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Number one of these Western Mysteries is The Case of the Deadly Desperados, and it has one of the most intriguing opening lines I've come across for ages:
"My name is P.K. Pinkerton, and before this day is over, I will be dead."
Of course, I wanted to read on immediately! I have a secret passion for both detective novels and Westerns (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of my all-time favourite films), and Caroline has done a brilliant job of recreating the feel of those times, as well as writing a fun and gripping story. I have to say, I loved it down to the last chaw of tobacco!
Caroline has been generous enough to say she'll give away a copy of both this, and one of her Roman Mysteries books (The Colossus of Rhodes) - all you have to do is comment, saying which one you'd like, and why, in the comments below!
After so many books, Caroline has an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Roman - including the niceties of sponge-sticks (used for toileting purposes!) and, naturally, sewers. I've just caught up with The Sewer Demon - from her new Roman Mystery Scrolls series for younger readers - and I can safely say that it's full of the sort of disgusting information which small boys will love. I'm in awe of the way she makes Threptus's world come vividly alive just by describing small details of clothing - an undertaker's black cloak, an equestrian's double-striped tunic - and by generally making the reader feel that the ancient city of Ostia is somewhere recognisable and real, even to our 21st century eyes. Threptus's antics in the sewers made me laugh like...well...a drain, and I'm looking forward to more books very much. Caroline has done more to promote the joys of the classical world to kids than anyone I can think of, and, as always, I salute her, and will now pass you over to her to tell you about our final being in the Fantabulous Fridays A-Z. Euge!
Z is for Zephyr
West Wind Wafter
CL: I’m a split-personality Gemini who writes kids’ history-mystery stories set in two tightly specific periods: Ostia, the port of Rome in AD 79-81 and Virginia City, Nevada Territory in 1862-63. You’d think those two settings would be quite different, but they have a few things in common.
- Both towns are about the same size.
- Both communities mainly depended on horses, donkeys, mules – and feet – for transport.
- Medical knowledge was about the same in both periods.
- And there is one other surprising overlap: the Zephyr!
In both periods, Zephyr was a mythic interpretation of the west wind.
In Greek and Latin mythology, Zephyr (Greek Ζεφυρος; Latin Zephyrus) was the male personification of the west wind. Although the English word ‘zephyr’ means a soft, gentle breeze today, in the earliest Classical periods Zephyros was fierce. Homer gives him the epithets “blustering” and “stormy”. Sappho calls him “strongly-blowing”.
But, like me and my schizophrenic love of Roman and Western things, Zephyrus is two-faced. In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite he is no longer fierce but gentle: his moist breath wafts new-born Aphrodite over the foamy brine. Likewise Virgil likens him to a gentle-breeze and Hesiod has his breath stir a shining garment.
Usually depicted as smooth-cheeked and handsome, Zephyr swings both ways. He falls for a beautiful boy named Hyacinth (then jealously slays him when the lad seems to prefer Apollo) but he also seduces flower nymph Chloris, harpy Podarge and rainbow Iris (and gets them all pregnant). Definitely a dual-natured dude!
In my tenth Roman Mystery, The Colossus of Rhodes, my four child protagonists sail from Corinth on a mission to find freeborn children kidnapped for slavery. They sail from mainland Greece and drop anchor at several Greek islands before heading to Rhodes. As they would be at the mercy of the winds I used the ruined Tower of the Winds in Athens, (a sort of ancient breeze compass), to put together a handy map for my detectrix Flavia and her friends. My wonderful artist husband did the drawing below. On their sea-voyage, the four friends also meet the young poet Gaius Valerius Flaccus, whose Argonautica also mentions sacrificing to Zephyrus for a favourable wind.
A kind of Zephyr also appears in my other kids’ detective series, the P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries. In the second half of the 19th century in Western America, “sage-brush literature” flourished for a generation or two. Writers like A.J. Marsh, Bret Harte, Dan DeQuille and Mark Twain mined the vocabulary of Nevada silver prospectors and discovered nuggets of pure-gold slang. For example, a hee-hawing mule was called a “Washoe Canary” (Washoe was one name for the silver-bearing region of Nevada) and a prostitute dubbed a “Soiled Dove”.
Here is Mark Twain’s description of the ironically named “Washoe Zephyr” a near hurricane-force wind that roared down from the Sierra Nevada range to the west of Virginia City.
… it was two o’clock, now, and according to custom the daily “Washoe Zephyr” set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise… the vast cloud was thickly freckled with things strange to the upper air – things living and dead… hats, chickens and parasols sailing in the remote heavens; blankets, tin signs, sage-brush and shingles a shade lower; door-mats and buffalo robes lower still; shovels and coal scuttles on the next grade; glass doors, cats and little children on the next… The “Washoe Zephyr” is a peculiar Scriptural wind, in that no man knoweth “whence it cometh”… it comes right over the mountains from the West, but when one crosses the ridge he does not find any on the other side!
Mark Twain was still Sam Clemens in 1862, when he arrived in Virginia City as a 26-year-old failed prospector taking up a post as a local reporter on the Territorial Enterprise. One of his first published articles was about the Washoe Zephyr, demonstrating that you could even tell tall tales in the newspaper in them thar days:
A GALE. – About 7 o’clock Tuesday evening a sudden blast of wind picked up a shooting gallery, two lodging houses and a drug store from their tall wooden stilts and set them down again some ten or twelve feet back of their original location, with such a degree of roughness as to jostle their insides into a sort of chaos. There were many guests in the lodging houses at the time of the accident, but it is pleasant to reflect that they seized their carpet sacks and vacated the premises with an alacrity suited to the occasion. No one hurt.
In his book Roughing It, about his sojourn in the Wild West, Twain even includes a humorous drawing of the Washoe Zephyr. My husband Richard did his own version below.
I managed to work this scene-deepening wind into P.K.’s first adventure, when our eponymous hero is to escape a gang of bullies as well as three deadly desperados in Virginia City, and is nearly decapitated by a corrugated tin roof sent sailing by the Zephyr.
As I started to cross B Street to get to the other side, part of a tin roof flew past me, at neck level. A foot to the left and it would have chopped off my head. It seemed that Virginia City itself was out to get me.
(The Case of the Deadly Desperados, p. 168)
So in a way, the blustery Zephyr of early Greek mythology has come full circle with the prospectors’ hurricane-force breeze. And I reckon that’s fitting, as the epic poets and the “sagebrush humorists” all loved a good tale told by firelight.
May all your Zephyrs be gentle and warm, and may none of them impregnate you nor decapitate you by means of a piece of corrugated tin!
P.S. I’m giving away a signed copy of The Colossus of Rhodes and a signed copy of The Case of the Deadly Desperados. Just leave a comment below saying which one you would like and why! Winners will be notified in the New Year.
SCC: Thank you so much, Caroline. That was as fascinating as always, and I'm sure there'll be lots of takers for your generous giveaway. What a great end to the SCC A-Z!
Thank also to everyone who's been following this series so faithfully - Scribble City Central will be back after the Christmas break. Happy Holidays to you all!