Tag Archives: Peter Wimsey

Movies and Books

THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH (2013) was the other film I was able to catch at Nevermore and happily a good one: A man returns to his mother’s home after her death and finds it apparently haunted by her ghost (voice provided by Vanessa Redgrave)—or by something … This is very good-looking and interesting for being almost a one-man show (other than the lead, other characters are only on videotape or voice-over. Nicely done; Redgrave’s turn dealing with lonely spirits in They would make that a good double-bill. “The woods belong to God—but sometimes something comes out of them that isn’t godly.”
GALAXY QUEST (1999) is, of course, the fun Star Trek tribute/parody in which the stars of a legendary TV SF series (variously including Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver are recruited to help out aliens who’ve been monitoring our broadcasts for years and are firmly convinced in the reality of the show—which inevitably forces the humans to live up to their on-screen icons. In its own way, one of the best Trek films; The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space would be a logical though much-inferior double-bill. “That episode was badly written!”

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ THE MASTERMIND OF MARS is a good example of how ERB blended his stories into the real world: It opens with a letter to Burroughs from a crippled WW I vet who managed to duplicate John Carter’s feat of sending his spirit to Mars. There he becomes the assistant to mad transplant scientist Ras Thavas, which suits him until his master transplants a withered crone’s brain into the body of a beautiful young girl and the protagonist decides enough is enough. Points to ERB for not just cloning John Carter (this protagonist is nowhere near Carter’s level of combat invincibility), but a lot the plot elements (manipulating cultists by faking their god’s voice) are pretty old hat.
When a doctor insists one of his wealthy patients suffered an UNNATURAL DEATH, it draws Lord Peter Wimsey’s attention despite the fact there’s no evidence of murder, nor any reason for the heir to bump her off, which he tells Parker makes it a Perfect Crime (“No method, no motive, no clue.”). Dorothy Sayers’ third Lord Peter novel is a really good one, introducing Peters’s Miss Marple-ish investigator Miss Climson and giving Peter an extremely formidable adversary. The heavy emphasis on the villain’s lesbianism is off-putting though (particularly because Sayer’s dances around it so much).
THE SUMMONER: Book One of the Chronicles of the Necromancer by Gail Z. Martin has a young prince narrowly escape when his older brother seizes the throne, then try simultaneously to master his latent Ghost Whisperer abilities while organizing the resistance (being an epic fantasy, there’s the added threat that the evil wizard working with the brother will unleash the Dark Lord of Death). Competent, but I’d have liked it better at half the 600-page length. The interesting part (the hero dealing with his responsibilities to the dead) gets swamped by too much talk and a lot more detail about the world than I needed to know (admittedly this is common in epic fantasy—one reason I don’t read a lot of it).
As I liked Irredeemable‘s later volumes better than the first, I thought I’d see if the same was true of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary. But no, PLANETARY: Spacetime Archeology didn’t work for me any better—Ellis’ use of pastiches of classic characters (the Fantastic Four in this case) really adds nothing to the story (both Venture Brothers and Astro City have done better with the FF), and the SF elements are routine (reality is just information in a gigantic cosmic computer!). Not really bad, just not terribly interesting.


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And Books

THE YOUNG MAGICIANS is a collection of imaginary-world fantasies edited by Lin Carter (for the Ballantine Fantasy Series of the early seventies) running from William Morris (whom Carter has stated in many places he considers the founder of the genre) through Carter himself (I’ve rarely seen an anthology of his he didn’t work himself into). While this was written to showcase stuff not otherwise in print, Ballantine would publish much of it later in the series, including Dunsany’s “Sword of Welleran,” “The Cats of Ulthar” and Clark Ashton Smith’s “Maze of Maal Dweb” but there’s also stuff I haven’t read such as an excerpt from Cabell’s Way of Ecben, a Pusadian short by L. Sprague DeCamp and one in a short-lived series by Henry Kuttner set in the ancient Gobi, plus some less enjoyable work (the only not-in-print Morris Carter could find was a play in verse).
DRAGONS, ELVES AND HEROES is the companion volume tracing pre-Morrisian fantasy, though with Carter’s usual habit of assuming Beowulf and the Shah Nameh constitute early genre fiction. That said, an interesting collection including excerpts from the Gesta Romanum, the Volsungasaga, and Palmerin of England as well as literary work such as Voltaire’s Princess of Babylon (which isn’t up to some of his fantasies, such as Zadig). Like it’s companion, quite enjoyable.
THE MERLIN CONSPIRACY is Diana Wynne Jones’ sequel to Deep Secret in which one of the teen protagonists of the earlier books gets caught up fighting a scheme to subvert the magic of a key world in the multiverse. The mix of magic, teen angst and Old Powers is fun reading, but not up to her best—the sorcerer Romanov is one of Jones’ less interesting Chrestomanci knockoffs and the emotional arcs get short-changed in the finish (Roddy discovers things about her best friend Grundo that should pay off dramatically but they never do).
Jones’ THE GAME is a short but better book (reminiscent of Seven Days of Luke)in which a young girl discovers the relatives she’s staying with routinely hop out into the “mythoverse” where dragons, elves and heroes hang out and where her long-lost parents are languishing in durance vile. Light, but fun.
COLD MAGIC by Kate Elliot is a steampunk fantasy in which the 1800s have both airships and sorcery and where the female protagonist discovers she’s being forced into a marriage of convenience because of an ancient pact between her family and one of the magical clans. This lost me early on—it’s one of those fantasies that spends much more time detailing the world and culture than I have any interest in (not that it’s a bad world, I just find lengthy digressions into worldbuilding uninteresting).
CLOUDS OF WITNESS was Dorothy Sayers’ sequel to Whose Body? in which Lord Peter and his cop buddy Parker try to figure out why Peter’s titled brother has no explanation for why he was found standing over the corpse of his sister’s recently disgraced fiancee. This gives us a good look at Peter’s family, but it’s ultimately a weaker book than the predecessor, spending far too much time on the exact chronology of everyone’s movements on the night in question (a common problem with mysteries of that era). Another problem is that Wimsey’s silly-ass witticisms were a little heavier this time than last.

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Movies and Books

Second in the Godzilla series, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955) is the retitled Japanese film Gigantis the Fire Monster, in which a new specimen of the “gigantis” species (the original Godzilla having died in the first film) thaws out of ice and begins stomping Japan (as with the first film, the sense of ruin is much more powerful than in similar American movies of the era) in its battle with an “angersaurus” that also thawed out, making this the first of many in the series to have multiple monsters. Some good continuity touches (explaining why the oxygen destroyer of the first film can’t be reused, for instance) but a weak finish——attacking the Gigantis on an isolated island away from civilization just isn’t satisfying. “It is no longer in the lap of science——now it is in the lap of the gods!”
JUDGE DEE AND THE MONASTERY MURDERS (1974) adapts one of Robert van Gulik’s mystery novels about the eponymous 7h-century Chinese judge, here investigating a series of mysterious events at a monastery where half the residents seem to be hiding secrets. This TV movie is noteworthy for having an all-Asian cast, including Khigh Diegh as Dee, Mako as his chief guard and Keye Luke as a kindly sage. Good, though the villain’s scheme seems to do little more than accomplish evil for the hell of it. “Nobody builds a wall 10 feet thick!”
THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948) is the film version of the Woolrich novel in which sideshow mentalist Edward G. Robinson becomes increasingly tormented by his genuine flashes of precognition, especially when it becomes clear he can’t change anything he sees, however tragic. When he sees the daughter of his best friend lying dead, however, he sets out to avert it, even though hardboiled cop William Demarest is determined to expose him as a con man. This has a tighter mystery plot than the book, but undercuts the sense of doom; still, a good film in the noir tradition of struggling against an inevitable, inexplicable fate. It would double-bill well with Black Rainbow for Roseanne Arquette’s similarly tormented fake psychic. “I was living in a world already dead——and I alone knowing it.”

AUNT DIMITY BEATS THE DEVIL by Nancy Atherton is part of a “cozy” mystery series about a rare-book specialist who gets help from her deceased aunt in crises (via writing in a notebook, nothing more dramatic). In this case, the protagonist falls victim to another, more obsessed ghost while investigating the rare books in an isolated mansion (surprisingly, they don’t do more with how much of a Gothic cliche this is); different from the usual cozy, but not quite enough to hold me.
WHOSE BODY? by Dorothy Sayers was the first in her Lord Peter Wimsey series, as Peter and his faithful manservant Bunter investigate how a naked, shaven corpse would up in the bathtub of a middle-class flat. Wimsey plays the Wodehouse-style silly ass much more than I remember him doing in later books, though it’s also clear he’s both good as a detective and not at all silly (suffering Great War PTSD, for example). The babble gets a little too thick, but Sayers’ writing compensates for some of that (like one character’s observation that around the short Wimsey, he feels as if being six-two is “vulgar assertiveness.”). Despite its flaws, enough good stuff to appreciate why Wimsey would go on to outlast most of his contemporaries.


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