French Detective Stories

While in the library, I discovered an anthology titled Great French Detective Stories.  Being curious, I picked up the work to be delighted by the quality of the stories.  Though one, “The Mystery of the Four Husbands” by Gaeton Leroux, struck me as more of a horror story, which evinces the influence Edgar Allen Poe, especially through his Inspector Dupin.  (Soon, I’ll have to read these works of Poe.)

One of the best mustaches I've ever seen.

One of the best mustaches I’ve ever seen.

This series of works held several surprises for me.  In particular, I was surprised to see that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle borrowed the scenario in Emile Gaboriau’s “The Little Old Man of Batignolles” for his A Study in Scarlet.  Not only did he borrow the scenario, but the inspector’s friend and assistant in the mystery is also a doctor!  But, I will say that Doyle writes a much more complicated mystery, and so, it may be considered a good theft.

I can't help but imagine that this would be a riveting story if done well.

I can’t help but imagine that this would be a riveting story if done well.

Other than Emile Gaboriau, I find Maurice Leblanc also fascinating to read.  I ought to be familiar with this author through anime: the eponymous hero of Lupin III is the grandson of Arsène Lupin, a thief who’s Leblanc’s most famous hero.  Arsène Lupin displays a remarkable degree of energy and cleverness in the short story I read, which involves him duping the police into helping him regain the money stolen from him which he himself had stolen!  Leblanc also seems to have written stories surrounding a detective hero named Jim Barrett.  This detective is brilliant, but has a caustically sarcastic personality.  He’s made my list as my least favorite detective in literature from one short story!

Maigret seems to have loved smoking his pipe much more than Sherlock Holmes from the story I read: he smoked three before the morning was over!

Maigret seems to have loved smoking his pipe much more than Sherlock Holmes from the story I read: he smoked three before the morning was over!

Another author who’s peaked my interest and whose volumes may easily be obtained in English is Georges Simenon.  In the library, I must have seen at least 15 volumes of his detective novels!  Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Maigret happens to be married and very well adjusted.  He enjoys a loving relationship with his wife and is quietly observant and tactful.  (Gaboriau’s detective, M. Méchinet, happens also to be married and consults his wife on cases.)  His character only came across as slightly interesting in the short story; but, since Maigret just retired, he followed the leads of a current inspector for the most part, and Simenon, as one who preferred the medium of novels, probably writes better stories when allowed to write at length.

You know that you've written an awesome fictional character if someone decides to build a statue of him!

You know that you’ve written an awesome fictional character if someone decides to build a statue of him!

That sums up what I have read so far.  I am almost reluctant to read further in the anthology lest my backlog of interesting authors to read increases.  One almost hopes that there are libraries in heaven so that one can have enough time!



A Right Proper Toasting for Robert Burns

District of Calamity

Robert Burns was born on this day in 1759.  He died at at the age of 37 but his poetry was so influential that Burns nights have been held since 1802.  The date was moved from January 29th to January 26th in 1803 when Ayr parish records showed the proper date.

Burns Night Suppers have been immensely popular not only to celebrate the Romantic era poet but also to celebrate Scottish language and culture, which Robbie championed by penning many of his works.

The highlight of the evening is the pipping of the Haggis (a savory pudding made with sheeps’ pluck, minced onions, suet and oatmeal) followed by a reading of Burns’ “Address to a Haggis”.

Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns (1786)

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy…

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Placing Shaw Back on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum

Here’s an article which shows that one should never compliment a book, especially by an unfamiliar author, too highly before one reads all the way through!  I offered high praise to George Bernard Shaw in this article.  In particular, I feel foolish in thinking that Shaw was using paradox when Jack Tanner said the devil was father of morality.  The fool really believed it!  But, who would not believe that he was speaking at least facetiously upon first reading this line?

At any rate, I read this play hoping to eliminate some of my prejudices against authors of different positions, but rather had them confirmed!  My opinion that Shaw was on the wrong side was bolstered by watching this clip of Shaw defending Hitler and Mass Murder and another of Shaw saying the Constitution should be abolished.  I have to thank Joe_Bakunovic for alerting me to Shaw’s dark side.


Yet, if all I could bring against Shaw were his political opinions, that would be insufficient reason not to read his work.  In the same way, a chess player should not allow the fact that Alexander Alekhine ended his life as a Nazi or that Bobby Fischer became anti-American to prevent him from studying their games.  But, the sort of edification one receives from reading Shaw is similar to that which one obtains by the study of poison.

Shaw writes outside the Western tradition.  In the tradition of the West, Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are together and what people most want.  Shaw divides Truth from Beauty and leaves it to the reader to decide which is more worth seeking.  Heaven represents Truth (an odd thing for an Atheist to say) and hell Beauty.  In one telling scene, dead souls have the ability to switch between hell and heaven depending on which they prefer.  Heaven is the domain of philosophers and conformist bourgeois; hell the domain of the romantics.   The truth is that heaven has room both for Plato and Petrarch–for St. Thomas Aquinas, who approached God as a philosopher, and St. Ignatius, who approached Him as a knight errant.


Further, Shaw makes the great error of thinking of people as means rather than ends.  (As might be apparent from the two videos above.)  Every relationship is one of utility: men use women for pleasure and comfort; women men for children, freedom, and material goods.  Love between persons cannot exist where everyone is treated as a means.  Saying, “I love you for the pleasure and comfort you provide me” means about the same as “I love pleasure and comfort, which another woman could provide.”  This causes the traditional institution of marriage simply not to make sense.  Rather than “Till death do us part,” the modern marriage vow would be “Till you no longer provide what I want do us part.”  The play is a comedy, and, like traditional comedies, it ends in a marriage; yet, marriage–particularly this marriage–is viewed as a tragedy rather than as something about which to be joyful.


The separation of the Platonic ideals and treating people as means harm the human psyche more than any other error.  Shaw ought to have rooted himself in Western tradition.  Instead, Shaw’s philosophy leads not only to one separating oneself from the Western tradition but even the human race and happiness itself.  As such, I recommend my dear readers avoid Shaw like the plague–as I shall from this point.

ABC Awards Nomination!

Here’s a post I made about a nomination I received for the ABC Award. You might find it some amusing reading.

Medieval Otaku

abc-awardWell, I find myself quite humbled and honored by Naru’s nomination of me for the ABC Award.  Please check out her blog, which is written with such humor and good style that you might find yourself sucked in for an hour or two.  And thanks to all my dear readers who keep me motivated to write!

Since some of you might have read my Liebster Award post and my Medieval Interrogation. I promise to try to make this, my 200th post, contain new information about me.  Some of which is a bit silly, but hopefully humorous.  Without further ado, let me paste the rules:

1. Download the award logo and add it to your acceptance post.
2. Nominate a few fellow bloggers and share the award.
3. Since the award is ABC, take each letter of the alphabet and use it to tell something about yourself.


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The Dinner

Sounds like a very deep work.

Raging Biblio-holism

the dinnerThe Short Version: Two couples get together for dinner on an Amsterdam evening.  Narrated from the point of view of one of the men, the meal progresses in fits and starts – all heading towards the topic that has brought them together, regarding their sons.  In the space of just a single meal, Koch explores the lengths we’ll go to in order to protect one of our own – and the limits of that same familial bond.

The Review: What a fascinating book.  You feel uncomfortable at the beginning, at least a little bit – but by the end you’re wholly wrapped up in it.  It’s… I think the word might be insidious.  We’re drawn into this tight, intense scenario and before we know it, we – the reader – are forced to choose a side, in a way.  But it sort of just happens.  It’s that sensation of…

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Arthur Conan Doyle’s Swashbuckler

A friend of mine in college told me that Sherlock Holmes was not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s favorite series for which to write.  He wrote Sherlock Holmes in order to pay the bills.  Doyle got so tired of writing Sherlock Holmes that he attempted to kill off Sherlock Holmes, but the heartbroken British public urged him to bring Holmes back!  According to my friend, Doyle wished to write stories of chivalry and adventure, like The White Company.

LIBRIVOXTheWhiteCompany500Now, I want to read the above work, but The Adventures of Gerard found its way onto my reading list first.  I listened to these exciting adventures on audiobook–again through Librivox.  The reader did an excellent job in capturing the character.  My only complaint concerns his mispronunciation of corps.  He pronounced corps the same way as corpse!  Now, before this plague of people who mispronounce corps goes any further (our president is also guilty), let it be known that corps is pronounced the same way as core.  One hopes that peer pressure and mockery would be enough to smash this phonetic heresy!  Deus vult!

adventures-of-gerard-newnes-1903At any rate, our titular hero narrates his adventures to some drinking buddies in his old age.  (Or perhaps he narrates them to the entire tavern.  The quality of the stories surely beats the quality of any alcoholic beverage–which is saying something.)  He served with Napoleon from Saragossa to Russia to Venice and lastly to Napoleon’s ultimate defeat at Waterloo.  The adventures always display a wonderful variety and Gerard is a likable gallant.  His self-esteem might appear insufferable to some if it were not for the many humiliations he endures at the hands of his foes and his ability to walk the talk.  Some of his greatest weaknesses are his lack of cunning, fondness for young ladies, and hilarious provincialism.  His time as a paroled officer in England contains some of the most amusing of his adventures.  For example, his ignorance of British games induces him to think that the object of croquet is to peg the opposing player with a wooden ball as the opponent attempts to ward it off with his mallet!

The Charging Chasseur by Theodore Gericault

The Charging Chasseur by Theodore Gericault

Yet, the bulk of his adventures diverge from usual chivalric stories in showing the dark side of human nature.  For example, one of his comrades ends up being crucified against the wall of a room!  His captors left him there for days suffering from hunger and thirst with a bottle of wine placed on a table in front of him!  From this bottle, his captors would occasionally drink in front of the poor sufferer!  Gerard may be a knight, but his gallantry shines in a very dark world indeed!


I cannot imagine Gerard as anything less than a knight.  He is not rash but at the same time shows no hesitation in accepting the most dangerous assignments which  the French army bestows on him.  Despite the above mentioned humiliations, he always maintains his self-respect.  He also protects any women in his presence from coming to any harm despite the consequences to himself–as is adequately illustrated in the adventure “How Brigadier Gerard Lost his Ear.”  To further highlight his image as a gallant swashbuckler, I might add that he hails from Gascony–the same province as D’Artagnan.

Did anyone else know that D'Artagnan has two famous statues?  Here's the one in Maastricht, Netherlands.

Did anyone else know that D’Artagnan has two famous statues? Here’s the one in Maastricht, Netherlands.

So, The Adventures of Gerard stands as a great book for light reading.  The obstacles placed before Gerard as well as the alternations between humorous scenes and those of the darkness of human nature keep the reader turning pages.  Of course, these adventures don’t reach the same level as Sherlock Holmes, but they still provide a great deal of entertainment and let one learn a different facet of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

American Gods

This is just one proof that I need to talk or at least communicate somehow with M. Otaku more often. I have been procrastinating writing about Neil Gaiman and specifically American Gods for quite a while now. Recently, as I was trying to explain to him the Neil Gaiman experience and the book American Gods in particular, a few utterly new thoughts occurred to me. Obviously, what follows is a bit of a ramble: I am in an Airport, and I should be planning for my interview tomorrow, but these ideas are too pressing to leave for later. You see, after reading American Gods, I could not bring myself to read any more Gaiman because, well, bleak does not begin to describe it…. captivating and bleak.

I found myself in serious conflict because this was the same author (and, at a similar time, according to the prologue) as the writer of Coraline which was my second Neil Gaiman experience, and the two books could not be less similar. Coraline is brave and hopeful.  American Gods is dank and pervaded by nihilism; although, dank is probably the best description. Coraline is brief and shining, American Gods rambles and everything that shines is fool’s gold.

So, which author is Gaiman? Obviously, that cannot be answered, and I am not sure that Gaiman knows. Coraline rises to the level of Narina, books that Gaiman obviously loves and cherishes. I thought, at least at first, that he has some traces of C.S. Lewis’ Christianity and that the ghosts of Christians past sort of haunt Neil Gaiman and his writing. In that case, the ‘Coraline’ would be just the story with the strongest haunting (as the West, now mostly deceased, is haunted by its belief and Christianity yet), while American Gods shows most clearly that desperate nihilism that the postmodern world abides in: the hopes of modernism having been smashed to bits starting 100 years ago this year.

There is a train of thought that I think binds together Coraline and American Gods in the same author. I know, of course, that this is mere speculation, but, having also just now read The Ocean at the End of the Lane (and previously, Anansi Boys), I think that Gaiman knows what he is doing. What he is doing is connected by a source that I would be very, very surprised if he did not know: (obviously, since I only really blog about one thing) “The Ballad of the White Horse.” (For which, I am very grateful to M. Otaku for introducing me.)

Gunthram, the King of the Danes says: “When he shall hunger without hope/ Even for evil gods.” Alfred responds decrying the despair and anger and nihilism of the pagan king, but that black dankness is the end of all beliefs that do not end in Christ:

Your lord sits high in the saddle,
A broken-hearted king,
But our king Alfred, lost from fame,
Fallen among foes or bonds of shame,
In I know not what mean trade or name,
Has still some song to sing;

Our monks go robed in rain and snow,
But the heart of flame therein,
But you go clothed in feasts and flames,
When all is ice within;

Nor shall all iron dooms make dumb
Men wondering ceaselessly,
If it be not better to fast for joy
Than feast for misery.

Now to tell you about American Gods. (This post wanders like the book, and is therefore fitting 🙂 ) If you care about spoilers–tough. The really good stories don’t depend on petty little secrets. The core idea is that people made the gods, but nevertheless, the gods are real. They have some real power, more real the more they are worshiped obviously. However, when people immigrated to America, they brought the gods with them, and America is a harsh place for the gods. They scrabble by, and Oden doesn’t like that. (Obviously…) (And if you whine about me letting the cat out that it was Oden, all I have to say is: the character calls himself Wednesday, its not like its a secret.) He gathers together the old gods to do battle with the new, and hopefully win their places back against the gods of the modern world. (Like the CIA spooks that everyone knows exists etc.) The main character is shadow, and he sees what he sees. Gaiman keeps what I think is a fundamental rule. He allows his characters their privacy, only telling us stuff when we need it.

Obviously, I enjoyed the fact that a lot took place in Wisconsin, and Neil Gaiman. has obviously been there for at least one winter. But the gods, the gods are dismal, and their depredations ranging from petty to horrifying, their origins following similar pattern. Although one is so tragic, and yet so believable, you will (or should) at least weep internally. Oden’s plan eventually falls apart, but nothing is really changed, nor is there any joy in the story.

But, thus is the face of the real world without including Christ. Thus was the ancient pagan world and thus is the modern pagan world. There is nothing for people except nothingness and to forget death for an hour in battle like Gunthram. It is remarkable that Jesus is never seen, nor mentioned. Only the old, squabbling, evil, petty gods, shown for themselves, not as they pretend. Wormwood in tights so to speak. It is entirely possible that Gaiman left Jesus out for the main reason that He is real, and not a figment of peoples imagination powered by people’s minds. I see no other good reason to leave out of America the defining belief of at least half of its people.

My conclusion, Neil Gaiman is a spy, a very good one. And I recommend, in order, Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Anansi Boys, American Gods, and Neverwhere. (The last one falls so far down only because it rambles without reason , American Gods rambles for good reason–ever driven anywhere in American on back roads?)

Sometime, I might well write about one of those specifically, but, for now, you at least know how I sorted out the enigma of Neil Gaiman.