Friday, October 14, 2016

Horses of Courses

I have written a novel, The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman, a comedy-crime story set in 1902. It is available now exclusively as a e-book from the Amazon Kindle Store. This is the last exerpt for the moment; if this interests you, then why not click on the link and buy a copy?

He drew up his feet to sit cross legged on the straw bale, straightened his back and put his hands on his knees. He breathed in, deep and slow. He would have liked a book or paper to read but lights would give him away. A cigarillo would have been nice, but he had been told that smoking was strictly forbidden in the stables due to the risk of fire. Pushed back on his own resources he sank into meditation.

It was the second night waiting here. He hoped that his overnight presence had not been noticed yesterday and passed on to interested parties. If so his watch might be long and futile or, worse, short and violent.

Time passed as he sat alone with his thoughts, poised but resting. At last there was an unexpected noise from outside in the stable yard. Consciousness and alertness returned to his mind and body. He estimated that it was relatively early, not yet midnight, but racing stables, like many country establishments, ran their schedules according to the clock of the sun. The stable lads would all have been in bed for hours.

More noise, now some quiet conversation. Schneemann rose, stretched a little. His arms and ribs seemed to be healed from the damage done to them in his earlier exertions. He undid his overcoat, brushed straw from the hem. He adjusted the carnation in the buttonhole and picked up his cane. Footsteps came up to the door. From outside he could hear some words. “It’s this one.”

The door opened and two men dressed for rough work were discovered standing there in the light of their lantern. Schneemann smiled. “Good evening gentlemen. I do believe that you have opened the stable door after the horse has gone.”

“Who’re you? Where’s Gabriel’s Trumpet?”

“I am terribly sorry. The horse you are looking for has been removed.  The exact details of your scheme are somewhat complex and, turning as they do on the minutiae of the British racing and bloodstock businesses, are opaque to a foreigner such as myself. Something to do with identical appearing horses of differing abilities, racing under each others’ names to confuse handicappers and gamblers, followed up by selling an inferior horse for stud for an inflated sum? I think that may be the heart of it. However once discovered, some very wealthy people with no sense of humour when it comes to racing and their stables will become most unhappy.”

They stared at him, struck dumb. He sighed. “We know what’s up. The horse is gone. Time to quit while you’re ahead.”

The one without the lantern swung a short piece of rope threateningly. “Where’s the horse? You’ll tell me if you know what’s good for you.”

Schneemann shook his head, gestured with the cane. “Gabriel’s Trumpet is concealed amongst eight similar looking horses in a field on another farm, some miles from here, watched over by several large men who used to be rough riders in a cavalry regiment. Even if I were willing to tell you where to find him, you will not succeed in absconding with him.”

The one with the lantern nodded to his partner. “Get him.”

“Oh for pity’s sake. Listen to me. The jig’s up. Friends of mine have copies of the accounts of the gambling syndicate you are part of. If I am not in contact with them tomorrow morning they will be sent to the Jockey Club and the Police. As off-course betting is illegal in this country you will be arrested if you continue to pursue this affair.”

“What is this? What do you want?” The one with the lamp seemed to have finally got a grasp of the situation.

“I am warning you off. You stop with the scams. Make and take bets if you want, but from now on you are honest bookies. No fixing races. No shuffling identical horses. No selling nags for the price of champions.”

The one with the rope was unconvinced. “I say we beat where the ‘orse is out of him, then send ‘im back to ‘is friends as an ‘int to stay mum.”

“I don’t think that will convince them. For that matter, the police are not the only people interested in your activities. Some much nastier fellows will hear about what you’re up to.”

The one with the lantern nodded. “This ain’t the end of this mister. You’ll hear from us again.”

Schneemann smiled broadly. “Well done. I knew you wouldn’t look this gift horse in the mouth. I look forward to hearing from you anon.”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

In Which I Am Wrong About Edwardian England

I have written a novel, The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman, a comedy-crime story set in 1902. It is available now exclusively as a e-book from the Amazon Kindle Store. Meanwhile here is a short piece explaining why my fictional Edwardian England is not the same as historical Edwardian England.

My version of Edwardian England is wrong.

I don’t say this because of the handful of deliberate anachronisms, or the things I’ve ignored to make a scene clearer, or the liberties I’ve taken because I thought it would be cool. I’m not even talking about the fact I am basing my novel more on the fiction of the Edwardians and late Victorians rather than the history, or (less authentically) the fiction based in that period that came later. These are the tools of a storyteller; most of the time the constraints of history and reality are part of the skeleton of a work, directing and supporting it, yet sometimes you have to ignore them for the dramatic moment, the clever twist, or even the funny punchline. A good joke at the right time can outweigh several pages of well researched description. But these are not the wrongnesses I’m talking about.

What I mean is that I have half a dozen histories and reference books for the period that I keep by me (and more that I have read or consulted) and attempting to derive or make a coherent structure from these is beyond me.

Some examples:

- The Edwardian Age was a frivolous time, obsessed with celebrity, entertainment and fashion. Led by King Edward, society was interested in image and glorious surfaces, with pleasure and enjoyment. Wearing the right clothes was more important than saying the right thing, and one could do as one wished behind closed doors so long as one said the right thing in public. Yachting, horse racing, and shooting at the top end, music hall, football and gin at the other; the start of the twentieth century was all about passing time amusingly.

- Edwardian England was a very serious time and place. While the British Empire was reaching towards its peak it had already begun to dissolve as the Dominions achieved full internal self-government. Efforts to reform the Empire as a cultural and trading bloc fell apart against the dogma of Britain as a centre of free trade. The House of Lords and the House of Commons had their final showdown, leading to the current constitutional settlement with the Commons supreme and the Lords advisory.

- The Edwardian’s were serious about money, and even more so when it intersected with their entertainment. Much time and effort was taken up with the issue of payment of players for football and cricket, with the gap between amateurs and professionals, or Gentlemen and Players, ever narrowing the more closely it was policed. Meanwhile as the Labour movement began to elect Members of Parliament, it became clear that the social bar to politicians was also an economic one; the nascent Labour Party had to pay it’s representatives so they could maintain themselves while serving their constituency.

- It was a peaceful age, the most peaceful of the Twentieth Century. It was a violent time, the Boer and Russo-Japanese wars giving poorly recognised warnings of things to come. It was an age in which citizens believed it was their duty to be soldiers, in Britain forming territorial regiments the Government barely knew what to do with, and volunteering for the Boer war in great numbers. An age when powerful warships sailed on and beneath the waves, and the first warplanes began to take to the sky.

- It was a time of great social mobility with educational possibilities available to all classes. It was a period of social unrest, with poor working men, and women too, demanding the vote. It was a great age of class divides, with new money buying into old blood so their children would be accepted into the upper crust.

--

My point, such as it is, is that Edwardian England cannot be summed up in a single sentence, paragraph, chapter or book. The half dozen references I note above give a bare outline of a time and place. How then can my novel, more interested in entertaining than enlightening, possibly mirror it in any meaningful way? It cannot. It is, of course, wrong.

Still, I hope that I give at least the correct flavour of the corner that I look at, as I’m pretty sure I’ve got a few things right.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sales Pitch

I have written a novel, currently available exclusively from the Amazon Kindle Store as an e-book. This is the post in which I attempt to sell it to you. If you need no further convincing then click on the link above. If you have read it, then congratulations, and also have you considered leaving a review?[1]
Not a clickable link

The novel is called The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman, a surprisingly long name denoting a comedy-crime story set in 1902. It features a protagonist named Heinrich von Schneemann, gentleman adventurer, who lies, cheats, steals and generally is a complete reprobate in a generally good cause. It is clever, witty, amusing, and mostly light-hearted with a few darker touches. If you don't mind some minor spoilers, this synopsis from two years and two and a half drafts ago will tell you approximately what happens in the story. In addition I am posting two extracts this week, one on Monday and one on Friday which should give you some idea of the flavour of the book. Or you can click on the Look Inside feature on the Amazon page to see what's going on there.

Rear: Fu Manchu. Front: Not Raffles
If you need any further encouragement, then I direct your attention to the earliest review on the Amazon UK page from a completely disinterested critic[2] which claims the book "delivers like an amphetamine fueled pizza delivery boy. The protagonist Schneeman leaps from the page like the love child of Raffles the Amateur Cracksman and Fu Man Chu." (I was aiming more for the wit of Dorothy Sayer and the clever plotting of Agatha Christie, but one does what one can).


Their child would have great facial hair

It is nearly 100,000 words of period drama, convoluted crimes, entertaining characters, clever jokes, silly jokes, uncomfortable gender and class roles being poked for fun and profit, twentieth century crime tropes being given new (and old) twists, and a big old fashioned Edwardian style villain, Count Andropoff, the Russian Nobleman of the title.

If this sounds of interest to you yet an e-book from the Kindle store does not meet your needs for some reason, please let me know as I am considering other outlets.

This concludes my direct appeal for you to pay me for my work, other than to note that if you really like it, the second draft of a sequel is on my hard drive and will one day see the light of day.



[1] If you have no interest in being sold to then feel free to leave by any means you consider suitable, or possibly via this link.
[2] My brother, who has made some previous appearances on this blog.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

This Book Is Criminal

I have written a novel, The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman, a comedy-crime story set in 1902. It is available now exclusively as a e-book from the Amazon Kindle Store. There will be posts all this week with extracts, details and, like here, short essays in which I over-explain some of my foolish opinions on fiction writing. In this particular case I talk around this question:

Are There Any New Crimes?

The truth of the matter is that most crimes are petty, sordid, uninteresting. Banal even. Someone takes something out the till and takes it home. Someone snaps and punches someone else. Someone lies to get another person to give them small amounts of money.

It's not that you can't write good, exciting, even great stories from these sort of incidents. Such stories, rooted in the mundanity of life, lean heavily on character, fine description (or production values for TV and movies) and relationships. All good things, needed in every tale. Yet they may not scratch the itch for convoluted plot or clever storytelling. There simply aren't that many interesting crimes, which is why writers keep coming back to the classics.

I've written before about how Dickens describes a very detailed Ponzi scheme in Martin Chuzzlewit (38 years before Charles Ponzi was born). This is a complex crime, and not in the same way as a locked-room murder mystery or an elaborate serial killer's plan. In those cases you have a dead body and need to find out who killed them (also, sometimes, how, why, where etc.) With fraud you need to explain what has happened and how it is a crime. At one edge fraud looks a lot like incompetence, at another edge like hard bargaining. Proving that it is neither of those is not always a simple matter.

Which is not to say that such schemes don't make satisfying reading. But there's a reason I put the usual heists, murders, blackmail and weird mysteries to the fore, and cons and frauds on the sidelines of my story. If I fail to explain properly, or the reader doesn't want to bother to figure out the details, then they can still follow the clear path in the middle. Someone has done this bad thing and we will try to deal with it.

This is why, if you spend a lot of time following crime drama, you see the same ideas coming back again and again. Although there are a lot of interesting crimes to use as models, there are so many stories being written that they all get used multiple times. So they are reworked into new settings and backdrops, new characters, and new twists as they are turned inside out and upside down.

It's also why crime writers get excited when there's a new and interesting crime; see in this post where John Rogers talks about how the Leverage writing team reacted to the Wired report on the Antwerp Diamond Heist. It's worth noting that bits and pieces from that story showed up in at least half a dozen different shows I saw over the next two years.

Every time there was a new sensational report about the Hatton Garden Robbery I could imagine TV writers (especially those on American networks, churning through 22 episodes a year) rubbing their hands with glee.

None of this stops me or anyone else from reading, watching, listening and sometimes even playing in the crime backyard. Still, a genuinely new take is a rare thing, and, sadly, that's not really what I've done. But I hope that by taking modern ideas, projecting them back into the past and giving them a few subtle (and some not so subtle) twists there's at least a little novelty in my novel.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Sisterhood Of Assassination

I have written a novel, The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman, a comedy-crime story set in 1902. It is available now exclusively as a e-book from the Amazon Kindle Store. There will be posts later this week with more details. Until then please enjoy this extract, which takes place the morning after the death of Lord Allenmore at his isolated country home.

--

Having previously tried to stop them leaving, the constable now attempted to prevent Schneemann and Edward from re-entering the house. Before the argument got out of hand, he was distracted by the Braddocks bursting into the Entrance Hall in the middle of a high volume argument.

“I had some topics to discuss with her ladyship! I don’t see what business it is of yours.” This morning Mrs Braddock was in a black jacket and skirt, tightly tailored to show off her fashionable corseted figure. Her hair was bound up on top of her head. For once there were no diamonds on display.

Colonel Braddock’s face was red, although not quite the same shade as his tunic. “What business is it of mine? I think it is very much my business when my wife wanders the halls of a strange house in the middle of the night. What about your reputation? What about mine?”

She turned on him, eyes narrowed. “I was in the company of Lady Allenmore. If you think that she is not respectable enough for my reputation, I wonder why you thought it fit to accept her invitation.”

“It was not Lady Allenmore I was concerned...” Becoming aware of the audience, Braddock forced himself to a stop.

“Oh, Mr Allenmore,” said Mrs Braddock, taking Edward's hand. “Such a tragedy. So terrible. I don’t know what to say.”

“Perhaps you shouldn’t say it then,” said the Colonel. Everyone ignored him.

“Thank you madam. Thank you. How are you, yourself? You have had an awful experience. Truly awful. Should I call the doctor?” Edward seemed to be reviving, his usual personality returning. It was not a completely positive change.

“No, no. I won’t say it wasn’t shocking. But I am a soldier’s wife. I must be able to cope with injury and death. Mustn’t let my husband down. His reputation, you know.” She gave him a sly glance from under lowered eyelashes. He seemed to be calmer now.

“Mrs Braddock, there’s something... that is to say could you tell me.... no, what I mean is...”

Schneemann stayed in the background. Edward was clearly a terrible interrogator. His blundering obviousness would let his interviewees tell whatever story they wished. So be it. He would listen to the stories and see what they added up to.

Mrs Braddock was revealing her version of events, in which she had an important, urgent and very private conversation with Lady Allenmore at one o’clock in the morning. The subject of their talk was vague – the mere mention of feminine business was enough to stop Edward from pursuing that question – and so was the length. In the end, however, it appeared that Lady Allenmore wanted to consult her husband on some matter. So the two ladies had walked through the connecting door between the dressing rooms and discovered his lordship’s dead body.

Her voice lowered and stumbled to a halt. Schneemann would have put a guinea on it being at least three parts artifice. The rest of the audience was convinced by the performance; Edward assured her she did very well, the Colonel took her hand and the constable offered her his handkerchief.

Still, in outline at least, the sequence of events was plausible. Lady Allenmore was a witness to most of them. It seemed Mrs Braddock could be removed from the list of suspects unless the two women were conspiring. But that would be completely crazed. Only an imbecile would take such a theory seriously.

There was a scream of outrage. Everyone froze. Then Lady Allenmore’s unmistakable voice again filled the house. “How dare you sir! How dare you!”

The party rushed down the corridor and into the Egyptian Room to find Inspector Osprey standing facing her ladyship. A maid – Annie, Schneemann noted in passing – stood by her mistress, shock on her face. Randall sat unnoticed in a corner, pencil flashing across his notebook.

“What’s going on here?” blustered Braddock.

“This... this person had the audacity to suggest that I killed my husband!” Lady Allenmore’s voice overwhelmed their ears, threatening to cause actual pain to the listeners. “I demand that he leave at once.”

“But this is nonsense,” said Edward. “Mrs Braddock was with you. How could you have done anything with her as a witness?”

“Please, I...” said Osprey.

“That was the most extraordinary part of his outlandish hypothesis! He claimed that we had conspired together, formed a cabal, a sisterhood of assassination. He thought that my marriage was a fraud and a sham and, and... I can hardly say it.”

It took remarkably little encouragement to get her to say it. “He said that I wished my husband dead for the inheritance! To be sole mistress of the house. Ridiculous!”

“Madam, I apologise...”

Braddock gave a disapproving frown. “What conceivable motive could there be for my wife to join you? It is arrant nonsense.”

“He thought that his lordship had insulted Mrs Braddock in some fashion. So we made common cause. Oh it is sheer madness. My husband was a gentleman.”

Mrs Braddock took her arm. The two ladies glared at Inspector Osprey, joined in their disapproval of the fantastic notion that they would plot together.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

I Read Books: Dawn by H Rider Haggard (1884)

Dawn by H Rider Haggard

1. Extra Textual facts.

Haggard is best known for writing adventure novels of the "Lost World" sub-genre, especially King Solomon's Mines (1885) (which introduced Allan Quartermain, the quintessential fictional British explorer) and She[1] (1886) and their various sequels. Dawn, his first novel is not that; it's a very English crime/romance story with some scenes set in Madeira. According to the Wikipedia page, Haggard and his wife saw "a singularly beautiful and pure-faced young lady" in church and decided to write fan-fic about her. It was 1882; one had to make one's amusement where one could.

2. What is it like?

Dawn is Haggard's first novel. On a line-by-line and even chapter-by-chapter basis the book is very fluently and clearly written, with characteristic Victorian prolixity. Yet it's pretty awkward as a novel. It's nearly 200,000 words, which is far too long for the plot and characters to carry the story. It spends the first fifteen chapters on the rivalry between cousins, issues of inheritance, jealousy, a secret marriage etc. etc. all of which are okay I guess, but this means that we wait nearly a quarter of the book for our heroine Angela[2] Caresfoot to be born.

Then we skip forward twenty years and finally the story gets going. The various schemes the elder generation have been gestating for that time start to come together and our hero Arthur Heigham arrives to fall in love with Angela. There follows a rather complex plot in which Angela's cousin[3] attempts to split them apart so he can marry her, which her father passively accepts in order to regain the lands his father alienated from him, at a 75% discount.

3. What is there to like?

It has all the concerns of class, property and propriety that upper middle class Victorians swam in, but has a bit more self-awareness of the tensions these created than most of the other ones I've read. There's a good dog and a bad dog[5]. Mostly a serious, even melodramatic, story there's a tiny bit of comic relief. I don't think it's intentional that both ladies who travel to Madeira without a gentleman escort bring with them an older and stouter companion who is a bad sailor, but it amused me. Mildred Carr, rival for Arthur's affections, reports a marriage proposal from Lord Minster in the following manner:

He stood like this, with his hands in his pockets, and said, 'I am now a cabinet minister. It is a good thing that a cabinet minister should have somebody presentable to sit at the head of his table. You are presentable. I appreciate beauty, when I have time to think about it. I observe that you are beautiful. I am not very well-off for my position. You, on the other hand, are immensely rich. With your money, I can, in time, become Prime Minister. It is, consequently, evidently to my advantage that you should marry me, and I have sacrificed a very important appointment in order to come and settle it.'"[7]

She turns him down. Later he explains his political philosophy which mirrors this in a much less amusing fashion.

Believing Arthur dead, Angela agrees to marry George, but insists on this as a pre-nup:

"I, George Caresfoot, hereby solemnly promise before God that under no possible circumstance will I attempt to avail myself of any rights over my cousin, Angela Caresfoot, and that I will leave her as soon as the formal ceremony is concluded, and never again attempt to see her except by her own wish; the so-called marriage being only contemplated in order to enable me to carry out certain business arrangements which, in view of the failing state of my health, I am anxious to enter into."

Haggard characterises this as "...surely the oddest marriage contract which was ever penned..." I'm going to guess he's wrong on that one.

The various pieces all come together satisfyingly in the style of the-final-act-of-a-farce and the novel very nearly becomes a tragedy, but it turns out there are twelve or thirteen more chapters to wrap everything up and give us something a little happier.

4. Does it have any adventure-type bits like in his later novels?

There are a couple of genre-type bits. Almost irrelevantly to the plot, deputy villain Lady Bellamy reads the stars and claims to have really powerful magic which can only work if you give up all passions; she offers her knowledge to Angela at very nearly the end of the novel. Angela turns it down to go off and marry Arthur.

Angela also has this dream which is pretty cool:

First, it would seem to her that she was wide awake in the middle of the night, and there would creep over her a sense of unmeasured space, infinite silence, and intense solitude. She would think that she was standing on a dais at the end of a vast hall, down which ran endless rows of pillars supporting an inky sky which was the roof. There was no light in the hall, yet she could clearly see; there was no sound, but she could hear the silence. Only a soft radiance shone from her eyes and brow. She was not afraid, though lonely, but she felt that something would presently come to make an end of solitude. And so she stood for many years or ages—she could not tell which—trying to fathom the mystery of that great place, and watching the light that streamed from her forehead strike upon the marble floor and pillars, or thread the darkness like a shooting star, only to reveal new depths of blackness beyond those it pierced. At length there came, softly falling from the sky-roof which never stirred to any passing breeze, a flake of snow larger than a dove's wing; but it was blood-red, and in its centre shone a wonderful light that made its passage through the darkness a track of glory. As it passed gently downwards without sound, she thought that it threw the shadow of a human face. It lit upon the marble floor, and the red snow melted there and turned to blood, but the light that had been its heart shone on pure and steady.

Looking up again, she saw that the vault above her was thick with thousands upon thousands of these flakes, each glowing like a crimson lamp, and each throwing its own shadow. One of the shadows was like George, and she shuddered as it passed. And ever as they touched the marble pavement, the flakes melted and became blood, and some of the lights went out, but the most part burnt on, till at length there was no longer any floor, but a dead-sea of blood on which floated a myriad points of fire.

And then it all grew clear to her, for a voice in her mind spoke and said that this was one of God's storehouses for human souls; that the light was the soul, and the red in the snow which turned to blood was the sin which had, during its earthly passage, stained its first purity. The sea of blood before her was the sum of the scarlet wickedness of her age; from every soul there came some to swell its awful waters.

At length the red snow ceased to fall, and a sound that was not a voice, but yet spoke, pealed through the silence, asking if all were ready. The voice that had spoken in her mind answered, "No, he has not come who is to see." Then, looking upwards, she saw, miles on miles away, a bright being with half-shut wings flashing fast towards her, and she knew that it was Arthur, and the loneliness left her. He lit a breathing radiance by her side, and again the great sound pealed, "Let in the living waters, and cleanse away the sins of this generation."

It echoed and died away, and there followed a tumult like the flow of an angry sea. A mighty wind swept past her, and after it an ocean of molten crystal came rushing through the illimitable hall. The sea and the wind purged away the blood and put out the lamps, leaving behind them a glow of light like that upon her brow, and where the lamps had been stood myriads of seraphic beings, whilst from ten thousand tongues ran forth a paean of celestial song.

Then everything vanished, and deep gloom, that was not, however, dark to her, settled round them. Taking Arthur by the hand, she spread her white wings and circled upwards. Far, far they sailed, till they reached a giant peak that split space in twain. Here they alighted, and watched the masses of cloud tearing through the gulfs on either side of them, and, looking beyond and below, gazed upon the shining worlds that peopled space beneath them.

From the cloud-drifts to the right and left came a noise as of the soughings of many wings; but they did not know what caused it, till presently the vapours lifted, and they saw that alongside of and beneath them two separate streams of souls were passing on outstretched pinions: one stream, that to their left, proceeding to their earthly homes, and one, that to the right, returning from them. Those who went wore grief upon their shadowy faces, and had sad- coloured wings; but those who returned seemed for the most part happy, and their wings were tipped with splendour.

The never-ending stream that came flowed from a far-off glory, and that which returned, having passed the dividing cliff on which they stood, was changed into a multitude of the red snow-flakes with the glowing hearts, and dropped gently downwards.

So they stood, in happy peace, never tiring, from millennium to millennium. They watched new worlds collecting out of chaos, they saw them speed upon their high aerial course till, grown hoary, their foundation-rocks crumbling with age, they wasted away into the vastness whence they had gathered, to be replaced by fresh creations that in their turn took form, teemed with life, waxed, waned, and vanished.

At length there came an end, and the soughing of wings was silent for ever; no more souls went downwards, and none came up from the earths. Then the distant glory from which the souls had come moved towards them with awful mutterings and robed in lightning, and space was filled with spirits, one of whom, sweeping past them, cried with a loud voice, "Children, Time is dead; now is the beginning of knowledge." And she turned to Arthur, who had grown more radiant than the star which gleamed upon his forehead, and kissed him.

Then she would wake.

Finally Mildred has an interest in beetles, and also mummies. This doesn't really drive anything, but her Egyptian antiquities cellar does give her a cool and thematically appropriate place for her final despairing scene.

5. As a Victorian novel does it have a slightly heavy-handed moral?

If it does then it seems that men should only marry women of supernatural beauty, absolute virtue and an education in Classics and Mathematics[8]. Otherwise, just become the toyboy of a rich widow.

Everyone goes through the wringer in this one, good or bad. Everyone who loves Angela suffers; everyone who tries to do her harm suffers more. Mildred, who sacrifices her own love and happiness for our hero (and his heroine), she gets her reward in the final line of the novel:

And Mildred? She lay there before the stone symbol of inexorable judgment, and sobbed till the darkness covered her, and her heart broke in the silence.

Brutal.

Read this book: If you want a maybe-better-than-average Victorian melodrama, are interested in H Rider Haggard, or anything I've said above sounds intriguing.
Don't Read this book: If long Victorian prose turns you off, or badly structured, slow moving stories annoy you, or grim and unpleasant deaths make you unhappy.
The good news: Published in 1884 (Haggard earned £10 for it) it is out of copyright and available for free online. Also it was made into a film in 1917 (during Haggard's lifetime. Maybe I should try and find out what he thought of that!). My half-hearted attempts to find the film leave me questioning whether it still exists or if it's simply a catalogue entry.

[1] Which popularised the name She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, re-popularised and re-contextualised in John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey.
[2] Angela was also the name of Haggard's eldest daughter.
[3] Angela is the daughter of Philip, the son of Old Devil[4] Caresfoot. George, who wishes to marry her, is the son of Old Devil's idiot brother and a kitchen-maid who seduced him (the relationship described in the book as a mesalliance), making him Angela's First Cousin Once Removed.
[4] Not his actual name.
[5] They fight and the bad dog dies, which is a pity as he, Snarleyow[6], was the most interesting part of the three chapters he was in. Also the good dog dies as well, defending Angela. Sorry about that.
[6] Named after a novel by Frederick Marryat; ON THE LIST (now)
[7] I do like an awkward marriage proposal; this is one is great for the total lack of self-awareness. Say what you will for one that lists the mutual societal and material benefits with not a single nod to love, passion or affection, they're straightforwardly explaining what each party will gain from it. Lord Minster has no thought for what Mildred might want.
[8] I don't think there are any easy parallels with Haggard's life here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens Review

The Sharknado series has a somewhat convoluted, if not especially complex, continuing storyline. Fortunately this film does not require you to know that. Rather, it prefers to trade off celebrity cameos, classic film references and pop culture jokes for scenes that require more than guns, sharks, wind and chainsaws.

The story is nonsensical, being a simple and efficient way to string together scenes of action and disaster. The acting is mixed, especially in the case of The Hoff who swings between obviously-the-best-actor-in-the-room to wooden-plank-phoning-it-in-from-the-bathroom, occasionally in the same scene. None of this is important. The film is an excuse to create as many CGI shark action set-pieces as possible, with a few nods to creating stakes for character and audience and pacing so that we are not exhausted by chainsaw-shark interactions before the first ad-break.

If the film has anything to say apart from warning us of the danger of flying sharks, it may have a couple of evergreen messages. Firstly that billionaire scientists and technology can't save us from unexpected threats. Secondly, in their use of the media; as each tornado encounters something new they give it an exciting name boulder-nado, oil-nado, lightning-nado. As these storms travel across the US wrecking cities, towns and national monuments, they seem to cover it with all the urgency of regular news. Is this commentary, or simply a way to deliver the names for all the cool CGI tornadoes to the audience? I don't know.

So what is there to say? I enjoyed it. It did not keep my interest very well. There were a couple of good jokes. 7/10 Game of the Year.

Watch This: If you like stupid action shark stuff.
Don't Watch This: If compelling character dynamics or clever plotting or anything that doesn't involve exploding sharks and D-list celebrities being squashed are important to you.
Learn More About Sharks: I was going to put a link to a BBC documentary series, but it broadcast last year and seems to be unavailable so you'll have to do your own research.