Thursday, May 31, 2018

“Death in the Fearful Night” by George Bellairs

On separate occasions, two young women are murdered while walking home at night near the town of Carleton Unthank, both stabbed in precisely the same way. Residents becomes alarmed at the idea of a maniac stalker; local police have no leads or clues. And, so, Inspector Thomas Littlejohn of Scotland Yard, assisted by Sergeant Cromwell, is called in to take over the case (the London detectives, like the local police, rarely use first names). 

Two more murders follow, and they appear to be by the same killer. One is a man, stabbed in his home. He had moved to England from Australia some years before and had the reputation of being something of a ladies’ man. The second is one his ladies, the owner of the local riding school. But these seem different than the first two. Could there be two different killers using the same method of murder?

Death in the Fearful Night by George Bellairs was first published in 1960, and it’s a classic British police whodunit. Littlejohn and Cromwell are no Holmes and Watkins; Littlejohn has no great flashes of insight based on a few odd clues. He gets the job done by plodding police work, talking to people, interviewing witnesses, paying attention to what people say and how they behave. He’s not above a bit of mild bullying and theatrics, if that’s what it takes to catch a killer (or killers).
George Bellairs

George Bellairs is a pseudonym of British author Harold Blundell (1902-1982), who was first a banker and philanthropist before turning his hand to writing mystery stories. He wrote more than 50 Inspector Littlejohn mysteries, and also wrote four other books under the pseudonym of Hilary Langdon. He also wrote comedy for radio and was a newspaper columnist and freelance writer. His Littlejohn mysteries, many set outside London, provide a perceptive look at small towns and minor cities.

Death in the Fearful Night manages to keep the reader guessing to the end. The pleasure in reading comes as much from the unmasking of the killer as it does how Littlejohn goes about solving the case. 


Top photograph by Tevin Trinh via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

“How Can I Be Right with God?” by R.C. Sproul

It doesn’t get more R.C. Sproul-ish than How Can I Be Right with God?

Until his death in December of 2017, Sproul led Ligonier Ministries, based in Sanford, Florida. He wrote numerous books, articles, sermons, and speeches on Christianity, church history, theology, Calvinism, Reformed theology, and related topics. The Crucial Questions series includes some 30 topics which are free as eBooks, and this volume is a part of the series.

It’s the classic teaching of the Reformed faith.

Sproul starts in Geneva, Switzerland, at the Reformation Wall(or what’s officially known as the Monument to the Reformation). It’s a huge monument, with four figures depicted at the center – John CalvinJohn KnoxWilliam Farel, and Theodore Beza. With Martin Luther, these four articulated justification by faith alone, the main doctrine of the Reformers and the major difference with Catholic teaching. 

He describes the three major crises in Luther’s life that led to his understanding of the biblical teaching of justification; how Luther and the reformers “understood the biblical teaching of justification in terms of forensicjustification;” the great exchange, or how mankind’s sin was imputed to Christ; how the reformers understood the means of salvation; and what happened at the Council of Trent when the Roman Catholic Church defended its doctrines, and how much turned for the reformers on a single word, sola, as in sola fide– justification by faith alone. 
R.C. Sproul

Sproul continues with the three major aspects of saving faith: notitia, the content of faith, or what you believe; assensus, agreement or intellectual assent; and fiducia, which has to do with trust. He covers the remission of sins and then concludes with a discussion of peace with God.

It’s a short work, easy to read in an hour or less. But How Can I Be Right with God?is bedrock Reformed teaching, and it succinctly describes the basics of the Reformed faith. 


Top photograph by Joshua Earle via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

"He Wants to See You. Now."

The phone rang. Focused on the words on my computer screen, I absentmindedly picked up the phone.

“He wants to see you.” 

“Now?” I asked.


I grabbed my suit coat (that’s what we wore in those days), made a mad dash down my building’s back stairs to the tunnel connecting all of the buildings on our campus. I surfaced in the executive building next store – a place of granite, art work, and polished wood bathed in toney silence. 

In corporate communication circles, I occupied one of the high positions – the CEO’s speechwriter. I had written for CEOs before him, and I would write for CEOs after him. But no one had the reputation this CEO did.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Christian Poets & Writers.

Poets and Poems: Sofia Starnes and “The Consequence of Moonlight”

The Consequence of Moonlight, the latest collection of poetry by former Virginia poet Laureate Sofia Starnes, reads like a vivid dream. The words, phrasings, and language are almost dreamlike, rather lush, clouded edges that lead the poems from one into another. The 70 poems of the collection are independent and yet not; the reader gradually becomes aware of consistent themes and images. 

And yet it’s not all clouded edges. These poems, in their own quiet way, ask vivid questions about relationships, childhood, faith, belief, understanding, and perception. They are like what the title suggests – moonlight may be dreamy and romantic, but it also highlights, accentuates, and often brings into sharp relief. Moonlight has its consequences.

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

Monday, May 28, 2018

“Revolution” by Peter Ackroyd

From 1688 to 1815 occurred some of the most tumultuous events that shaped the modern world. James IIwas replaced on the English throne by William and Mary; France under Louis XIV became the pivot of war in Europe; The Seven Years War (aka the French and Indian War) reshaped the political map of North America; the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution; the American Revolution; the French Revolution and Reign of Terror; and the Napoleonic era, finding ending in the fields outside Brussels. 

In Revolution: The History of England from the Battle of the Boyne to the Battle of Waterloo, British author Peter Ackroyddepicts the story of monarchs, war, societal upheavals, and cultural changes. Continuing his series on the history of England (this is volume 4), he tells a riveting story.

The religious wars that started with the Reformation in the early 1500s finally played themselves out in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James II was a bit too Catholic and finds himself replaced by William of Orange and James’s daughter Mary. Childless, they’re succeeded by Queen Anne, but she, too, dies without an heir (only one child survived infancy and he died young). Parliament turned to a distant relation in the German state of Hanover,George I (1660-1727), who was staunchly Protestant. But if there is a central figure in this period, it is George III (1738-1820), the nemesis of the American colonists, and the monarch whose bouts with madness caused no end of reactions and responses.

Ackroyd pays close attention to the significant events affecting business and industry during the period. The Bank of England was founded. Freedom of the press emerged in England less as a declared right and more because Parliament forgot to extend a law regulating printing (Ackroyd notes the almost immediate effect of an explosion of news sheets had on politics). The Industrial Revolution emerged as a significant factor in society, including the manufacture of Josiah Wedgewood’s plates, mechanized spinning of textiles, and the steam engine. 

Social justice issues, like the call for the abolition of slavery, began to be sounded by people like William Wilberforce and Hannah More. And this was the era of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s plays, Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, the speeches of Edmund Burke, and the writings of Adam Smith. And in the 1790s, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge helped give birth to Romanticism.

Peter Ackroyd
Political and economic changes led to almost ongoing social unrest. The upper classes in England feared (and understandably so) the spread of the French Revolution, but crop failures, economic downturns, political changes, and even rumors fueled riots and protests.

Ackroyd points out that the American Revolution was the first political change that wasn’t about installing a new monarch or a new church, inspiring many revolutions and political changes that followed.

The author is one of Britain’s most prolific popular historians. In addition to his history of England series, he’s also written biographies of Charles Dickens and the artist J.M.W. Turner, among several others; a history of London (and a history of London beneath the streets); and many other works.

The period from 1688 to 1815 was exciting and momentous, and Ackroyd’s Revolution brings it fully to life.


Top illustration: George III’s coronation portrait (1762) by Allan Ramsay.

Sunday, May 27, 2018


After I John 4:1-6

So many claims, so many
speakers, so many spirits
claiming inspiration and it’s
often difficult to discern,
difficult to know, really,
because they say the right things,
look the part, quote
the right sources, spout
off those verses like a master.
But we have a yardstick:
do these voices, these spirits,
acknowledge the one who came
in the flesh? Sometimes it’s
difficult to question the source
of the message, but question
we must, and question
we can.

Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Saturday Good Reads

Another school shooting, and we quickly slip into the guns-no guns debate. David French at National Review (it’s conservative, if you’re not familiar with it) has a perspective that is disturbing, to say the least, and he looks to Malcolm Gladwell for it. Samuel James at Letters & Liturgy asks if our news media is turning shooters into celebrities, simply by doing what they believe is their job. And David Rupert points to a common denominator of loneliness.

Several good writing articles were published this week – Bradley Birzer on Tolkien, Gregory Wolfe on Nathaniel Hawthorne, Eliot Pattison on why historical fictional (and historical crime novels) matters, Tom McAlister on who will buy your book, and others. 

Zak Schmoll is continuing to write about social media (and other topics), ad recently explained how social media shrinks our world. Spitalfields Life finds some wonderful photographs of vanished London. Paul Lofting (who writes A Clerk of Oxford blog) has a fascinating story on women of the Middle Ages – and their wimples and veils. And di you know that Boston has been having a “quiet” religious revival since the 1960s?


Salt Wife– Amy McCann at Image Journal.

Confession– Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town.

Tea-maker– Andrea Skevington at Literary Life.

One Story of Gaza– Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Life and Culture

The Copycat Problem– Samuel James at Letters & Liturgy.

All the Lonely People: What’s Inside the Heart of a Mass Killer– David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers. 

Why Social Media Shrinks Our World– Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.

Writing and Literature

Grace in the Unredeemed Land of Middle-Earth– Bradley Birzer at The Imaginative Conservative.

The Redemption of Hester Prynne– Gregory Wolfe at Literary Life.

Who Will Buy Your Book?– Tom McAllister at The Millions.

Recently Soft Hearts and Thin Skin– D.L. Mayfield at Image Journal.

Intention, a short story– Melanie Haney at The Frozen Moon.


A Provocation– Paul Phillips at He/s Taken Leave.

Hopelessly Stuck on Hope– Eileen Knowles at The Scenic Route.

So Thankful– Pamela Steiner at Closed Doors, Open Windows.

Boston’s ‘Quiet Revival’ Since the 1960s– Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition.

Art and Photography

Vanishing London– Spitalfields Life.

Burly Burl– Tim Good at National Geographic / Your Shot.

British Stuff

Women of the Middle Ages: Wimples, Veil and Head-rails, Part II– Paula Lofting at English Historical Fiction Authors.

Is He Worthy? – Andrew Peterson

Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas (1879/1880) by Edouard Manet (1832-1883); Art Institute of Chicago. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Pop quiz!

After I John 4:1-6

That feeling of dread
when the teacher sprightly
proclaims “pop quiz” and
you groan – not unlike
the times when the spirits
come, looking good, speaking
well, sounding good, but
are they true and how can
we know (and in the time
allotted, often not too much).
The correct answer is, class:
does the spirit acknowledge
the one? Does the world
embrace or reject them?
Time to check and score
each other’s answers.

Photograph by NeONBRAND via Unsplash. Used with permission.