More writing, free: Quantum Whatever

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 8, 2013

For those who have enjoyed Brilliant Deduction, this blog, or for anyone else who may be reading this for some other reason, I would like to offer up a previous literary effort: Quantum Whatever. This is a ‘zine I produced in 2011, in partnership with a gifted writer and remarkably talented photographer I knew in college, collecting artwork, prose and poetry. Copies are free for the asking. Leave a comment, e-mail me; call, send a postcard, even.

I should note that in issue #32 of the Xerography Debt meta-zine, D. Blake Werts wrote that Quantum Whatever “is something to behold. I cannot recommend this any more than I am. With the price set at FREE, you absolutely have no reason to skip this one.” (And no, neither I nor my co-creator knows the reviewer.)

For those interested, a bit more information about this project may be found at my other blog, e.g. here and here. But the best way to learn more is just asking for a copy.

Paper! Ink! Staples!!

Copies are available. I’ll update this post if/when I ever run out!

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Lees and “The Bell Tower”

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 5, 2013

A few months ago, while reading a work of fiction based on the Whitechapel murders, I discovered another book about the same crimes advertised in the back. (There was even a clip-out coupon; how quaint this seems, now.) Despite my skepticism about any claims of solving a century-old crime, and even moreso about claims to have pulled a clean solution from the bottomless mire of Ripperology, I was intrigued by The Bell Tower: The case of Jack the Ripper finally solved… in San Francisco.

I presumed that in some way it connected Jack the Ripper to the Emmanuel Baptist Church murders, of which I had read in researching the career of Isaiah Lees; as this was one of a few strange, coincidental associations between Lees and the Ripper crimes that I had encountered, I made a note to get hold of the book at some point.

I’ve done so, and finished the 525-page account by Robert Graysmith of his theory that the executed Theodore Durrant was innocent of the murders in the church, which were actually the work of church pastor Jack Gibson (and a buddy), who was also behind the infamous Whitechapel murders in London, which form a kind of cross if you choose enough of them and assume one or two additional points.

Let me just say that I’m unconvinced. Beyond that, and noting that the author of another recent book-length re-examination of the Baptist church murders found Durrant’s identification as the murderer entirely satisfactory, I don’t really want to get into debating either those events or the identity of Jack the Ripper. I’ll leave that game to far more dedicated players than I.

I do, however, want to note my bafflement at Mr. Graysmith’s apparent loathing for Isaiah Lees.

Read more…

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Island mentality at ITV

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 2, 2013

I was all set to watch The Murder in Angle Lane, finally, last night. I registered at, confirmed my registration, and everything seemed ready to go. I went off to make dinner musing rapturously on this wonderful networked age with its seamless availability of so much great content, etc., etc…

Then I sat down to hit “play” and ran smack into the old-fashioned world of barriers and petty fiefdoms.

Having gone through registration, and confirmation, I was only then at the point of playing a video prompted for a “postcode,” i.e. a British postcode. And even this was disingenuous because what their system really demands is not a British address but a British IP address. They don’t seem to provide any kind of notice in their promotional material that their service is geographically firewalled, they don’t point this out when one tries to sign up for it, either, but if one digs around in the FAQ eventually one may find a very quiet advisory that “We do not hold international rights to all of our programming, so video content is supplied only to users with IP addresses in the UK.”

I can’t exactly blame ITV for the underlying reality, here; the persistence of this obsolete concept of slicing up content distribution into geographic partitions, even when content is being distributed on a global network, is much larger than ITV. (See the scam known as Region Coding, e.g.) Still, one would think that they could at least communicate their service’s resultant unavailability to approximately ninety-nine percent of the online population a little bit more efficiently…

One is reminded of the oft-recited (if perhaps apocryphal) British newspaper headline: “Fog in Channel, Continent Isolated.”

Meanwhile, short of going to Britain to watch the movie there, I’m not sure what my next step is; officially, the only alternative is presumably “wait until someone gets around to authorizing your backwater outpost to see this content.” I’ve taken a quick look online and there are, naturally, means of subverting this attempted subversion of the inherent nature of the internet, through technical and presumably illegal jiggery-pokery of some sort… Not sure I feel like bothering right now, really.

As they say on ESPN, “Come on, man.”

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Great photos of great detectives, no. 5

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 1, 2013

Allan Pinkerton, and Abraham Lincoln. How much more do you even need to say?

Allan Pinkerton, Abraham Lincoln and John McClernand

Photo by Alexander Gardner; Smithsonian Collection

…I suppose an alternate caption might have Lincoln saying something like “guys, really, the whole ‘posing with one hand jammed into your coat’ thing was never that cool to begin with; it’s 1862 now, neither of you is Napoleon, and you just look silly…”

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State of the project 5/29/13

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 29, 2013

Let’s see, it has been a little more than six months since I launched this blog, a little less since I launched the book it promotes (depending on what action one arbitrarily identifies as the book’s “launch”).

Since then, I have published more than 80 blog posts; spoken at one author event; basked in the glow of a modest but uniformly positive series of reviews; received a variety of interesting communication from readers and other interested parties; handed out a large number of free bookmarks; and recently received my first formal royalty check from…

I think that about covers it. I can add that my book is genuinely “out there” and being read; I am absolutely not above checking the new book area at Lakewood’s public library every time I drop by, and as of my last visit both of the main branch’s copies were checked out. Meanwhile, searching the web today led to the discovery that the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System not only has added my book to its collection, but that all four of its copies are out right now. This kind of thing is fun because I didn’t even know where Prince George’s County is. (Apparently Maryland; perhaps the good offices of one of the state’s own accomplished authors at work here…?)

I imagine that this project will have something of an ongoing life for many years… which will be very nice of course given that it will likely be that long before it earns enough to cover my expenses… still, some kind of “mission accomplished” moment does seem to approach. I’ve made my pitch for reviews, and met with gratifying success, but I think at this point I’ve gotten most of those I’m going to get. I will continue some active effort to post new content here until my Author Alley appearance five weeks from now; after that this blog will probably switch over to low-power broadcasting.

After that, I may do some further evaluation of this whole strange affair, though at the moment I feel like it’s turned out a “realistic success.” No TV deal, no Times bestseller list, no windfall income… not even a break-even income as of this writing… but, within the world where all of these things were always long shots and the argument for this project therefore of necessity rested on other, more modest satisfactions… one may admit to feeling a little pleased.

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American Scottish patriots from England

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 25, 2013

In an earlier post, I demonstrated what Brilliant Deduction describes as the Pinkerton family’s “stern economy with given names.” Among the branch of the family of import for detective history, at any rate, male children seem to receive one or another of just three first names, over and over: Allan, William or Robert.

In pondering on this practice, it readily occurred to me that two of those three names may have been treasured, in part, for their prominence in Scottish history. William and Robert have been among the country’s most revered names for quite a long while (even before Mel Gibson got involved). By the 19th century, the names’ place in their own family tradition may have meant more to the Pinkertons, but there is at least an obvious possible explanation for why they might have latched onto those names in the first place.

For Allan, though, I’ve really been at a loss. I thought there might be some other famous Scot behind that name, as well, but having looked into it I’ve not found much. Wikipedia offers up a poet named Allan Ramsay, but it seems a bit of a stretch. I could be wrong but I’ve got to guess he had little influence on the name’s significance in the Pinkerton family.

The web site of a James Allan (somehow lingering at Geocities, perhaps still online only because someone at Yahoo missed it when shutting things down?) lists a few other “famous Allans” of Scotland, but none of them seem much more convincing than Ramsay. His note about the history of the name itself suggests, like other sources, that it was probably a Breton name that crossed The Channel along with William the Conqueror’s invasion of England.

What’s more, the little I can find about the origins of “Pinkerton” describes it as an English name, also. Like so much that is “English,” it probably came from continental Europe as part of some migration/invasion, as well; I’m not sure what to make of the first half but the “-ton” suffix is presumably of Germanic origin.

So, that’s the Pinkertons: a patriotic Scottish family with English names of French and German etymology, who in very American fashion decided to leave most of that baggage behind and “make a name for themselves” in the New World, attaching an entirely new significance to that name in the process.

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Ignatius Pollaky, a Sherlock Holmes in 1874?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 20, 2013

Ignatius Pollaky is without question the most mysterious of great detectives. In researching Brilliant Deduction, I pieced together enough to get a sense of the man and his career, but much remains and probably will remain unknown. I don’t know what day he was born, and the only image of the man is a caricature from Figaro’s London Sketch Book of Celebrities; it looks as though it may have been drawn from a portrait, but who can say.

There’s something else possibly even more mysterious about that particular drawing, however. Care to guess?

Pollaky, professional snoop

Image from The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum Collection.

Read more…

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Brilliant Deduction beer tour, part 2

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 17, 2013

The conclusion to my suggested beer pairings for the chapters of Brilliant Deduction. As in part one, there aren’t any firm rules operating; I’m just going with what seems like a fitting option. I am trying to stick with bottled beers, though, so that possibility at least exists that one person could acquire all of the main suggestions without having to personally visit breweries from California to central Europe. (Of course, if you have the means and inclination, more power to you.) Even this is probably a tall order, though, so I also include at least one alternative selection for each chapter. Now, onward.

Disclaimer: the author does not condone underage or unsafe drinking, please do not attempt this or any “beer tour” in part or in whole or even visit the following links unless you have obtained the age necessary for responsible judgments about alcohol as defined by your local laws and statutes; please enjoy alcoholic beverages and alcohol-related writing only in moderation.

Isaiah lees

Part two kicks off with another easy choice: Anchor Steam beer. Anchor Brewing alleges that its roots can be traced as far back as Lees’s own arrival in San Francisco with the 1849 Gold Rush; that’s probably more wishful thinking than history, but this is otherwise a perfect pairing. Though born in England and raised in the northeastern US, Lees became a thorough San Franciscan over the course of 50+ years in the city. Meanwhile, the Anchor name nods to Lees’s various maritime adventures; steam beer, in addition to being a historic local style, is a fitting acknowledgement of Lees’s origins as a steam-age mechanic.

A decent alternative is almost more difficult, here, given that Anchor Steam is both a perfect choice and relatively widely available. Brew Free! Or Die IPA, from 21st Amendment, might not be bad. Like Lees, the IPA style is English in origin. The cartoon of a pugnacious Abe Lincoln, meanwhile, is not inappropriate for a detective whose career included both the Civil War years and multiple episodes of two-fisted action, as well.

Read more…

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Ellis Parker: the lost Dolan brother?

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 15, 2013

This is almost certainly coincidence. But it’s something of an amusing coincidence, I think. I recently purchased several back issues of the late Will Eisner’s classic comic strip, The Spirit (it was adapted into a ridiculous-looking action movie a few years ago). I’ve been acquainted with The Spirit for a number of years, but as I read through these latest acquisitions, I was struck by the odd resemblance of Police Commissioner Dolan to someone else I’ve gotten to know through extensive reading…

Photos of Ellis Parker and drawings of Commissioner Dolan

Dolan’s the one in the bottom row (Parker photos courtesy William Fullerton)

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Reviewed by ‘Closed the Cover’

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 13, 2013

Reviewer Ashley LaMar has very nice things to say about Brilliant Deduction, at the Closed the Cover blog:

I became so fully engrossed in [Brilliant Deduction] I couldn’t simply read it and put it away. I had to continue to pursue information and research. It’s intoxicating.

It was a riveting read from beginning to end. In addition to reading about the detectives it was also curious to read about the advancement of detective skills. How did [undercover] work first begin? What about footprint analysis? DNA? Fingerprinting? Tracking and observation? Informers? For anyone interested in criminal forensics or mystery it is unbelievably fascinating. It’s a recommended read for anyone interested in true crime, mystery and history.

… The research and storytelling is superb!

Does one blush?

In the context of such praise, one can hardly mind a modest criticism: “the number of sentences that began with the conjunctions ‘and’ or ‘but.’” Ms. LaMar is most considerate in pointing out that this is controversial, and that even with her own disapproval of the practice she “still enjoyed the book very much.” In light of such courteously presented complaint, one shall make at least some effort to moderate this practice in one’s next book.

Meanwhile, I have added this four-star review to my page of notices.

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