As John Mulaney said, “it was really easy to get away with murder before they knew about DNA”, and he was right. It was also ridiculously easy to commit insurance fraud. So easy that reading about it feels like watching a silly money scheme in a soap opera. Young, handsome and naive, I introduce Cecil Hambrough. A young man who died under mysterious circumstances while on a hunting trip in 1893 in what would become known as the Ardlamont Mystery.
On the afternoon of the fateful day in 1893, Cecil was in the woods with a man named Alfred Monson and a man of greater mystery going by the alias Edward Scott. Real name Edward Sweeney. Sometime during the afternoon of their trip, Cecil was shot dead and left in the woods. Monson and Scott/Sweeny returned to Ardlamont House, an estate they were renting for the season, and announced that Cecil had been shot. A terrible accident they claimed the boy caused himself when he tripped and fell. They said this only after the butler questioned them while they were having tea in the dining room. As if that didn’t look suspicious enough.
What followed was a shocking criminal investigation that went way beyond the average dog and pony show. Keep in mind that during this time, all the way over in the states, H.H. Holmes was also running amuck, displaying the disquieting influence of the criminal mind. But The Ardlamont Mystery isn’t just about Monson and Hambrough. Showing that there’s more to history than simply an event locked into the past, author Dan Smith explains the very unique connection the crime has with modern-day and the one and only Sherlock Holmes.
The Ardlamont Mystery
Just to clarify, neither Monson nor his crime influenced Sherlock Holmes or any of his cases directly. The first Sherlock story, A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887 and the Hambrough murder occurred in 1893, but the two share a unique connection that we’ll get to later.
The Ardlamont Mystery by Dan Smith is a very technical book that’s a mix of true crime, historical study, and trivia. Much of the book revolves around Dr. Joesph Bell and Dr. Henry Littlejohn, two of the frontiers of modern criminal investigation and forensic study. They were two very incredible men that helped jump-start the Golden Age of forensic sleuthing; “the sort of men upon whom empires are built.”
Even though this book is about a murder, it doesn’t spend as much time on the actual murder as it does on what comes after. The Ardlamont Mystery is about Monson’s defense against what seemed like an obvious conviction. After the murder, or accident, came the trial which involved Bell and Littlejohn, and Monson looked about as guilty as O.J. Simpson. We all know how that trial ended though and this one isn’t much different. Most of what Monson’s defense team came up with wouldn’t hold up by today’s standards but it was perfectly acceptable for the jury of then. With little to no hard evidence, everything presented at the trial was pure speculation and circumstantial evidence with the Defense doing nothing but spreading doubts about the Prosecution.
In the end, it all came down to where they found Cecil’s body. I’m not going to recap every little piece presented at the trial. Just trust me when I say that Monson was guilty. Unfortunately, it was a very much a “he said he said” situation and no one could figure out where Cecil landed when he died. The entire case against Monson fell on the assumption that Cecil died where he was found while the defense based their argument on the claim that he fell in a ditch and was carried out to where he was found.
The jury couldn’t figure out what was going on and was apparently swayed by the charm emitting from Monson. They decided he was “not proven” on the charges of murder. Monson ended up going to prison several years later for insurance fraud. By the way, the murder of Cecil was likely driven by Monson’s need for easy money. He had a $20,000 policy on Cecil’s life that he lied about and later tried to cash in.
Prejudice and gossip
Two additional interesting topics presented by Smith in The Ardlamont Mystery both involved public perception. During this time, information on criminal behavior was limited and people were as they always are, frightened of what they can’t identify with. The acceptable perception of criminals was that they were hideous with deformities, had usually large noses or ears, and lived in poverty. Monson, being a white man from a well-known family, was simply not acceptable as a criminal.
This, however, just fueled the public’s natural obsession with the macabre. Tabloids have not changed at all by the way. Monson gave his own, and fictional, version of events in The Ardlamont Mystery Solved when he thought he could make a quick buck off public interest. It’s currently out of print but if you can find a copy I’m sure it’ll be a hilarious read. From what critics of the time said, it’s just Monson lying about how nice of a guy he is.
The Sherlock Connection
The connection with the great Sherlock Holmes takes place in the form of the two men who testified at Monson’s trial. Dr. Bell and Dr. Littlejohn, the forensic sleuthing frontiers. The author of the Sherlock Holmes adventures, Arthur Conan Doyle met Bell in 1877 and served as his clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Bell was his mentor, teacher, and friend and was famous among students for his incredible powers of deduction. He could look at a patient and diagnosis them based on their appearance and demeanor. Bell was involved in several police investigations, usually working alongside Henry Littlejohn, who was also brought into the mix when Doyle created Holmes.
It was their presence, particularly Bell’s, that made people so interested in the trial’s outcome. When they became part of the investigation, people became very interested in their statements, wondering what the real Sherlock Holmes would say.
I’m giving The Ardlamont Mystery two separate ratings because even though it details a criminal event, it’s not really a true crime novel but actually an account of how real-life influenced fictional life.
As a true crime book: (3 / 5)
As a nonfiction book (4.5 / 5)
Blood Meridian, a Book Review
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy.
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy. This review discusses the digital copy of the First Vintage International Edition.
The kid wanders the West as a survivor and thug. After getting caught up with the ominous Judge Holden, his life remains forever entwined with the cruel force of the man. The kid becomes a soldier, a scalper, and an outlaw but always finds Judge Holden somewhere in the distance. Civilization approaches the untamable West, which forces the kid adapt or die. But it is Judge Holden who remains: an unchanging force of cruelty.
What I Liked
Cormac McCarthy remains one of the most brutal authors, both in narrative and writing. You will feel the danger of the West, its inhuman cruelty, and fear for the kid. Many often call Blood Meridian McCathy’s magnum opus. As a result, if this brutal novel satisfies your readerly tastes, you’ll have his entire collection to sample.
Judge Holden remains a true force of evil and cruelty masked in human form. McCarthy likes to represent forces of nature through his antagonists. Judge Holden doesn’t always directly antagonize, but his role becomes increasingly clear as the novel continues.
Few authors convey cruelty like Cormac McCarthy, who structures his writing so that sentences bleed into each other in frantic syntax. I mean this somewhat literally as he removes quotation marks in dialogue or creates blunt sentences to reflect the mood he wants to display.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Era-appropriate (using “appropriate” loosely here) racism encompasses this novel in a rather uncomfortable and upsetting way. We are dealing with the West, where scalping earned payment and slavery was a debatable issue. McCarthy doesn’t shy away from this reality. It also should be noted that some characters thrive in such industries. This reality certainly doesn’t make the reading any less harsh.
There is graphic violence and cruelty in every chapter, altogether influencing nearly every page. It will be a hard read for those sensitive to any kind of abuse, because all kinds appear in this novel. Few horrors depict the cruelty of man like a Cormac McCarthy novel, and Blood Meridian is no exception. In fact, it might be the leading example.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
McCarthy provides brutal and challenging prose. Blood Meridian is more accessible than many of his other novels; regardless, it still provides a difficult reading experience for those unaccustomed to his style. After the first two chapters, you’ll grow accustomed to the style, or it might be a skip. I say the first two as Chapter 1 runs through the boy’s life to the point of his adventure, which might be its own sore spot for some readers.
Don’t expect realism in the novel. As mentioned, McCarthy favors villains that represent a force of nature. This stylistic choice often makes his characters, largely the antagonists, superhuman forces.
Following down this criticism, or consideration, also extends to realism holistically. McCarthy brings life to his interpretation of the West, the States, and Mexico. Don’t expect accurate descriptions of locations or historical events. I didn’t note many historical inaccuracies, however I’m also not versed in that era.
Blood Meridian deconstructs the pop-culture West, lingering on the horrors of the era and the indifference of the West. Expect the psychological nature of man to be the center of its haunting.
Cormac McCarthy earns his reputation as one of the great living American authors, and Blood Meridian remains one of his most haunting novels to date. Few authors dare to display the cruelty of man, producing emotional truth and horrid images that can twist a reader’s stomach. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian dares all that and more.
(4 / 5)
A Pilgrimage of Swords, a Book Review
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan.
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan. The book is technically a novella, running slightly short of a novel-length, but reads like a collection of short stories. This review will cover Subterranean Press’ digital copy of the novella.
Desperate to change his fate, Pilgrim forfeits his name on his quest to meet a mad god. He and his fellow pilgrims travel a dangerous road filled with abominations and horrors in the desperate hope that they might have one prayer answered. With a twisted sentient sword, he fights his darkness and the God’s abominations in the hopes of something better.
What I Liked
As mentioned, this novella reads like a collection of short stories. Each story tackles a specific challenge and region. The strategy works well in building the torment of the journey and keeping the reader consistently engaged.
A voice plagues Pilgrim, constantly antagonizing him at every step of their journey. The style in which this “voice” delivers their intrusive thoughts, while not inherently unique, remains an enjoyable and satisfying read. The voice itself becomes a favored character of mine. Pilgrim and “voice” share a dynamic of brooding hero and antagonizer. Again, not unique, but done with great effect.
Despite the tight word count, several twists effectively engage the reader, helping to add to the world that we only get a glimpse of.
While the supporting cast doesn’t have as much time dedicated to them, they collectively add to the experience with unique perspectives and dynamics.
In terms of horror, the final chapter provides the most stunning examples. This review is spoiler-free, but the build-up certainly exceeds expectations for the first read.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
A Pilgrimage of Swords resides on the lighter side of grimdark high fantasy, but it remains grimdark. The world of A Pilgrimage of Swords is uncaring and cruel, producing characters that reflect that, functioning as opportunists.
Animals do die, and children are equally prone to potential death. Again, not entirely out of character for the setting, but it should be mentioned for readerly consideration.
As the description might indicate, torment and suffering are recurring motifs in the story. While the tortures certainly are sadistic, readers get the aftermath. The novel doesn’t linger in its sadism.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
As A Pilgrimage of Swords is a high fantasy novel with light grimdark elements, the horror reflects that concept. There are tense moments, and characters are prone to danger, but genuine horror remains lacking. The novel doesn’t claim itself as such, but our audience should consider this. However, walking gods of madness twisting their environment to reflect their psyche shouldn’t be ridden off too quickly.
While I mostly enjoy the brevity of the story and how the chapters read like short stories, it limits the time we have to invest in the characters and setting. This novel is the first of a continuing series, so this criticism doesn’t inherently apply to the other novels. This first introduction remains easy to recommend for those looking for a quick read, not a long investment.
Many plot beats are predictable and can somewhat underwhelm a reader when the obvious thing happens. I will admit that this isn’t too often a hindrance but compromises to accommodate the tighter word count. Luckily, there are plot twists to minimize this underwhelming predictability, but the chapters could still utilize an extended word count.
The name doesn’t exactly fit this first entry of the series. It might be a perfect name for the series, but this novel’s pilgrimage has little to do with swords.
A Pilgrimage of Swords has a few haunting moments but is an otherwise enjoyable and quick read. If a grimdark set in a high fantasy where cruel gods walk the earth sounds like an interest of yours, this will certainly satisfy that itch. While it remains a little too brief, this is by design and part of a larger narrative.
(4 / 5)
Horror in graphic novels
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 5
Well, you won’t get rid of me that easily… Ha ha, I lied about coming to the end and the afterlife in the Creepy Comics Collages segment, it was just an opportunity for rebirth. Besides, it’s World Collage Day! So having come into another comic book to rework, here we go again…
Creepy Comics Story 9: The Voice (of God or Reason or perhaps an homage to my ex)
“Come to me my children, the voice of God awaits!… Don’t let them escape!” Please beam me up out of this weird comic collage alternate reality. “God I am your hand! Lift me… to your place. I commend my spirit!” I want to go back to dreaming about starfish.
The computer programmer behind the scenes turns to face us and smiles. “Guardians! This is a place of God!… Come to the true voice of God!” “I am everything.” “Come to the voice!” And the horrific AI generated creatures abide by his every coded word.
Just like last night in the — signs posted for Nightmare, No Exit. The deer spirit faun screams in surprise, “Eeek!” “No! I defy you!” She returns to the form of a little girl with arms outspread to the open sky. “Y’know, a day like today makes all the stuff that happened last night seem just like a bad dream!” The dream seems so real…
Somewhere in the city, the computer programmer sits up at night in pensive monologue, “You try to make a difference… But it doesn’t really matter.”
Creepy Comics Story 10: The City (Metropolis becomes self-aware)
This segment is brought to you by Dead Artists and Talking Dinosaurs. No really, wait for it…
Woooooo Uhhhh Wooooooo Uhhhh… Wump! Uff! Wump! Uff! “She belongs to The City!” The Glenn Fry 1985 hit single looms ominously overhead as Metropolis becomes self-aware. “The City… will live!… The City… will breathe!” The City gasps for air, “Got to… breathe!… Got to… Breathe!“
Her breath is the wind… Her eyes are windows. Her heart pumps fluid through buried plumbing… “I’m The City!” Her mind is The City!
And we have a celebrity appearance by Rich Koz “Son of Svengoolie” WFLD 1973: “I take a nap for 10,000 years and look what happens… some-body builds a city!” Kerwyn chimes in, “Geez! Somebody’s been busy!” And we cut out to a scene of Svengoolie standing alongside his coffin.
Well, that’s all folks. Or is it? For now, any way… until I get more comic books… Duh duh DUHHHH…
If you want to see more art, check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.