Thursday, December 30, 2010

Some Thoughts about Georgette Heyer Mysteries.

I know that only about .016 of the people who read this blog will actually be interested in this, but that's the beauty of blogging. It's kind of a narcissist's picnic, it doesn't matter if anyone is interested or not.

So, in December I've been reading Georgette Heyer mysteries, of which there are twelve or so. Although I had read everything else by her, I had only read 2 of her mysteries before. This is kind of odd because I have a special fondness for British mysteries written between and just after the world wars. Plus, I have a life-long affection for Georgette Heyer.

When I say 'affection' for Georgette Heyer, let me just add this little anecdote. When I worked at a bookstore, a couple came in and asked me (no pressure) to help them choose a last book, for a friend who was dying. He wanted something he hadn't read before, something with some depth - not a comedy- but not too dark, either. At the time, I thought to myself, if it were me, I would want to reread some Georgette Heyer.

I say this only to let you know how seriously I take my Georgette Heyer. And why it's so odd that I hadn't read her mysteries before.

I've found the Heyer mysteries to be interesting on a number of levels. Which I shall now proceed to enumerate, for the .016 of you who have not yet turned to some other, more rewarding task.

In the first place, they are kind of flawed as mysteries. In the seven I've read so far it's always completely clear to me from the beginning who the murderer is. This is not because I'm brilliant but because of the way Heyer sets things up. The tricks she uses are obvious to me, a veteran reader of this sub-genre, so there's no mystery at all. This does not impair my enjoyment one iota - figuring out whodunnit is not important to me at all.

In the second place, there's a very interesting and rather odd thing she does with her continuing character, Detective Something Beginning With H. Although he's a continuing character, the stories are from the POV of the characters inside the current story. He comes in near the end, to solve the case and he is never developed as a character.

This is quite different from any of the similar mysteries of the same period by Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Marjorie Allingham, or Agatha Christie. In all of their books, the detective is the central character and you get to know him (or her) very well. The books are really as much about them as about the plot.

However, this is more than compensated by some wonderful characters in the books. Particular favorites of mine are the family in Footsteps in the Dark, or the brother and sister in Death In The Stocks (I think that's the one that has the brother and sister.) But I've enjoyed them all.

Except for one, Penhallow, which is a very strange book. I read somewhere that Heyer wrote it in a couple of weeks to fulfill a contractual obligation. There is none of the charm, the fun, the wit I expect from Heyer. And the murderer is never caught. You know who it is, there's no secret about it. But the mystery isn't resolved. In some ways it's not even a mystery - it's more of a study of a horrible family.

It's interesting, too, to read mysteries of this period (Heyer wrote in the 30's to 50's) before forensic science had begun. No DNA, no science of blood spatter or forensic anthropology etc. The most scientific they get is fingerprints. And, even though I don't really bother about whodunnit, I had one teensy weensy moment of irritation, when the detectives seemed to be ignoring the fact that their primary piece of evidence against a character had been wiped completely clean of fingerprints. This went on for chapters before they realized what I had known all along - if it had no fingerprints on it, it was a clear indicator that he was being framed. Duh!

Finally, it has been quite interesting to see Heyer's cast of characters out of regency costume. She has a wide range of characters and she moves them around as needed. The foppish, immaculately dressed and sarcastic man is sometimes a villain (The Reluctant Widow - a Regency) and sometimes a hero and the love interest (Behold Here's Poison - one of my favorite mysteries, and one which I had read before) etc. On the other hand, there are characters in the mysteries who just wouldn't fit into Regencies at all. The worldly wise, slightly damaged heroine of Duplicate Death, just wouldn't work in a Regency. In fact, most of the heroines are too sophisticated and knowing for most of the Regencies. And the lesbian couple and the gay men in Penhallow - well, not in the Regencies. At least, not overtly in the Regencies.

So, that's it. I see that Why Shoot a Butler has finishe downloading on my Kindle, so I'm off to start another one.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Blizzard Warnings! Tra-la-la

I'm feeling so cheerful because we have blizzard warnings. As a Minnesota girl, I always feel the winter here is a bit... wimpy. It has most of the dreariness and disadvantages of a'real' winter, but lacks the extra excitement of life-threatening blizzards.

But tonight, we are promised 60 mph winds, 20 inches of snow (up to 4 inches per hour) and coastal flooding between 11pm and 4am. All this, and the possibility of power outages. As long as my Kindle, computer and phone are charged (which they are) I'm happy. We have food, booze, and reading material. And candles. And blankets.

The COG, needless to say, is not as cheerful about the prospect of snow. He is worried about clearing the snow so he can get to work tomorrow and the possible effects of power outages on the sump pump and the pipes.

He's a realist. I'm a romantic.

Friday, December 24, 2010

This Homely Object...

This homely object is simply a can, with the safety edge removed (so it has a sharp edge) and with holes poked in the bottom/top. It's a simple and effective chopper. I use it several times a week when I want to chop or chop and mix things like nuts or fruit.

It was made by my Grandfather for my Grandmother, I don't know how long ago. I'm sure neither of them thought of it as a precious object, and I imagine it was just one in a series of similar objects he made for her in a long marriage. For me, though, it has great value. When I use it, I always think of Grandpa and Grandma and their home. I have very little family stuff - I've always lived too far away to benefit from house clearouts and handouts and that might make this more precious to me.

But I think what really makes it precious is that it connects me in my small daily tasks with my grandparents in their daily life. It contains a resonance of their long knowlege of each other through many years. It's the kind of little useful thing that partners do for each other. And, by extension, it connects me with a long line of ancestors going about their ordinary, daily tasks back into the distant past.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Full Lunar Eclipse

When I went to bed last night, it was with reluctance. I knew that I'd be sleeping through the first total lunar eclipse on a winter solstice with a full moon since 1378 (the last total lunar eclipse on a winter solstice which wasn't a full moon was in 1638). So this is a rare event.   I thought about staying up for it, I really did, but, in the end,  I decided to watch the videos.
Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman on Vimeo.

I never look at something like this without imagining how it might have appeared to my distant ancestors - the ones that lived in caves.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Cookies (and candy)

I've spent the last few days making Christmas cookies for the trays I deliver to various places. This year the places are: The COGs workplace, the local library, A local company that allows us to store the books donated to the Friends of the Library for our sales and some friends of the Son of.
Above is one of the boxes, below is a close up of the adorable chocolate covered cherry mice. I love making these, they're so cute.

Here's what I made:
Louise's Lebkuchen
Mom's Apricot Balls
Mom's Date Balls
Congo Bars
Chocolate Chip Cookies
3 kinds of Bark: White Chocolate with Peppermint Chunks, Dark Chocolate with Fruit and Nuts, Marbled Chocolate with Peppermint Chunks
White and Dark Chocolate Dipped Pretzel Sticks (with red and green sprinkles)
and, The Mice.

I didn't get around to making Candied Ginger, Candied Orange and Lemon Peel, Aunt Helen's Pecan Puffs or Rum Balls.  I'm going to make some of these tomorrow, at least that's the plan. I may also try Ina Garten's Fleur de sel Caramels.

This depends on whether I have someplace else to give a tray to.  I enjoy the cooking, but I don't want it in the house.

Friday, December 17, 2010

International Glanza Spotting

This is for Vivi and Homo Dommi - Note the Glanza hanging above the vegetable stall in a market in Toulouse.