Showing posts with label Valentine's Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Valentine's Day. Show all posts

20 February 2015

He done her wrong


by R.T. Lawton

Well, Valentine's Day has come and gone. I hope you remembered your significant other with at least a card on this special day which is designated for love and lovers. This particular day was also my… uh, let me do some quick math here… oh yeah, my 34th wedding anniversary. I was smart enough to deliberately pick Valentine's Day, a nationally advertised event to assist me in not forgetting when I had to come up with something for my wife in order to show that yes, I did recognize a very important date in our ongoing union.

Relationships between two people are important. And while it is difficult enough to maintain a loving and stable relationship between two people, once you add in a third or a suspected third person, the situation is apt to become deadly serious. No, don't look at me, I'm referring to that old-time, St. Louis couple, Frankie and Johnny. You've all heard the song.

     Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts
     They had a quarrel one day
     Johnny he vowed that he would leave her
     Said he was going away
     He's never coming home,
     etc.

Okay, that's probably not the version you heard; there're several versions out there. Which leads us to the point that the only things to be agreed on by historians is that a man died and he was killed by his significant other. I reiterate my statement about remembering your significant other.

Anyway, if you believe the St. Louis Ledger, Frankie was Frankie Baker, a 22 year-old single female, and Johnny was actually Albert Britt, a 17 year-old youth who sometimes resided with Frankie in her second floor apartment in a boarding house. Well, I could see right off the bat that something was wrong with the situation if Albert was using an alias. I don't know if Albert felt the need to carry a second name because of his secret life on the side, or if it was a ruse to mislead Frankie's landlord that she was keeping house with a juvenile. Love will get you into situations.

The song goes on to say that Johnny was going to leave Frankie after an argument, or that Frankie went out for a beer and caught him with another woman, or that she looked over a transom and saw him loving up the other woman. Pick your version. Other accounts say young Albert was returning from a "cakewalk" where he and a young lady had just won a slow-dancing contest. The other woman in all these scenarios could have been Alice Pryor, or she could have been Nellie Bly. So much for the reliability of witnesses in these matters. However, I do remember the excitement of slow-dancing in my hey-day and I'm sure this would have upset Frankie. Not my slow-dancing, you understand, but rather that done by her man Johnny, or Albert, or whatever his name was, when he was doing it with that other woman whoever she was.

Moving on, the song says Frankie pulled her .44 and shot him five times...or it could have been three times. One sometimes get confused with all the noise and adrenalin. Which brings us back to them reliable witnesses. In the newspaper article, Frankie goes on record as a case of domestic violence, saying that Johnny cut her with his folding knife during their little dust up, so she slid her hand under her pillow, drew out her gun and shot him ONCE with her shiny, silver-plated .32. Okay, while I was admittedly not at the scene on October 15, 1899 at 3:30 AM, I'm gonna jump in here anyway. I've seen a photo of Frankie and she is not a muscle-bound female, so if she's pulling the trigger on a .44 revolver, then the recoil is going to knock her hand back and up after every shot, requiring a certain amount of time to reacquire the target before her next shot. There would not be any of that alleged "root-e-toot-toot" shooting going on. Not three times, and surely not five times. Besides, there was an alleged eye-witness, Pansy Marvin, who claimed to have seen the whole thing, thus backing up Frankie's version of the situation.

Johnny said to roll him over, and then died on the spot, whereas Albert took one round to the abdomen, said, "You have me," whatever the hell that meant, went to the hospital and expired four days later. Frankie beat the rap at trial, spent the rest of her life being pointed out in public as "that woman," even though she changed cities several times. She filed a defamation suit against Republic Pictures for their 1938 movie Frankie and Johnny, was unsuccessful in the lawsuit, and later died in a state hospital for the insane on January 19, 1950, in Pendleton, Oregon.

So what did we learn from all this?

First, don't be caught out with any hot young thing going by the name of Alice Pryor or Nellie Bly. Second, you may have a sweet tooth for cake, but slow-dancing with another woman at a cakewalk could be hazardous to your health. But mainly, I would say that you should be sure to remember your significant other at all times. Especially if that significant other keeps a shiny pistol under her pillow.

I remembered. How about you?

15 February 2013

A Day for the Heart


by R.T. Lawton

Okay, so it's the day after Valentine's Day, which means that my turn for an article comes up one day late to land directly on the 14th, but I hope you'll allow me a little leeway here. See, Valentine's Day is my wedding anniversary, so just pretend that everything is correctly aligned. Naturally, I'm supposed to be sentimental during this holiday of the year and thus, shall we say, exposing my softer side to my significant other. One further fact to know, if all goes according to plan, she and I should be lounging in Maui for the umpteenth time even as you read this. (I strongly suspect that Kiti slipped that little clause into the fine print of our marriage contract when I wasn't looking.)

Anyway, Valentine's Day speaks of lovers, romance, flowers, chocolates, roughly anything that melts the female heart and makes it go all gooey. At this point, you, the reader, will have to reflect back into your own Valentine's Days of the past and dwell pleasurably for a couple of moments on whatever worked for you.

In my case, my wife has a little red book stashed away in the lingerie drawer of her dresser. This particular hard-bound book is filled with hand-written poems composed by yours truly whilst gripped in the all encompassing embrace of infatuation. I'm sure most of you have been in some form of that condition at one stage or another of your life. To that end, I wrote all these poems in order to win the hand and heart of my lady love, and in the process filled up every page in that little red book. And no, you can't read it.

Most of the poems are very personal and/or have meaning only to the two of us. Realize that these scribblings aren't exactly sonnets by Shakespeare. Furthermore, need I remind you that when I returned to college shortly after my twelve month tour of Southeast Asia, I took my war poems into the WSU English Department seeking further guidance along these lines and was promptly not encouraged to continue any efforts in the field of poetry. But due to persistence (some would politely suggest hard-headedness) it turns out that the heart likes what the heart likes.

As a sample of my beginning strategy in this win-the-heart endeavor, here's part of an early poem during the courtship:

Please forgive my muddled mind,
it's seldom on the path.
It's not so good in English
and even worse in math.

But as I recall the contract
or the game as it is played,
one poem for one kiss
was the bargain that we made.

*  *  (okay, skip to closing)  *  *

I have no fear about the debt
for as I can plainly see,
you are a lady on your honor
and would not a debtor be.

Oh yeah, working on getting that kiss. Okay, so you had to be there. Shelley or Byron, it's not. Probably not even as good as the first recorded Valentine poem written by Chaucer in 1382 for King Richard the Second to give to his intended bride, and that one was composed in the language of Middle English, but mine are at least a step up from the "Roses are red, Violets are blue..." category. My main point being, hey, give the love of your life some personal hand-written poetry and watch their eyes light up. Go ahead, it's not too late even if Valentine's Day was actually yesterday. It doesn't need to be a professional job, it just needs to be from you, from your heart.

Yep, you can bet I got kissed with them poems. A lot. A whole book full, you might say.

14 February 2012

Valentine's Day -- Love Among the Clues


by Dale C. Andrews

    Every once in a while my schedule of alternating Tuesdays coincides with a special day on the calendar.  Such is the case today:  Valentine’s Day.  A day of romance, a day that, while falling in the midst of winter, conjures spring. 

    Trying to stay on topic here I decided to offer up my best recommendation for a Valentine’s Day mystery:  a story that will tug at your mind while also tugging at your heart.  Finding a candidate that fits that description is not, however, an easy task.  The Golden Age of detective fiction (my favorite hunting ground) is not exactly riddled with romantic mysteries.  This can be illustrated best by examining some favorite classical mystery authors whose works simply do not fit the bill.

   None of the Sherlock Holmes stories are potential Valentine’s Day nominees.  The closest we get to a romantic involvement for Mr. Holmes is Irene Adler, who actually appears in only one Holmes story, A Scandal in Bohemia..  Irene Adler has no romantic scenes with Holmes in any Arthur Conan Doyle story, and in fact A Scandal in Bohemia ends with her marriage to someone else.  Nonetheless she is frequently linked with Holmes, but in various pastiches, not in the original Arthur Conan Doyle canon.

    The source for these romantic conjectures involving Sherlock and Irene probably stems from a passage in  A Scandal in Bohemia where Watson sets the stage as follows:


To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind.
    This, plus the fact that Irene Adler is referred to, albeit fleetingly, in four other Holmes stories, A Case of Identity, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, the Five Orange Pips and His Last Bow, inspired other writers, notably Nicholas Meyer and J.S. Baring-Gould, to speculate as to a romantic involvement between the two.  But none of their stories, and certainly none of Arthur Conan Doyle’s, meets our Valentine’s Day requirements of a mystery that is also a romance.

    My favorite Golden Age detective, Ellery Queen, fares no better.  While Ellery engaged in some flirtations over the years, in The Finishing Stroke for example, no actual romantic involvement ever took place during the course of the Queen novels and short stories.  Two recurring female characters appear as quasi-romantic possibilities, but, again, neither suffices for our purposes.

    The first of these is Nikki Porter who for a time was Ellery’s secretary.  Nikki first appeared in the Ellery Queen radio series and movies and was later a character in two Queen novels, There Was an Old Woman and The Scarlet Letters .  Nikki also appears in several short stories, but she and Ellery were never portrayed as a couple.  (Just as Irene Adler inspired other writers to hypothesize romantic involvement with Holmes, so, too, Nikki inspired a similar hypothesis concerning her involvement with Ellery in The Book Case, a conjecture for which I am largely responsible!)

   The only other possible femme fatale in the Queen canon is Paula Paris, a reclusive Hollywood columnist who sparks Ellery’s interest in The Four of Hearts and who also appears in several Queen short stories set in Hollywood.  (Paula also makes a brief appearance in my Queen pastiche The Mad Hatter’s Riddle.)  But, again, whatever spark there might have been between Paula and Ellery ultimately fails to ignite.

David Suchet as Poirot
    What of Agatha Christie?  Well, slim pickings there too.  As far as I can determine there was never any reference to a love interest for Miss Marple, and no love story involving her ever played a part in the Miss Marple novels and short stories.  We get a little closer with Hercule Poirot.  Poirot was apparently smitten at least once --  by Vera Rossakoff , a Russian countess who appears in The Double Clue and then re-appears in The Big Four and The Labours of Hercules.  However, while there is infatuation that is evident on Poirot’s part, at least in the course of Christie’s written word any attraction between the two remains unrequited.  So no Valentine story there.

    With Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe we fare, if anything, even worse.  While there is the occasional female character who earns the grudging respect of Wolfe, by and large the detective is portrayed by Rex Stout as a misogynist.  Archie Goodwin describes Nero Wolfe’s views on women as follows in The Silent Speaker:


 The basic fact about a woman that seemed to irritate him was that she was a woman; the long record showed not a single exception; but from there on the documentation was cockeyed. If woman as woman grated on him you would suppose that the most womanly details would be the worst for him, but time and again I have known him to have a chair placed for a female so that his desk would not obstruct his view of her legs, and the answer can’t be that his interest is professional and he reads character from legs, because the older and dumpier she is the less he cares where she sits. It is a very complex question and some day I’m going to take a whole chapter for it.

    Well, interesting, all in all.  But not the stuff of which Valentines are made. 

    As an aside, I should at least mention here the famous "e-o/o-e" theory propounded by John D. Clark, Nicholas Meyer, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, writing as Ellery Queen, and W.S. Baring-Gould that the combination and order of the vowels in "Sherlock Holmes" and "Nero Wolfe" are a clue that Nero Wolfe is in fact the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler.  But, again, while there are Valentine possibilities here, the theory is derivative and appears only in homages and analytic works.

     We get much closer to the mark, however, with The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.  While it is sort of hard to believe, given all of the movie and television sequels that this book spawned, Hammett only wrote one book starring Nick and Nora Charles.  In fact, it was the last book he ever wrote.  And, even more strange is the fact that the Nick and Nora did not even appear in the original version of the 1934 novel, which was first published in a shorter version in installments in Redbook.  In any event, the romantic and flirtatious interchanges between Nick and Nora push this novel much closer to a Valentine’s Day nominee.  Indeed it was Hammett’s novel that set the stage for later spins on the “romantic couple” as detectives, notably television’s MacMillan and Wife, starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James, and even Richard Stevenson's characters Donald Strachey and his partner Timothy Callahan, who have been referred to as the gay Nick and Nora. 

    Having said all of this, however, The Thin Man is no better than a near miss, as far as I am concerned, for today’s purpose.  While the detectives are a couple, the mystery itself doesn’t tie back to or otherwise derive from their romantic involvement.

    Well, as you have probably guessed, I do have a personal favorite to nominate for best Valentine's Day mystery story.   It is Random Harvest by James Hilton. 

    I know, I know, Random Harvest isn’t a classic Golden Age “whodunit” mystery.  But it is a classic.  And it is also, most certainly, a mystery.  Written in 1941, Random Harvest tells the story of Charles Rainier, a wealthy businessman and politician, who battles his way out of amnesia to search for his long-lost love.  The story is a wonderful and nostalgic depiction of life in England from the First World War to the brink of the second, but it is also one of the finest classic mysteries I can remember reading.

    There is a tendency to say too much when discussing Random Harvest, and this I refuse to do.  As I have said before, “no spoilers here.”  I will offer up a snippet from the New York Times review published back in 1941:  “a strange tale . . . harrowing and romantic and tender.”   The Chicago Tribune, in the same year, called the book “Mr. Hilton’s best novel to date.”  That is saying something since Random Harvest was preceded by Lost Horizon  and Goodbye Mr. ChipsRandom Harvest is, in any event, my Valentine’s Day nominee since, to my mind, it is one of the best blends of mystery and romance ever written.

    So if there are any readers out there who have somehow gotten to 2012 without reading Random Harvest, or watching the 1942 film version starring Ronald Coleman  and Greer Garson, this book is for you.  My advice, however, is that you should look no further for information concerning the book: don't watch the movie, don't search out reviews, don't read about it on Wikipedia.  Just get the book and then read it as James Hilton intended, from start to finish without the “help” of others.

    Happily, unlike many volumes from the 1940s Random Harvest is still readily available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  There is even a Nook edition for $3.99.  (Sorry, apparently it has yet to be “Kindled”!)

    Enjoy. 

    And Happy Valentine’s Day.