All posts by phinnea

The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

Oh, my God, what a dreadful book.   Why did anyone publish it?   Only about 300 pages and it just took forever.  Painful.   Incredibly painful.   It takes place on a Mississippi steamer called Fidele.   First, there’s a deaf guy.   Then there’s an African American beggar with injured or no legs, not sure.  Then there’s a stream of con men including one who sells herbal medicine.   No one has any names until about three-quarters of the way through the book and then I’m not sure why they do.   Calling themselves Frank and Charlie and getting into the least intelligent philosophical discussion I’ve ever heard.   Frank maintains he has confidence in all humanity.   Doesn’t believe any ill of anyone could be true.   Or so he says.   We never really figure out what Frank’s deal is because all he does is jabber on, tell his new friend Charlie at one point he has no money, bilks a barber out of a shave and talk to an old man about the Bible.

What does any of it mean?   I’m sure I don’t know.   There’s no story.  No characters.   Some people get bilked.  What on earth was he thinking?  The word ‘confidence’ is uttered as many times as Ann Radcliffe used ‘sublime’ in Mysteries of Udolpho.   If he wanted people to learn to avoid scams, he could have written a short pamphlet on it.   Not this endless blithering.   After this he stopped writing prose for 25 years and all I can think is, good.   It’s a shame when someone who writes as well as Melville can, puts together something like this.   According to Wikipedia, Mark Winsome (a philosopher) is based on Emerson, Egbert is Thoreau and Charlie Noble was Hawthorne.    This helps me not at all.  Mark Winsome/Egbert has a discussion with Frank, but neither of their opinions seems to me worth a shot of powder.  Winsome/Emerson’s philosophy seems to boil down to you shouldn’t loan a friend money.  Surely there was more to Emerson than that?   And the guy Frank whose talking to him just seems like a con-man who hasn’t gotten around to the point yet.   Apparently I’m just not bright enough to get it.

But the important thing is I read it (Why? You ask.  Because by the time I decided it was a giant waste of time and nothing meaningful was ever going to happen, I was too far in to quite during the #20booksofsummer.  This also qualifies as a 19th century classic. And all I can say is , thank goodness that’s over.

I’ve read a few other people on this ‘masterpiece’ and it sounds like he’s saying everyone’s either a mark or a patsy, which is far too simplistic a view of life.  I suspect he was suffering from depression and feeling like a patsy.   I still can’t believe it was published.  It’s the weirdest combination of good writing and bad I think I’ve ever read.  One person pointed out the opening, which is engaging and you wonder who that guy is and what’s going to happen.  Answer: nothing and no one we ever see again.  Apologies to those that love this book.  For me, it’s the new worst classic.  I’d rather reread Lord Jim, Frankenstein and Mysteries of Udolpho than one chapter of The Confidence Man.  Okay, maybe two chapters.

Wilkie-a-long Epoch 2

I’m so far behind!   I didn’t even realize since it’s been a very busy few weeks, I conveniently forgot I’m trailing by two weeks, almost three, in a 4 week readalong.   Not much I can do about it now.   And not much I can say about Epoch 2.   It would be nice to have some pithy comment or wry observation, but mainly I just think – it was fine.   It’s a good read.  Wilkie lead an interesting life.   Getting into his bromance with Chuck Dickens, whoring around, getting VD.   At least he didn’t have a wife he was bringing that home to.   I would have loved to see them in a show together.   Wouldn’t that be a great time travel adventure?   Wilkie is writing books and getting published, holidaying with Dickens with or without his family, touring France and Italy and generally having too good a time.   When he gets gouty, he cuts back to a spartan 3 glasses of wine a day.    By the end of the epoch he’s got a girlfriend we haven’t met.

While an enjoyable book, I can’t help feeling there’s something missing.   Anyone else feeling this?   I can’t put my finger on it.   Analysis?   Depth?   I’m not sure.   Reading Chernow’s Hamilton was such a great experience, but maybe that’s because of Hamilton’s personality and circumstances?   This one just seems sort of a catalog of what he did.   Maybe I want more…  historical context?  I don’t know.  I know more about Victorian England I think, than I did about Colonial America.   It’s certainly not fair to expect every writer to equal Chernow’s Hamilton.   Hopefully, I can focus on it and finish less than 3 weeks after everyone else!

“I love you, man!”


Whoops!  Was supposed to read Epochs 2 & 3.    So, yeah.   Way behind.   Well, Imma just leave this here anyway.

The Nine Tailors

Slogging through The Confidence Man, I just couldn’t take it any more and turned with untold relief to Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors.  So readable.   Characters!   Plot!  Oh, joy!   I should’ve been reading Wilkie, but well, I didn’t much.  I got pulled into the Wimsey story.  I saw the Ian Carmichael version on TV long ago, but could only remember a bit of the end.  The crime, the criminal(s), the characters all forgotten.  There’s no Harriet Vane in this one.   I miss her.   There’s a loveable rector and his wife, fine upstanding country folk, a spunky teenage girl, missing emeralds from a long unsolved robbery and a lot of bell-ringing.   More than you probably want to know about that, but it doesn’t slow things down much.  The atmosphere is great and Wimsey is in top form first helping out as substitute bell-ringer and then investigating the mysterious appearance of a corpse in the wrong grave.

I wish this was the cover of my copy

The only trouble is at the end, thinking it over, it all seems way more complicated than necessary and that certain people act in ways that are simply way too improbable.  Trying to imagine certain characters doing what they did, well, I don’t buy it, but it’s an enjoyable ride and I’m not going to let that worry me.  Very few Sayers left.  Which makes me sad. but what can you do?

This counts as a Classic with a number in the title.  I don’t think it counts for any of my other challenges.

The Frightened Stiff

I think they should have left the ‘The” off of the title, then it could be applied both to the stiff itself, which is found in the back yard of Jeff and Haila Troy’s new apartment, as well as all the people in the building disturbed that murder has been committed in their midst.   In a strange coincidence, Haila overhears the soon-to-be-murdered man going to meet someone in their apartment in the opening chapter as they eat in a nearby restaurant.   This is kind of a preposterous opening, followed by Jeff’s hamhanded attempt to head the guy off. The whole thing is a bit preposterous, but in a light-hearted way.   The Troys are a lot like the Norths, and speaking of coincidences, the Norths’ first mystery was published the same year as the Troys’ – 1940.   This is the third and was published in 1942.  Both series were written by a husband and wife team and follow a husband and wife team.   The Norths are better mysteries in my view, but the Troys are entertaining enough that I’ll probably read more of them.   This was suggested by someone in The Invisible Event’s fairly-clued survey.   It didn’t make the final cut, but I bought a few that were suggested, but did not.   Why limit myself to just ten?   So, I enjoyed the story, though I found the whole thing pretty ridiculous and thinking back, I can’t figure out if it was fairly clued and I just missed it, or it wasn’t.   I would have to reread it and as I’m already 3 or 4 books behind on my 20 books of summer, I don’t think I’ll do that.   Until then, just know that at least one person thinks it’s not just fairly-clued, but ‘a beautiful example’ of such.



The artist here uses artistic license.  The corpse is found in the garden and it’s not a skeleton.  But it does give some idea of the mood of the book.  There is, it seems, a movie called A Night to Remember which is currently available on YouTube.  Curious about that.

Okay, an hour and a half later – curiosity satisfied.  It’s called A Night to Remember, not to be confused with the 1958 A Night to Remember about the Titanic.   This is, like the book, a light-hearted mystery in which a young couple, Loretta Young and Brian Aherne, get mixed up in a murder in their new apartment.   Much is changed in the movie and actually, most of it is for the better.  I thought it was funnier and makes more sense.   They changed a few things around plot-wise.  The sisters are gone, there’s a turtle added, a housekeeper instead of the maintenance guy and almost everyone’s first name is changed.   Probably if you want to both read and see this, you should read it first.   One of the plot twists in the book is revealed early in the movie.  I don’t think the movie is fairly clued.   More like barely clued, but it’s a fun show.



This book is second in my #20Booksofsummer.  I don’t think it qualifies for any other challenges.  I better get the lead out.  18 to go.

Wilkie Collins Readalong I

As usual, I have to hand it to Alice.  She always chooses entertaining books for us to read together. Having read The Moonstone with her and her friends, i was pleasantly surprised to see her latest choice is a biography of Wilkie Collins subtitled A Life of Sensation by Andrew Lycett.  I even paid more to get the good cover.  


Wilkie was about a dozen years younger than his even more famous soon-to-be BFF, Charles Dickens.  We have covered the first ‘epoch’ as Lycett divides Collins’ life with a glimpse of the future in the preface.  That glimpse reveals gout in his eyes — ow, ow, owww.  That sounds horrible.   I didn’t even know that could happen.  So far we’ve gotten his youth – rough times with his painter father who wanted his son to have a practical job and be far less irreligious.  Doesn’t it seem odd that his father, the artist, disapproved of writing as a career? I find this really weird.  Wilkie wanted to travel and write and partly go to sea.  He didn’t and I suspect that’s because he quite liked a comfortable life.  Writing home for money when he’d spent all they’d given him, he seems fairly spoiled.  But then, what good would it have been for him to be an excellent tea dealer and we have no Woman in White?   No good at all.  

I believe we are in for an entertaining life now he’s grown, started writing and is just about to meet Dickens.  They both love theater and writing. It’s gonna be true love, for sure.   I don’t have much to say about this first part.   I’ll try to be more entertaining next epoch.

The Bath Mysteries

It’s the 11th.    I have finished one book.   Right on schedule for the #8booksofsummer!   What do you mean I signed up for 20?   Why would I do that?   I know I don’t read 20 books in three months.   I’m not a complete idiot.  Okay, well, back to the book.   The Bath Mysteries by E.R. Punshon was chosen as one of the eight, er, twenty books and because it has the word Mysteries in the title so that like Master of Mysteries, it continues this chain of reading through the year.   E.R. Punshon, a man I’d never heard of, published quite a few books in the first half of the 20th century, many of them starring Bobby Owen, at this point in his career a junior at Scotland Yard.   He’s called upon to set aside his regular work to investigate the death of his cousin who died in a grim accident in his bath while living incognito after a scandal.   Highly irregular, all this.   Generally I thought they didn’t want family members investigating cases, although I suppose it gives you a leg up if you can maintain your professional integrity.   Bobby does, of course.   He and his family have only just found out this accident, which as you’ll guess is no accident, has taken place after a year.   Bobby points out cold cases are notoriously difficult to solve.   He then continues to point it out twice a chapter until almost the end.    Generally, it is true, once time has past it is difficult to get the facts, people have forgotten, moved away, the scene no longer provides evidence, etc.   However, two days of investigation causes Bobby to realize this is just one in a series of murders by bath.   So, it’s not exactly a cold case any more.   There could be a new victim any day now and still Bobby goes on about how difficult it is to solve cold cases.

This appears to be a poor picture of a guy on a motorcycle.   Was this in the book?   Wouldn’t a bath make more sense?

So, aside from all the cold case fake worry it’s not a bad story.   A complex crime, very little evidence, a somewhat ludicrous climax.   I did guess halfway through whodunnit.   It’s not like there are a lot of options.   It’s barely clued.  And yet, I was entertained enough.   I’ll probably try another Punshon at some point.  Now, for a change of pace, The Confidence Man and/or Wilkie Collins bio which has not arrived yet.

So, as I mentioned this is the next in the chain of books for Bev.  And the first of the 8-#20booksofsummer

First Change to List Cuz Wilkie Readalong

So, I just got all settled in, falling behind on my first book, when what happens?   You guessed it.   Alice is having a readalong and I haven’t been able to resist joining since I found them.   They are fun.   Fun books, fun peeps.   What will we be reading, you ask?  A biography of Mr. Wilkie Collins called A Life of Sensation.   I am not surprised he lived a life of sensation.  I am hoping to get the one with the cool cover with Wilkie surrounded by stars, but I guess there’s no guarantee of that.   Sad thing is, it seems to be over 500 pages long.  This ups my page count considerably for the #20booksofsummer which I did not need, but I will just have to try a little harder, because I can’t not do this.

If you’d like to join in, click on the pic