Unsolved!: Tackling the world’s greatest ciphers

In Unsolved! The History and Mystery of the World’s Greatest Ciphers, Craig P Bauer examines a great array of ciphers, taking us from Egyptian sarcophagi to unexplained internet puzzles, via landmark mysteries such as the Zodiac Killer and Somerton Man.

“Ciphers have existed for as long as writing itself. As soon as man began writing, he needed a means to keep his messages secret. Bauer describes examples from Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Viking Scandinavia. There are cases which will be beyond the ability of virtually all readers even to attempt. And there are instances where ciphers turn out not to be ciphers. On Greek vases, for instance, there seemed to be nonsense inscriptions beside legible words. Greek scholars thought that maybe an illiterate artist was writing nonsense or filling in space, yet when an expert in ancient languages was given these transcriptions, he discovered the Greek nonsense was actually a transliteration of local languages such as Scythian, Circassian and Abkhazian…”
 

To read my complete review on Spiked, visit here: https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/10/16/unsolved-tackling-the-worlds-greatest-ciphers/

Josephine Tey: To Love and Be Wise

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[Image: Illustration ©2019 Mark Smith from The Folio Society edition of To Love and Be Wise]

A new hardback edition of Josephine Tey’s 1950 crime classic To Love and Be Wise expands to five the number of her books published by The Folio Society. As in all of the series, the book is illustrated by on the cover, frontispiece and interior by Mark Smith.

The story begins with Inspector Alan Grant encountering Leslie Searle, a handsome American man, at a London party. Searle is in search of Walter Whitmore, a leading radio broadcaster, with whom he had a common friend. Searle turns out to be famed photographer of the California high society. Searle goes to visit Whitmore in his country home in the village of Salcott St Mary, where he will disappear. The recently arrived bohemian residents (including a playwright, bestselling author and ex-ballet dancer) feel at home with the glamorous arrival. While some are enchanted by the house guest, some are disconcerted by his presence. The author brilliantly describes the creeping worm of jealousy that starts to consume Whitmore as his fiancée Liz spends time alone with Searle. He feels slighted, inadequate, completely eclipsed by the brilliant newcomer. He slips into a despondency that fills his every idle thought. Whitmore and Searle decide to collaborate on a travel book and embark on a river journey by canoe – with Whitmore writing the text and Searle photographing the scenery. At that point Searle disappears, an event that implicates a number of people in the village.

The local police suspect death but cannot find a body. Inspector Grant and Detective Williams are sent to investigate Searle’s disappearance during the trip. Does, Whitmore, who the night of Searle’s disappearance had an argument with him before leaving for their campsite alone, have any vital clues or is he concealing something sinister? Can Liz explain some puzzling details? We follow the police as they to untangle the mystery of the man’s disappearance. With Grant’s local friend Marta Hallard, Grant sets out to discover the American’s fate.

The book is a quick read and a satisfying one. Tey’s dry and ironic style is apparent but never obtrusive. Her wit is light rather than cutting: a crowd as “asparagus-packed”; a character delivers a talk entitled “What Earthworms do for England”. The mystery is balanced by realism and one warms to the characters. Her story is laced with psychological subtlety and sensitivity to interpersonal relations. She presents characters evolving and reacting believably. It is easy to see why Tey is still admired by prominent crime writers today.

The book meets The Folio Society’s high production standards with a pictorial buckram cloth cover and a black paper-covered card slipcase. The paper stock is good quality and the illustrations are on different stock, one sided. This book would make an ideal gift for a fan of crime fiction.

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[Image: Illustration ©2019 Mark Smith from The Folio Society edition of To Love and Be Wise]

Mark Smith’s illustrations feature silhouettes and simplified forms interspersed by telling details. Areas of flat colour with speckle, over layering of forms, limited palette range and absence of volumetric modelling all suggest characters and situations without making concessions to verisimilitude. He rightly decides not to make detailed depictions of central characters. The style of Smith’s illustrations is crisp, stylised, often taking a cinematically dramatic viewpoint. They are entirely in keeping with the period and are a perfect match for the tone, imagery and content of Tey’s novel. Let’s hope that there are more Tey books illustrated by Smith on the way. Buyers may well be tempted to expand their purchase to the rest of the set.

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Josephine Tey, Mark Smith (illus.), To Love and Be Wise, The Folio Society, 2019, 248pp, frontispiece + 6 col. illus., cloth hardback in slipcase, £34.95. The Folio Society edition of Josephine Tey’s To Love and Be Wise, illustrated by Mark Smith, is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com

© 2019 Alexander Adams

To view my art and books visit www.alexanderadams.art

The artist who vanished: Bas Jan Ader

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Image: Bas Jan Ader, “I’m too sad to tell you”

“On 9 July 1975, a tiny dark-yellow yacht (less than 13-foot long) was towed from the bay of Chatham harbour, Massachusetts towards open sea. At the tiller of this yacht was a lean Dutchman named Bas Jan Ader whose intention was to sail singlehanded across the Atlantic Ocean in time to attend an exhibition of his art to be held in his native country. He called his venture an artistic act, entitled In Search of the Miraculous. From the stern of the towboat, Ader’s wife photographed the pilot looking impassively forward past the towboat to the watery immenseness ahead. Ader cast off the towline and sailed eastward until he was a speck on the horizon below an overcast sky. He was never seen again.

“The story of Bastiaan Johan Christiaan ‘Bas Jan’ Ader (1942-1975?) seems almost too good to be true. A conceptual artist who erased himself in an act of brilliant nihilism; a heroic individualist who turned his back on the commercialism of an art world within which he was unable to integrate; a troubled man facing personal and professional crises who threw himself into a fatalistic quest, allowing nature to determine his destiny. He seems like the creation of an inventive novelist or an artistic hoax dreamt up in a Hoxton studio, yet his story is true. Two new books examine the artist’s disappearance and artistic legacy….”

Read the full article on Spiked 1 September 2017 online here:

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/the-artist-who-vanished/20277#.Walegj597IU

The Poet who Vanished

 

“Anyone who picked up a new copy of the New Republic from his or her local newsstand on the morning of 18 July 1955 could have opened it to read an article called ‘How to be happy: installment 1053’. What they couldn’t have guessed is that the author would, in all probability, choose to extinguish his life mere hours later. With a flourish sour, sardonic and elegant, the author would disappear. His name was Weldon Kees.

“Kees had the knack of being in the right place at the wrong time. As a writer-artist, Kees had been in all the best cultural hotspots of the period. He was in New York in 1943-48 during the early Abstract Expressionist boom, but left before the market took off. He had also been in artists’ haven Provincetown, but had sold relatively little work. In 1950, he arrived in San Francisco. Somehow he had managed to be in these places and failed to make critical breakthroughs. He (and his wife Ann) had quit places without getting the most out of them. He seemed to have turned missing opportunities into his greatest art form.

“Admired for his talents as a poet, storywriter, critic, musician, composer, painter, film-maker and photographer, Kees never broke through in any one field despite his talent…”

Read the full review online at Spiked, 26 May 2017, here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/weldon-kees-the-poet-who-vanished/19874#.WShlYGkrLIU

The Madness of Vincent Van Gogh

“Until now, the way of testing whether or not someone had good biographical knowledge of Vincent Van Gogh was to ask them about the famous ear-cutting incident. The answer ‘he cut off his ear’ informed you the speaker had only a hazy comprehension, whereas the knowledgeable person replied ‘in actuality, Van Gogh cut off only part of his ear’. Now new information suggests that Van Gogh did indeed cut off his whole left ear. On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness, a new exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (closes 25 September), accompanied by an excellent catalogue, attempts to get as close as possible to the truth about Van Gogh’s physical and mental illnesses.

“The confusion about the ear incident sprang up during Van Gogh’s lifetime. On the 23 December 1888, Van Gogh was living with Paul Gauguin at the Yellow House in Arles. Gauguin announced his intention to leave Arles after persistent rows with Van Gogh. Deeply anxious and depressed, Van Gogh slashed his ear with a razor. He presented the ear wrapped in newspaper to a prostitute at a local brothel. The next day police discovered Van Gogh unconscious in his house surrounded by blood…”

Read the full review at Spiked, 26 August 2016 online here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/the-madness-of-vincent-van-gogh/18680#.V8WS0PldU5k

 

 

Dyatlov Pass Mystery: Solved?

“It starts out like a horror movie. Deep in the mid-winter of 1958/59, a low-ranking army officer in a remote region of the USSR receives a phone call informing him that a group of hikers has failed to return from an expedition. He is asked to lead a search. His team arrives by helicopter on the exposed slopes of Otorten Mountain (Dead Mountain) and eventually discover a tent partially covered in snow. It is empty. Apart from a rip in the side of the tent, nothing looks disturbed or unusual. Most of the group’s clothing and all of its outdoor gear is there. In that barren environment, with the nearest dwelling miles away, what reason could the hikers have had to leave the protection and warmth of their shelter? The searchers discern tracks of nine people going away from the tent and none returning. They follow the tracks and soon find the first bodies.

“The missing group of hikers were university students from Sverdlovsk, central Russia. Hiking and skiing was a popular recreation in mid-century USSR, enjoyed by members of all professions and both sexes on an equal basis. In January 1959, a team of seven men and two women, all aged between 20 and 24, set out on an ambitious trek in the sparsely populated Ural Mountains. They were led by an experienced hiker and skier, Igor Dyatlov. All had experience of climbing, hiking and snow travel. The team members knew each other well and had previously undertaken expeditions together. They were well equipped and planned their route in advance.

“When they arrived in the region, they met an older hiker who asked to tag along. He was an army veteran who had planned to ski in the area and had found he could not coordinate with his own group. The students agreed to let him join them. Just before the final leg of the expedition, Yuri Yudin had to withdraw due to a painful attack of rheumatism. He decided to return and said goodbye to his nine companions. Yudin was the only member of the party to survive…”

Read the full review on SPIKED, 10 April 2015 here: http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/dyatlov-pass-a-chilling-mystery-solved/16853#.Vd-RlPldU5k