Thursday, June 29, 2017

“Hide My Eyes” by Margery Allingham

It begins in an alleyway in London’s West End theater district. It’s raining heavily, the theaters’ performances are at the halfway point, and no one seems to notice the old bus, the kind with curtains at the windows, pull into an alleyway. The few who see the bus notice only the elderly couple sitting at the very front.

But then there’s a murder in a nearby building. And the bus seems to vanish. Or perhaps no one notices it leaving because of the rain. The crime remains unsolved.

Eight months later, Chief Superintendent Charles Luke of Scotland Yard is visiting with a friend, Albert Campion, who often helps the police in their investigations. A policeman on the beat has made a possible connection between the unsolved murder and a small, rather eccentric museum in his patrol area. He had seen a young woman, Annabelle Tassie, in a nearby park, was struck by her loveliness, and rather pleasantly surprised when she asked for directions to the museum. The young woman had been waiting for a friend, Richard Waterfield. She’s looking for the museum because of a letter sent to her family by the owner, the wife of Annabelle’s great-uncle.

Through these rather disparate strands – a bus, a murder, a museum, a young couple – Golden Age mystery writer Margery Allingham (1904-1966) fashions one of the most chilling Albert Campion mysteries she had written. In Hide My Eyes, first published in 1958, Allingham creates a villain utterly without moral scruple, one who lies as a matter of ordinary behavior, kills when it’s of benefit, and uses people ruthlessly as long as they are of some use.

Margery Allingham
The novel is less a mystery and more of a psychological thriller. The reader knows who the villain is; the question becomes how, and if, he will be caught, and what havoc he’ll wreak in the meantime.

What adds immeasurably to this mystery novel is Allingham’s ability to evoke fear and uneasiness through scene description. What she does with the rain in the opening scene is amplified at a London junkyard at night. And the museum of eccentricities is downright creepy. All had greatly to the gripping psychology of the story.

Hide My Eyes is an Albert Campion mystery, but Allingham’s famous detective plays a relatively small if important role in the story. We see most of the story through the eyes of the young couple, Annabelle and Richard (and it wouldn’t be an Allingham story without a love interest). It’s a fascinating story that is difficult to put down.


Top photograph: an old English bus, similar to the one that plays a role in the story. Note the window curtains, which in the story were all drawn.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

“At Home in This Life” by Jerusalem Jackson Greer

Do you think you might find God in your laundry soap? How about a worm farm? Or a broken foot? And then there’s that family-workday-in-the-backyard plan that has everyone but Dad inside after 10 minutes.

Guess where Jerusalem Jackson Greer found God?

All of the above.

In At Home in This Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams & Beautiful Surprises, Greer tells the story of her life – and ours – in the 21st century. You know what life it is – that frantic, crazy, multitasking, carpool-school-carpool-home-work frenzy that all of us, in one form or another, engage in. And while we’re waiting for the red light to change, we’re checking Facebook notifications and email.

For Greer, her husband Nathan, and their children, it took a house not selling (“But it was featured in Southern Living!”), the dream of owning a farm falling through, and Greer breaking her foot (doing too many things at once) to start a process of change.

The idea of the change was simple: life isn’t what you’re waiting for while things happen. Life is what happens, so why not live in those extended moments of life happening.

The idea is simple; the execution of the idea is not, as Greer found out. And thus At Home in This Life.

While aimed at women, this is a book for all of us. It’s not about slowing down, throwing out the TV, walking away from social media (although Greer tries that for a month). This is book about the reality of day-to-day living, and the reality of finding God in that daily-ness.

Jerusalem Jackson Greer
So the house doesn’t sell and the dream of the farm has to be postponed. Greer paints her walls, gets friends to help with sanding and repainting of window frames, and finds the beauty in both of those. She and her family rediscover what it means to keep the Sabbath, not in a rigid, legalistic way but in a loving and appreciative way. They discover what hospitality means, and what it means to work in a soup kitchen. Her confession about cooking (she’s not that good at it and she doesn’t follow recipes) opens up a new level of communication with her husband (who is good at it). And her chapter on laundry soap (inspired by having a mother who’s the world’s expert on homemade laundry soap) is both funny and rather profound.

Greer is a speaker, writer, workshop leader, and lay minister living in central Arkansas (and, yes, she does finally make it to the farm; I suspect that’s another book). She’s previously published A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting, and Coming Together (2013) and A Faith-Made Year (2015).

If you want to be moved, entertained, stimulated, and impressed with what is possible to find in the daily-ness of life, At Home in This Life is a good place to start.

Photograph by Linnaea Mallette via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tales of the First Age: “Beren and Luthien” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Christopher Tolkien, the youngest of J.R.R. Tolkien’s three sons, will be 93 this year. He is his father’s literary executor, and he has spent the years since his father’s death in 1973 poring over papers and files, considering an array of various texts, different versions of stories and poems, staying true to his father’s vision and helping publish a considerable number of books that represent both wonderful stories and insights into The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is because of Christopher that we have The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin, many of the lost tales, the elder Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, and many other works.

Christopher Tolkien
The latest, and possibly the last, is Beren and Luthien, a love story between Beren, a mortal man in exile after his father and clanare killed, and Luthien, an Elf princess (the idea of which was carried over into The Lord of the Rings). Luthien is also called Tinuviel by Beren, and it is by that name we see her part in the story. Beren sees Luthien dancing in the woods and falls in love with her. Her father isn’t exactly pleased, and he agrees to the marriage only if Beren can steal a Silmaril, a jewel in the crown of Melkor, the Black Enemy, also known as Morgoth – and a forerunner of Sauron in the trilogy. He’s captured and enslaved in the kitchen, and Luthien travels to his rescue. With the help of a giant dog (who tricks an evil cat), she succeeds in Beren, and then more adventures happen.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.