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The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue
The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue
Price: $6.15

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Early Media Sensation And An Enduring Mystery, October 16, 2014
A wealthy and titled family, an eccentric nobleman, oddly persistent rumors, strange disappearances, and a magnificent country mansion riddled with mysterious tunnelings. These would be fodder for a media frenzy in any time period, but the Druce-Portland Affair occurred at a historical moment and place tailor-made for maximum sensation: Britain in the late nineteenth century. A newly literate population was hungry for anything that smacked of crime, mystery, or romance, and a highly competitive newspaper industry was just as eager to provide sustenance for that hunger. Piu Marie Eatwell's thoroughly documented and well-written history of the Affair and its aftermath illuminates not only this long forgotten mystery but also the complex society in which it took place.

William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, 5th Duke of Portland, was an extremely reclusive figure who spent much of his life in hiding. Apparently suffering from sort of skin disease and possibly autistic, he was rarely seen by his family and servants. He spent much of his time supervising the construction of a vast network of tunnels under and around Welbeck Abbey,his palatial home on the borders of Sherwood Forest. When he died in 1879 he was succeeded by a distant cousin and almost forgotten.

Then, twenty years later, a woman named Anna Maria Druce filed a lawsuit alleging that her late father in law Thomas Charles Druce had in reality been the 5th Duke of Portland, leading a double life for years and fathering descendants who were the rightful heirs to the Portland wealth. This touched off a gigiantic media frenzy that swept across Britain and around the world as newspapers competed to print the most sensational revelations, often with little or no regard for accuracy. The legal entanglements went on for a decade and involved a massive number of police and other investigators, including Walter Dew, a Scotland Yard detective well known for his investigation of the Jack the Ripper case. The story kept unfolding and developing in unexpected ways. Thomas Charles Druce, whether or not he had been the 5th Duke of Portland, had been an enigmatic and secretive man whose complicated life yielded rich fodder for the newspapers. Even after the actual legal case was settled questions remained and the case continued to fascinate and perplex for years.

In acknowledgment of the histrionic aspects of the Druce-Portland Case Eatwell has arranged her tale in three acts and twenty scenes, with a long list of Dramatis Personae, in general following the story chronologically, but with occasional look backs to clarify and allow for additional insights. At the end of the third act she herself becomes a player, describing her intensive research and revealing some long hidden details. This is not a story which lends itself to be wrapped up neatly at the end, but that just makes it that much more fascinating.

Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I
Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I
by Alexander Watson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.14
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History From The Other Side, October 13, 2014
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One hundred years ago the guns were blazing across Europe. What was to become World War I started in late July and August of 1914 and eventually involved the six major European powers, a number of smaller states within Europe, and many other nations around the world. Since history is by and large written by the winning side most of the histories of 1914-18 tend to tell the story from the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Belgium, Serbia, the US, etc.)'s point of view. Alexander Watson's fascinating and thorough (566 pages plus extensive notes) study tells the story of World War I from "the bad guys'" (Germany and Austria-Hungary) perspective.

In the summer of 1914 Germany and Austria-Hungary were two powerful, large empires dominating Central Europe. Despite general prosperity and well-financed militaries, the two Reichs felt under siege by a growing circle of enemies. If they were to have any hope of survival, they must sieze the opportunity to strike hard and fast at their foes. It almost worked: Germany came close to defeating Britain and France in the first month of the war, and Austria-Hungary, after an initial setback, eventually vanquished Serbia and recaptured territory lost to Russia. Unfortunately for the Central Powers, though, the war quickly bogged down into a long bloody slug-fest in which the Allies, with larger resources and greater access to the outside world, had an advantage. Nevertheless German military power was so vast that they came close to victory several times, even though they had to help their weaker Austrian ally and were only forced into submission when their own populations finally rebelled and demanded an end to the fighting..

Watson does an excellent job of clearly depicting the Central Powers at war, from the first exuberant victories through the long drawn out series of bloody confrontations until the final collapse. I enjoyed his descriptions of the ebb and flow of battle and its impact on the civiliain population, like the East Prussians and Galicians who had to deal with Russian invaders. His contrasting descriptions of Germany and Austria-Hungary, one a powerful nation-state with few internal divisions, the other a multi-ethnic and religion conglomeration that was held together only by endless compromises, were really interesting. It was also enlightening to learn more about the rationale for Germany's adoption of unlimited submarine warfare in early 1917, for example, or to read about the hostility with which the German and Austro-Hungarian peoples reacted to poor decisions by their leadership. Most of all I enjoyed Watson's analyses of the many ways in which World War I affected the rest of the twentieth century and into the early twenty-first, including the ways in which invasions and forced migrations eventually helped lay the groundwork for the Holocaust, or in the arrogance with which the Russians treated the Ukrainians,Poles, and Ruthenians.

It's a truism that "history is always written by the winners." That's not always accurate, but it is true that studies of World War I have tended to focus on things from the Allies' point of view. Through his use of many primary sources such as diaries and soldiers' letters Watson helps us better understand what it was like to be a soldier or a civilian suffering through the war on "the other side."

The Shooting Party
The Shooting Party
DVD ~ John Mason
Price: $13.96
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Evocation Of A Lost World, October 10, 2014
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This review is from: The Shooting Party (DVD)
This wonderful film classic from the 1980s, a dramatization of the equally marvelous novel by Isabel Colegate, is a fine example of British film making at its very best. Costume dramas set in an English country mansion featuring an upper class family and servants may seem a little old hat now that Downton Abbey has milked that scenario for everything it's worth, but let me assure you that The Shooting Party stands head and shoulders above its more recent rival.

In the autumn of 1913 Sir Randolph Nettleby hosts a shoorting party at his mansion somewhere deep in the shires. The world is troubled and changing fast, but despite the rumors of war and whispers about revolution that trouble Sir Randolph and his family and guests, everyone is determined that the party should go off well. After the shooting ends each day there are grand dinners, pleasant dances and conversations, and a little illicit romance. Nevertheless there are moments when the outside world can't help but break in. One of the Nettleby grandchildren has lost his pet duck and fears that it will be shot, and an eccentric outsider shows up to protest blood-sports right in the middle of the shooting. More importantly, some of the higher minded guests are aware that the world as they know it may be rapidly coming to an end, and they look to the future with troubled eyes.

This beautiful film which so wonderfully captures the landscape of the English country side has been digitally remastered for this DVD edition, sharpening the images and making the colors (which are naturally and fittingly somber) clearer. The cast is superb, led by James Mason as Sir Randolph and including Robert Hardy, Rupert Frazer, Edward Fox, and Cheryl Campbell. Devotees of the 1970s series "Upstairs Downstairs" will enjoy seeing Gordon Jackson as a poacher/beater.

Price on Their Heads: A Novel of Income Inequality and Mayhem
Price on Their Heads: A Novel of Income Inequality and Mayhem
by Jeff Posey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.24
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast Paced, With A Deeper Message, October 10, 2014
Jeff Posey’s novel can be truly described as a thriller. Action-packed is another accurate descriptor, for the characters make dizzying rushes from city to city and hideout to hideout, with violence and passion in nearly every chapter. Fast paced barely begins to describe it. But buried amidst the conflict, romance, and sex is some thoughtful discussion of a topic more often read in Paul Krugman’s column or in Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital In The Twenty-first Century: income inequality and the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the mega-rich.

The main characters are two brothers, Jimmy and Jackie, who in their youth suffered great family tragedy and in response took equally drastic action. Years later, as adults, Jackie is now an economic s professor while Jimmy makes his way as a soldier of fortune and contract killer. The time is the present. The US is becoming an increasingly unequal nation controlled by plutocrats who manipulate public policy through their elected puppets. A Presidential election is underway, and for the first time in many years it appears that a third party candidate may win, thanks to his support of a proposed constitutional amendment limiting wealth and putting curbs on its political influence. Naturally the mega-rich who are targeted by the amendment are doing everything in their power to block its progress. Jackie and Jimmy are swept into the middle of the whirlwind of intrigue, along with a beautiful reporter and a number of men and women who may, or may not be, working for the plutocracy. That’s a barebones description of a complex and exciting plot which features many Machiavellian twists and turns leading to a somewhat equivocal conclusion.

Price On Their Heads confronts its readers with some uncomfortable truths about the state of the American and world economy and does so in an exciting, perpetually page-turning way.

For A Woman
For A Woman
DVD ~ Melanie Thierry
Price: $22.46

5.0 out of 5 stars Opening Doors To The Past., October 2, 2014
This review is from: For A Woman (DVD)
This excellent historical film, in French with English subtitles, is set in two time periods: France in the mid-1980s and World War II Europe during the Holocaust.

A young French woman named Anne, mourning the recent death of her mother, discovers an old trove of letters and photos that open a door into her family's mysterious past. She has never known much about her parents' early lives, and now she begins to realize that they were Holocaust survivors, and that she has an uncle she never knew existed. There's more mystery about him as well, and when Anne begins to close in on some answers she finds that the truth can be painful and, in the case of her aging father, potentially lethal.

I enjoyed this film because it does such a wonderful job of evoking the excitement, as well as pain, that accompanies efforts to trace and resolve old family secrets. I also found the film's historical footing well grounded, vividly and accurately recreating the atmosphere of Europe from World War II through the Cold War.

DVD ~ Antonio de la Torre
Price: $22.28

2.0 out of 5 stars Not For The Faint Of Heart Or The Weak Of Stomach, October 2, 2014
This review is from: Cannibal (DVD)
I will say at the outset that Film Movement sent me this film to review, and that never in a million years would I ever watch a movie about a cannibal at my own behest. I have never seen Silence of the Lambs, beautiful though I am repeatedly assured that it is, and I have no intention of ever doing so.

Having given fair warning, I must admit that for a movie about a cannibal, this is not nearly so distasteful (sorry!) a viewing experience as one might assume. The publicity blurb on the inside front cover claims that the "truly gruesome work happens off-screen." My definition of gruesome must be more encompassing than that of the blurb's author, because I saw quite a bit of material on-screen for which I would use that descriptor. Nevertheless, there are some interesting camera angles and quite a lot of dramatic footage that increases the tension. The ending is satisfyingly equivocal, and we are left to wonder whether the cannibal has been redeemed by love. Not that I really cared by then, because he's a cannibal and I found it difficult to work up any sympathy or fellow human feeling for him. If that reveals something inadequate about my own humanity, I can't say I care.

IfThe New York Times wants to call this film "Sumptuous!" (according to a quote on the front cover), they are welcome to do so. I'll just call it "Yeccchhh!" (In Spanish, with English subtitles, which I turned off halfway through because I preferred not to know what was being said in some places.)

The Uninvited Guests: A Novel
The Uninvited Guests: A Novel
by Sadie Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.06
247 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Country House Tale, With A Twist Or Two, September 29, 2014
This short but captivating novel by Sadie Jones has elements which readers of several different genres will find familiar. First it is a country house tale, set in a large and stately manor deep in the English countryside and populated with a group of complex and arch characters. Secondly it is in many respects a Gothic tale, filled with hints of the supernatural intruding upon the mundane. And thirdly it is a comedy of manners replete with sophisticated witticisms. Readers of Saki, Henry James, E.F. Benson, and (to a point) P.G. Wodehouse will all find familiar ground here. Fans of Downton Abbey will likewise find much to enjoy.

In about 1912 the Torrington-Swift family inhabits Sterne, a large house with two wings, one Georgian and the other medieval. Charlotte, who with her first husband Horace purchased Sterne about twenty years before the story begins, lives there with her second husband Edward Swift and her three children Clovis, Emerald, and Imogen. The family is not a happy one, since the children resent their mother's having remarried after the death of their father a few years earlier. The Torringtons are not "old money" and in fact as the story begins Edward is leaving to seek a loan with which to stave off bankruptcy and the forced sale of Sterne. Emerald's birthday is approaching, and plans are underway to hold a party which will include some "friends" whom none of the Torringtons seem to like. As the party gets underway news of a terrible railway accident arrives, and the household is informed that they will be expected to shelter the survivors.

The arrival of the survivors and their presence in the house alongside the party guests naturally causes complications, especially when one survivor turns out to be an old acquaintance of Charlotte's. The complications intensify and eventually come to a head, leading to a unexpected conclusion with some elements of a "deus ex machina". But I felt that the story was satisfying even though all the loose ends may not be completely wrapped up. I enjoyed the elegant and witty conversations and the rich vocabulary, and I felt that Jones did an excellent job of evoking a country house atmosphere.

Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Epoque Paris
Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Epoque Paris
by Steven E. Levingston
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.53
87 used & new from $4.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Seamy Underside Of The Belle Epoque, September 26, 2014
The murder and trial so ably described here by Steven Levingston could only have taken place in late nineteenth century France, a country which was in the middle of a period of rapid development, with a growing and newly literate population eager for sensation which highly competitive newspapers were more than willing to provide. Having recovered from defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, in 1889 France had just hosted a massive International Exhibition, dominated by the spectacular engineering feat of the Eiffel Tower. Then, in that same year when all seemed to be going so well in France, a scandalous murder took place that seized national and worldwide attention.

An outwardly respectable French gentleman with a taste for louche affairs of the heart was lured to a Paris apartment. There he was set upon, hanged, and then strangled by Michel Eyraud with assistance from Gabrielle Bompard. Eyraud was a con-artist who was always on the look out for an easy target and the chance to make off with some cash, while Bompard was a young woman with no moral scruples. They robbed the body, stuffed it into a trunk, took it with them on journey by train, and then dumped it near an isolated country village. They then went into hiding and eventually set sail across the Atlantic, traveling across the US and into Canada before ending up in San Francisco. There their partnership ended and Bompard left with another companion, eventually returning to France, while Eyraud continued his travels, going to Mexico and eventually to Havana.

Meanwhile, the disappearance of the murdered gentleman had caused quite a bit of stir in France, and when a body that seemed to answer to his description turned up there was even more excitement. There was quite a debate over the identification of the body (the details of the body's discovery and examination are not for the faint of heart, by the way), then another one over how to identify his murderers, and then once Eyraud and Bompard had been fingered, how to track them down. Eventually the two went through a sensational trial that centered around a debate over hypnotism: was it possible to take so much control over a hypnotized subject that he or she could be made to commit crimes that they would never dream of in their conscious state?

This is a lively, thoroughly enjoyable account that vividly recreates the tumultuous world of late nineteenth century France. While they were both thoroughly repellent people, I found both Eyraud and Bompard amusing to read about. It was also interesting to read of the ways in which modern technology like the telegraph were used by both the criminals and the legal authorities to assist them. French legal customs also made for captivating reading. Steven Levingston is to be commended for taking the story of a sordid murder and showing how representative it was of the world in which it took place.

Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and How the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring
Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and How the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring
by Peter Duffy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.97
94 used & new from $4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Little Known Hero, September 21, 2014
The double agent referred to in the title was William Sebold, a German-American whose career in espionage has been dramatized a number of times. His full story has remained largely unknown, but now Peter Duffy has dug deep into old records and files to produce an interesting history, not only of Sebold but also of German-US relations in the late 1930s.

Wilhelm Sebold(his birth name) was born in Germany's Ruhr Valley. From a modest background, he served in the German army during the final months of World War I, then spent most of the next twenty years journeying around the world, entering the US illegally a number of times and working in heavy industry. In 1936 he became a naturalized American citizen and appeared to settle down permanently with his German-born wife. Then in 1939 he returned to Germany to visit his family. His background training and knowledge of American industry caught the attention of the Nazi government, and he was strong-armed into agreeing to spy for the Reich and help it obtain US industrial secrets, particularly the plans for the Norden bombsight, a tool which would vastly enhance the accuracy of bombers. Sebold agreed to help the Nazis, but almost immediately made contact with the FBI and volunteered to work with them in an effort to ferret out German agents inside the US. Over the next several years Sebold passed information he received from the Abwehr on to the FBI that eventually led to the arrests of thirty three German agents.

Peter Duffy did an excellent job of recounting Sebold's life and career as part of a much larger story: the efforts of the FBI to detect and render harmless German espionage in the US. I enjoyed reading about the colorful and often bizarre characters who werte part of this story and found Duffy's descriptions of the German-American community inside the US illuminating. J.Edgar Hoover's largely successful effort to run the FBI without the trouble of Presidential, Congressional, and public scrutiny has been described many times before, but it is still troubling to realize how much power the man had as well as how eager elected officials were to let him have it. Duffy places the Sebold story within a larger context by describing the buildup to the outbreak of World War I and US efforts to both stay neutral and prepare for possible involvement in the conflict. He describes the lengthy trial of the spy ring, which coincided with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the US entry into the war, and then in an Epilogue tells what happened to Sebold, his family, and to the spies and conspirators he helped bring to justice.

If you've read and enjoyed Ben Macintyre's histories of British espionage efforts like Agent Zigzag, Operation Mincemeat, Doublecross, and A Spy Among Friends you'll recognize a number of similar themes in an American setting in Duffy's work. From hints Duffy drops here and there I think it's likely that he may be planning more books dealing with US espionage. At least I hope so!

Royal Childhood (Souvenir Album)
Royal Childhood (Souvenir Album)
by (Art historian) Anna Reynolds
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.07
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary Lives In A Palatial Setting, September 17, 2014
To paraphrase something I once read, modern royalty consists of ordinary people leading ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances. Nothing bears that out better than this interesting, nice, little book of pictures chronicling the lives of some young members of the British Royal Family. It is by no means an exhaustive account since it begins with the children of George III, the first King to regard Buckingham Palace as his primary home. It continues on to include material associated with the young Queen Victoria, then her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and then really concentrates on the childhoods of the present Queen and her descendants, including a few photos of Prince George.

There are plenty of pictures of toys and games, doll houses and life size play houses, charmingly awkward handwritten letters from various princes and princesses to their parents signed with their nicknames, artwork created by Queen Victoria depicting her offspring, and the like. It was interesting to see royal thriftiness at work: a toy wheelbarrow being played with by two successive generations, for example. Some elegant royal outfits, some of them handmedowns as well, are also included. Not surprisingly, being raised in a palace is very tradition bound in some ways: a photo of small chairs used by Princes William and Harry and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie reveals that the boys got bold, primary colors and block printing while the girls had pastels and "frilly" lettering. Schooling is not overlooked: there are some reports from teachers to royal parents about the progress (or lack thereof) of their offspring and photos showing Prince Edward's primary school days in a palace classroom.

So this is a pleasant little picture book with minimal text. If you've read many royal biographies you'll be aware that some royals had unhappy childhoods, but when you've looked through this book you'll say "At least they had some nice toys and clothes."

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