the town hall mystery (part nine)

This story started here.

At the end of the following day, sitting in our room (it was drizzling outside), my employer and I compared notes. We had spent the day apart — she investigating the Devane family, me in pursuit of the Rabson key.

Of course, she went first. “I learned that the dead man — the second dead man — was Baxter Devane. He was the younger brother of Miss Patricia Devane, who you met at the house.”

“It is definitely not correct to say that I met her. I was allowed to be in her presence, mostly by accident, for a few brief, fleeting moments.”

She shrugged. “I’ll accept that. Miss Devane, who was married, briefly, to a man named Potter, is generally thought to be a widow, and she was the sole owner of Devane Industries, which recently went bankrupt.”

“She took back her maiden name after… Was it a divorce?” I asked. “You said she is ‘generally thought’ to be a widow.”

“She took back her maiden name after a divorce — after which (quite soon after, in fact) Mr. Potter died. She is referred to as a widow, but it’s not technically true.” She shrugged. “For a family that values respectability, to be a widow can be more acceptable than to be a divorcee, even in these relatively enlightened times.”

She smiled. “Miss Devane’s Christian name is Patricia, so perhaps she took back her maiden name, immediately, because of the risk that somebody would call her ‘Patty Potter.'”

I nodded. “Very reasonable, I’d say.”

She shuddered delicately. “I agree. In any case, it turns out that her brother, Baxter, had been living here, in the house, for some years, but very quietly. He did move away after college — he tried a few careers, none of which were very successful, and his health was apparently in decline, so he moved back to ‘take care of the house,’ whatever that might consist of. And, by all accounts, to horde his money, which was reported to be substantial.”

“No one else from the family was living here in town? Where was his sister?”

“California. She moved out there after college, apparently with Mr. Potter, and stayed there after his death. In her youth, she was reportedly pretty adamant that Claremont was not up to her standards. Very tedious, apparently, especially in the winters. It didn’t surprise anybody that she stayed away for so long.”

“We’ll find out about the winters ourselves in two or three months.”

“Of course,” she said firmly, “quiet and routine can be very beneficial, if you happen to be someone who has a book she wants to write.”

I ignored this. “And the next generation?” I asked pleasantly.

“There were two daughters — Deirdre (often called, to her dismay, ‘DeeDee’) and Felicia.”

“Not, I hope, called ‘FiFi.'”

She pulled her glasses down to the tip of her nose and frowned at me over the rims — now I was clearly being too frivolous.

“In any case,” she continued, still looking rather severe, “rumors suggest that there was also a son, somewhat younger, conceived after the untimely death of Mr. Potter. But, the rumors suggest, still in line for an inheritance, since Mr. Devane’s will reportedly stipulates that the estate — cash and land and the house and so on — be divided equally among the children of his sister. It seems there’s no mention of legitimacy as a requirement.”

“No money to Miss Devane?”

“So the story goes. They weren’t close, and she had always frustrated his efforts to get involved in the family business, of which, as I said, she was the sole owner. But he did want to keep the money within the family, hence the legacy to her descendants.”

She smiled and lit a cigarette. “And how was your day, dear?”

“Incomplete,” I admitted. “I hope to have a comprehensive report for you in the morning.”

“But you have a plan.” It was half a question.

“I do indeed. And the more difficult part is done.” I had been going to decline to tell her anything until the following morning, but I couldn’t resist reaching into my jacket pocket and showing her the Rabson key.

She froze for an instant, then she leaned forward and extended her hand. I shook it and she leaned back again.

She really wanted to ask me questions, but she was a connoisseur of dramatic revelations, and she was willing to allow me my own moments, at least occasionally.

She took her cane and got to her feet. “I want to get some work done. If you’re here, I’ll be tempted to try and get you to spoil your big moment in the morning. So, get gone, until at least eleven. Go.”

This was all delivered with a smile.

I went outside, wearing my poncho over my jacket, and I realized that I had no definite idea of where I should go. Ordinarily, when banished to the outside world, I tended to take refuge in the town library, but the town library was gone. The rain was very light now, but it was enough to discourage me from going to sit on the pier or anywhere else outdoors.

With no specific plan, I started to climb the hill that would take me past the Catholic church, and eventually to Main Street.

As always when passing a Catholic church, anywhere in the world, I felt as if I had a tiny priest on one shoulder, gently reminding me to cross myself, and my employer sitting on my other shoulder, grinning as she blew smoke from a tiny cigarette into my ear.

Coming down the hill from the church to the center of town, I sniffed the air and I didn’t smell any smoke. Apparently the recent rain had cleared the air. As I reached Main Street, however, I realized (or, really, remembered) what’s worse than smoke in the air: the smell of wet ashes.

Well, since I’d found my previous view of the Town Hall site rather disturbing, I decided I should go and look at it again, simply because of how much I didn’t really want to.

I decided to grab a bite to eat at the Wagon Wheel. By the time that was done, I figured, the drizzle might have resolved itself one way or the other — and if it decided to stop I could take a walk around town. There were a couple of geographic questions I wanted to settle, if possible, while it was still somewhat light out.

I sat at a window table, so I could look out and persuade myself that the sight of the massive scorched safe on the other side of the street didn’t bother me at all.

After I’d ordered a sandwich and a cup of coffee, I looked out the window. After a few moments, wishing I’d brought something to read (I was missing the town library already), I saw Millie coming up the block from the News Store. She didn’t see me, so I tapped on the glass.

She smiled. After a failed attempt at sign language communication, she came in and I gestured at the empty chair across from me. “Would you like to join me?” I asked. There was a bit of awkward back-and-forth (each of us being careful — perhaps too careful — to avoid imposing on the other), she sat down.

After a mutual laugh at how difficult we were making this by being so polite, she called over the waitress and ordered some chowder.

She sighed and seemed to relax. “I’ll just ask,” she said. “The case? The man who died — do you know anything more?”

I shrugged. “Not a lot,” I said slowly.

“And you can’t talk about it anyway,” she finished.

I nodded.

We moved on, discussing the Town Hall fire (it had been confirmed that nobody had died, and taxes would still be due), the weather, the fact that the town’s movie theater was about to close for the season, which restaurants stayed opened all year and which didn’t, and various other matters. It was very enjoyable.

To be continued…

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thomas carnacki

Well, to start, who is Thomas Carnacki?

Thomas Carnacki was a supernatural detective, in stories written by William Hope Hodgson in the early 20th century. Carnacki himself was not supernatural (or, as he would have said “ab-natural”) — he just investigated “hauntings” (or things which appeared to be hauntings), using very scientific tools (for 1910).

Six of the nine Thomas Carnacki stories were published in a volume called Carnacki, the Ghost Finder, which I have. Also, those six stories were adapted by Big Finish productions in a series of audio adaptations.

But what about the other three stories, which were written (or at least published) later? I think I found a book online once that appeared to have all nine of the stories, but it was somewhere around $40, and I’m not that enthusiastic.

But then I was checking out the TV Tropes* website and I found that it has a Thomas Carnacki page, and that page has this link.

An ebook, free, with all nine stories!

And so, with great excitement, I read the first of the three new (to me) stories, and it was really lousy! Definitely weaker than any of first six. So, I worried that in the time since “The Thing Invisible” Hodgson had lost the thread of the character.

But the last two were very much up to standard, and, in an especially nice touch, the final story was a straight detective story, with no supernatural elements at all. (The other Carnacki stories all involve apparent “hauntings,” though in some cases the causes turn out to be partially, or entirely, human.)

But then I had another Carnacki discovery — one of the stories, and one of the really good ones at that, was adapted for British TV as part of a series called “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.” With Donald Pleasance as Thomas Carnacki. Plus, the series also adapted one of the Lady Molly of Scotland Yard stories.

So, as you probably guessed, I ordered that DVD set.

Later: Well, the DVDs arrived, and the Carnacki episode (“The Horse of the Invisible”) is really good. A couple of aspects don’t really work (it was written to work on the page, where the suspension of disbelief works differently), but the acting is good and Pleasance is wonderful. He adds a lot of personality to Carnacki (who is very dry and reserved in the stories, except when he’s in a panic), but I’m not someone who freaks out when the characters on the screen aren’t identical to the originals. (Hey, I like the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law Sherlock Holmes movies.)

The Lady Molly of Scotland Yard episode is good, too. I liked the little detail that Lady Molly’s office at the Yard was obviously recently a storeroom (there’s a small, handwritten “Female Department” sign on the door, half-covering a sign that says “Stores”). Her superiors need her, but they’re not enthusiastic about it.

* “Tropes,” in this sense, means standard elements used repeatedly in particular types of stories. For example, in a sitcom, “wacky next door neighbor” would be a trope. Or, in mysteries, the “least likely suspect,” or, for that matter, Dr. John Watson himself (the friend, assistant, and biographer).

Two of my favorite tropes are “the noodle incident,” and “lampshading.”

“The Noodle Incident is something from the past that is sometimes referred to but never explained, with the implication that it’s just too ludicrous for words—or perhaps too offensive for depiction—and the reality that any explanation would fall short of audience expectations.”

One example of this is Watson’s (Conan Doyle’s) habit of referring to other, untold, Sherlock Holmes adventures at the beginning of various Holmes stories, such as the case of “the Giant Rat of Sumatra, for which the world is not yet prepared.” Carnacki has some of those also.

I use this also (for example, we know that, when Jan Sleet was in college, she solved several mysteries, which are not reported, at least so far, except as “the surfer case” and “the biker case”).

The Marvel movies have these, too (the mission that Natasha and Clint were on in Budapest, for example).

“Lampshade Hanging (or, more informally, ‘Lampshading’) is the writers’ trick of dealing with any element of the story that threatens the audience’s Willing Suspension of Disbelief, whether a very implausible plot development, or a particularly blatant use of a trope, by calling attention to it and simply moving on.”

There’s a lot of that in the Marvel movies, too. Like when Spider-Man complains (correctly) that Captain America’s shield doesn’t obey the laws of physics, or this scene (one of two good scenes in an otherwise lousy movie), specifically when Clint points out that the movie doesn’t make a lot of sense at that moment.

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the town hall mystery (part eight)

This story started here.

After we were seated, we started with drinks (at least Professor Lebrun and I did — my employer seldom drank).

When the drinks arrived, the professor sipped his Tom Collins, nodded, took another sip, and then put it down. He smiled. “Please don’t keep me in suspense. Dinner with you two is always enjoyable, but when the call comes at the last minute, with such an undertone of urgency…”

My employer nodded. “Your deduction is correct. What have you heard about recent events in town?”

He shrugged (his shrugs were always slow, expressive, and somehow undeniably European). “The Town Hall burned down, I know that. One of my students was there — something to do with her driver’s license — and she told me all about it in an attempt to explain why she’d been late for class.”

“A successful attempt, I assume,” I put in.

He smiled and sipped his drink. “Yes, of course. So, you’re investigating the fire? That seems a bit… out of your usual routine.”

“It would be. No, there are other recent incidents which have, rather forcibly, claimed my attention–” She glanced at me, to make sure that I was aware that, whatever happened, it was all going to be my fault for dragging her into this and distracting her from her true vocation — writing her book. “–a death, apparently not natural, across the street from the fire, and another death, apparently natural, as far as we know so far, at the Devane house.”

The professor finished his drink. “I had thought that the Devane house was closed up, unoccupied.”

“That’s where we need your help, because that’s what I thought, too.” She gave a very bare-bones account of what we knew about the two deaths, leaving out some things she wanted to keep to herself. There were people at most of the neighboring tables, and when you’re a locally famous amateur detective people do tend to try to listen in when you’re having a conversation in a public place.

By the time she finished, the professor and I were done with our soup and she hadn’t touched hers.

The professor leaned back in his chair as the waitress collected our soup bowls (my employer waved away her full bowl). “I can direct you to somebody who knows about the Devane family,” he said. “They gave a building to the college some years ago, so I’m sure the college history office has information about them — but, frankly, who cares?” He smiled impishly. “The thing that intrigues me is the young man who died while the Town Hall was burning.”

My employer nodded. “Me, too, I confess. A family being prominent, wealthy, and so on — that doesn’t make them interesting. Not as interesting as that young man, and the woman…”

Our entrees arrived. My employer gestured with a long, bony finger at the outside deck that ran around two sides of the restaurant. The professor frowned, not understanding, but I indicated that all would become clear later.

So, we ate in near silence — the food was very good — punctuated by small talk.

My employer had the idea that the Claremont College press might publish her Bellona book. A possibly controversial book, based on a series of popular (and sometimes controversial) articles, written from the middle of a civil war that the United States had several fingers in, written by a distinguished alumna of the college…

The professor, his attention clearly focused on his broiled scallops, said that he would put her in touch with the editorial staff of the press.

Then his mouth quirked under his mustache. “You know,” he said, “you sent me to my dictionaries. Websters, for example, does say that ‘alumna’ refers to a woman who graduated from, or attended, a college or university. (Emphasis mine, of course.) But some other dictionaries to require graduation as a prerequisite for the use of the term. “

“Websters is, of course–“

“Oh, of course.”

As I said, small talk.

After we’d finished our main course, my employer indicated to the waitress that we’d have our coffee outside on the deck, as was our usual practice.

We — my employer and I — often had our coffee on the deck when we ate at this restaurant, which was called Captain Hisgens. This was primarily so that she could smoke, but it was also convenient to be able to relax and speak privately.

When we were at our usual outside table with Professor Lebrun, along with a pot of coffee, three mugs, cream, and sugar, and an ashtray, my companions got their pipes going and I poured coffee all around.

The evening was cool, and we were the only people on the deck. None of the other tables had place settings, so it seemed that the restaurant hadn’t thought it would be a night when people would want to eat outside.

We didn’t mind the temperature, though. I’d brought a sweatshirt, and the professor and my employer were wearing suits. (His was tweed, with elbow patches, in the standard academic style. My employer’s was dark blue pinstripe — I doubt if she’d ever worn tweed in her life.)

The professor added cream and sugar to his coffee as my employer said, “What I did not want to mention inside is the connection — the possible connection — between the dead man on Main Street and the Devane house.”

She explained about my search for Rabson keys. The professor nodded as he listened, then he said, “That’s hardly conclusive.”

Her smile suggested that things which were conclusive were not very much fun at all.

Then, as she turned to me, still smiling, I could feel my stomach start to clench up. I’d been expecting this.

“There are two things we most need to know,” she said slowly, drawing out her words. “We need to know who the dead man was, obviously, and we need to know if his key fits the lock at the Devane house. Is it just a Rabson lock, or is it the same Rabson lock?”

Professor Lebrun smiled. “If it turns out to be a different lock, then you can forget about the boring Devane family and concentrate on the (much more interesting) News Store death.”

My employer kept her eyes on me. “Where is that key now?”

I sighed. “In a blue plastic tray, probably in some cabinet at the morgue.” She winked at me, with her head turned so that the professor couldn’t see. As I’d expected, it was only a matter of time before she dispatched me to obtain — by some means yet to be devised — the key.

“It’s not evidence?” the professor asked, pouring us all some more coffee. “Not at police headquarters, being examined by our sheriff and her highly competent staff?”

I shrugged. “Maybe it is by now, but I’d bet not. Remember, Rhonda’s position is that this was a suicide, and that the man was alone on the roof when he died. If there was no crime, then it’s not evidence.”

My employer nodded. “From what you’ve said, Rhonda is very focused on the death at the Devane house, and, apparently, indifferent to the death on Main Street.”

“That appears to be the case.”

“She has apparently decided that the death was a suicide, despite a reliable witness bringing forward credible testimony which would contradict that, or at least make it open to question, and she’s also decided, it would appear, that a different death, apparently — it seems — a result of natural causes, was actually suspicious.” He shrugged. “Does she know something you don’t?”

He then leaned over and cupped his hand to whisper, quite audibly, into my employer’s ear: “We’re relying quite heavily on your assistant’s ability to tell the difference between men and women. Has he generally demonstrated competence in this area?”

To be continued…

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dare to betray the book

I’ve written before about my idea of how to best adapt a book into a movie: throw out the book and make a good movie (as Howard Hawks did, for example, when adapting To Have and Have Not, a mediocre book, into one of my favorite movies).

I thought this was handled well in this piece in the New Yorker, where the writer said:

“Any novel can be the basis for a good movie, if the filmmakers only dare to betray the book—to treat whatever interested them about it as raw material that they’d approach as freely as the authors had done when writing.”

Even writers who create an outline before starting writing have the ability to go in a different direction at any point when they actually start writing the first draft.

And I liked this phrase also:

“… the mechanical tone of a cinematic Pez dispenser proffering sweetened and uniformly shaped lozenges of incident.”

This reminded me of both the movie of Inherent Vice, and every movie adaptation of Henry James that I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few, for some reason). Sometimes portraying the events of a book (and usually only selected events at that) is nothing to do with telling the story that the book tells.

On a completely different topic, I liked this article: “The Debt That All Cartoonists Owe to ‘Peanuts’

And this one: “All I Ever Wanted Was a One-Trick Pony

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the town hall mystery (part seven)

This story started here.

In the living room of the large, dark house, three people seemed to be standing as far away from each other as they could.

On the window end of the room, where I could see that the sun was now beginning to come out, there was a woman with short hair, wearing jeans, a motorcycle jacket, and a T-shirt. She had apparently been looking out the window, perhaps pointedly demonstrating her indifference to whatever was going on in the room, but she turned to check out the new arrivals (Kate the reporter, Brian the deputy, and me). Once she’d looked us over, she turned back to the window.

An older woman sat against the far wall, in a comfortable armchair. There was a cigarette in an ashtray on a small table beside her, and she was looking at the floor as she listened to a man in a suit. He was standing next to her, leaning over so he could speak to her quietly.

She was dressed in summer wear: solid color T-shirt and baggy shorts, plus flip-flops, but she didn’t look like she was in a vacation mood. Her posture and expression said she was thinking about doing something very serious, like disinheriting a disappointing family member or initiating a small holy war.

On the near wall (to my right, as I stepped into the room, trying to be inconspicuous) was a slender woman with wild red hair — lots of it. She wore a denim skirt, a paint-spattered smock, and bare feet (well, I guess you don’t “wear” bare feet). If the older woman was indeed about to disinherit somebody, this one looked like a likely candidate — though I couldn’t have said why that idea popped into my head.

I focused on the redhead’s hands. They were clean and pale, and, the smock aside, this one had evidently not just come from her easel. (I would have bet cash money that the most recent painting she’d done, no matter how long ago, had been artistic rather than household.)

Kate Lane stepped forward and addressed Rhonda.

“Sheriff, I’d like to ask you a few questions–”

The short-haired woman by the window snapped, “At a time like this? Really?”

She stormed out of the room, going through a door by the older woman’s chair, and the older woman shrugged as the door slammed, as if this was not unexpected, and perhaps not unusual, and definitely not unwelcome.

Ignoring the reporter, the sheriff stepped forward and addressed the older woman. “Miss Devane, I’d like to ask–“

Miss Devane was ignoring her, speaking to the man beside her. “Mr. Palmer,” she said, raising her voice slightly, “now that the body of my late brother has been removed, are we under any further obligations to the sheriff and her staff?”

The man, who I now recognized as Rance Potter, a local attorney, straightened up and faced the sheriff. “Sheriff White,” he said, “this family has suffered an unexpected and devastating loss. Since there’s no evidence that Mr. Devane died of anything other than natural causes, we would ask that you leave the family in peace at this time to mourn their loss.”

Sheriff Rhonda nodded, doing a fairly good job of concealing her frustration. “Of course.” She looked around the room. “Please accept my condolences.”

I saw Miss Lane look around the room as the sheriff and her deputy left. Nobody in the room looked like they were about to be doing any mourning, but it also seemed unlikely that they would answer — or even tolerate — questions from a reporter. So, she turned to go also, perhaps deciding that her best bet under the circumstances would be to try again to interview the sheriff.

However, when we got outside, Rhonda already had her car turned around and she was apparently ready to leave. I could hear the other police car going down the hill toward the highway. But the passenger door of Rhonda’s cruiser was open…

Hoping I was reading the situation correctly, I hopped in and closed the door. “Thanks for the ride,” I said cheerfully.

Without looking at me, and without changing her expression, she said, “Seat belt.”

I buckled myself in and we were off.

Usually Rhonda used a brief burble on her siren to cut across the highway, but now she paused, watching the cars speed by, and made a face.

“Okay,” she said finally, and with evident reluctance. “What do you think?”

She saw a break in the traffic and pulled out, turning to the right rather than trying to go clear across to the town center.

My employer wrote sitting at a very small table in our rented room. The table was barely large enough for her trusty portable typewriter. She wrote looking out the window at the small inlet across the street, which was full or empty of water, depending on the tide.

I came in and she looked around. She had her fingers still resting on the typewriter keys, but then, as she assessed my expression, she lifted them and turned to face me more fully.

“Is this going to take some time?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Quite possibly.”

She took her cane and got to her feet. “Then let’s talk on the deck.”

We had the deck to ourselves (people seldom used it in the late afternoon). I told her everything that had happened, in detail. She smoked cigarettes, looking out over the small pond behind the inn.

When I was done, she smiled. “You’re clearly trying to distract me from my writing. First the Town Hall fire, and then the dead man who fell, or was pushed, from the roof of the News Store, and now this. Okay, I’m distracted. However, please don’t have anything else happen, at least for the next few hours.”

She didn’t bother to give me time to reply. “I am intrigued by how Rhonda reacted to all of this,” she continued. “Her proposed solution of the death of the unidentified man was, to say the least, predictable. But why did the scene at the Devane house bother her so much?”

“It felt like the family was important — by which I mean rich, powerful, influential — too important for her to try to take charge of the situation without having some solid facts on her side. Something about what she saw clearly bothered her — but apparently there wasn’t anything she could put a finger on, or at least nothing tangible enough for her to feel confident in acting on.”

She nodded. “And it may be a factor that they are an old and established family in this town, but she’s still a very new sheriff.”

“And they did have their lawyer there with them, and he’s pretty established in this area.”

“I wonder if he was called because of the death, after it was discovered, or was he there already, for some other purpose… Rhonda gave no more indication of what she wanted from you?” She held up a hand. “Not that I’m doubting your reporting — of course — but that’s the part which bugs me Well, one part which bugs me. Was she nudging you in the hope that I’d get involved?”

“I don’t think so. In her visualization of the universe, you’re always trying to get involved, and it’s her role to discourage or block you — unless it seems like you might be useful to her in a specific situation. I don’t think the idea of her having to entice you into an investigation would ever occur to her.”

“I expect you’re right about that.” She carefully stubbed out her cigarette in an ashtray and stretched out her long legs in front of her. “So, you have no idea what she’s thinking about all of this?”

I could have pointed out that I’d already made this clear in my report, but she was repeating herself due to frustration — a frustration which I certainly shared, so I just reiterated that Rhonda had dropped her questioning when it had become clear that I knew nothing about the Devane family, and that I was not about to tell her why I had arrived at the family’s house.

After a moment’s silence, I asked, “Do you remember anything about the family, from when you lived here before?”

“Not enough. They haven’t — or at least most of them haven’t — lived here in town for a long time. That house has been pretty famously empty for years (though, of course, that could have been less than accurate). Anyway, my main reason for bringing that up is because, if they weren’t actually here in the area, it means that going to the office of the Claremont Crier and looking through the back issue files might be of limited use.” She shook her head and stubbed out her cigarette. “I wonder if the staff of our distinguished local university, my alma mater, includes anyone who is an expert on the local area.”

And so it was that our friend Professor Ernst Lebrun drove in from nearby Claremont College so that we could take him out to dinner.

To be continued…

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there is a point (and it’s labeled)

This blog post does have a point, but it may take me a little while to get there, so if you get impatient, you can go down to the bold heading that says “The Point.”

In a recent article in The New Yorker, David Letterman is credited with the aphorism “Buy the premise and you’ll enjoy the bit.”

First of all, a correction (I really should email them about this): Johnny Carson was saying “Buy the premise, buy the bit” long before David Letterman ever had a TV show.

However, the more interesting issue here is that I’ve recently become even more aware of how true this is, at least for me, with characters.

I talked recently about my lack of connection with most of the Marvel movie characters.

As I said, the movie (Endgame) offers much fan service. The middle third of the movie has most of the major characters traveling back in time to various different eras, thereby popping up in the middle of scenes from earlier movies in the series. I was only mildly engaged by this, and, based on what I’ve read online, I missed a lot of the references anyway.

But it occurred to me more recently that Endgame was not the first story I’ve enjoyed recently which used time travel in this way. Earlier this year, Big Finish released a new Dark Shadows audio serial called Bloodline. It starts in the present, with a huge cast (around forty actors playing around seventy-five characters), and in the middle section various characters are sent (involuntarily) back into the past — into earlier episodes in the series.

I enjoyed this tremendously, and in almost all of the cases I knew who the characters were and remembered at least some of their history and relationships. And some of the characters were never introduced by name — you had to recognize the voices.

Fan service can be much more rewarding when you’re actually a fan, and when there’s a good story.

Speaking of voices, the Big Finish website doesn’t list the actors for this story, because many are intended to be a surprise, but some are more surprising than others:

Barnabas Collins and his long-time friend Dr. Julia Hoffman are now living their lives in different bodies (original actors Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall being dead), but at the end of this story they magically get their original bodies back, and their final scene is pasted together, and quite well, from scraps of dialogue from the TV show (there were over a thousand episodes of the show, so a lot of raw material was available).

That was very moving, and definitely wouldn’t have been the same if I’d been expecting it.

There were a couple of amusing father-and-son things in Bloodline, by the way (we’re now getting to the point where you may want to skip ahead to The Point — if you want).

1) David Selby played Quentin Collins on Dark Shadows back on TV, and still does on the audios, and Quentin was very fond of his nephew Jamison Collins, so much so that Selby named his own son Jamison. Jamison Selby has been on the Dark Shadows audios for a while, playing Ed Griffin, who runs the Blue Whale bar (and who hates Quentin Collins), but in the most recent story, in one of the past eras, he also played Jamison Collins. I’ll bet that doesn’t happen very often — that an actor plays the fictional character he was named after.

2) The previous story, Bloodlust (not to be confused with Bloodline) introduced a lot of new characters, including Cody Hill and his father Dr. Richard Hill. They didn’t have any scenes together (as far as I can remember) and they were played by the same actor, which works fine in audio. Probably made it more difficult in the newer story, though, since they did have scenes together.

3) Speaking of Cody Hill, here’s an inside joke that made me laugh:

Cody’s friend Jackie has decided that his nickname is “Eagle,” but nobody calls him that except her.

In the Bloodlust story, his last name is never mentioned, but we can assume it’s “Hill” because that’s his father’s name.

Which would make him “Eagle Hill,” according to Jackie.

“Eagle Hill” is the name of the town’s cemetery.

This joke is never explained. You have to figure it out.

Okay, now it’s time for the point.

The Point

I wrote before about being less than engaged by the fact that various characters died in Infinity War, since I knew they would come back. And they did, mostly. And then I got all snooty in the vein of: “I write mystery stories, which are better because when people die they stay dead” and so on.

But people die in Dark Shadows and come back. And, yes, you could make an argument that resurrection is more forgivable in a supernatural-based universe (Angelique, on Dark Shadows, has been alive and dead and alive again quite a few times over the last few centuries, and I wouldn’t have it any other way).

But, science vs. magic aside, the real difference is that I bought the premise — and the characters — of Dark Shadows back around 1969, so I’m on for the ride (and apparently there are enough of us that Big Finish can keep on pulling together all those tons of actors from time to time to make it all happen again).

It’s always a mistake to try to generate overall theories based mostly on your own personal preferences. My premise in the earlier post: “there’s no reason to care about what happens to characters if even death is temporary”?


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