|US 1st edition |
(Doubleday Crime Club, 1976)
THE CHARACTERS: Morgan Astey does not plan to spend as much time in St. Martin ,but the disturbance to his half brother's grave raises a variety of question and the news of a possible Macumba cult involved is as fascinating to him as it is aggravating. Another thing that he finds curious is that everyone tells him that Eddie's face was unharmed in the accident, one that should have shattered his body as he supposedly lost control of his motorcycle near a craggy hairpin turn by a rocky cliffside. And yet Eddie's body suffered only a few broken bones and a broken neck. Morgan is further suspicious of foul play after talking to a knowledgeable mechanic working on repairs to Eddie's motorcycle. He tells Morgan of some strange things found on the bike that would be inconsistent with a wreck on that cliffside.
|UK 1st edition|
(Robert Hale, 1976)
One of the memorable supporting players is Detective Sergeant Wright whose skill in manipulating and exploiting people is enviable. Wright has made it his business to know everyone's business and he uses his knowledge of the private lives of St Martin's citizenry to his advantage. So talented is Wright is getting others to do his bidding that Morgan realizes almost too late the policeman has employed him as an unofficial investigator. In suggesting to Morgan mysterious aspects about Eddie's death and inveigling him to seek answers to those questions Wright manages to get Morgan to do his job for him. Toward the end of the book Wright congratulates Morgan for successfully acting out in this unofficial capacity in one of their many tea room conversations. The policeman has an almost unquenchable craving for the various bakery treats offered at the many tea shops and cafes in town. He is always meeting Morgan in one of these shops where he can get yet another sampling of a tasty biscuit or tea cake, always proffering them to Morgan who almost always refuses.
THINGS I LEARNED: 1. Pat, editor/reporter/Jill of all trades, has a habit of exclaiming “What the Betty Martin?” I thought maybe this was some sort of Cockney slang, but I was wrong. It’s a lot more involved than that. Ready?
On a Linguistics internet forum I discovered that the origin of this phrase first appeared in Brewer’s seminal Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Brewer claims it comes from an anecdote about a sailor who overheard someone in a foreign church utter the Latin phrase “Ah mihi, bea’te Martine” (Ah grant me, Blessed Martine). And that the sailor “could not make much out of it but it seemed to him very much like ‘All my eye and Betty Martin.’ ” Brewer defines the phrase as a regionalism that means something seen or heard is all nonsense.
|St. Martin of Tours and the beggar|
Then there is someone else who believes that the Latin phrase was alluded to in a poem by Coleridge that includes the lines: “ All my I! All my I!/He’s a heretic dog who but adds Betty Martin.” And that this led to the phrase becoming misheard and interpreted as “All my eye!” which gives us the commonly heard “All my eye and Betty Martin!” another slang phrase that means basically “What a load of malarkey!” a favorite Irish exclamation in the Norris household. In the US you often hear someone say (usually a mature and older person) “My eye!” when they disbelieve someone or think something is baloney.
All of it sounds like pretty good etymological research to me. You can decide on your own if the Latin for Blessed Martin or Blessed Mater later transmogrified into Betty Martin.
The differences between a snake and a legless lizard are numerous: snakes have no eyelids, legless lizards do; snakes have forked tongues, legless lizards do not, etc. In no way could it be confused with a worm. Part of Boyle’s research and one of the unusual mysteries solved involving what Pat and Morgan think is a strange hieroglyphic code reveals that the slow worms Boyle studies were taught to run through mazes. I can imagine a legless lizard, a snake like creature, learning to do this, but I absolutely cannot believe that a worm (as Davies thought the thing was) could be taught to navigate a maze no matter how simple or complex. In any case, he was terribly wrong about the creature that Boyle studies and it sort of ruins the book a bit when you get to that portion of the story.
|L. P. Davies (circa 1976)|
In the 1960s scientists experimented on flatworms, teaching them to run very simple mazes, among other things. There was a journal, The Worm Runner's Digest, discussing their work: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-26/edition-4/looking-back-worm-runners-digestReplyDelete
An anthology of experiments was also published.
Planarian worms have many virtues as experimental subjects. Among other things, it turned out that if they were bisected and allowed to regenerate, worms - or half-worms - that had once learned a maze learned it more quickly than worms without previous experience and that worms that were fed minced worms that had learned a maze also learned mazes more quickly than those fed on ignorant worms.
I'd guess that Davies was inspired by this work, but why he made the experimental subjects slow-worms, I don't know, unless it was a joke on his readers and publishers. Slow-worms are quite common in England, so it's unlikely he didn't know the difference.
At one time, "worm" meant any kind of legless creature, including dragons - most famously in the story of the Lambton Worm.
Whadya know? I remember working with planaria in my high school biology lab. It was a teaching point about the miracle of regeneration. We did something with flashlights too now that I am thinking about it. Made them follow the light around the petri dish. Sort of like -- a maze! Of course, I wasn't thinking at all of worm species like planaria or flatworms. Davies makes it clear he means earthworms. All the characters in the book were talking about them too whenever they made their worm jokes.Delete
I doubt Davies was ever using worm in the medieval sense the way Stoker, Eddison and other writers of horror and fantasy novels did.
BTW, the cannibalism of planaria is exactly the experiment that Boyle uses on the slow worms in his mazes.
At the reference to mazes, I immediately thought of planaria, though it's about fifty years since I read about them. I'm afraid I thought that you had assumed planaria were a kind of earthworm. My apologies.Delete
I mentioned the earlier meaning of "worm" because I wondered if the "real" purpose of Prof. Boyle's experiments was producing some kind of supernatural monster.
When people complain about modern standards of copy-editing this book is a perfect example - or would be if it hadn't been published more than forty years ago. It looks like no-one - author, editors, other employees of the publisher - involved in producing the book knew or checked on the differences between flatworms, earthworms and slow-worms. I wonder about reviewers.
This looks very interesting and will do further checking on this author especially as he quite possibly could have been a schoolmate of my parents in Crewe during the 1920 s. However my immediate comment is that the expression you quote was one of a range my father picked up during his wartime service in the RAF. In his version it was 'All mi eye and Peggy Martin'. This is a known variant as I recall it being discussed some years ago on BBC R4's Quote Unquote programme or something similar. Another favourite was to the effect that soandso should be 'dogknotted' - it took me a long time to figure this one out but I doubt the process would be a pleasant experience.. Sorry for the diversion - Mike VawdreyReplyDelete
I have obtained this book and will be reading it soon. I have already read The White Roon by the author and it was superb.ReplyDelete
This one is not as good as his earlier novels. The characters are engaging and the story often weird but the reveal of the villains’ scheme was a bit of a letdown. I’m just impressed he managed to find so many different and unusual plots to discuss his favorite theme of loss of identity. I bought five of his books last month. More Davies posts on the way. Detective novels are wearing me down. In need to read some strange books for the rest of the summer.Delete
I have been a fan of L.P. Davies since I read "The Artificial Man" in high school. I was also probably one of the few people who purchased the wall poster of the Scholastic edition cover, something I dearly wish I still owned. Visitors to this site might be interested to know that Ramble House recently published a 2-volume collection of all of L.P. Davies short stories that were originally published in "London Mystery Magazine," plus 1 bonus story (78 stories in total). The title is "Shadows Before: The London Mystery Stories of L.P. Davies". It can be found at ramblehouse.com. While, as you point out, used copiers of most of Davies' novels, are still generally available, these stories have been mostly unavailable since their original publication. I am the editor of this collection, so please forgive me a bit of shameless self-promotion, but I think fans of Davies' novels would enjoy this collection.ReplyDelete
Thanks! You’re the second person to tell me of this story collection. And on the same day. Long overdue. Sergio, former blogger/owner of Tipping the Fedora, was interested in putting together a Davies collection several years ago. Glad we all have these volumes to see another side of an innovative and deeply imaginative writer.Delete
My pleasure. I confess that I'm the guy who told Sergio about this collection.ReplyDelete