The old rogue of Limehouse: New detective and mystery titles

Is it the heart of the empire, or the heart of darkness?

Peter Ackroyd, quote about London.

One of the books that caught our particular eye in this month’s selection of newly acquired detective and mystery titles was The old rogue of Limehouse by Ann Granger, an atmospheric historical crime novel set in Victorian London in the summer of 1871. One of the many great ingredients that make this book such a compelling read is its location, Limehouse.

Limehouse is an ancient district in London. The name is derived from the local lime kilns that used to be there, with the earliest known reference to the area dating back to 1356. However, it is the Limehouse’s connection with British maritime history that the area is perhaps best known for. One of London’s key ports from hundreds of years, sadly the Limehouse Basin docks closed in the late 1960s. Whilst being a vibrant and diverse community, Limehouse was also known historically for its poverty, deprivation and notorious 19th Century era opium dens. This rich, varied and interesting history of the area has proved a big lure to several writers.

Authors and novels that have taken advantage of the Limehouse area of the London, and the districts close by, to set their works in include:Alan Moore with his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel series,  Kate Summerscale with her award winning factual book The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer,  Peter Ackroyd and his excellent  Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem , The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin, the now highly problematic Fu Manchu stories by Sax Rohmer and now Ann Granger’s latest book joins this select group of writers.

The old rogue of Limehouse / Granger, Ann
“It is the summer of 1871 when Scotland Yard’s Inspector Ben Ross pays a visit to Jacob Jacobus, the old rogue of Limehouse: infamous antiquarian, friend to villains and informer to the police. Ben hopes to glean information about any burglaries that might take place now that the wealthiest echelons of society are back in London for the Season. Little does he realise that an audacious theft has already occurred – a priceless family heirloom, the Roxby emerald necklace, has been stolen from a dressing table in the Roxby residence, and the widowed Mrs Roxby is demanding its immediate return…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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Strike the Viol! Renaissance and Baroque Music for Viola da Gamba

Strike the viol, touch the lute,
Wake the harp, inspire the flute.
Sing your patroness’s praise,
In cheerful and harmonious lays.

Treble viol by Alan Clayton. Picture © Alan Clayton. Picture reproduced with permission from Alan Clayton.
A treble violin by Alan Clayton

The viol — a bowed, fretted string instrument also known as a viola da gamba — rose to prominence in Europe at the end of the fifteenth century, and by the seventeenth century, it was one of the most popular ensemble and solo instruments. In Renaissance England, the viol consort, a group of viols of different sizes (treble, tenor, and bass), was one of the preeminent ensembles of the day, playing extraordinarily complex music; right through to the mid-eighteenth century, the viol remained an important solo instrument, especially for French and German composers. Eclipsed by the violoncello in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the viol was relegated to the status of a quaint relic until the ‘early music revival’ of the twentieth century reignited interest in viols and their music. Today, different members of the viol family can be found in many ensembles — and not only those specialising in early music or historical performance. The sound of viols and the virtuosity of their players inspire increasing numbers of contemporary composers (Nico Muhly, Sally Beamish, James MacMillan, and New Zealand’s own Yvette Audain, and Ross Harris to name a few) to write music for solo and ensemble viols. 

Pardessus de viole in the workshop. Picture © Alan Clayton.Image reproduced with permission from Alan Clayton.
In the workshop: a pardessus de viole by Alan Clayton

Locally, Wellington is home to Aotearoa’s only viol consort, the Palliser Viols. While the repertoire of the group is predominantly that of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they also demonstrate the versatility of the viol by commissioning and performing new works including Ross Harris’s Gaudete and Image of Melancholy, Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead’s Douglas Lilburn, travelling on the Limited, regards the mountains in the moonlight and Colin Decio’s Lord have MercyAnd, perhaps more unexpectedly, there is a specialist maker of viols based in Wellington as well: Alan Clayton’s beautiful instruments — which he makes on commission from musicians here and overseas — can sometimes be seen at Alastair’s Music in Cuba Street. Today’s blog explores some of the recordings of music played by viols in different combinations and emerging from different countries and eras.

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Our Interview with Little Doomsdays Creators, Nic Low and Phil Dadson

Little Doomsdays
Little Doomsdays by Nic Low and Phil Dadson on the library catalogue
Little Doomsdays by Nic Low and Phil Dadson

Little Doomsdays is a lavishly illustrated collaborative art book between musician/painter Phil Dadson and writer Nic Low. It’s the fifth in the ‘kōrero series’ of books, conceived and edited by Lloyd Jones.

In Little Doomsdays, legendary musician and painter Phil Dadson responds to a wildly innovative text by Ngāi Tahu writer Nic Low that’s steeped in te ao Māori. Together they play with the notion of ark and arc in a manner that is at once beguiling and challenging.

Nic Low, head and shoulders shot, against a brick wall backdrop
Nic Low

Nic Low (Ngāi Tahu) is the partnerships editor at NZ Geographic magazine and the former programme director of WORD Christchurch. A prize-winning author of short fiction, essays and criticism, his writing on wilderness, technology and race has been widely published and anthologised on both sides of the Tasman.


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September’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 1

Albums laid out against a backdrop of sand, with a palm tree shadow


Statler: Well, it was good.
Waldorf: Ah, it was very bad.
Statler: Well, it was average.
Waldorf: Ah, it was in the middle there.
Statler: Ah, it wasn’t that great.
Waldorf: I kind of liked it.”
-‘The Muppet Show’.

I’m Mark, the Music & Film Specialist at Wellington City Libraries. I buy music for the CD & Vinyl collections, and also run the Libraries’ Wellington Music Facebook page). My Music Specialist colleague Sam, and Fiction Specialist (and avid music fan) Neil, join me every month to cast an eye over the new material we have been buying for the music collection at our CBD Te Awe library. We pick out some interesting titles across a range of music genres, and try to limit our reviews to a few lines only. Can we encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? [Ed. This is probably unlikely at this point]. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? [Ed. This is more than likely]. Read on to find out…

Subhana / Ben Ali, Ahmed
Neil says: The Habibi Funk label has justifiably gained an international reputation for bringing to light shamefully neglected surprising and unexpected albums from the Arab World. We at WCL music love the label and have reviewed many of their previous outings. And their latest release continues this trend with Libyan reggae artist Ali Ben’s self-produced ‘Subhana’ album. Libyan reggae has been a big genre in that country since the 1970’s, and the explosion of reggae worldwide caused by Bob Marley’s releases. It’s an intoxicating, unique and uplifting mix sounds that incorporate reggae, traditional Libyan Folk, synths, zokra and even Libyan mizwad bagpipes. Definitely well worth a good listen and highly recommended.

¡Ay / Dalt, Lucrecia
Sam says: Lucretia Dalt is an experimental musician from Colombia who is currently based in Berlin. Through the use of traditional percussion, trumpets, clarinets, string and wind instruments, ‘¡Ay!’ features an immediately organic sound. This is nicely balanced by a stark and inventive production style, with Dalt’s sleek and airy vocals adding a sense of human warmth to the eclectic smorgasbord of sounds. Lyrics are delivered in her native Spanish and deal with a variety of esoteric philosophical subjects across the album’s ten tracks. The combination of classic jazzy instrumental elements with modern technical approaches creates a quirky aesthetic that is fully her own. ‘¡Ay!’ is truly unlike anything else you will hear this year.

Neil says: ‘¡Ay!’ is an ambitious and experimental yet highly approachable album from Lucrecia Dalt. It is an amazingly accomplished work, that is in part a Colombian science fiction musical narrative about an extra-terrestrial visiting earth, and it is also simultaneously a statement on cultural identity. It embraces and redefines, in a very relatable and unique fashion, genres such as bolero, classical and jazz. All from a Latin-American perspective, widening these genres to suit the narrative thread of the work. All these elements are seamlessly woven in. It is unique and brilliantly daring, yet strangely familiar. For example, tiny elements sound like reimagined fifties science fiction film soundtrack music.

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One of Them – New Biographies and Memoirs in the Collection

It’s a new month and that means a bunch of new biographies and memoirs hitting the shelves.  We’ve got a real mixed bag of goodies for you to dive in to, here are just some of them for you to check out:

One of them / Lal, Shaneel
“What would you do if you were told by the people you loved the most that the way you were born was evil and wrong? For Shaneel Lal, this was their reality from the time they were five. Growing up in a tiny, traditional village in Fiji, Shaneel always knew they were different. After escaping Fiji and moving to New Zealand as a teenager, Shaneel tried to keep their sexuality – and gender – to themself, but gradually found the courage to come out. One day, while Shaneel was volunteering at Auckland’s Middlemore hospital, a church leader came up to them and offered to ‘pray the gay away’. It was a lightbulb moment for Shaneel, who could not believe that the same practices that had scarred their childhood in Fiji were operating – and legal – in New Zealand. Determined to ensure others wouldn’t have to go through what happened to them, Shaneel founded the Conversion Therapy Action Group, which lead the movement to ban conversion therapy in Aotearoa.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Because our fathers lied : a memoir of truth and family, from Vietnam to today / McNamara, Craig
“Craig McNamara came of age during the political tumult and upheaval of the late ’60s. While he would grow up to take part in antiwar demonstrations, his father, Robert McNamara, served as John F. Kennedy’s secretary of defense and was the architect of the Vietnam War. This searching and revealing memoir offers an intimate portrait of one father and son at pivotal periods in American history. Because Our Fathers Lied is more than a family story–it is a story about America.  Because our fathers lied tells the story of the war from the perspective of a single, unforgettable American family.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

bell hooks : the last interview and other conversations / hooks, bell
“bell hooks was a prolific, trailblazing author, feminist, social activist, cultural critic, and professor. Born Gloria Jean Watkins, bell used her pen name to center attention on her ideas and to honor her courageous great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. hooks’s unflinching dedication to her work carved deep grooves for the feminist and anti-racist movements. In this collection of 7 interviews, stretching from early in her career until her last interview, she discusses feminism, the complexity of rap music and masculinity, her relationship to Buddhism, the “politic of domination,” sexuality, and love and the importance of communication across cultural borders.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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School Holidays: Art Through the Ages | Toi Puta Noa i Ngā Tau​

Art Through the Ages | Toi Puta Noa i Ngā Tau, 23 September - 8 October

Art Through the Ages | Toi Puta Noa i Ngā Tau, 23 September - 8 OctoberIt’s almost School Holidays! From the 23rd of September to the 8th of October, we’re inviting children and young people in Pōneke to explore the world through the power of art in Art Through the Ages / Toi Puta Noa i Ngā Tau — click through to find out more!

Find out more about School Holidays

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