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!"