Victor Gunn: Death in December

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 3 – Armistice / Veterans’ Day

Murder at Castle Cloon


This novella by Victor Gunn (one of several pseudonyms of Edwy Searles Brooks) also forms the centerpiece of the second British Library Christmas mystery short fiction anthologies edited by Martin Edwards that I read this month (Crimson Snow), but I listened to it in the audio version narrated by Gordon Griffin, who is fast becoming one of my favorite narrators of classic / Golden Age British mysteries.

The story concerns a Christmas visit to Cloon Castle in Derbyshire, the home of Johnny Lister, sergeant to Chief Inspector Bill “Ironsides” Cromwell, Gunn’s gruffly iconic series detective.  And the two policemen haven’t even arrived ante portas yet when they’re running into their first mysterious appearance: a figure that seems to be walking in the snow at some distance; without, however, leaving so much as a single footprint.  When they are assembled around the fireplace after dinner with the other guests, the afternoon’s strange encounter is duly followed by the legend of the castle ghost and by a visit to the “ghost chamber”, but things take a serious turn when one of the guests engages to spend the night in the “ghost chamber” to disprove the legend once and for all, only to be found injured and of obviously disturbed mind hours later — and when not long thereafter, a stranger’s corpse is found in one of the graves in the family crypt abutting the “ghost chamber.”  The solution, when ultimately revealed by “Ironsides”, is very much down to earth and rather ugly, but there’s plenty of derring-do to be had along the way, including a rather fiendish attempt on the Chief Inspector’s life and much fine detection work (and enjoyable writing).

Since Johnny Lister’s father, the host of this story’s countryside Christmas gathering, is a retired general who has duly earned himself a DSO (I’m assuming in WWI — the story was first published in the early 1940s, but it sounds like the general’s retirement isn’t a recent one, and retiring in the midst of WWII doesn’t sound likely to begin with), I’m using this as my Veterans’ Day / Armistice Day read in the context of the 16 Festive Tasks.

 

 

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Candlelight Breakfast and a Book

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 3 – St. Martin’s Day – and Square 15 – Newtonmas

Tasks for St. Martin’s Day: Write a Mother Goose-style rhyme or a limerick; the funnier the better. –OR– Take a picture of the book you’re currently reading, next to a glass of wine, or the drink of your choice, with or without a fire in the background.

Tasks for Newtonmas: Take a moment to appreciate gravity and the laws of motion. If there’s snow outside, have a snowball fight with a friend or a member of your family. –OR– Take some time out to enjoy the alchemical goodness of a hot toddy or chocolate or any drink that relies on basic chemistry/alchemy (coffee with cream or sugar / tea with milk or sugar or lemon, etc.). Post a picture of your libations and the recipe if it’s unique and you’re ok with sharing it.

I decided to combine these two into one for a late candlelight breakfast this morning:


The drink is white hot chocolate; a gift from my BFF from our trip to London back in June.  Basically, it just calls for the white chocolate powder to be mixed into hot milk … my mom, however, had the brilliant and very alchemically correct idea of adding a pinch of ground (or instant) coffee.

 

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Kazuo Ishiguro: An Artist of the Floating World

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 3 – St. Martin’s Day

A Post-WWII Japan Vignette


My completist quest regarding Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels and short stories (begun long before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature) took me back to one of his earlier works — I only had An Artist of the Floating World and The Unconsoled to finish to have read all of his novels; and with the completion of this book, now only The Unconsoled remains.

Like in his very first published novel, A Pale View of Hills, in An Artist of the Floating World Ishiguro turns to the aftermath of WWII in his parents’ home country, Japan (Ishiguro himself was born there, but grew up in England).  The novel(la)’s protagonist and narrator is Masuji Ono, an artist who had risen in the imperialist war years, but now sees society around him changing as a result of the outcome of WWII.  “The floating world,” facially, is the pleasure district of Ono’s (unnamed) city, which underwent a first change with the onset of the imperialist regime, and then another one when Japanese society changed yet again after the end of the war: the meeting place of Ono and his artist friends, which before the war had inspired them to paint delicate pictures set in half-shades and pastel tones, but in the war years had changed to a rambunctious locale inspiring bold colors and brush strokes and loud, patriotic messages instead.  In a larger sense, of course, “the floating world” is Japanese society itself and its political transformations during and after WWII.

Switching back and forth between — and contrasting — Ono’s memory of the war and pre-war years, and his postwar retirement life, An Artist of the Floating World traces the stories not only of Ono-san himself but also of several of his fellow artists — fellow students at the villa of master teacher Moriyama, and later, students of his own — as well as Ono’s two daughters: one happily and fortuitously married while Ono’s star was still shining high in the artistic and social firmament; the other, having seen one engagement come to naught in the post-war years over her father’s “burdened” past already, now setting her hopes on the scion of a rising family, while her father makes the rounds of his former acquaintances to ensure that the detective sent by the prospective bridegroom’s family to inquire into the bona fides of the bride and her father will hear nothing but good things.

As always in Ishiguro’s novels, though, memory and the tricks it plays on our mind is the true topic here — virtually all of Ishiguro’s narrators are unreliable in the extreme, and Ono-san is certainly no exception.  As such, we never get a crystal clear picture of what exactly was his role during the war years, but from the details revealed over the course of the novel it becomes clear, at the very least, that he used to be a man of influence, whose recommendations could help make a person’s career (though not of sufficient influence to spare someone whom he had denounced for an unpatriotic attitude a worse fate than a severe “talking-to” by the authorities), his paintings played a crucial role in the war machine’s propaganda, he suffered a drastic fall from favor at the end of the war, his paintings are now all packed up and stored away — and if he doesn’t actually feel genuine remorse for his role during the war years, he is at the very least aware that he is expected to feel remorse; all of which, after having heard several stories of musicians and corporate executives who have committed suicide by way of a very Japanese “apology” for their real or perceived crimes, causes him to rise to such an apology, apparently entirely unprovoked, at his younger daughter’s miai (the traditional dinner at which she is introduced to her would-be bridegroom).

Ono-san is not necessarily one of Ishiguro’s most endearing protagonists, which, as in the case of Stevens, the butler / narrator in The Remains of the Day, has a lot to do with his reluctance to take off his rose-tinted glasses when looking in the mirror (even though, if the reaction of his bridegroom-to-be’s family to his words of “apology” during the miai, and the young man’s overall response to Ono — as indeed the fact that they are willing to consider his daughter as a bride for their son to begin with, and the fact that there never seems to have been any official punishment or repercussions against Ono other than his art’s fall from favor — is anything to go by, he’s probably more a pompous fool than anything else, supremely amenable to flattery, but ultimately judged as harmless by those that matter).

This is not a story set on a large canvas; rather, it’s a vignette taking a look at post-WWII Japan through the prism of a miniature lens.  And while Ishiguro has certainly succeeded marvelously with this sort of setting in The Remains of the Day, by and large I find that I prefer those of his novels which create a somewhat wider landscape, such as Never Let Me Go and When We Were Orphans.  A story told by an unreliable narrator needs space for the reader to obtain their own perspective, and being tied too closely to the narrator him- or herself for lack of the inclusion of sufficient events that would allow such a perspective to grow leaves me, at the very least, a bit unsatisfied; more so, in any event, than in Ishiguro’s longer novels, The Remains of the Day, When We Were Orphans, and Never Let Me Go.  While in those books I not only had a clear I idea who the narrators thought they were but also who I thought they were, here I know who Ono-san thinks he is, but not fully who others think he is — nor have I come to a finite conclusion as to who I think he really is.

I read this book for the St. Martin’s Day square of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, after having had the dreidel pick this as my next book for me for the Hanukkah square.

 

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The Dreidel Pick

16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 8 – Hanukkah – and Square 3 – St. Martin’s Day

Tasks for Hanukkah: Light nine candles around the room (SAFELY) and post a picture. –OR– Play the Dreidel game to pick the next book you read.

Assign a book from your TBR to each of the four sides of the dreidel:

נ (Nun)
ג (Gimel)
ה (He)
ש (Shin)

Spin a virtual dreidel: http://www.torahtots.com/holidays/chanuka/dreidel.htm
– then tell us which book the dreidel picked.

OK, here we go:

נ (Nun)     =  James D. Doss: The Shaman Laughs
ג
(Gimel)  =  Michael Jecks: The Devil’s Acolyte
ה (He)
      =  Kazuo Ishiguro: An Artist of the Floating World
ש (Shin)
   =  John-Henri Holmberg (ed.): A Darker Shade

 

 

Alright — Ishiguro it is.  And this will also give me my book themes for St. Martin’s Day (square 3): Read a book set on a vineyard, or in a rural setting, –OR– a story where the MC searches for/gets a new job. –OR– A book with a lantern on the cover, or books set before the age of electricity. –OR– A story dealing with an act of selfless generosity (like St. Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar).

 

 

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16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 3 – Armistice Day / Veterans’ Day

Tasks for Veteran’s Day/Armistice Day: Make, or draw a red poppy and show us a pic of your red poppy or other symbol of remembrance –OR– post a quote or a piece of poetry about the ravages of war.

 

 

“The world is full enough of hurts and mischances without wars to multiply them.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

 

“A man of importance had been shot at a place I could not pronounce in Swahili or in English, and, because of this shooting, whole countries were at war. It seemed a laborious method of retribution, but that was the way it was being done. …

A messenger came to the farm with a story to tell. It was not a story that meant much as stories went in those days. It was about how the war progressed in German East Africa and about a tall young man who was killed in it. … It was an ordinary story, but Kibii and I, who knew him well, thought there was no story like it, or one as sad, and we think so now.

The young man tied his shuka on his shoulder one day and took his shield and his spear and went to war. He thought war was made of spears and shields and courage, and he brought them all.

But they gave him a gun, so he left the spear and the shield behind him and took the courage, and went where they sent him because they said this was his duty and he believed in duty. …

He took the gun and held it the way they had told him to hold it, and walked where they told him to walk, smiling a little and looking for another man to fight.

He was shot and killed by the other man, who also believed in duty, and he was buried where he fell. It was so simple and so unimportant.

But of course it meant something to Kibii and me, because the tall young man was Kibii’s father and my most special friend. Arab Maina died on the field of action in the service of the King. But some said it was because he had forsaken his spear.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

 

In Flanders Fields

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you, from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
― John McCrae

 

“War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.”
― Thomas Mann, as quoted in This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of One Hundred Thoughtful Men and Women

“There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.”
― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

People who prefer to believe the worst of others will breed war and religious persecutions while the world lasts.”
― Dorothy L. Sayers, The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers. Vol. 1, 1899-1936

 

 

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The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Third Square: St. Martin’s Day and Armistice Day / Veterans’ Day

St. Martin’s Day

St. Martin’s Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Martin, Martinstag or Martinmas, is the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours (Martin le Miséricordieux, a Roman soldier turned monk after his baptism), and it is celebrated on November 11.  This is the time when autumn wheat seeding was completed, and when historically hiring fairs were held where farm laborers would seek new posts. – The best-known legend associated with his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying from the cold.  In a dream, St. Martin saw the beggar revealed as Jesus Christ.

St. Martin’s Day processions – which typically end up with a bonfire – are held in the evening, with participating children carrying colorful lanterns (often homemade).  The goose became a symbol of St. Martin of Tours, because legend has it that when trying to avoid being ordained bishop he hid in a goose pen, but was betrayed by the cackling of the geese.  (St. Martin’s feast day falls in November, when geese are ready for killing.)  He is also credited with helping spread viticulture in the Touraine region.  A pastry associated with St. Martin’s Day in parts of the German-speaking world is the “Weckmann”, a sweet yeast dough figure with raisin eyes clutching a white clay pipe.  (Elsewhere, it’s more commonly eaten on St. Nicholas’ Day.)

The Reading Tasks:

Read a book set on a vineyard, or in a rural setting, –OR– a story where the MC searches for/gets a new job. –OR– A book with a lantern on the cover, or books set before the age of electricity. –OR– A story dealing with an act of selfless generosity (like St. Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar).

–OR–

Other Tasks: Write a Mother Goose-style rhyme or a limerick; the funnier the better. –OR– Take a picture of the book you’re currently reading, next to a glass of wine, or the drink of your choice, with or without a fire in the background. –OR– Bake a Weckmann; if you’re not a dab hand with yeast baking, make a batch of gingerbread men, or something else that’s typical of this time of the year where you live. Post pics of the results and the recipe if you’d like to share it.

 

Armistice Day / Veterans’ Day

Armistice Day is commemorated every year on November 11 to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of WW I, which took effect at 11:00 AM – the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.  The date was declared a national holiday in many allied nations, and coincides with Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth and Veterans’ Day in the U.S., both public holidays.  The poppy became the international symbol of the day as a result of its being mentioned in the poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, which commemorates the fallen soldiers buried under the Flanders poppy fields.

The Reading Tasks:

Read a book involving veterans of any war, books about WWI or WWII (fiction or non-fiction). –OR– Read a book with poppies on the cover.

–OR–

Other Tasks:

Make, or draw a red poppy and show us a pic of your red poppy or other symbol of remembrance –OR– post a quote or a piece of poetry about the ravages of war.

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1615714/the-16-tasks-of-the-festive-season-third-square-st-martin-s-day-and-armistice-day-veterans-day

The Festive Tasks in Calendar Form – November

Reblogged from: Murder by Death

 

I’m a visual person, and after all the planning, writing up and editing, I’ve long lost track of which book themes and which tasks are associated with which holidays, so I made this up for myself.  I’m posting it here in case anyone else might find it useful.

December is in a separate post.

 

 

Square #1

Book themes for Día de Muertos and All Saint’s Day:
A book that has a primarily black and white cover, or
A book that has all the colours (ROYGBIV) together on the cover.

Tasks for Día de Muertos and All Saint’s Day: create a short poem, or an epitaph for your most hated book ever.

Tasks for Calan Gaeaf: If you’re superstition-proof, inscribe your name on a rock, toss it in a fire and take a picture to post –OR–
Make a cozy wintertime dish involving leeks (the national plant of Wales) and post the recipe and pictures with your thoughts about how it turned out.

Book themes for Calan Gaeaf:
Read any of your planned Halloween Bingo books that you didn’t end up reading after all, involving witches, hags, or various types of witchcraft –OR–
Read a book with ivy or roses on the cover, or a character’s name/title of book is/has Rose or Ivy in it.

 

Square #2

Book themes for Guy Fawkes Night: Any book about the English monarchy (any genre), political treason, political thrillers, or where fire is a major theme, or fire is on the cover.

Tasks for Guy Fawkes Night: Post pictures of past or present bonfires, fireworks (IF THEY’RE LEGAL) or sparklers. –OR–
Host a traditional English tea party, or make yourself a nice cup of tea and settle down with a good book to read.  Which kind of tea is your favorite? Tell us why.

Book themes for Bon Om Touk:  Read a book that takes place on the sea, near the sea, or on a lake or a river, or read a book that has water on the cover.

Tasks for Bon Om Touk:  Post a picture from your most recent or favorite vacation on the sea (or a lake, river, or any other body of water larger than a puddle), or if you’re living on the sea or on a lake or a river, post a picture of your favorite spot on the shore / banks / beach / at the nearest harbour.

 

Square #3

Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set on a vineyard, or in a rural setting, –OR–
A story where the MC searches for/gets a new job.  –OR–
A book with a lantern on the cover, or books set before the age of electricity. –OR–
A story dealing with an act of selfless generosity (like St. Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar).

Book themes for Veteran’s Day/Armistice Day: Read a book involving veterans of any war, books about WWI or WWII (fiction or non-fiction).  –OR–
Read a book with poppies on the cover.

Tasks for St. Martin’s Day: Write a Mother Goose-style rhyme or a limerick; the funnier the better.  –OR–
Take a picture of the book you’re currently reading, next to a glass of wine, or the drink of your choice, with or without a fire in the background.  –OR–
Bake Weckmann; if you’re not a dab hand with yeast baking, make a batch of gingerbread men, or something else that’s typical of this time of the year where you live.  Post pics of the results and the recipe if you’d like to share it.

Tasks for Verteran’s Day/Armistice Day: Make, or draw a red poppy and show us a pic of your red poppy or other symbol of remembrance –OR–
Post a quote or a piece of poetry about the ravages of war.

 

Square #4

Book themes for Penance Day: Read a book that has a monk, nun, pastor / preacher or priest as a protagonist, or where someone is struggling with feelings of guilt or with their conscience (regardless over what).

Book themes for Thanksgiving Day: Books with a theme of coming together to help a community or family in need.  –OR–
Books with a turkey or pumpkin on the cover.

Tasks for Penance Day: Tell us – what has recently made you stop in your tracks and think?  What was a big turning point in your life?  –OR–
Compile a catalogue of theses (it needn’t be 95) about book blogging!  What suggestions or ideas would you propose to improve the experience of book blogging?

Tasks for Thanksgiving Day: List of 5 things you’re grateful for –OR–
Post a picture of your thanksgiving feast; or your favourite turkey-day recipe.  –OR–
Be thankful for yourself and treat yourself to a new book and post a picture of it.

Bonus task:  share your most hilarious turkey-day memory.

 

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ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1613711/the-festive-tasks-in-calendar-form-november