Deal Me In, Week 16 ~ “Riddle”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Riddle” by Ogbewe Amadin

Card picked: 2 – a WILD card
Found at: Fireside Magazine

The Story

I think Aunty Adesuwa is a witch. Mama says so sometimes.

To Idara, Mama never lies, and when Mama says that witches are evil, it must be so. But witchcraft also see,s like it could be a wonderful thing, full of possibilities. Idara sets out to prove whether Aunty Adesuwa is really a witch and really evil. It’s a riddle that isn’t easily solved.

Fireside Magazine showcases some really nice flash fiction. This one has been bookmarked since January and I decided to choose it for my wild card this week, even though it doesn’t fit with the sci fi tales I’ve chosen for hearts. Glad I did. It’s a lovely story with a nice touch of ambiguity.

The Author
I think this might be Nigerian author Ogbewe Amadin’s first publication. I’m pretty sure it won’t be his last.

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Spring into Horror Halfway-ish Point

For someone who had no horror on her TBR at the beginning of the month, I’m doing pretty well.

Castle of the Carpathians cover The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne

I’ll be honest, I haven’t really read much/any Verne. I know the basics of many of his more famous Extraordinary Voyage novels (20,000 Leagues Under the SeaThe Mysterious Island), but I haven’t actually read them yet. I ended up quickly reading The Castle of the Carpathians due to a research tangent.

The story is…very slow. 90% of it does not occur in the titular castle. I feel like Verne decided to write a Gothic novel with the intent of explaining all the possible supernatural happening with technology—very pre-Scooby Doo of him. The problem is, Verne’s not a Gothic writer. This book might have influenced the early portion of Dracula. If it did, Bram Stoker massively improved upon it.

The Greatcoat cover The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

I knew going into this book that it was going to be a somewhat romantic slow-burn ghost story. And I like that sort of thing, but I wish there had been a little more menace to the haunting, maybe a little more of a zing to the ending. On the other hand, it wasn’t an entirely predicable ghost story, which was nice.

The Fifty Year Sword cover The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski

I’ve sort of been in the mood to reread Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a book I didn’t quite like when I read it the first time, but has weirdly stuck with me. But I couldn’t easily find my copy. When I was at the library I considered  checking out their copy, but then I saw The Fifty Year Sword on the shelf.

It’s an odd size for a hard back. It’s cover it riddled with holes as though made by a big sewing needle (or the miniature sword letter opener I own).  The text in the book is upside down and backwards and written in a free-verse style with many quotation marks (demoting different speakers, it’s explained) and embroidery looking illustrations (our protagonist is a seamstress). The names of most of the characters are strange. While there are shadows of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Drosselmeier in the Story Teller and Shirley Jackson’s “The Witch” in the conceit, I sometimes wish Danielewski would simply tell a story without all the shenanigans. But, I suppose, what else was I expecting…

Deal Me In, Week 14 ~ “The Luck of Roaring Camp”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte

Card picked: 8
Found at: AmericanLiterature.com

The Story
For a story set in a mining camp in 1850 California, this is an awfully sweet tale.

There was commotion in Roaring Camp.

The commotion is the birth of a baby to the only woman in the camp, Cherokee Sal. Sal doesn’t survive childbirth. While the men of the camp aren’t painted in entirely rosy colors, nothing is said about who the child’s father might be. The task of caring for the infant falls to “Stumpy” and his ass (as in donkey). It’s figured that Stumpy is the best choice since he already has two families…

After a month has passed and the little boy seems to be thriving under the care of his adoptive father, he is christened Thomas Luck, since his birth has heralded a measure of luck for the camp. All the men of the camp feel some measure of responsibility for Tommy, or “The Luck.” Gradually, Roaring Camp cleans itself up as everyone wants to be a little better and enjoy the world a little more for the child’s sake. Alas, there is ultimately not a happy ending, but one can hope that Roaring Camp’s luck didn’t completely leave it.

I didn’t remember putting some western short stories on my Deal Me In list, but I’m glad I did!

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Review ~ The Infamous Harry Hayward

This book was provided to me by University of Minnesota Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads: Infamous Harry Hayward

The Infamous Harry Hayward: A True Account of Murder and Mesmerism in Gilded Age Minneapolis by Shawn Francis Peters

On a winter night in 1894, a young woman’s body was found in the middle of a road near Lake Calhoun on the outskirts of Minneapolis. She had been shot through the head. The murder of Kittie Ging, a twenty-nine-year-old dressmaker, was the final act in a melodrama of seduction and betrayal, petty crimes and monstrous deeds that would obsess reporters and their readers across the nation when the man who likely arranged her killing came to trial the following spring. Shawn Francis Peters unravels that sordid, spellbinding story in his account of the trial of Harry Hayward, a serial seducer and schemer whom some deemed a “Svengali,” others a “Machiavelli,” and others a “lunatic” and “man without a soul.”

Dubbed “one of the greatest criminals the world has ever seen” by the famed detective William Pinkerton, Harry Hayward was an inveterate and cunning plotter of crimes large and small, dabbling in arson, insurance fraud, counterfeiting, and illegal gambling. His life story, told in full for the first time here, takes us into shadowy corners of the nineteenth century, including mesmerism, psychopathy, spiritualism, yellow journalism, and capital punishment. From the horrible fate of an independent young businesswoman who challenged Victorian mores to the shocking confession of Hayward on the eve of his execution (which, if true, would have made him a serial killer), The Infamous Harry Hayward unfolds a transfixing tale of one of the most notorious criminals in America during the Gilded Age. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
19th century crime! In the Midwest! In a city that isn’t Chicago! (Not that I have anything against Chicago, but it gets a lot of attention. There are plenty of interesting cities between the Mississippi River and Rocky Mountains in the 19th century. Or in this case, on the Mississippi River.)

What Worked
This is a nice look into Minneapolis at the end of the 19th century. It was, like many Midwestern/Heart Land cities, on the rise full of hustle, bustle, excitement, and vice. Harry Hayward dabbled in many areas of crime and Peters gives each a good deal of background of their own. I especially enjoyed learning about the counterfeiting and money laundering schemes.

Another crime-adjacent subject important to the story is yellow journalism. Much of Hayward’s reputation as a “master criminal” was made in the press. Dueling newspapers didn’t entirely fabricate stories, but they certainly latched on to the juiciest, most lurid tidbits of the police’s initial investigation and Hayward’s trial. To an extent, the “Murder and Mesmerism” subtitle of this book has similar sensationalism. The mesmerism aspect of Hayward is really very minor. I hoped that this would be the story of an out-and-out charlatan performer, a hypnotist using his abilities to bilk and murder! Alas, not the case, though it seems strange that I should be disappointed by a charismatic con man and the murder of a young woman.

What Didn’t Work
A very minor thing: There was some repetition of details between the telling of what happened to Kitty Ging and Hayward’s eventual trial. This is a slight stumbling block with true crime: to tell about the crime accurately, an author ends up using facts based on the testimony of those involved.

Overall
Good telling of a historical true crime. Peters has a light touch with his presentation of details and keeps the narrative rolling.

Publishing info, my copy: ePub, University of Minnesota Press, April 3, 2018
Acquired: NetGalley, Feb. 2018
Genre: nonfiction, crime

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Mini Reviews, Vol. 12

alt text The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffmann

E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote some weird stuff. This is his most well-known work (written in 1816), though most people are more familiar with the ballet than the original story. The ballet smooths out some of the weird, like the seven-headed rat king, to present a more family friendly fantasy. The original is a little darker and a lot bloodier. Definitely worth revisiting come Christmas time!

alt text The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum

I have a confession to make: I don’t really like the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. As a movie it’s always felt big and loud to me, even though I can appreciate that it’s quite good for 1939. So, as a kid, I never read the Oz books. Since the Tin Man is more or less and automaton, there are other clockwork men further in the series, and the first one was kinda fun, I’ll be dipping in and out of the series for a while.

alt text The Chronological Man: The Monster In The Mist by Andrew Mayne

Man, the beginning of the month was rough for me DNF-wise. I dumped a couple books off my TBR challenge list. But I settled on The Monster in the Mist. It’s was a mostly fun, steampunk-ish adventure that ran a little too long with its action scenes. The next in the series sounds way over the top, so I’m going to pass on it.

alt text Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

If I had a time machine, I would go back and tell myself to go see this at the theater. Arguably, the best thing about the original Blade Runner is its setting and this sequel, despite some apprehensions, nailed the setting. Plus, it’s the film for which Roger Deakins (my favorite cinematographer) finally won an Oscar. I really should have seen it on the big screen.  I’m not sure I buy the plot and I didn’t care for Jared Leto as the villain, but Ryan Gosling was spot-on in the role of K. (I seem to prefer Gosling in roles where his character is fairly unemotional. See also, Drive (2011).)

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Deal Me In, Week 10 ~ “Pythias”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Pythias” by Frederik Pohl

Card picked: 8 (It’s week 10 and I still haven’t drawn a club…)
Found at: East of the Web

The Story
“Pythias” begins with our narrator, Dick, in jail for the murder of his friend Larry. Dick tells us that the murder is considered particularly heinous since Larry had recently saved Dick’s life. You see, there was an incident in which terrorists stormed a government meeting and Larry jumped on a hand grenade, its pin pulled. Larry survived, only being knocked out for a day. That event reminded Dick of a theory that Larry once espoused:

“You claimed that the human mind possessed powers of psychokinesis,” I said. “You argued that just by the mind, without moving a finger or using a machine, a man could move his body anywhere, instantly. You said that nothing was impossible to the mind.”

Larry admits that he’s found the secret of telekinesis and that anyone can learn to do it. While Larry is demonstrating his abilities to Dick, Dick kills him, believing that such power could corrupt even a good guy like Larry.

I had to familiarize myself with the Greek legend of “Damon and Pythias,” which this story riffs on. In the legend, Pythias is accused of plotting against Dionysius in Syracuse and is sentenced to death. His friend Damon volunteers to be human collateral while Pythias goes to settle his affairs. Dionysius doesn’t believe that Pythias will return, but when he does, he’s so overcome by the gesture of true friendship, that he allows both to go free. Generally, this story is seen as one friend relieving the burden of another, which works out for both because…friendship!

I can see some of what Pohl intends with the title of this story. Dick is relieving Larry of his burden, even before Larry sees it as such. Larry’s happy doing silly things, like popping to the top of Mt. Everest, and occasionally being a hero. It hadn’t crossed his mind that he could use his power to rob banks or spy on people. It is almost immediately what Dick thought of. The story ends with Dick in jail, facing an inevitable death sentence. But Larry told him the secret of his psychokinesis…

The Author
Speculative fiction writer Fredrik Pohl had a career spanning 75 years. His novel Gateway (1977) won the big four of SF awards: the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell. He edited the also award-winning Galaxy magazine. In the realm of science fiction, Pohl was considered one of the greats.

Review ~ Eyeing the Flash

Cover via Goodreads

Eyeing the Flash: The Making of a Carnival Con Artist by Peter Fenton

The year is 1963, the setting small-town Michigan. Pete Fenton is just another well-mannered math student until he meets Jackie Barron, a teenage grifter who introduces him to the carnival underworld — and lures him with the cons, the double-dealing, and, most of all, the easy money. The memoir of a shy middle-class kid turned first-class huckster, Eyeing the Flash is highly unorthodox, and utterly compelling. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
There is a connection between stage magic and carnivals; and between magicians and con men…

What Worked
Fenton provides a (maybe) warts-and-all recollection his late teen years working in a basement casino (set up to fleece his high school classmates) and working his way up through the games (from Duck Pond to the Flat Store) in a travelling carnival in the 60s. I say “maybe” warts-and-all. I have no particular reason to question the author as narrator…other than he’s a carny con man. While most of the abuse and double dealing is at the figurative  hands of his friend/boss, Jackie, Fenton possibly doesn’t share how often marks became belligerent. Mostly, he shows his prowess at lying to the marks and working the rigged games.

What Didn’t Work
For me, one of the great sadnesses of my life is that con men aren’t Danny Ocean. They are not suave. They aren’t noble Robin Hoods, or even in it for revenge or moral lessons.

It’s your life. Which side are you going to be on? Are you an ulcer giver or an ulcer getter?

That’s pretty much Jackie’s early pitch to Peter. Causing harm to cause harm is distasteful to me. I know intellectually that’s what con men do, but it’s still disappointing that there are people who easily decide to put their life choices in that either/or.

Overall
Eyeing the Flash is well-written and provides a look into a world that is often off-limits to regular people.  It also emphasizes that callousness of a con man.

By the way, “flash” is the especially attractive prizes at a carnival game booth. In the book, the most flashy piece of flash was a 17″ color television set. While carnivals are somewhat more on the level these days, Mark Rober has a great set of YouTube videos about modern carnival scams.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Simon & Schuster, 2005
Acquired: Amazon,April 5, 2013
Genre: memoir

This book counts for two challenges: