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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Department of Book Reports: Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer

Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace ($15.00, Picador) We know from page 1 that Charles Jessold returned home to find his wife and a married man in a compromising situation, poisoned them with arsenic and then shot himself on the night of June 23, 1923. Our narrator, gentleman music critic, Lelsie Shepherd tells and re-tells the stories of their early meeting and the years after as he encourages and guides the musical prodigy to compose the greatest English opera, ever. Shepherd is as unreliable as the best of narrators, and reveals more with each telling. Their first weekends in the countryside gathering traditional folk music which was to be the soul of this opera lead to evenings in pubs debating the finer points of music. Shepherd sees the new-fangled atonality as the greatest threat to English music and hates the Germans for their apparent dominance of the opera world. Jessold travels to Germany to study at Bayreuth and is taken up as WWI begins and spends 4 years in an internment camp. He returns to London an alcoholic, and becomes more erratic at his performances. Finally, the opera Little Musgrave is to be staged, but news of the murders come the night before the premiere. It is left to Shepherd to give police statements and hold forth the reputation of his friend against the tabloids and the scurrilous true crime biography a rival has written.

Since I had to correct a typo (thanks, jcricket!) I'll drop in this video I just found.

Stace captures the fine dialog and dry wit of the writing in that time period and gives a musical history lesson along the way. The acknowledgements at the end give you more title selections and sources to pursue. Wesley Stace is a perfect person to write this book as he is also the folksinger John Wesley Harding. I heard about this book a couple weeks ago on our local NPR show Weekday: Music and Murder Most Foul. when Stace/Harding stopped by to discuss the novel and his music.

Stace's books are available at our online store, or in historic downtown Hoquiam.
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  1. My dearest Seattle Tammy:

    It is, truly, strange how things happen in this life. I was JUST finishing up MY opera when I happened upon your fine review.

    My opera, "Spring in the Sierras" is to be a companion piece for my soon to be released (entirely revamped, re-illustrated, re-financed and spellchecked) waty tomb, "Al Fresco Dining With The Donners--The Third White Meat". A sample of the fine dialogue, written my Mr. David Manatee is somewhat reminiscent of dialogue found in that largely unnoticed piece of dreck written by that hack, David Mamet. Here's an exerpt:


    "Bullshit. John. Bullshit. January, June
    1847. It's me. It isn't fucking Moss.
    Due respect, he's an order taker, John. He
    talks, he talks a good game, look at the
    cutting board, and it's me, John, it's me..."

    I can't give away too much more without no spoilage alert. Let's just say it's forceful, ripped from the chest cavity sortastuff, prose.

    The music was written and will be performed by the fine young cannibals and, "no." not that english pop band but REAL fine young cannibals from Papoose, New Guiness.

    I'm still working on some of the recipes and I just want to s--, whoops, gotta run, somebody's burning!!

    * In Mr. Mammary's libretto the name is changed to Logan, it sounds less, y'know, ethnojewish.

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We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.