Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Reading your review, I slowly realized that I had read this book, at some point in my past. I'm thinking it was assigned as required reading in some long past English/ Literature class...perhaps way back in high school? In any event, I must complement you on the depth of your observations. As I read the book, I don't recall rooting for the bad guys, but reading your review I seem to recall that I may have been doing just that. If my reading comprehension had been a s detailed as yours, I might have gotten a better grade in that class! LOL. ;)
I really enjoyed this one. I was surprised at how well written and engaging it was. I only picked it up because I liked the movie so much and wanted to learn more about the characters. Little did I know, when I go it, that I'd be reading, what I think is, a noir classic right up there with the best of them. I'm glad to see it was, at some point, taught in some classes. I've picked up a few more of Burnettt's books, so I'm sure I'll be posting comments on them down the road.
 
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Fading Fast

Connoisseur
9781335251008_p0_v2_s550x406.jpg

Tomorrow by Damien Dibben published in 2018

Stripped to its core, this is a good story, but it is undone by its desire to be a great one because its endless flourishes and overreach for literary brilliance has the reader slogging through too much turgid prose and too many overwritten pages. Had the author simply told the story of a dog and two brothers who, by quirk of medieval medicine and chemistry, live for several hundred years, he'd have written a wonderful tale of love, betrayal, history, camaraderie, devotion, faith and failings - a tale of the human condition.

Instead, Dibben attempts to write an epic - to cover hundreds of years of history from King Charles' beheading through the Thirty Years' War and to Napoleon at Waterloo all while weaving in the meaning of existence, the political science of nations, the philosophy of leaders and the boundaries and exaltations of love. And he attempts to do all this, primarily, through the eyes of an anthropomorphized dog. Despite much good in the book, it all but collapses under its own weight.

The good core story here is the one about a dog, Tomorrow, his master, Valentyne, and Valentyne's brother, Vilder, all who, owing to the aforementioned medical quirk, have a long or eternal life. But instead of bringing some sort of everlasting happiness or, at least, release from the fear of dying, this "gift" sets the three on overlapping but separate journeys of agony, exhilaration and discovery.

All is good at first as Tomorrow and Valentyne have that rare man-dog bond where they communicate and connect on a level that few humans achieve. But after years of happiness where the two live in several royal courts, admitted because of Valentyne's medical talents, a rift between the brothers turns into a multi-century Cain-and-Abel-like struggle that separates all three for almost a hundred years until a final climatic reunion dramatically puts the past behind them.

And when the story focuses on the three characters and their interactions and feelings, it's on firm ground. However, Dibbens was not content writing "that" book so, instead, he takes them on one Homeric-like odyssey after another with long asides about, well, everything from history, to medicine, to politics, to theology, to descriptions of war that are only tangential to the story.

Even when the brother's century-long battle is explained at the end, an end that bizarrely includes a castle restored as an act of penitence, neither the extreme evil done nor outsized contrition offered is consistent with any sense of proportion. As with everything in this book, the good is overwhelmed by a story trying to exceed its reach.

And that is a shame as Dibben is at his best taking you inside Tomorrow's thought process such as how this contemplative and observant dog marvels at the creativity of the human species, but also appreciates the more reliable loyalty of his own. It is those insights of Tomorrow that almost make this unpruned shrub of a story worth it.

But of course, to enjoy even that, you have to slog through the compulsion of most modern writers to pay strict obeisance to present-day political pieties. So, in this tale set hundreds of years ago, the dog and human heroes are (in most cases) pacifists, vegetarians, fully accepting of homosexuality, self sacrificing, arrantly charitabe and, naturally, they have a distaste for making money.

However, even that isn't enough groveling to today's elitist talismans, as there is a forced scene showing our hero driving the movement to end slavery in the British Empire. And, for good measure, no man or dog hero in Tomorrow - a novel set in a time whose cultural standards and views on sex and race were oceans apart from ours - has even a taint of racism, classism or sexism. You are surprised the author deigned to even use traditional pronouns.

Why are these obvious anachronisms forced into the story? Is it virtue signalling? Do they help attract a publisher and/or garner good reviews? Or, perhaps, they spring from such a sincere passion in these ideas that Dibben was willing to sacrifice the integrity of his promising novel on the altar of political correctness.

There is an enjoyable two-hundred page man-and-his-special-dog story here tucked inside too much aureate other "stuff" that stretched the book to three-hundred-plus pages. Is the good here worth the slog? I'm still not sure, but darn it, I really did like the insightful, observant and loyal dog at its center.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 54148
Tomorrow by Damien Dibben published in 2018

Stripped to its core, this is a good story, but it is undone by its desire to be a great one because its endless flourishes and overreach for literary brilliance has the reader slogging through too much turgid prose and too many overwritten pages. Had the author simply told the story of a dog and two brothers who, by quirk of medieval medicine and chemistry, live for several hundred years, he'd have written a wonderful tale of love, betrayal, history, camaraderie, devotion, faith and failings - a tale of the human condition.

Instead, Dibben attempts to write an epic - to cover hundreds of years of history from King Charles' beheading through the Thirty Years' War and to Napoleon at Waterloo all while weaving in the meaning of existence, the political science of nations, the philosophy of leaders and the boundaries and exaltations of love. And he attempts to do all this, primarily, through the eyes of an anthropomorphized dog. Despite much good in the book, it all but collapses under its own weight.

The good core story here is the one about a dog, Tomorrow, his master, Valentyne, and Valentyne's brother, Vilder, all who, owing to the aforementioned medical quirk, have a long or eternal life. But instead of bringing some sort of everlasting happiness or, at least, release from the fear of dying, this "gift" sets the three on overlapping but separate journeys of agony, exhilaration and discovery.

All is good at first as Tomorrow and Valentyne have that rare man-dog bond where they communicate and connect on a level that few humans achieve. But after years of happiness where the two live in several royal courts, admitted because of Valentyne's medical talents, a rift between the brothers turns into a multi-century Cain-and-Abel-like struggle that separates all three for almost a hundred years until a final climatic reunion dramatically puts the past behind them.

And when the story focuses on the three characters and their interactions and feelings, it's on firm ground. However, Dibbens was not content writing "that" book so, instead, he takes them on one Homeric-like odyssey after another with long asides about, well, everything from history, to medicine, to politics, to theology, to descriptions of war that are only tangential to the story.

Even when the brother's century-long battle is explained at the end, an end that bizarrely includes a castle restored as an act of penitence, neither the extreme evil done nor outsized contrition offered is consistent with any sense of proportion. As with everything in this book, the good is overwhelmed by a story trying to exceed its reach.

And that is a shame as Dibben is at his best taking you inside Tomorrow's thought process such as how this contemplative and observant dog marvels at the creativity of the human species, but also appreciates the more reliable loyalty of his own. It is those insights of Tomorrow that almost make this unpruned shrub of a story worth it.

But of course, to enjoy even that, you have to slog through the compulsion of most modern writers to pay strict obeisance to present-day political pieties. So, in this tale set hundreds of years ago, the dog and human heroes are (in most cases) pacifists, vegetarians, fully accepting of homosexuality, self sacrificing, arrantly charitabe and, naturally, they have a distaste for making money.

However, even that isn't enough groveling to today's elitist talismans, as there is a forced scene showing our hero driving the movement to end slavery in the British Empire. And, for good measure, no man or dog hero in Tomorrow - a novel set in a time whose cultural standards and views on sex and race were oceans apart from ours - has even a taint of racism, classism or sexism. You are surprised the author deigned to even use traditional pronouns.

Why are these obvious anachronisms forced into the story? Is it virtue signalling? Do they help attract a publisher and/or garner good reviews? Or, perhaps, they spring from such a sincere passion in these ideas that Dibben was willing to sacrifice the integrity of his promising novel on the altar of political correctness.

There is an enjoyable two-hundred page man-and-his-special-dog story here tucked inside too much aureate other "stuff" that stretched the book to three-hundred-plus pages. Is the good here worth the slog? I'm still not sure, but darn it, I really did like the insightful, observant and loyal dog at its center.
I really do appreciate the helpful frankness of your reviews. I am always a sucker for a good dog and his master story and I would have been reading this one before the current month was out. However your candor prevents me from jumping into it too quickly and instead, I have just added it to my 'to be read someday' list. Hence I will jump right into our neighborhood book club's February selection, The Guest List by Lucy Foley. Thank you for another great and very helpful review! ;)
 

TKI67

Elite Member
I just finished re-reading Women in Love. Much of the prose is so fine that it makes clear why Lawrence is revered, but too much is self-absorbed and repetitious. Now I am reading The Man Who Ate Too Much, a new biography of James Beard.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
I really do appreciate the helpful frankness of your reviews. I am always a sucker for a good dog and his master story and I would have been reading this one before the current month was out. However your candor prevents me from jumping into it too quickly and instead, I have just added it to my 'to be read someday' list. Hence I will jump right into our neighborhood book club's February selection, The Guest List by Lucy Foley. Thank you for another great and very helpful review! ;)
Thank you. My girlfriend (like you and me) is also a huge dog-man story fan and told me about this book, but after I showed her my comments, she did the same thing that you did, pushed down further in her reading queue. It's a shame as he had a good core story that he tried to do too much with, plus all the modern politics were tiring.
 

Dhaller

Elite Member
Elon Musk has become an interesting character (to me) lately, so I'm reading Ashlee Vance's "Elon Musk" bio (from 2015 - granted, ancient history but it provides some context for SpaceX and Tesla.) I have "the everything store" (about Amazon) lined up after that.

My daughter and I are reading Robert Lewis Stephenson's "Treasure Island" together ("daddy, what is keel-hauling?") When we finish, I'll show her the 1950 film version (with Robert Newton - inventor of the modern pirate accent - as Silver... can there really be another?) We'll follow that with Wells' "The Island of Doctor Moreau".

DH
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Did ya all know that author Clive Cussler passed away this past February (2020). With perhaps 40 or so of his books packed away in closets or in one of six bookcases spread throughout our house, it felt like loosing a member of the family when I learned of this loss. The Titanic Secret is one of the last works he collaborated on, with coauthor Jack Du Brul. The story focuses on a group of nine Colorado miners, who stage their collective deaths and then depart on a secret mission to illegally mine a mythical nuclear rich ore from a mountain centered in an arctic wasteland that is part and parcel of Russia. Their intent is to return with the ore to the United States and turn it over to the Military authorities. Throughout the yarn all nine of the miners come to untimely ends and the prescious ore ends up in a cargo hold of the Doomed Titanic, eventually ending up at the bottom of the ocean..."warming Casey Jones's butt cheeks on those cold winter nights." An interesting and arguably unique twist in this book is that it involves the major characters from two of Cusslers' book series, representing two different centuries/periods of time. Detective Isaac Bell was collaborating with the miners to get the ore back to the us and then Dirk Pitt, fictional head of NUMA, comes upon Bell's case journal of the adventure, 30 years after Isaac Bell's death. May the honorable and very talented Clive Cussler rest in eternal peace! :(
 

Tweedlover

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Did ya all know that author Clive Cussler passed away this past February (2020). With perhaps 40 or so of his books packed away in closets or in one of six bookcases spread throughout our house, it felt like loosing a member of the family when I learned of this loss. The Titanic Secret is one of the last works he collaborated on, with coauthor Jack Du Brul. The story focuses on a group of nine Colorado miners, who stage their collective deaths and then depart on a secret mission to illegally mine a mythical nuclear rich ore from a mountain centered in an arctic wasteland that is part and parcel of Russia. Their intent is to return with the ore to the United States and turn it over to the Military authorities. Throughout the yarn all nine of the miners come to untimely ends and the prescious ore ends up in a cargo hold of the Doomed Titanic, eventually ending up at the bottom of the ocean..."warming Casey Jones's butt cheeks on those cold winter nights." An interesting and arguably unique twist in this book is that it involves the major characters from two of Cusslers' book series, representing two different centuries/periods of time. Detective Isaac Bell was collaborating with the miners to get the ore back to the us and then Dirk Pitt, fictional head of NUMA, comes upon Bell's case journal of the adventure, 30 years after Isaac Bell's death. May the honorable and very talented Clive Cussler rest in eternal peace! :(
I did not know that. Have read many Cussler books and enjoyed them. For some years now, have read only fiction and typically it's mysteries and suspense/thrillers. Probably my current favorite author of that genre is CJ Box.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Vanity Rowby W.R. Burnett originally published in 1952


"Roy Shook his head, sighed, sat down, and forced himself to think about the possibilities and ramifications of the case. The ethical side of the business he pushed completely into the background. It was not a question of innocence or guilt. To the Administration this was a complete irrelevancy. Staying in office was the main, in fact, the only point."

- Thoughts of Captain Roy Hargis, police chief and loyal Administration man.


Lynch (Hargis' lawyer): "Isn't this a little unusual Captain - not to say unethical?"

Hargis: "What does that last word mean, Mr. Lynch?"

- The same Captain Hargis discussing ethics with his lawyer


After reading the outstanding noir crime drama Asphalt Jungle by W.R. Burnett (comments here: ), I went looking for other Burnett books and found my way to Vanity Row. While it is a notch down from Asphalt Jungle, it is another smart noir crime drama. But where Asphalt Jungle takes the point of view of the criminals, Vanity Row follows a police captain "investigating" a crime that the powers that be want "solved" in a way that protects the Administration.

And the Administration, in this large Midwest town, is a major political party that, effectively, operates as a legal and illegal racket of patronage, graft and payoffs whose goal is to get and stay in office. It is in bed with the local mob and, when in power, runs the city for its benefit. This is not the case of a few bad apples, but an institutionalized corruption that is shocking for its efficiency, reach and self-confidence.

But when one of the Administration's high-profile lawyers - one of the respectable faces of the Administration - Frank Hobart, is murdered gangland style in the middle of the city, the Administration faces an existential crisis.

Hobart had recently strong-armed a national mob syndicate over the split of the "wire services" (the take from the gambling books in the city) and the Administration believes he was killed as payback. Now, the Administration needs a quick arrest and conviction for public consumption that points the finger at anyone but the mob that it believes did the killing as it doesn't want the newspapers or public questioning why an "honest" Administration lawyer would be the target of a mob hit.

To this end, the Administration turns to one of its most trusted men, police captain Roy Hargis, the quintessential Administration Man. He's whip smart, completely immoral, fine with corruption and lines his pockets, not with arrant greed, but with a dispassionate entitlement as, to him, that is how he gets paid for his loyalty to the Administration. He is also coldly indifferent to women - sleeps with them in a detached way and then moves on. If he has a flaw, it's that he is so perfectly integrated in the corrupt system that he's losing any sense of himself and his humanity.

As Hargis begins the investigation, we see a thorough man, respected by some and feared by others in his department, smartly following clues through the seedy and respectable sides of the city. He threatens or cajoles, depending on the need, prostitutes, gamblers, high-end restaurateurs, luxury-hotel managers and even prominent and influential citizens. We quickly learn how all of these seemingly disparate parts of the city are connected, in particular, by the men who run or frequent them.

Trailed by a talented and alcoholic newspaper reporter, Hargis begins to put the pieces of the murder together while feeding the press only the snippets and perspective that he wants it and the public to have. At this moment, Hargis is a man at the top of his game who, when he discovers that married Frank Hobart had a beautiful demimonde girlfriend, sees the perfect fall guy (girl) to hang the crime on.

Ilona Vance is beautiful in a way that shows the failings of ordinary beautiful women. She's tall, cool, oddly friendly and prepossessing to both men and women. Since she has no connections and with real evidence adducing that she might actually have killed Hobart, Hargis has all he needs to hang the crime on her and please the Administration. And while other men (and women) wilt in Vance's wake, Hargis coolly builds his case against her - problem solved.

That is, until it isn't. After placing Ms. Vance under arrest and having her brought to his office for an interview, in a wonderfully written scene, we see aloof Hargis begin, hesitatingly at first, to fall for Vance's charms. By the end of this meeting, Hargis is gone: the hardened, detached veteran is all in for Ms. Ilona Vance. The rest of the book is watching incredibly wily Hargis spin everyone and everything - cops, lawyers, the press, his story, facts, evidence and the leaders of the Administration themselves - to help Vance and to keep his job.

While fun to see and engagingly written, Hargis' metamorphosis to a man in love - a man with some ember of humanity still glowing inside him - and the book's overall conclusion stretch credibility a bit further than one would like. Even if that keeps Vanity Row a touch below the level of Asphalt Jungle, it's still a solid entry in the crime-noir genre.


N.B., While much of this book's views on, well, almost everything would fail today's uncompromising political views, it's interesting to see Vanity Row's complex 1950s take on homosexuality. In it, several heterosexual characters - hardened policemen and politicians - view homosexuality as no big deal, even if they understand that it has to be kept quiet. Of course, it's wrong that it had to be kept hidden, but it still felt surprisingly accepting for the time. Modern writers of period noir stories would almost never have the guts to present this type of nuance - hence, the value of reading these contemporaneous books.

P.S. Alas, my copy didn't have the awesomely tawdry cover illustration shown in the above picture.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Our book clubs selection for February was author Lucy Foley's "The Guest List." Written in an arguably simplistic format, with the entire book in three and four page segments reflecting perspectives of each of the individuals named on the guest list, it is certainly a convenient and easy read. The book is built around a high society wedding at an exclusive and unique venue, with the reflections of individual guests incrementally revealing and hinting at the growing condemnation of the sociopathic personality and lifestyle of (of all people) the groom...leading to his demise; and now we have a murder mystery. Read and enjoy this fun little mystery...it will take only four to six hours out of moist readers lives and it will not leave anyone agonizing over it's literary impact! ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
Our book clubs selection for February was author Lucy Foley's "The Guest List." Written in an arguably simplistic format, with the entire book in three and four page segments reflecting perspectives of each of the individuals named on the guest list, it is certainly a convenient and easy read. The book is built around a high society wedding at an exclusive and unique venue, with the reflections of individual guests incrementally revealing and hinting at the growing condemnation of the sociopathic personality and lifestyle of (of all people) the groom...leading to his demise; and now we have a murder mystery. Read and enjoy this fun little mystery...it will take only four to six hours out of moist readers lives and it will not leave anyone agonizing over it's literary impact! ;)
That's a nicely done summary. Amazon keeps sending me emails telling me I should like this one. I think I'll put it in my cart now that it has your stamp of approval.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
That's a nicely done summary. Amazon keeps sending me emails telling me I should like this one. I think I'll put it in my cart now that it has your stamp of approval.
My friend, this book will not be a keeper for my collection and the copy I have is close to brand new, read only by my wife and I. If you would like, I would be happy to post it to you and when you are done with it, feel free to past it on, as you see fit! Take care and have a great day! ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
My friend, this book will not be a keeper for my collection and the copy I have is close to brand new, read only by my wife and I. If you would like, I would be happy to post it to you and when you are done with it, feel free to past it on, as you see fit! Take care and have a great day! ;)
That's a very generous offer, but it will be here Monday from Amazon (I ordered it after my earlier post) - so thank you, but gift it to someone else or Goodwill as I'll do with my copy when done. Thank you again, that's very nice of you to offer.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
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Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake (with Donald Bain) published in 1969

Eddie Muller, the host of TCM's outstanding "Noir Alley," turned me onto this one, in part, because he mentioned that he wrote the introduction. Well, I'm a fan of Muller, but I expected more than a brief two-and-a-half pages from him. However, what he wrote was good and the book is an entertaining enough fast read.

Autobiographies are what they are - a person writing his or her own history. Even an honest attempt at the truth would suffer from memory lapses and unintentional bias, but how many write an honest autobiography?

Based on my general knowledge of Ms. Lake's life, which includes a biography of it read many years ago, Ms. Lake wasn't shooting for total honesty in this one. But what the heck, it's a book by a huge Golden Era star that has some fun inside-Hollywood tales and adds something to the Veronica Lake story.

After her not-great-not-horrible upbringing, including the early loss of a father, but a very good relationship with her ensuing stepfather and a mixed one with her driven mother, Lake came with her family to Hollywood at sixteen years old.

In a case of almost instant stardom, less than two years after her first role as an extra, Lake was a major star. First, in a wonderful happenstance during a promotional shoot, an airplane's propeller wash wrapped her skirt tightly around her, creating a perfect and very popular cheesecake publicity photo (see below) for her first real movie, I Wanted Wings. Then, with all but no experience, she improbably got the starring role in her next movie, the smartly funny and socially conscience Sullivan's Travels, and it was a hit.

Veronica Lake movie star and sex goddess was launched. And, for the next few years, several hits followed propelling her and her peek-a-boo hairstyle to mega stardom. But throughout it, Lake, by her own admission, was often difficult to work with. While she claims it was to cover for her insecurities, even with her spin, you're still thinking stardom might also have gone to her head, at least somewhat.

Add into that time period her first of four marriages, the birth of her first child, the death of her stepfather and a break with her mother and a lot of chaotic life was squeezed into a narrow window. Also lightly touched on was too much drinking and way too much spending.

But there were also some wonderful Golden Age of Hollywood moments as when lothario Errol Flynn takes her rejection of his suggestion for a roll in the hay in stride, which led to a nice platonic friendship between the two. Even better was the description of a quixotic night-long bender Lake had with Gary Cooper where the two enjoyably spent the evening (deep into the morning) hopping from one tawdry strip club to another critiquing the women "performers" as they went.

Lake characterizes all her issues - the spending, the fighting with the studios, her difficult reputation - as part of her rebellious nature, but that makes one wonder what exactly was she was rebelling against other than adulthood. Sure, studios weren't fair and some family and friends tried to use her, but that's also called life. Stars like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford fought their way through the same issues to forge decades-long careers.

Unfortunately, Lake's anger and personal life - including a divorce and second rocky marriage - worked against a long career so that less than ten-years later, by the end of the forties, her time in movies was all but over just when her spendthrift ways had pretty much drained her bank account.

From there, Lake spent the fifties into the sixties milking some good money out of her fading stardom via TV and summer-stock work, but usually spending more than she made, so that any slowdown in income quickly became a crisis. This time also saw periods of alcoholism, the failure of marriages number two and three and inconsistent parenting of her, now, three children.

To her credit, Lake doesn't gloss over or excuse all of her self-inflicted problems, but when you think through her explanations, you see many gaps that don't reflect favorably on the star. And what most jumps out at you is that she seemed only to learn very, very slowly from her mistakes.

To wit, even in the late fifties, after having been up and down financially several times and after a publicly embarrassing exposure when she was bartending in a run-down hotel in return for a room, she immediately took an expensive apartment when she caught a good job in radio for a few months. You almost want to scream at the book, "save some money, you should know better by now." But that was not what Lake, the self-described "rebel," would do (until later in life).

In the end, we're left with a woman with many personal shortcomings that hurt her more than anyone else (except, maybe, her children). Despite all that, I still love Veronica Lake the movie star. This Gun for Hire was a picture I first saw in my teens where Lake and her famously flowing blonde locks hooked me for life.

I wanted to read that her life turned out well and I wanted to blame her problems on others, but even with her spin, you come away from her autobiography mainly disappointed because she seems like a reasonably decent person who was also her own worst enemy. However, at least by the late sixties, it appears she had settled down into an okay life with the self-destructive extremes and excesses kinda sorta behind her. Who knows what's true and what's Lake-spin in Veronica, but still, the book is a fun enough quick swim through a notable rivulet of Golden Era Hollywood.


The career-boosting promo picture from I Wanted Wings
c17c31c605af065207cb29d77bd4935a.jpg


And the famous peekaboo hairstyle
VeronicaLake.jpg
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
1795039._UY472_SS472_.jpg

The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner, the first Perry Mason novel originally published in 1933

I don't think I've ever seen a full episode of the old Perry Mason TV show, but kinda sorta know about it by reputation. I just started watching the new HBO version of Perry Mason, which is very good, but it injects a lot of modern identity politics and 2021 social-justice-warrior tics into a 1930s character.

I had also never read a Perry Mason book before this one. But after having just seen a 1930s Warner Bros. Perry Mason movie (comments here: #568 ), I decided I needed to go to the original source material - the first Perry Mason book written - to see what had birthed almost a hundred years of Perry Mason cultural iterations.

There's a lot of cool 1930s stuff in The Case of the Velvet Claws and Mason himself is interesting enough, but the real gem in the original novel is Mason's secretary Della Street. Heck, had author Gardner done nothing other than named her Della Street, he'd have had something to be proud of, but he did more.

He created a strong, smart woman not as imagined by today's period writers obsessed with checking every intersectionality box, but a 1930s woman who thinks for herself, calls Mason out on his BS, shows physical courage (but doesn't beat up men twice her size as modern writers preposterously imagine women regularly do) and is sexy in a not-obvious way.

And, yes, she's a secretary and she cries, so, horrors, she's in a traditional woman's role and has some, what were once considered, feminine traits. Yet, no one reading The Case of the Velvet Claws will fail to appreciate the strength, courage and integrity of this woman. I'd choose her over almost every man in the book to go into battle with.

Even though Della Street lifts every page she's in, this is still a Perry Mason novel and he doesn't disappoint in a very 1930s way. A lawyer cum private investigator who has an odd moral code that basically says: if I take on a client - innocent or guilty, good or bad - I will use every legal and many illegal means to get him or her off. Today of course, his clients would have to be oppressed underdogs, but today we don't value individual integrity unless it's in service to the privilege-discrimination political Talmud.

But this Perry Mason is a 1930s hero who plows his own path in service to his own personal code. So in The Case of the Velvet Claws, his client is a lying criminal who throws Mason under the bus repeatedly, but he still fights like heck to get her off, not so much for her, but for his professional integrity. And if that isn't enough to turn off today's progressive elites, he actually charges his clients money versus our crazy modern morality that all but requires heroes to be averse to taking money for their work as if it's dirty or beneath them.

The titular case itself is what's become a by-the-numbers murder mystery, but it must have felt fresher in the 1930s. A wealthy and reclusive owner of a scandal-sheet newspaper that, effectively, blackmails people it has dirt on is murdered. Everyone, including the owner's son, his business partner, his young and pretty wife (Mason's client), his housekeeper and Mason himself (his client set him up, yup) is a suspect.

The fun in this one is not figuring it out, but watching Mason manipulate suspects, tangle with the police, create elaborate ruses to trick people into talking while, basically, staying one tiny step ahead of everyone as they all try to bring him down for various reasons.

At the distance of nearly ninety years, the plot is the least special thing in the book. What is special, and refreshing, is a hero in service to his own moral code - a man of personal integrity and honor for integrity and honor's sake, not one charitably fighting for the underdog (the dominant hero standard since the 1960s).

Mason's real friends would do anything for him, not because he's saving the world or freeing the oppressed, but because they know he is a man of character, a man they can trust. Della Street has the same code - her word is worth more than five signed contracts. Watching these two honor their own value system and not bend at the knee to every modern political piety is almost jarring as, today, we've become programmed to expect our heroes to be social justice warriors above all else.

While the 1930's Warner Bros. movie was, kinda, consistent with Mason's character in the novel, it strayed a bit, as did (I think) the later TV version and today's HBO one where Mason, of course, has addiction and anger management issues. Fair enough, as every generation defines its heroes in its own way, but it's still a nearly hundred-years-long compliment to Erle Stanley Gardner that his pulp-fiction creation has had cultural currency throughout that entire time.

Heck, maybe one day we'll even have the courage as a culture to appreciate the progenitor Mason - a man of integrity who lives by his own code, isn't an oblation to modern politics and who isn't opposed to making a (sorta) honest buck. For now though, we can simply read the original Erle Stanley Gardner Mason novels to see a world where all of those things are valued.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 55553
The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner, the first Perry Mason novel originally published in 1933

I don't think I've ever seen a full episode of the old Perry Mason TV show, but kinda sorta know about it by reputation. I just started watching the new HBO version of Perry Mason, which is very good, but it injects a lot of modern identity politics and 2021 social-justice-warrior tics into a 1930s character.

I had also never read a Perry Mason book before this one. But after having just seen a 1930s Warner Bros. Perry Mason movie (comments here: #568 ), I decided I needed to go to the original source material - the first Perry Mason book written - to see what had birthed almost a hundred years of Perry Mason cultural iterations.

There's a lot of cool 1930s stuff in The Case of the Velvet Claws and Mason himself is interesting enough, but the real gem in the original novel is Mason's secretary Della Street. Heck, had author Gardner done nothing other than named her Della Street, he'd have had something to be proud of, but he did more.

He created a strong, smart woman not as imagined by today's period writers obsessed with checking every intersectionality box, but a 1930s woman who thinks for herself, calls Mason out on his BS, shows physical courage (but doesn't beat up men twice her size as modern writers preposterously imagine women regularly do) and is sexy in a not-obvious way.

And, yes, she's a secretary and she cries, so, horrors, she's in a traditional woman's role and has some, what were once considered, feminine traits. Yet, no one reading The Case of the Velvet Claws will fail to appreciate the strength, courage and integrity of this woman. I'd choose her over almost every man in the book to go into battle with.

Even though Della Street lifts every page she's in, this is still a Perry Mason novel and he doesn't disappoint in a very 1930s way. A lawyer cum private investigator who has an odd moral code that basically says: if I take on a client - innocent or guilty, good or bad - I will use every legal and many illegal means to get him or her off. Today of course, his clients would have to be oppressed underdogs, but today we don't value individual integrity unless it's in service to the privilege-discrimination political Talmud.

But this Perry Mason is a 1930s hero who plows his own path in service to his own personal code. So in The Case of the Velvet Claws, his client is a lying criminal who throws Mason under the bus repeatedly, but he still fights like heck to get her off, not so much for her, but for his professional integrity. And if that isn't enough to turn off today's progressive elites, he actually charges his clients money versus our crazy modern morality that all but requires heroes to be averse to taking money for their work as if it's dirty or beneath them.

The titular case itself is what's become a by-the-numbers murder mystery, but it must have felt fresher in the 1930s. A wealthy and reclusive owner of a scandal-sheet newspaper that, effectively, blackmails people it has dirt on is murdered. Everyone, including the owner's son, his business partner, his young and pretty wife (Mason's client), his housekeeper and Mason himself (his client set him up, yup) is a suspect.

The fun in this one is not figuring it out, but watching Mason manipulate suspects, tangle with the police, create elaborate ruses to trick people into talking while, basically, staying one tiny step ahead of everyone as they all try to bring him down for various reasons.

At the distance of nearly ninety years, the plot is the least special thing in the book. What is special, and refreshing, is a hero in service to his own moral code - a man of personal integrity and honor for integrity and honor's sake, not one charitably fighting for the underdog (the dominant hero standard since the 1960s).

Mason's real friends would do anything for him, not because he's saving the world or freeing the oppressed, but because they know he is a man of character, a man they can trust. Della Street has the same code - her word is worth more than five signed contracts. Watching these two honor their own value system and not bend at the knee to every modern political piety is almost jarring as, today, we've become programmed to expect our heroes to be social justice warriors above all else.

While the 1930's Warner Bros. movie was, kinda, consistent with Mason's character in the novel, it strayed a bit, as did (I think) the later TV version and today's HBO one where Mason, of course, has addiction and anger management issues. Fair enough, as every generation defines its heroes in its own way, but it's still a nearly hundred-years-long compliment to Erle Stanley Gardner that his pulp-fiction creation has had cultural currency throughout that entire time.

Heck, maybe one day we'll even have the courage as a culture to appreciate the progenitor Mason - a man of integrity who lives by his own code, isn't an oblation to modern politics and who isn't opposed to making a (sorta) honest buck. For now though, we can simply read the original Erle Stanley Gardner Mason novels to see a world where all of those things are valued.
Once again you have crafted an even better than excellent book review. It is engagingly informative, grabbing the readers interest and never letting go. I cannot help but hope that the the 1933 edition of The Case of the Velvet Claws was as well written as your book review. I seem to recall, many years ago and in a land far, far away watching a Perry Mason TV series featuring Perry Mason, Della Street, his secretary and Paul Drake, his private investigator. As I recall, there never was a charlatan who could match their metal! Thank you good sir. ;)
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
ann-veronica.jpg

Ann Veronica by H. G. Wells originally published in 1909

It's always an interesting read when you don't really like a book's main character, especially when, I think, the author wants you to like him or her.

Ann Veronica Stanley (props for the name) is a middle-class English woman in her early twenties who rebels against the social and legal constraints put on women at that time. Good for her as it's the rebels - the ones willing to break things and take the social and legal blowback that ensues - who expand the Overton Window for the next generation. Still, I didn't like her.

Living at home with her father and aunt (her mother passed away years ago), at a time when a father's word was all but law, even to a daughter in her twenties, Ann Veronica, "Vee," chafes at the social and cultural restraints and limited career opportunities for a woman of her class in early twentieth century England.

Vee has been listening to and discussing with friends the "radical" ideas of the time propounded by the Suffragettes and similar liberal ideologues, including the socialists. While her personal philosophy is incipient, she "feels" the restraints and intuits that economic freedom is as necessary as the vote (the Suffragettes argue the vote will lead to economic freedom).

Precipitated by her father's refusal to let her go to a dance in London and then stay the night with friends, Ann Veronica leaves home and moves to London without much thought or money and with only the vague outline of a plan.

Once there, reality quickly sets in, so Ann Veronica borrows money from a middle-aged, married man, Mr. Rampage. She knows him from her hometown and borrowed from him believing (hard to tell if she was lying to herself or truly ignorant) that he was simply a friend who wanted to help her.

Now with brass in pocket, Ann Veronica continues her studies in biology, but at a real university and not at the woman's college her father had sent her too. She also becomes deeply involved in the Suffragette movement, while her platonic friendship with Mr. Rampage expands to include dinners out and long conversations, but no nooky.

All of this gives author Wells much opportunity to explore the Suffragette movement, socialistic ideas (a Wells tic), sexual norms for a young woman in London and traditional societies' views of these rebellious ideas. While Wells is sympathetic to these new views, he is willing to harshly point out their advocates' foibles and inconsistencies in a way that most modern progressive shrink from doing in their period novels.

Ann Veronica is unable to find work as she views the jobs she's qualified for - secretarial or domestic - as being unworthy of her; some would say her bougie slip was showing beneath her leftist skirt. She also begins to recognize her own sexuality, via Rampage's aborning unwanted advances and her growing crush on a married college professor. A sexuality that had been suppressed by the Victorian mores of the day.

Vee's London adventure is shattered when, owing to her growing involvement with the Suffragette, she participates in a protest that sends her to jail. She uses her time in the clink to recognize that some of her own failings - her complete dismissal of her family and borrowing from Rampage - were because she was arrogant and lazy. In a moment of true introspection, she sees that just because she wants something - even if she is right - it doesn't give her carte blanche to roll over anyone in her way.

Ann Veronica emerges from prison a little more thoughtful, especially when, perforce, she returns home to survive, but her new perspective only lasts for so long. After a compromise with her father leads to her return to college, she begins an affair with the married professor she had been pining for.

Ms. Veronica proves to be less of a committed rebel as she's dropped the Suffragettes and more about her simply getting what she wants, in this case, an unhappily married man. So, Vee, for a second time, obnoxiously bolts unannounced from her home - a home that took her back in after prison - to run away with her married boyfriend.

We then jump four years ahead to find Ann Veronica happily married to the former college professor who is now a successful playwright. All that's left is a joyous reunion with her father who learns that now-domesticated Vee is going to make him a grandfather. The rebel Ann Veronica effectively became what her father wanted her to be all along: a respectable wife and mother.

While Wells is clearly and rightfully sympathetic to both the Suffragette movement and equal economic opportunities for women, he created a character who basically hitched her sails to those causes only when it suited her and, then, jumped ship when it didn't. Ann Veronica is an antecedent to many "radical" 1960s college students who took up leftist causes in their early twenties only to settle down into middle-class lives as lawyers and stockbrokers by the 1980s.

A more sympathetic echo of Ann Veronica can be found in Edith Wharton's 1905 House of Mirth. Wharton's character Lily Bart finds, like Ann Veronica, that her only economic opportunity is borrowing from wealthy men - with an implied sexual obligation, understood or not - or menial labor.

Lily Bart, once she realizes the obligation borrowing created, makes a sincere effort to repay her debt even taking those low-pay and low-status jobs that Ann Veronica dismisses. Lily Bart is a real heroine, not for her political views, but for her personal character and integrity.

Ann Veronica is, like many of us, a rebel with one cause - whatever is good for herself. It's not heroic, but is a more-honest look at some of the supporters of causes and social change than the pure-of-heart and fearless heroines that modern period writers so adore creating.

Wells seems to have been a sorta fellow traveler with the rebels, but one that plowed his own intellectual path and didn't hesitate to highlight the contradictions and hypocrisies within those progressive movements. A view he imputes in Ann Veronica, both the novel and the character.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 56220
Ann Veronica by H. G. Wells originally published in 1909

It's always an interesting read when you don't really like a book's main character, especially when, I think, the author wants you to like him or her.

Ann Veronica Stanley (props for the name) is a middle-class English woman in her early twenties who rebels against the social and legal constraints put on women at that time. Good for her as it's the rebels - the ones willing to break things and take the social and legal blowback that ensues - who expand the Overton Window for the next generation. Still, I didn't like her.

Living at home with her father and aunt (her mother passed away years ago), at a time when a father's word was all but law, even to a daughter in her twenties, Ann Veronica, "Vee," chafes at the social and cultural restraints and limited career opportunities for a woman of her class in early twentieth century England.

Vee has been listening to and discussing with friends the "radical" ideas of the time propounded by the Suffragettes and similar liberal ideologues, including the socialists. While her personal philosophy is incipient, she "feels" the restraints and intuits that economic freedom is as necessary as the vote (the Suffragettes argue the vote will lead to economic freedom).

Precipitated by her father's refusal to let her go to a dance in London and then stay the night with friends, Ann Veronica leaves home and moves to London without much thought or money and with only the vague outline of a plan.

Once there, reality quickly sets in, so Ann Veronica borrows money from a middle-aged, married man, Mr. Rampage. She knows him from her hometown and borrowed from him believing (hard to tell if she was lying to herself or truly ignorant) that he was simply a friend who wanted to help her.

Now with brass in pocket, Ann Veronica continues her studies in biology, but at a real university and not at the woman's college her father had sent her too. She also becomes deeply involved in the Suffragette movement, while her platonic friendship with Mr. Rampage expands to include dinners out and long conversations, but no nooky.

All of this gives author Wells much opportunity to explore the Suffragette movement, socialistic ideas (a Wells tic), sexual norms for a young woman in London and traditional societies' views of these rebellious ideas. While Wells is sympathetic to these new views, he is willing to harshly point out their advocates' foibles and inconsistencies in a way that most modern progressive shrink from doing in their period novels.

Ann Veronica is unable to find work as she views the jobs she's qualified for - secretarial or domestic - as being unworthy of her; some would say her bougie slip was showing beneath her leftist skirt. She also begins to recognize her own sexuality, via Rampage's aborning unwanted advances and her growing crush on a married college professor. A sexuality that had been suppressed by the Victorian mores of the day.

Vee's London adventure is shattered when, owing to her growing involvement with the Suffragette, she participates in a protest that sends her to jail. She uses her time in the clink to recognize that some of her own failings - her complete dismissal of her family and borrowing from Rampage - were because she was arrogant and lazy. In a moment of true introspection, she sees that just because she wants something - even if she is right - it doesn't give her carte blanche to roll over anyone in her way.

Ann Veronica emerges from prison a little more thoughtful, especially when, perforce, she returns home to survive, but her new perspective only lasts for so long. After a compromise with her father leads to her return to college, she begins an affair with the married professor she had been pining for.

Ms. Veronica proves to be less of a committed rebel as she's dropped the Suffragettes and more about her simply getting what she wants, in this case, an unhappily married man. So, Vee, for a second time, obnoxiously bolts unannounced from her home - a home that took her back in after prison - to run away with her married boyfriend.

We then jump four years ahead to find Ann Veronica happily married to the former college professor who is now a successful playwright. All that's left is a joyous reunion with her father who learns that now-domesticated Vee is going to make him a grandfather. The rebel Ann Veronica effectively became what her father wanted her to be all along: a respectable wife and mother.

While Wells is clearly and rightfully sympathetic to both the Suffragette movement and equal economic opportunities for women, he created a character who basically hitched her sails to those causes only when it suited her and, then, jumped ship when it didn't. Ann Veronica is an antecedent to many "radical" 1960s college students who took up leftist causes in their early twenties only to settle down into middle-class lives as lawyers and stockbrokers by the 1980s.

A more sympathetic echo of Ann Veronica can be found in Edith Wharton's 1905 House of Mirth. Wharton's character Lily Bart finds, like Ann Veronica, that her only economic opportunity is borrowing from wealthy men - with an implied sexual obligation, understood or not - or menial labor.

Lily Bart, once she realizes the obligation borrowing created, makes a sincere effort to repay her debt even taking those low-pay and low-status jobs that Ann Veronica dismisses. Lily Bart is a real heroine, not for her political views, but for her personal character and integrity.

Ann Veronica is, like many of us, a rebel with one cause - whatever is good for herself. It's not heroic, but is a more-honest look at some of the supporters of causes and social change than the pure-of-heart and fearless heroines that modern period writers so adore creating.

Wells seems to have been a sorta fellow traveler with the rebels, but one that plowed his own intellectual path and didn't hesitate to highlight the contradictions and hypocrisies within those progressive movements. A view he imputes in Ann Veronica, both the novel and the character.
As is your way, another very detailed and informative book review, written in a style that grabs the readers attention and hold onto it to the very end. I have but a single question for which my mind literally itches for an answer. In completing Ann Veronica, it appears that HG Wells has extended his writing pen way beyond the limits of his vocational wheelhouse. Is my fevered mind deceiving me or would you agree with my perception(s)? Thank you again for a great review. ;)
 
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