Review by Bruce Cantwell
"Theater had been my place of refuge ever since Cody’s accident. It was the one place I could forget everything around me and still feel safe. Some people don’t understand the 'safe' part. They think it must be terrifying to be onstage in front of an audience. For me, it’s more like reading a good book. I become another person, transported to another place and time. But it’s even better than reading, because my chosen family is there onstage with me, reading the same book at the same time."
What is true for actress/PI Ivy Meadows is also true for readers who follow her career. As we read "Oliver Twisted" we can forget everything around us and feel safe.
On her first assignment (Macdeath), Ivy's "safe place" was a circus-inspired production of Macbeth. Her second assignment (The Sound of Murder) found her in a musical world premiere mash-up of "The Sound of Music" and "Cabaret." This time around…
"We’d been hired to investigate a string of thefts aboard a cruise line… Working part-time at my uncle’s PI firm kept me financially afloat, but just barely. My car had recently failed emissions, so I was in desperate need of funds and had no acting work lined up. When I learned about the cruise, the money, and the fact that I’d play Nancy in the onboard musical version of Oliver Twist, I felt like I’d died and gone to Broadway."
Of course, while the world Cindy Brown creates for her spunky heroine is cozy for readers, it's anything but safe for Ivy. This time out, she discovers that her acting assignment involves Cirque du Soleil-type aerial silk dancing. And ever since a traumatic incident in her youth, she's never felt safe around water.
"And under the bridge, and the ship, and stretching out into the bay on the other side of the terminal, was water. Fathoms and fathoms of it, with hungry sharks and stinging jellyfish and seaweed that wrapped around your legs and pulled you down, down, down into the cold black…"
"Oliver Twisted" will appeal to Dickens fans, cruise fans, and armchair detectives. But you don't have to fit into any of these categories to enjoy the characters and the humor. This is highly recommended vacation reading, either actual or virtual. All aboard.
We first mentioned Cindy Brown's Macdeath back in April 2015. It was subsequently nominated for an Agatha Award. Happy to see it top its category at Amazon.
Congratulations to Ellen Byron on her Agatha-nominated novel topping the Amazon charts. Looking forward to "Body on the Bayou" out September 13.
In "The Personality Myth" episode of the podcast Invisibilia, a neuroscientist grasps at the belief that there might be some early childhood memories that we cannot corrupt through recall because we cannot remember them.
He doesn't have any proof of this. All of his proof says that everything about us changes (including our memories). What we think of as our personality is constantly changing.
Do you remember when you wrote your first story?
Do you remember why you wrote it?
I don't remember.
But, in following the clues, I've compiled some compelling evidence.
My mother loved musical theater. I have the vaguest sort of don't-remember-anything-about-it-except-what-my-mother-told-me-later memory of her taking my brother and me downtown to see the first national touring production of Camelot.
She played the original cast recording all the time and loved to sing along. My brother and I didn't know anything about the show except from the pictures of the Broadway production on the fold-out album cover. We liked that there were swords and armor and jousting. Jousting is cool. We staged sword fights, occasionally bumping into the phonograph and making the record skip. Mom would have to step in as referee when we did.
The end of Camelot finds Arthur and his troops are encamped, ready to commence a long, bloody war with France. A young boy enters the camp. He wants to become a knight of the now defunct Round Table because of "the stories people tell." Arthur knights the kid, but he gives him a non-military propaganda mission.
All Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner:
Each evening, from December to December,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Ask ev'ry person if he's heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Where once it never rained till after sundown,
By eight a.m. the morning fog had flown...
Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
People sometimes refer to the Kennedy Administration as Camelot because it coincided with the show's run. It's our collective false memory of when America was "great." If you didn't live through that time, any recollection you have of "the good old days" will suffice.
I don't blame my mother for taking us to see Camelot, but the story Arthur asks that kid to repeat in order to shore up his legacy isn't a pretty one.
One of the tropes of musical theater is the "I want" song. Somewhere early on, a character sings about what he/she desires. The rest of the show answers the question of whether he/she gets it.
In what a generation considered to be the perfect musical, My Fair Lady, the creative team behind Camelot, Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) established Eliza Doolittle's wants this way:
All I want is a room somewhere,
Far away from the cold night air.
With one enormous chair…
Lots of choc'lates for me to eat,
Lots of coal makin' lots of 'eat.
Warm face, warm 'ands, warm feet…
Aow, so loverly sittin' abso-bloomin'-lutely still.
I would never budge 'till spring
Crept over me windowsill.
Someone's 'ead restin' on my knee,
Warm an' tender as 'e can be.
'ho takes good care of me,
Aow, wouldn't it be loverly?
Meager aspirations compared to what Guinevere wants in Camelot.
Where are the simple joys of maidenhood?
Where are all those adoring, daring boys?
Where's the knight pining so for me
He leaps to death in woe for me?
Oh, where are a maiden's simple joys?
Shan't I have the normal life a maiden should?
Shall I never be rescued in the wood?
Shall two knights never tilt for me
And let their blood be spilt for me?
Oh, where are the simple joys of maidenhood?
Shall I not be on a pedestal
Worshiped and competed for?
Not be carried off or better still
Cause a little war?
Where are the simple joys of maidenhood?
Are those sweet, gentle pleasures gone for good?
Shall a feud not begin for me?
Shall kith not kill their kin for me?
Oh, where are the trivial joys?
Harmless, convivial joys?
Where are the simple joys of maidenhood?
I can fulfill Arthur's command to tell you the story of Camelot strong and clear. GUINEVERE GETS WHAT SHE WANTS!
In a little greater depth, Google offers a synopsis of the movie.
After the arranged marriage of Arthur and Guinevere, the king gathers the noble knights of the realm to his Round Table. The dashing and stalwart Lancelot joins, but soon finds himself enraptured by the lovely Guinevere. When Arthur's illegitimate son, Mordred, reappears in the kingdom and outs the secret lovers, Arthur finds himself trapped by his own rules into taking action against his wife and closest friend.
Looking back right now, I realize that Camelot is a highly subversive piece of political theater dressed up to look like good clean fun.
See if Arthur's ambitious bastard son reminds you of any politicians.
The seven deadly virtues, those ghastly little traps
Oh no, my liege, they were not meant for me
Those seven deadly virtues were made for other chaps
Who love a life of failure and ennui
Take courage-now there's a sport
An invitation to the state of rigor mort
And purity-a noble yen
And very restful every now and then
I find humility means to be hurt
It's not the earth the meek inherit, it's the dirt
Honesty is fatal, it should be taboo
Diligence-a fate I would hate
If charity means giving, I give it to you
And fidelity is only for your mate
You'll never find a virtue unstatusing my quo or making my Beelzebubble burst
Let others take the high road, I will take the low
I cannot wait to rush in where angels fear to go
With all those sev'n deadly virtues free and happy little me has not been cursed
Okay, it's almost worth it all for Beelzebubble, but I ask you, is this appropriate material for an impressionable young boy? The MPAA thought so. They rated the movie G for general audiences.
Fortunately, my parents waited a full year before they subjected me to Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
I do have a memory of that: my first suicide bomber.
Next week (August 5), I'll begin the four-part weekly serialization of the latest Walter Forbes P.I. assignment exclusively for Mysterious News subscribers. (Sign-up below.) You can let me know if any of Camelot's ironic tone has seeped into my subconscious.
If you have any book release news, kudos, or reviews you'd like to share in August, please let me know.
In the meantime, what made you a writer?