A Free Preview to Mark the 125th Anniversary

On August 4th,  1892, Lizzie Borden’s father Andrew and step-mother Abby were brutally murdered in their home in Fall River, MA. Lizzie, who was at home at the time of the murders,  was accused of killing her father and step-mother.  Her trial for murder was a media sensation around the world.  The all male jury acquitted her, leaving the homicides unsolved to this day. August 4th, 2017 marks 125 years since the brutal crimes occurred. We at Nine Muses respectfully mark this anniversary of the deaths of Andrew and Abby Borden,  whose lives were cut short on that hot August morning in 1892.

The late author Richard Behrens, who wrote The Lizzie Borden Girl Detective Mystery Series as well as non-fiction journal articles about Fall River and Lizzie Borden related topics, sadly will miss the August 4th Borden-related activities in Fall River for the first time in many years. It was his plan to participate on a panel of Lizzie Borden writers and to hold a book reading of his latest book. Because of his illness and subsequent tragic death, his book The Audible Amnesiac and other Lizzie Borden Girl Detective Mysteries has been delayed, but we at Nine Muses plan to publish it before the end of the year, in keeping with Richard’s wishes. Please check back for future updates.

To mark the 125th anniversary, and in memory of Richard, we are printing the second chapter of his last completed Lizzie Borden Girl Detective mystery, “The Audible Amnesiac.” We hope you enjoy it!

The Audible Amnesiac
Chapter Two:  A Mind Removed

To Lizzie’s surprise, Homer Thesinger was asleep on the couch, snoring sonorously, his bowler hat slumped over his brow.  The young inventor who had joined Lizzie in many adventures looked weak and thin, his hands rubbed black with charcoal dust.  Traces of the dust wove patterns on his lower sleeves.  She could take in at a glance that he had been awake all night, judging largely from his exhaustion and from the deplorable condition of his wrinkled and creased clothing.  She also deduced that he had been working on his iron-ore extraction project, simply because the stains on his hands could not have been caused by anything other than grinding charcoal to roast with iron pyrite to extract gold dust. In fact, it was plausible that he was employing arsenopyrite, a rock that gave off dangerous vapors when heated with coal.  The poor boy was poisoning himself, which accounted for his inability to stay awake.  As he snored, he would wheeze and twitch his nose, then rub it with his stained fingers before slumbering again.

But none of that was important for the present.  Seated next to Homer on the couch was another man, thin and nervous, with a pointed face, a triangular chin, and a peaked brow that sported two bushy eyebrows that crawled towards each other with almost pained reluctance.  Balanced on his nose was a pair of pince-nez spectacles while a trembling moustache almost obscured his small mouth.  The man was swathed in a tweed jacket that had all the signs of domestic neglect as it was missing buttons on the sleeve, had threads frayed at the edges of the pockets and lapels, but which also whispered of an unusually penurious nature.  He had not yet removed his gloves; one hand rested on a walking stick made from stained cherry wood with a polished ivory handle, and his congress boots looked as if he had just purchased them from a men’s dressing shop.  Other than the fact that he was a Freemason, had recently walked a dog that was covered in light brown fur, and was currently enduring a competition between his wife and his housemaid to keep up his appearance, Lizzie could tell nothing else about him.

The man’s eyes twinkled when he first saw Lizzie, but then his face slackened into indolence as if his expectations, brightened by her entry, were now diminishing.  “Hopeless,” he muttered in a wheezy voice.  “It will never work.”

“What will never work, Mr.—“. Lizzie waited for him to complete her sentence.

“That is the problem,” he said.  “I do not know my name.  When you entered, I thought I knew you.  But I think that of everyone I meet nowadays.  Everything is so familiar and yet, I cannot recognize anything.”

His voice, despite its thinness, stirred Homer into awareness.  The boy inventor shook his checks, grabbed at his tousled hair, and swallowed as if to remove a bitter taste from his mouth, no doubt some residue from his late night experiments.  “Who?” he said as if his mind was starting to open its lids.  “What?” he continued.

“Exactly,” his companion lamented. “Not only am I plagued by the ‘who’?  But also the ‘what’?  What am I?  I would foreswear the ‘who?’ if I could just ascertain the ‘what’?”

“Oh,” Homer said, realizing where he was.  “Yes…Lizzie…allow me to introduce my new friend.”

“What is his name?” Lizzie asked amusedly.  “Surely you must—“

“I call him Policeman Lot for lack of a better term, because when I first met him he was babbling those words.”

“Were you?” Lizzie asked, taking a seat just opposite their couch.

“I don’t remember,” the man said, rubbing his chin.  “Does that mean I’m a law officer?  I hardly know.  I can’t remember.”

“When did you first meet him?” Lizzie asked Homer.  “For if I am not mistaken, you have been spending all night in your barn laboratory working on your ore extractor, and this man you call Policeman Lot has been up since dawn getting shaved in a tonsorial parlor and buying a new pair of congress boots.  Unless you have accompanied him on his shopping excursion, I would estimate that you met him almost two hours past.”

Homer smiled wryly and tapped open his pocket watch.  He nodded then muttered, “How did you know about the ore project?  Oh, yes, the stains.  And I suppose he has particular dust on his shoes that tell you he has been on North Main Street.”

“On the contrary,” she snipped.  “It is the lack of dust on his shoes that tell me the story.  That plus the advertisement in yesterday’s Herald that there will be a shoe sale at Tyler’s this very morning, doors opening at eight o’clock.  Added to that is the left-handed style of his chin shave that could only have been produced by the barber on Columbia Street, which also gives me a good judge of the distances that he covered.”

Lot tapped Homer’s forearm and admitted, “You are right, she is uncanny.  I couldn’t even have told you that.”

Homer smiled at Lizzie.  “He seems to lose his memory every half hour.  Soon you’ll have to introduce yourself all over again.”

“How singular,” Lizzie said, staring at him with renewed interest.

“Yes,” Mr. Lot said glumly.  “My earliest memory is being in this room meeting Mr. Thesinger and hearing him describe your unique talents.  I am delighted that such a remarkable mind will be dedicated to solving the problem of my identity.”

“I have heard of such a condition,” Lizzie said, tapping her temple.  “There have been reports from Europe and a famous case in Philadelphia from earlier in the century.  I consider this to be the ultimate challenge, and a mystery refreshingly devoid of any criminal activity.”

“That we can’t say,” Mr. Lot shifted uncomfortably on the couch.  “I am also filled with a tremendous dread, an anxiety of drastic urgency.  My instincts tell me that I am in danger, that someone I am hiding from will find me and damage me.  I cannot see the face of the person pursuing me, but I can see a shadow coming up a staircase.  I am filled with the most awful feeling, that my most intimate secrets will be exposed and I will be destroyed.”

“Are these the only impressions that survive your recurring amnesia?”

“No. Well, excepting one.  I can clearly see the face of a monkey, some sort of howler creature from the jungles of South America.  It is laughing at me, as if I am an object of great ridicule.”

“You have been laughed at by a monkey?” Homer said, surprisingly.

“But it is not just a monkey.  It is wearing a tricorn hat.”

“Tricorn?” Lizzie gasped.  From the wide grin appearing on her lips, Homer could tell she was taking the bait.  This was a mystery that she could relish.

“Like in the war of independence,” Mr. Lot explained.  “And he has on a printed silk jacket and is holding a lace handkerchief.”

“Not like any monkey I’ve seen,” Homer quipped.  “Perhaps he is conflating two exhibits he saw at the menagerie.”

“No,” Lizzie said.  “I sense that there is an even more meaningful explanation.  But enough of that, we are poised at the beginning of a strange journey.  We have a man who clearly is married, lives in comfortable middle class conditions, doted on by his wife, harassed by his housemaid, and sports a rather expensive cherry and ivory walking stick.  He can afford the finest of clothing, clear enough from his habit of buying a new pair of boots when the old ones get dirty, and yet wears his jackets until they fray.  There are odd contradictions here.”

Mr. Lot looked at his stick as if seeing it for the first time, and then pulled at the threads wafting from his jacket.  “Oh,” he said.  “So I do! Perhaps I should go buy a new jacket.”  He gingerly patted his pockets.  “I don’t suppose anyone here can lend me some money.  I fear I have come sans sous.”

“And with a knowledge of French customs,” Lizzie added.

“You know so much about me,” Mr. Lot said hopefully.  “Can you tell my identity?”

“Nothing other than you are a member of a Masonic lodge or so the ring on your left hand informs me, and at some point this morning, after putting on your jacket but before buying your congress boots, you took a small dog, perhaps a Pomeranian, for a walk.”

The man checked the ring and the hairs on his overcoat with great interest then turned his attention back to Lizzie as if he were profoundly engaged by a doctor’s diagnosis.

“Perhaps it was on this sojourn that you had your morning shave on Columbia Street by a left handed barber, I would say Samuel Borden who is just this afternoon taking off on a vacation to the wilds of Maine, hence the haste with which he missed some patches of growth on your right chin.”             Mr. Lot turned to Homer and grinned.  “She’s very good!  What did you say her name was?”

Before Homer could reply, Lizzie resumed.  “Now if we confine our search to this city, we can use various techniques of a mental nature to distill from these clues, as Homer distills gold dust from pyrites, where you would live, who you would have as associates, and make the rounds to ascertain an identification. Your Masonic lodge is a good place to start, or Sammy Borden himself who you may have employed on a regular basis at a time when you knew your real identity.  I don’t see this case as particularly complicated, nor do I expect it to take very long, and since it is Homer who has brought you to me and he is a dear friend of mine, I will even perform this investigation gratis, expecting nothing in return but a good evening’s banter over a delightful home cooked meal, good company and a mug of medicinal syrup water.  Eh, Homer?  Doesn’t that sound grand?”

“Not complicated?” Homer asked.  “Lizzie, I don’t think you understand what’s going on here.”

“Don’t I?” Lizzie’s smile had turned sour.

“I met this man outside the police station.  He was part of a crowd that was gathering to get news of the murder.”

“Murder?” Lizzie recoiled.

“Yes, the murder of Sam Borden.  He was found dead in his barber shop not two hours ago.  His throat was slashed with his own razor.”

The room fell into a painful silence as Lizzie lost her sense of direction.  She was swooning, watching the walls turn about the ceiling.  Homer raced to her side and held her in position as she slowly regained her senses.

When she had found her balance, she stared at the man seated on the couch opposite her, assessing him with a fresh set of eyes.  Now his ordinary face seemed sharpened to the point of treachery. His gaze, once blank and neutral, now seemed coarse and cruel.  Perhaps the sinister shadow in his memory was himself, and he was on the verge of confronting his own guilt, his own sins.  Lizzie’s instinct was to call out to her father, charging it to him that he would confront this beast and save her from this unpleasant feeling of danger.

“Mr. Lot,” Lizzie said shakily.  “Do you have any idea what happened to the barber Mr. Borden?”

“Who?” Mr. Lot responded.  “I’m sorry but have we met before?”

“We have been in discourse for about ten minutes,” Lizzie assured him.

“Have we?” the man said alarmingly.  He turned to Homer and gasped at his face.  “Oh dear,” he said.  “It’s happened again.”

“What has happened again?” Homer asked desperately.

The man thought for a moment, blinked and then said with all sincerity, “I don’t know.”

Lizzie’s palpated breaths had reached a zenith, but she summoned enough energy to blurt out the only words that she could articulate:

“Father! Call Dr. Bowen!”

copyright 2016 by Richard Behrens

copyright 2016 by Nine Muses Books

 

Author Richard Behrens

It is with profound sadness that we at Nine Muses Books announce the passing of Richard Behrens, author of The Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mystery series and the writer, director and host of The Lizzie Borden Podcast. He was 52.
Richard was an extraordinary man, possessor of a gentle spirit and an amazing intellectual capacity that could painstakingly decode Finnegan’s Wake one moment, and laugh heartily at a silent Laurel and Hardy film the next. He was a voracious reader and easily read more than 10 books simultaneously, and collected an enormous library. He enjoyed the creative process of writing his comic mysteries of his Lizzie Borden Girl Detective series. Roars of laughter could be heard from his office as he wrote a particularly funny scene.
Richard leaves a vast legacy of unpublished works so his widow created a GoFundMe campaign to raise the funds needed to ensure the publishing of these unpublished stories, including his nearly completed Audible Amnesiac. If you wish to contribute, follow this link: https://www.gofundme.com/richard-behrens-publishing-fund
The Lizzie Borden Podcast was written, directed and hosted by Richard, and therefore will end with the 11th (and final) episode of Richard’s radio play The Agitated Elocutionist. Richard’s books will remain available on Amazon.com.
Please check back for future announcements about the upcoming publication of The Audible Amnesiac.

NEW Visual Edition of the Lizzie Borden Podcast Episode 5, The Day of the Borden Murders

The Lizzie Borden PodcastNEW! Watch the Visual Edition of Episode 5 of the Lizzie Borden Podcast, which details the happenings on the day of the Borden Murders of 1892. With author Sarah Miller!
https://youtu.be/GfS-1BLhyXU

Episode Five of The Lizzie Borden Podcast continues A Lizzie Borden Primer, a three-part series that will present the life and times of Lizzie Borden. This episode is an exceptionally good starting part for anyone who has no more knowledge of Lizzie Borden and the Borden Murders than what they have heard in the notorious jump rope jingle. This episode covers the day of the Borden murders on August 4, 1892, the police investigation, and the arrest of Lizzie Borden.

Sarah Miller is the author of two historical fiction novels, Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller, which was called “an accomplished debut” in a starred review from Booklist and was named an ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book, and The Lost Crown, about the Romanovs, hailed as “fascinating” in a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and named an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults. The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & The Trial of the Century is her first non-fiction book and has been hailed by Kirkus and the New York Times as a perfectly concise and lively historical account of the Borden Murders of 1892.
Visit http://www.sarahmillerbooks.com for more information.

Credits:
Producer: Nine Muses Books
Engineer: Mason Amadeus
Writer/Director: Richard Behrens
Music: Melora Creager
Cartoons: Chip Cooper

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Lizzie after her acquittal.

Lizzie after her acquittal.

Follow our historical Lizzie Borden board, which contains images and information about the historical Lizzie Borden of Fall River who in 1892 was arrested for the murders of her father and step-mother, later to be acquitted. She is the inspiration for the fictional Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective by author Richard Behrens.

Visit our 20+ boards on Victorian oddities, Victorian lady detectives, Lizzie Borden videos, historic Fall River, Salem, Concord, MA as well as authors Louisa May Alcott, H.P. Lovecraft, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Other boards include Victorian spiritualism, and the murder cases of Helen Jewett and Sarah Cornell, as well as graves of the unusual and famous and even silent film comedy! New posts are made daily so be sure to follow lizziebordengd on Pinterest so you don’t miss a thing!

 

The Minuscule Monk and The Terror of Tiny Town

Yosemite-Sam-Quotes-300x281Reflecting upon the character the Minuscule Monk, I can’t help but think of Yosemite Sam.  This diminutive gunslinger or prospector or pirate or whatever he did for a living was the creation of animator Fritz Freleng for the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons in the 1940s.  Yosemite Sam was, along with animal hunter Elmer Fudd, the natural enemy of Bugs Bunny (he hated rabbits) and was certainly the tougher hombre.  Trapped under prodigious red mustaches that doubled as a bifurcated beard, he toted two blazing Colt .45s that he often fired in every direction as he hopped and leaped in frustration at his failure to catch Bugs Bunny.  This hot-headed cowboy appeared under different occupations and names (Chilkoot Sam and Sam Von Schamm the Hessian Soldier were but a few), but his main moniker, derived from Yosemite National Park, suggests a gold rush prospector.

Above all, Yosemite Sam was short, but I never really considered him a midget,  The cartoon universe had its own surreal logic (think of Bugs slamming a door on Sam flattening him like a pancake only to see him shrug off his flatness and restore himself to normal shape) and I accepted the name changes, the professional morphing, and the shortness (he didn’t seem that much shorter than Elmer Fudd).

One day in 2008, I was driving through Philadelphia and took out my mini-recorder  and proceeded to tell the tale of the Minuscule Monk, a Five Points native transported to the wild West where he had become a notorious gunslinger.  It was a spontaneous dictation and lasted all of two minutes, but I did establish the essentials of the character.  I even included the long standing bet on whether he possessed certain anatomy in his operatic region.  There was no rhyme nor reason to this bit of nonsense, and certainly not any plan to include him into a Lizzie Borden Girl Detective mystery.  But it was typical of some of the low brow ideas that hit me while driving through Philadelphia.

Anyway, along came my first attempt at a Lizzie Borden novel and I had need of what Alfred Hitchcock called a MacGuffin, some object like the Maltese Falcon or the Lost Ark that helps drive the logic of the plot but is ultimately just a fetish object that makes everyone in the story go nuts.  In my storyline it had to be an easterner who had escaped into the wild West and has returned as a dangerous outlaw.  Of course, I thought, The Minuscule Monk!

The_Terror_of_Tiny_Town_FilmPosterThis is not to say I didn’t have other diminutive gunslinger influences.  The most obvious (at least to me) is a 1938 musical western that was filmed with an exclusive cast of little people.  The Terror of Tiny Town (dir. Sam Newfield) had been included in a book that used to be my bible: The Fifty Worst Films of All Time by Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss. First released in 1979, this whimsical tome introduced me to films such as Robot Monster, Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Conqueror which featured John Wayne as Ghengis Khan.  It also included The Terror of Tiny Town which eventually got re-released on VHS tape and is now available , for those who dare,  on YouTube.

It is a movie as short as its stars, and lacking in most of the qualities that make up a good film.  Even if you ignore the fact that the cowboys, cattle rustlers, outlaws, lawmen, saloon crooners, town drunks, wacky comedy relief, barber shop quartet, bartender, heroes, villains and  ranch owners are all midgets, the movie makes for a very boring and clichéd western.  The entire novelty of the film is the cast.  No one watches this film for its dramatic content or its completely forgettable songs such as “Mister Jack and Missus Jill” and “Laugh Your Troubles Away,” unless of course you watch the film several times like I did and then you can’t get the songs out of your head even if you employ hypnotism.

The Terror of Tiny Town was the brain child of producer Jed Buell, a veteran of the Mack Sennett studios who had been responsible for the Fred Scott singing cowboy movies.  Here’s a clip from one of Scott’s films, Moonlight on the Range (a.k.a. Moonlight on the Trail) and is of particular interest since it co-stars Al St. John, Fatty Arbuckle’s nephew and ex-co-star of Buster Keaton.  St. John had a second career acting in westerns as the grizzled bean-chowing cowpoke Fuzzy Jones.  This clip shows what The Terror of Tiny Town may have been like if Fred Scott has made it as a big star or the actors were full sized. Can you smell an Oscar?

Buell got the concept for The Terror of Tiny Town after a colleague complained that if the economy continues to hurt the film industry, they’ll all have to start hiring midgets as actors to save money.  Somehow this sparked a creative storm inside Buell’s head and he quickly arranged for what claims to be the world’s only musical western performed entirely by midgets.

Singer's_Midgets_-_carnival_posterBuell recruited his actors from a vaudeville act called Singer’s Midgets.  Produced and managed by Austrian-born Leo Singer who fled to America before WWI  with his little troupe in tow, the act was extremely popular in the decades before WWII.  The Terror of Tiny Town was their first major foray into motion pictures. Their second film as a troupe was The Wizard of Oz (1939).  While the musical western earned a ranking in lists of the worst films ever made, The Wizard of Oz achieved cultural immortality.  Several of the Munchkin cast (many of whom doubled as Flying Monkeys) became famous and appeared in high profile films.

The most famous was Billy Curtis who played City Father of Munchkinland and went on to have a fifty year career in Hollywood.  He can be seen in High Plains Drifter and Planet of the Apes.  He acted the role of Mayor McCheese on McDonald’s TV commercials.   There is a Pinterest page to showcase his unsung career.

Click here to see Billy Curtis’ Pinterest board

In The Terror of Tiny Town Curtis plays Buck Lawson, the handsome lead, a cowboy dressed in white, the guitar twanging son of a wealthy ranch owner whose herd is being wrangled by the villain Bat Haines. Bat is played by Little Billy Rhodes, otherwise known as the Barrister of Munchkin City.  Bat Haines is rustling cattle from both the Lawson ranch and Tex Preston’s ranch, cross-wiring the two ranch owners and trying to trick them into killing each other.  Buck sets out to save his father’s ranch from destruction and eventually uncovers Bat’s conspiracy.  Along the way he falls in love with Preston’s niece, played by Yvonne Moray (one of the Lullaby League in Oz) whose speaking voice sounds like she’s from Brooklyn and who provides complete blank stares that pose as emotional responses to deadly situations.

Billy Curtis as Buck Lawson

Billy Curtis as Buck Lawson

Clint Eastward and Billy Curtis, High Plains Drifter, 1973

Clint Eastward and Billy Curtis, High Plains Drifter, 1973

The film gets a lot of mileage out of indirectly making fun of the actors’ height, having them walk under fences and saloon doors without ducking, clambering up and down front stoops, standing on platforms to reach the saloon bar, and holding over-sized pistols that look like they would break every bone in their hands if they ever fired. In fact, most of the sets are full sized, including tremendously tall doors, over sized armchairs, beer mugs and stage coaches.  A few exceptions include the use of Shetland ponies as their mounts, giving us the hilarious image of the pint-sized hero riding into heroic deeds on a trotting pony.

What is the secret of the place called Tiny Town?  Was it built deliberately out of scale?  Were the inhabitants once some lost tribe wandering the desert, finding their oasis in a city abandoned by full sized western folk?  Perhaps it’s best not to let your mind go in that direction for that way madness lies.  The metaphysics of cinema has many mysteries.

The songs in the film were written by Lew Porter, a prolific soundtrack composer whose credits include mostly B-grade Westerns.  As a working musician, he had found his niche that brought home the beans and bacon and he stuck to his guns till the very end.  One can dismiss him completely from the stage of world cinema, but The Terror of Tiny Town has the potential to put “Laugh Your Troubles Away” into your mind and then you are stuck with him forever.

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Little Billy Rhodes as Bat Haines

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Little Billy Rhodes as the Barrister of Munchkinland.

The Terror of Tiny Town remains unique in film history.  No other filmmaker ever dared to repeat its gimmick, unless you count Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone, but that was made with children, so it cheated.  Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarves Started Small wasn’t a Western or a Musical.  Yet it is the most extreme exploitation of little people on film that I’ve ever seen.  Tiny Town is a rather conventional and cliched movie.  Herzog’s film is an art house surrealist nightmare.

The irony of all this is that the Minuscule Monk never found his Tiny Town.  He wandered from one full sized camp to another, forever humiliated for his otherness.  Along the way he became as mean and hair triggered as Yosemite Sam. The horrors of war twisted him even further.  Killing became as natural to him as brushing his teeth – even more so since he was never known to brush his teeth.

As for his childhood in the Five Points of New York, his adventures in the Kansas-Missouri Border Wars, his eventual assassination and mummification, I’ll leave that tale for other posts.

In the meantime, watch (on purpose) a transfer of a battered old VHS copy of The Terror of Tiny Town courtesy of YouTube.

David Bowie and the Minuscule Monk

The Minuscule Monk: A Lizzie Borden Girl, Detective Mystery begins with a quotation from “Antigonish”, a poem by Hughes Mearns (1875–1965).

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

I chose this quotation because it perfectly describes the theme that I had woven into the story as a whole.  The little man who wasn’t there obviously resonates with the Minuscule Monk himself, and his doubtful existence mirrors the “subjective idealism” coveted by C.B.M. Borden, the boy detective, and his weird delusion that his own mother doesn’t exist.

bowieMy first introduction to the lines was a David Bowie album that I bought in 1978 at a West Village record store.  Bowie had re-conceived the poem with surrealistic lyrics for the song “The Man Who Sold the World.”  It was only after Nirvana resurrected it in a 1994 acoustic grunge version that I discovered the lyrics were referencing the Hughes Mearns poem.

Mearns was a teacher, notably at the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy and later at Columbia University, and part of the progressive movement in American education started by John Dewey.  The poem is a logical absurdity, similar to the mind twisting paradoxes in poems by Lewis Carol or Dr. Seuss.  One can imagine a school room full of children laughing uproariously at this “little man who wasn’t there,” a sort of anti-matter doppelganger to the poem’s narrator.  It isn’t a far leap from this non-existent imp to other tricksters such as Rumpelstiltskin, Superman’s Mr. Mxyzptlk or the Great Gazoo from the Flintstones.  One could also think of Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Bugs Bunny, all agents of chaos and logical confusion.

Leave it to avant-rock star David Bowie to refashion this elusive but playful character into a much more haunting and surrealistic one.

On a 1970 album release whose lyric references ranged from Friedrich Nietzsche to H.P. Lovecraft to Kahlil Gibran, Bowie inserted a mysterious track called “The Man Who Sold the World”:

We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t there, he said I was his friend
Which came as some surprise, I spoke into his eyes
I thought you died alone, a long long time ago

The overall mystical tone of the album is unmistakable.  Here the encounter with the Little Man Who Wasn’t There, a relatively amusing character for children who appreciate fairy creatures, is turned into a breakdown of identity and a descent into madness.

Here it is the narrator who is non-existent (“Although I wasn’t there”).  They seem to have a past together and the man may or may not be a ghost (“I thought you died alone”).   Bowie’s characteristic bending of lyrics into dark paradoxes is reflected in the phrase, “I spoke into his eyes” which is an act that is hard to visualize but is stylistically perfect for this dreamlike song.

Oh no, not me, I never lost control
You’re face to face, With The Man Who Sold The World

MWSTWUS2“Not me” is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s “Not I”, another exploration of the fracturing of self-consciousness. Perhaps the “world” that the man in the song has “sold” is a total state of being, experienced only by the narrator in the depths of a madhouse.  It could also mean a frightening bout of mental illness in which reality becomes elusive and the victim cannot distinguish between himself and other people.

Some people have speculated if there had been a political message in the song, accented by the cartoon cover art in which a cowboy walks by a Federal-style building with a concealed rifle tucked under his arm.  I tend to doubt this interpretation since the cover art really depicts the Cane Hill Mental Asylum in England where David Bowie’s brother Terry had been treated for schizophrenia (Charlie Chaplin’s mother Hannah had been treated at Cane Hill as well).  If anything, the song could be an homage to his brother who committed suicide in 1985, too late for the song to be referring to Terry’s death.  Bowie was wise to keep the meaning of the song mysterious.  It is much more effective that way.

SNL recently posted a video of David Bowie performing this song in 1979 accompanied by back up singers Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi.  The surreal costume and make-up were to an American audience used to more conventional rock-and-roll attire.  It seemed closer to punk, but was too theatrical, too clean.  Bowie had just spent several years working in Berlin where he recorded a trilogy of albums with Brian Eno and had a lot of exposure to the European art and music scene.  His act with clownish costumes and mime-like gestures would have fit in beautifully at a Dada festival.  In regard to the song, the theatrical effects heightened its sense of otherworldliness.

The song was revived again in 1993 when Nirvana, just months before their lead singers’ suicide, performed an acoustic version on MTV’s unplugged series.  In stark contrast to the SNL theatricality, the song is performed by an unshaven grunge artist with uncombed hair and shabby clothing.  Cobain’s vocals are gruff with less acting but no less haunting.  He makes no eye contact with the audience and at times mumbles the lyrics, but he seems inwardly focused.

Considering that “The Man Who Sold the World” had been an obscure Bowie track from a pre-Ziggy album, the Nirvana performance was many Generation X-ers introduction to the song.  The contrast between German 80s art-rock and Seattle 90s grunge can’t be greater, but the song thrived in both treatments because of its timeless and unsettling elements.

While The Minuscule Monk is a few cry from a David Bowie or a Nirvana album, it does depict several characters having crises of consciousness.  They all respond in their own characteristic way.  Andrew Borden grows increasingly frustrated and becomes mentally confused.  C.B.M. Borden, having been raised by a woman of dubious mental stability, is already skeptical of reality and tries to cover it up with philosophical rationalization and a forced self-confidence.  Herr Hugo von Trotter, the Truth-Telling Dog, fights back with a violent campaign against human lies, refusing to let them get away with it.

It is only Lizzie who plows forward with a determination to reconstruct reality and expose the truth.  But her evidence keeps disappearing, people turn out to be other than what they claimed, and those about her are weaving alternate realities that is counter-productive to her investigation.

For these reasons, the Mearns poem seemed appropriate.  It struck a tone, announced a theme.  And I have to admit, I had more than a few musical hooks from David Bowie’s song in my mind as I wrote.

The Scrooge of Second Street, a new short story

Prince Albert's Christmas TreeNine Muses Press announces publication of its December 2015 issue of the Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 2. The newsletters contains the latest news about Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective, and in addition,  a brand new short story, available exclusively in the newsletter! The newsletter is free, to receive your copy please sign up at http://eepurl.com/bCtr6b.  By signing up you will automatically receive the monthly newsletter as well as current announcements about Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective.

Richard Behrens poses with his Minuscule Monk cake!

After Richard’s energetic and entertaining reading from The Minuscule Monk, friends and fans gathered for a talk back session with coffee and cake. A good time was had by all! Check back soon for a video link to the reading.

Book Reading and Signing in Keene, NH

toadstool-bookshopMeet Richard Behrens the author of  The Minuscule Monk  at a Book Signing and Reading at 2:00 PM on Saturday, October 24 in Keene, NH  at Toadstool Bookshop, Colony Mill Marketplace. This is event is free and open to the public.

The Minuscule Monk is a comic mystery that paints a portrait of Fall River, MA at the height of its Victorian splendor and Lizzie Borden, its most infamous citizen, at the start of her most excellent career as a consulting detective.

Come hear the author read from his comic mystery.  Also meet Herr Hugo von Trotter the Truth-Telling Dog and C.B.M. Borden the Existentialist Boy Detective.

For more info go to www.toadbooks.com

The Minuscule Monk is appropriate for both adults and young adults.

 

The Minuscule Monk is now available for FREE on Amazon for three days!

The Minuscule Monk

The Minuscule Monk

The Minuscule Monk: A Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mystery by Richard Behrens is now on sale for FREE at Amazon.com for three days only. Take advantage of this great offer to download, read, and review the second in a series of mysteries starring the Girl Detective that the Fall River Historical Society has called “fearlessly cunning, charismatic, and thoroughly enchanting!” Shelley Dziedzic, editor of http://lizziebordenwarpsandwefts.com has said of the series: “…so much fun, it’s nearly criminal!” The book also includes a great cover illustration by artist Marc Reed.

This sale is for the Kindle edition and will last from 9/24 – 9/26 on the Amazon store.

When a dead body mysteriously appears in the basement of her father’s furniture store, 15 year-old Lizzie Andrew Borden immediately takes on the case. Accompanied by an eccentric millionaire who campaigns to extend the vote to animals; a Boston terrier trained to sniff out crooked politicians; and a boy detective who believes the entire universe to be inside his own head, Lizzie follows a trail of taxidermy tools and Civil War bushwhackers to the Minuscule Monk, a legendary gunslinger whose mummified body will bring a punter’s pot to anyone who can deliver it to the New York gangster who has been hunting the Monk for decades. With such high stakes, everyone has a motive for murder, yet everyone seems innocent. Or perhaps, as Lizzie suspects after attending a dinner party with non-existent food and meeting a horse that has turned into its opposite, none of it is even real. Lizzie Borden, the Girl Detective of Fall River, is at her most spirited in The Minuscule Monk, a comic mystery that paints a portrait of Fall River at the height of its splendor and its most infamous citizen at the start of her most excellent career.

Richard Behrens is the co-founder of Nine Muses Books and author of the Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective series of mysteries. He is a contributor to The Hatchet: A Journal of Lizzie Borden and Victorian Studies and a regular lecturer on eccentric Victorian women and silent film comedy. Richard is a native New Yorker, now living in New England,

Download your free copy now!

The Minuscule Monk now available for free to American Unlimited subscribers!

Nine Muses Books is proud to announce that The Minuscule Monk: A Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mystery by Richard Behrens is now available on Kindle Unlimited.  For a limited time only, read The Minuscule Monk for free with an Amazon Unlimited subscription!

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Download from Amazon now!

The Minuscule Monk: A Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mystery
by Richard Behrens
Nine Muses Books

 

The Minuscule Monk: Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Anniversary Sale!

The Minuscule Monk

The Minuscule Monk

To commemorate the 123rd anniversary of the Fall River Tragedy, Nine Muses Books has lowered the price on The Minuscule Monk: A Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mystery e-book  by Richard Behrens on Smashwords.  For one day only, you can get this full-length novel for 99 cents.  That’s a savings of $3!  Get your copy today!

Click here to buy The Minuscule Monk: A Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mystery on Smashwords.

Praise for The Minuscule Monk:  “Richard Behrens has crafted a perfectly plausible, yet utterly fantastical story of Lizzie Borden as a girl detective. I so much enjoy everything written by Richard and am amazed at his use of language and description to make a period in time come alive. This book is more complex than his last (Lizzie Borden Girl Detective), but works so well to keep the reader interested and wondering what will befall our heroine next. I loved this book!”  Stefani Koorey, Editor of The Literary Hatchet,  editor of Mondo Lizzie Borden, and author of Fall River Revisited, Massachusetts (Images of America Series).

 

Book Signing in Fall River Saturday August 1st!

The Fall RIver Historical Society

Place: Fall River Historical Society, 451 Rock Street, Fall River, MA 02720

Date: Saturday, August 1, 2015

Time: 12:00-3:00 PM

Call for details: (508) 679-1071

The Minuscule Monk

The Minuscule Monk

 

 

Hear author Richard Behrens read from his latest Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective novel: The Minuscule Monk! Books will be available for purchase at the event and all proceeds benefit The Fall River Historical Society.

Meet Herr Hugo von Trotter, the truth-telling Boston Terrier, and hear how he helped Lizzie solve the Mystery of The Minuscule Monk!

Come hear excerpts from this comic mystery that paints a portrait of Fall River at the height of its splendor and its most infamous citizen at the start of her most excellent career.

 

The Minuscule Monk is now available on Amazon

The Minuscule Monk

The Minuscule Monk

Be the first to purchase, read and review The Minuscule Monk: A Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Mystery.  The novel is now available on Amazon in a trade paperback edition.  The e-book edition will be available sometime next week.

Buy your copy now!

When a dead body mysteriously appears in the basement of her father’s furniture store, 15 year-old Lizzie Andrew Borden immediately takes on the case. Accompanied by an eccentric millionaire who campaigns to extend the vote to animals; a Boston terrier trained to sniff out crooked politicians; and a boy detective who believes the entire universe to be inside his own head, Lizzie follows a trail of taxidermy tools and Civil War bushwhackers to the Minuscule Monk, a legendary gunslinger whose mummified body will bring a punter’s pot to anyone who can deliver it to the New York gangster who has been hunting the Monk for decades. With such high stakes, everyone has a motive for murder, yet everyone seems innocent. Or perhaps, as Lizzie suspects after attending a dinner party with non-existent food and meeting a horse that has turned into its opposite, none of it is even real. Lizzie Borden, the Girl Detective of Fall River, is at her most spirited in The Minuscule Monk, a comic mystery that paints a portrait of Fall River at the height of its splendor and its most infamous citizen at the start of her most excellent career.

Read exclusive chapters from upcoming Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective novel: The Minuscule Monk

hatchet

This summer, Nine Muses Books will publish a new full-length Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective novel entitled The Minuscule Monk.  This is the first novel-length Lizzie adventure and will be published as both a print book and an e-book.

Now you can read the first two chapters which have been published exclusively in The Literary Hatchet #11. The magazine is available from PearTree Press in a free digital downloadable edition as well as a print edition.  This is your chance to get a head start on the new adventures of Lizzie Borden, the most excellent girl detective of Fall River.

Download your copy today!

The Minuscule MonkWhen a dead body mysteriously appears in the basement of her father’s furniture store, 15 year-old Lizzie Andrew Borden immediately takes on the case. Accompanied by an eccentric millionaire who campaigns to extend the vote to animals; a Boston terrier trained to sniff out crooked politicians; and a boy detective who believes the entire universe to be inside his own head, Lizzie follows a trail of taxidermy tools and Civil War bushwhackers to the Minuscule Monk, a legendary gunslinger whose mummified body will bring a punter’s pot to anyone who can deliver it to the New York gangster who has been hunting the Monk for decades. With such high stakes, everyone has a motive for murder, yet everyone seems innocent. Or perhaps, as Lizzie suspects after attending a dinner party with non-existent food and meeting a horse that has turned into its opposite, none of it is even real.

Lizzie Borden, the Girl Detective of Fall River, is at her most spirited in The Minuscule Monk, a comic mystery that paints a portrait of Fall River at the height of its splendor and its most infamous citizen at the start of her most excellent career.

 

New Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective Novel Announced

The Minuscule MonkNine Muses Books announces a new full-length Lizzie Borden, Girl Detective novel to be published entitled The Minuscule Monk.  This is the first novel-length Lizzie adventure and will be published as both a print book and an e-book in the summer of 2015.

When a dead body mysteriously appears in the basement of her father’s furniture store, 15 year-old Lizzie Andrew Borden immediately takes on the case. Accompanied by an eccentric millionaire who campaigns to extend the vote to animals; a Boston terrier trained to sniff out crooked politicians; and a boy detective who believes the entire universe to be inside his own head, Lizzie follows a trail of taxidermy tools and Civil War bushwhackers to the Minuscule Monk, a legendary gunslinger whose mummified body will bring a punter’s pot to anyone who can deliver it to the New York gangster who has been hunting the Monk for decades. With such high stakes, everyone has a motive for murder, yet everyone seems innocent. Or perhaps, as Lizzie suspects after attending a dinner party with non-existent food and meeting a horse that has turned into its opposite, none of it is even real.

Lizzie Borden, the Girl Detective of Fall River, is at her most spirited in The Minuscule Monk, a comic mystery that paints a portrait of Fall River at the height of its splendor and its most infamous citizen at the start of her most excellent career.

Check back for publication date and further announcements.

Interview with Richard Behrens

How did you first come up with the concept of Lizzie Borden being a girl detective?

I happened to order a few old Nancy Drew books over EBay. My intention was to read them for fun since my sister had all of them when I was growing up and I had read several when I was in grade school. Reading as an adult, they are so breezy and a lot of fun, but I was surprised how much sinister stuff was in them. The older 1930s Nancy Drew smoked and actually carried a gun. So I decided to sketch out a spoof of the genre, just for fun.

I made up a girl detective living in the 1930s. Her father is a big attorney in town and she has a kooky house maid and sidekick pal from school, etc. But when I wrote a few pages and read it back, it seemed too much like the original, like I couldn’t spoof it because it already had that comic edge to it. The only thing I could do to make it funnier was to place it in another century.

I toyed around with a few time periods. For a while I wanted to do London during the time of Queen Elizabeth, so the girl detective could be the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Southampton and have access to people like Shakespeare and solve the death of Christopher Marlowe. But I admit I got lazy and felt it would involve too much research.

I had already been reading about Lizzie Borden and visiting the Bed & Breakfast and all that Fall River stuff was fresh in my mind. So I sketched out a girl detective in New England during the 1890s. She can solve the Borden murders, I joked.

Then it hit me like a thunderbolt. Why not make her Lizzie Borden? After writing a few pages I had myself in stiches and I knew I had hit upon something with great entertainment value. The Borden Family turned out to be a better source of satire and drama than an Elizabethan theater company.

Did you have any hope at that point of getting it published?

I felt it had great commercial potential. The title alone made everyone crack up. But it was still a few years before books like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and all those Jane Austen monster mash-ups so I wasn’t quite sure. Besides I had to write the stories first and see how they turned out. Fortunately, I had an offer from The Hatchet magazine, the journal of Lizzie Borden studies, to pursue this and had help from a few people who knew a lot about the historical Bordens. Talking to them and visiting Fall River gave me a lot of inspiration. I began publishing the stories in The Hatchet and its sister magazine The Literary Hatchet and felt content with that for a few years. The concept was still taking shape.

What did you have to do to prepare for writing about Lizzie Borden?

I chatted up everyone I knew who had connections with Fall River or the historic house. I visited the Fall River Historical Society, studied as much Fall River history as I could, and read thousands of pages of primary source material including the murder hearings, the trial transcripts and the few books that could be historically trusted. Two of the best references are Lizzie Borden: Past and Present by Len Rebello and Parallel Lives by Michael Martins and Dennis Binette of the Fall River Historical Society. So many books out there are junk, especially the true crime paperbacks. The best book for an introductory experience is actually a graphic novel called The Borden Tragedy by Rick Geary. It’s accurate, extremely well drawn and scripted.

The challenge was that I wasn’t writing about the murders, but about a time period nearly twenty years earlier. I had to really get to know the 1870s as Lizzie and her family would have known it.

You eventually progressed from short stories to novels?

Yes, the first five short stories, two of them novellas really, were published by PearTree Press in 2010 and it brought to the end the first stage of my effort. The second stage, now that I had established the characters, the setting, and had hit upon an appropriate tone, was to enlarge the fictional universe. The Minuscule Monk was a sixth short story that had grown in scope to a full-length novel. I had been reading a lot about the Kansas-Missouri border wars and it seemed as if an extended flashback to another time and place was appropriate. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote two Sherlock Holmes stories that had extended flashbacks to the old West and Pennsylvania mining towns. For half of those novels, Holmes doesn’t’ even show up. I liked the idea of having all that back story.

Why did you start Nine Muses Books?

The scope of the project had grown to the point where I needed to dedicate myself entirely to the Girl Detective. The e-book market has grown exponentially in the past few years and the traditional relationship between writers, readers and publishers has completely changed. Putting out all this material in such a short time period is an experiment, one that I hope will reach new readers and keep them amused. It also encourages me to work harder on new material.

After The Minuscule Monk, what can expect?

There’s more short stories coming. The next novel is called The Wilmarth Immovables and it has a lot to do with Shakespeare, patent medicine, and the origins of vaudeville.

The last question I have is the obvious one. Did Lizzie do it?

Well, that’s a question for the sixth novel! I do plan to cover that.

OK, fair enough. What about the real Lizzie Borden?

I have no idea. The more I studied the crime, the less obvious it seemed. Everyone has to make up their own minds.