Saturday, July 4, 2020

Saturday Good Reads

It’s the Fourth of July, and it’s worth considering the words of other Americans who marked this day and what it commemorates. 

Address by Frances “Fanny” Wright, July 4, 1828, New Harmony Hall, Indiana.

Address by Daniel Webster, July 4, 1851, on the laying of the cornerstone of the new Capitol Building. 

Oration by Frederick Douglass, July 5th, 1852, in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York. You can also listen and watch the descendants of Douglass recite the speech.

Address by John F. Kennedy, July 4, 1962, at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Address by Ronald Reagan, July 4, 1986, to the nation on Independence Day.

Matt Taibbi has all the right journalistic bona fides. He’s a contributing editor for Rolling Stone; he’s published books and articles; and his political leaning is to the left. He’s published a review of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility that is anything but admiring. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s #2 on Amazon’s charts, and it was published two years ago. Taibbi calls it “pseudo-intellectual” and says it may be the first book ever to sell Hitlerian race theory as corporate wisdom. (The Washington Post was more content with calling it “flawed.”) DiAngelo likely won’t mind the review; she’s doing quite well, thank you

Queen Elizabeth is 94, and there are many of us who hope she’s on the throne for a good long time to come. Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy calls her “post-liberal;” she’s the only person in Britain who’s quite comfortable and allowed to get away with talking about God and faith. 

More Good Reads

Life and Culture

Our Politics Will Improve When We Turn Off Our Phones – Casey Chalk at Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 

Ahistorical Activism – Sohrab Ahmari at First Things Magazine.

Of Statues and Symbolic Murder – Wilfred McClay at First Things Magazine.

The Mark of an Educated Mind – Andrew Doyle at Standpoint.

Atheists in Praise of Christianity? – Jonathon Van Maren at The Stream (Hat Tip: Randy Mayfield).

British Stuff

Dissolution of the Monasteries in England – Judith Arnopp on Momentous Events in History.

American Stuff

Gettysburg Sunday: Cavalry After Church – Sarah Kay Bierle at Emerging Civil War.


Mary Lou’s Sacred Jazz – Deanna Witkowski at Urban Faith.

The Spiritual Lessons of Table Reading – Sr. Carino Hodder at Mere Orthodoxy.

Why Read Early Christian Authors? – Michael Haykin at Credo Magazine.


A Sunday Psalm – Jerry Barrett at Gerald the Writer.

Ecclesiastes 4, Recast in Classical Poetry – T.M. Moore at Society of Classical Poets.

'Cause You'd Be Here – Gleb Zavlanov at The Chained Muse.

Day 108 – Sonja Benskin Mesher.

Writing and Literature

Flannery O’Connor Didn't Care If You Liked Her Work – David Griffith at Church Life Journal.

Brideshead Revisited at 75 – Alexander Larman at The Critic.  

The Domestic Arts: Finding a Quiet Dignity in the Mundane – Barbara Castle at Front Porch Republic.

Sarah Jarosz Sings “Ring Them Bells” (Bob Dylan)

Illustration: The Declaration of Independence, approved July 2, 1776, officially dated July 4, 1776.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Pivot point

After Matthew 2:1-15

History pivoted
in their small town
in the hills, down
the road from one
capital and even
farther from another.
History pivoted here,
though, positioned
between the king
of death and the city
of refuge, with travelers
providing the catalyst
for the pivot to turn,
told to be good reporters
and tell the story, instead
becoming protectors,
moving another way,
refusing to tell the story
so that the story 
might not end but
be told.

Photograph by Buenas Dicas via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

"The Return of Mr. Campion: Stories" by Margery Allingham

I’ve been a fan of Margery Allingham (1904-1966) and her fictional private detective Albert Campion since I first started reading her novels in the 1970s. Allingham was one of the queens of the Golden Age of Mystery (1920s-1940s), and her books remain in print more than half a century after her death. 

Allingham began publishing in 1923 when she was only 19. But it was The Crime at Black Dudley in 1929 that established her as one of the best mystery writers of the era. That story introduced Campion, a private detective who has assumed his name because he’s actually a title in one of Britain’s leading aristocratic families. His “man” or butler, Magersfontein Lugg, a convicted felon who has seen the inside of prison, also contributed to Allingham’s success. 

Campion lives in a flat on Bottle Street in Piccadilly in London, right above a police station. Bottle Street is a fictitious cul-de-sac, but real institutions close by include the Royal Academy of Arts, Fortnum & Mason, and the Ritz Hotel. Piccadilly Circus is close by on the east, as is Green Park on the west.

The recently published The Return of Mr. Campion is a collection of 13 stories by Allingham, not all of which feature the detective. In fact, most of them don’t include her star character. The stories are all good ones, and the non-Campion stories help display the broader extent of Allingham’s talent. 

In “The Case is Altered,” Campion travels to the estate of friends for a weekend house party, and a letter suggesting a late-night tryst at the fountain in the garden ends up in the wrong hands. “The Dog Day” involves the detective accidentally overhearing the name of a dog, which turns out to be something of a spoiler.

In “The Wind Glass,” a Japanese gentleman studying in Britain falls in love with a young English woman in his class. He formally asks her father for her hand in marriage, and the English family reacts as if insulted. The man is humiliated and sends a gift of wind chimes that will almost be the family’s undoing. “The Beauty King” is about a hairdresser who develops a secret process that can transform women, but he doesn’t realize his greatest triumph. In a similar story, “The Kernel of Truth,” a man is willed a punch recipe that creates a phenomenal sense of well-being, if it’s mixed exactly right. 

Campion is back in “The Black Tent,” and during a party he sees a beautiful teenaged girls use a knife to jimmy open a library drawer – which will lead to the apprehension of a trans-Atlantic blackmailer. In “The Curious Affair in Nut Row,” Campion is merely a listener to a story told by a policeman. “What to Do with an Aging Detective” is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek story, involving both an elderly Campion and an even-more-elderly Magersfontein Lugg. “Tall Story” finds Campion again listening to a policeman’s story about a crime that appeared to be impossible to commit and prove.

Margery Allingham
“Sweet and Low” is something of a love story, involving horses, country estates, and the hero almost ending up with the wrong fiancĂ©e. In “Once in a Lifetime,” a well-known actress is on a train, arranging her large number of bags to discourage others from sharing her compartment. One man, however, barges in, and she hopes he doesn’t recognize her as his first young love. Or does she? “Happy Christmas” is about a young family, unexpectedly left to themselves for the holiday, who learn what the spirit of the season actually means. “The Wisdom of Esdras” is a ghost story, set in a large cottage in the country, with a guest who becomes almost desperate to help a ghostly girl. 

The collection includes two non-fiction articles by Allingham. “My Friend Mr. Campion” describes how the author came to invent the detective, explaining how he appeared in the first novel that featured him. And the introduction, “Mystery Writer in the Box,” is a delightful essay on the art of writing mystery stories. 

The Return of Mr. Campion is a welcome addition to the published novels and stories of one of the big names of the Golden Age. It also works by itself and could serve as an introduction to Allingham’s work.


Top photograph: British actor Peter Davison as Albert Campion in the 1980s television series.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

"Dancing Prince" is Published Today

Dancing Prince, the fifth and final novel in my Dancing Priest series, is published today on Amazon.

A mother's last words, a father's final message, and a strange painting: Michael Kent-Hughes faces personal tragedy, one that leads to long-lasting damage to the relationship with his youngest child, Prince Thomas. As the young boy grows to adulthood and the estrangement from his father continues, he finds his own way in life. But in the boy's hands and heart will lie the future of the kingdom. Dancing Prince is the moving conclusion of the Dancing Priest series.

The book includes a novella, Island, that is related to the main text but can be read as a standalone work.



Finding Romance in Alaska, Part 2

It’s late 1918. The Great War is approaching its end, but for Geoff Chambers, going on 21, the war may never end. He’s home in Juneau, Alaska, from the trenches in Europe, missing most of both legs. He’s bitter, angry, and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His family needs to get him away from Juneau. Reports of the Spanish flu epidemic are everywhere, and they need to isolate him from it so his physical recovery can continue.

Josephine Nimetz is 17. She works as a seamstress to help support her struggling family, but she also has experience nursing an ailing man. She’s on her way to deliver gloves to Mrs. Chambers when she’s accosted by her drunken stepfather, who’s demanding money for alcohol. He knocks her unconscious, and the Chambers find her and bring her to a room in their home. During the night, she hears a voice calling for water and discovers Geoff, who looks the very shell of a man.

His father makes an offer to Josephine and her mother. If she will care for Geoff at the family lodge on a nearby island for several months, until the threat of the epidemic passes, she’ll be well paid. Josephine and her mother agree, even though the girl knows she faces nine months caring for a young man who wants to die. In fact, the doctor gives him no more than two years unless something drastic changes in his attitude. Complicating Josephine’s work is that Geoff is already addicted to morphine.

Barbara Britton
Until June by Barbara Britton is the story of what happens on that island between Josephine and Geoff. It’s a romance novel, but it’s a bit unusual in not being a straight-line romance. There’s Geoff’s health, the deadline of when the job will end, family complications, and a friend of Geoff’s who is something less than kind to Josephine. There’s also the occasional bear, and a lurking dog that looks more like a wolf. 

Britton is the author of three romance novels in the Tribes of Israel series and three in the Daughters of Zelophehad series, aimed at teens in both the Christian and general markets. She’s a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Ullustrators,, Romance Writers of America, and Society of Wisconsin Romance Writers. A native of San Francisco, she lives with her family in Wisconsin.

Until June is solid, well-written historical fiction, with a well-researched geographic setting and background of World War I. It’s also a simply good story; I was so taken that I read it almost in one sitting.


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Forgotten Classics: “Shakespeare of London” by Marchette Chute

You’re reading an article on literary criticism, and you spot an almost easy-to-overlook aside: “For example, no one has really explained William Shakespeare like Marchette Chute did in 1947.” The reference is to a book she wrote, Shakespeare of London, and it was published in 1950, not 1947. But it was high praise indeed.

You ask yourself, “How is that possible? How is a biography of Shakespeare published 70 years ago better than anything more recent? We have so much more research, so many more historical and literary studies, so much more information. And we have the internet. How could someone make a statement like that?”

They were able to make the statement because it’s true. Shakespeare of London has been long out-of-print, but it is still a classic, and you can still find used copies via sources like Amazon and Alibris.

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

Monday, June 29, 2020

“Alias S.S. Van Dine” by John Loughery

While the mystery detective story may have been invented by Edgar Allen Poe, detective stories generally languished in America until the 1920s, with a few notable exceptions like Mary Roberts Rinehart. The British dominated the genre, both in Britain and the United States. Then, in 1926, Scribner’s published The Benson Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine, a story featuring a rather snobby, almost effete detective named Philo Vance. 

Scribner’s was not known for publishing mystery or detective stories. Van Dine’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, also served at the time as the editor for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and for Thomas Wolfe and Margaret Kinnan Rawlings a few years later. In this case, the detective mystery sold well, so well that Scribner’s contracted with Van Dine to publish more. The second in the series, The Canary Murder Case, skyrocketed Philo Vance and S.S. Van Dine to national fame. 

Willard Huntington Wright
Part of the attraction was S.S. Van Dine’s identity. No one knew who it was, and Scribner’s wasn’t saying. And part of the attraction was that the fictional detective happened to capture the spirit of the Jazz Age better than just about any fiction being published. The public couldn’t get enough of Philo Vance. 

Not everyone was impressed; one of the very few negative reviews of The Benson Murder Case came from a relatively unknown writer named Dashiell Hammett. But Philo Vance and S.S. Van Dine put the American detective story on the map, paving the way for an entire generation of noir writers like Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

Van Dine was Willard Huntington Wright, known for being more of an art critic, book reviewer, and editor than a mystery writer. He had been literary editor of the Los Angeles Times, an editor of The Smart Seta novelist, an art historian, and art exhibition organizer. A friend of H.L. Mencken and an admirer of the novels of Theodore DreiserWright hated romance and detective fiction with a passion, until he needed money. He knew Max Perkins from his brief Harvard days, and he presented the editor with three story treatments, which became the first three Philo Vance stories.

But the man was complex, and he’d led a complicated life. John Loughery tells the story of that life in Alias S.S. Van Dine: The Man Who Created Philo Vance. Published in 1992, the biography deservedly won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for best biography. It is a well-researched, in-depth work, its accomplishment even more marked by the fact that Wright told so many different stories (some embroidered truths, others outright lies) about his childhood, upbringing, education, and work experience. Loughery sifted through all the information to produce a well-written, engaging biography.

He tells a complete story. Wright had a first-rate mind, but he tended to squander his talents. He didn’t like to follow direction, especially from the people who employed him. He treated his wife and daughter rather shamefully, and his serial philandering was the least of that treatment. He disdained popular literature, seeing himself as an arbiter of artistic ideas and understanding. In many cases, he was exactly that. He borrowed money from whomever would lend it to him. 

John Loughery today
Finally, in desperate financial straits, he presented Perkins with three ideas for detective stories. The editor, no fan of detective fiction, immediately recognized the commercial possibilities. From 1926 to about 1934, Wright rode a wave of popularity that combined publishing and film (most of the Philo Vance stories became movies). But his creativity waned; the later of the 12 novels were weaker than the earlier ones. By 1938, Perkins was saying they would publish no more; the stories simply weren’t selling like they had. But Scribner’s knew that Van Dine and Philo Vance had saved the publishing firm from disaster after the stock market crash of 1929.

Loughery has also published Dagger John: Archbishop John Hughes and the Making of Irish AmericaDorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American CenturyThe Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives and Gay IdentitiesJohn Sloan: Painter and Rebel, and other works. He’s been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and received the Edgar Award in Biography from the Mystery Writers of America for Alias S.S. Van DineHe has also edited three anthologies. First Sightings: Contemporary Stories of American Youth (1993), Into the Widening World: International Coming-of-Age Stories (1994), and The Eloquent Essay: An Anthology of Classic and Creative Nonfiction (2000). Born in 1953, he lives in New York City.

Wright died in 1939 from heart disease; he was 51. He and his novels were quickly forgotten until a minor revival in the 1990s. But Philo Vance was an American original; he put American detective fiction on the world literary map and could rightly point to what he made possible – Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Mickey Spillane, Perry Mason, and so many characters and stories in detective fiction. Alias S.S. Van Dine tells a fine story about a talented and very imperfect man.


Sunday, June 28, 2020

The prophetess

After Luke 2:35-38

She’d been here
for years, never
leaving, always
serving, speaking
words that inspired
or foretold or
frightened or all 
of the above, often
at the same time.
She’d lived here,
in worship and prayer,
fasting and praying,
until she saw
the child who
was foretold.
As a prophetess 
does, she saw the child
and prophesied.

Photograph by Glen Hudson via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Saturday Good Reads

Coronavirus. The upheaval of protests and riots. The spectacles of watching people attack statues of not only Confederate generals but also Abraham Lincoln, abolitionists, and the 54th Massachusetts. At Breaking Ground, poet James Matthew Wilson considers these things and suggests that understanding is only going to come through contemplation, and poetry is the fine art of contemplation. Read “Verse Lines When the Streets Are on Fire.”

Poet and writer Angela Alaimo O’Donnell published a book about Flannery O’Connor, entitled Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor. Paul Elie reviewed it for The New Yorker, and it wasn’t the most balanced or thoughtful of reviews (consider the review’s title: “How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?”). A number of writers took issue with Elie’s review, including Jessica Hooten Wilson, who describes “How Flannery O’Connor Fought Racism” for First Things Magazine. I don’t write for The New Yorker, but even I understand what Flannery O’Connor was doing in her stories.

Samuel James took a respite from blogging, and now he’s back. I’ve always found his writing to be thoughtful, considerate, and deep. He takes a look at a book he read two years ago, The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, and considers the topic that is more controversial than both religion and politics.

My favorite story of Washington Post craziness was the January 2017 report of Russians hacking the electric grid, a story that the Post kept dialing backward after repeated criticism (including from some journalists) until it bore no resemblance to the original (you can do things like this online, a contemporary version of the old Soviet encyclopedia). Josh Barro and Olivia Nuzzi at New York Magazine have found another one, and ask “Why Did the Washington Post Get This Woman Fired?.”

More Good Reads


The Wife’s Lament: A Medieval Poem about Isolation – Eleanor Parker at Torch Oxford.

The Enigma Machine – Amit Majmudar at Literary Matters.

Patrick’s Rune – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Telling the Bees About Love – Bruce Meyer at The Chained Muse.


Fatherhood: Much More than Financial Provision – Gisle Sorli at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

Marxism, Postmodernism, and Critical Race Theory – Brant Bosserman at Gentle Reformation.

My Favourite Graveyard – Seth Lewis.

Writing and Literature

Please! Hold Off on That Novel Coronavirus Novel! – Bill Morris at The Millions.

Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth Sermon – Adam Horn at Church Life Journal.

Walker Percy’s “The Second Coming” – James Como at The Imaginative Conservative.

Life and Culture

Of dishonored memory – James Bowman at New Criterion. 

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Amazing Grace

Painting: Young Man Reading, oil on panel (ca. 1650) by Jacob van Loo (1614-1670).

Friday, June 26, 2020

A surprise

After Luke 2:25-25 and 2 Corinthians 5:20

The parents watched
the child raised 
in the air by
the old man,
standing in front
of them, radiant,
surrounded by
a fire without 
flame and heat,
a sound without
The parents watched.
The parents saw.
The parents marveled.

Photograph by Caleb Jones via Unsplash. Used with permission.