Self’s Intro to Author Laurie R. King

Is apparently this book, No. 17 in King’s Sherlock Holmes + Mary Russell mysteries.

No. 17.

Self knows she needs to come clean: She could not read to the end of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days. She could not read past the Russians belligerently recruiting Arvid Harnack (while Mildred is out of town, in Copenhagen — but could she have made a difference? But could the Russians have been a little less showy with their knocking on the Harnacks’ door with not the slightest compunction about informants? After all the trouble the Heaths took to have their 11-year-old disguise the Harnacks’ activities! Self couldn’t stand those Russian thugs.)

Anyhoo, Castle Shade reads fresh. She can’t believe it’s the 17th in a series. She confesses that, in the beginning, she found the idea of a married Sherlock Holmes a little far-fetched, but once she started reading, she found the scenes between MR and SH very crisp. Story’s got a fascinating setting, too: it starts on a train headed to Dracula’s castle! Yes, that’s right: the intrepid pair are headed to Romania. Oooh! Stay tuned.


Please excuse self for conjuring all this stuff, but she thinks the narrator of My Heart is so obviously Semezdin Mehmedinovic, even though the book cover announces: My Heart — a novel.

She is convinced that Mehmedinovic has decided to move back to Sarajevo, and that the whole raison d’etre for the book is his way of saying good-bye to his son, who is of course at home in his adopted country.

That said, self being a writer, too, means she has quite an imagination. She’s already convinced herself that she understands Semezdin Mehmedinovic (or the Semezdin Mehmedinovic who is the narrator of My Heart), that she knows the reason for the melancholy that infuses every page. She truly adores that the melancholy exists side-by-side with mundane encounters and an entertaining array of American oddities.

The entire road trip, the narrator watches his son. Their halting conversations, the distance between them — it’s America, and his son becoming American. Fascinating to watch the father process all this.

There are a lot of photographs from the past in which I’m holding you in my arms. And a father carrying a son in his arms is altogether a common sight. Far less frequent — and its complete opposite in emotional impact — is the image of a son carrying his father. Such as Aeneas carrying his old, weary father as they flee from burning Troy . . . I would not wish to live to a great age.

My Heart, pp. 101 – 102

There it is. A kind of foreshadowing. A decision has been made.

Funny, she didn’t have high expectations for this book, since she felt she would have little in common with a man from Bosnia. But the road trip. She adores the road trip.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

40 Kilo Camp, Burma

Eventually, the POW camps in Java are emptied as the prisoners are shipped to Burma to complete a 258-mile-wide gap of the Burma-Thai railroad.

At this point, a little over halfway, Ship of Ghosts becomes a completely different kind of story. Instead of sea battles, we are dealing with jungles and malaria and dysentery.

Self has developed a habit of looking up each new name in the Appendix, to see if that person made it or not. It just occurred to her that of course that person made it; otherwise, they wouldn’t be giving interviews to James D. Hornfischer!

The Appendix was useful in another way, though: to fix the number of POWS who died in Burma. There was a pattern: the dying began in 80 kilo camp, but increased as one got to a higher-numbered camp: 100-kilo camp, 105-kilo camp, and 114-kilo camp (She didn’t see anything higher than 114-kilo camp — so the railroad was still unfinished at the end of the war)

The men at 40-kilo camp were lucky: a Dutch doctor named Henri Hekking volunteered to be sent there. Born in Surabaya to Dutch parents, Hekking’s grandmother was “a committed herbalist and healer, who set him on the path of studying native medicine.” He was captured at the Dutch hospital in Timor and became a POW. He began hearing of the plight of the men building the Burma-Thai railroad and offered to perform medical services on the line. When he showed up at 40-kilo camp, he became the “on-site medical caretaker.” Once there, he began “the most challenging kind of solo practice.”

p. 264:

  • He knew that palmetto mold could be used like penicillin, that pumpkin could be stored in bamboo stalks, femented with wild yeast, and used to treat men suffering from beriberi (it got them pleasantly drunk to boot). Tea brewed from bark contained tannins that constricted the bowels and slowed diarrhea. Wild chili peppers had all sorts of beneficial internal applications.

Another quick look at the Appendix: NO DEATHS in 40-kilo camp! Either there were no American POWs there, or Hekking managed to save them.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Fires at Sea

The battle on the Java Sea, a battle between mis-matched opponents (The Allies were much less prepared than the Japanese), is muddied by a lack of direction in command. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors is the classic David vs Goliath match-up. Ship of Ghosts, however, is more like The Charge of the Light Brigade. Or at least that’s the way James Hornfischer writes it.

Admiral Doorman (Dutch), on his flagship the De Ruyter, is leading the Allied fleet back to port on Java when he gets a command from a superior to engage AGAIN. So he orders his ships to turn around. As the Allied ships head back to the scene of battle (a battle which they very decisively lost in the afternoon), they pass survivors of the earlier sinkings — “the swells here and there were dotted with men adrift” — and once again, the Allied fleet pass them by, with the exception of the HMS Encounter, which stops and takes aboard 113.

Three of the ships that escaped being torpedoed in the afternoon, are now torpedoed. GAAAH. So stupid. Admiral Doorman’s own ship, the De Ruyter, is hit. He orders the remaining ships to head back to port instead of trying to recover survivors. “The standing order that disabled friendlys should be left to the enemy’s mercy came with no exception for” admirals. So the De Ruyter is left to struggle alone. It was “an hour and a half before she finally sank.” A sailor on the Houston described hearing “nine separate and distinct explosions before we cleared the horizon. Admiral Karel Doorman was never seen again.”

btw, one of the Allied ships was sunk as it approached harbor, by a mine. A mine set by the Dutch just that morning, in anticipation of an enemy invasion.

Self always found it difficult to understand fires at sea. Wouldn’t it be easy to put out fires, surrounded by so much water? She learned from reading The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, however, that fires are one of the most common reasons for death at sea. Moreover, for the survivors, there is nowhere to go. A ship is a floating island. In fact, again from reading TLSOTTCS, she learns that most of the crew probably could not swim. And even if you happened to be one of the lucky few who could swim — sharks! Gruesome.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Appendix

Feb. 26, 1942: With their ship, the USS Houston, under assault by Japanese aircraft, its five-inch guns were “elevated to fire nearly straight up,” which meant “the crews had to reckon with their own ordnance coming right back down on them. The larger chunks weighed as much as three pounds, jagged things a half-inch thick, maybe three or four inches wide at one place.”

An appendix at the back of the book lists the names of all Americans “killed in action or died in captivity” from the USS Houston: The list, which goes on for 12 pages, includes Last Name/First Name/Rank/Branch of Service/ Date of Death/Place of Death/Cause of Death.

The level of detail is simply amazing.

The Weekend Roundup Photo Challenge: Letter “T”

Self is new to this Photo Challenge.

She thinks her post has to do three things:

(1) Show something starting with a “T.” See below: Trellis

Gamble House, Palo Alto

(2) Show a favorite that starts with a “T”: Christmas TREE.

(3) Show a Top of a Tree: Monterey Pines grow in Fowey, Cornwall, who would have thought??? The story goes that Fowey Hall used to belong to an old sea captain who traveled to California and brought Monterey pine seeds back with him.

Past Squares 23: Liverpool, November 2019

The Past Squares Challenge ends tomorrow. Becky, who hosts the challenge from Life of B, announced that the next Challenge will be in February.

The very best Chinese food in Liverpool is directly across from the Liverpool Cathedral. Self has a friend who moved to Manchester, and this friend knows all the BEST Chinese restaurants in Manchester and Liverpool.

The Museum of Liverpool, on Albert Dock, is one of those must-sees. And here is self! Who rarely appears in pictures! She’s wearing a hat given to her by a friend in Philadelphia, who told her this would be the only way to survive an English winter! Thanks much, Anne-Adele!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“The Great Era of Glasshouse Horticulture in England”

By 1730, the nobility and gentry of England were in the grip of what can only be described as “Pineapple Fever.” In spending $19,000 or more in one year on their “pines,” the Drakes were clearly addicted. So too must the anonymous author in Floral World a century later, in 1868; he calculated that his pine pits covered 500 square feet and contained 139 plants. The cost of fuel, tan, manure, and general maintenance, together with two hours labour every day, meant that each pineapple cost $728 to produce.

England’s Magnificent Gardens, p. 324

On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries

1843: “The first — and apparently still the only — treatise on the subject, On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries and the Improvement of Churchyards” was published, by a man named John Claudius Loudon.

Cemeteries of London:

  • Kensal Green
  • Highgate
  • Norwood
  • Tower Hamlets

Kensal Green today: “at twilight on a winter’s evening, deserted except for the old jogger, it is still a place of peace and, nowadays, a refuge for wildlife, migrating birds, squirrels, hedgehogs, and even a weasel.” (p. 44)

Cee’s Flower of the Day (FOTD) Challenge, 20 August 2021: Cambria Plant Nursery

The nursery is just off the main road to Cambria. Self visited for the first time a few days ago. Highly recommend to anyone who’s in that neck of the woods. The nursery is large! And filled with plants of every type.

Decided to make this, rather than a specific flower, the Flower of the Day, Aug. 20.

As always, thank you to Cee Neuner for hosting the FOTD challenge.

Cambria Plant Nursery, 2801 Eton Road, Cambria, CA

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