Book Review: Wicked Deeds by Heather Graham, 2017

A Hallowe'en / Samhain Mystery

by Cecilia Fabos-Becker

To many who have grown up with a love of both the Celtic traditional ghost stories, CSI, murder mysteries in general where law enforcement is actually involved in solving them, and romance, Heather Graham Pozzessere is a well known romantic occult mystery writer. Her novel settings are familiar older cities and areas of the U.S.--where else would the best ghosts be? Her female characters are as strong as the males, and she covers a wide range of old fables, legends and historical events. She is known for her characters solving a mystery within a mystery, the past influencing the present. A strong theme is that human nature doesn't change very much across the centuries and genetics can and does sometimes play a role in perception and behavior, sometimes in surprising ways.

I've always enjoyed her stories, especially in autumn and winter, when, as the Celts and other Europeans believed, the increase in darkness is accompanied by a weakening in the veils between the worlds of the living and spirits, and even eras of time. These beliefs are so old and powerful, even the Christian churches acknowledged them, and incorporated them with commemoration of the dead at "All Hallow's Eve" and the following two festival days, "All Saints Day" and "All Souls Day."

Her stories are well written in the classical sense: heroic protagonists, strong villains and conflict, and a resolution of the conflicts, and criminals brought to justice as most people would like to see in real life, at the end. She also explains motive, much better than many writers, even for the mentally ill. She goes into their fantasies and twisted logic with almost surgical precision and then shows how they can live among us, compartmentalize, and not be suspected until they commit horrible crimes. She shows us the other side of the usual statement by friends and relatives of a murderer, "we never suspected a thing; he/she was always a nice person, a good boy/girl, in our neighborhood."

This year, Ms. Graham has outdone her self, though and come up with one of the best, classic tradition murder mysteries of all, Wicked Deeds set in the beloved city of the father of both horror stories and murder mystery-detective stories, Baltimore, and featuring none other than the father of both genres himself, Edgar Allan Poe. A new restaurant dedicated to Mr. Poe has opened and the Poe Society itself meets there. There is even a gift shop with kitschy souvenirs like bobble-headed ravens. Two new members of an elite FBI unit called the "Krewe of Hunters" who combine modern forensics, old fashioned Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle style investigation, and an ability to communicate with ghosts, who love being FINALLY noticed and able to participate in on-going living lives, have decided to have a honeymoon in Baltimore, and to try out this new restaurant with great preliminary reviews. Where else would FBI agents who work with ghosts go, especially in late summer or early autumn in the waning seasonal light, for a honeymoon? They've picked a poor time, of course, as someone seems to have taken offense at the restaurant and the Poe Society, and has begun murdering writers in modern variants of the old Poe themes in his better-known horror stories. Poe's ghost knows about this, is indignant and wants it stopped. Poe's own death was a mystery and his reputation was heavily damaged by a jealous rival afterward. His instincts say that at the bottom of the mystery, history is trying to repeat itself, but he also can't remember most of his own last days. So the Krewe, this time, is solving two mysteries: the modern imitator of fictional horror, and Poe's death itself.

It has a number of twists, turns, and surprises and many of Poe's stories show up in interesting, unexpected ways. There is a major stunning insight about the importance of perception and how jealousy can become insanity. You will never dismiss jealousy lightly again after reading this novel. It's the best Hallowe'en novel I've read in a long time, and a real tribute to the father of the two genres of horror and detective stories.

So, after you've handed out the treats to all the modern little ghouls, ghosts and goblins, treat yourself to a sold read of this book. Make yourself a nice hot cup of blood-red mulled wine, settle in a comfy bed with plump pillows in a darkened bedroom, lit only by your favorite old-fashioned hurricane lamp casting a soft golden glow. Then the shadows darken and grow, and perhaps a raven flaps its wings, as it passes your window in the moonlight and moves to another nearby tree outside before perching and watching what happens next...


Album Review: Wake the Dead The Deal

More Tie-Dye melded Celtic music than ever!

Wake The Dead is a cadre of multi-talented musicians lead by Danny Carnahan that has been moshing Hunter/Garcia's malleable and durable songs with traditional Celtic jigs and reels for better than three decades. On this latest album, The Deal, they add songs from the Youngbloods, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and more.

The performances, by Maureen Brennan, Celtic harp, Cindy Browne, double bass, Danny Carnahan, vocals, octave mandolin, guitar, fiddle, Kevin Carr, fiddle, uilleann pipes, pennywhistle, Sylvia Herold, vocals, guitar, Paul Kotapish, vocals, mandolin, guitar, jaw harp, Brian Rice, hand percussion, are all wonderful, but then every one of these are masters of their art.

The tracks are likewise incredible. Note how these classic songs are carefully paired with Celtic traditional tunes like a fine wine with a great entree!
1. Cumberland Blues (Hunter/Garcia/Lesh) / Mind the Gap (Carnahan)
2. New Speedway Boogie (Hunter/Garcia) / Frieze Britches (trad.)
3. White Room (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown) / The Congress Reel (trad.)
4. Box of Rain (Hunter/Lesh; © Ice-Nine Publishing)
5. Eyes of the World (Hunter/Garcia) / Reel à Jules Verret (trad.)
6. Waiting For Snow (Julie King) / Darkness Darkness (Jesse Colin Young) / Reel Mattawa (Eric Favreau)
7. Deal (Hunter/Garcia) / Tom Billy’s Jig (trad) / Sheepskin and Beeswax (trad.)
8. Just Like a Woman (Bob Dylan)
9. Bluebird (Stephen Stills) / Pinch of Snuff (trad)
10. Dark Star (Hunter/Garcia/Hart/Kreutzmann/Lesh/McKernan/Weir) / Maids of Michelstown (trad.) / And Your Bird Can Sing (Lennon/McCartney)
11. Brokedown Palace (Hunter/Garcia)

Surprisingly, my personal favorite is Bob Dylan's Just like a Woman, because of the sensitive treatment given by vocalist Sylvia Herhold, but overall it's another great album and a MUST for any 60's folk-rock fan.

Another great track is the first, where the rollicking country-bluegrass-rock fusion number, Cumberland Blues by Garcia and Lesh is paired with Mind the Gap, an original tune by Danny Carnahan, and together, they blend beautifully into a classic old-time anthem.

There is plenty of variety here to please almost any traditional music fan, probably including you.

You can listen to samples at www.wakethedead.org/product/deal/ and purchase a download right from the site.

SurvivaloftheBloodCover 2

Book Review 'Survival of the Blood' by Beth Bristow

Reviewed 2016-01-01 by Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker

Published by Archway Publishing, Bloomington, Indiana, 2015.

First of all, recognizing that we have a growing, sophisticated subscribership to this newsletter, we want to let readers know that we did accept an ad for this book but I also warned the author that we would be doing an independent review to meet our organization's own standards.

I am very happy to say I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in good historical drama. When I first began college I had two majors: drama, as well as history, and then later switched to history and anthropology. I remember one thing well from those drama classes, as well as some excellent advanced high school English classes. It is common to all successful dramas, be they be plays or films, and likewise fiction books. The characters need to be well described. There must also be a conflict, with a clear protagonist and clear antagonist and the very best of fiction shows flawed tragic characters who are a mixture of good and either evil or at least self-destructive misguided judgment or delusion.

Click for Peter Daldry "Ye Jacobites by Name"
Lost Portrait of Charles Edward Stuart

This book has all of that. It has well defined characters in an extended family, men as well as women. It has the conflict of Culloden, which was a tragedy as well as disaster for the Highland Scots. It has the inner conflicts of the men who had to decide whether to fight for the Stuart prince, Charles Edward Stuart, who was raised speaking Italian and French and grew up in archaic French and Italian royal and noble courts, or German speaking Hanover kings in London.

"Bonnie Prince Charlie" promised them a better future for Scotland. Alternatively, they could continue to suffer under a heavy taxload and other restrictions of the Hanovers, who now ruled both England and Scotland under the Act of Union, which even though it was a classic definition of a 'shotgun marriage,' had been voted by the Scottish parliament also in hopes for a better economic future for Scotland.

There is also romance and a vivid description of life as it was for the lower gentry and many ordinary highlanders in these turbulent times, amid a harsh environment.

The author made several trips to Scotland and did a lot of research, especially into the events of Culloden and the characters of the two men who were demanding loyalty and blood of the Highlanders, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and William Augustus of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland, usually known as 'Butcher Cumberland.'

All in all, this is a meaty satisfying read and will hold your attention. It will also make you look forward to a sequel to find out what happens next to the surviving characters, particularly the children.

You can find this book on Amazon.com here http://www.amazon.com/Survival-Blood-Beth-Bristow/dp/1480821438. Enjoy!

Review of Tom McEnery Play: Swift Justice.

by Tony Becker & Cecilia Fabos-Becker

Published 2016-01-16

Tom McEnery

The message of 'Swift Justice' is very powerful and timely. Because of its unique history, word of this gripping new play by local Irish American legend Tom McEnery has already spread and the premier run by The Tabard Theatre Company at Theatre on San Pedro Square in San Jose is sold out. Still, there is a waiting list and if you can get on the waiting list, we recommend that you DO SO, or hope that it will have another round in another area theater, or goes nationwide.

First, here is a little background. The play is based on a real, controversial incident in San Jose, CA: The last public lynching in California. In 1933, during the darkest days of the Great Depression two white men, one of Irish and one of Scots-Irish descent, kidnapped and murdered the city's most popular young man, the heir to the area's largest department store, Brooke Hart.

The author of the play, Tom McEnery, is a former San Jose mayor, whose father, John McEnery, was a minor participant in, and eye-witness to, most of the related events.

Lynching, by itself, is a term rooted in the Irish, Scots and Scots-Irish tradition of men taking the law, justice or redress of unfairness into their own hands. The term 'Lynching' derives from an Irish American. During the American Revolution, Charles William Lynch and his men rounded up Tories in southwestern Virginia and meted out punishment to them on their own. The resulting hanging, shooting, etc. was often a result of "lynching" but it is not the act of lynching. (check the wiki on Charles William Lynch)

Here is good, engaging play with a very moving story and powerful, timely message as important today as it was in the 1930's. This would be an excellent topic for a Broadway drama, or on Public Television. Who knows? Maybe some day, someone in Hollywood will turn it into a four star film. Does anyone have contact with Leonard Di Caprio, or Stephen Spielberg???

The story develops in a very powerful, moving interplay of logos, ethos and pathos in the most public way possible in 1933. It is clear the playwright put most of his attention in to the last third of the first act and the second act where the events depicted deserve this focus.

Cast of Swift Justice

The strongest, most involved, characters develop throughout the play, as they do in all truly good stories. The best characters as both written and acted in the play are in order of performance: the villain, John Holmes; the person who was most often an intermediary and changed his life career after these events, Rabbi Karesh; and the father of the victim Alexander (Alex) Hart. San Jose Police Chief J.N. Black is very believable and complex. The victim, Brooke Hart, is very likable and sympathetic, though a little more direct action for him, as well as for his father would have been helpful to keep the presentation engaging.

Of the three females roles played by two actresses, the role of the daughter, Miriam Hart, Brooke's sister is especially poignant. The playwright did well in showing a loving, playful relationship between the sister and brother.

The first act does what it should; it shows the clear differences between the protagonists and the antagonists and why we should care about the fate of the victim and his family. If there are any faults, it's that the first two-thirds of the first act is not quite believable in the depiction of saintliness of the Hart family. The family, was, in fact, very good hearted and involved with their community, but the direct involvement in charitable actions, emphasis actions, could have been stronger. For instance, the father could have directly spoken to the unemployed persons waiting in line for a soup kitchen, offering them jobs himself, instead of directing someone else to do so. Also a couple of lines for the character of Alex Hart to explain why he couldn't bring himself to go, in person, to try to calm the mob would have been good. His very evident grief probably would have been seen more than his words would be heard, but that doesn't come out, and this omission weakens the character slightly. The mother character could have been developed more, especially her relationship with her oldest son. It makes her devastating grief a little harder to understand in later parts of the play. These are minor flaws, though.

In production and direction, a few more props that fit the historical period and help illustrate it would have better established the context. The play relied mostly on costume to set the period and people in the audience were asking among themselves in the intermission, "when did these events take place" because it wasn't as clear in the first act as in the second act where the dialogue set the place and time more clearly. I would have liked to see the plain bar stools replaced by a small settee and a Windsor chair and an old-fashioned floor lamp, which all could have been toted in and out with about the same amount of effort as the bar stools. Also, period telephones on a little tall telephone table for at least the recipients of the calls would have helped. Instead of the unchanging red and black striped backdrop and stage, some projections of scenery to evoke the home, a department store, the jail, etc. would have set place and time better. There just wasn't quite enough to help the audience see the events where and when they actually occurred. Last, is a minor detail on costuming, but one which most audience females immediately spot. Neither lady had a handkerchief on her, and no pocket for one. Every female over the age of 50 knows that NO LADY was ever without a real, cloth, often lace edged, handkerchief and a pocket for it. The gentlemen also had pocket handkerchiefs, in their suit-coat breast pockets. (I realize I'm dating myself with that comment, but it was the reality, and a visible detail of the age that also showed in what class people were, in a society that had more class distinctions.)

Still, none of the above diminishes the overall entertainment value here. We highly recommend this to anyone interested in drama that illustrates the human condition.


Book Review: Three Legs of the Cauldron

New Dalriada Celtic novel by Ron Cherry

By Cecilia L. Fabos-Becker Published 2016-10-28

California Mystery writer R.L.Cherry has a new, first historical novel, Three Legs of the Cauldron, set in the late 6th Century Celtic Kingdom of Dal Riata. Dal Riata spanned the North Channel, holding lands on both sides in North East Ireland, as well as Western Scotland and the Isles.

As the title hints, the story is a morality tale about Truth, Honor, and Duty, including several of the famous historical figures of that place and time. It tells of the coming of age of a young warrior as he and his two brothers grow to become men and leaders. In particular, the action follows the youngest brother, Connaire as both his character and a relationship with his next older brother, Cathal grow and strengthen. They and their extended family struggle to find their place in a new land and form new alliances amid a melee of betrayals, battles, and feuds.

This book has vivid descriptions of warrior women, brehons, druids and the Christian Irish monks of Ione. There is excellent detail on the warrior training of Connaire by Scathach, a real historical female character on the Isle of Skye who trained legendary warriors in early Irish and Scottish history.

There are other details which give a sense of place and articles, such as the description of the 'curragh' boats used to cross from Ireland to Scotland. While the action moves quickly, in some cases the descriptive writing is sparse, and one sometimes wonders where the children and their mothers are hiding and why Connaire is so easily lead astray. Three Legs of the Cauldron won't dissapoint most male readers and even some female readers in the romantic encounters.

All together, a good first historical novel and worth the time of reading. Contact the Author, R.L.Cherry, or purchase the book on his website, www.rlcherry.com