June 25, 2009

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?

Posted in Children's Literature, Historical Fiction, Mystery at 12:02 pm by j128

Montmorency

Book cover of "Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?"

Montmorency: Thief Liar, Gentleman? is a novel by Eleanor Updale and was published in 2003. It is the first in the Montmorency series followed by Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer?, Montmorency and the Assassins, and Montmorency’s Revenge. Stephen Fry has heralded it as “one of the most original, witty, and delicious books” in a very long time. It is set in Victorian London, specifically, 1875-1880 and it details the story of a petty thief and his rise to high social standing.

Summary

In Victorian London a thief crashed through a glass window on a rooftop when he had been trying to escape from the police after he had stolen a bag of something. When inspected, it was apparent that the thief was sure to die – he was beyond repair, yet a young doctor defied death by sewing up the thief again through a series of complicated procedures and surgeries.

Once the thief is recovered enough from his injuries and operations, Dr. Robert Farcett (the young ambitious doctor) decides to display the thief at social gatherings attended by first class Victorians. It is while attending these gathernigs that the thief learns of a new development in London: the underground sewer system. Slowly, the thief begins formulating plans and plots his new life once he has been released from prison.

The thief, though, understands that he will not risk being caught again and decides he wants to be wealthy and he realizes he must have an accomplice. The accomplice in question is himself and he decides to take on the challenge of a double-life.

His alter-egos are as follows: Scarper, a disgraceful, grubby thief and also a manservant for the sophisticated, wealthy aristocrat Mr. Montmorency. Now Montmorency only has to wait until he is released into the world and begin his new “lives.”

On the designated date, all of the prisoners are reviewed and are selected as to who will be released and left behind. Montmorency is one of those who are released and he is given a package with something that could have helped him along in his new life – unfortunately, a guard takes it away from him even before he can take a chance to inspect the documents.

Now out in the streets of London, alive and free, Scarper/Montmorency begins by stealing articles of clothing, even paying a call to Dr. Farcett’s house where he removes articles of clothing for Montmorency. Scarper arrives at a hotel where he requests a room for Montmorency.

The hotel is somewhat of first-class and while Montmorency resides there the owner’s childish and lisping daughter is attracted to him, unfortunately for her, Montmorency is not interested and tries to avoid her at all costs. Scarper takes care to scare off the daughter to stay away from Montmonrency’s room or she’ll know what will happen.

Meanwhile Montmorency becomes the star of the show and even goes to the opera as well as attending a lecture by the one person that Montmorency ever liked when he was still only known as Prisoner 493. He also rescues a man from an out-of-control carriage and the man becomes Montmorency’s first true friend and his name is Lord George Fox-Selwyn.

Lord George Fox-Selwyn and Montmorency become fast friends and Montmorency is admitted as a member of George’s club. Afterwards, George gives Montmorency a job as a spy in the British government – the first assignment being to break into a Mauramanian embassy and prevent a European war. The success of the assignment gives Montmorency a permanent position and casting aside Scarper and all of his vile deeds, Montmorency returns every stolen possession to every rightful owner, and begins his new life as government spy with George.

Links

http://www.eleanorupdale.com – Eleanor Updale’s official website.

http://www.answers.com/topic/montmorency-scarper – Article describing brief summaries of the Montmorency books.

December 10, 2007

The Wright 3

Posted in Children's Literature, Mystery at 4:24 am by j128

The Wright 3

The Wright 3

The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist was published in 2006. It is the sequel to the author’s much acclaimed previous novel Chasing Vermeer. It features Calder and Petra, whom we met in the previous novel, and a new character: Calder’s friend Tommy Segovia who was mentioned throughout Chasing Vermeer.

Summary

Tommy Segovia has returned to the Hyde Park neighbourhood in Chicago in the month of June with his mother Zelda Segovia after the unfortunate events with his stepfather. (See Chasing Vermeer.) He feels “oddly like a ghost” for it seems everything has undergone a change. His old house has been painted green, reminding him of unripe tomatoes, and his best friend Calder has changed, too, since he last saw him. Calder no longer has at least one spot of dried food on his face, his hair is combed, he ties his shoelaces, and his teeth are brushed. Also he has a new set of pentominoes. They are three-dimensional and are orange; they also make a sharp clacking noise whenever Calder stirs them in his pocket, unlike his old ones, which made a soft clatter. The latest development is also Calder’s befriending of Petra Andelee, which Tommy does not fully agree on yet. She reminds him of an exotic monkey he once saw in the zoo because of her eyes. Their friendship happened over the recovery of a painting by Vermeer that occurred while Tommy was away in New York. Tommy is considerably bugged by the Vermeer event as it was missed glory for him.

The story really begins when Ms. Hussey, their eccentric, excitable, and fun school teacher, announces the “demolition” of Hyde Park’s famous landmark: the Robie House, built by one of America’s most well-known architects of the twentieth century, Frank Lloyd Wright. The Robie House is due to be cut into sections and donated to four famous museums internationally: the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.; the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany; and the Meiji Mura Museum, Japan, as repairs are costly and the university doesn’t have the money.

Tommy is a collector and he collects everything from old popsicle sticks to four-leaf clovers, which he has about fifty pressed in a photo album. His most prized collection, however, are fish, which are all placed on a special shelf. He even owns a pet goldfish named Goldman. He finds another fish find on the property of the Robbie House when he decides to dig. The fish in question is a carp and it is dragon-like. Tommy shows it to his goldfish and hides it in Goldman’s fishbowl, deciding to keep it for himself for a while.

Meanwhile Petra and Calder are both looking out their bedroom windows. Petra is trying to think of something to write when the train goes by and she sees the silhouette of a man with a black billowing cape and he drops a square shaped object out of the window. The square shaped object turns out to be, when Petra and Calder investigate, another copy of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. (Petra had picked up another copy at Powell’s, the nearby bookstore, in the give-away box.) Petra begins reading The Invisible Man between intervals.

Through their own separate investigations, etc., the three children come together in friendship, and start working together to save the Robbie House, including a campaign run by Ms. Hussey explaining the difference between appreciating a whole piece of art and appreciating only part of a piece of art by taking duplicates of famous pieces of art, mainly paintings, and tearing them apart. Their campaign is very successful and even appears in the newspaper, much to Tommy’s pleasure.

Sometime after this Petra gets the idea to name themselves the Wright 3 and Tommy also shows his friends the carp he found on the Robie House’s property. They’re all really amazed, yet no matter how proud Tommy is, he lies that he didn’t find on the property of the Robie House, but somewhere in the Japanese Gardens. The three friends go there and Tommy shows them where he “found” the carp.Shortly after this episode when Tommy comes home, he finds their flat has been ransacked. Tommy rescues Goldman from near death but realizes the carp has disappeared. The police arrive and investigate, with the conclusion that it appears that nothing of value was stolen – or so it seems. Zelda says at least she and Tommy still have each other….and Goldman. They tidy up their flat and buy an even better bowl for Goldman.

As the schedule for the Robie House’s demolition nears, Petra, Calder, and Tommy decide to sneak into the House to investigate and cover themselves by telling their parents they’ve gone to the cinema to see a running of The Three Musketeers, concluding that the length of the film should be enough time for them. Unfortunately while they are in the Robie House they are captured and tied up by two thieves who have been stealing things from the Robie House and they also stole the carp fish, which is of considerable value as it was owned by Frank Lloyd Wright, who lost it one day during the construction of the Robie House, and naturally, the carp is worth a considerable amount of money. The thieves’ intentions had been to sell the carp and get the money. Once they’ve left the Robie House they are going to set fire to it.The children begin their escape by asking if it is all right if they pray but actually they are not. They’re “chanting” in “Romain Latin” or in actual truth, they are conversing with one another in the new code invented by Calder. Petra tells one of the thieves in English she needs to use the bathroom and when she gets back Tommy and Calder have tied up the thieves.The children’s parents come to know of it and are all shocked and give their children a bit of a lecture, but they are all happy that the children are safe.

The thieves confess their scheme and even “confess” that they weren’t really going to burn down the Robie House with the children inside, though the Wright 3 really aren’t so sure. In the end, the Robbie House is saved from its demolition, and Tommy and his mother are even allowed to live in it; giving tours, and a gift shop will be added. All’s well that ends well.

Codes

Just as there were codes in Chasing Vermeer, so there are in The Wright 3. Introduced are the Fibbonacci numbers and the number three. One of the examples included is the fact that all three children will be turning thirteen years of age. More examples can be found within the book. Yet again in Brett Helquist’s illustrations there are hidden images and this time they’re fishy. It takes a while to pinpoint them but once they have been found it is incredibly difficult not to notice them.

H.G. Wells and Rear Window

In The Wright 3 one of H.G. Wells’s books, The Invisible Man, appears. As did Charles Fort’s Lo! play an important role (Chasing Vermeer) so does The Invisible Man. H.G. Wells’s novel sort of almost runs parallel to The Wright 3. (Expect a review of The Invisible Man soon.) Also featured in the book is the 1954 film Rear Window, based on the short story by Conell Woolrich. Zelda mentions it to Tommy and they both watch it with a bowl of popcorn. As Zelda says it was already old when she watched it (yet it is her favourite). It is used in sorts of a reference to Tommy looking out his window, which has a view of the Robie House, and him observing what is going on outside.

Links

Article about The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

January 23, 2007

Chasing Vermeer

Posted in Children's Literature, Mystery at 12:56 am by j128

Chasing VermeerChasing Vermeer was written by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and published in 2003. A sequel, The Wright 3, was published in 2006. Chasing Vermeer revolves around two sixth-graders, Petra and Calder, who come together through a terrible crime. This crime was the theft of Vermeer’s painting, A Lady Writing. The thief delivered three letters in October to three people – a man and two women – prior to stealing A Lady Writing.

Summary

Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay go to the same school known as University School or U. School for short. They live on the same block only a few houses apart. But they are not friends. They do not hold anything against each other, they just have never really socialized with one another.

Calder’s friend Tommy had recently moved to New York City with his mum Zelda and his new dad whom he comes to call “Old Fred.” During his stay in New York, a boy known only as Frog disappears, and no one really knows about it – or so it seems.

Meanwhile Ms. Hussey, the new sixth grade teacher, is loved by everyone. She suggests going on an art expedition to look for clues and patterns in paintings at the museum after her other idea of writing a letter to her that she would never forget. Petra and Calder both get in trouble when they go into an out-of-bounds place but Ms. Hussey doesn’t mind. She says it’s a good way to find things out.

The art expedition initially fails as well. The class talks about art and Ms. Hussey talks about an interesting point in the story: Picasso said that artists use lies to tell the truth. This idea is used throughout the book as it continues.

By a few odd coincidences Petra and Calder learn about Johannes Vermeer and they create a friendship with one another whilst trying to learn more about Vermeer and the theft. Both Petra and Calder find it quite urgent to recover A Lady Writing.

Through their investigations they become acquainted with Mrs. Sharpe, a widow who’s husband was killed just before he told her a secret about Vermeer that would shake history. Mrs. Sharpe is a cold and fierce old lady but as the story proceeds she seems to warm to the children and in the end they are friends.

After long hard work the children finally recover the Lady and the thief is identified, though he dies of a heart attack before he is arrested. The thief’s identity becomes very notable especially as his identity is connected to a friend of Calder’s. It ends with the possibility that Petra could be related to Vermeer.

Codes

In Chasing Vermeer codes play a major role. One of these codes are Calder’s pentominoes. They play a major part in almost every single part of the story. Pentominoes are mathematical puzzles and in the back of the book published by Scholastic, there are insructions on how to make your own.

There is also the number twelve. Many of the surnames of the people involved are spelt with twelve letters. Both Calder and Petra turn twelve years old on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, Petra and Calder are in the sixth grade, and even the author’s name, Blue Balliett, is composed of twelve letters in total. There are many more “twelve” sequences in the book than are listed here. You just have to look for them carefully.

In the illustrations by Brett Helquist there are carefully hidden pentominoes. In almost all of the illustrations there are also frogs. Calder and Tommy also designed a code and it is shown in the book with a code translator.

Charles Fort

Chasing Vermeer features Charles Fort’s book Lo! and it is read by Petra and Calder, bringing many unexplained events to their interest and the reader’s, thus raising wonder and questions.

Sequels

In 2006 a sequel was released entitled The Wright 3 and is illustrated by Brett Helquist as well. There is a rumour of a third book being in the works.

Film

A film Chasing Vermeer is scheduled to be released either 2007 or 2008, based on the book by Blue Balliett. Other than the rough release date, nothing else yet is known. The rights were bought by Warner Brothers.

Read More

The Wright 3 (sequel)

Links

Official website of Chasing Vermeer

September 13, 2006

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Posted in Mystery tagged at 2:06 am by j128

"The Hound of the Baskervilles"

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Oxford World's Classics edition)

The Hound of the Baskervilles by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a Sherlock Holmes novel, and was originally serialized in the Strand Magazine in 1901 and 1902. It is considered Sir Conan Doyle’s best work for its fantastic descriptive writing. This is the first Sherlock Holmes book I have actually read from front to back and I enjoyed it immensely!

Summary

The story is told in the first-person by Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes’s assistant and friend. They are visited by Dr. James Mortimer, a friend of the late Sir Charles Baskerville. He comes with a disturbing tale of an old family curse and the shocking news of the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, which came in the form of the family curse: a supposed hell-hound known as the Hound of the Baskervilles. Dr. Mortimer is uneasy as he is to meet the last of the Baskervilles: Sir Henry Baskerville and he fears for the young Baskerville as all Baskervilles have been killed on sight at the Baskerville estate in Dartmoore.

It all began with the first Baskerville, Sir Hugo Baskerville; an evil, drunken man with a lot of men almost as equal as him. After he captured a helpless young woman forcefully for his own merriment, he and his friends partied and intoxicated themselves. Realizing quite suddenly the young maiden had escaped they took chase. The young maiden, frightened and weary, sooner or later stumbled, perhaps on an upturned root, and broke her neck. At the same time Sir Hugo Baskerville’s friends caught sight of a gigantic hound following them. Fearful, they ran away for their lives. When they came upon Sir Hugo, he had fallen into a pit alongside the young maiden he had stolen, and the devilish hound ate his throat.

Mr. Holmes dismisses it as a fairy-tale, but is caught in curiosity when Dr. Mortimer mentions something he had not said earlier that when inspecting the late Sir Charles Baskerville, his face was distorted in terror, and there were large footprints of a hound, though no marks were found on Sir Baskerville’s body.

After a time Sherlock Holmes instructs Dr. Watson to accompany Sir Henry Baskerville and to take the young Baskerville into Dr. Waston’s charge and never to let him out of his sight or leave him alone. Dr. Watson is to also make any observations and reports to Mr. Holmes if it might be helpful to uncover this strange and dark mystery.

There are a series of characters, most notable the Hound, Mr. Stapleton and his wife framed as his sister, Mrs. Stapleton, Mrs. Laura Lyton, Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore, the baronet of Baskerville Hall, and of course: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

The Hound of the Baskervilles has been made into many film adaptations and TV shows; maybe the most popular being the 1939 film adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The latest film version of the Sherlock Holmes novel as discussed was in 2002.

Links

The Hound of the Baskervilles – An article on Answers.com with details of The Hound of the Baskervilles including the story’s inspirations, the movies, the plot of the book (minor), and other external links. Also includes an image of a copy of the first edition (published in 1902) of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The Hound of the Baskervilles on Project Gutenberg