And with that long winded introduction out of the way let’s segue into this year’s annual post dedicated to only a smidgen of the really cool trivia I’ve gleaned in my reading of both long forgotten and contemporary crime and supernatural fiction.
2. British life jackets were made of cork during World War 2 and blackout procedures so well known on land throughout urban England were also in place on ocean liners. This comes to you courtesy of the madcap plot in Nine -- And Death Makes Ten by Carter Dickson , also known as Murder in the Submarine Zone. I also learned all about George Robey (1869-1954), a music hall performer who is mentioned in passing in the novel. He apparently was very popular in the pantomime scene in the early part of the 20th century and was well known for his crazy eyebrows exaggerated and enhanced by make-up.
4. World history has always been lacking in my knowledge. Not much of what I learned decades ago in high school stayed locked in my memory bank. Thanks to my voracious reading, however, I’m always learning something new. In Captain Cut-Throat by John Dickson Carr I received a crash course in the Napoleonic Wars and got more than I ever would want to know about Joseph Fouché, Napoleon’s Minister of Police who serves as a leading character in one of Carr’s most successful historical crime novels.
|A early Murphy drip|
It ain't for brewin' java.
6. The Strangler Vine by Miranda Carter was one of the best historical adventure novels I’ve read in recent years. I learned all about the amoral business practices of the East India Company, how they had their own army (!) and how the company operated on its own agenda disregarding all rules, regulations and humanity in their plan to take over India and subjugate its people. Long live imperialism! (That’s sarcasm, gang.) Yes, it’s a novel but Carter used numerous historical texts and diaries as research in order to tell her story. Eye opening and highly recommended.
7. Ancient Egyptian burial practices and the mythology of Egypt served as the background for The Game of Thirty by William Kotzwinkle. The name of an unrecognizable god or goddess appeared about every five pages and their importance in ancient Egyptian beliefs filled those pages. Rather thrilling for a mythology junkie like me. What wasn’t so thrilling was the pedophile subplot that polluted the rest of the pages. Seemed like every other book published in the mid 1990s was about murderous pedophiles. I always avoid these books and was pissed off that Kotzwinkle included one in his plot.
|"Vision after the Sermon" by Paul Gaughin is featured|
prominently in Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec
9. Who doesn't learn something arcane when devouring a Christopher Fowler book? Take his latest, The Burning Man. Its pages are chock full of Guy Fawkes facts and legends and the origin of burning effigies that led to the annual celebration of the Gunpowder Plot. But I never need to double check on anything when reading his books because Fowler always gives you *all* the details you'd ever want. And then some!
10. Even a former Brit Lit student like me needs a refresher in his supposed field of expertise. So when I came across Malbecco in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it allusion in Catherine Aird's excellent impossible crime novel His Burial Too I was not so surprised that he turned out to be a minor character in The Faerie Queen. I wasn’t a fan of Edmund Spenser back in my college days. I tend to forget everything about that epic poem other than the Bower of Bliss section and that I found most of it boring as hell. Turns out that using the name Malbecco is an arcane way to call someone a paranoid jealous husband. He’s in Book III, Canto X (et al.) of Spenser’s seemingly endless poem if you want to read about him. I think an Othello allusion would've sufficed. What a show off that Catherine Aird is. Witty and smart, but a show off.