Frank Denton - The Rogue Raven

Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

What you have here is an old guy. In education for 30 years, started teaching elementary, ended as library and media director of community college. I've enjoyed mountain climbing, sports car rallying, was pipe major of a bagpipe band, played guitar and sang during the folk revival, walking and hiking later in life. Now fairly sedentary. Enjoy reading, esp. mysteries and fantasy, but my reading is pretty eclectic. Enjoy movies, giving Netflix a workout.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Big Stink

The Big Stink by Clare Clark. Harcourt, 2005.

I’ve always been interested, for some obscure reason, by London underground. This includes the sewer system. Recently I discovered a series of young adult books in which a thief uses the sewer system to reach the homes of wealthy people. And I greatly enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and the subsequent television movie. I skimmed a review of this book and thought it was non-fiction. When I picked up a copy at the local bookstore I discovered that it was fiction, Clare Clark’s first novel.

This is no story for the squeamish. The stench of the offal, the disgusting consistency of the moving river of sludge is described in full. But the story soon becomes fascinating. William May returns from the Crimean War a psychological mess. He has a recommendation to work for the Public Works just as London has determined that the old and inefficient sewer system need to be replaced. May is one of the few with engineering skills who is able to go down in the sewers and remain there for any length of time. When he is below he is able to find temporary answers to his problems. In the darkness and loneliness he finds solace by cutting himself. The release of his own blood provides relief from the tensions building within.

Long Tom also goes below. He used to find useful items, sometimes even money that had dropped through the grates above. He is what is called a tosh. No longer allowed to hunt for valuables, he now sneaks into the sewers and catches rats for an lowly entertainment that sets rat terriers against twenty rats in a pit. And he owns a dog that can kill nearly that many in a minute.

Will May is found below with a dead body. The body is that of an owner of a brick company whom Will has confronted regarding the quality of the bricks to be used for the new sewers. Accused of murder, he is sent first to an asylum, then to a prison brig to await trial. Meanwhile Long Tom has sold his dog to a disreputable bettor who vanishes with the debt unpaid. How the paths of Will May and Long Tom cross and to what effect is intriguing. This is a darn good book in spite of the smell and the sewage. Fascinating, unique setting, and could very well have happened. Four stars!

Friday, November 24, 2006


Strange things happen when you wake up in the middle of the night. Strange thoughts creep into or out of the subconscious and then one lies awake and turns them over until sleep comes once again. Case in point: Fanny. That’s the name that came to mind. What was it a nickname for? And why would someone want a nickname that also meant derriere. Enquiring minds need to know. So the following morning I went on-line. Fanny is the nickname for Frances (female). But it is also the nickname for Nathaniel. How the heck do they get Fanny out of Nathaniel? In my youth there was a very popular cook book named Aunt Fanny’s Cook Book. Long before the Food Network and the celebrity cooks like Rachel, Giada, Mario, Bobby, Tyler and Emeril. But I digress and maybe that’s for another time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fall Trip, Pt. 2

We did quite a bit of birding. Specifically we visited the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in California, the Bosque del Apache Refuge near Soccoro, New Mexico and the Sevilleta Refuge also near Soccoro. Plus we generally look for birds wherever we go. We counted 54 species. It is always fun to be at the Bosque at this time of year. Just before Thanksgiving the sandhill cranes will have arrived. At the peak there will be about 30,000 of them as well as 20,000 snow geese. They had not arrived in those numbers in mid-October but there were enough of them to keep us happy.

We enjoyed greyhound racing in Tucson, art museums in Tucson and Reno, doing short walks wherever we were, especially along the Truckee River in Reno. We were stopped by the Border Patrol in southern Arizona and Homeland Security as we approached Boulder Dam. We saw The Illusionist and The Prestige and liked them both. The Illusionist had a cleaner story line, I thought. The Prestige was a bit more confusing. I’ve talked to a couple of people who have seen it, including my granddaughter, who saw things a lot differently than I did. But all agree that The Illusionist is a better movie. Say he who is probably the world’s worst movie critic. Anyway Chris Priest should make a few bucks from the latter.

So now we are home and ready for the winter. I won’t comment on the elections. I am trying to set aside a half hour a day to read through carefully and study several books on art; one on Impressionism, one on Toulouse-Lautrec, and one on James McNeil Whistler. I’ve never particularly cared for Whistler’s painting but the exhibit we saw at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno concentrated heavily on his etchings. I found them to be a delight. So my winter study course is set.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Rogue Has Returned

We have just returned home from seven weeks on the road. I won’t say much about the trip because there is much to do around the house, Thanksgiving is coming, kids are coming for Thanksgiving dinner, company is coming tomorrow from Oregon, and after the holiday we have a short trip up to British Columbia to visit friends. I will say that we saw a few new things on this driving trip of 5,850 miles. We had never been to Death Valley or the Mohave Desert before. It wasn’t terribly hot in October; 100 degrees the first day we were there and very cool mid-80s the next day. In the Mohave we were hit with torrential rains. The natives call them monsoons. We saw Yosemite on a very dismal day. The park was not at its best. (But then our own Mt. Rainier National Park is closed because of 18" of rain, roads washed out, the Nisqually River having its own way. I’ll be interested to see how our cabin is. It’s probably about a hundred yards from the Nisqually.)

We did several things related to the Apache Wars. In Tucson we visited Fort Lowell. It was too far east to have been directly involved. But it provided a depot for food and goods to go farther west, as well as troops to protect wagon trains and replacents for troops farther west who were involved in fighting or chasing the Chiricahua. Near Wilcox we drove about ten miles of rough road to revisit Cochise’s Stronghold. Some years back I was able to hike to the crest of the Dragoon Mountain from which Cochise’s band could spot troops both to the west and the east. Since we were last there some very good explanatory sign have been erected telling of these Apache. In Wilcox I should mention that we visited the Rex Allen Museum. One of the Last of the Singing Cowboys.

More anon.