Sunday, August 30, 2009

Celia Fremlin

"Fremlin is here to stay as a major mistress of insight and suspense."
New York Times, April 3, 1960

"Celia Fremlin is certainly one of today's more gifted writers."
Los Angeles Times, May, 1963

I've just learned that English novelist Celia Fremlin passed away this summer, on June 16, 2009.

Fremlin, born in 1914, wrote two novels of manners before turning her pen to crime fiction and suspense. She won the Edgar for Best Novel for The Hours Before Dawn, first published in 1958. If you've never read it, find a copy as soon as possible. I strongly recommend it. It's superbly written, unsettling and perceptive.

Beyond that, I think those of you who want a look at women's lives in late 1950s -- as well as some insight into women's lives now, will find that without the least bit of preaching, Fremlin gives you something to think about. It's available from Chicago Academy Publishers.

Her eighteen other novels include Uncle Paul, The Jealous One (also available from Chicago Academy Publishers), The Spider-Orchid and Dangerous Thoughts. A bibliography is available here.

I've been collecting her books over the last ten years, and can tell you that the critical acclaim was well-deserved.

I'm indebted to Elizabeth Foxwell for sending me a link to Martin Edward's blog, where I learned of Fremlin's death, and I agree wholeheartedly with all he has to say there about the stunning lack of notice her passing has received.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Inside The Messenger: Memento Mori and Mourning Rings

"Also, I do will and appoint ten rings of gold to be made of the value of twenty shillings a piece sterling with a death's-head upon some of them."
— a will dated 1648, quoted in Finger Ring Lore by William Jones

Those of you who've read The Messenger know that a special memento mori ring is part of the story. While only Tyler and Amanda can tell you where to find a ring exactly like the one in the book, memento mori rings are real.

Rings have long symbolized the eternal -- the unbroken circle. "Memento mori" is a Latin phrase that literally means "remember you shall die," and refers to objects that serve as a reminder that death awaits us all, and for those who believe in an afterlife, that it, too, awaits.
"As I am, so shall you be."

Memento mori and mourning rings were often made of gold or silver, might include gemstones, enamel work, or hair art. They were often decorated with symbols of death and mourning: skulls, skeletons, hourglasses, coffins, urns, willows, acacias, and garlands, to name a few. In my research I came across a few that had a single eye painted on them -- the deceased keeping watch. A little unnerving for the surviving spouse, one would think.

Memento mori rings have been worn since ancient times. Some of the most elaborate were made in 16-19th centuries in England, but they were also worn in many other countries.

William Shakespeare bequeathed memento mori rings to his wife and his daughter -- it was not uncommon at that time (and in later centuries) for wills to contain instructions that mourning rings be made with inscriptions to reminder the wearer of the deceased.

In Searching for Shakespeare, Tarnya Cooper writes that "Memorial rings were not only given or bequeathed as a lasting token of remembrance, gratitude and affection at death, but were also exchanged in betrothal and marriage." The book shows several examples of these rings.

Here are some links to photographs of memento mori rings and places where you can find more information about them:
The Art of Mourning Lots of historical information and many beautiful photographs of rings.
A ring worn at Jamestown, early 17th century. Possibly worn by Captain Christopher Lawne.
Laurell Antique Jewelry This site also has beautiful photographs of mourning rings.
Victorian Hair Art - This page shows a lovely example of mourning jewelry made with hair art -- a fascinating subject of its own!
Morning Glory Antiques - has photographs of several other examples of hair art from the Victorian period, including mourning rings

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Brief notes

I hope you are planning to attend Left Coast Crime 2010 in Los Angeles next March! I'm the Guest of Honor -- along with some guy named Lee Child. You may have heard of him? Yeah, I think he's great, too. Anyway, we'll be there along with Bill Fitzhugh and lots of others, so please register now. And don't forget to sign up for the Forensic Science Day -- it's going to be so cool!

The Crime Lab Project blog is running a Death Quiz -- find out how much you really know about death investigation in the U.S. -- and then tell your friends to take the quiz. Ignoring the dead can cost us our lives.

My Web Master is as overwhelmed with work as I am, so it may be a little while before my schedule on the site shows this, but -- I'm going to have some new additions to my October schedule, including the Southern Festival of Books, October 9-11 in Nashville, Tennessee. Stay tuned for details.

Speaking of Web sites, don't know if I've mentioned it or not, but one of my nieces, Heather Cvar, is a makeup artist, and her recently updated site has some cool photos on it. You can see them at

Artistic ability runs in the family -- her mom, my sister Sandy Cvar, will be one of the print-makers featured at the International Printing Museum's Los Angeles Printers Fair on August 29. And if you go to the Orange County Fair, look for one of Sandy's prints in the Fine Arts Professional Graphics exhibit!

That's it for now. I have a ton of stuff to post here, but it will have to wait while I work on my next book.