Category Archives: Jeffrey Stone

See What You’ve Made and See Who You Are*

Patterned ReadingPeople often get into patterns of doing things. Sometimes a new pattern creeps up on us so subtly that we’re not even aware we’ve developed one. Sometimes we’re more deliberate about it. Patterns can weave themselves into any aspect of our lives, and for the book lover, that includes reading. If you’ve ever found yourself suddenly realising that the last several books you’ve read have been about the same topic, or take place in the same region, or treat the same theme, you know what I mean. Of course, everyone’s different about reading patterns, but it’s interesting to see how they affect our choices, whether we’re aware of it or not.

Some reading patterns start almost accidentally if I can put it that way. For instance, suppose a friend lends you a novel such as Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier, which introduces Trafalgar, British Columbia Constable Molly Smith. Now, suppose you enjoy that novel, so you pay a little more attention when you notice a review of Gail Bowen’s The Endless Knot, which also takes place in Canada. It’s in a very different province, but you liked the Delany, so…why not? Then you notice yourself reading other books with Canadian settings (e.g. Giles Blunt, Louise Penny or Anthony Bidulka). Before you really now what’s happened, you’ve developed a pattern of reading more Canadian crime fiction than you thought you had.

The same kind of thing happens sometimes when people read crime fiction that takes place in a given era. For example, you might read one of Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple novels that take place in the 1920’s. The era is absolutely fascinating, so perhaps that tempts you to read one of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels or perhaps Jeffrey Stone’s Play Him Again. Those novels also take place in the 1920’s. Before you’re even aware of it, you’ve started on a pattern of reading novels that take place in a particular time period.

We all have different sub-genres of crime fiction that particularly appeal to us and sometimes, we find that we’ve developed a pattern of mostly reading within one sub-genre. If you’ve ever tried one of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe novels and loved it or one of Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi novels and loved it, you may slowly find yourself reading more and more police procedurals. And because you haven’t thought about it or planned it, you’re not even really aware you’ve been reading a lot from that sub-genre.

After a while, most of us do notice that we’ve been reading a lot about one issue, or about one place/time, or in one sub-genre. Some people don’t mind that at all and there’s nothing wrong with that. Other people though decide to change their patterns or at least add in new ones.

That’s one reason why some patterns in reading are quite deliberate. Sometimes people deliberately develop patterns by choosing a reading challenge. There are dozens out there too, and a lot of them are not difficult to meet. I’ll just mention two. One is the Vintage Mystery Challenge, hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block . Readers who notice that they haven’t read a lot of classic, Golden Age or other vintage crime fiction may want to check out that challenge; there are lots of interesting categories and lots of possibilities for books. Another challenge is the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. You may decide for instance that you’d like to be more familiar with all sorts of fiction being written by the terrific ladies from Down Under. This challenge gives you the chance to try some of their work. The great thing about challenges is that they give the reader a focus for breaking out of patterns or trying new ones.

Some readers deliberately try a new pattern through reading blogs that focus on particular places, times, etc.  For example, a look at Glenn Harper’s International Noir Fiction may convince you to add some noir to your reading diet. You may read Barbara Fister’s Scandinavian Crime Fiction blog and find some titles there that pique your interest. I know that terrific blogs like that have gotten me to take a look at my reading patterns and think about adjusting them.

There are plenty of readers too who keep notes on what they read and take a look at them periodically. Charts and graphs on what they read help them reflect and decide what they’re going to do about their patterns. You know who you are and I really respect that self-reflection.

Writers of course have another way of focusing deliberately on their reading patterns. The best writers are also voracious readers and are well aware of what other people in their sub-genre are doing. They keep up with the major authors and series in their sub-genre to help them improve what they do. I know that reading other authors’ work helps me.

These are just a few things I’ve discovered about reading patterns. What are your views? Do you notice yourself developing patterns without being aware of it? Do you plan your patterns? What gets you in the reading patterns you’ve developed? If you’re a writer, how do your reading and writing patterns affect each other?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Don McLean’s The Pattern is Broken.

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Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Carola Dunn, Giles Blunt, Jeffrey Stone, Katherine Howell, Kerry Greenwood, Louise Penny, Reginald Hill, Vicki Delany

Well, You Say That I’m an Outlaw*

Criminals as ProtagonistsIn crime fiction, we usually think of the protagonist as ‘the good guy’ – the one who catches ‘the bad guy.’ But people who break the law can also be really interesting protagonists and even sleuths. Having a criminal as a protagonist gives a really interesting perspective on a crime. It also allows for some solid depth of character.

One of G.K. Chesterton’s well-drawn characters is Hercule Flambeau, who is a master jewel thief and criminal. He’s usually able to outwit the police, but when he encounters Father Paul Brown in The Blue Cross, Flambeau finds he’s met his match. In that story, Father Brown is en route to a large gathering of priests. With him he’s brought a silver cross set with turquoise – a very attractive prize to a thief such as Flambeau. The story of how the two men interact and of how Father Brown deals with Flambeau is interesting and certainly from Flambeau’s perspective, unusual. We meet Flambeau in other stories too where he is at least the co-protagonist and although he has a criminal past, he’s painted quite sympathetically.

Agatha Christie takes an interesting look at the criminal-as-protagonist in And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians). Ten very different people receive invitations to stay as guests at a house on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. For different reasons, each accepts. On the night of their arrival, the guests are shocked when each is accused of being a criminal, specifically of causing the death of at least one other person. Then, one of the guests dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that night there’s another death. It’s soon clear that they are trapped on the island with a murderer. As more guests begin to die, the survivors have to find out who the killer is while at the same time staying alive themselves. As we learn the backstory of each person on the island, we also learn why their un-named host considers them criminals. But they’re not entirely unsympathetic people and we can feel for them as they try to decide who can be trusted and who not.

Robert Pollock’s Loophole: Or, How to Rob a Bank is the story of a group of criminals led by professional thief Mike Daniels. The team decides to try for a very big prize: a theft from the City Savings Bank. Their bold plan is to use the sewer system to tunnel under the bank. For that though they’ll need the help of an architect. They find their man in the person of Stephen Booker, an unemployed architect who’s taken to driving a night cab to put food on the table. He’s desperate for money so against his better judgement he falls in with the thieves. The group makes elaborate preparations and as they do, Pollock shows the thieves in a sympathetic light. Here for instance is Daniels’ description of thieves:

 

‘Thieves. You might just as well say salesmen or clerks in an office. It’s their business. It’s what they do. There’s nothing strange about it, not to them anyway…They do what everybody does. They have girlfriends or wives and children and hobbies. They build shelves in the kitchen and clean their cars on Sundays.’
 

The day of the robbery arrives and at first everything goes well. Then a storm moves in, bringing a lot of rain with it. Now the thieves face a literal life-or-death struggle as they try to go for their prize.

In Tony Broadbent’s The Smoke, we meet Jethro, a professional cat burglar living in post-World War II London’s West End.  He tries to convince the world that he’s ‘gone straight,’ so he takes a job in the theatre district. His real goal though is easy access to the wealthy homes in nearby Mayfair and Belgravia. At first, he’s able to go fairly un-noticed even though most people in the criminal world are convinced that he has no intention of living an ‘upright’ life. Then Jethro decides on a real coup: emeralds belonging to the wife of the Russian Ambassador. That break-in gets the interest of MI5 and Jethro soon finds himself facing off against them, the police and fellow criminals. While it’s quite clear that Jethro’s a criminal, it’s easy to feel sympathy for him.

In Jeffrey Stone’s historical novel Play Him Again we are introduced to Matt ‘Hud’ Hudson. Hud has dreams of becoming a film-maker in the growing world of Hollywood. But at the moment he’s a ‘rum-runner’ – a smuggler of then-illegal alcohol (the novel takes place in the 1920’s). Hud is devastated when his friend Danny is murdered, Hud wants to find out who killed him and get revenge. There are plenty of suspects too. For one thing, a very nasty criminal gang has moved into the area and wants to take over Hud and Danny’s operation. There are rival smuggling groups too whose members would be all too happy to have the field cleared as the saying goes. As Hud searches for answers, it’s clear that he and several of the people he deals with are criminals – thieves, con men and smugglers. But Stone presents a lot of them sympathetically and it’s not hard to wish Hud well as he tries to find out what happened to his friend.

Even when criminals aren’t ‘official’ protagonists, they can play important roles in novels and be depicted sympathetically. For example, Andrea Camilleri’s series featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano includes a very interesting ‘regular’ character Gegè Gullotta. He’s a drug dealer and local criminal leader who runs a notorious area of the town of Vigàta. This area, called The Pasture, is a meeting place for prostitutes and their clients and for small-time marijuana and other drug deals. Gullotta and Montalbano went to school together and they’ve maintained a cordial relationship since then, although both of them find it more expedient to keep their friendship discreet. Gullotta wants to run a trouble-free operation; as he sees it he’s a businessman, nothing more. In his way Montalbano helps Gullotta by not making public examples of the people involved in Gullotta’s ‘enterprises.’ Gullotta appreciates being able to run a peaceful trade and he does his part by not letting things in The Pasture get out of control or trouble people who don’t want to be involved in what goes on there. He’s also quite tuned in to the Vigàta criminal community so he hears a lot of what goes on. More than once Montalbano benefits from what Gullotta finds out.

It’s always interesting to see stories from different points of view. When criminals are portrayed as protagonists, it’s important for authors to acknowledge that they’re lawbreakers. But at the same time, a criminal with a sympathetic character can make for an effective perspective in a crime novel. Which ones have you enjoyed?

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Woody Guthrie’s Pretty Boy Floyd.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, G.K. Chesterton, Jeffrey Stone, Robert Pollock, Tony Broadbent

Why Keep the Brakes On? Let’s Misbehave!*

1920'sWhat do you think of when you think of the 1920’s? Do you think of ‘flappers?’ Of Babe Ruth? Prohibition?  The growth of Hollywood? It was an action-packed decade, and so many things happened at that time that it’s no wonder it’s got such an appeal. There’s a certain mystique about art-deco and 1920’s style extravagance among other things. So it’s no wonder that the 1920’s is also a big part of crime fiction.

For one thing, many people argue that the Golden Age of crime fiction began to hit its stride in the 1920’s. And I’m sure that those of you who are Golden Age fans could list a large number of authors and books from that time – many more than I could. Let me just mention a few. Dorothy Sayers’ series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey debuted in 1923 with Whose Body?, in which Wimsey investigates the murder of an unknown man whose body is found in a bathtub. This plot thread ties in with embezzlement and another man who seems to have disappeared. In this novel, we see one of the hallmarks of the 1920’s – the class differences that still remained quite strong. Wimsey and his family are wealthy and privileged. They have access to all sorts of means that ‘ordinary’ people do not. And the theme of class differences is woven into more than one of Sayers’ novels. phryne-fisher-200x0

We also see those stark class differences in historical series. For instance, Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series features Fisher, who was born to the working class but inherited a title and fortune. So she mixes and mingles in the highest social circles. And yet, we also see that not everyone has that sort of prosperity. In Cocaine Blues for instance, Fisher gets involved in cracking an illegal (and dangerous) abortion clinic for working-class girls and young women whose families don’t have the means to make it all quietly ‘go away’ safely.

The 1920’s were also a time of great waves of immigration, and not just to the United States. Travel was becoming easier and the Great War had uprooted millions of people. The resulting diversity was one of the major social changes of the era. But that immigration also resulted in quite a lot of ethnic and racial prejudice. We see that reflected in crime fiction of the era too. In Margery Allingham’s The Crime at Black Dudley for instance, a group of friends is gathered at Black Dudley, the home of academician Wyatt Petrie. During the course of this house party, Petrie’s uncle Gordon Crombie dies, and it looks very much as though his death is suspicious. One of the guests Albert Campion takes a hand in finding out the truth about the death and about a mysterious ritual that’s supposedly associated with the family living there. In the course of the novel, there are several ‘isms’ and offensive references to members of different groups. You’ll find those in lots of other crime fiction of that decade too.

For several reasons, the roles of women changed fundamentally during the 1920’s. Just as one example, between 1920 and 1929, voting rights were extended to include women in the Czech Republic, Sweden, the U.K., the U.S. and Belgium among other countries (Australia granted federal voting rights to women in 1902, but some states granted it earlier for state elections. Canadian women had full federal voting rights in 1918. Women had had full suffrage in New Zealand since 1893).  We see the changing status of women in a lot of crime fiction from and about that era. Certainly we see it in Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series. Fisher is single and in no hurry to marry. She’s independent, liberated and although she certainly depends on her circle of friends, I’d say the word ‘demure’ hardly describes her.

We see that also in the work of Agatha Christie. Several of her female characters are independent, strong women. There’s Anne Beddingfeld from The Man in the Brown Suit; there’s Katherine Grey from The Mystery of the Blue Train; and there’s ‘Cinderella’ (giving away her real name would be giving away too much of the plot) from The Murder on the Links, just to name three. All of these women think for themselves. They’re not averse to falling in love, and they’re not ‘man haters.’ But all of them reflect the reality of that time that women were coming into their own, so to speak.

A lot of people associate the 1920’s with extravagant parties and hedonism and it was certainly there. We see a hint of that in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client). Hercule Poiriot and Captain Hastings investigate the death of Miss Emily Arundell, who supposedly died of liver failure, but has a group of relations desperate for her fortune. One of them is Theresa Arundell, a young ‘jet-setter’ who goes with a ‘party crowd,’ drinks heavily and so on. She’s not painted unsympathetically, but she is reckless.

And reckless is I think a good way to describe some aspects of that era. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know for sure why the 1920’s was such a time of reckless abandon for a lot of people but here’s my guess. World War I changed everything for everyone. The real threat of mortality (especially with the influenza pandemic that followed that war) made a lot of people decide to enjoy life while they could You see that in writing from the era (e.g. F. Scott Fitzgerald) and you see that theme of deep wounds from the Great War in some terrific historical mystery series too. May I suggest Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, ‘Charles Todd’s’ Inspector Ian Rutledge series, and Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series. You can also see it in Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. In all of those novels and series, we get a sense of the privations of the war and the ‘flu pandemic. People wanted to forget it, to plunge into life and have fun while they could.

Of course there was plenty of violence during the 1920’s too. There was a lot of union unrest and the backlash from that. There was plenty of ugly, ugly racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigration and political corruption and that too led to a lot of violence. And there was organized crime. There’s a trace of that rise in organized crime in Patricia Wentworth’s Grey Mask, in which Charles Moray returns to England after some time away only to find that his home has been taken over by a criminal gang and that the woman who broke his heart may be mixed up with it. And then there’s Jeffrey Stone’s Play Him Again. In that historical mystery, Matt ‘Hud’ Hudson is a ‘rum-runner’ – a smuggler of then-illegal alcohol who supplies Hollywood’s luminaries with ‘liquid fuel’ for their parties. When a friend of his is murdered, Hud goes after those responsible, including a very nasty crime gang that’s moved into the area. That novel also explores what Prohibition was like in the U.S. (and makes it clear why the law enforcing Prohibition was never going to be really successful).

I could go on and on about the 1920’s (Jazz, anyone? The Harlem Renaissance? The fashions!) Moira at Clothes in Books has done some great posts on the clothes and fashions of the era. Here’s just one example. But this one post doesn’t give me nearly enough space to talk about it all. The 1920’s was too influential a decade for that. So now it’s your turn. Does that era appeal to you? Which books and series from and about that era do you like? Help me please to fill the gaps I left.

 

ps. The pearls on the left in the top ‘photo are part of a long double strand of pearls that belonged to my grandmother. On the right is a double-strand necklace that belonged to my grandmother-in-law. Both are genuine vintage…   The other ‘photo is of the terrific Essie Davis, who portrayed Phryne Fisher in the very well-done (in my opinion, anyway) Australian series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. These episodes are adaptations of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels and if you get the chance, I can recommend them. They aren’t of course 100% true to the novels, but very nicely done I think.

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cole Porter’s Let’s Misbehave.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carola Dunn, Charles Todd, Dorothy Sayers, Jacqueline Winspear, Jeffrey Stone, Kerry Greenwood, Margery Allingham, Patricia Wentworth

And I Go Where the Ocean is Deep*

BoatsFor a lot of people there’s something exciting about boats and being on boats. It may be the lure of adventure or it may be the connection with the sea. And of course, there’s the reality that for plenty of people, boats represent their livelihood. Whatever the reason is, we seem to have a fascination with boats and ships. And if you think about it, boats and ships, with their dangers, legends and so on make very effective contexts for crime fiction novels. If you add to that the fact of disparate people being brought together, as can happen on a boat, it’s easy to see how boats and ships could figure into crime fiction. Of course, one post isn’t nearly enough space for me to mention all of the novels where boats and ships figure into the plot, but here are a few to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, newlyweds Linnet and Simon Doyle are on their honeymoon trip – a cruise of the Nile. On the second night of the journey Linnet is shot. The first suspect is Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, whose fiancé Simon was before he met Linnet. But it’s soon proven that Jackie could not have committed the crime. Hercule Poirot and Colonel Race are on the same cruise and work together to find out who the murderer is. In this novel, it isn’t the actual boating or the ship itself that figures into the crime. Rather, Christie looks at the interactions of the different personalities who are on the same ship at the same time.

So does Ngaio Marsh in A Clutch of Constables. Painter and sculptor Agatha Troy decides to take a cruise on the Zodiac, but she soon finds that this isn’t going to be the relaxing and enjoyable trip she’d planned. First, one of the passengers is left behind and is later found murdered. Then another passenger is drowned. In the meantime and possibly related to the murders, Troy finds that an international art forger known only as the Jampot may very well be among those aboard the ship. As Troy gets more deeply involved in the mystery, she writes letters to her husband Inspector Roderick Alleyn and in them she tells him what’s happened. In an interesting plot strategy, Alleyn uses those letters to share the crimes and their solutions to a group of students in a class he’s teaching.

John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee lives aboard a boat called The Busted Flush. As we learn in The Deep Blue Goodbye, he won the boat in a poker game (hence its name). McGee calls himself a ‘salvage consultant.’ What that really means is that he helps people recover what’s been stolen from them. For instance, in The Deep Blue Goodbye he agrees to track down something that was stolen from his client Catherine Kerr by the father of her son Davie. The big challenge at first is that Kerr’s not even sure what was stolen. McGee finds out what was taken and is able to track down both the stolen property and the thief. McGee takes in payment half of whatever is recovered for his clients and they are usually more than grateful to pay his fee. What’s interesting is that McGee could probably afford to live in a house if he wanted, but he doesn’t. He prefers his boat and his life on the sea. In several places in that novel (and in the other novels in the series too), we see McGee working on his boat. He paints, cleans, makes repairs and so on. That side of him adds depth to the character.

Carole Sutton comes from a family of boat builders, so it’s only natural that her love of boats should come through in her novels. In Ferryman, we meet Steve Pengelly, who moves to Guernsey to start over, as the saying goes. There, he meets Angela DuPont, who connects him with the seller of a beautiful thirty-eight-foot sailboat that Pengelly happily buys. His new life falls apart when Angela disappears and he is arrested and tried for her murder. There’s forensic evidence against him too and he is in fact convicted and imprisoned. Then, two years later, Angela’s body washes ashore. What’s shocking is that it’s proven that she died only a short time before her body was discovered. This means that Pengelly wasn’t guilty of the crime. Now DI Alan Grimstone has to go back to the beginning to find out the truth of the matter.

In Sutton’s And the Devil Laughed, DS Hannah Ford returns to work after taking some leave for post-traumatic stress. She’s assigned to go to Draper’s Wharf on Australia’s Parramata River to investigate possible drugs activity in the area. Posing as a journalist she settles in and begins to get a sense of the place. She soon discovers that there’s been a recent tragedy in town. Local barmaid Victoria Brown was raped and murdered. Her killer hasn’t been caught, so Ford begins to ask questions about the case even though she hasn’t been officially asked to do so. Part of the reason for her interest in the case comes from her desire to prove herself fit for work. Another part comes from the fact that she was distantly related to the victim. As Ford investigates this case as well as the drugs smuggling, we get a real feel for the local boating and boat-building culture.

Boats have long been used for smuggling of course, and we get a real sense of that in Jeffrey Stone’s Play Him Again, which takes place in 1920’s Los Angeles during the years of Prohibition in the U.S.  In that novel we meet Matt ‘Hud’ Hudson, who makes his money smuggling alcohol on his boat The River Belle. His dream is to become a film-maker in the newly-developing Hollywood scene and at the moment, he’s using his smuggling income until he can. When his friend Danny is murdered, Hud decides to find out who the murderer is. He soon finds out though that he’s up against several forces. First, there are rival smuggling groups and a large criminal gang that’s moving into the area. There’s also the fact that the smuggling Hud’s doing is illegal, so the police aren’t going to be co-operative. But Hud keeps looking for answers and he discovers how Danny’s murder is related to the ‘rum-running’ and to the developing film industry. There are plenty of scenes aboard The River Belle in this novel, so we get a chance to see what a boat that’s been refitted for smuggling is like.

Of course more than just about anything else, boats are used for fishing and that’s the focus of Domingo Villar’s Death on a Galician Shore. Vigo police inspector Leo Caldas and his team are called in when the body of local fisherman Justo Castelo is discovered. At first it looks as though he committed suicide. But little clues suggest that he might have been murdered, so Caldas and his assistant Rafael Estevez look into the case further. As they find out about Castelo’s background, they discover that Castelo’s murder may be related to a 1996 tragedy in which Castelo and two other fishermen José Arias and Marcos Valverde nearly drowned while they were aboard a fishing vessel. Their captain Antonio Sousa did drown and none of the survivors has been the same since then. Caldas and Estevez have to learn exactly what happened that night to get to the truth about Castelo’s death. This novel shows readers what the fisherman’s life is like, from early-morning fish markets to sudden and terrible storms to building and maintaining fishing boats.

We also see the fishing life depicted in Sandy Curtis’ Deadly Tide. Alan ‘Tug’ Bretton is the captain of Sea Mistress, a trawler based in Brisbane. He’s accused of murdering Ewan McKay, the deckhand from another boat. Bretton claims that he’s innocent, but all of the evidence is against him. There’s also a possibility that Bretton and Sea Mistress may be connected to the drugs trade. Bretton’s daughter Samantha ‘Sam’ believes her father is innocent and she wants to find out who killed McKay. Besides, if the family-owned trawler doesn’t go out to sea, the ship may be lost to creditors. So Bretton reluctantly turns the skipper position over to his daughter. Sam begins both to start the fishing season and to try to find out who killed Ewan McKay. What she doesn’t know is that Chayse Jarrett, the deckhand she’s just hired, is an undercover cop who’s been assigned to the McKay murder too. As the two of them, first separately and later together, investigate the murder, we also see what it’s like to live on and operate a fishing trawler.

Whether they’re used for work, sport, relaxation or smuggling, boats and boating have been an essential part of our lives for millennia. Their fascination still lures a lot of people. Do you see the appeal? I know I’ve probably not mentioned the boat-related crime novels you like best because there’s not enough space to mention them all. So now it’s your turn. Which gaps have I left?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Downeaster ‘Alexa.’

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carole Sutton, Domingo Villar, Jeffrey Stone, John D. MacDonald, Ngaio Marsh, Sandy Curtis