Monday, December 5, 2022

Thousand-Yard Stare

The Goodbye Look - Ross Macdonald

The title refers to the thousand-yard stare that soldiers, too long in combat, have when they have a bad feeling about the next fight. Lew Archer, private investigator, recalls the goodbye look among he and other Marines when they fought on Okinawa in April of 1945, 23 years before the events in this novel take place.

The plot is the most complex Macdonald ever wrote, an even tighter knot than The Chill. Just a few of the skeins in the tangle: a troubled college boy, a mixed-up teenaged girl, hundreds of letters written from the forward areas of the Pacific War, and the killing of supposed child molester in a railroad yard in the early Fifties. I think reading attentively shows respect to a writer with high standards of craft, but I never detected goofs of time or slips of logic.

Besides returning to the theme of the traumatizing effects of war even years after hostilities end, Macdonald was never hesitant about making family dysfunctions the pivot of his plot. Family connections are intricate and surprises about who is related to whom are gradually revealed as the novel moves at a steady pace. Archer investigates the theft of a gold box. Showing his classical education at the University of Michigan, Macdonald twice compares Pandora’s Box  to the stolen box, from which spring three murders, an attempted suicide and a successful suicide, to mention only a couple of unfortunate behaviors in this novel.

Macdonald’s prose, as usual, is a mixed bag. We get the strained: “Pacific Street rose like a slope in purgatory from the poor lower town to a hilltop section of fine old homes.” We get the showy: “His eyes were black and glistening like asphalt squeezed from a crevice.” But we also get just the right note: “The girl was wan with jealousy.”

Soon after this novel was released in 1969, high powered critic of the New York Times John Leonard and popular novelists like William Goldman praised it. It became a best-seller. Macdonald regarded this one, his fifteenth Archer novel, as his jump from genre fiction to mainstream fiction. His implied claim that this novel is more high art than mystery is fair, considering that Archer does little interviewing and less detecting in this one.

Reading it in 2021, we can’t help feeling the novel is an artifact, a piece of evidence in the social history of the end of World War II to the oil shocks in the United States. For hard-boiled writing, Macdonald always gets compared to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but I think he was more interesting than both in terms of psychological, moral and social insight.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Back to the Classics #22

I read this book for the reading challenge Back to the Classics 2022.

Classic Set in a Place You'd Like to Visit: This 1945 novel is set during World War II in fictitious Kinalty Castle, a big house in southern Ireland, on the Cork coast perhaps. Castle-hopping would be a must on a road trip in Eire (Republic of Ireland). It would be fun to see if any Gothic piles had rooms like the Blue Drawing Room in this novel: “She was surrounded by milking stools, pails, clogs, the cow-byre furniture all in gilded wood which was disposed around to create the most celebrated eighteenth-century folly in Eire that had still to be burned down.”

Loving – Henry Green

The novel begins traditionally enough with a death. Eldon the long-time head butler has died calling out for the love of his life while the other servants carry on. In a surprising move iffy head footman Charley Raunce is promoted to acting butler. Such are staffing shortages, what with the war and all. Out of his depth and not suspecting it, Charlie makes silly observations that perplex listeners that know better.

The author explores love in various forms. A pretty maid named Edith, aged about 20, is attracted to Charlie, aged about 40, because he’s the only eligible man around and she intuits they are the same kind of person: practical, acquisitive and conniving.  But Edith’s friend Kate is jealous of Edith’s deepening relationship with Charlie. Kate begins to fall in love with lampman Paddy O’Conor, the only non-Englishman on the staff. Somehow she understands him though he speaks only Erse, which makes him an outsider in the all-English group, whose members have the usual English prejudices against the Irish and already feel under terrorist threat since they live in the remote country

Both Kate and Edith love Mrs. Tennant’s two little grand-daughters, one of whom has fallen in calf love with Albert, a boy evacuated from London to escape the blitz. Mrs. Smith, the boozy cook but don’t call her Cook, loves and defends the unspeakable Albert so fiercely that one wonders if he’s her illegitimate son. Mrs. Tennant’s daughter-in-law Mrs. Jack is sleeping with one of her husband’s friends so in a delightful comic scene Mrs. Jack has coals of fire heaped on her head when Mrs. Tennant tells her how pleased she is that Mrs. Jack is so good for Jack. So, there’re many different kinds of loving in this novel titled Loving.

And many kinds of deviousness, too. Charlie clumsily tries to manipulate Mrs. Tennant who is concerned that she won’t be able to trust anybody in the house if they don’t get the bottom of the case of her missing sapphire cluster.  And Charley wastes little time figuring out how his predecessor cooked the books. He exploits the chance to peculate here and there to the tune of X number of pounds a week. Slippery Charlie is vague on the amount with his fiancée Edith who tries to pin him down on what their income will be. All the servants have their little scam for food or drink or time.

Given all the guile and shadiness on the part of the characters, the peacocks aren’t parading all over this novel just for the sake of color though Green uses tens and tens of color words that are saturating this novel set in the shamrock emerald kelly of an Irish spring and turning pasty English complexions red, blue and green.  Both Charlie and Edith dislike the peacocks because they feel spied on by the dandies of the avian world. This gets to clanging an Allusion Alert in us hardcore readers into Greek mythology when we were kids.  We recall Hera put in the tails of peacocks the hundred eyes of her giant watchman Argus, after he was murdered by Hermes at the request of Zeus who wanted to cheat on Hera with Io whom Argus was watching. In this novel characters are up so many indiscretions that they had better be nervous about being spied on and found guilty.

As if the fear of war and invasion and the dread of being watched and judged by others are not enough to fill one’s skull with anxiety, people will make themselves more disquieted by over-thinking stuff. The English servants are caught in a double-bind. They fear being drafted into military service if they return to England. And if they don’t return to England they fear being called disloyal slackers who stayed cushy in neutral Ireland while everybody else back home got blitzed. In another comic scene the characters get flustered when a private eye hired by the insurance company drops in to ask questions about the missing sapphire ring. Because the acronym for the insurance company is IRA, Charlie and Company get a case of the jim-jams that the detective is in fact a scout of the Irish Republican Army sent to case the big house.

Green reportedly didn’t like being called a modernist. Indeed, he doesn’t fit into the generation of Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford or Virginia Woolf as he was born in 1905, the same year as Anthony Powell, Mary Renault, Rex Warner and C.P. Snow. But Green reminds us of other modernists. His comic situations are as surreal and absurd as in Kafka. The cool unadorned tone of the faceless narrator calls to mind Hemingway. Ordinary people getting by doing what they ought to do reminds me of the slice of life side of Dubliners. Similar to Faulkner having a male Quentin and a female Quentin in The Sound and the Fury, Green has two characters named Albert which mildly confuses not only us the reader but the other characters in the novel.

Also modernist is the willingness on the part of the author to work with the reader who wants to cast off the doldrums, who worries their reading choices are getting stagnant. The writer yanks readers out of their mental ruts with minimal characterization, zero editorial commentary on the action and zero internal monologue.

In Loving, our narrator is mostly omniscient but we readers quickly get the feeling things sometimes escape our narrator so we’d better stay on our toes. For instance, we don’t know whether Charlie’s symptoms are sprinkled hither and tither deliberately or not. But seeing them together in one place - swelling of lymph glands in his neck, shooting pains down his arms, and persistent fatigue – makes us think a biopsy of Charlie’s lymph nodes in his neck may indicate Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Another modernist towline is relating plot and incident through dialogue. The banal dialogues of the servants are written to mimic some kind of working class English dialect – slangy idioms, Americanisms and countrified expressions, grammatical goofs, clichés and mangled proverbs, multiple simultaneous conversations with quick changes of topic, and much implying and inferring between the words going on. Like Faulkner, Green is a wonder-worker at making dialogue express complex interpretations and emotions in the homey vernacular of the character that’s speaking.

Modernist authors eased us readers out of ruts with intentionally disorderly sentence structure, phrases and clauses positioned any old place. Edith and Kate, dressed in purple uniforms, dance in the ballroom, in a beautiful scene that shows Green’s apparently off-again on-again relationship with commas.

They were wheeling wheeling in each other's arms heedless at the far end where they had drawn up one of the white blinds. Above from a rather low ceiling five great chandeliers swept one after the other almost to the waxed parquet floor reflecting in their hundred thousand drops the single sparkle of distant day, again and again red velvet panelled walls, and two girls, minute in purple, dancing multiplied to eternity in these trembling pears of glass.

Finally, in keeping with the modernist way, oh the irony. The book ends “… lived happily ever after.” One wonders, since Charlie’s probable cancer of the lymph system will kill him in about five years. Not much post-war promise and disappointment in store for our Charlie.

Anyway, as usual with the work of serious fiction writers of the 20th century, this novel had better be read twice, first to get a bead on character and story, second to enjoy the wiliness of the writer and the kind of tricks they’re playing. Reading this dialogue-driven novel, the reader that finds Ivy Compton-Burnett freaking dope man will have only mild difficulty inferring the personality and motivations of characters, all the while thankfully certain that though our deductions may well be wrong the acts of thinking, connecting, visualizing, and predicting have jerked us out of a rut.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Wretched Shades of Tartarus

The Shortest Way to Hades - Sarah Caudwell

This 1984 mystery opens with five young London barristers -- Cantrip, Selena, Timothy, Ragwort, and Julia – handling a trust in such a way as to save the 5-million-pound estate a 3-million-pound tax bill. But to support a court petition to make the trust incontestable, one of the cousins demands 100-thousand pounds for her signature – which makes the barristers of other cousins up their price for signatures too. But the demanding cousin suddenly dies, blunt force trauma due to a fall from a height. The coroner rules it was an accident.

The five young barristers call in their friend Hilary Tamar to rootle about and determine if the cause of death was in fact an accident. Or murder. Or suicide. Hilary is an Oxford historian with powerful reasoning skills. Not so much an unreliable narrator as a prejudiced one, Oxonian Hilary gets barbs into Cambridge in that offhand way only an English intellectual can pull off. Hilary plumps down on the side of rigorous scholarship, to an extent naïve and pompous at the same time. But narrator Hilary is never ridiculous and promises in a unique way, “Cost candour what it may, I will not deceive my readers.”

Indeed, ridiculous is saved for Julia Larwood. You would think a tax attorney has a good fix on details but Julia is absent-minded and disorganized (as the English say: scatty), with the tendency to lose key documents and tuck away never to be found again letters that she is too afraid to open and read. She’s also easily distracted by male beauty and dreamy carnal curiosity. Everybody knows she’s arrived because they can hear her knocking over coat racks and dropping her handbag. Best of all, she’s as quixotic as a thirteen-year-old, prone to get on a high horse about Sir Thomas More and all that ethics jazz. Julia is a marvelous comic creation.

Fans of old-school whodunnits will think of the Bright Young Things of Craig Rice novels when they hear the wit and raillery directed at Hilary by Cantrip, Selena, Timothy, Ragwort, and Julia. They will also like the family tree, the map of the layout of Rupert’s apartment, and some narrative given in letters. The plot is agreeably complicated and the legal-babble will call to mind the instructive explications of Henry Cecil. The stylized language is for readers who like highly literate mystery writers like Michael Innes, Nicholas Blake, and to a lesser extent Margery Allingham. There are British words all over the place: subfusc, rumbustious, tickety-boo, nip off to the loo, and get into a tizwozz.

But there’s nothing old-fashioned about the comic interludes. In a set piece so funny the reader doesn’t care that it doesn’t advance the plot much, Selena and Julia find themselves at an orgy. And while purely out of politeness Julia finds herself dressed in schoolgirl gymslip by a redhead named Rowena, Selena pulls her copy of Pride and Prejudice from her handbag and settles on a sofa, just like any of us hardcore readers would do at an orgy.

I recommend this delightful legal mystery. Caudwell wrote only three other Hilary Tamar mysteries. She passed away at the age of 60 in the year 2000.

Glossary: Ever one for self-improvement, I present the list of words in this novel that I had to look up. I recommend the Cambridge Dictionary because it gives British and American pronunciations though it will shrug at you for retroussé and dejectamenta.

Jocasta – Oedipus’ mother; mother and grandmother of Antigone

Hymettus honey - famous honey made from thyme grown on the slopes of Mt.  Hymettus in Attica near Athens

retroussé – (of noses) turning up at the end in an attractive way

dozy – British English informal  for drowsy and lazy; (of law firms) slothful and inattentive to detail

solecism – a grammatical mistake; a breach of good manners

quixotic - exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical

distrait - distracted or absentminded 

lacuna (in knowledge) – an unfilled space; a gap

subfusc – the formal dark academic attire required to wear for examinations and formal occasions at some UK universities

suet-faced – a big fat face resembling a pudding

rootle about – British English informal  for search by moving things around carelessly. American: poke around

dégagé  - free of constraint, nonchalant

Erskine May (1815-86) – He was a British constitutional theorist of such influence that the present-day guide of constitutional conventions and parliamentary procedure is called the Erskine May.

meunière – for fish, rolled in flour and fried in butter, usually with lemon juice and chopped parsley

officious – assertive of authority in an annoyingly domineering way, especially with regard to petty or trivial matters

dejectamenta – waste discharged from the body in form of excrement

dodgy – British for dishonest or unreliable, unsound, dubious, double-dealing

tickety-boo – dated British slang for hunky-dory

chiton – form of tunic that fastens at the shoulder, worn by men and women of ancient Greece and Rome. Careful of Greek origin! The ‘ch’ is said the same way as in ‘chaos’ or ‘chemistry.’

chuffed – British slang for very pleased, delighted

to trouser – British informal for to get or to take money for yourself, especially by stealing it

to nip off (to the loo, store, etc.) – To very quickly or discreetly depart (to some place), especially for a short length of time

woven hessian - woven fabric usually made from skin of the jute plant or sisal fibres, and can be highly refined for many uses – handbags, curtains, etc.

(get into a) tizwozz – British for tizzy; a state of excitement, anxiety, or confusion

rumbustious – British for rambunctious; boisterous, unruly

be/go round the twist – British for crazy, mentally unsound

barbican – a tower or other fortification on the approach to a castle or town, especially one at a gate or drawbridge.

broom – any of various shrubs of the genera Cytisus or Genista or Spartium having long slender branches and racemes of yellow flowers

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Turkey Day Scene in this Novel

Note: I read this Faulkner novel aloud, assuming that Faulkner, from the story-telling South, wrote for the ear, not the eye. I read the exposition in my own accent, not a Southern one, deliberately, as if I were reading for an audience. I was unable to resist, however, reading conversations in what I thought were individually distinct voices. Reading aloud slowed me down, which greatly aided comprehension of Faulker’s involuted grammar and Gertrude Steinisms. Just hearing to my own voice gave me a more immersive experience, which, I think, is what reading Faulkner is all about. Reading aloud, I often just lost track of time. I'm now convinced aloud is the way to read Faulkner.

Sartoris - William Faulkner

Faulkner's first novel set in storybook Yoknapatawpha County was released in 1929. With memorable characters, descriptions powered by amazing metaphors, and the theme of the past’s coexistence with the present, it tells the story of the declining Sartoris (SAR-tris or SAR-da-ris) family, which sustains itself on the legacy of ancestor John Sartoris, colonel of the Confederate Army and unreconstructed white supremacist during Reconstruction. The legacy of heroism is a burden for sons and grandsons though they are born with rash and heedless Sartoris blood.

The story begins in about 1920, when Bayard (said “baird”) Sartoris has returned from fighting in the First World War. His twin brother John, to whom he was deeply attached, was killed in action. The trauma torments Bayard with anxiety attacks, since he saw his brother literally plummet to his death. Anxiety and survivor guilt drive him to tempting fate with thrill-seeking, especially by driving his car like a lunatic on back-country roads or impulsively breaking a stallion.  

His grandfather Old Bayard (whose younger self starred in The Unvanquished) and formidable Aunt Jenny advise him to settle down to little avail save a brief period when young Bayard connects with the rhythm of the earth through farming. Also of little help is his mixed up GF Narcissa who has an unhealthy and perhaps unnatural relationship with her brother Horace Benbow, a southern liberal humanist doomed to a futile existence in a cultural milieu where the arts and humanities are at an embryonic stage.

The novel deals with daredevil Bayard's path to a predictably tragic ending. As such, this is a story about fatality, the ancient notion of our helplessness in the face of a fate decreed by our fatal flaws. The fate of the short-lived Sartoris male is rooted in pride and recklessness, and we witness the consequences of that inescapable fate played out for the Civil War generation and its children and grandchildren. As the generation born in the 1840s and 1850s depart to meet their maker, we will see their sons and grandsons in search of a spectacular ending, leaving behind rueful women and real humdingers of stories.

The novel is not, however, a totally dark narrative, not focused on the melancholy transience of glory and reputation, the passing of the dashing male of the Jeb Stuart mold. The plot does not dazzle us readers with incredible events, in spectacular acts. It is simple, everyday, but it rests naturally in some characters so wonderfully achieved that each line calls to mind the vitality of our own experience, of life. When Aunt Jenny enters a scene, for instance, we smile and brace ourselves to get scolded, maybe for our own misdeeds, but likely for somebody else’s, so we just have to take it in good part. 

On the web it seems that As I Lay Dying is the novel Faulkner veterans advise nervous newbies to read as an intro to Faulkner, because of its unintimidating length and straightforward structure of a quest. But I’d argue the kaleidoscopic points of view are likely to disgruntle and dismay the uninitiated so it might be better to start with this one. 

The reasons are that it follows a conventional chronological order and has psychological and symbolic depth comparable with the later novels that sealed Faulkner’s place in the first-rank of American authors TS&TF, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August. Faulkner does use modernist techniques in Sartoris but they’re not relentlessly experimental: different characters with the same name, the nod to tropes of tragedy, spectral presences, setting a fictitious region based on real-life Northern Mississippi, extensive dialogue full of flashbacks and stories, different points of view, and hints teasingly given in passing at major events like marriages and deaths. Nothing here like that notoriously mind-bending first part, Benjy’s stream of consciousness in TS&TF or the fishy quality of Vardaman's Ma in As I Lay Dying.

To read Sartoris is to live with a handful of souls amidst their conflicts and their radiance. Or in a colorful episode in fact sleep on a corn-shuck mattress in the abode of the yeoman MacCallum family. Faulkner measures out character description so expertly that, without realizing it, we readers are collaborating in their ability to shine. The depth that he gives to the characters compels us to regret the major flaw of the novel: We readers wanted more details about undeveloped characters Narcissa and Horace Benbow; Simon the black servant; and creep and stalker Byron Snopes.

Glossary: Ever one for self-improvement, I present the list of words in this novel that I had to look up. I recommend the Cambridge Dictionary because it gives British and American pronunciations

moil – work hard, drudge. Sometimes used in the phrase 'toil and moil.'

viscid – wet and sticky. Writers have favorite words and this is one of Faulkner's.

rowel – spiked disk on a spur; to ~ means to urge on a horse using a rowel

jocund – cheerful and lighthearted

copse – a small group of trees

to shale – to take off the shell of

to lave – wash against or over something

martinet – strict disciplinarian

beetling - (of a rock or a person's eyebrows) prominent or overhanging.

casuist - a person who uses clever but unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions; a sophist.

arras - a rich tapestry, typically hung on the walls of a room or used to conceal an alcove

abnegate - renounce or reject (something desired or valuable)

usquebaugh - whiskey

Saturday, November 19, 2022

TR's Darkest Journey

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey - Candice Millard 

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt lost his run for a third term as president. Valuing a life lived strenuously, Roosevelt was always one to re-double his efforts after a setback. So he jumped at a unique chance to combine diplomacy and exploring. That is, after he finished a good-will tour of three South American countries, he would join a party of Brazilians whose mission was to map the River of Doubt, a river that twisted and turned in the remote Brazilian rainforest. The crew consisted of Roosevelt’s son Kermit, ornithologist and explorer George Cherrie, and 22 others.  Serving as TR’s co-commander, Colonel Candido Miriano da Silva Rondon has gone down in history as military hero who explored the western Amazon basin and defended the interests of indigenous peoples.

It was a snake-bitten, bad luck-ridden expedition from the get-go. They faced hard-going for two months by mule and boat over 400 miles of plain, desert, and jungle. When they finally arrived at the river, they had to use seven heavy, awkward and overloaded dugouts. The rapids and waterfalls required long, punishing portages that the reader can’t believe sheer human muscle power accomplished.

One member of the crew was a thief and slacker and in such a situation only one troublemaker can cause many problems. Hostile Indians were known to murder men outside their band and then cannibalize them. But the natural world offered its dangers too. Caiman alligators were fearsome predators that one might step on, mistaking them for rocks. Pit vipers and coral snakes were wary enough to move away when they sensed humans were around but woe to the man who surprised them. Schools of up to 600 piranha could chow down an ox or an explorer to bones in ten minutes. The explorer’s cook cut open a huge catfish called the piraiba to reveal the head of a monkey in the beast’s stomach.

The explorers were harassed by insects. Black flies called piums had a nasty bite. Mosquitoes carried malaria. As any loyal watcher of Monsters Inside Me knows, bot flies leave hideous grubs in the flesh. Readers of Redmon O’Hanlon’s In Trouble Again: A Journey Between the Orinoco and the Amazon back in the heyday of Eighties travel writing will be reminded of the candiru, the toothpick fish that can swim up a man's urethra when he pisses into the river, after which the only way to remove the beast is a penectomy.

Happily, nobody had to have his penis amputated, but three men died on the trip. Indian arrows killed Rondon’s dog Lobo. Six dugouts were lost, so the men had to carve out new ones from felled trees.  Their food had to be rationed – dinner near the end of the trip was a cup of soup and a saltine cracker - until it finally ran out. It rained constantly, the humidity make their clothes continually wet. They woke up to put on damp clothes – somehow this seems especially dispiriting. Roosevelt sustained a leg injury which required an abscess to be lanced, a procedure done with no pain-killers. Such were the privations, Roosevelt lost a quarter of his body weight – some 55 pounds – by the time he got out of the rainforest miraculously alive.

I recommend this book highly for readers looking for a remarkable travel narrative. A former writer and editor for National Geographic, Millard is a lucid writer. She provides outstanding digressions about science and history. She keeps the chapters short, which makes the story move fast. I bailed on her book about the assassination of Garfield (early on, errors of mechanics or fact, I don’t recall which), but if fate puts it on a table at a used book sale I would read the book about Winston Churchill, Hero of the Empire.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Ides of Perry Mason 42

On the 15th of every month, we deal with a topic related to Our Favorite Lawyer.

The Case of the Fugitive Nurse - Erle Stanley Gardner, 1954

Doctor Summerfield Malden was killed in a plane accident, flying himself to a convention of surgeons in SLC. Widow Steffanie Malden, not exactly prostrated with grief, is visiting Perry Mason’s office with probating the will pronto on her mind. She’s concerned that the good chest cutter was being investigated by the IRS. The tax collectors are curious about businesses that take in large amounts of cash from patients, and wondering if his books smell a little off.

She’s also concerned, though not as much compared to money, that the doctor at 52 years old, the dangerous age, was carrying on a love affair with his 27-year-old head nurse and office manager Gladys Foss. Her husband’s philandering, she says, is to be understood as partly physical - Foss turns heads - but partly business too. That is, Nurse Foss was perhaps helping him cook the books to fool the taxman.

To Mason, it makes no sense for an eminent and successful surgeon to risk his reputation and professional standing for the doubtful benefit of evading taxes. The widow persuades Mason to visit an apartment love nest the doctor had and look for $100,000 in unreported cash. Bear in mind, $100,000 in 1954 is equivalent to $950K in today’s money.

In her interview with Mason, Gladys Foss says that the doctor lacked business sense. He just used office petty cash as his personal piggy bank. He would accept cash payments from patients and put the bills in his pocket. He knew what he was doing all the time. Gladys points out he worked all the time and had little time to cultivate a happy life. Gladys also puts out the supposition that she might have embezzled funds to play the ponies. Just supposing, mind.

Perry Mason then falls into a cunningly baited trap. There is no trace of $100,000 in cash in the apartment Old Steff talked of but there is an empty open wall safe. But he decides he has to protect the conniving client Steffanie Malden or she may turn against him with circumstantial evidence that points to him as the thief of $100,000. The DA Hamilton Burger accuses Stef of cooking up the accident that killed her husband and Mason tries to muddy the identity of the corpse. Gladys Foss has crucial information, but can’t be found.

Gardner goes on longer digressions than usual in this outing. In an idea still provocative today, Gardner bluntly claims that the presumption of innocence doesn’t mean anything to the police and prosecutors. Cops routinely lie to people of interest in order to get them to betray confederates. Yeah, I know criminals can’t be treated like nice little ladies and gentleman, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s an ugly place to be lied to by the bad guys and be lied to by the guys that are supposed to protect us from the bad guys. Gardner’s point remains: people need to keep their mouth shut and get  attorneys if life plays a dirty trick on them and then end up in the criminal justice meat grinder.

Notes: The pandemic killed dead my part-time job of teaching ESL so my instructor’s inclinations and ways have to come out somehow. Following is a glossary of terms used in this novel for people under 50 and non-native speakers of English. Both groups may lack knowledge of 1954 and its idioms and its cultural touchstones and assumptions. Glossing was for my own amusement but done in the forlorn hope that old-school mysteries won’t become inaccessible simply because their vocabulary becomes quaint, opaque, embarrassing or obsolete. This novel, by the way, was published in February 1954, after being serialized in the weekly magazine Saturday Evening Post between September and November 1953.

·         You can bet on that! You can be certain that that will happen!

·         hazel eyes. Brown eyes with green or gold in the iris. People argue exactly what this color is.

·         I believe in crossing bridges when I come to them. Not worry about problems until they come up.

·         He kept his own counsel. Say nothing about one’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs or plans

·         Void in case of suicide. If someone dies by suicide in the first two years of holding the insurance policy, most companies will not pay the death benefit for beneficiaries.

·         approach a subject. Get closer to talking about a topic.

·         alert. wide-awake. Giving close attention to a topic or situation.

·         snoop / snoopy. A person who secretly investigates somebody’s private life / being nosy, having too much curiosity about somebody’s else’s affairs

·         keep an eye on. Keep under close observation.

·         watch like a hawk. Watch very carefully

·         live under an assumed name. Live under a fictitious name to disguise yourself.

·         photostatic copy. An old form of copying documents

·         $5,000 for a year’s rent. $416 per month in 1954 is the equivalent of about $4200 in 2022. That would get you a luxury apartment nowadays; the average apartment rent in LA now is about $2500.

·         love nest. A place where two lovers spend time together, especially in secret.

·         CRestline-6-9342. By about the end of the 1960s, telephone companies stopped using names and went to phone numbers using only numerals. In the LA there were CRestview and CRestwood, which would now be 27-X-XXXX.

·         a lax attitude. Not caring about an attentive attitude or high standards.

·         dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Pay great attention to details.

·         expose (show) my hand. Tell my plans or beliefs clearly. A poker term.

·         play cards close to one’s chest. Keep your plans, ideas hidden from other people. Another poker term.

·         morbid curiosity. Having an interest in death, violence, accidents, extreme events.

·         It cost real money. Money in a large, significant amount.

·         Paul: The plot thickens! Perry: It’s curdled. Paul uses a cliché to mean the situation becomes more complicated, but Perry makes a play on words to mean the situation becomes worse or more suspicious. 

·         He looked ahead. Think about what will happen in the future.

·         That’ll clinch things. It will settle or conclude a situation.

·         He cut it fine. Gave little time to do something.

·         Keeping appointments. ESG was given to suggesting advice for being a competent human being. He probably knew that some percentage of his readership needed all the help and advice they could get.

·         Mason raised his eyebrows. This body language expresses surprise or disapproval or asks for more details. Gardner used this expression very often.

·         cut the Gordian knot. To solve a difficult problem in a very direct way by doing something forceful or extreme. According to an ancient legend, Gordius, the king of Phrygia, tied a knot that nobody could untie. It was said that if anyone untied it, they would become the next ruler of Asia. When Alexander the Great heard this, he solved the problem by cutting through the knot with a sword.

·         Umpty thousand dollars. Umpteen is used more frequently these days to mean many, a lot of.

·         Get this straight. You had better understand this correctly

·         Drake tapped his code signal. the classic "Shave and a Haircut" rhythm.

·         No dice. He refused my request

·         veterans. Experienced employees, though usually survivors of wars.

·         a ticklish job. A job with many problematic details, many possibilities to go wrong.

·         keep an ace in the hole. Another poker term. To not use an advantage or talent until the proper time.

·         A lawyer is at the mercy of his clients. Be completely in the control of

·         get your feet wet. Get into trouble.

·         to shadow. To follow, usually secretly

·         You’ll have to steal $100,000 to break even. To reach a point when you recover your investment / costs and start making a profit.

·         call off your men. Tell them their job is done, is cancelled.

·         scout the place. To look over, explore a place to gather information about it.

·         play for keeps in this game. Perform seriously, with determination to win, without mercy

·         loaded to the gills. Be very full. “I ate so much that I felt ~.”

·         lead with one’s mouth. To reveal information without thinking carefully

·         give (a place) a going-over. To search a place to gather information about it.

·         kick about. Complain.

·         hate the ground somebody walks on. To hate somebody very much. A harsh expression.

·         have in common. Have the same feature, or like similar things to somebody else

·         pulchritude. CH is K as in “chemistry.” An old word for physical attractiveness, especially when talking of women

·         Mason raised his eyebrows. ESG likes this expression.

·         Far be it for me to ~. I am not the kind of person who ~. I am not criticizing but ~.

·         cool, calm, and collected. Old idiom meaning not upset

·         broad-minded. Not easily shocked and in the Fifties this often meant not offended  especially at other people’s unconventional sexual behavior.

·         get your hooks into.  To control or influence somebody strongly. The reference is to a fish caught on a hook, powerless

·         display to great advantage. Show in the best way.

·         have a hand in something. Be involved in something

·         hand a line. To explain or give excuses that sound believable but are false

·         slip. Mistake.

·         rattlebrain. An unreliable or thoughtless person

·         stall people off. Make people wait, usually with weak excuses.

·         play the ponies. Gamble on horse races.

·         bookie. A bookmaker, one who takes bets on sporting events.

·         I wouldn’t lift a finger to help her. Usually used in the negative, I would not make a sacrifice, do anything for ~

·         The fat’s in the fire. There’s trouble in the future.

·         It’s all fixed. Arranged, ready.

·         barge into. Interrupt, intrude, disturb, enter a situation where nobody wants you

·         louse up. Cause a problem.

·         dog tired. Very tired.

·         tip off. Warn.

·         break. Advantage, benefit, especially brought by good luck.

·         plunge. To place bets recklessly, gamble heavily.

·         Hairline moustache. A very thin strip of hair. Not a popular style in 2022.

·         You’re telling me. I know this already and I agree.

·         No need to get sore. Don’t get angry. Don’t be too sensitive.

·         gravy. Profit.

·         Checks are poison. Something risky, harmful, destructive that must be avoided.

·         Know the ropes. Be experienced in the proper procedures. This expression may be from sailing where ropes and sails are needed to steer the boat or ship.

·         Put a nick in you. Damaged you professionally. made you lose money.

·         make a pass. Indicate romantic or sexual interest, usually physically.

·         be as thick as thieves. Very close, friendly.

·         back up (an assumption). Support.

·         the ghost of ~.  A small sign or possibility of ~.

·         Rush in where angels fear to tread. To rush into a difficult or dangerous situation without thinking about possible bad results. This is from a proverb “Fools rushin ~.”

·         Forehead furrowed in thought. Wrinkles in the forehead show that somebody is thinking hard.

·         a fatal mistake/weakness. Perry makes a mistake that puts the cops onto his client.

·         continuance. A postponement of court business.

·         smell around. Investigate.

·         fight tooth and nail. Fight very hard.

·         She as good as admitted to me. Very nearly. Almost.

·         skirmish around. Have a brief argument or discussion.

·         sweet position. Drake is being sarcastic here because it is a not an excellent position.

·         It’s a cinch that ~. Certain, a sure thing.

·         give an out with the income tax people. Provide somebody with an excuse or way to escape.

·         vanish without a trace. Disappear completely, so that nobody can find evidence of where you went

·         a hunch. A feeling that something is going to happen.

·         skip out. Run away, escape, leave in a quick secret way

·         I’m not gonna buy that. I don’t believe it.

·         acerbity. Sharpness. Strictness, sternness we would expect in a judge.

·         make a name for one’s self. Perform is such a way as to become well-regarded, famous.

·         fix the time. Determine the time for a meeting or event.

·         criminalistics. As a subset of forensic sciences, the reconstruction of crimes and analysis of physical evidence for use in criminal proceedings.

·         I don’t know if I had any say in that. I had no authority in that situation or influence in that decision.

·         Jack of all trades. A person who can do many jobs skillfully.

·         There will be no interchange of personalities in this court. Critical remarks, personal recriminations, disapproving comments. This expression is usually used in the negative and is still used in professional life, especially meetings, “Let’s not have any personalities.”

·         caffeine tablets and whiskey. This seems an unlikely combination to use to stay alert enough to fly a plane, but artificial study aids such as Red Bull and vodka are out of my experience.

·         His face a mask of judicial impassivity. ESG’s favorite expression, used at least once in every novel.

·         tip our hand. Reveal our plans.

·         dope ring. Criminal gang that sells drugs.

·         state boldly. Say confidently.

·         accept at face value. Accept and believe without thinking much about it very deeply

·         throw a monkey wrench into the machinery. To deliberate plan to mislead or confuse or sabotage.

·         It gives me the creeps. We say this when we feel uneasy at somebody’s strange behavior

·         feather their own nest. Make money illegally or at someone else's expense.

·         blunder. Mistake, error

·         go out of your way to ~ . Make a special effort to ~.

·         What’s cooking? Old slang for What’s happening.

·         be burned up. Be very angry.

·         She studied him thoughtfully. Attentively, in this case. Sometimes it means kindly

·         I’m afraid I don’t understand. Please explain.

·         I’ve been crucified on the cross of ~. Criticized or mistreated severely. Put in a terrible disadvantageous position. A very old-fashioned expression.

·         hatch up (a plan). Develop, usually in secret.

·         hook. Steal

·         slave away. Work really hard.

·         Worrying and stewing. Stew means worry, usually alone and due to the action of others.

·         embitter. And old word not used much now, meaning cause someone to feel resentful (bitter, hostile)

·         living like a nun. Living with no romantic or sexual relationships.

·         Nothing doing. There is no chance of agreement or success.

·         governor. A speed controller, a device used to measure and limit the speed of an engine on a taxi, truck, or car.

·         a complete heel. Total jerk. We use "complete" with negative things like fool, racist, idiot but also positive things like gentleman, cook.

·         double cross. A betrayal of someone with whom one is supposedly cooperating.

·         shenanigans. Dishonest activity. A wonderful word from Irish / Erse.

·         You’re not telling me anything (new). I already know everything you are talking about.

·         give you the heave-ho on ~. Get you into trouble about ~.

·         The Devil! Hang it! Old expressions of surprise and annoyance.

·         a raft of ~.  A large number of ~.

·         What do you make of it? What is your opinion of it?

·         laughing stock. A person subjected to general mockery or ridicule.

·         launching a haymaker at Mason. Throwing a fist punch at Mason.

·         steal thunder. To take attention or praise or success away from someone else.

·         pull a rabbit out of a hat. Do something unexpected but clever in order to solve a problem

·         estimable. Worthy of respect. An old word, not much used.

·         make a job of it. Do a thorough job.

·         raise hell. Complain energetically.

·         Darwin Kirby, Horace L. Redfield, Dr. Reedley Munger. ESG liked to name professionals with elaborate pompous names.

·         make up out of whole cloth. To develop an explanation based on no evidence

·         one iota of truth. Any scintilla of evidence. Having tiny amount of ~.

·         good faith. Honesty or sincere intention.

·         sweat. To interrogate.

·         put two and two together. To come to a correct guess by putting information together

·         make whoopee. Have a wild celebration. Also, have sex, so this old-fashioned expression is risky to use