21 October 2014

Playing in the Shallows

by Janice Law

We all love profundity, heartbreak, piercing stories of love and loss and heroism, and some of us aspire to write them. But fortunately there is also the category of guilty pleasures, encompassing what used to be called “tired businessmen’s entertainment.” As far as television mysteries go, I refer to the pleasant shallows of predictable scripts, familiar characters, and faintly absurd premises.

NCIS, the most popular show on television as my husband reminds me, is strong on all three. Every week, the Marines and or the Navy takes a substantial hit to its personnel. If the show continues with its LA franchise, and opens, as planned, an NCIS New Orleans, I doubt we will have enough manpower to staff our ships.

Of course, the NCIS corps of detectives is charming. The cases ingenious. The action sporadic but exciting. But what I think really draws the public is the fantasy element: the smooth working of every conceivable technology from CCTV to the multitude of data bases at the fingertips of the clever NCIS techies.

Who hasn’t gotten lost in the wilds of cyberspace or wasted endless time in searches that go nowhere. Not the folks at NCIS. A photo or a license number or a blood type gets tapped in; almost instantly the screen blossoms with a complete dossier or photos of the getaway car or the crucial piece of information that links a drop of blood to – voila– some arch-villain of the terrorist persuasion. This is the sort of fantasy that writers, at least, can really enjoy.

At the other end of the spectrum is a guilty pleasure of my own, the British ITV import Midsomer Murders. Once again, the plots are complex, and if the cast is maybe less interesting than NCIS, the scenery – stately homes, thatched cottages, trout streams and woodlands– is considerably better. Besides, Midsomer Murders goes to the heart of the matter: the victims will generally, as the Lord High Executioner was wont to say, “not be missed,” while the killers are even less fetching. No pity needed!

Where Midsomer Murders even exceeds fantasy levels of NCIS, however, is in the reaction of the quaint and pretty Midsomer hamlets to a body count that would embarrass Detroit. The residents are shocked. The aristocrats (at least one per episode) are shocked to be questioned. The middle class is shocked to be suspected. The working class is shocked to be arrested. “Things like this just don’t happen here,” is the standard reaction by one and all.

And this is why, despite the fact that nearly every episode begins with either someone walking in the night forest – never to emerge alive again; or with an early morning walker out with a keen-nosed dog – soon to discover the latest corpse, the villagers continue to tramp the woods and venture out alone on lonely paths in the dark of night.

Worse yet, the locals continue to hold those most dangerous of human gatherings, the village fete. We didn’t expect anything better than a string of killing from the Film Festival which attracted outsiders and theatrical outsiders at that. The Literary Fest was almost as bad; the star attraction coming from London and literary feuds being notorious for their viciousness, but still the body count was more than even the most pessimistic organizer could have imagined.

We did, however, expect that the annual Garden Fete, featuring as it did innocent horticultural pleasures would prove harmless.

Not a chance. Gardeners were bumped off almost before the flower judging began, while both the Music Fest and the Midsummer frolic laid waste to multiple victims, some in the latter with ancient Celtic implements.

When even archeology is against you, there’s as little chance of survival in Midsomer as in NCIS’s supposedly more gritty urban D.C. But then neither show is realistic, despite the country charm in one case and the technical hardware in the other. Both deal with another commodity, an undemanding predictability. Lets face it, there are days then the shallows look pretty enticing.

20 October 2014

A Week In The Glamorous Life...

Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

Class, I'm not working on a particular writing project at the moment...have a couple of irons in the fire. But after this week, I need to get back to writing just to rest up.

On Monday, I had a horrible sinus headache, but managed my usual putting clothes in the washer, transferring same to dryer, folding and putting away. I did drive the 5 miles into town only to discover the major fact that I had forgotten...Columbus Day is a Federal holiday and the bank and post office were closed. The way I found out the bank was closed was I parked, jumped out and at the front door, I pulled. It was locked...why??? Then I saw the sign stating they would be closed for Columbus Day. I turned around and said out loud, "My first clue was no cars in the parking lot." This is a small regional bank and there's usually not many cars around. Back home to make dinner and cleaning up the kitchen, then shower and finally into bed, still nursing my aching head.

On Tuesday, I bowl in a bowing league. Now that probably doesn't sound too exciting to most of you, however, I have bowled once, twice or three times a week for over thirty years. Last year, the bowling center in my nearby town closed. Shortly after that I drove into Austin, 58 miles one way on a Thursday night to bowl. That wasn't fun.  This year a group of us bowling ladies started a league and are bowling in Fredericksburg, 39 miles one way. The best part is that one of my team members and I take turns driving. It's good fun and good exercise. We leave Marble Falls at 11:15am, bowl at 1:00pm and get home about 3-to-3:15p. Back in Marble Falls, I drive to the bank and PO and take care of a couple other errands that I missed out on the day before. I also called my primary doctor's office to see if I could get an appointment soon. The new federal law that went into effect on Oct. 6th says you must see your doctor and get a written prescription to get your Schedule 2 pain pills. Fortunately, they had had a cancellation and I could come in the next day at two p. Great, I say, put me in at that time.

On Wednesday, after showering and getting ready I head to Austin at 12:45p, this is for a 65 mile one way trip. I get 30 miles from Doctor's office and get caught in a huge traffic jam.  Finally, the traffic moves, but it's only 8 minutes until my appointment time. Never did see the cause for the jam but there is one of those over-size load trucks parked on the shoulder so guess that might have been part of the problem. I call the appointment person and am told they will informed the nurses in back. When I get to the doctor's office at 2:30, I wait a few minutes and discover that I won't be able to see the doctor but I can see the physician's assistant. That's okay because she can see me, then catch the doctor who will then write the prescription for me. But I do have to wait...and wait...and wait, for almost two hours. While I'm in with the PA we're talking about the new law and we agree it's necessary because too many people abuse it. And she said, with people like you, we know you and know you're not going out on the highway when you're caught in traffic jams and sell your pain meds. "You mean I could have done that? Darn I missed the boat." She almost fell off her stool laughing. With my precious prescription tucked into my billfold and inside my purse, I head west at 4:50p which is now rush-hour time in the city. This late I'll miss my music night out and dinner out so I stop and get BBQ to go and then stop and get gas for my car. By the time I get home it's ten to seven and I'm a bit draggy.

Thursday rolls around and I catch up on a little housework. Clean up hairballs from the cats and then get ready to go once again. I'm volunteering three hours (from 3 to 6p) at our little Cottonwood Shores library. Since I have a 5:30 committee meeting, I do manage to leave a little early for that. But I spent over two hours rearranging paperback books. We had a large number to add in, but not enough space where they were shelved. Some new shelves were added so it's a matter of adjusting them now and yet keeping them in alphabetical order. I'm getting good exercise however, bending up and down. Oh, my aching back. I get to my meeting only to find it's been postponed until next week. I hadn't checked my email in several hours.

Suddenly it's Friday. My male kitty, Nick (he and my female kitty, Nora, are 17 and a half) has been urinating in various and hidden places instead of the liter box.  Terrible for carpeting. I have an appointment with our vet who's been taking care of them for 9 years but is eighteen miles one way in Johnson City. Why don't you have Doctors and Vets that aren't so far away, Jan. Simple answer, when you find someone that you really like, it's just hard to change. So our appointment is at 2:30p and we leave at 2. Thank goodness no traffic problems. The attendant helps carry him inside and weighs him. He's lost about a pound since his visit back in the spring. That's not too good. Nick gets his yearly shots then they say they need to put him to sleep to draw blood. They do that and also give him some fluid IV because he's a bit dehydrated. No thyroid problems. Shall we do some testing for kidneys...we have enough blood for that but it will take about another 15-20 minutes and more charges. Go ahead, I say and start mentally adding up in my head what this will cost me. However, these cats are my fur babies. I've had them since they were 8 weeks old, they've seen me through a lot and I have to take care of them. Nick's back in his big carrier but complaining a bit and scrabbling in there. He's drunk from the anesthetic and acting goofy. Thank goodness, all the news was good. Nothing more than old age and perhaps a little infection that I get an antibiotic for and head home, after two hours. I did manage a quick stop for a couple of grocery items. When I got home I collapsed on the sofa and was happy I still had BBQ left over for my dinner.

On Saturday, I realized I didn't have to go anywhere for the next two days and I realized how tired I  was feeling. Thinking about my week was well, amazing. just full of adventure and glamour, like any other writer.  Don't forget, class I'm sixty-fifteen now and can only dance every other dance now. But at least I can still dance.

Until next time, don't forget to take out the garbage and all those other glamorous things we writers do. I'm off to watch a little TV, then to read a little more of Sara Paretsky's new paperback, Critical Mass before bedtime.

19 October 2014

DuMont Episode 3 ~
A Fate Worse than Death

DuMont Television Network
by Leigh Lundin

Continued from last week

The Fate of DuMont’s Library

Today, only 1½% of DuMont shows survive, one or two episodes of a series here and there, three or four of another. Of most programs, none at all remain. Only Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners, which was stored separately, remains largely intact.

Often, recordings were simply recycled to recover the silver halide in the film itself. Even so, DuMont had saved more than 20 000 individual shows recorded by kinescope, a process where a broadcast is captured on film directly off a television screen. Through other acquisitions, this historic library ended up in the hands of ABC.
Edie Adams
Edie Adams
Ernie Kovacs
Ernie Kovacs

Here is the testimony of Edie Adams, wife of DuMont television star Ernie Kovacs, before a Film Presentation Board public hearing:
In the earlier ’70s, the (former) DuMont network was being bought by another company, and the lawyers were in heavy negotiation as to who would be responsible for the library of the DuMont shows currently being stored at the facility, who would bear the expense of storing them in a temperature controlled facility, take care of the copyright renewal, et cetera.

One of the lawyers doing the bargaining said that he could “take care of it” in a “fair manner,” and he did take care of it. At 2AM the next morning, he had three huge semis back up to the loading dock at ABC, filled them all with stored kinescopes and 2" videotapes, drove them to a waiting barge in New Jersey, took them out on the water, made a right at the Statue of Liberty and dumped them in the Upper New York Bay.
That corporate attorney destroyed the earliest and priceless television film library, 20 000 irreplaceable kinescope recordings.

And that concludes the story of the world's first television network.



Today’s Video

This is another for Dale Andrews and his friend Kurt Sercu, experts vis-à-vis all things Ellery Queen. Today, I present the third of three episodes of an early Ellery Queen television show from when Dale was a wee lad, an episode broadcast 08 November 1951.

Of the three available episodes, this is my favorite although Ellery appears dismayingly gullible. However, it had been only a decade since Mary Astor, in the form of Brigid O'Shaughnessy, planted the notion that occasionally women can be bad guys. The title sequence certainly sets an atmosphere. I doubt it was intended to be so noir, but I like it.


Note that Dale Andrews will return to SleuthSayers the 25th of January 2015.

18 October 2014

Fifty Mysteries by John M. Floyd, Master of the Mystery Short


by Elizabeth Zelvin

It's no surprise that such notoriously hard to crack writers' markets as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, The Strand, and Woman's World keep gobbling up John Floyd's short mystery stories. His latest collection, Fifty Mysteries: The Angela Files (Dogwood Press, 2014), is no exception. The simplicity of these stories is deceptive. (It's no coincidence, perhaps, that his last collection was titled Deception.) They slip down as easily as a crême brulée: smooth as silk, but it's got plenty of flavor and crunch, and it leaves you wanting more.

The stories in Fifty Mysteries, almost half of which first appeared in Woman's World, avoid many of the tropes that crime fiction relies on. These fifty stories about the cases of Sheriff Chunky Jones and his former fifth-grade schoolteacher, Angela Potts, can't be called page-turners, because they're only seven hundred words long, not counting the solution to the mystery of the embedded clue. The protagonists are not psychologically tormented or even flawed, unless you count Sheriff Jones's figure ("Don't call me Chunky.") The stories eschew graphic sex and violence. They aren't long enough to twist or develop subplots or relationship arcs. Yet each one is a gem that has all a successful mystery needs: the elegant structure of crime, investigation, and fair-play solution, a setting that manages to be fully realized without many explicit details, and two extremely likable protagonists. The sheriff provides the cases, and the clever and observant Ms. Potts solves them.

John Floyd sketches a sleepy Southern town where everyone has known everyone else all their lives, and villains, bullies, victims, and the law all did their time in Angela's fifth grade classroom. Like a Chinese or Japanese brush painter, he achieves his effect with just a few strokes. Roscoe's Cafe: "Banjo music blared from a radio behind the counter" and Angela teases Roscoe about being "an extra in Deliverance." An escaped prisoner's grandmother's living room: "The old lady...took a seat in an overstuffed chair--on the table beside it were a teacup and a half-finished knitted potholder--and directed Angela to a second padded chair. The sheriff pulled up a footstool..." A scenario that would never occur in a big city: "Young Jeffy had crashed his pickup into the Civil War statue on the courthouse lawn in the wee hours and was now sleeping it off as a guest of the county."

Each of these elegantly executed flash stories is a solve-it-yourself puzzle, and the book's format discourages cheating by providing the solutions in a separate section at the end. I opened the volume with some trepidation, afraid I would find that Angela Potts is smarter than I am. To my relief, I was able to solve most of the mysteries without peeking--but by no means all of them. John Floyd is a pretty smart guy himself. May he never run out of puzzles--and I bet he won't--and may Ms. Angela Potts live forever--and I bet she will!

John Floyd's short stories and features have appeared in more than 200 different publications. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, he won a Derringer Award in 2007 and has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. John is also the author of five collections of short mystery fiction: Rainbow's End (2006), Midnight (2008), Clockwork (2010), Deception (2013), and Fifty Mysteries (coming in October 2014). He and his wife Carolyn live in Mississippi. More information about John and his writing can be found at www.johnmfloyd.com.

17 October 2014

Arch Riordan

by R.T. Lawton

A few lawmen in the Old West became famous, like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Pat Garett, but what about the ones who didn't get written up in dime novels and didn't have some version of their lives and dramatic events turned into movies for the silver screen or into weekly episodes for television? What of those who went about their jobs in once growing towns which later faded into almost obscurity, those individuals who did not receive much recognition in the records of history?

Arch Wilder Riordan was one of those old time lawmen overlooked in most history books.

In late 1874, after gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, prospectors started heading into the area. Many traveled north from Sydney, Nebraska, and then turned west where they followed the route used by buffalo herds making their way from the prairie into the hills and out again with the seasons. The great influx of people soon called for a town to be established at the beginning of this natural opening in the landscape. This town became known as Buffalo Gap.

Eleven years after the gold rush started, the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad reached Buffalo Gap and made it a shipping point for both cattle and travelers. At one point, the town claimed to have 17 hotels and eating establishments, 4 general stores, one hardware store, Bonesteel's Ready To Wear store, 2 drug stores, Van der Vort's furniture store, 4 Chinese laundries, 3 livery barns, 4 blacksmith shops and 2 large sporting houses plus several small ones. It also had a station stop established by George Boland for the Sydney Stage Line. As there were no churches, religious services were held in tents.

The quickly growing town soon attracted a collection of low-lifes and law-breakers. Since the local sheriff was not held in high esteem, the town's businessmen met in secret to discuss the problem of law and order. That's when they asked Arch to become their Town Marshal. The salary by 1886 became $75.00 a month.

Arch stood about six feet tall and weighed in at 240 pounds, had an easy manner and a southern accent. He'd come into the Dakota Territory as a cattle drover and found the community and surrounding area to his liking. Deciding to settle down, he opened up a combination drugstore and saloon, which became quite profitable. Believing that a good citizen should do his part in the community, Arch agreed to take on the job of Town Marshal.

Unhappy at the prospect of a cowboy turned Town Marshal riding herd on their rowdy activities, the local hoodlums had their own secret meeting. As a result, they hired Charlie Fugit, a gunman, to come over from Wyoming and take care of their problem. The plan was to start a fight in one of the dance halls, and then when Arch showed up, Charlie would kill him. All went as intended until Charlie confronted Arch in the dance hall. Turned out Arch was a deadly shot and faster than Charlie. Charlie did not survive the shooting.

In another incident, Arch took a gun away from a bad guy named Sam. (Sorry, Sam's last name didn't make it into the history book.) Sam got lodged into the Buffalo Gap jail, a ten foot by ten foot building with stout doors and bars on the windows. Arch turned his back and started to walk away, not knowing that Sam had a small revolver concealed in his boot top. The outlaw called out to Arch. As the marshal turned back to him, the outlaw shot and missed. Arch drew his own weapon, informing Sam that he would bear evidence of this attempted murder for the rest of his life, and then shot off Sam's left ear lobe.

Arch went on to survive several dangerous situations, never using his firearm without due provocation. In later years, he was appointed a U.S. Marshal.

Over time, the railroad pushed north up to Rapid City, the new hub for the Black Hills. Several businesses from Buffalo Gap then moved up the line. Buffalo Gap had peaked and soon faded into near obscurity.



Historical information for this article was taken from Our Yesterdays, the collected writings of oral histories from early pioneers by the Eastern Custer County Historical Society during the late 1960's.

16 October 2014

Wut Werkz and Wut Duzn't in Historrikuhl Fikshunn, Part Deyuh

by Brian Thornton

We'll begin today's post with a quotation within a quotation, and end it by posing a conundrum for the reader. 

First the quote within the quote. The initial one comes from The Great Game, Peter Hopkirk's magisterial history of the Anglo-Russian struggle for control of Central Asia (and by extension, both India and all trade routes to the Far East). Within that quotation lies a telling quotation from the recollections of one of the so-called "Great Game's" most colorful players, a British army officer and diplomat named Alexander "Bokhara" Burnes:


Finally in August 1831, laden with gifts and compliments, Burnes and his companions crossed back into British territory, making for Ludhiana, the [British East India] Company's most forward garrison town in north-west India. There Burnes met briefly a man whose fate was to be closely bound with his own - Shah Shujah, the exiled Afghan ruler, who dreamed of regaining his lost throne by toppling its present occupant, the redoubtable Dost Mohammed. Burnes was not impressed by this melancholy-looking man who was already turning to fat. 'From what I learn,' he noted, 'I do not believe that the Shah possesses sufficient energy to set himself on the throne of Cabool.' Nor, Burnes felt, did he appear to have the personal qualities or political acumen to reunite so turbulent a nation as the Afghans. 

It almost goes without saying that not much has changed in or about Afghanistan over the 183 years since "Bokhara" Burnes wrote the bit quoted by Hopkirk above (Brutal terrain? Check. Unruly tribes with nearly no attachment to the central government? Check. Hostility to outside influences? Check. The list goes on...).

And yet so many things actually have.


"Hindoostan" and Environs - 1830s
Not least the fact that, as a result of events from 9/11 onward, most Americans have actually heard of Afghanistan and might even be able to find it on a map.
The same region today

Another thing that has changed is the cessation of the at times unintentional Occidental practice of  transforming proper names and other nouns into sometimes wholly other words, or at the very least, of mangling them so badly in translation as to render them nearly unrecognizable.

Not THIS Burns (Scottish poet Robert)
Take Burnes' reference above to "Cabool." Anyone who knows anything about the region (or hasn't been living under a rock for the past 13 years) is likely quick to realize that Burnes was, of course referring to modern-day "Kabul," the capital of Afghanistan. You see this all over the place, especially during the 19th century, and particularly when reading historical accounts written by British soldiers, sailors, explorers, scholars, etc.

At times seems as if this is nothing more than an extension of the old joke about English gentlemen being fluent in any number of languages, so long as it's understood that they'll speak them s-l-o-w-l-y and with an impenetrable English accent.

For example, at the mouth of the great Indus River that drains all of Pakistan, a large chunk of
THIS Burnes (actually a distant cousin, despite the difference in spelling)
Central Asia and a significant amount of Northwestern India sits a port city called Karachi. I have seen this spelled a variety of ways, including "Kurachee," "Carratchee," and "Kharatchee."

And then there's "Hindoo" (Hindu), "Hindoostan" (Hindustan), "Peking" (Beijing), and a host of other place-names. The British take on the world they set out to colonize and "make English" through the administration of British laws and forcing British customs on the locals seems to be forever misspelled, especially from a modern perspective.

Now, of course this sort of thing isn't really limited to the British. It's just fun pointing out a few choice examples from Britain's storied imperial past.

In fact to do this is to be human.

Remember these guys...
Everyone does it. Corrupting and breaking down and reshaping words is part of what keeps languages "living." Seen the capital city of Turkey referred to as "Nova Roma" ("New Rome") as anything other than a term of art lately? That's the name the Roman emperor Constantine the Great gave the city when he founded it during the 4th century A.D. Or when was the last time that anyone other than indie rock jingle writers They Might Be Giants referred to this self-same city by it's later Greek name of  "Constantinople"?


...who did this song?
(And now you've got it running through your head, admit it..."...If you've a date in Constantinople, she'll be waiting in Istanbul!")

In fact the modern name "Istanbul" comes from an old Greek nick-name for the city: "eis tēn polin" ("into the city").

Confused yet?

Anyway, for me where it gets really sticky is when you're trying to write fiction. And not just fiction, but historical fiction about places with history such as these.

Allow me to refer yet again to Hopkirk's example above. Elsewhere in his book (and if you've not read it, you really owe it to yourself to give it a look. "Compelling" doesn't even begin to describe it.) he refers to the chief city of the Afghans as "Kabul," using the modern, accepted spelling.

But of course when quoting from an historical source it is of the utmost importance to preserve the text in its original form if at all possible. This is why actual misspellings tend to be quoted whole cloth (followed by a helpful "sic").

But what to do when writing, not history, but historical fiction?

Of course it really depends upon which person you're writing in. So much historical fiction these days is written in the form of a supposed first person memoir. This is especially true of historical mystery fiction.

If you're writing in the first person, you're golden. You can use any weird-ass, archaic derivation of one of the places you're discussing that pleases you. In fact if anything it's going to help establish your narrator as a product of the time about which they're (really you're) writing.

BUT

(Aaaaand here's the question with which we're going to end today's post)

What if you're writing a third person multiple point of view story?

What then?

Case in point: as part of my current novel-in-progress, I have my protagonist talk about a visit to the Fiji Islands during the year 1840.

Fijian (Feejeean? Feegeean?) Club Dance, as witnessed  by members of the United States Exploring Expedition, 18


During this time period the word, "Fiji", had nearly as many old misspellings as "Karachi" (see above).

Note the spelling in the map's title (Upper left corner).

Think about it. As I mentioned in my last post, a good cardinal rule of historical fiction writing (and of fiction writing in general) that you don't want to put anything into your work that will jar the reader out of the story. Scare? Sure. Frazzle? Absolutely.

But if you knock your reader out of the story, they may just give up on it.

So how about it? If I have my protagonist talking about his cruise through Fiji, should it read: "I sailed the Fijis?"
A view of Fiji (Feejee? Feegee?) in 1840

Or should it read: "I sailed the Feejees"?

Or: "I sailed the Feegees"?

See the problem? He's not writing it down. He's talking about it.

Maybe not that big a deal for some, but I have heard many readers complain about just exactly this sort of thing.

What works for you, Dear Readers? Which option is least likely to take the reader out of the narrative, and why?

Istanbul...Constantinople...Tomato...Tomahto....?

15 October 2014

Ghost Story Story


by Robert Lopresti

You will no doubt be thrilled to know that the world is now richer by one more book.  I have just released into the wild Shanks on Crime, a self-published collection of thirteen stories about a curmudgeonly mystery writer named Leopold Longshanks.

It is available on Kobo and Kindle. If you consider buying it, bless your heart, I would recommend Kobo, since you can purchase it through your favorite independent bookstore and throw some much-deserved cash their way.  If you want an autographed paper copy, see me.  I can fix you up.

Most of the stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and I have written about each of them here or at Criminal Brief, So I thought I would  tell you about one of the four brand-new tales, and this being the month of Halloween I decided to introduce "Shanks' Ghost Story."

For the origen we have to go to Ramat Rachel, Israel in the summer of 2009, where my wife and I had volunteered for an archaeological dig.  (The photo above shows me finding a cup handle.)  It was great fun, but exhausting, and yet somehow the writer part of my brain found time to think up a story idea.  Being deep in a semi-tropical summer my thoughts turned to –  winter in Pennsylvania.

Hmm. How'd that happen?  Who knows?  The writer's brain is not particularly interested in logical patterns.

But somehow I got to thinking about one of my favorite gimmicks, the story-within-a-story, in which  a bunch of characters gather to hear one of them tell a tale.   I decided to try the English tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time.  (And let me urge you to read Jerome K. Jerome's Told After Supper, a hilarious Victorian book that pokes fun at half a dozen versions of the traditional ghost story.  Unlike mine, Jerome's is free.)

I decided that Shanks, my hero, would share my attitude toward the supernatural.  (We differ on many other points, by the way, like music and exercise.)  So, as a skeptic, Shanks attitude toward the ghost stories his friends tell would be polite disbelief.

Ah, but he is far too much the storyteller to let his turn pass.  So he decides to tell a story about being a ghost writer.   Early in his career, it seems, he was hired to produce what would supposedly be the last novel by a recently deceased bestselling crime writer.  

So, no ghost.  But hold on a moment.  Is that bestselling author really dead?  Because Shanks begins to get…

Well, that would be telling.   I hope those of you who are suffering from scorch marks on your clothing where currency has burst into flame will consider reducing your fuel load by picking up the book.  For the rest of you, tell your library to buy it for you. They are public servants, after all.  Command them.