Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Hiding Out

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Back there in the mists of time somewhere, when Greg was freaking out in total Oscar ceremony mode and threatening to refuse to have either of his eye operations because it was just to weird to think about…well, back there somewhere, I promised him that if he just went through with it, I would allow him to have total control of our television set for one full day following each operation.

This was a very silly thing for me to do, as it turned out, because Greg responds to his eye surgeon the way he responds to nobody else in his life since Bill died. 

There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is the fact that the eye surgeon is at least as smart as he is, something he hasn’t run into much in his life. 

I’m told by a cousin that I was in much the same position at his age.  All I can say about that is that if his behavior is any indication, I must have been insufferable.

At any rate, it turned out I didn’t have to bribe him, because when he tried his “I can’t face this, it’s too freaking crazy” act on the doctor, the doctor turned him inside out, shook him out and dumped him into reality.

At which point, Greg wasn’t about to turn anything down.

Unfortunately, the doctor’s lecture came after I’d tried the bribe, so today, Greg has control of the television set, and there’s somebody named Warrior all over it.

So I’m hiding out in the office.

And it’s not a bad day. 

I’m doing my thing where I decide I’m just not dealing with anything for the week-end, which means I’ll have a tremendously lousy Monday morning, but I need the rest.

And I’ve been thinking about what constitutes a “cheerful” book.

I do know what constitutes one for me–any Agatha Christie, most Dorothy L. Sayers, about half of all the P.D. James, Charlotte McLeod.  You get the idea.

Murder mysteries make me happy, if they’re competently written,  not too sickeningly-sweet cozy,  not too boringly predictably “gritty.” 

There are other things l also find cheerful–in contemporary “literary” novels, there’s one called Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffmann, and one called For Love by Sue Miller.

Then there’s all the old stuff, because the old stuff always works:  The Razor’s Edge, by Maughaum, Rebecca, by du Maurier, A Moveable Feast, by Hemingway.

I was trying to think, this morning, of what made a comfort book a comfort book.

With the old stuff, I think, for me, the big point is the fact that I remember them going so far back, to a place and time when I wasn’t living an ideal life, but where the problems were at least different ones. 

And, in those days, those were the books I read to imagine another life, in another place, among different people. 

For some reason, it doesn’t seem to bother me that I now know that the place I once imagined doesn’t really exist, and that it most certainly doesn’t exist in the place (college!) I once expected to find it.

With Christie–and the other mystery writers in general–I think the attraction is simpler:  they present a world that functions the way the world should function.  That’s the attraction of Sherlock Holmes, too. 

And that world may be ChristieLand, as Bill used to say, but it’s still a nice place to spend time.  If I got to come back as the philosopher- king, maybe I could turn it into that.

Except, probably not.  Most people who manage to set themselves up as philsopher-kings seem to turn into Eichmann.

With DVDs, etc, I know just what works–black and white, and usually from an era around the end of WWII to the beginning of the Fifties. 

I have an incredible fondness for a lot of truly awful, overly didactic old movies, movies with the film quality and general tone of the old Dragnet television show.   Try The House on 92nd Street, for one.  And any movie in which Richard Widmark plays a lowlife who ends up fighting Communism.

And if you think that last category comprises a very small number of movies–well, you have no idea.

Then we have one of my perennial amusements, which I already know, from previous posts, that a lot of you don’t share–my abiding  fascination with financial scandals.  The ID channel is running a day of conmen and big corporation malfeasance, which is very nice.  They even did half an episode of something on the Tyco thing, which once gave me an entire day of amusement when I read about it in the New Yorker, in one of the single funniest pieces of journalism I’ve ever seen.

For those of you who are interested in that kind of thing, I want to recommend a documentary, called Inside Job–which turns out to have won an Oscar, although I didn’t know that when I saw it.

It’s got a number of things to recommend it, not the least of which is the fact that it beats the crap out of everybody in both parties completely impartially.   For that, I could put up with the obligatory thirty seconds of lamenting “income inequality” in the last two minutes of the film.

But mostly I think I like to go back to the old stuff because it reminds me that it was not really a delusion:  there was a time when it really was the case that people went into the movie business to make movies, and only secondarily to make money; that there really was a time when people went into banking to run banks, and only secondarily to make money.

And something is seriously wrong when all the first set of motives are jettisoned in favor of the second.

And look at this–I have no idea how I ended up here. 

But here I am.

I’m actually in a good mood, sort of. 

So I’ll let you all do stuff, and I’ll get myself a Diet Coke.

Written by janeh

April 15th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

11 Responses to 'Hiding Out'

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  1. I’ve been watching moderately-old DVDs. MacGyver, the Avengers, Callan…I have finally come across a version of Miss Marple with Joan Hickson, and she was good! Scary, even, at the end of ‘Nemesis’. I’ve hardly watched TV at all since I bought a DVD player and discovered the library’s collection of DVDs.

    I also picked up a free true crime book for my e-reader. It’s from around the turn of the century – and I don’t mean 1999-2000 and to my surprise all the crimes in it are financial. One I eventually realized was actually the Nigerian scam, done with snail mail and trains and ships. The principles were exactly the same – well-dressed stranger convinces people that he can help them claim their right to inherit various distant but enticing things, like Central Park and various famous landmarks in New York City.

    Human nature never changes!


    15 Apr 11 at 4:10 pm

  2. I believe–don’t hold me to this–that in professional circles the usual Nigerian scam is the one called the “Spanish prisoner.” It’s the one in which the man needs help moving the money, and you’re picked for being so trustworthy. As the name implies, it goes back a bit. The one in which you’re the heir and just paying to do the research and a few incidental legal fees is known as the “Drake heirs.” It had a really nice run in the Depression, but you still see it from time to time.

    Ah, comfort books: different from “cheerful” in the more usual sense. The funny part is that my list would also take me from my youthful home to someplace very far away, but they were different places, and I knew even then that no ship would ever take me there. We’ll get to Mars, but never to Helium or Jekkara New Town, much less the Rim Worlds, the Shire or Hyboria. Cook’s Tours can book me to New York, but not to a New York with a brownstone on West 35th, nor to the London of Heyer, Conan Doyle and Sayers. Fun to travel and imagine sometimes, though.
    The odd thing is, Jennifer Crusie sometimes makes the “comfort book” list, and she’s not only not an adolescent memory, she’s so real I’m pretty sure I quoted dock work in a couple of those towns.

    Movies–not always the same movies, but that’s the right era, and I think you’re right about the problem. Somewhere–no later than the invention of film schools–it stopped being about making a movie and got to be about making a ton of money. Except they don’t make a ton of money, mostly.

    The rule seems to be that an artist is more likely to be successful making something he likes than trying to guess what other people would like. If you’re a professional–you work hard, you stay within budget, you don’t get fancy and you honor your contract–you can make a living as a hack in books, and maybe in film, but I can’t think of a striking success which didn’t have a real storyteller wanting to tell that particular story. Same is true in TV, I think.

    But formula hackwork is SO much easier to get through a long approval process.


    15 Apr 11 at 6:15 pm

  3. For free ebooks, check manybooks.net

    I’ve been enjoying the Dr Thorndyke books by R Austin Freeman written about 1900. He seems to have been a one man CSI!


    15 Apr 11 at 8:15 pm

  4. Me too, John. Must be this new gadget I’ve just bought and started filling with the freebies and cheapies from Amazon. Very interesting stories.


    15 Apr 11 at 9:27 pm

  5. Ah, I didn’t know that about the classification of scams.

    I must say, I don’t read most of the appeals that come my way, but among the ones – probably the majority – that appeal to me as an honest person to provide assistance (and my banking information) to an African multi-millionaire/ widow/ disillusioned former associate, there have been a few alleging that I have inherited money from a distant relative. I got one only the other day, but of course it’s been deleted.

    I wonder how many people really think that they have a rich distant and unknown cousin or uncle out there? That alone seems remarkably improbable to me, as does the assumption that said relative doesn’t have closer kin.


    16 Apr 11 at 6:48 am

  6. My son collects Nigerian scam letters. He gets a few which confuse first and last names. I think the operating assumption is that American is filled with rich idiots–true from a Nigerian point of view–and that if you send out enough letters, a few of them will bite. I gether it’s not a great living, but it’s a reasonable one.

    I downloaded Philo Vance and Max Carrados onto the kindle. Vance wears out fairly rapidly, but Carrados will be pursued later with more vigor. Sadly, about half my 100 favorite novels still can’t be had on kindle. Surely with time?


    16 Apr 11 at 8:10 am

  7. John suggested Thorndyke to me, too, and I’ve got it but barely started the first story. It’s promising, but I can see this is going to make my list of books waiting to be read or being read simultaneously skyrocket! But Robert is right, too – some books simply aren’t there yet.

    I suppose the Nigerian scam does make money based on volume, but what baffles me is the intelligent people who fall for it! Some years back, a local lawyer fell for it, to the extent of using some of his client’s money to pay for a trip to Africa to collect ‘his’ money. And whatever jokes you can make about lawyers, and however certain it is that he wouldn’t have wrecked his career quite so thoroughly if he’d only thrown away his own money, he must have had enough basic intelligence to see through a semi-literate email from a stranger!

    Didn’t some famous stage magician, I think one whose hobby was debunking claims of telepathy and telekinesis and such things, say that clever well-educated scientists and other professionals are the easiest to trick because they’re used to acting on their own observations and being right, and don’t think that anyone can trick them.


    16 Apr 11 at 6:20 pm

  8. That would be James Randi, Cheryl.


    16 Apr 11 at 8:02 pm

  9. “…clever well-educated scientists and other professionals are the easiest to trick because they’re used to acting on their own observations and being right, and don’t think that anyone can trick them.”

    Hush my mouf!


    16 Apr 11 at 9:38 pm

  10. The stage magician could also be Houdini.


    16 Apr 11 at 10:48 pm

  11. This is why the D&D players roll for “Intelligence” and “Wisdom” as separate statistics. Sometimes being very bright just let you rationalize really bad decisions.

    For that matter, I bet most of the people currently running Hollywood studios into the ground–Jane’s “people who went into the business to make money”–have higher IQ’s than the moguls who built the industry and the classic movies. Certainly the later generation is much better educated.

    Education and intelligence are important–but they’re not sufficient.


    17 Apr 11 at 6:21 am

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