John Buxton Hilton and the Mosley Mysteries

One of the delights of buying all my books from second-hand bookstores is that occasionally I come across a forgotten author who writes like a dream. One such man is John Buxton Hilton (1921-1986), a native of Buxton, Derbyshire. He was a prolific writer of detective stories, creating no less than three major characters, each with their own series of novels.

The books about Superintendent Simon Kenworthy, a contemporary Scotland Yard detective, were published from 1968-1987; Inspector Thomas Brunt, a Victorian detective based in Derbyshire, from 1976-1987;
and Detective Inspector Mosley, also Derbyshire based, from 1983-1988.

It was the Mosley books, under the pseudonym John Greenwood, that drew my attention. I found four of the series, over a period of several months, in the 50c rack outside Twice Sold Tales in Seattle. This is my local bookstore, now sadly going out of business in the Queen Anne neighborhood, but still holding its own on Capitol Hill. At this point I was going through a phase of buying detective stories and not reading them.

Murder, Mr. Mosley was the first one I read. I was immediately taken by the character of Mr. Mosley, a wily old cove who knows the 500 odd (very odd, some of them) inhabitants of his patch of the Peak District like the back of his hand. Mosley is not above a bit of discreet breaking and entering to gather evidence he might not come across in the normal course of events; he is not above overlooking minor infractions of the law when that gives him leverage to ferret out details of a greater crime; and he is not above, indeed he takes some pride in, pulling the wool over the Assistant Chief Constable’s eyes when possession of the mere facts would only confuse him and hinder the apprehension of a villain. In other words, a copper’s copper.

The rest is history. I devoured Murder, Mr. Mosley, and then Mosley by Moonlight for a second helping. Missing Mr. Mosley is next up, and after that I have to locate the other two books in the series so I can read the remaining three in sequence. They are, unfortunately, out of print but I think fairly common. Abebooks has some booksellers offering them at only a dollar.

All of which brings me to John Buxton Hilton, the man himself. He grew up in Buxton, won a scholarship to Cambridge where he got a degree in Modern and Medieval Languages, and served as an Intelligence Officer during World War II. One his duties was to interrogate captured Nazi personnel from the concentration camps. As a result of his wartime experiences he began to write poetry, and some of his work is included in Poems of the Second World War, edited by Victor Selwyn and published by Everyman. Don’t know the date. I’m trying to track this book down.

After the war he became a teacher, ending up as the Headmaster of Chorley Grammar School, where he set up the first language lab in a British school. Later he became a Schools Inspector, and retired in 1970, although he also lectured for the new Open University. An extraordinary man and apparently a charismatic teacher.

At this point his second career began. Hilton had been writing fiction and nonfiction since 1952. Retirement gave him the chance to concentrate on the detective stories, which brought him critical acclaim in the 70s and 80s. He died, too young, of a heart attack in 1986.

From 1985 to 1989, I lived in Keswick in the Lake District. Mosley’s locale, though further east, is sufficiently close in spirit and landscape to make me feel homesick for that slower paced but slyly astute quality of rural life which Hilton brings out in these novels.

I am indebted to the Bygone Derbyshire website for the biographical information. The article, by Vivienne Smith, goes into much more detail. And here is a very skimpy Wikipedia entry on John Buxton Hilton. Not even a photograph on the web.

Alice in Burtonland

Woohoo! That twisted genius, Tim Burton, is taking a stab at Alice in Wonderland.

Burton, along with his usual accomplices, Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp, moves the story ahead 10 years to when the 17 year old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is about to be proposed to at a garden party. The stories of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass are merged as Alice looks back at them.

In addition to Bonham-Carter and Depp, there’s a wish list of actors playing the other creatures, with some inspired casting. I particularly like Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar. Nobody can sneer like Alan Rickman. It’s as if he has a patent on the expression.

Here’s a partial cast list to whet your appetites:

Cheshire Cat – Stephen Fry
Jabberwocky – Christopher Lee
Caterpillar – Alan Rickman
Tweedledum & Tweedledee – Matt Lucas
Alice – Mia Wasikowska
White Queen – Anne Hathaway
Red Queen – Helena Bonham-Carter
Mad Hatter – Johnny Depp

I’ve been waiting for someone like Tim Burton to shake up Alice in Wonderland for a long time. Most productions are too genteel or whimsical. They ignore basic human pathology.

Here’s a picture gallery and a splendid Alice website

The film comes out next March. I’m drooling already.

Savage Miscavige?

The Guardian reveals that David Miscavige, leader of the Church of Scientology has been accused by defectors of “constantly denigrating and beating on people.” Mike Rinder, Marty Rathburn, Tom De Vocht, and Amy Scobee, members of the Church’s management team, are the highest ranking members of the organization to go public with their allegations.

Rinder, in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times said, “It was random and whimsical. It could be the look on your face. Or not answering a question quickly. But it always was a punishment.”

While I applaud these people for refusing any longer to be punching bags, the story begs a few questions. For one thing, Rinder, Rathburn, and De Vocht, also admit to having physically abused other staff members, although some used the classic ‘I was only following orders’ defense.

It’s hard to see them as victims. And easy to understand why they collaborated with Miscavige while they were in positions of authority. I’m reminded of the real life Claus von Stauffenberg, who waited until Germany was losing the war before he decided that Hitler was a bad person. Unlike the heroic Tom Cruise version. ‘Twas ever thus. Hollywood is to history what pop tarts are to nutrition.

Scientology is clearly a cult, and the evidence is there in the climate of emotional and physical abuse revealed in the St. Petersburg Times article.

These Wikipedia articles, one on Scientology, and one on Operation Clambake, give the background on Scientology and the threat it poses to internet freedom. Operation Clambake is the leading anti-Scientology website on the internet.

And if you were ever tempted to spend hundreds of thousands of units of your local currency on finding out the Inner Mysteries of Scientology – well, it’s your lucky day. This leaflet explains everything, for free.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that the Church of Scientology regards these defectors as being “ethically suspect.” Well they would, wouldn’t they?

Smoke and Mirrors

In the UK, an inquiry is to be held into the Iraq War. A transparent, public examination of the reasons for the rush to war in 2003? No chance!

I’m not sure how much of this will find its way into American newspapers, beyond the bare bones of a closed inquiry, but the Guardian reports that Tony Blair, Gordon Brown’s predecessor as PM, persuaded Brown to opt for a closed inquiry. This despite intense parliamentary pressure for it to be made public. Apparently Blair is afraid of a show trial.

Now it’s a common government mantra, in connection with the massive increase in public surveillance and the push for national ID cards, that you have nothing to fear if you’ve done nothing wrong. So it would seem that Blair, in order to clear his name of the accusation of lying to parliament and public, would welcome an open inquiry.

Perhaps he knows something we don’t.

Could it possibly be something like this? The Guardian reports the existence of a memo in which Bush talked of a US plan to provoke war should a second UN resolution fail. According to the memo, Blair told Bush he was “solidly with the president”. This was two months before the illegal invasion.

The good news is that there is now so much outrage at this blatant piece of political chicanery that Brown may be forced to open up sections of the inquiry to the public. Either way, it is likely to be extremely embarrassing for Bush and Blair.

And while I wish Batman and Robin far more than political embarrassment, it looks like that will be the extent of justice.

Head in the Clouds

Gavin Pretor-Pinney of the wonderfully named Cloud Appreciation Society has discovered what he thinks is a new cloud to join the familiar cumulus, stratus, cirrus, and nimbus family.

Asperatus, from the Latin “roughened up” may be the first new cloud classification since 1951. Here’s a picture gallery showing asperatus at work and play.

I really like this cloud, though I don’t recall ever seeing one. And it’s not as if I don’t spend a lot of time with my head in the clouds. The Cloud Appreciation Society website offers everything from a Manifesto, through a splendid photo gallery, to members’ art and poetry.

I plan to join. Sounds like they’re right up my street.