In an earlier post
I took note of Hard Spell and Evil Dark, two urban fantasy novels by Justin Gustainis. I was very enthusiastic about them, and so I said that I was looking forward to the next title in the series. Well, Known Devil is available now, and it was no disappointment.
Stan Markowski, an officer in the Scranton PD's Occult Crimes Unit, is once again on the case. There's a new drug on the street called Slide, and it's been designed to hook supes, which is a major headache for the OCU, since up to now only goblins have been susceptible to drug addiction. Bombs start going off as out-of-town mobsters try to take over the local action, but the locals aren't going to give up without a fight. It's a turf war between rival gangs of vampires! To make matters worse, there are nefarious developments in local politics as the Patriot Party tries to stir up a race war against supes. In short, life on the mean streets of Scranton is totally FUBAR. Markowski learns, much to his chagrin, the truth of the saying that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.
I greatly enjoyed Known Devil. It's all in good fun, but once again not really suitable for children because of the graphic adult language. I've read all three books in the series
and I'm ready for more.
If you haven't yet read any of the titles in the series, I recommend that you read them in the order of their publication, i.e., Hard Spell followed by Evil Dark followed by Known Devil. You could read them out of order, but then you'd spoil a few of the surprises.
One last thing. Somebody somewhere must have bought the film rights by now. When can we expect to see Stan Markowski on the big screen?
Thomas B. Edsall discusses Thomas Piketty's forthcoming Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Apparently, Prof. Piketty's book looks at capitalism's tendency to generate inequality of sufficient extremity that it stirs up political dissent and threatens democratic values, or something to that effect.
Here's a video in which Prof. Piketty briefly summarizes his book:
This is definitely a timely book, one that I plan on reading as soon as it becomes available. I'll be sure to blog about it in the near future.
In twoearlier posts I wrote up a few thoughts about two of S. T. Joshi's Joe Scintilla mysteries. I've been working my way through the series as preparation for reading Mr. Joshi's
The Assaults of Chaos: A Novel About H. P. Lovecraft. I figured that I should read his earlier works of fiction before I took up his new book.
The two latest Joe Scintilla mysteries are entitled Conspiracy of Silence and Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor. They were published in 2011 in a single volume, a so-called Wildside Mystery Double. That is, you read the first story, flip the book over, and then read the second story. It's a fun way to package the stories, in the spirit of the old Ace Double paperbacks.
Here's what the covers and title pages look like:
Conspiracy of Silence begins in November 1936. Joe Scintilla is an FDR man, so he's suitably happy about the great man's re-election. Business is slow, of course. It always is in detective land. But in walks Lizbeth Crawford with a sad story and an ample bosom. (Sadly, the latter doesn't play much of a role in the story, but nothing escapes the eagle eye of our brave detective.)
Miss Crawford is from a wealthy family, which is a good thing, since, as Scintilla observes, paupers don't have money to hire private detectives. Now that she has turned eighteen, she can spend some of her trust fund to hire Scintilla to prove that her father James Crawford did not murder her uncle Frank Crawford twelve years earlier. The problem is that her father confessed to killing her uncle as soon as the police arrived at the family mansion on that fateful night of March 19, 1924.
There doesn't seem to be a mystery here. There was a body on the floor and a doctor in the house. It seemed to be an open and shut case, but Miss Crawford is convinced that her father is innocent. Scintilla isn't immediately convinced, of course, but the country is still in the middle of the Great Depression, and he could use the fee. So he takes the case.
I won't reveal the details of the mystery, except to say that old family secrets are brought to light and the solution to the mystery turns out to be a genuine surprise, at least it was to me. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I'm not much of a mystery fan, but I genuinely enjoyed Conspiracy of Silence. Mr. Joshi constructs a good plot, and I had fun following it. He is still weak on atmosphere. I complained about how he handled the Italian sojourn in my discussion of The Removal Company. This time around Scintilla travels to Mexico in pursuit of a promising lead, and the atmospheric writing is still lacking. Apparently, Mexico is hot, dusty, and south of Texas. That's about the extent of Mr. Joshi's scene setting. He can do better, I think.
Here's another, smaller problem. Mr. Joshi doesn't seem to know much about guns. (This is true of a lot of writers, sad to say.) Shotguns don't fire bullets (see page 84). They fire shot or slugs. Most amateurs load them with shot. With shot all you have to do is point and shoot in the general direction of the target. So when Joseph the family butler takes a shot at Scintilla, I'm sure that he was using shot. Even worse, though, Mr. Joshi has Scintilla shoot the gun out of a villain's hand (see page 145). This is a terrible cliché. If you ask professionals who carry a firearm for a living, you'll learn that they aim for the chest or, if they're especially good shots, the head. No one tries to shoot a gun out of someone's hand. Why? It's a small target that moves around a lot, so it's hard to hit.
I'd like to see future books in the Scintilla series improve in the these two respects, i.e., the atmosphere and the gun play, especially the former. As I've mentioned before, atmosphere, mood, ambience that's what I like best about mysteries.
Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor is about half as long as Conspiracy of Silence. The mystery is not as well constructed. I didn't have any trouble spotting the murderer, but the manner in which the murder was committed struck me as rather improbable. Maybe you'll think otherwise. But the writing is generally good, and there's even an unexpected Gothic interlude.
The Scintilla stories are narrated in the first person. At the beginning of Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor we learn that Charles Jameson, one of Mr. Scintilla's college friends, is in jail under suspicion of murder. Scintilla comes to his aid, somewhat skeptically at first, of course. At this point in the story his friend takes over the narration for roughly thirty pages.
It's late 1937, and Charles Jameson is now a classics professor. He comes from a wealthy family, but it's clear that he doesn't normally have much to do with his relatives. The will of his recently deceased uncle John Kenneth Sarsfield sends the family to Sarsfield Manor to carry out a strange request. The estate will go to the one who solves an enigmatic riddle. It seems very silly to Charles, but there's no way around the will.
As Charles tells his story to Scintilla, we learn the history of the manor and four brothers who built it in 1765. The brothers Sarsfield were devoted to the occult, it seems, and for some unknown reason all four committed suicide on June 16, 1780. In short, we get a little Gothic tale, unfolded by Mr. Joshi under the obvious influence of his literary learning. This portion of the book is well done. In a bizarre turn of events Jameson is accused of killing his aunt Judith, one of the other potential heirs to the Sarsfield fortune. Unfortunately for him, everyone saw him hovering over her body with his hand on the knife sticking out of her back.
Scintilla springs into action, going to the manor to question everyone and investigate the mysterious murder. Along the way, the riddle in the will is solved, more family secrets are unearthed, and the mystery is solved. As I mentioned above, I wasn't too impressed with the solution of the mystery. So that was somewhat disappointing, but overall I enjoyed Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor, just not quite as much as Conspiracy of Silence.
Scintilla has an implausibly large working vocabulary. Here are some of the five dollar words that he employs: 'avuncular', 'stertorous', 'truculent', 'acclivity', 'penumbra', 'juxtaposition', 'anomalous', 'appurtenance', 'declivity', 'odiferous', 'plangent', 'phlegmatic', and 'orotund'. Yeah, yeah, I know that Scintilla studied at Johns Hopkins University back in the day, but his word power is a bit much at times. Philip Marlowe plays chess and reads T. S. Eliot, but he never sounds like a toff. So maybe Mr. Joshi could tone down the highfalutin language in the future installments of the series.
My most significant complaint about the Scintilla stories as a whole, and this goes back to my earlier posts, is that although Scintilla is said to have studied philosophy before he became a private detective, we don't get much of an idea as to how his education led to his choice of professions or how it influences his work as a detective. This is such an unusual backstory that it cries out for elaboration. So far in the series, though, it seems rather pretentious. More needs to be made out of it. Most private detectives are former police officers. So how did Scintilla get into the business? How did he survive? How did he become such a good detective? I'm hoping that we'll learn more about these aspects of his life and career as the series continues to develop.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the two most recent Scintilla stories, and I'm looking forward to more of them. But now that I've exhausted the series, at least until more titles appear, I can move on to Mr. Joshi's Lovecraft novel. So I'll soon be blogging my thoughts about The Assaults of Chaos.
Take a look at this excerpt from Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis's Dallas 1963. This short piece tells the story of the welcome that LBJ and Ladybird Johnson received when they made a campaign stop in Dallas shortly before Election Day in 1960.
From what little I know about Dallas 1963 I get the impression that the book is primarily, if not exclusively, about the political mood in Dallas in the years leading up to the Kennedy assassination, and thus isn't really about the assassination itself. I could be wrong about this, of course.
I'm not blogging about politics much these days, but since I've lived in The Metroplex for a big portion of my life, I should make an exception to my current policy and read Dallas 1963.
Anyway, take a look at this video posted by one of the authors. It should give you a better idea of the book's contents.
Despite the fact that the book is a work of history, it seems very timely to me. I hope to read it soon.
In an earlier post I mentioned that I had read a mystery story by S. T. Joshi called "Suicide in Brooklyn". Joshi's detective Joe Scintilla has appeared in several books. Since I enjoyed the story, despite the fact that I'm not much of a mystery reader, I went in search of the first book of the series. I got it through interlibrary loan courtesy of my local public library. I read it in a couple of sittings (it's barely 150 pages long), and now I thought that I would post a bit about it.
Joshi originally published The Removal Company under the pseudonym J. K. Maxwell. These days the book is available from Wildside Press under Joshi's name. My copy, as you can see in these two photographs, was the original edition.
Joe Scintilla is listening to FDR's first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, when his latest client walks through the door with an improbable tale. Arthur Vance is carrying a newspaper wedding announcement from six months earlier stating that an Italian woman named Elena Cavalieri is to marry a New Yorker from a wealthy family. According to Vance, Elena looks just like his wife Katherine, so much so that he insists that she is his wife. The problem is that Katherine committed suicide on September 15, 1931, with the aid of a shadowy organization called The Removal Company.
Well, as you can imagine, our hero Joe Scintilla doesn't know what to make of this. But, of course, he goes in search of the truth. After all, a client is a client. As we expect, though, Scintilla comes to believe that there is more than a little to Vance's story.
The plot swiftly unfolds in various locations in California, New York, and Italy. Joshi's prose effectively conveys all the action in the story, including an unusually gentle car chase, and cleverly gets inside of Scintilla's head as he makes his way through the twists and turns of the plot. There isn't much in the way of atmosphere, however. For example, Scintilla's trip to Italy doesn't even take up ten pages. Raymond Chandler would have made a meal of such an opportunity, whereas Joshi sends Scintilla there to check on Elena Cavalieri's background and then just brings him back to the
States. So the general lack of atmosphere is a bit disappointing, at least for me. That's what I like best about mysteries.
Scintilla was a philosophy student at Johns Hopkins. Since I happen to have been a philosophy student as well, even going so far as to get a Ph.D. in the subject, I would have enjoyed reading more about how having studied philosophy influences Scintilla in his job as a private detective.
Scintilla has a couple of brief philosophical conversations with Dr. Sanderson, the brains behind The Removal Company. But that's it, basically. More of this side of Scintilla's personality would be welcome, I think. After all, there can't be many fictional detectives out there who have studied philosophy. (By the way, there is at least one real private detective with a Ph.D. in philosophy. Google the name "Josiah Thompson" and see for yourself. Years ago I read Thompson's book Gumshoe: Reflections in a Private Eye. It's worth your time if you can find it.)
Anyway, to say more would be to spoil the fun. I enjoyed The Removal Company. It's a good start to the Joe Scintilla series, which I expect to improve as it goes along. I'll eventually read the other volumes and let you know what I think.
Update - January 16, 2014: I've uploaded
about Conspiracy of Silence and Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor, the two latest Joe Scintilla adventures.
I recently ordered S. T. Joshi's The Assaults of Chaos: A Novel about H. P. Lovecraft from Hippocampus Press. Naturally, since I'm an admirer of Lovecraft's fiction, I'm well aware of Joshi's eminence as the world's leading Lovecraft scholar. Consequently, I thought it might be fun to read Joshi's fictional portrayal of Lovecraft. The hardback edition was only twenty-five dollars. That's not much to spend on what could prove to be nothing more than a curiosity. We'll see.
Much to my surprise, however, my order included a little bonus, a Depression-era mystery story by Joshi entitled "Suicide in Brooklyn" that features a detective named Joe Scintilla. Apparently, Scintilla, who is said to have a degree in philosophy, has appeared in several books by Mr. Joshi. They're currently available from Wildside Press. I'm not a mystery reader, but I enjoyed "Suicide in Brooklyn" quite a bit. Mr. Joshi sets up a mystery the apparent suicide of a young man from a wealthy family and puts Scintilla on the case. I'm not giving anything away by saying that our hero comes up with a clever solution of the crime. I noticed that Joshi even cribs a bit from Lovecraft's biography: Scintilla's chief suspect, Frank Donelson, is said to have worked as a lamp-tester, just like HPL during his ill-fated sojourn in NYC in 1924-1926.
As I said, I enjoyed the story. So now I'll have to track down the Scintilla books and read them.
I've no idea whether or not "Suicide in Brooklyn" will ever be for sale on its own. Right now it seems to be available only to online purchasers of The Assaults of Chaos, or maybe it was available only to those who pre-ordered the book as I did. As a physical book, "Suicide in Brooklyn" is typical of Hippocampus Press paperbacks, i.e., sturdy and attractively designed.
Here are pictures of the front and back covers:
And here's a photo of the title page:
I'm looking forward to reading more of Joe Scintilla's adventures.
And I'll have something to say about The Assaults of Chaos after I've read it. It's on my soon-to-read-and-blog list.
Update - October 8, 2013: I've uploaded a post about The Removal Company, the first book-length Joe Scintilla adventure.
Update - January 16, 2014: I've uploaded
about Conspiracy of Silence and Tragedy at Sarsfield Manor, the two latest Joe Scintilla adventures.