshly brushed Homburg that crowned his egg-like head. His military moustache seemed to twitch as the odor of the dirty cages reached him, and he plucked irritably at sudden stray feather that had floated onto the impeccable cloth of his sleeve.

"One moment, mon ami,"  he cautioned, in an accent that the little Belgian knew would be mistaken for French once again. These cloth-eared English! "I put it to you, M'sieur Praline, that the parrot has not merely expired, as you put it. He was  . . . murdered!"

"Murdered!" gasped the two men on either side of the counter.

"Murdered," confirmed the detective. "He was, 'ow you say, whack-ed. Rubbed out. Bumped off. Dispatched. Iced. Wasted, pasted, wetworked. He's been given a Chicago overcoat. He sleeps with the fishes. He was taken for a ride to the 'appy 'unting ground. He was made to walk the plank, with malice aforethought and extreme prejudice. Polished off and toe-tagged, he has bitten the dust while the fat lady sang. He said no to an offer he couldn't refuse. This . . . is a DOA parrot."

He took another dainty step forward. "Mais oui, mes amis," he continued, glaring at the remains of the blue parrot on the floor in front of his highly polished toecaps. "It is murder, certainment. Murder most foul!"