Why You Can Give Me A Bad Review

If there’s one valuable lesson a creator can learn, it’s not to engage with reviewers. With very few exceptions, railing against a negative review reflects most poorly on the reviewed, who are likely to come off as petulant, not the reviewer.

–Susana Polo, [Anne Rice Sics Her Fandom on Unaffiliated Lone Blogger for One Poor Review] 11:45 am, April 30th, 2013 

Once Upon A Time…

…There was a writer who worked really hard, did some hardcore personal PR, and broke into print with a major bestseller. It was a Cinderella-grade story. With sociopathic vampires. Then in an attempt to re-create success, they created a series of books that were increasingly off the wall and disconnected. And when I say it is actually possible to disconnect from both the Regular Realty, and the Reality That Has Vampires, Werewolves, Relentless Dub-Con and Underage Squeamish Bits, trust me, it is.

(more…)

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The Case of the Christmas Star: A Review of S. F. Bennett

First off, a brief explanation about S.F. Bennett. Many people (though far too few in my opinion) know of Bennett’s work from the glory days of fanfiction.net, where it was quite possible to find rich, interesting, and grammatically correct short stories along the rules of traditional Canon. Bennett was one of the few, the proud, who knew those rules inside and out. Google this name and you may be pleasantly surprised to find it in The Sherlock Holmes Society of South West of England, as well as a few other lovely publications.

Bennett stood apart. We all checked FF.NET daily in hopes of a new story, and even as we read we thought, “But how will I read this again if the power goes out?” Some few of us were smart enough to save the stories for non-electric reading. I’ll say frankly that I was not one of them because organization happens to be one of the monsters that lives under my bed…under my sink…inside my garbage disposal.

In “The Case of the Christmas Star,” Bennett pulls together some of her richest and appealing elements: the humor that was an inherent portion of ACD’s creation; the inability of The Knight to create dull characters; crackling dialog that allows even a lazy student of the period to know a joke when they hear one, and the casual cruelty inherent in all societies. Consider yourself warned. Bennett isn’t going to call the remains of last night’s dinner a noble work of art. She will make you conscious of the moral failings in the system.

Watson’s loving marriage to Mary is fond and gentle. It also has its occasional frustrations (not unlike the frustrations of living with the equally strong-willed Sherlock Holmes) as Watson forgets that women just may have different priorities and aesthetics. In this story, Watson has purchased a very necessary bit of equipment (or vanity) for his medical office. Thanks to the gasps and wheezes of the Royal Mail and less-than-honorable purchasers, the good doctor finds himself in the middle of the Victorian version of “I bought it on eBay, honest, officer.”

And folks, if you have ever bought or known someone who bought on the Internet, you know where this is going.

Believe me, I am not doing this scenario justice. It doesn’t even fall under “spoiler” it is so under-justice.

But adding to the problem is the fact that Watson purchased the item with his old address with Baker Street attached to it. Co-incidentally or not, London is not so appreciative of the good doctor’s woes because they are all set for an upcoming honoring of the Queen, a regrettable lapse in stupidity within organized crime, and the local charity drive for Police Widows and Orphans is attacking all door-bells in their demands for human kindness. And who, pray tell, is imitating a Vicar? And during the Christmas season no less? No one is ever ‘perfect’ in Bennett’s London. We love the people because we understand their flaws as well as their admirable strengths.

One of my favorite bits about this story is the scene where Inspector Lestrade is clearly frightened for the safety of Holmes and Watson; he’s trying to protect them from a stone-cold murderer without openly letting them know their lives hang on a thread. Whilst he draws a full confession out of the iciest criminal we never hope to meet, Holmes quietly makes his own calculations from the sidelines. Of course knows just how much trouble they’re in but if he says the wrong thing it will all go quite badly.

But if you asked me, the crowning glory is Mrs. Hudson. Those of us who have relished Bennett’s stories from the very beginning know Mrs. Hudson is no light character to be dismissed upon a whim. She comes across as fantastically as ever, which is 30% mother hen and 60% dragon with just enough 10% inscrutable to keep you guessing. She is firm, she is compassionate; and she leaves a hard-bitten policeman in awe as she leaves her lodgers in cowed admiration.

Perhaps I’m jaded and speaking within the restrictions of my generation, but I am sick to death of lazy writers who are genderswapping Holmes and Watson, making them into beings they are not because they think it is better to take strong male protagonists and turn them into strong female protagonists. Why do you want to re-write feminist males and turn them into females? Don’t we need both? How can you do better than look at the already existing strong, female characters, with minds of their own and initiative and nerve? 

For those of us who like respect in our Holmes, Bennett’s work is the perfect remedy. Take this story and call me in the morning.

To read this–and other Christmassy treats–go here straight to the horse’s mouth (which not only supports the author and publisher, but also fails to give Amazon your support for their political bias: GO HERE.

and here:

Amazon.com (non-UK)

Amazon.uk (Great Britain)

 

 

A Very Good Month for Fog

 

Meme Challenge: Colin Jeavons’ Birthday.

Because I am a FIRM believer in not crossing the line between actor and character, I made up a birthday for this particular character:

  • Brumaire: Month of Fog.
  • Day of the Service tree
  • English calendar: 19 November

The servicetree is not the one we know in North America, beautiful, impossibly tall and slender with snowball-blossoms in the lime-green light of spring sunlight. This is one of the rarest trees in the UK, but much-loved by its fans. Lestrade is more likely to know it by the common English name of Whitty Pear—whitty because of the shape of the pinnate (featherlike) leaves; they would look amusing to the English eye, and the “pear” because some of the species’ fruits are pear-shaped. A “garth” is an enclosure, so when Lestrade is standing in an apple-garth, he’s standing inside an enclosed cluster of fruit trees.

For perspective, this is also a tribute to whoever mentored Lestrade through the troubled era of the 1870’s…the unknown iron-clad officer who believed he could stand within the corruptions Scandals and stand clean if apart of his fellows. Lestrade was confident, but not in the way a bully is confident: whoever taught him the ropes on how to be a copper also knew the strength that lives within gentleness.

***

There were a few places where one could forget, if briefly, one lived in London. This place was as far as one could get and still claim the address. He couldn’t smell the Thames and that made him feel oddly disconnected. He couldn’t think of the city without the river.

Lestrade shivered inside the protection of his winter coat—it would do until Christmas—and watched the slow skiff of snow fall upon the dying gardens. Thousands of millions of minute grains of ice fell upon the wood and earth and remaining dry leaf.

Before long the estate would be covered in a thin blanket of gritty white.

He told himself it didn’t matter. Clues couldn’t be found if they never existed.

Whitty pears ringed the apple-garth; even they looked to shiver in the thin curtain of snow with their skeleton-leaves and last-clinging fruit. They weren’t the most practical thing to grow; he studied them a moment, thinking if he’d even seen the trees more than a few times in his life. They were pretty. The small red fruits clustered together on the brittle branches and he knew from childhood experience what would happen to the inside of his mouth if he bit down on one fresh off the tree: gritty as sand and sharp enough to draw the tongue up. Older brothers were a never-ending source of creativity when it came to showing a boy the way of the world.

Gloomy, he thought to himself. Just the time of the year and the dull cast to the sky. Too much snow. He wasn’t used to it. Too much snow; too much clammy damp with the snow. He could feel the rising fog coming in from the warmer territories. When it finally mixed with the cold here, it would be a freezing fog and worse than ever.

And that poor Constable had been out in it for half the day.

He lifted his hand in a silent command and they walked across the sleeping garden. Sad little bits of summer resisted burying: spiky green rosemary, struggling violas and hearts-ease grew low and half-tilting pots and outdoor crockery caught thin drifts against the bottom of the walls.

Constable Swann quivered blue inside his heavy wool coat, the wider-cut winter sleeves catching the snow even on the inside whenever he lifted his large hands. When he thought the Inspector wasn’t looking, he shook his arms as fastidiously as a two-yard-tall cat.

“Try putting the gloves on first.” Lestrade said at last. In this bitterly cold day, he wanted to feel pity for something that could feel it back.

“Sir?” Swann flushed awkwardly behind his thick collar.

“Try putting your gloves on first, and then your coat.” Lestrade put his own hands inside his pockets. They clenched coldly around his notebook and pencil. Behind them on the other side of the high brick wall and two acres’ pasture, the train whistled its way to south Wales. “It seals your wrists up from the outside.”

Swann thought about it. “Yes, sir.”

Poor youngster. They always spent their first year wobbling between absolute exhaustion and fretting about losing their position from the smallest infraction of rules—that didn’t count the horrors of fighting out their own space among the older, harder, and not-necessarily-good-influences.

The cold was sinking into the very earth around them, bending down the thin grassblades like fine hairs. Tiny ice-balls rattled and bounced over the tops of his shoes and he was grateful again for the extra price put into the leather. It had meant living on oven-baked cereal for a month, but how could he care now that he was finally warm?

“Nothing else of note, Constable?”

“No, sir.” Swann’s very tone of voice was apologetic. “Clear-cut, sir.”

“Clear-cut.” He repeated. “We can only hope so.”

Their soles crunched loudly over the tops of the brittle grass and occasional spots of exposed paving-stones. Behind them the fog was rolling down with the slight slope of the earth.

Before they could reach the heavy oak door, it opened from the inside. Cast iron hinges squeaked and shed rust-powder.

Chief Inspector Davids was tall enough that he had to fold himself down to get through most doorways built before King Henry VIII. They gave him space as he re-lengthened his long limbs beneath the folds of his coat and tailored trousers. Unfortunately the man had to take off his hat every time. He had to.  The taller Welsh Princes of the Hill had mixed with the Giants of Ulster and made something Very Tall Indeed.

In his youth, Davids had been known to battle through a riot without pause.  Now he couldn’t walk a Roman Mile without stopping to take a breath at the end. “My lungs are at a higher altitude,” he would say as he mopped his face.  When Lestrade was a green Constable he smiled to be joked with.  The older and wiser new Inspector was not smiling.

“There you are, gentlemen.” Davids smiled wryly from behind a face scored with weariness. Under the tin-coloured sky his skin was scarce darker. “We’re all finished up here.”

“I think we are too, sir.” Lestrade touched his brim out of deference, even if he wasn’t certain which loyalty pulled him the more: Davids his teacher, or Davids his dying friend.

“Constable, if you wouldn’t mind giving your friends a hand…”

Swann left eagerly to join his companions inside. Lestrade couldn’t blame him. The inside was a horror, but it was sheltered from the outside.

The little detective waited with slowly freezing feet as Davids closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The abnormality that made him so tall and strong in his youth was now the stamp of his growing weakness.

“Let’s take a walk, shall we?” The Chief asked the younger man.

Davids led them out of the crumbling garth and down the uneven road. The soft soil of the night before had frozen to glass and they minded each step.

It was absolutely silent. Nothing chirped or sang; there was no bark of a restless dog or even the sound of a faraway horse further down the road or in the stables outlying the land before one got to London. The train was gone like a ghost. Lestrade couldn’t begin to guess where the lines were if he hadn’t heard it the first time.

No sound but themselves…the crunch of ice and occasional wet sound of a heel-slip against the fog-kissed stones. And their breathing…

Lestrade burrowed into the muffler about his neck, hoping Davids would take the hint but he didn’t. Despite the air the Chief Inspector was refusing to protect his dwindling lungs. He was breathing light and shallow in concession to human weakness…but that was it.

They were gone a quarter-mile before Davids finally spoke. “The Missus gave me some of the sorbs. Good and ready, she said.” He pulled out a pocket-handkerchief wrapped delicately around a double-handful of small objects. “When was the last time you had one of these?”

“Years, I think.” Lestrade took the top one off the pile. “We’d blet them on a wooden plank.”

Davids made a sniffing sound that meant something amusing had just happened inside his brain.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“You’d be getting a ha’penny back.” Davids told him. “Funny when you think of it…we can’t eat these things until they’re overripe and starting to get a little…alcoholic.”

“I can’t say this qualifies as imbibing on duty.” Lestrade let the small fruit dissolve on his tongue. It tasted as good as he remembered; sweet as one of those fancy dates in the market but hardly as expensive.

“It just strikes my funny bone that something has to be past ripe before it’s fit to eat.”

“That does sound funny.”

Davids put one in his own mouth. “What did you think?”

“Of the case?” Lestrade snorted to himself. “Why did they call us? Anyone could tell it was an accident.”

Davids chuckled lightly. “When an unpopular man dies, his enemies want to know they won’t be held responsible for it.”

“True enough.” Lestrade pulled his hands out of his pockets and rubbed at them through the thin leather. “I suppose it is part of being a public servant.”

“Too often our duties aren’t actually useful, dear fellow. They’re just…being a sugar-pill for the public.”

And Davids began to cough.

They kept walking. Lestrade stared at the frozen pebbly road the entire time, reminding himself that he had to mind his step; that the weather was turning dangerous, and night was falling.

“What weather, eh?” Davids gasped at last. His face was wet with sweat. He coughed one last time and pulled a metal flask from his pocket.

Lestrade wished it were brandy in that flask, and not medicine.

I am not ready for this, he thought for the thousandth time that year. I can’t be.

“You have to wonder about November.” Davids wiped his face with an icy sleeve and pulled tiny sips from the flask. “I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a single November that wasn’t carried to extremes.”

“No…I’d say you’re right.” Lestrade admitted. Davids had the right of it. It was a very good month for ice; for fog. For the passing over of lives…

…an unsurprising time for a man to step down from his office.

“You’re quiet, Geoff.”

“I’m out of sorts, I’m afraid.”

“I can tell, dear fellow. But is it something you can express?”

“I don’t know. This was your last case…I half-expected it to be something… bold…”

“And it wasn’t.”

Davids chuckled ruefully. “I can’t say I’m sorry. It is a wearying thing to have such a reputation. A difficult one.” His lips were bright red in the growing darkness, red like the high spots upon his cheeks. “This was only my nineteenth case in five weeks. I’m leaving just in time, I think.” He announced. “Before my fellows have to start carrying me.”

We would have carried you gladly. Lestrade did not trust himself to speak of such things.

“They used to call this the Blood-Month, you know.” Davids mused. “Sometimes you’ll still hear one of the very oldest people use it…the time of year to cull the cattle that couldn’t be fed through the winter…burn the fields and clear the pastures. And yet I never liked that name. I always liked the French word for November myself.” He looked at his protégé just as he looked up in curiosity. “They called it the Month of Fog. Fitting, isn’t it.”

“Yes.” Lestrade’s gaze had dropped again, studiously concentrating on his steps.

“You’ll come and see me?”

Lestrade coloured and swallowed hard. “Of course.” He strangled. “Of course I will.”

“Good.” A smile was his reward. “You’ll keep me up on the gossip, and I’ll be your consultant. How does that sound?”

“That sounds perfect.”

Death was walking between them, a slow, painful death that devoured the vitals from within, but it had not blocked them off yet. Davids was offering an extension to their relationship; from mentor to student to something more frail and enduring.

And Lestrade was glad. He was not ready to bury the man who had been like a father to him. Not yet.

“What a very good month for fog.” Davids commented in wonder. “Just wait until the morrow, Geoffrey. When you wake up, the world’s going to look like it’s been set in diamonds. Only a winter fog can do that, you know. Bloody inconvenient as hell for us right now, but tomorrow it will be a sight to behold, and too beautiful for us to hold a grudge because it incommodated us.” He chuckled; it rattled inside his chest. “Always makes me wish I’d taken up photography. It’s a frightful cold, a terrible fog…and it makes London beautiful for a few hours. What you’d call a conundrum.”

Lestrade felt something lift off his shoulders; he knew what he could say. “Something to make us think? A conundrum, is it? ?” He smiled.

“A conundrum.”

“One of your favourite words.”

“I know. Who will use it when I am gone?” Davids asked wistfully.

Lestrade laughed out loud. It shattered the cold-curdled air like a stone through glass. “I’ll give it to Gregson. He likes big words like that.”

Davids clapped him on the back. “Come on. There’s some hot tea waiting for us back at the station.”

 

Published in: on October 20, 2016 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Grape Harvest

 

Today is Colin Jeavons’ birthday. Now while I could have made up another Lestrade-fic, I chose instead to take on his other, less-known role as one of the most alarming Professors ever to grace the screen. Played with “chilling authority” by Davies, Jeavons made a Moriarty on the little-known show, The Baker Street Boys. While Moriarty never encountered Sherlock Holmes in front of the children, he did confront Dr. Watson and it was quite the showdown of wills. Perhaps someday I’ll get to see it the full episode.

I answered a meme-monster by going to the French Republican Calendar on wikipedia and looked up the meme prompts for October 20:

  • Season: Vendémiaire (Grape Harvest)
  • Day: Orge (barley)
  • Numerical day of the calendar: 29

 

One really needed to pay for the experts.

The professor toyed with the notion of just turning his back on the window and not looking out, but everyone else was watching the divers at work and he knew the arithmetic of standing apart.

Amateurs.

Below them the Thames swirled, filthy from the recent sewage and whatever the autumn rains at the headwaters had pulled down.

He shook his head as the brokers murmured and flowed about him. He was a small man, but the set of his shoulders and the glimmer in his eyes discouraged one from coming too close.

The water stirred and the river-police began shouting. They swarmed like ants with less the efficiency and clustered about the pumping-station.

The body emerged in sections, like the raising of a boat.

“Terrible thing.” Someone was saying. He looked; it was the old book-seller, here to ply his trade among the merchants’ elite. A barely-read copy of CROMWELL’S ECONOMICS hovered in a spidery claw. The book was cleaner than its vendor.

“That it is.” His beefy customer agreed. “Vamberry was a good sort. The best wine-merchant you’d ever think to see.”

He was a drooling fool, the professor thought. And he sold you all that wine at a loss because he needed those barrels to hide other things. The world’s better off without him and you think he’s a good man because he was cheap to your pockets.

But he remained silent, as always. Here was a place of business, and here it was sensible to mingle with the masses even if they hadn’t the collective sense of a flock of geese. At least the geese knew where and how to fly for the winter.

They stepped aside as he passed; the sharp grey eyes of the bookseller seeming to linger on him. Well he would have to find another customer for his wares.

The professor was a spare man, and not obtrusive in the room. He threaded obediently closer to the window like everyone else, a cool-faced overly calm man with measured speech and an even more measuring gaze. Outside of his tutoring room he was far from the warm, friendly numerical adviser his students recognized. The reason for this was simple: numbers were his humanity. He loved them with a passion few could fathom, and he learned early on that no one else cared about them the way he did.

No one else, not even Moran, could understand him. If he told anyone that numbers had their own personality, that the number nine made a perfect square or that the recitation of the Fibonacci Sequence never went far because the hilarity of the numbers made him laugh helplessly…they wouldn’t understand and they would at best nod without comprehension. Between himself and the comforting world of numbers, he built a sheltering wall.

The wall was imperfect in his youth; the slight fog of apartness and his business dealings had cost him his educational post but he was older now, less prone to mistakes and certainly less innocent.

“Excuse me, sir.”

Below them Vamberry’s soggy remains were being stretched out on the wet cobbles; a police surgeon waited nearby. He thought he recognized a few of the faces among the police although he rarely encountered that particular branch.

He turned his head from the monotonous scene and looked upon his broker. “Yes, Mr. Higgens?”

Higgens touched a gloved hand to his waxed mustache. “The shares have been finalized. Are you certain you wish to trade?”

The professor wished brokers looked to the numbers behind the numbers; the stories they would find would be illuminating. And they would at least reduce his need to answer questions.

“I do, Mr. Higgens.”

“Then all we need is your signature.”

They crossed the carpet together, with the space opening up as more people realised they could see more of Vamberry’s corpse.

A shame it hadn’t been Moran in charge, he thought. Vamberry wouldn’t have been found within a hundred miles of London.

Higgens produced a full quire of paper; multiple copies of each and the waiting document to seal. His secretary pulled out a chair for the professor first and then his superior.

“Not many people are seeking to trade in the corn shares now.” Higgens noted. It was his way of confessing the curiosity was about to expire him. “They’re all caught up in the grape harvests.”

He thought of telling the man the truth. That with Krakatoa bursting the volcanic ash into the atmosphere would affect the climate and pinch the crops. Long-season corn would be rendered obsolete save in a few isolated pockets of the world. Only cool-season corn like barley, rye, and spelt would remain stable.

But then, if the man only knew his history, he would already know from the examples of the world.

From small events come large changes.

He once calculated the necessary drop in temperature to bring about the next Ice Age.

Seven degrees.

That was all.

If the world cooled off by seven degrees they would be back to the wintry wastes.

He chose to say nothing again. The man didn’t understand…couldn’t understand. There was no equal among him that would fathom his thoughts. Another stone within the wall.

“Excellent, sir.” Higgens was useful in his lack of imagination. He even believed the story that his client had been given the bulk of his shares by a considerate relative. He gestured and the secretary briefly vanished; with a flourish he opened a locked drawer and pulled out his japanned tin of sealing-wax.

He had to admit, he enjoyed this part of business. Higgens was so punctual in his movements, and if they shared something besides the client-broker relationship, it was the satisfaction of a job well done. Higgens folded the papers over in the appropriate dimensions, and held out a neatly trimmed stick of wax. Not a speck of candle-soot marred the bright red wax. It melted in the heat of the lamp-light by drops, and he swiftly transferred the drops to a cooling puddle. One press of the seal and the job was finished.

“I sincerely wish you well, Professor.” Higgens informed him gracefully. “Just as I am certain the Crown is appreciative of your support.”

He smiled at that. “No doubt, Mr. Higgens.” He agreed softly.

“Truly, sir. We do not have as many purchased shares in the Company interests like we used to. I suppose the new generation is too caught up in the temptations of striking out solitary into the world.” He sighed and grew momentarily regretful. “Now that Mr. Vamberry is gone, you are my last such farseeing client.”

“Then I hope you find more.”

Higgens nodded mournfully, and they looked up at the arrival of the secretary. He bore a tray and two glasses with a bottle. It was the last part of Higgens’ ritual, the conclusion of it all.

“It would have been more fitting if this had been one of Mr. Vamberry’s bottles.” Higgens regretted as the wine was poured. “But a Chenin from 1829 can hardly be rejected.”

Moriarty felt a moment of relief and quashed it. “I’m sure he would appreciate your thoughtfulness.” He was determined to never, ever touch his lips to anything with Vamberry’s name to it ever again. For the sake of his own sanity and acumen.

Higgens sighed and they swirled the pale liquid against the thin glass. The wine painted the sides a delicate yellow; grapes from the south. The vintage reminded him of a field of barley-straw under the sun. Assuming there would be much sun this year. His calculations were against it. “The man had a hand with the wine.”

“That he most certainly did.” His client agreed evenly.

“I still cannot believe he is dead.” Higgens sipped at the same time as Moriarty; the flavours mingled dry as chalk with a hint of spiciness. “Who would wish to kill Vamberry?”

“Perhaps a business venture gone wrong.” Moriarty offered evenly. “A wine-merchant’s clientele can be a…temperamental lot.” He took a second sip, appreciating the second rush of flavours. “A client might have found disagreement with the quality of one of his barrels…that might be all it took for all we know.”

“That is true. Wine-merchants are a flighty lot.” Higgens agreed.

.”But they do have their uses.”  Across the table, Professor Moriarty smiled.

YOU BUY BONES is IN PRINT!

Thanks to the joys of lulupress.com…I am now in print with the first of my series of books.

YOU BUY BONES: Sherlock Holmes and his London through the eyes of Scotland Yard.

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A Sherlock Holmes pastiche

Prepare for some stories, Hopkins...