DARK CORNER (1946) is an excellent noir thriller starring Mark Stevens as a gumshoe and ex-con who becomes convinced the partner who sent him to jail on a frame-up has sicked thug William Bendix on him as part of a new scheme. What he doesn’t realize is that the real villain is arrogant art-dealer Clifton Webb (an actor who raises sneering to an art form), who plans to murder the partner for sleeping with Webb’s wife, then frame Stevens for the gig. Tightly written as Stevens finds himself backed into that dark corner by someone he doesn’t know, for reasons he can’t understand and despite everything he and Gal Friday Lucille Ball can do stop it (“The dry cleaner got us his address, the kid sent us to the Lincoln Building—how much more of a break can I ask for?”). The romance is a bit rushed but this has great cinematography and some classic snappy dialog (Ball: “I get it. Your heart’s locked up in a safe.” Stevens: “And you think you’ve got the blowtorch?”). “You on the level? Why for six bits, you’d hang your mother on a meat hook.”
SCHNITZLER’S CENTURY: The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815-1914 is Peter Gay’s broad overview of the Victorian bourgeoisie, using Viennese playwright, womanizer and diarist Arthur Schnitzler as the hook for discussions of religion, sexuality, bigotry, political power and perceptions of work and family among the class. Having read some of Gay’s other work, I’m unsurprised that Gay’s emphasis is that the middle classes were More Than They Seem, both in complexity (wide variation on attitudes and political power depending on profession and nationality—Britain was seen at the time as the poster child for giving the middle classes a say in government) and in image—while it’s no news to me that Victorian women weren’t as sexually hung-up as the stereotype suggests, Gay provides an impressive amount of detail in the form of letters, diary entries and doctors’ accounts to prove it. Very good.
IN THE LAND OF INVENTED LANGUAGES: Esperanto rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language, by linguist Arika Okrent shows that efforts to create new languages have been around at least since the 12th century (nun Hildegard von Bingen came up with the earliest on record, though no-one knows why). Early language-creation efforts focused on building a language so perfectly logical that all you’d have to learn where a few basic elements; Okrent points out this didn’t work because it’s almost impossible to define an intuitively obvious set of base elements (as witnesses the logic languages couldn’t achieve the same sets). Then came the age of a universal language that would bring about world piece, then fun languages such as Elvish and Klingon, which is the most successful (in terms of the number of speakers) of any language next to Esperanto (which Okrent points out has already begun to accumulate the same kind of illogical inconsistencies that natural languages have). While never living up to their creators’ dreams, some languages have had impressive success—Esperanto actually has a few “native” speakers, the logic-based Blissymbols is used to teach children with severe cerebral palsy and Okrent considers Klingon a masterful achievement (in that while sounding alien, it follows real-world language rules). A very good book.
FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY Vol. 2 by Greg Rucka is a TPB of his series about British secret agents, particularly Tara Chase, a skilled “minder” whose personal life remains in constant freefall. In this book Tara blows off an office romance, helps out an old friend being used for blackmail and investigates a possible candidate for taking over Zimbabwe from Robert Mugabe. Well done, but I’m no more inclined to follow it than I’m inclined to follow most TV spy shows.