Showing posts with label theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label theft. Show all posts

28 March 2019

Florida Man

by Eve Fisher

In case you haven't heard, there's a Florida Man Contest out there, where you Google "Florida Man" for your birthday or some such date and see what comes up.  Jack Holmes at Esquire provides quite a list: FLORIDA MAN 2015.   But every state has its own crazies.  So I thought I'd add a few from South Dakota to the mix.  Only one of these is not a true story!

Florida Man Covers Himself in Ashes, Says He's a 400-Year-Old Indian, Crashes Stolen Car

Florida Man Puts Dragon Lizard in His Mouth, Smacks People with It

Dakota Man Known for Exposing Himself, Takes His Talent to Florida

Florida Man Killed 5 Gators, Ate Them for Super Bowl Dinner

Drunk, Machete-Wielding Florida Man Chases Neighbor on Lawnmower

Ride Naked, Ride Quiet, Ride An Indian [to Sturgis, SD]

Florida Man Tries to Sell 3 Iguanas Taped to His Bike to Passersby as Dinner

Florida Man on Bath Salts Head-Butts Car, Slaps Fire Chief

South Dakota Man Sentenced for killing Bald Eagle in Nebraska.

Drunk, High Florida Men Post Video to Facebook of Themselves Driving Around at 3 AM with Wounded, Possibly Endangered Owl

Aliens Converge on Sioux Falls, SD.

SD Breastfeeding Bandit Sneaks Into Home and Suckles Stranger's Baby

Florida Man Impersonating a Police Officer Pulls Over Real Cops

Florida Man Advertises "Legit Counterfeit $" on Craigslist, Is Arrested


South Dakota Man Gets $190 Fine for Snake Without a Leash

Florida Man Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn to Demand Campaign Finance Reform, Is Arrested

South Dakota Man Sues Over Burst Exercise Ball

Florida Man High on Meth Jumps on Strangers' Cars, Surfs Them

Florida Man Interested in Getting Tased Runs Through Airport in Underwear Waiving Nunchucks


Identical Twin Florida Men Arrested After Getting in Brick Fight

Florida Man Arrested for Grand Theft After Trying to Walk Out of Store with AK-47s Stuffed Down His Pants

82-Year-Old Florida Man Slashes 88-Year-Old Florida Woman's Tires with an Ice Pick for Taking His Seat at Bingo

Florida Man Dances on Top of Police Cruiser to Ward Off Vampires

Clark, SD, Home to World Famous Mashed Potato Wrestling Contest

Florida Man Rips Hole in Store Ceiling, Steals More Than 70 Guns, Flees on 3-Wheel Bicycle

Florida Man Dressed as Pirate Arrested for Firing Musket at Passing Cars

Doing Black Hair at Home No Longer Illegal in South Dakota

Florida Man Steals Operating Table from Hospital

Florida Man Steals $2 Million in Legos

Crack-Smoking Florida Man Drinks Capri Sun to Rehydrate During Police Chase

Florida Man's Fishing Trip Interrupts Weather Report

SD man stuck in tree bites firefighter during rescue.

Florida Man Flees Library on Scooter After Smelling Woman's Feet

Dakota Man Accused of Stripping, Getting Into Holy Water Fountain

Florida Man on the Lam Butt Dials 911, Is Arrested

Dakota Man Found Asleep in Truck in Miami With an Arsenal of Guns

Florida Man Too Drunk to Be Honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Florida Man Catches Shark That Bit Him, Pledges to Eat It

Florida Man Crawls into Cracker Barrel Bathroom Stall to Proposition Occupant for Sex

Florida Man Crashes Car into Business While Trying to Time Travel




I'll post the answer to which one is fake in the comments section later.

Enjoy!

17 October 2018

Based on an Untrue Movie

by Robert Lopresti

When the movie American Animals  came to town this summer it was pretty much foreordained that I would see it.  The subject is attempted theft of rare books from a college library, a subject with which I am not unfamiliar.  In fact, the flick was based on an event I had already blogged briefly about.

To summarize,  four college students decided to get rich by stealing some valuable books from the Special Collections room at the library of Transylvania University in Kentucky.  Their planning technique consisted mostly of getting drunk/stoned and watching heist movies.  The resulting event  was a disaster and about the only positive things you can say about it are: 1) The victims did not suffer lasting physical damage, 2) No books were destroyed, and 3) All four of the fools went to prison.

The movie is worth seeing but I want to bring up one specific complaint about it.  It begins by pompously announcing that: this isn't based on a true story; it is a true story.

And, of course, it ain't.

The gimmick that makes American Animals unique is that while the main part of the story is carried out by actors, it also contains interviews with the actual culprits, and sometimes even shows the same scene more than once, to reflect the version of whoever is talking.  It's clever and interesting, but like I said, you are not seeing a true story.

I have complained before about a better movie that played fast and loose with the facts.  So call me a serial grumbler.

The important things that American Animals got wrong, as far as I am concerned, involved (surprise!) librarians.  The burglars in the movie showed much more concern about harming the rare books librarian than their real life counterparts did.  And the "true story" completely erased the library director who put herself in harm's way to try to stop the theft.  Maybe she didn't give the producers permission to include her?  I don't know but leaving her out was not the truth.

A few more questions and I am not the first person to ask them: If instead of white suburban guys the crooks had been African-American urbanites would this movie have been made?  If so would the script have tried so hard to show them as Good Boys Gone Wrong?  Hell, would they have even survived their arrests?

Unanswerable, of course.

By coincidence I just rewatched another movie based on a true story, one I liked better than American Animals or Argo.  The Informant! concerns Mark Whitacre who is apparently the highest executive to ever voluntarily turn whistleblower about his company's wrong deeds.  In the 1990s Whitacre was a biochemist and high-paid executive for ADM, one of the world's largest food processors.

And he told an FBI agent that his company was involved in an ongoing world-wide conspiracy to fix the prices for corn syrup, which finds its way into everything. As one agent says in amazement "Every American is a victim of corporate crime before he finishes breakfast."  So Whitacre agrees to wear a wire.

This sounds like we are building up to a dark brooding movie with heart-pounding suspense.  That's not what we get.  The flick is full of bright colors and Illinois sunshine and most of the time Whitacre seems to be having a marvelous time doing his spy gig.  At one point he shows his secret recorder to a virtual stranger and explains that he is Secret Agent Double-oh-fourteen "because I'm twice as smart as James Bond!'

Whitacre often provides a running narration on events, which is not surprising.  But his narrative almost never relates to what's going on.  As he is about to plot price-fixing with fellow executives he tells us: "I think I have nice hands.  They're probably my favorite part of my body..."

By now you may have the idea that Whitacre was not playing with a full corn silo.  In fact, as near as I can tell the place where the movie may depart most from the facts is in choosing to show us whether he was crazy from the start, or cracked under pressure.  (As his lawyer points out, FBI agents going undercover get training on coping with a double life.  All Whitacre got was a recorder and a firm handshake.)

I have simplified the story considerably.  The complications are what makes it so fascinating.  I loved watching Scott Bakula and Joel McHale playing FBI agents looking on in stunned horror as shoe after shoe after shoe drops on their case.

One person who seems to have had a wonderful time with this movie is composer Marvin Hamlisch.  In keeping with the spirit of the film, his music usually has nothing to do with the plot of the film.  When a character is taking a lie detector test the accompanying music is -- a square dance?

In closing, let me just wish that if they make a film of your life it has a happy ending.

07 May 2018

My Mojo

Guest starring Steve Hockensmith
Steve Hockensmith is the author of more than a dozen mystery novels. Trust me, them hard-case crime writers ain’t so tough. Today, Steve will touch your heart. Grab a hanky. You’ve been warned.
— Velma

Monkey Shines

I wish this were my job description: Make stuff up, write it down. That’s what I enjoy about being a writer. But if you’re trying to get somewhere with your writing — having people actually read it, for instance — there’s a bit more to it than that.

gato de botas
That’s why I’m (sporadically) on social media and (even more sporadically) blog. Every post is a wee little flag fluttering in the breeze. It’s got writing on it, “Don’t tread on me”-style:

Look at me,” it says. “I’m alive.

And instead of a drawing of a coiled, bad-ass snake, it’s got this cat wearing a T-shirt that says ➜

Ask me about my mystery fiction.

I’m never really sure what I should be posting about, but in general I try to follow these rules:
  1. Keep it fun,
  2. keep it positive (which I think I’ve already broken)
  3. and keep it real… but not too real (see A and B).
I guess the secret (D) — or maybe it’s another sub-clause to (C) — is “Keep it impersonal.” I don’t like to write about my private life because (switching to numbers to avoid confusion)
  1. It’s private, duh, and
  2. who cares?
But I set that rule aside recently because… well, I couldn’t help myself. I was feeling something and I had to share it. So I started writing a tweet which grew into a message on Facebook which grew into a blog post. And now it’s grown into a guest blog post, because here it is again.



Guyzos — Three Amigos
Guyzos — The Three Amigos
Someone broke the passenger-side window out of my car and stole the shoulder bag I take to work every day. I guess they thought it would have a laptop in it. No such luck for the thieves. And no luck for my family. Because you know what was in that bag? Two monkeys and an owl. Bobo, Lou from the Zoo and Barney the Barn Owl, to be specific.

Every day for the last year or so, my son Mojo picked out three of his “guyzos” (his huge posse of stuffed animals) for me to take to work. During the day, I’d send him pictures of the guys helping me do my job. The makeup of the group changed every day except for one constant: Bobo. Bobo always came with me. Because Bobo was special.

Mojo is autistic. There were times a few years ago when it was almost impossible to get him to communicate or cooperate or control himself. And you know who he almost always listened to? Bobo. Bobo could calm him down. Bobo could get him to listen. Bobo could get him to talk about himself and what he was feeling.

Bobo probably would have offended my Italian friends. He-a sounded like-a theese-a. You know: He had a “Whatsa matta for you?” old school faux-Italian accent. Why? Because it’s a silly accent I can do, and a long time ago it became my job to give the guyzos distinct voices and personalities. (It’s not easy. In fact, there are several guyzos with the same voice. Baby and His Brother Baby, for instance, and they sound a lot like Ted the Christmas Bear who sounds almost exactly like Big Ears the Rabbit.)

Bobo was an upbeat, can-do dude. “Let's-a try it, my friend!” he’d say. Or “You can-a do it, my friend!” (He called everyone “my friend.”) And “I love-a you, my friend.” And Mojo would say, “I love you, Bobo.”

Bobo shared Mojo’s distaste for shows of affection, though. “No lovey-doveys!” they liked to shout when things got too icky-sentimental. So I’ll honor Bobo’s preferences and wrap this up.

My wife and I were in a restaurant celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary when Bobo was stolen. When we came out and realized what had happened, we drove around the neighborhood looking for the bag and the guyzos, hoping the thieves would dump everything when they realized they hadn’t snatched anything of value. To them.

We were in tears. Not over an old, stained, to be honest slightly stinky stuffed monkey. The tears were for what Bobo represented. What he gave us. A narrow window into our son’s mind and heart.

That window is wider now. Mojo’s doing fine. He listens and communicates and (usually, in his unique way) cooperates. This morning, when my wife and I told him what had happened to the guyzos, he said, “Oh, no… oh, no.” His lips trembled, and tears came to his eyes. And then, after we talked about it a little longer — about how special Bobo was and how much we would miss him — he said, “Oh, well.” And he was ready to watch his Saturday morning cartoons.

Bobo
He’s still hurt, I can tell. But at this very moment he’s watching Bugs Bunny and eating a doughnut. He acknowledged his pain, and then he moved on. What we all have to do all the time. Mojo can do it, too. I couldn’t always say that.

A stuffed monkey helped that happen. He’s gone now, but the window he opened remains.

Thanks, Bobo. And goodbye.

Yeah, you smelled. But I love you, my friend…



I got more likes, shares, hits and supportive comments from that post than from anything I’ve done on social media in a long, long time. (It also caught the attention of Leigh Lundin, who asked me if SleuthSayers could showcase it.) But the takeaway isn’t “Ruthlessly exploit your child’s pain.” (At least I hope it’s not.)

I broke my own rules. I didn’t worry about being fun. I didn’t worry about keeping it positive. I didn’t worry about getting too personal. Bobo deserved a tribute, so I wrote one.

Look at him. He was alive (to us, anyway).

That touched people. And many of them responded in a way that touched me. Will that help me sell more mystery fiction? No, and I don’t care.

For me, it’s a reminder that writing (and, yes, that includes blogging and tweeting) can be its own reward. Which is something we writers — particularly we genre writers worried about finding an audience — might occasionally forget.

Steve blogs (sporadically) at SteveHockensmith.com

17 March 2016

Punching Down

by Eve Fisher

Back on March 3, 2016, Fred Clark posted  "Some People Punch Down When They're Scared" on his blog site, Slacktivist, citing an article on the rise of American authoritarianism.  Mr. Clark's quick summation:
"1. Some people punch down when they are frightened.
"2. The kind of people who punch down when they are frightened are also more likely to be frightened more often.
"In short, they are afraid... The problem with authoritarianism is not that 'fear leads to anger,' but that — for authoritarians — fear leads to misdirected anger. When such people fear being crushed from above, they respond by punching down — lashing out at others who have nothing to do with the causes of their fear."  
Dog is yanked into the air by owner
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/
article-1321461/
Help-catch-dog-baiting-thug.html
My personal experience is that it's not just authoritarians, but people, as a whole, who almost always punch down when scared. That's why we have the proverbial "kicking the dog", or "hitting the kid", or "punching the wife", not to mention "deporting the immigrants", or "lynching the black guy", or "rounding up the Jews". Because it's so much easier to punch down, and/or blame everyone around you, and below you, for your troubles, than to actually work up the guts to deal with the people who are screwing you senseless. Because they might do more than screw you senseless.  They might do worse.  Infinitely worse.  Whereas those who are below you will whimper and whine and slink away and cry... but probably won't hit back, because they're like you, and when the time comes, they'll punch DOWN.

File:A large monkey dressed in rags is about to beat a smaller mo Wellcome V0023060.jpg
http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/67/fd/b76d22ccd12fab39914fed05e264.jpg

Now to me, that last paragraph is the essence of "original sin". The fact that we will hurt someone weaker than ourselves rather than risk challenging the fat bastard above us. That we allow fear - which is a natural, normal emotion / reaction to the apparently endless screwed up things that go on on this planet - to turn into cowardice, rather than courage, and we stay silent, rigid, waiting for it all to go away.  (I know:  I spent a lot of time as a child and even as a teenager silent, rigid, waiting for it all to go away.  And I can tell you that it doesn't.)

And, when we can't stand it any more, too many of us punch down:

Domestic abuse?  Check.

Bullying?  Check.

Rape?  Check.  (For those of you who don't know, rape is never about actually being desirous of making love to someone; it's about fear and power and rage.)

Assault?  Probably more than we think.  Back in May of 2012, in my fourth post for SleuthSayers, I wrote about something that happened to me:  a guy got in a fight with his wife, stormed out, and nearly rammed me, head-on, with his car. When he was arrested (yes, I turned it in), he said he was pissed off at his wife and just wanted to scare me.  He was punching down.

http://www.ksfy.com/home/headlines/
Police-investigating-attempted-
casino-robbery-in-Sioux-Falls-301524151.html
Theft?  Maybe.  At least sometimes.  Because while Robin Hood stole from the rich, most petty criminals steal from the poor:  the corner casino (which is barely one step up from a dive bar, with a cowering night-manager who needs that job to help pay the bills), or the local magic mart (see the cowering night-manager again), or the local whatever. There may indeed be jewel thieves on the level of the Pink Panther out there, but most thefts reported on the TV (like this casino robbery) are poor people holding up other poor people, and that's punching down.

Murder?  Fairly often.  I'd bet that most murderers kill someone less powerful than they are.  Even when they are truly angry at their boss, it's usually someone else who gets killed:  their spouse, their children, co-workers, a delivery guy, etc.  Serial killers always go for the weak and vulnerable.  And mass shooters shoot whoever's there:  schoolmates, students, the occasional teacher, people sitting in theaters, in restaurants, and anyone else in the line of fire.
(Really interesting FBI Chart here:  Homicides by Relationship.  All I can say is that there's a whole lot of arguing going on.  And a lot for which no reason is known.)
(Old Richard Pryor joke:  he did he a gig at the pen, and had lunch with the guys. Asked one guy what he was in for:  "I killed nine people."  "Why did you do that?"  "Because they was home.")
BTW, this, I believe, is the reason why murder mysteries are universally popular: as Dorothy Sayers once said, "they put before the public a world the way it ought to be, and kept alive a dream of justice."  (p. 90, A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L. Sayers.)

Anyway, back to reality.  "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things."  Not hardly.  The almost immediate childish response to "Did you do this?" is to blame the dog, the cat, the invisible friend, and, of course, any siblings.  (Punching down.)  It takes a long, long time to learn how to take the consequences of your actions, and some people never do.  There are those who do everything they can to avoid all consequences until their dying day:  blame, lie, deny, hide, run, forget, ignore, and generally wail about the unfairness of the universe, life, and everyone around them.  And that's not just in the pen or in politics, in both of which blame gets passed around like bombs.  The thing is, it changes nothing:  they're still afraid, they're still running away from the truth, and (chances are) they have more enemies (real and imagined) than ever, including themselves.  And they're still punching down, even when all they're hitting is themselves.

But you can also punch up.

Punching up doesn't mean you have to go out and become Batman, or Nelson Mandela, or Dorothy Day.  It doesn't mean you have to take on every fight for the downtrodden (but God bless you if you do).  But there are other ways to punch up:  Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, Beethoven, Pat Conroy, and many others, throughout history, have taken amazing levels of abuse, of all kinds and transformed it and themselves into something enriching, for themselves and others.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.png    Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820    

Here's a little secret:  Fear is normal.  The only people who are never afraid are Vulcans.  Fear is an emotion, and the non-Vulcans among us will experience it regularly until we die, and perhaps beyond that.  It's what we do with fear - and it is our choice - that counts.  What we do with fear becomes the action of cowardice or courage.  Our choice.  That's one of the things we try to teach in Alternatives to Violence Project - because once you know that you can choose how to react, you're free.  That still doesn't mean people will always do the right thing:  that's another choice.  But at least they have it. And maybe, they can start punching up.






PS - Some people have been kind enough to ask about our South Dakota corruption scandals, EB-5 and Gear Up.  Believe me, when I get some news, I'll update everyone.





05 November 2015

Halloween Ain't Over By A Long Shot

by Eve Fisher

I know, Halloween is over, but there are some things that just have to be mopped up.

First up, "verd√Ętre". In the King James Version, Revelations 6:8 reads: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." But, believe it or not, it gets creepier in the French SG21 translation, where that pale horse is "verd√Ętre", or "greenish." Just like pus. Or decay. Or the Frankenstein's monster, which only adds to the oomph, don't you think?

Except that the Frankenstein's monster was actually yellow in the original. But then, 60% of all newborns get jaundice.

Secondly, thanks to John Sutherland, who in his collection of literary questions, "Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?" raises the best question of all, "Why isn't everyone a vampire?" I'm going to quote Mr. Sutherland here (pp. 239-240):
"Let us assume that each vampire infects one victim a year, and that this victim dies during the course of the year to become, in turn, a vampire. Since they are immortal, each vampire will form the centre of an annually expanding circle, each of which will become the centre of his or her own circle. The circle will widen at the rate of 2(n-1). In year one (say, 1500) there is one new vampire, in 1501, two, in 1502, 4; in 1503, 8; and so, by the simple process of exponential increase, there will be 1,204 new vampires in 1510. And, since they never die, the numbers are swollen cumulatively. Within thirty-one years the vampire population will have reached 2 billion. By 1897, the presumable date of Stoker's novel, the numbers are incalculably vast. In fact, so vast that they will probably have collapsed to nil. Long since everyone will have been vampirized; there will be no more food-supply... Dracula and his kind will die out. And with them, the human race."
Going out, we presume, with a whimper of hunger…

BTW, this idea works perfectly with werewolves, too. After all, if you get scratched/bitten by a werewolf, you become a werewolf, so we should all be werewolves by now, right? And, on top of that, the children of werewolves become werewolves, making (as a friend of mine pointed out) werewolves the original anchor babies!

Meanwhile, back in SD, the dog and pony show continues.

Attorney General Marty Jackley (remember him?) held a press conference on Tuesday, November 3, 2015, at 1:00 p.m., at the Community Center adjacent to the Platte City Hall building, Platte, S.D, to discuss the investigation in the deaths of the Westerhuis family.
For the saga to date about the Westerhuises, the federal GEAR UP monies, and a variety of missing funds, see my last SleuthSayers post, "A Little Light Corruption".
I had already told everyone who expected a great deal of detail, substance, even some actual news, that they should meet outside, later, for a special preview of "Bambi Goes Hunting With an Uzi." Jackley did not disappoint. He announced that it was obvious that Mr. Westerhuis - after hearing that the GEAR UP! grant was being cancelled - shot and killed his wife and his four children, poured [unidentified] accelerant all over the house and then shot himself. Period. This all happened some time around 3 A.M. Apparently the Westerhuises had surveillance cameras, but they recorded nothing, and neither of the two (!) security systems were tripped.

Two interesting and very understated points:
  1. Someone called Nicole Westerhuis' cell phone from the Westerhuis landline, leaving a voice message, but the message can't be retrieved because the account was cancelled. (Obvious questions:  When were the accounts cancelled?  Who cancelled them?)
  2. The Westerhuis safe is missing. Mr. Jackley asked that if anyone knew anything about the whereabouts of the safe to please call him.  
Please feel free to comment wildly. I certainly have.

Meanwhile, a new bit of crazy has arrived in time for Halloween. Now, this is a two-parter:

An original, handmade South Dakota flag dating back to Deadwood’s Old West days that went missing from former Secretary of State Jason Gant’s office in January has been returned to its home in the state Capitol. Garrett Devries, former employee of former South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant, former intern of our own Senator John Thune, and "Republican operative," picked it up and took it with him to Washington because "it was cool." (I suppose he never heard that theft was wrong...) He's being charged with a misdemeanor, and is working on a plea deal. (Funny how we can spend money and manpower tracking down a flag, but not the $147 million lost to the EB-5 program...)
Jason Gant
Former Secretary of State Jason Gant,
looking a little spooked for Halloween.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gant is accused of being "$43,000 short of what the in-house books said, losing three iPad Minis out of thirty purchased for his over-hyped military voting program, misappropriating tens of thousands of federal Help America Vote Act dollars, failing his statutory duty to print a legislative manual, and letting an employee walk off with a historic state flag." (See above)
(http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/10/30/gant-admits-but-minimizes-mistakes-krebs-needs-democratic-backup-in-pierre/ - once again, thank you to Cory Heidelberger!)
Mr. Gant has admitted that he made "mistakes", but also claims that "his people were just too busy with other projects to get to reconciling the bank accounts... or turn in invoices relating to the federal HAVA money." As for the iPads, well, crap happens.

NOTE:  I love South Dakota: one guy (co-director for Leadership South Dakota) can't remember nine $1000 payments for his consulting services, and another guy (a former Secretary of State) misplaces iPads all over the place and loses an historical, hand-made state flag, not to mention a bunch of bucks...

And did you know it costs $18,518.51 per overseas soldier to get them to vote? To quote from our own Argus Leader:
The Secretary of State's office under former secretary Jason Gant used more than $500,000 in federal grant money to help 27 active military members vote last year... "I know that 27 doesn't sound like a wonderful number, but it was a program that 27 people took advantage of," Gant said.... [And he] spent $79,000 on a public relations and marketing firm to publicize the program on a trip to Germany. "The beauty of the system is that if in a few years there were thousands of South Dakotans overseas, they could be using it," said Gant.
Honey, there's only 853,000 people in the entire state - how many thousands are heading overseas? Is this something we should be worried about? Aware of? Prepared for? Pack our bags?

Here’re a few hints, Mr. Gant:
(1) Start smartening up your explanations/excuses/reasons/justifications.
(2) Watch the Maltese Falcon and think about the character of Wilmer, the fall guy.
(3) Don't go hunting alone.
(4) Keep your doors locked at night.  Maybe get a dog.

28 February 2015

Books and the Art of Theft

by Melodie Campbell

Puzzled by the title?  It’s simple.

In high school, I had to read Lord of the Flies, The Chrysalids, On the Beach, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and a whack of Shakespeare.

Yuck.  Way to kill the love of reading.  All sorts of preaching and moral crap in the first four.  (Which, as you will see by the end of this post, doesn’t suit me well.)

Torture, it was, having to read those dreary books, at a time when I was craving excitement.  Already, I had a slight rep for recklessness. (It was the admittedly questionable incident of burying the French class attendance sheet in the woods on Grouse Mountain, but I digress…)

And then we got to pick a ‘classic’ to read.  Groan.  Some savvy librarian took pity on me, and put a book in my hand. 

Ivanhoe.

Magic

A writer was born that day.

This is what books could be like!  Swashbuckling adventure with swords and horses, and imminent danger to yourself and virtue, from which – sometimes – you could not escape (poor Rebecca.) 

I was hooked, man.  And this book was written how long ago?  1820?

Occasionally, people will ask if a teacher had a special influence on me as a writer.  I say, sadly, no to that.

But a librarian did.  To this day, I won’t forget her, and that book, and what it caused me to do.

1.    Write the swashbuckling medieval time travel Land’s End series, starting with the Top 100 bestseller Rowena Through the Wall. 

2.    Steal a book.  Yes, this humble reader, unable to part with that beloved Ivanhoe, claimed to lose the book, and paid the fine.  Damn the guilt.  The book was mine.

3.    Write The Goddaughter series, which has nothing to do with swashbuckling medieval adventure, and everything to do with theft.  Which, of course, I had personally experienced due to a book called Ivanhoe.

The lust for something you just have to have.  The willingness to take all sorts of risks way out of
proportion, to possess that one thing.

A book like my own Rowena and the Viking Warlord made me a thief at the age of sixteen.  And the experience of being a thief enticed me to write The Goddaughter’s Revenge, over thirty years later.

My entire writing career (200 publications, 9 awards) is because of Sir Walter Scott and one sympathetic librarian.

Thanks to you both, wherever you are. 

Just wondering...did a single book get you started on a life of crime...er...writing?  Tell us below in the comments.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books. You can buy them at  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.  She lurks at www.melodiecampbell.com

25 October 2012

The Victorians, Redux

by Eve Fisher

Victorians loved a good mystery.  Quite a few Victorian authors used murder, theft, financial malfeasance, and investigations as a major plot device.  Certainly Charles Dickens did in Edwin Drood, Bleak House, and Martin Chuzzlewit.  More unexpectedly, Elizabeth Gaskell's first novel, Mary Barton, revolves around a murder mystery, as does Charlotte Yonge's The Trial.

But today I would like to give special attention to Anthony Trollope, that unbelievably prolific author, who for some reason has long been labelled a "serious", even dull author.  All I can say is that he had a wicked sense of humor, and understood - and wrote about - women better than any other Victorian author I've ever read.  Granted, his novels were the opposite of fanciful, set in the realities of middle-class and upper-middle-class Victorian life. Yet he used a lot of sensational material, including murder, arson, forgery (Orley Farm), theft, bigamy, and illegitimacy.  He did the most realistic portrait of a working prostitute (as a major character!) in The Vicar of Bullhampton that I've ever run across in Victorian literature.  So where did he get his reputation for respectability?  I have no idea...

Anyway, some of my favorite novels, which revolve around crime, are:
The Eustace Diamonds:   Lizzie Eustace, is a very shady Lady; she marries a baronet for his money and gets it all when he dies of consumption very early in the novel, including a fabulous diamond necklace that is the bone of contention between her and her husband's attorneys.  They say it's an heirloom, and belongs to the estate; she says possession is ALL of the law, and it's hers.  When the necklace is stolen, everybody is under suspicion, and the repercussions of the investigation range from the tragic to the hilarious.  (One of the great subplots of this, by the way, is Lizzie's suitors - a wealthy baronet's widow, no matter how scheming, is going to be sought after.  There's the Corsair, Lord George de Bruce Carruthers; Lord Fawn, who is only one minim of intelligence above Bertie Wooster; and her cousin, Frank Greystock, the standard strong-jawed Victorian hero; and the Reverend Emilius, the Victorian equivalent of a televangelist.  Don't count on knowing who will end up with whom...)

In the sequel, Phineas Redux, a hero from another novel, Phineas Finn, returns and is accused of murdering political rival Bonteen by bludgeoning him to death on a dark night (and you thought politics was dangerous today...).  But Lizzie Eustace is back (how I love that character!), and has parked herself with the victim's widow, where they condole and support each other until Lizzie's current husband turns out to be one of the other major suspects... 

Moving from murder to high finance, there's The Way We Live Now, which is all about stock manipulation (mostly stock in railroads in Patagonia and elsewhere, all mythical, but the London pounds are real) by the masterly dastardly Augustus Melmotte.  Everyone is up to their neck in financial malfeasance, life is sweet, profits are high, and no one can understand what's wrong with it- until the whole thing comes crashing down.  This was made into (imho) an excellent PBS miniseries with a scenery-chewing David Suchet as Melmotte (which must have been a nice change for him after the tight-buttoned Poirot).

Besides crime, women, hunting, and politics, Trollope did madness and obsession frighteningly well:

The Reverend Josiah Crawley in The Last Chronicle of Barset.  A recurring character in the Barchester novels, Crawley is desperately poor, fiendishly proud, with a wife and children who are always on the verge of starvation, and for whom he will accept nothing in the way of charity.  In this novel, Crawley is accused of theft - and as the investigation goes on, he comes to believe that he may well have done it. 

But Crawley has nothing on Louis Trevelyan in He Knew He Was Right who becomes so jealous of his wife - on such extremely insufficient grounds that Othello seems fairly reasonable - that he takes their baby away and flees to the continent.  Nor on Frank Kennedy, whose descent into madness is charted over two novels, Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux.  By the end of them, Mr. Kennedy has become a religious monomaniac who demands that his wife return simply so they can suffer together - and who tries to kill Phineas in the name of God and morality. And, just to prove that Trollope was no sexist, there is Mrs. O'Hara in An Eye for An Eye, who, when the dastardly Fred Neville seduces and does not marry her daughter, pushes him off a cliff.  (Yes, she goes insane afterwards, but personally I think she was just trying to avoid a hanging.)

So, for those of you who are looking for some old-fashioned crime and punishment and madness, check out Anthony Trollope - available in paperback and on Kindle.

NOTES:
  1. We are, God willing and the creek don't rise, on a cruise as this is published, so forgive me if I haven't responded in a couple of weeks to any postings!
  2. Links to novels on one of the many sites offering free Trollope eBooks have been included.

11 October 2012

You Say Sensation, I Say Mystery...

by Eve Fisher

It was a dark and stormy night, and I've got to have something to read.  I'm sorry, but tonight, as the wind howls and the hail spatters against the window, I don't want anything new.  I don't want anything slick.  I don't want anything modern.  I want something familiar and satisfying.  Who do I fall back on? The Victorians:  Never underestimate the punch of a Victorian writer.  They pretty much began the mystery genre, under the much-maligned term "Sensation Novel", and don't get enough credit. If you have never read any of them, allow me to recommend three of the most famous and accessible:

File:Wilkie-Collins.jpgWilkie Collins' The Woman in White.  Here two young women's identities are stripped from them as one is declared dead, one is dead, and one is sent to a madhouse for life.  What happened?  Who died?  Who lived?  How can the truth be proven?  Besides an endlessly twisting and turning plot, there are amazing characters:  a magnificent heroine in Marion Halcombe, the ultimate Victorian cold-hearted bitch in Mrs. Catherick, and the worst guardian known to man, Frederick Fairlie, who really should have been shot at birth.  And then there's Count Fosco, one of my favorite villains in all of history, with a face like Napoleon's and the heft of Nero Wolfe.  Watch him as he plays with his little pet white mice and, at the same time, his irascible "friend" Sir Percival Glyde.  Meet his completely subservient wife, who spends her days rolling his cigarettes, watching his face, and doing his bidding.  He loves sugar water and pastry and plotting, and he never, ever loses his temper or raises his voice.  His only weakness?  A passionate admiration for Marion.  But can that actually stop him?  Don't count on it. 
(NOTE:  Collins' wrote many other novels, including The Moonstone, which I don't care for, actually, and Armadale, which is even MORE full of plot twists and turns than The Woman in White.  And Lydia Gwilt should scare the crap out of anyone...) 

In Mrs. Henry Wood's East Lynne, the ostensible main plot - and a true Victorian corker it is! - revolves around Isabel Vane, an Earl's daughter who, unbelievably, is reduced to poverty and marries an attorney (SO much beneath her in birth), Archibald Carlisle.  Mr. Carlisle is such a miracle of common sense, rectitude, honor, and beauty, that I have to admit after a while I get tired of hearing how wonderful he is.  It almost makes you cheer when she is eventually unfaithful to him with a former suitor, who gets her to run off with him, impregnates her, and abandons her (the "Lady!  Wife!  Mother!" scene is worth the read in and of itself).  Lost - in every sense of the word - and alone, Lady Isabel is believed killed in a railroad accident.  However, she is only disfigured beyond recognition (isn't that always the way?), and comes back to be the governess in her old home, to her own children, and to the children of her husband and his new wife, Barbara Hare. 
That in itself would keep almost any soap opera running for YEARS.  But what really fuels this sensation novel is the second plot, about the murder of a local gamekeeper, whose daughter, Aphrodite Hallijohn, was "involved" with multiple suitors, among them the clerk of courts (I can believe that one), a mysterious Captain, and Richard , the brother of the second Mrs. Carlisle.  Richard and Barbara are the children of the local Judge, and Judge Hare does his best throughout the novel to find, convict and hang his own son.  Barbara's whole goal in life (other than being the perfect wife to Mr. Carlisle) is to clear Richard's name.  Each and every character is involved in the solution to this murder, and the shifting identities of various people - at least three people live in disguise for major parts of the novel - are obstacles, keys, and clues to what really happened in that hut.  
(NOTE:  Mrs. Henry Wood wrote over thirty other novels, and among the best of the rest (imho) is The Channings.)  

Mrs. Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret curled many a person's hair back in the day, especially once it was revealed that what they thought was the secret - a secret that should be solved by anyone of moderate intelligence early on - is not The Secret at all.  Let's just say that Lady Audley is a work of art, and perhaps the source material for all suicide blondes.  Once again, a spicy Victorian stew of bigamy, mysterious deaths, hidden identities, even more mysterious (and convenient) arson, betrayal, adultery, heartache, and suspense, all served up at (for a Victorian novel) a fairly rapid clip. 
(NOTE:  Mrs. Braddon was another prolific author; second best novel is probably Aurora Floyd.)


Sensation Novels are often given a bad rap, but they were very well written, intricately plotted, and take you into the Victorian world in a way that few other books do.  Let's also not forget that, in their day, the Sherlock Holmes books would have been considered Sensation Novels - I mean, come on:  Polygamy!  Murder!  Hidden identities!  Revenge!  Giant devil hounds!  Granted, Sherlock Holmes transcended the genre - every genre - but he started in sensation.  And I'd love to debate someone about why Dickens is literature and Sensation Novels are not. 

By the way, Sensation Novels are also proof, once again, that reality must be watered down to be acceptable fiction.  The Victorian authors were an interesting bunch.  Wilkie Collins was an opium addict who had at least two concurrent families, and married the mother of neither of them.  Mrs. Henry Wood was married to an unemployed alcoholic, and her writing supported the family.  And Mrs. Braddon was involved for years in an adulterous relationship with her editor.  And when Jane Eyre came out, it was widely assumed that Mr. Rochester was based on William Makepeace Thackeray, whose wife was in an insane asylum, and who was believed to be having a long-running affair with his governess...   

All of these books, and many more, are available either new, used, or on Kindle. Please, check them out.  Those dark and stormy nights are coming back...  Next time, more Victorian murder mysteries!