Saturday, July 23, 2016

Victorian Adventures

I found another ebook about Kate Warne, this one oriented to young children. How Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln is beautifully illustrated, and is actually cheaper as a physical hardcover. After summarizing a few of Kate's early detective cases, the book recounts the Baltimore Plot to assassinate Lincoln before his inauguration. I knew most of the story already, but it had some details I did not know, such as Allan Pinkerton making Kate the head of his agency's Washington office. I'm glad such a book exists, because we need to teach our kids about pioneering women heroes like Kate Warne.

I also recently read a historical mystery called Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent. It's about a woman undertaker and her terrible husband who is secretly plotting with his brother to smuggle stuff to America during the Civil War. Some of the characters are American diplomats and spies; they often refer to Washington D.C. as "Washington City." The book goes into real international crises like the Trent Affair, and the Confederacy's efforts to get diplomatic recognition from Britain. The author not only name-drops famous Victorians, but she includes Queen Victoria herself and Prince Albert as characters who meet the titular undertaker. Normally I don't like this kind of namedropping of celebrities, but the book is so full of valuable historical details that I tolerated the liberties she took with history. (My unfinished novel about Sherlock Holmes includes young Mycroft being fascinated by the American Civil War, so knowing what events he might be discussing with his family is helpful to me.)

Anyway, after the smuggling plot, the story continues through the rest of the Civil War, past the assassination of Lincoln. There's a huge train accident, and a second mystery emerges about a real serial killer who fictionally interacts with the main characters. They solve the crime and decide to move to America to get away from all the notoriety. So not a typical detective novel at all, but more like a series of adventures for the heroine. The book is the first in a series, so I think I will continue on with it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I loved Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a comedy adventure about a young boy and an old curmudgeon on the run in New Zealand bush country. I went to see it partly for the plot and partly because it starred Sam Neill. It's wonderful and laugh out loud funny.

The movie begins with a social worker and policeman delivering a young boy to his new foster parents on a remote farm. The social worker describes Ricky Baker as a "bad egg", listing all his petty juvenile delinquency, but the farmer Bella is still very welcoming to the boy. She invites Ricky to call her Auntie, but her husband Hector grumbles at being called Uncle. Played by Sam Neill, Hector is introduced marvelously while carrying a dead pig on his back. He's a loner and barely tolerates the boy's presence. Bella brings Ricky a hot water bottle for his bed every night, and Ricky hugs it like it's the first sign of love he's ever received. Bella also teaches him to shoot a gun and kills a wild boar in front of him, causing the boy to faint. The movie is hilarious and full of pop culture references. Ricky is very fond of Tupac and what he imagines gangsta life to be.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


I never watched the original Ghostbusters movies, though I heard the catchy theme song everywhere. As a kid I watched the cartoon show with Slimer, so I never got attached to the original actors, and was always surprised that Egon wasn't a blonde guy whenever I saw movie clips in the music video. Therefore I was excited about the reboot and was only concerned that the new movie might either be too scary for me or have too many gross-out jokes about sliming people. I'm a total wimp when it comes to horror movies. Thankfully, the movie was just the right mix of spooky-scary with action and comedy. Good for family viewing, and there were several families in my audience. From the opening dialogue with that museum guy talking about P. T. Barnum enslaving elephants I was surprised by how funny and lighthearted the movie was. Paul Feig is still great at comedy. All the ladies did a good job, and the special effects were cool. I didn't like the new theme song, but thankfully it was used sparingly in the film, and more often we heard just the classic sound at the right moments for nostalgia purposes.

Apparently I missed an after-credits scene setting up a sequel. Maybe I'll watch it again for that, and to support the movie from all the viciously over the top criticism. Sure, I get tired of remakes too, but a lot of the hate has been solely directed at the premise of an all-female remake and was so unfair. I'm really horrified at all the racist attacks on Leslie Jones on twitter too. Cyberbullies are such cowardly scum. Especially with all the shitty stuff happening in the real world lately, an entertaining, summer popcorn movie is exactly the escape I need.

I'm certainly not going to watch the Republican Convention this week. I'm glad that Bernie Sanders finally endorsed Hillary, but it was such a minor blip in the face of more bad news around the world. I hope Hillary's VP pick will be good.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


It was a tough week with all the violence and racial unrest in America. I was at work the night of the sniper shooting in Dallas, so reading about it when I got home made me depressed and worried that Black Lives Matter would be blamed. I didn't feel better until seeing a Daily Show clip with Trevor Noah insisting that it's possible to be pro Black Lives Matter and pro police at the same time. I also appreciate Hillary Clinton calling for more national standards for police use of force. She also made the same point that criminal justice reform and prejudice are still valid concerns, along with mourning the police officers.

I do wish political rhetoric would be more nuanced. It made me so angry to hear about Lt. Governor Patrick blaming Obama for inciting a civil war. Shut the fuck up! At least Wonkette found some more reasonable responses from rightwing websites, which was encouraging. Maybe somehow we can change their minds on gun control? I'm still kind of anxious and scared what might happen next, but I'm glad that protests are continuing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Oh Come On

The FBI closed its investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails yesterday, but everybody still wants to discuss them and insinuate corruption. Bernie Sanders still is not endorsing either, and I'm so sick of it.

It's been scary and depressing around the world lately, what with the attacks in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Not to mention Brexit making everybody nervous. I wish people would get their priorities straight and not focus on petty politics and conspiracy theories. I don't think I could stand to watch the upcoming Democratic and Republican conventions.

Kate Warne's assistant

Lately I've been reading a fictional book, intended for kids, called The Detective's Assistant. The author Kate Hannigan invents a young orphaned niece of Kate Warne, who comes to live with her aunt in Chicago and gradually participates in Pinkerton cases. I recognize many of the cases from Allan Pinkerton's books such as "The Expressman and the Detective" though the cases are slightly altered to allow the teenaged Nell Warne to participate in disguise. She gets to meet not only Allan Pinkerton, but also George Bangs, Timothy Webster, and Hattie Lawton.

Along with the detective cases, there is a mystery as to why Kate Warne's husband Matthew Warne died back in Chemung County, New York. Kate thinks it was a murder by Matthew's brother (and Nell's father) Cornelius, and that was the reason she left her home in New York. Nell Warne says that the death was a tragic accident, though she's not certain of all the details, being a kid at the time and only overhearing what adults said about the death. But Nell strongly defends her father and decides to investigate by writing letters to her friend Jemma in Canada. Jemma's family are free blacks, but they had to leave New York because slave hunters came to the area and weren't picky about capturing true slaves or not. Jemma and Nell write to each other in ciphers about the Underground Railroad, and discuss how to find Jemma's father, whom they call The Maple Tree.

Anyway, the story culminates in Nell solving the mystery of Matthew's death, making up with her aunt Kate, and helping to secretly smuggle Abraham Lincoln to Washington DC, while avoiding an assassination attempt. It's a fairly readable book, and not too dumbed down for adults to enjoy; I did find it unrealistic sometimes for Nell to be disguised as full grown men when she was supposedly only 13, but I guess I've seen tall teenagers that age. The Author's Note at the end explains the historical vs fictional elements of the book, and Hannigan mentions all the research she did to write the story. She apparently even found a source in Kate Warne's own words! I was disappointed to read that Robert Pinkerton shut down the detective agency's female department in 1876, apparently while Allan Pinkerton was still alive. However, Allan may have been somewhat incapacitated still by his stroke in 1869. What a rotten thing for Robert to do, and I wonder what William Pinkerton's opinion was.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

No Cliffhanger

The final episode of Houdini & Doyle stayed in Canada for a mystery about an entire town of people suddenly dying at the same time. It also featured a local Indian tribe who were betrayed by a prospector named La Pier; years ago he opened a copper mine on their land and forced the Natives out. The local police are prejudiced against them as well, though Stratton, Doyle, and Houdini are more polite and respectful. Walt did believe that "Mother Earth" killed the people, but he wasn't portrayed as primitive and ignorant. He recognized Houdini, apparently had read the Sherlock Holmes stories, and knew of President McKinley's visit to Buffalo. I'm glad that the mystery was solved quickly enough to spend the rest of the episode resolving some major plots. (Doyle even had a vision of Sherlock Holmes speaking to him while he lay wounded.)