Halloween looms ominously before us, dripping blood from its sharp fangs. How better to spend the next couple of days than being spooked? Below: some early modern and nineteenth-century horrors, both fictional and factual, famous and otherwise.
12:15:57. Exit front door and enter cold, rainy, grey afternoon. 12:15:59. Shut front door. 12:16. Reach for keys in order to lock deadbolt. 12:16:12. Er...keys? 12:16:18. No keys in knapsack, either. 12:16:19. Utter choice selection of colorful phrases that shall not be repeated here, as parents still believe that LP is a sweet, innocent child who remains unacquainted with such vulgar language. 12:17. Ponder use value of a cellphone. 12:18. Head across street to neighbors in order to borrow their phone. 12:21. Proceed to dial "twenty-four hour emergency locksmiths." 12:25. After discovering that "twenty-four hours" is, at best, a figure of speech, finally discover an available locksmith. Who, unfortunately, is thirty minutes away. 12:26. Pet neighbors' Maine Coon cats. 12:40. Head back across street to continue waiting for locksmith. See under: cold, rain, etc. 12:55. Look! A locksmith! 1:03. Locksmith points out that doorknob is upside down, which will make it nearly impossible to pick the lock. But he'll try. 1:10. Like he said: can't pick the lock. Apparently, an upside-down doorknob is excellent for security purposes. Not so useful, however, under current circumstances. 1:12. Locksmith takes a power drill to the doorknob. 1:15. Doorknob now in pieces. I sigh. 1:16. Locksmith inquires if I'd like a new doorknob. Seeing as how aforementioned doorknob is now in aforementioned pieces, I fail to see that I have much choice in the matter. 1:30. New doorknob. Also less money than I had seventy-five minutes ago.
The Naming of the Dead is the seventeenth novel in Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series, set in Edinburgh, which follows the rather gloomy career of DI John Rebus. Over the course of the series, which unfolds in real time, Rebus has managed to mislay his religious faith, his wife, his daughter, his brother (whose unexpected death haunts this novel), various friends, some girlfriends, and the occasional colleague; nevertheless, he still holds on to his longtime working partner, DS Siobhan Clarke (a transplanted Englishwoman), his mob-boss nemesis, his drinking habits, and his rock albums. Rebus suffers from cop-itis, that state of advanced alienation frequently associated with homicide detectives, not to mention a chronic inability to play well with his superiors. As Clarke reminds herself, there's a reason why Rebus has never been promoted. The Rebus series is very much in "British grim" mode, and this installment manages to be even more elegiac than usual.
Rankin has always been interested in how Edinburgh (and Scotland more generally) rubs up against other cities, regions, nations, and cultures, and this novel's mystery takes place during the G8 meeting and the demonstrations surrounding it. As the world converges on Edinburgh, Edinburgh itself is fragmented by regional rivalries, Anglo-Scottish tensions, generational clashes, class conflict, departmental politics, and gender warfare. Such strife also characterizes the novel's main plot, in which Rebus and Clarke investigate the death (suicide? accident? murder?) of politician Ben Webster and the apparently unrelated serial murders of three various nasty ex-cons. Alas, an unpleasant Englishman, Commander Steelforth, throws a number of monkey wrenches into Rebus' plans. Things are not materially improved by the appearance of Morris Cafferty, the aging thug who has dogged Rebus for most of the series--and who now has his eyes on Clarke. And then there's the matter of the local evangelist-cum-politician, Tench, who has been cheating on his wife with the sister of another police officer. Steelforth's interests in G8 security interfere with the CID investigation; Cafferty interferes with both Tench and the serial killer investigation. Meanwhile, Rebus is uncomfortably aware of both his own aging and the disappearance of anything in his life resembling family ties, as Clarke confronts her own anxious distance from her sixties-liberal academic parents. Such familial conflicts play out at more figurative levels, too: in getting herself enmeshed with Cafferty, too, Clarke threatens to inadvertently repeat Rebus' not-altogether distinguished history with the force. Behind all of this, of course, lie the novel's frequently cynical observations about the political glad-handing and double-crossing that pass for international philanthropy.
Unlike the more stylistically adventurous Reginald Hill, whose characters do not age in real time, Rankin has never been afraid of historical particularity. This novel threatens to be even more accidentally ephemeral than most, studded as it is with references to rock stars, politicians, and minor celebrities--not to mention CSI--that will probably all need footnotes in about ten or twenty years. In effect, The Naming of the Dead is a historical novel of sorts, albeit of a rather cheeky type. (Read the novel to find out why George Bush really fell off his bike.) And perhaps it's appropriate that most of the novel's contemporary allusions will be "lost" to later readers, for in the end, this is very much a novel about the permanence of loss--and the sense of futility that nags at those who solve mysteries, but cannot restore what is gone. Or, as Clarke says to Rebus:
"It's not enough, is it?" she repeated. "Just...symbolic...because there's nothing else you can do." "What are you talking about?" he asked, with a smile. "The naming of the dead," she told him, resting her head against his shoulder. (410)
Apparently, it's fundraising time at Phi Beta Kappa, and thus they're sending out such tantalizing goodies as stickers for our car windows (ooh!) and promises of leather luggage tags in exchange for our hard-earned cash (aah!). But I'm a little puzzled. No Phi Beta Kappan wears a key, even though there is key jewelry. Even at my initiation ceremony, which featured a room full of senior and junior members, there wasn't a single key visible to the naked (or contact-lensed) eye. So why, exactly, am I supposed to stick a Phi Beta Kappa sticker on my car, or a Phi Beta Kappa luggage tag on my somewhat tattered suitcase? Did someone change a social norm without informing me? The nerve!
Charles H. H. Wright, A primer of Roman Catholicism, or, The doctrines of the Church of Rome briefly examined in the light of Scripture (RTS, ). Late-Victorian anti-Catholic manual, intended for use in Sunday School instruction. Wright taught at the University of London.
Now that I've broken down and succumbed to a sudden attack of shelving, I can't help but think about books as objects. There are books I love for their contents, and then there are books I just love having in the house, for whatever reason...
Lord Brougham, Albert Lunel (1872): The only book I've acquired that is still in the original cardboard covers.
[John Anderson], Patrick Welwood (1839): Because there's something amusing about acquiring a nearly-vanished book (the National Library of Scotland has a couple of copies, but that's it) for $5.
J. S. Le Fanu, The House by the Churchyard, Doughty Library ed. (rpt. 1968): After about eight years of looking for this novel, I stumble over it at a bookshop run by a local charity. For $3, no less.
Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan, Florence Macarthy (1845): I still don't know if Benjamin Disraeli owned it himself, but it definitely came from his abode...
Charles Reade, The Works of Charles Reade, 19 vols., AMS rpt.: Back when I was an LGS, as opposed to an LP, I picked up this complete set at the Powell's in the South Loop. And then I carried the entire set several blocks to the nearest bus stop, then several blocks more from the bus stop back to my apartment. Good for the upper-body strength, that. I've never again expended quite that much physical effort on acquiring books...
Antoine Thomas, Essai sur Le Caractere, Les Moeurs, et L'Esprit des Femmes...: Not exactly in marvelous shape, but it's the oldest book in the house (early 1770s).
The Rolliad, in Two Parts..., 22nd ed. (1812): When I was working on my doctoral dissertation, I used to amuse myself (between sentimental biography collections, that is) by reading satirical attacks on William Pitt the Younger. (Er...what's that you say? My definition of "amusement" is a little odd?) In any event, I picked up a copy of The Rolliad to celebrate finishing the Ph.D.