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Odd Goings-on at Ferndell Farm and Other Stories

Storylandia, Issue 35

Where to buy: Amazon; Kindle; ePub and other formats available upon request.

Sample pages

Finding the late Mrs. Taggart’s missing jewels had made Freddie Babington famous. People with problems began to come to him, hoping to engage his services as a private detective. Freddie expected his new career to involve thrilling cases such as restoring diamond necklaces to Duchesses and secret plans to government ministers, perhaps rescuing a kidnapped heiress or two. Most of his cases were more mundane–but every once in a while, a client with a truly strange and interesting problem came to his door.

Excerpt below:

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Doctor Who: Expiry Dating

And two other audio stories featuring River Song (Alex Kingston) and the 10th Doctor (David Tennant). It’s especially noteworthy that this set was recorded during these months of social isolation. Each of the actors involved recorded their own part from a “studio” set up in their own homes.

Expiry Dating

Expiry Dating

Given the method of recording, it seems appropriate that much of this first story in the CD set is in the epistolary style. It’s a delightful follow-up to the 10th Doctor’s first encounter with River Song in Silence of the Library.

After receiving a “message in a bottle” from River on a piece of psychic paper — which allows for immediate response — the Doctor engages in a correspondence/conversation with this mysterious woman who claims to know him so intimately even though he’s only just met her. He’s interested in finding out who she is, without giving away “spoilers” regarding her fate at the Library.

10th Doctor

“Who are you? How do we know each other? How do I know I can trust you?”

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Excerpt from “The Tattered Red Cloak”

"Odd Goings-on..." Cover

 

From Odd Goings-on at Ferndell Farm and Other Stories, a collection of short non-murder mysteries set in the 1920s, featuring detective Frederick Babington:

 

The Tattered Red Cloak

It was fully dark by the time they reached the Abbotshill village green. The air had grown crisp with nightfall, but the sky was full of brilliant stars. Only a crusting of old snow lay on the rooftops and on the grass. The green had been swept clear. A bonfire blazed high at the end nearest the Millwheel Inn and the children were dancing in a ring around it as if it were Guy Fawkes’ Night.

Everyone within five miles of Abbotshill had come out for the festivities tonight. All the village shopkeepers and neighboring farm-families were in attendance. Makeshift booths covered in colorful bunting had been set up to sell toasted buns, roast chestnuts, hot cider, mince pies, and other light but warming refreshments. The Rose and Crown Tavern, which sat on the opposite side of the mill pond, was open to offer the usual drink for those who wanted something more intoxicating. A band of musicians from Ipswich played in front of the tavern and a few couples had already assembled for the first dance.

Although his aunt had dismissed the dance as beneath the gentry, Freddie saw that many of his own relatives weren’t above taking part in this rustic amusement. In addition to Amyas and Virginia Barlow, Freddie recognized Virginia’s stolid older brothers Julius and Gervais Babington dancing with their respective wives. His elderly relatives Prunella and Hugh Proudhome stood to one side, not joining the dance in this chilly weather but enjoying the sight of the young people enjoying themselves. Ruby and Wilbur Chodeley kept a careful eye on their little daughters near the bonfire; their son Will and the Proudhomes’ grandson Alec had begun to toss squibs into the blaze to startle their elders and delight the younger children.

*Pop!*

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Doctor Who: Out of Time

While most of my purchases of Doctor-Who-related audio dramas from Big Finish have been about companions whom I’ve wanted more stories about, I remain a sucker for any interactions between Doctors; I’ve been that way since I first saw The Three Doctors as a child. I enjoy the contrast of personalities and the sparks that fly whenever a given Doctor clashes with his previous or future selves.

So when I learned about this one, featuring two of the most popular Doctors from the original and new series, I just had to have it. I was hoping for a lot from the interaction, and was not disappointed.

Out of Time

The Cathedral of Contemplation is a unique example of trans-temporal architecture: a massive structure that rotates carousel-like outside of Time itself, with doors opening to different times and places as it spins. This makes it irresistible to the 10th Doctor (David Tennant — Dr 10, as I’ll be calling him hereafter), who is at this point traveling alone after the loss of Donna Noble and before he faces his next regeneration.

He’s welcomed at the Cathedral by the Abbess in charge; she makes some curious remarks about a “coincidence” and, even though he doesn’t recall ever being there before, tells him that he always visits when he’s in trouble. Well, “someone else, and all of them you.”

The Abbess says that the Doctor can go anywhere he wants within the Cathedral, except for the Panoramic Gallery, which is what he’s come specifically to see in hopes of picking up some new travel ideas. The door to the gallery is locked, but he’s not going to let a little thing like that stop him from getting in. He twiddles the lock with his sonic screwdriver as soon as he’s alone…

Meanwhile, Dr 4 (Tom Baker) is painting in the gallery, working on frescoes with an assistant, a young woman named Jora whom he’s met at the Cathedral. She’s run away from her military after a traumatic battle and is in hiding.

While they’re taking, some sort of strange temporal disturbance occurs at the door, and a man comes in. “Oh, hello.”

“Do I know you?” asks Dr 4.

He doesn’t recognize the visitor, but the visitor certainly recognizes him.

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Excerpt from “Pearls”

"Odd Goings-on..." Cover

 

From Odd Goings-on at Ferndell Farm and Other Stories, a collection of short non-murder mysteries set in the 1920s, featuring detective Frederick Babington:

 

Priscilla’s Precious Pearls in a Pie

He had dreamed of lost and stolen jewels since the very beginning of his work as a consulting detective. Here they were at last—an iridescent pile of matched pearls, each slightly smaller than a pea, bundled into a lady’s practical-sized handkerchief. Each had a tiny hole drilled through its center, the interior of which appeared to be tinted slightly red.

“I had them cleaned,” Mrs. Hillingdon explained. “I took them to the same man who does my dentures. He’s a marvel at removing tea and cherry-juice stains. I’m afraid I’ve always been too partial to cherry pie for my own good. I insist on my cook baking one for my birthday every year instead of cake. I never cared for cake. Imagine our surprise when we found what we thought were so many pits—Mrs. Parmiggen never leaves pits! But these were pearls, a necklace worth of pearls. Now, how on earth did they come to be in my birthday pie, and who could they possibly belong to? Answer those questions for me, Mr. Babington, and I’ll believe you’re the greatest detective since Sherlock Holmes.”

Freddie smiled at the hyperbole. Mrs. Hillingdon was a widow of a certain age, a good-humored woman of moderate means but no pretensions, somewhat stout, somewhat grey. She had come from Woking to present him with a handkerchief full of loose pearls and a most intriguing puzzle.

“I hope I’ll be able to live up to your expectations,” he answered. “None of your friends or relatives owns a string of pearls?”

“No, nothing so fine as these. You can see for yourself that they certainly aren’t Woolworth’s. Someone must surely be missing them, and yet I’ve seen nothing about a theft in the newspapers. Much as I would love to keep them as lost property, I can’t in good conscience. I must do what I can to locate the owner.”

“And you believe that must have gone into the pie as a necklace?”

“Yes, although the string was broken. We found bits of it baked onto the crust. I had those thrown out once we were certain we’d recovered all the pearls from the pie, but I did keep the clasp. I hoped it might help to identify who these belong to. There are initials and a date on it.”

“Yes.” Freddie plucked out the small gold oval that also lay within the folds of the handkerchief. It too had been cleaned and the two hooked pieces joined together.

He walked to the window of his study and held the clasp up to the light to see the engraving better—and received a surprise more astonishing than the mystery that Mrs. Hillingdon and her birthday guests had received.

“As a matter of fact,” he announced, “I can tell you exactly who these pearls belong to.”

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Doctor Who: The Movie

Paul McGann as Doctor Who

I had mixed feelings about this made-for-TV movie when it first aired in 1996.

On the one hand, it was the first new Doctor Who since the original long-running series had finally been cancelled in 1989. I’d stopped watching it by then anyway, but had fond memories of the Doctors I’d watched growing up and would have liked to see the show come back again.

On the other hand, the movie was made by Fox TV in cooperation with the BBC and Universal Studios with the prospect of introducing a new version of the series in America.

While a few British series have been successfully adapted into US versions, the odds are against it. What made the UK show successful is more often altered out of recognition to suit US television standards, or simply doesn’t translate from one country to the other. For example, there have been at least two attempts to transplant Fawlty Towers, both of which crashed and burned. The science fiction/time travel element of Doctor Who might survive, but much of the charm and whimsy of the character would be lost.

So I watched it with a certain amount of hope and trepidation.  And it was okay. I liked Paul McGann’s Doctor, but there were a couple of things in the story that really irritated me.

The movie received good ratings when it aired on the BBC, but not so great on Fox. There was no new series at that time; Doctor Who would have to wait until 2005 to return to television.

I thought little more about this movie for 20-plus years unless I had some reason to list actors who played the Doctor. But since I’ve been viewing and writing reviews of old Doctor Who episodes recently, I thought I’d give it another look.

It’s not as disappointing as I remembered it being in 1996. Viewing it again after 15 years of modern Who, I can see it as the transition between the old and new series. One of the things I disliked about it still bothers me. The other… well, the Doctor does that all the time these days and I’ve gotten used to it.

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The Paternoster Gang: Merry Christmas, Mr. Jago

I won’t have time to review the full set of The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 4 before the holidays, but the story on the first CD is a Christmas tale so I’ve decided to do it separately and save the rest for later.

The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 4

This story sees the return of a character from the classic Doctor Who era: that late-Victorian music hall impresario, Henry Gordon Jago.

Jago (Christopher Benjamin) first appeared in the 1977 4th Doctor’s story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” in which he and Professor Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) assisted the Doctor in investigating the strange disappearances of several young women in the Limehouse streets in the vicinity Jago’s theatre. The two made an amusing double act, and there were jokes about a Jago and Litefoot spinoff–which never came to be on television, but did much later become a popular audio series on Big Finish.  Jago and Litefoot continued their adventures in Victorian London long after the Doctor had gone on his way. The series only ended when Trevor Baxter passed on.

As this story begins, we learn that Mr. Jago is already acquainted with the Paternoster Gang.  He’s on his own this holiday season, since his friend Prof. Litefoot is spending the winter in Egypt, and he’s on friendly enough terms with the Paternosters that they invite him to join them for a Christmas Eve tea.

But before tea-time, Jago–who happens to be dressed like Father Christmas when he calls at Paternoster Row–has a charitable act to perform. He intends to put on a magic show for the entertainment of the children at an orphanage and needs some specially impressive new magic tricks or illusions to use.

Strax helps out by taking him to Old Smallpiece’s Emporium. The entirely dubious Old Smallpiece happens to be the Sontaran’s favorite underworld informant, as well as a merchant of alien artefacts that are out of place in London in the 1890s.

While Mr. Jago is “well versed in alien matters,” because of his work with Prof. Litefoot, he seems rather naïve as he chooses a magician’s wand and the Top Hat of Surprise (or a “a short-range transmat,” as Strax identifies the latter).

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The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 3

The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 3

This third audio-drama boxed set from Big Finish gives us the further adventures of Madame Vastra, a Silurian detective in late-Victorian London, with her Cockney wife Jenny and their Sontaran manservant Strax. I was hoping to get this review done before the newest set, Heritage 4 arrived, but then the package from the UK was in my mailbox a couple of days, so I’d better get moving. 

As with the Heritage 1 and 2 sets, there are three separate mystery stories, each on its own CD.

Family Matters

As suggested by the title, this first story has a family theme. The focus is primarily on Jenny’s estranged family and background, but there are conversations about the family she has now at Paternoster Row as well the blood relatives she left behind years ago.

A mystery involving lions and crocodiles in London leads Vastra to investigate  the sewers beneath the city, when things suddenly turn personal. She ends up kidnapped and chained in a circus sideshow exhibit. She’s not alone; also on exhibit are other human “freaks” and a blue, four-armed alien lady.

“There are no monsters here,” Vastra declares to her new alien friend.

“Personally,” the alien responds, “I have always found humans terrifying.”

There’s just a hint about Vastra’s personal history too, indicating that this is not the first time she’s been exhibited in chains by ignorant 19th-century humans.

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The Curse of Yig

Yig ledger art

The Curse of Yig was a collaborative effort of H.P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop.  Bishop provided the idea of a pioneer in the Oklahoma Territory who was terrified of snakes. Lovecraft recrafted this basic concept, making it a psychological horror made manifest–and incidentally adding a new god to his pantheon: Yig, “an odd, half-anthropomorphic devil of highly arbitrary and capricious nature… not wholly evil, and was usually quite well-disposed toward those who gave proper respect to him and his children.”

But those foolish enough to harm the children of Yig (that is, snakes) could expect to feel the wrath of his terrible curse.

The text is online at https://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/cy.aspx

The story is one that I’d read some years ago, but not one of the Lovecraft stories that I could say I was extremely familiar with. I mean, I knew who Yig was when I first saw that Dark Adventure Radio Theatre was planning to do an adaptation of The Curse of Yig for their next audio drama, but could remember very little about who had been cursed, or why.

Listening to this new DART adventure before re-reading the text, I’m struck by how closely this adaptation has stuck to the structure of the original story, and I make note of the changes the DART guys have made to allow for the very different sensibilities of people nearly a century later.

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Casting the Runes

I’ve written blog reviews of two other adaptations of this, the most influential story written by M.R. James: Night/Curse of the Demon, the 1957 Jacques Tourneur film, and the 1970s ITV version starring Jan Francis. Both adaptations moved the story to a contemporary setting and made changes to the characters and plot, while retaining that central idea of a curse that you can only get rid by passing it back to the man who gave it to you. Three months were allowed.

You can read the original story on the Thin Ghost site.

I was somewhat surprised when I first watched this dramatic recitation by Robert Lloyd Parry; it, too, is an adaptation of James’s story and not a straight reading of the text.

Although the setting hasn’t been changed, there are some notable emendations to the cast of characters with some of the smaller roles in the drama are cut, or their parts revised.

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