Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Review of "Watch the Wall, Miss Seeton: A Miss Seeton Mystery" by Hamilton Crane

In this 24th book in the 'Miss Seeton' series - set in 1970s England - the genteel, grey-haired 'detective' helps the police solve several crimes, including murder. The original author of this humorous mystery series was Heron Carvic, and after his death other writers carried on. This story was penned by Hamilton Crane.

The books can be read as standalones with no problem.


Some gossipy women in the town of Plummergen look askance upon Miss Emily Seeton, an elderly art teacher who retired to their community.

For one thing, Miss Seeton (aka MissEss) is very cozy with Scotland Yard, which has her on retainer as a sketch artist. For another thing, Miss Seeton is likely to hobnob with 'suspicious characters' - like the handsome American tourist she politely invites for tea and cake.

If the Plummergen rumormongers knew the whole truth they would REALLY be goggle-eyed. The fact is that MissEss - unknown to herself - is a psychic whose 'foolish scribbles' (as she calls them) help the authorities identify wrongdoers and their crimes. And right now, Kent County - the coastal area that contains Plummergen - is being plagued by a crime wave that involves several police forces.

- Scotland Yard (with the help of Customs and Excise) is looking into the beheading of a poacher who may have stumbled onto a smuggling ring.

- Superintendent Brinton and Detective Constable Foxon of the Ashford Police Department are dealing with metal thefts. All manner of metallic objects have gone missing from Ashford, including fences, gates, drains, benches, rails, manhole covers, pipes, signposts, etc. A missing signpost has already resulted in a serious car crash, and the cops are anxious to catch the miscreants.

- Chief Inspector Harry Furneaux has to deal with metal theft AND a bank heist in Ecclesham. A gang of thieves hatched a scheme - involving the strategic blocking of streets - to rob an Ecclesham bank, make a quick getaway, and elude the authorities.

- Constable Ned Potter of Plummergen is concerned with the theft of ornamental scarecrows, being put up to attract tourists.

When concern about the spate of crimes reaches the breaking point, Scotland Yard's Detective Chief Superintendent Delphick and his assistant Detective Sergeant Bob Ranger visit MissEss to request some sketches, which the artist thinks are 'Identikit' drawings. The pictures turn out to be very telling.....though it takes some time to interpret them.

Miss Seeton does more than draw pretty pictures, however. She runs into a criminal herself - and being a sweet innocent lady - completely misinterprets his intentions. MissEss mistakes the thug for a birdwatcher, and their conversation - which is completely at cross purposes - is hilarious.

The story has a gaggle of entertaining characters, including:

- Mrs. Flax who doesn't believe that Plummergen's vermillion skies are caused by fierce Saharan winds. Mrs. Flax asserts: "Tent natural, such happenings....and from an evil cause all too clear to them with deep knowledge such as mine.....atom bombs!"

- Bram Smith - an American descendant of the historic English smuggler Abraham Voller, who escaped from a local prison and headed overseas.

- Superintendent Brinton, whose wife has prescribed a 'no sugar' diet that he desperately tries to circumvent.

- DC Foxon, who favors flamboyant a rich brown jumbo-cord jacket or a blackberry-colored velvet jacket with lapels that reach almost to his shoulders.

- Catherine Earnshaw - a famous retired actress, recently arrived in Plummergen, whose good-looking 'chauffeur' raises eyebrows around the village.

- Martin Jessyp, the school principal, who organizes a children's concert to raise funds.....and ropes Miss Seeton in to do the scenery.

- Dulcie Rose - a toddler who's entranced with the 'Roller bird' that blew to Plummergen from Africa. Dulcie Rose likes Miss Seeton to draw 'pickshers' of the 'big blue birdie' for her.

Much of the fun of the book lies in the conversations among the characters, who reference all manner of British history, stories, myths, folktales, literature, people, poems, songs, and so on. I found some of this bewildering.....and sometimes even the characters don't seem to comprehend each it's all good.

I enjoyed this comical book and recommend it to readers who like zany mysteries, especially fans of Miss Seeton.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author (Hamilton Crane), and the publisher (Farrago) for a copy of the book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Monday, March 18, 2019

Review of "In Pieces: A Memoir" by Sally Field

Sally Field

Sally Field, born in 1946, is well known for her extraordinary body of work in television and movies - including two Academy Awards for the films 'Norma Rae' and 'Places in the Heart.' Sally had to struggle to be taken seriously as an actress, however, because her early television roles as 'Gidget' - a surfing, boy-crazy teenager and 'The Flying Nun' - a petite novice who's airborne by her cornette, labeled her as a Hollywood lightweight.

Thus young Sally wasn't offered the dramatic roles she craved until she fought for them.

In this memoir Sally writes about learning her craft, demonstrating her talent, and finally getting good roles, but that's only part of the actress's compelling narrative. Sally also talks about her personal life, and her story is heartwarming and uplifting.....but also sad and shocking. I was surprised to learn that Sally - who has such a spunky, cheerful public persona - was used and abused by several men in her life.....starting when she was a child.

Sally comes from a long line of capable women, and was largely raised by her devoted grandmother and loving mother.

Sally Field's beautiful mother Margaret Morlan Field

Sally's mom, who she calls 'Baa', was born Margaret Morlan. Margaret was a beautiful woman who - discovered at the age of 23 - became a minor Hollywood actress best known for starring in the movies 'The Man From Planet X' and 'Captive Women.'

Baa always encouraged her daughter's aspirations to be an actress, and told Sally she was 'magical' in a middle school production of 'Romeo and Juliet.'

Unfortunately, Baa was also a product of her times, and unable to stand up to assertive men. Margaret divorced her first husband when Sally was small and allowed her second husband, Jock O'Mahoney (Jocko Mahoney) - a handsome, athletic stuntman and actor - to bully and humiliate Sally's older brother Ricky and to force both children to engage in athletic activities above their weight class.

Margaret Field and Jocko Mahoney

Jocko Mahoney

Jocko Mahoney with young Ricky Field and Sally Field

Four-year-old Sally was simultaneously thrilled and frightened by Jocko, and didn't understand it was wrong when he put his face and hands under her nightgown.

The abuse escalated when Sally was twelve, and Jocko started putting his penis between her legs (no penetration). As Sally matured, Jocko started to act like a jealous boyfriend, spying on her and interfering in her friendships with boys. In the book, Sally chastizes her (now deceased) mother, writing: "I adored you all my life.....and during those important years you abandoned me."

Jocko Mahoney with Margaret, Sally, and Ricky

In later years, Sally was attacked by a boy she was dating named Jimmy, and manipulated onto the casting couch by producer Bob Rafelson when she auditioned for a part in the film 'Stay Hungry.'

Bob Rafelson

Afterwards, starting in the late 1970s, Sally had a five-year, soul-sucking relationship with the actor Burt Reynolds, who (at least with Sally) was a needy, selfish, egotistical man. Burt was nastily dismissive of Sally's talent and career, and didn't want her to talk about her work or her children.

Burt Reynolds

Sally Field and Burt Reynolds

Before all that happened, though, Sally had to witness Margaret and Jocko's marriage going downhill. Baa started to drink heavily, and Sally notes: "Vodka and swallowed emotions had thickened her body and bloated her face. Maybe she didn't want to be beautiful anymore and closed up shop [because of] something horrific in the house." In any case, Jocko left Margaret for another woman in 1968.

The stuntman/actor always took an interest in Sally's career, however, encouraging her to take early television parts she disliked such as 'The Flying Nun' and 'The Girl With Something Extra.' Jocko was especially persuasive if there was something in it for a job or an IOU from a producer.

While she was making 'The Flying Nun' Sally married her childhood sweetheart Steve Craig and - in a few short years - had her first two sons Peter and Eli.

Sally Field and Steve Craig

Sally Field and Steve Craig

Sally, Steve and their baby Peter

Sally and baby Peter

Sally also began to attend 'The Actor's Studio', where many great talents honed their craft. There Sally's spirits soared when - after one of her scenes - the renowned acting coach Lee Strasberg said: "You were quite brilliant."

Lee Strasberg, a Polish-American actor, director, and theatre practitioner who was involved in the creation of Actors Studio West in Los Angeles.

Having gained experience and confidence from early film roles and acting classes, Sally was ready to tackle more challenging work. She got the role of 'Sybil' - a woman with multiple personalities - in the acclaimed 1976 television movie of the same name, and went on to make many more excellent films including: 'Norma Rae', 'Absence of Malice', 'Places in the Heart', 'Murphy's Romance', 'Steel Magnolias', 'Mrs. Doubtfire', 'Forrest Gump', 'Lincoln', and many others.

Sally also worked in primetime television, with continuing roles in 'ER' and 'Brothers and Sisters' and guest spots on other programs. Sally even did some stage work, recently appearing in 'The Glass Menagerie' and 'All My Sons.' Very busy gal!

Sally discusses some of her jobs in detail, with stories about auditions, directors, producers, cast, crew, rehearsals, filming, dailies, post-production, and so on. The book is by no means a tell-all, but we do hear about an actor with poor oral hygiene; an actress who made sure her face was always front and center; and some lovely professionals who treated Sally like a daughter during her early years.

Sally found it impossible to sustain a 'forever relationship', and over the years she divorced Steve, had several boyfriends, and married and divorced Alan Greisman - with whom she had a third son named Samuel.

Sally Field and her second husband, Alan Greisman

Through it all Sally continued acting, often relying on Baa to help with the kids. This sometimes resulted in tension between Sally and her mother, since Sally resented Baa's close ties to the boys. (This is rather ironic, since Sally constantly asked her mom for help.)

Perhaps as a result of the sexual abuse and job angst she experienced, Sally was a troubled woman. She admits to having an eating disorder during 'The Flying Nun', and says "I was feeling alone and hiding in a closet of food." The actress didn't purge but says "I might have liked regurgitating the self loathing I shoved into my body." To lose the extra weight, Sally went on starvation diets, got massage therapy, and took amphetamines.

Sally also talks about feeling extreme anger, sometimes escalating to red hot rage, towards Jocko.....and sometimes towards Steve and Baa. She also notes that, while married to Alan Greisman,"I became a stationary lifeless lump who couldn't find comfort." In fact Sally often felt anxious, and sought therapy.

On the upside, Sally "loved every minute" at 'The Actor's Studio', where she did improvisations and intense acting exercises.....and learned about sense memory and emotional memory. Sally especially valued the guidance she received from Lee Strasberg, who "spurred her on."

Interspersed through the narrative are anecdotes about Sally's biological father Richard - who had shared custody when she was a child.....and watched sports when she visited 🏈.

Sally Field's biological father, Richard Field

Sally also talks about her precious sons Peter, Eli, and Sam, whom she loves dearly πŸ’–; her smart, accomplished brother Ricky - who's a physicist πŸ‘; and her capable half-sister Princess O'Mahoney - who's an assistant director and production manager πŸ˜ƒ.

Sally Field and her son Peter

Sally Field and her son Eli

Sally Field and her son Sam

Sally Field and her brother, the physicist Rick Field

Sally Field's half-sister Princess O'Mahoney

Sally finishes the book with a tribute to Baa, whom she "loved dearly and misses every day." πŸ˜₯πŸ’•πŸ’™

Sally Field's mother Baa

This book, which Sally composed without a ghost writer, is raw, honest, and inspirational. Sally's life was a success despite her dysfunctional childhood and other problems, and I admire the actress's tenacity and talent. I do feel the author over-dramatizes some of her 'memories', but this is a minor quibble. I'd recommend the book to all readers who enjoy celebrity memoirs.

Rating: 4 stars