THE SILENT CORNER by Dean Koontz (A Review)

At long last, Dean Koontz wrote another good novel.

In the late 70s, through the 80s and 90s, Koontz was delivering the goods, book after book. Starting with Night Chills in 1976, and with the Leigh Nichols pen name, Koontz delivered several books (The Key To Midnight, The House of Thunder, Servants of the Twilight), that set the template for his success, taunt, suspenseful novels that were part horror, part sci-fi, and all out pageturners. Then in the 80s he hit his mega-selling stride – Whispers, Phantoms, Darkfall, Strangers, Watchers, Lightning, Midnight,  The Bad Place, Hideaway, etc …). All of these above books I heartily recommend to anyone who is looking for high-quality mainstream fiction.

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However, during the 21st century, many of the Koontz novels have been hit-or-miss, some entertaining, some unabashedly maudlin, and other just out-and-out unreadable. Here however, with The Silent Corner, Koontz has returned to classic form, creating a page-turner paranoid thriller with overtones of sci-fi and horrific circumstances.

Jane Hawk is a classic Koontz heroine, a women forced into circumstances of righteous vengeance who uncovers a horrific plot of “culling the human herd.” Against a faceless, and seemingly almost omnipotent enemy, Jane finds allies along the from some of the most unlikely sources.

A definite read!

 

4 palmettos

Lullaby, a Spenser Novel (A Review)

I’m not a fan of other writers taking over popular series after the death of the originating author. It always looks like a greedy grab by the author’s family. As a fan of the original Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker (well, the first 20 at least) and as a huge fan of Ace Atkins, I decided to give this one a try.

My first hope was that Atkins was smart enough to realize that the major problem with the later Spenser novels was the every-growing role of the most annoying character in crime fiction history, Susan Silverman. Another issue was that Hawk had been reduced to a walk-on caricature of his former brilliant presence.

13269092Too bad, Atkins stayed with the formula of the latter Spenser books. Spenser meets a client. Spenser has dinner or sex (both) with Susan where she uses her “brilliance as a therapist” to ask Spenser questions in which he impart his fears/concerns etc … Oh God … how tedious. I’m guessing that since Susan is obviously a romanticized version of Parker’s wife, Joan, that maybe Atkins was contractually obligated to make sure Susan has a large role. Any other reason makes no sense whatsoever.

I can safely say that I will not read any of the other Atkins-written Spenser novels. If I ever do read another Spenser novel, I’ll go back to the original 20. Here’s hoping Atkins gets creative and Susan Silverman gets killed in some creative way, which will jump start Spenser and Hawk back into their former selves and seek righteous retribution.

Not holding my breath.

2 palmettos

 

Today In Charleston History, August 9

1792, August 9. Commerce. Culture. Theater.

The contract to construct the new theater for West and Bignall was given to Captain Anthony Toomer, with the understanding that the building was to be finished in January 1793.  The lot for the theater was a triangle parcel at Broad and Middleton streets, and the high ground of Savage’s Green (present-day New Street), purchased from Henry Middleton for £500 sterling.     

There is some evidence that the theater was designed by James Hoban, who had lived in Charleston for a couple of years while helping design and build the Charleston County Courthouse.

 

charleston theater, broad and new streets

Rendering of the New Theater at Savage’s Green, facing Broad Street (present day location of New and Broad Streets)

 

Carolina Day – June 28, 1776.

This is the entire sequence of events that took place in Charleston on June 28, 1776, from the forthcoming Charleston Almanac (East Atlantic Publishing).


1776, June 28. Rev. Cooper Prays for British Victory.

      Rev. Robert Cooper prayed from St. Michael’s pulpit that “the King might be strengthened to defeat his enemies.”

1776, June 28. Battle of Sullivan’s Island.

        Early that morning, Col. Moultrie rode on horseback from Fort Sullivan to Breach Inlet to consult with Col. Thompson. As he and Thompson were talking, they observed the British men-of-war vessels loosening their topsails, a sure sign they were preparing to get under way. Moultrie galloped the three miles back to the fort and ordered the drummers to beat the long roll. The 435 troops in the fort sprang into action to man their posts.

      The detachment inside the fort was comprised of infantrymen of the Second South Carolina Regiment and 33 artillerists from the Fourth South Carolina Regiment. Moultrie’s staff included Lt. Colonel Issac Motte, Maj. Francis Marion, and Lt. Thomas Moultrie.   

      Marion was a severe taskmaster who did not tolerate nonsense. He kept the enlisted men busy upgrading the fortifications of the fort, alongside black slaves “whether they liked it or not.” He ordered no beer or rum purchased without “specific permission.”

 

attack-charleston, birds eye

Charlestown harbor, 1776, with the British fleet approaching. Sullivan’s Island 
to the right and Fort Johnson to the left, creating the narrow channel that ships
must pass through to enter the harbor. Courtesy of the New York Public Library

 

1776, June 28. Battle of Sullivan’s Island.     

     The first major naval battle of the Revolution commenced at 11:30 a.m. when the Thunder lobbed a thirteen-inch explosive mortar shell over the fort, which landed on the roof of the powder magazine. It failed to explode and did little damage. Had the shell not been a dud, the battle could have come to an abrupt conclusion with that one shot.

      As soon as the British ships came into range, Moultrie opened fire with the guns on the southeast bastion. Moultrie termed the situation “one continual blaze and roar, with clouds of smoke curling over … for hours together.”

      Although greatly outnumbered, and with vastly inferior armaments, the South Carolina troops kept the British fleet from entering the harbor. The British cannonballs embedded themselves in the pulpy palmetto logs with no damage to the fort. At the same time, Col. Thompson and his 400 men managed to hold The Breach, thwarting British efforts to cross and land troops on Sullivan’s Island. British soldiers, weighted down with their equipment trying to cross the Breach, sank in water above their heads.

      Two hours into the fight, Gen. Lee, observing the battle at Haddrell’s Point, sent Maj. Francis Otway Byrd in a canoe to Fort Sullivan with a message to Moultrie, that “if the powder in the fort was expended” he should spike the guns and evacuate. To Moultrie, that was not an option. He was having good success and a retreat was unthinkable. Moultrie however, was running short of powder, having expended 4,766 pounds of the available 5,400 pounds. The situation was so dire that Moultrie ordered cannons fired at intervals of ten minutes for each gun, only when there was a clear target sighted. Moultrie sent Francis Marion with a small party to the armed schooner Defence and returned with 300 pounds of powder.

      Maj. Byrd returned to Haddrell’s Point and informed Gen. Lee things were going “astonishingly well.” Encouraged, Lee contacted Pres. Rutledge, who sent 500 pounds of powder to the fort with a note, “Honor and Victory, my good sir, to you and our worthy countrymen with you.”

     Seven miles away in the city, thousands of spectators watched the battle from waterfront vantage points or from rooftops and second-story piazzas.

      Around 4 p.m. General Lee arrived at Fort Sullivan from Haddrell’s Point. To allow Lee’s entrance into the fort several of the Second South Carolina had to leave their guns and remove the timber that was barricading the back entrance. The British took that as a sign the fort was being abandoned. After inspecting the fort Lee told Moultrie, “Colonel, I see you are doing very well here, you have no occasion for me.”

fort sullivan - attack

 

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Battle of Sullivan’s Island, June 28, 1776, two views. Courtesy of the New York Public Library     

 

Three of the Royal ships, Syren, Actaeon and Sphinx, ran afoul of each other and grounded on a shoal called “Middle Ground” where Fort Sumter was eventually built.

       In the midst of the battle, a British projectile broke the fort’s flagstaff. Sgt. William Jasper called out to Moultrie, “Colonel, don’t let us fight without our flag!” Moultrie, well aware of the audience watching in the city, asked Jasper what could be done. Jasper volunteered to retrieve.

       He “leapt over the ramparts” and, shouted, “Don’t let us fight without a color!” Captain Horry described Jasper’s action:

He deliberately walked the whole length of the fort, until he came to the colors on the extremity of the left, when he cut off the same from the mast, and called to me for a sponge staff, and with a thick cord tied on the colors and stuck the staff on the rampart in the sand. The sergeant, fortunately, received no hurt, though exposed for a considerable time, to the enemy’s fire.

      Moultrie wrote, “Our flag once more waving in the air, revived the drooping spirits of our friends; they continued looking on, till night had closed the scene, and hid us from their view.”

 

jasper flag

Sgt. Jasper replacing the South Carolina flag during the battle
of Sullivan’s Island. Courtesy of the New York Public Library

 

 

      As American shot bombarded into the British men-of-war, one round landed on the Bristol’s quarterdeck and rendered Sir Peter Parker’s “Britches … quite torn off, his backside laid bare, his thigh and knee wounded.” The Acteon was grounded and severely damaged.

      More than 2,500 British troops attempted to cross Breach Inlet from Long Island (Isle of Palms) to Sullivan’s Island.  They were stopped due to the depth of the water, and the fire from Thompson’s troops on the Sullivan’s Island side.

     By 9:30 p.m. Parker withdrew and Francis Marion fired the last shot from Fort Sullivan at the retreating Royal Navy. Moultrie sent word to Rutledge that the British ships had retired and that South Carolina was victorious. The reports came in from the ten-hour battle:

  • British: 78 dead, 152 wounded. Lord William Campbell was wounded during the battle and later died of his wounds.
  • American: 12 dead, 25 wounded. 5 died of their wounds later.

      The Bristol had been hit seventy times.

1776, June 28.  Declaration of Independence.

      While the Battle of Sullivan’s Island raged, in Philadelphia Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams presented a final draft of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress. While South Carolinians were exchanging shot-for-shot with the British Navy, the Declaration was read to the Congress.

almanac cover - official

What The Critics Said About The Beatles

As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band , lauded as one of the greatest releases of modern popular music, it is illuminating to read what some of America’s formost music and cultural critics thought about the Fab Four.

sgt. peppers  


Los Angeles Times

Feb. 11, 1964

Cute? Hardly. The Beatles subverted the American way of life. With their bizarre shrubbery, the Beatles are obviously a press agent’s dream combo. Not even their mothers would claim that they sing well. But the hirsute thickets they affect make them rememberable, and they project a certain kittenish charm which drives the immature, shall we say, ape.

William F. Buckley Jr., Boston Globe

Sept. 13, 1964

An estimable critic writing for National Review, after seeing Presley writhe his way through one of Ed Sullivan’s shows … suggested that future entertainers would have to wrestle with live octopuses in order to entertain a mass American audience. The Beatles don’t, in fact, do this, but how one wishes they did! And how this one wishes the octopus would win….

The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as “anti-popes.”

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Newsweek

Feb. 24, 1964

Visually they are a nightmare, tight, dandified Edwardian-Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically they are a near disaster, guitars, and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of “yeah, yeah, yeah”) are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments….

The big question in the music business at the moment is, will the Beatles last? The odds are that, in the words of another era, they’re too hot not to cool down, and a cooled-down Beatle is hard to picture. It is also hard to imagine any other field in which they could apply their talents, and so the odds are that they will fade away, as most adults confidently predict. But the odds in show business have a way of being broken, and the Beatles have more showmanship than any group in years; they might just think up a new field for themselves. After all, they have done it already.

Theodore Strongin, New York Times

Feb. 10, 1964

The Beatles’ vocal quality can be described as hoarsely incoherent, with the minimal enunciation necessary to communicate the schematic texts.

Donald Freeman, Chicago Tribune

Feb. 29, 1964

The Beatles must be a huge joke, a wacky gag, a gigantic put-on. And if, as the fellow insisted on What’s My Line?, they’re selling 20,000 Beatle wigs a day in New York at $2.98 a shake — then I guess everyone wants to share the joke. And the profits.

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Hartford Courant

Feb. 23, 1964

Stiff lip, old chap, even the Beatles will pass! The question is, what next?

Alan Rinzler, The Nation

March 2, 1964

The reaction at Carnegie Hall was not a real response to a real stimulus…. The full house was made up largely of upper-middle-class young ladies, stylishly dressed, carefully made up, brought into town by private cars or suburban buses for their night to howl, to let go, scream, bump, twist and clutch themselves ecstatically out there in the floodlights for everyone to see and with the full blessings of all authority; indulgent parents, profiteering businessmen, gleeful national media, even the police. Later they can all go home and grow up like their mommies, but this was their chance to attempt a very safe and very private kind of rapture.

Science Newsletter

Feb. 29, 1964

The Beatles follow a line of glamorous figures who aroused passionate cries and deep swoons. Most prominent in the 1940s was Frank Sinatra and in the 1950s Elvis Presley. Their glory passed when they got too old to be teenagers’ idols or when teenagers got too old to need them.

Boston Globe

Feb. 16, 1964

Don’t let the Beatles bother you. If you don’t think about them, they will go away, and in a few more years they will probably be bald….

And teenagers, go ahead and enjoy your Beatlemania. It won’t be fatal and will give you a lot of laughs a few years hence when you find one of their old records or come across a picture of Ringo in a crew cut.

The Liverpool lunacy is merely the 1964 version of a mild disease which periodically sweeps across the country as the plagues of the Middle Ages once did.

In its current manifestation it is characterized by an excessive hair growth, an inability to recognize melody, a highly emotional state with severe body twitches and a strange accent that is more American Southwest than Mersey dockside….

So now it’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “yeah, yeah, yeah.” The disease is at the height of its virulence, but the fever will subside and the victims may receive immunity for life from fads.

The_Beatles_i_Hötorgscity_1963

George Dixon, Washington Post

Feb. 13, 1964

Just thinking about the Beatles seems to induce mental disturbance. They have a commonplace, rather dull act that hardly seems to merit mentioning, yet people hereabouts have mentioned scarcely anything else for a couple of days.

Percy Shain, Boston Globe

Feb. 17, 1964

“They … sound like a group of disorganized amateurs whose voices seem to be fighting each other rather than blending…. If I call the act rank, I have a two-fold purpose in mind. For the word has two meanings — strong and disagreeable, and luxuriant growth.

Feb. 6, 1964

Hedda Hopper, L.A. Times

The Beatles have taken the rest of the country by storm, but they didn’t fool Paul Petersen, Donna Reed’s son on TV. “I can’t stand them,” he told me, “and I think they are helping destroy the teenagers’ image. Adults keep asking me if I like them. When I say no, they ask, ‘Then why does my kid pay $5 for their records?’ Guess they don’t know the disc jockeys are leading their little sheep astray.”

Beatles

Jack Gould, New York Times

Feb. 10, 1964

The boys hardly did for daughters what Elvis Presley did for her older sister or Frank Sinatra for his mother.

The Liverpool quartet, borrowing the square hairdo used every morning on television by Captain Kangaroo, was composed of conservative conformists. In furthering Britain’s comeback as an international influence, they followed established procedure for encouraging self-determination in underdeveloped areas.

In their two sets of numbers, they allowed the healing effect of group therapy to run its course under the discipline of Mr. Sullivan, the chaperon of the year.

Larry Wolters, Chicago Tribune

Feb. 10, 1964

We think the three B’s of music — Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms — have nothing really to fear from the Beatles, even though Presley wired them his blessing last night.

Vita Sackville-West, Died in 1962

#DiedToday. June 2, 1962

Vita Sackville-West, writer, died on June 2, 1962 at 70. She was known for her exuberant aristocratic life, her passionate affair with the novelist Virginia Woolf, and Sissinghurst Castle Garden, which she and her husband, Sir Harold Nicolson, created at their estate. She was involved in several same-sex affairs in her life, while her husband also conducted same-sex affair, and also shared lovers. She also has a Charleston connection. 

VitaSackvilleWestVirginiaWoolf1933

Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Wolfe

One of Sackville-West’s house servants gave birth to a boy named Gordon Langley Hall, who grew up surrounded by opulence, intellectual and sexual liberalism. Gordon moved to Charleston in the 1960s, had several homosexual affairs, and in 1968 had successful sexual reassigment surgery, and changed his name to Dawn Langley Hall.

Dawn then became engaged to John-Paul Simmons, a young black motor mechanic with dreams of becoming a sculptor. Their marriage on January 21, 1969 was the first legal interracial marriage in South Carolina, and the ceremony was carried out in their drawing room reportedly after threats to bomb the church. After a second ceremony in England, the crate containing their wedding gifts was firebombed in Charleston, and Simmons received a ticket the next day when the charred remains were obstructing a sidewalk.

However, that is only the tip of the iceberg for this outlandish story.

The entire story of Gordon / Dawn’s life can be read in Edward Ball’s Peninsula of Lies. There is also a chapter about Gordon / Dawn in my book, Wicked Charleston, Vol. II. 

LEFT: John Paul Simmons & Gordon Hall. RIGHT: Newspaper announcements of the changes in Dawn’s life.