Two Classic Crime Minis

Not the civilised world of dusty academics or even the cosy world of packages and parcels tied up with string, this is the underbelly of the book trade, where bookshop runners grasp for a particular edition leading to seedy underhand wheeling and dealing that isn’t afraid of theft or even murder.

Bookman Micheal Fisk is celebrating the acquisition of Keats’ own, signed copy of Endymion, staggering home he’s helped by Police Sergeant Jack Wigan, walking his beat (it’s 1956). The two strike up a conversation which leads to friendship and Wigan starting his own book collection. When Fisk is found murdered, the C.I.D call in Sergeant Wigan as someone who knows their way around the book world.

I really enjoyed this one. Lots of characters that were a bit rough around the edges, and some that were just plain rough but all knew a rare edition when they saw it and often remembered exactly where and when. But will they tell? It’s a world of sinister jealousy with its own unwritten collector’s code that the likeable and straightforward Wigan walks in too but he’ll have to race against the clock to catch the murderer.

Death Of A Bookseller (1956), by Bernard J. Farmer is an exciting and thrilling bibliomystery; but Farmer was also a knowledgable bibliophile and former policeman and that lends it an air of authority; not just in the quantity of book lore and bookish detail that’s included but also in the unflappable compassion and sense of justice that Wigan portrays. Definitely an author to look out for.

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A Film For December: Caravaggio

My last film for this year is Derek Jarman’s fictionalised account of Caravaggio’s life from a young man until his death in 1610. Told in a segmented fashion, it opens with Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) lying on his bed dying from lead poisoning, his faithful and long-standing companion Jerusaleme (Spencer Leigh) is with him as he looks back over his life.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a violent man living in violent times. Running with a hot tempered bunch who’s motto was ‘without hope, without fear’ he was a drunk, gambling, brawling character who rose from a teenage street hustler to a convicted murderer. But at the same time his painting caught the eye of Cardinal Maria del Monte who nurtured his artistic and intellectual development, managed to keep him out of prison and kept him painting.

Using friends and people he met in the streets as models, his paintings shocked with their sense of realism; sacred figures were shown in modern dress and in modern settings always with the emphasis on poverty. This realism was heightened by his extreme technique of chiaroscuro, darkening the shadows to produce stark contrasts of light and dark. The Italian painter and biographer Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1613-1696) says of his:paintings:

He went so far in this style that he never showed any of his figures in open daylight, but instead found a way to place them in the darkness of a closed room, placing a lamp high so that the light would fall straight down, revealing the principal part of the body and leaving the rest in shadow.

These humanised portrayals of Christ brought him both fame and notoriety.

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