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Reading Slothfully

I was told in elementary school that I only could read at half the speed for success in college. Oh well, one benefit of slow reading is you get to live with the characters a longer period of time. I read in a vain attempt to better understand people. At my other homes, I'm known as a spouse, pop, guy in the choir, physical chemist, computer/web dilettante and child-care provider. In theory, I'm a published author, if you consider stuff like Quenching Cross Sections for Electronic Energy Transfer Reactions Between Metastable Argon Atoms and Noble Gases and Small Molecules to count as publications. I've strewn dozens of such fascinating things to the winds.

Currently reading

A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens
The Way Some People Die
Ross Macdonald
Envy of Angels
Matt Wallace
The Fellowship of the Frog
Edgar Wallace
Code of Conduct (The Jani Kilian Chronicles Book 1)
Kristine Smith
A Good Death
Christopher R. Cox
The Black Cargo
John P. Marquand
A Highland Christmas
M.C. Beaton
Tales from Moominvalley
Tove Jansson, Thomas Warburton
Moominland Midwinter
Tove Jansson, Thomas Warburton

Black Beauty (Scholastic Classics)

Black Beauty (Scholastic Classics) - Anna Sewell I remember having read this in 3rd or 4th grade and having liked it. Basically, we have the autobiography of a horse. Black Beauty, it seems, is a stallion (or gelding, we're never told). I always assumed that with a name like that he was a she. But nope! A guy horse. None-the-less, all the 9-year old girls who love horses will adore this book. So, also will old Calvinist moralists, like myself, who like animal stories dosed with some good, old fashioned moralizing.

Anyway, this was quite a fun book. Beauty narrates his life from colthood to old age. He sees many changes in that he switches hands from time to time from a good "master" to a not-so-good one, from good care to negligent care, from proper work to over work, and so on. Along the way, we learn the stories of some of the other horses with whom Beauty shared a stable, and we learn much about the proper way to care for a horse so as to get the best work from him. Horses like to work hard for people they like. Nope, don't mind it a bit. Bless their equine hearts.

A Room with a View

A Room with a View - E.M. Forster Meh... I had a tough time convincing myself to finish this book. It was ok, but seemed rather vapid, or something. I'm not even sure I can summarize it.

So we have a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, who is vapid, but who grows less so over the course of the book. She is supposed to marry Cecil Vyse, but doesn't really love him, and besides, he's pretty vapid. So she ends up with George Emerson, whom she might love, only he once made improper advances toward her in Italy. But his father, who is extremely weird, convinces her to set that aside. Something like that.

I had a hard time forcing myself to finish this book. It definitely deserves a minus (-) appended to the 3*s. I thought Forster was supposed to be a good author, and I vaguely remember having read A Passage to India in college, and thinking it was ok. But after this example, I'm not sure I'll dabble with him again.


Dearest - H. Beam Piper This is a slightly weird tale, but rather fun. It seems that Col. Ashley Hampton is being confronted by his nephew Stephen Hampton and his wife, a lawyer and a shrink. The nephew and niece want to have Co.. Hampton committed to an insane asylum. They will, thereby, gain control over his money. The claim for insanity is that Col. Hampton has a "secret friend", to whom he talks.

Well, Col. Hampton does, sort of, have a "secret friend", a being he has named Dearest. But, Dearest is actually a real entity, just not one readily observed/experienced by most people.

So, we get some going back and forth between Col. Hampton's first encountering Dearest, and some of their experiences together, and the drawing room scene with the niece, nephew, lawyer and shrink. Fortunately, Dearest, has some ideas to provide Col. Hampton, which will save the day for him. Something like that. It was kind of cute, and much more interesting than that other piece of crap of Piper's that I read a few months back.

The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer

The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer - Oscar Micheaux This is a sort of autobiography of Oscar Micheaux's early life. He did change names of some people and places for some reason. But, one assumes, the events are more-or-less accurate. Of course, we've just learned, in Prairie Fires, how little of the events in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books were fact and and how many were fiction. Basically, I got engaged by a long, multi-thread, twitter rant by Ana Mardoll about the Wilder books as she was "live tweeting" her reading of Prairie Fires. That got me thinking about homesteaders, like my great grandparents, which reminded me of an African American homesteader, Oscar Micheaux. I'd read Micheaux' so-called novel, The Homesteader, and thought to read this book. As nearly as I can remember, much of the action in this book is similar to that in the latter. But it was a worthwhile read none the less.

One of the interesting features of the book is its many discussions of the development of the newly settled areas of South Dakota. Of course that would be newly settled by people who weren't already living there. The Native Americans, of course, were shoved from or swindled out of their lands. Anyway, new towns would be sited, but their prosperity or not depended greatly on where the railroad would run. The towns, if seems often preceded the railroad beds, and many mistakes were made, so to speak. There was lots of competition between towns to get the railroad folks to run their lines by their particular towns.

The action in this book takes place in the very early 20th century, around 1907 or thereabouts. Micheaux settled in one of the most southern counties of S. Dakota, only three or four counties west of the Minnesota line. The interest for me is that my great grandparents settled in the most eastern county, and along the southern border of Dakota Terrirory, some 30 years previously. So, it would seem, the opening of S. Dakota took some time to evolve.

Anyway, it's a fascinating read, all the more so because it features a young African American who was also desirous of achieving the American Dream, and who, in many ways, succeeded at that, albeit in the long term not as a farmer. Micheaux' fame comes primarily from his career as a film producer and director, beginning some five to ten years after his homesteading activities.

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White, Garth Williams, Rosemary Wells My spouse and I were trying to convince the 5-year-old to think about going to bed. It wasn't quite time, and he asked for a video. I tricked him by looking for something on NetFlix. We started to watch Charlotte's Web. At first he wasn't sure, and was hoping I'd switch to one of those horrible YouTube videos that have proliferated to deaden the minds of small children. But, eventually, he let us continue with Charlotte's Web, and even watched from time to time, in between adding on to his latest version of the Titanic, which he makes from LEGOs.

Anyway, we got distracted and didn't get the whole story. But then I started thinking what could be better than a story about a cute spider? So I decided to check a copy out of the library. Allegedly, my library has a kindle version, so I put it on hold. Then I noticed that those of us who had a hold on the book were in line to share exactly zero copies. WTF? Apparently, the license ran out. So, I broke down and borrowed the dead-tree version from them.

I have a vague recollection that my third-grade teacher, or perhaps the librarian, read some part of this book to us back when I was 8 or so. But I don't remember having read the book myself, and don't think I ever read it to my kids. What a pity. This is a great book!

So, we have a runt pig who is about to be killed. The farmer's 8-year-old daughter (or was she 9?), Fern, intercedes and agrees to care for the pig herself, feeding it from a bottle. She names the pig Wilbur and he thrives under Fern's care. Eventually, Wilbur is too big to be in the house, so is moved (sold) to the farmer across the road, who happens to be an uncle or something. Fern goes to visit every day and becomes friends with the pig and all the other animals.

One of the other animals taunts Wilbur about how he's going to be slaughtered for a Christmas dinner. Wilbur goes into a funk, but then hears a small voice from above. It's the voice of a spider, Charlotte, who befriends Wilbur and vows to find a way to save him.

So, Charlotte does, eventually, contrive to save Wilbur, and in the doing also manages to create quite a nice, loving community among all the other animals in the barn. Something like that.

Lord of Samarcand

Lord of Samarcand - Robert E. Howard I got so bored with A Room with a View that I decided to try something else for a bit. This was that something else, and it was pretty horrible. I'm sure some folks like this kind of stuff, but war making, brutal revenge killing, people covering themselves with gore as a sign of manliness, and so forth isn't my cup of tea. I claim it's because I spent too much time in Sunday School, but I know other folks who spent equal amounts of time, if not more, love this kind of crap.

So we're around 14oo. The Turks, cruelly lead by the scurrilous Bayazid, crushingly defeat a bunch of European Christians who were invading so as to steal land from the Turks, or something. But one of the Europeans, a Scott, Donald MacDeesa escapes with his life and hooks up with Ak Boga, who who had secretly been spying on the carnage. Ak Boga works for the Amir of Samarcand, one Timour the Lame. Something like that. Upon seeing how noble, gore-covered, manly, ruthless and strong Donald is, Ak Bogo takes Donald back to Samarcand to work for Timour. Donald goes along, because he sees it as an opportunity to get revenge against Bayazid. So then we have endless scenes of mass destruction in which everyone dies happily covered in gore and dried blood. Something like that.

Oh, I forgot, when not cleaving people's heads off and getting splattered in gore, manly men drink each other under the table, the more manly one is, e.g. Donald MacDeesa, the longer he can drink while others are on the floor snoring in a stupor. Once in a while they do take a break from the killing and drinking to engage in the manly sport of molesting young women. Yuck!

I have a friend, who is a sort of English teacher, who claims that Robert E. Howard is a vastly more entertaining author than Jane Austen. Once again, I'm not seeing it. This book's only virtue was that it was short, only about 40 pages or so. To be fair to Robert E. Howard, the other three of his books that I've read, were stupid, but not totally disgusting. Whatever, I've deleted all the Robert E. Howard books in my possession from my kindle.

The American Gun Mystery

The American Gun Mystery - Ellery Queen Back when I was a kid, Ellery Queen was all the rage. So I figured I should check him out. I dunno, this didn't do much for me. The main character is an idler who thinks he's better than everyone else because he doesn't appear to have to work for a living, and because he's able to do arcane feats of logical thinking. But with all the logical thinking, this story didn't much hold together or make sense. So, a stupid story with an unlikeable protagonist doesn't entice me to continue reading Queen.

The story revolves around a faded matinee idol from old cowboy movies, Buck Horne, who is taking a turn at Wild Bill Grant's wild west show in a huge arena in New York City. Buck appears to have been shot dead during one rip-roaring run around the arena. He was shot by a .25 caliber bullet, but all the people in the show, and all the people in the audience were carrying only .45s. Something like that. After a few weeks of investigation, the show starts up again, this time featuring another idol of the old oaters, one-armed Woody. Well, same rip-roaring ride around the arena and Woody gets toppled at the same point in the same fashion. So we have lots of red herrings and overdoses of smug pomposity by Ellery Queen, the main character. The final verdict only vaguely hangs true.

If I could give +s or -s, this book would be ***-. It's not terrible, but it isn't really much worth anyone's time. I won't likely revisit Ellery Queen any time soon.

The Knife Slipped

The Knife Slipped - Erle Stanley Gardner Well, I thought to get some Perry Mason from the library in kindle. This was the first Erle Stanley Gardner I'd found. BUT...it's not Perry Mason!!! It seems that Gardner, under a pseudonym wrote a series of hard-boiled detective books featuring a young runt of a detective, Donald Lam, who worked for a large, coarse woman named Bertha Cool, who constantly refers to herself in third person. But this particular book, was never published at the time it was written, 1939. It only saw the light of day in 2016. The lurid, pulp-fiction cover has nothing to do with the book. Other than that, the book's ok.

Mrs. Atterby brings her daughter, Mrs. Edith Cunner, to Bertha Cool's agency to dig up dirt on Edith's husband, Eben, who is pretty obviously being unfaithful. Bertha assigns Donald to the case. Along the way, they discover there's much political corruption involved in the shenanigans of Eben, aka Arthur Gell. Bertha decides she'd like to get in on the graft, cut herself a slice of cake, so to speak. But in the cake cutting, the knife slipped, and Bertha didn't get her much desired big pay day. But, they do finger the killer...sort of. It was a fairly cute story, and I'd likely read another if the library decides to carry any from this series in kindle format.

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity - James M. Cain Yikes! I read this on one day, and I read at only half the speed required for success in college, or so I was told back in my youth. Well, it was short, but also compelling. Not something one could easily put down once begun. Cain is a good author, if you like noir-y kinds of things. This is about as noir-y as it gets. A nice change from the heavier kinds of things I'd been reading.

So, an insurance agent, Walter Huff, makes a call on a client, Mr. Nirdlinger, who isn't home. Nirdlinger's wife, Phyllis comes down to meet Huff, and Huff is immediately smitten. Together they hatch a rather convoluted plot to insure Mr. Nirdlinger against accidental death with a double indemnity clause that kicks in should the accident occur in specific ways, such as being killed by an accident on a train. So, we get lots of plotting and practice.

Then, it seems, Phyllis has a 19-year old step daughter, Lola. Huff becomes rather enamored by Lola. Lola has a boyfriend, Nino, who may or may not be a sketchy character. Apparently, he is finishing up his Ph.D. in chemistry, but there are other things about him which may or may not be savory. Suffice to say the Nirdlingers did not approve of the alliance in the least.

Well, I could go on, but I can't write a plot summary nearly so well as Cain can write and flesh out the plot itself. One would be best to head for the nearest library, or book store if you prefer, and snag a copy. This is a true gem one should not miss.

Men Without Women

Men Without Women - Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel, Ted Goossen I'm a huge fan of Haruki Murakami, and have read all but one or two of his books. This one didn't much do it for me, but I think the problem was more with me than with Murakami. At the moment, I'm finding myself in a place where I could use more fluff and less about screwed up young men. I'm especially in a place where the sexual fantasies and hang-ups of young men aren't of much interest to me. I admit to being an elderly, repressed Calvinist, and I wasn't able to set that part of me aside while I was reading these seven stories. I'd read several of these stories previously, probably in The New Yorker, or some such place. I think I liked them better then, but then the reading was a one-off thing, not a whole series. So, I'm suggesting one reads this collection a story at a time, with much other stuff in between revisits to this collection. At least that's what I'd have done, were I not under the gun, so to speak, to get the book read before its library due date.

Having written more-or-less of a downer of a review, no one should go to his grave without having read Murakami, and this is as good a place to begin as anywhere else.

The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen Well, this was a difficult book, but one we should all read, I think. The protagonist is a spy, or perhaps counter spy. He's two people in one, so to speak. The story is basically his written confession, comprising over 300 pages, to a "Commandant". So, mostly, we're guessing that he got captured by someone and is in a prison camp or re-education camp, or something. We do find out what it is by the end, but I'm not telling.

The action in the narrative takes place from 1975 to two or three years after. At first glance, the protagonist is the aide of a General in the Vietnamese army, that is the south Vietnamese army, ARVN. They are the folks the U.S. propped up to fight against the North Vietnamese, who were headed by Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh had essentially driven out the French colonizers in 1954 or thereabouts, but gained control of only half the country. He spent the following 20 years trying to unify the whole country. The unification would be under "Communist" control, which is to say, Ho Chi Minh was propped up by the Chinese Communists. In essence, Vietnam was a pawn in the Cold War.

Anyway, the protagonist is an aide for "the General", but in fact, he is an agent of the Communists, reporting the General's plans and doings back to them. His conduit is his old pal, Man. Back in High School, he, Man, and another friend, Bon, became blood brothers. They vowed to support and defend each other to the death. Well, it seems there's a problem, in that Bon became a loyal subject of the South Vietnamese. But that didn't affect their brotherly ties.

Anyway, we have the "fall of Vietnam", which was 30 April 1975. The army of the North were marching into the city. People fled as best they could, on planes, helicopters and so forth. The protagonist and Bon managed to snag a spot on the last airplane out of the Saigon airport (along with the General and his family and many others—hundreds of others?). They went to Guam, and eventually to the U.S.A., where they tried to build new lives. Man stayed behind to join up with his Communist comrades. He had had the protagonist flee so that he could keep tabs on the doings of the exiles, especially the General. The reports were to be directed through an "Aunt" who lived in Paris. Much of the reports were mundane and non-controversial. But hidden within the messages, in invisible ink, were the important facts.

They build lives for themselves in the U.S., but the General wants to develop a force of former ARVN veterans to invade Vietnam and take it back from the Communists.

Well, I could go on, but doing so might mean I'll never get done here and move on to other things. Suffice to say, this book gives some much-needed insight into our war follies from 50 years ago, which remain with us today, albeit in a different part of the world.

The Cocktail Waitress (Hard Case Crime)

The Cocktail Waitress (Hard Case Crime) - James M. Cain Apparently, this is a "lost novel" by Cain, which was only unearthed, edited, and published some 35 years after his death. I'd read some Cain previously, and very much loved Mildred Pierce. While, The Postman Always Rings Twice was ok, it wasn't all that special. I've yet to find Double Indemnity on kindle in a local library (now I have, and it's on hold). Anyway, I got this book thanks to my new library card with the Woburn Public Library, and it was great. Up there with Mildred Pierce, I think.

So, we have a young woman, Joan Medford, relating her experiences in the few years after her abusive husband, Ron, killed himself by driving into a bridge abutment (I think it was that, something hard anyway). Ron was a chronic drunk and an abusive husband and father. He routinely beat up Joan and their son, Tad, who was 3-years old at the time of the telling.

It seems that Ron's sister, Ethyl and her husband Jack, covet Joan's son, Tad. Ethyl had a medical problem and is sterile. Ethyl and Jack take Tad off with them, because Joan must find a job to support herself and Tad. But Ethyl also wants to make the caretaking of Tad permanent, so begins a whispering campaign to the police that Joan slipped something into Ron's last drink, implying that Ron was actually murdered.

One of the two cops investigating the case is desperate to pin the murder on Joan, the other gives her a tip as to how to find a job. He suggests she head down to the Garden of Roses and ask Bianca, the proprietress, for a job. Bianca starts to make Joan a waitress, but Liz, in the bar sees that Joan would be a hit in the bar. In the bar, they wear skimpy clothes, showing lots of leg and cleavage, and the better the leg and cleavage, the better the tips. Joan has the most amazing set of gams in creation, or something like that. She becomes an instant hit, and both Liz and she prosper.

Well, she makes the acquaintance of Walter K. White III, a widower, who is richer than Midas and who takes rather a shine to Joan. He wants to do something "nice" for Joan. She also meets Tom Barclay, who is so handsome that he gets her motor running, so to speak. But Walter has money, and that money would be a great help in getting Tad away from Ethyl. Tom has animal magnetism, but little money. Something like that.

Well, all kinds of things happen, many not so good, but Joan is smart, able to withstand hardship, and a rather interesting character. Then too, those legs! So, if you're into noir fiction at all, this stuff is nectar. If like my spouse, you like cozy "mysteries", with cutesy titles, little reality, and it's mostly tea, muffins, and village greens, then this might not be your cup of tea, so to speak.

The Moving Target

The Moving Target - Ross Macdonald After having read that Ross Macdonald was alleged to write hard-boiled, noir, detective fiction as well as Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett, I had to check him out. The first book was indeed good, but my kindle access to Ross Macdonald was limited. No copies in my own library and only a couple at the Boston Public Library. But, it seems that the Woburn Public Library has a much larger selection of Macdonald titles. So, of course, I had to get me a library card to the Woburn Public Library. I could easily do that on my way home from a visit to my friendly audiologist. And so I did. This is the first of the Macdonald titles I checked out from them.

This is, naturally, a convoluted tale. An oil tycoon, Ralph Sampson, goes missing. His wife is worried about his drinking, gambling, and womanizing, but wants him back, if only to make sure she outlives him before his fortune disappears. She calls in Lew Archer to find the man. On his way in to meet with the woman, to get more details, Archer first meets Alan Taggert, the family pilot, and Sampson's delectable daughter, Miranda. Miranda, it seems has designs on Taggert. Sometimes, Taggert plays along, but other times he makes it clear he is uninterested.

So, it seems that Taggert flew Sampson from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, or environs. Sampson was drunk as a lord by the time they got to the airport. By the time Taggert had put the plane to bed, Sampson had disappeared. The limousine called to pick him up got a later call telling them not to bother. So who had picked up Sampson, and where did he go? That's Archer's problem in a nut shell. Well, a few days later, they get a ransom note, written in Sampson's handwriting. That rather escalates the problem, how to pay the ransom, while still getting Sampson back alive?

So, we wander into The Wild Piano, a bar which Sampson sometimes frequented. He'd been seen there recently with an over-the-hill Hollywood actress, Fay Estabrook. The bar features a torch singer, Betty Fraley, who also seems to have palled with Sampson. We run into a "religious mystic" who has a mountain top refuge, donated, it seems by Sampson, but the guy is pretty clearly a fraud and is doing something not-so-kosher on the side. Then there's Archer's old pal from his days working for the DA, Albert Graves, who left the DA office to become the family lawyer. Graves has a mad crush on Miranda, which means he has no love for Taggert.

I dunno, there's lots of other stuff going on, floozies and mashers, gun men and dead bodies, all the good stuff of noir fiction. It's quite well written. Based on my limited sample of two, I'd say Ross Macdonald is close to Raymond Chandler in the quality of his writing, a quality well above that of Dashiell Hammett (not difficult, Hammett had great plot lines, but wooden prose). I foresee much more Macdonald in my future, thanks to my new library card. Who knew there was anything good one could say about Woburn?


Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier Somewhere, recently, I read something that convinced me that Rebecca was definitely a GoodRead. For some reason, I vaguely remember that we made fun of Daphne du Maurier when we were kids in the 1950s. Mostly, of course, it was my older brother, who went on to get a degree in English from Princeton, and my older sister, who was a History major at Goucher, the 8th of the "Seven Sisters". Anyway, I read someone recently who insisted Rebecca was actually good literature, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to find out. Well, I finally waded through it and I'm still not sure. It was ok, but kinda long and weird.

So we begin with an unnamed young woman having a dream of the Manderly estate as it must now look, after some years of abandonment. The young woman wakes up and we go on to find that the young woman seems to be a companion of a man who has had a great shock. Things are ok for them, so long as they stick to mundane things like cricket scores or the status of the Crimea. Any allusions to a past must never be mentioned.

Then we go back in time to see how things got to such a state. The young woman, who is English, is the companion to an elderly, rich, American snob, Mrs. van Hopper, who is "wintering" at Monte Carlo. One day at lunch, a haggard middle aged man sits at the table next to them. Mrs. van Hopper recognizes him as being Maximilian de Winter, who is trying to get over the drowning death of his wife. Mrs. van Hopper contrives to get to know de Winter, and of course, the young woman becomes vaguely acquainted as well. She's very shy and is also basically shoved into the background by the old lady.

But, Mrs. van Hopper gets sick and has to spend a few weeks recovering in bed. The young woman goes down to lunch as normal and de Winter strikes up a conversation. Next thing you know, they're driving around the countryside and having quite a time of it. About the time Mrs. van Hopper recovers, she decides she must immediately depart for New York, and the young woman is to go with her, of course. With only an hour or two before departure, de Winter learns of the departure and convinces the young woman to stay behind and marry him instead.

So, they have a glorious honeymoon for a few weeks in Italy. Then it's back to de Winter's estate, Manderly. Well, things aren't so great there. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers is clearly disinclined to give the young woman any consideration except the most icy formalities. It turns out she was devoted to Rebecca, the former Mrs. de Winter, the former lady of the estate. As time goes on, the narrator learns that Rebecca was considered the most beautiful and accomplished creature ever born, something like that. How can she ever match up? It doesn't help that Maxim de Winter is often distant and has never made an avowal of love to her. So we have this creepy gothic novel thingie, sort of like what would have claimed the hearts of the silly girls, Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe, in Northanger Abby, had they been around a century plus later.

So, we've lots of eerie goings on, a local half wit, difficult, but oh-so-proper, servants, dark passages, musty rooms, musty cottages on the beach, and so forth. I'm not sure this is my kind of stuff, but it wasn't too bad. Personally, I would have preferred it to have been much shorter. It got to be a long slog.

The Case of the Missing Servant

The Case of the Missing Servant  - Tarquin Hall My spouse thought I should read this book. It was a dead-tree book, but interesting, none the less. The interest in this book is that it is written about an Indian private detective, i.e. a private detective living in the country of India. Which is to say, this book is not at all like the books about Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, who are "Indian" private detectives living in the Four Corners area of the U.S.A. Now days, we refer to those "Indians" as being "Native Americans". Perhaps "Indigenous Americans" would be a better term, given that I'm a Native American by dint of having been born here. But I digress. Anyway, the interest for my spouse, was to learn something about the culture of India.

So, Vish Puri, aka "Chubby", is a private detective in India. He is hired to find some dirt on the potential son-in-law of a very rich guy. Obviously, the rich guy doesn't want him for a son-in-law. Then, a rich and powerful lawyer gets into a bit of trouble and hopes Vish will bail him out. It seems that he has been accused of being responsible for the rape and murder of a young woman who had been a servant in his household. The murder rap came some months after the body had been found. The servant girl went missing about the same time. It's not completely clear, however, that the body is actually that of the missing servant. It's just a similar size and shape...or something.

So, Vish, is to figure out whether or not the body is the missing servant, or if the girl is actually out somewhere hiding among the billion folks in India's hinterlands. It doesn't help that no one really knows the girl's origins, or anything much more about her than her first name. They don't even have a decent picture. But Vish, who runs The Most Private Investigator, and in his estimation, India's greatest detective, head and shoulders above lesser lights such as Sherlock Holmes, and his gang of helpers, Handbrake, Doorstop, Facecream, etc. pursue all leads ruthlessly and eventually figure out what's important to know about the prospective bridegroom and the missing servant girl. Quite fun!

The Argus Pheasant (1918)

The Argus Pheasant (1918) - John Charles Beecham Jonkheer Adriaan Adriaanszoon van Schouten, Governor-General of the Netherlands East Indies is unhappy. One of the more remote parts of his colony is in a constant state of turmoil, and worse, isn't returning the taxes it owes the Dutch Crown. The resident of this remote place, Bulungen in northeast Borneo has died, perhaps by encountering a local fever (or perhaps cunningly murdered?). Van Schouten determines to send a new resident to straighten things out. His loyal assistant, Sachsen, suggests an American sailor, Peter Gross.

It seems that Gross is well acquainted with the Dutch East Indies, having sailed on traders since his youth. Gross is also a massively impressive, manly man, who is also impervious to the wiles of women.

This last feature is important because one Koyala, aka the Argus Pheasant, is a much revered priestess of the "hill Dyak". They will pretty much follow her bidding. Koyala is the mongrel daughter of a French trader and a Dyak mother, and the granddaughter of the greatest priest of all time. Something like that. She was sent to missionary schools and was educated as a white woman, but then was sent back to her people because her tainted blood meant that she couldn't be trusted in the "white world". So, she has vowed revenge on the white race. Oh yeah, she is also more beautiful and alluring than Helen of Troy.

So, anyway, Gross knows about Koyala and figures that if he can work out some kind of alliance with her, the two of them can bring peace to the region, allow the crops to flourish again, and drive the Chinese and Malay pirates from their shores. It takes Gross some time to gain Koyala's trust, he is after all one of those white people who turned against her and who have been ravaging her people.

It's a pretty good yarn, despite all the racism, which was a feature of the times. The ending is such as to lay the foundation for a sequel, which indeed came along a couple of years later, entitled The Yellow Spider.