PAPERBACK BOOKS
THE DE RESZKE RECORD

Murder, madness and mystery in the bizarre world of high-end record collecting . 

An asylum escapee with a dangerous secret, on the run from the master criminal who has murdered his only friend. 

Both seeking that rarest of all records, the long-lost 1905 Fonotipia disc said to bear the only recording of the legendary voice of the great tenor Jean De Reszke. 

Out of this mix, a darkly comic thriller that revives a hundred year old mystery.  

In Store Price: $24.95 
Online Price:   $19.95

ISBN: 978-1-921574-92-4
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:200
Genre: Fiction

 
 Buy as a pdf  Ebook version - $AUD9.00
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Author: Peter Bowler
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English

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Comments on previous books by Peter Bowler: 

Human Remains - "funny dialogue and quirky characters ... highly entertaining"  (Amanda Keller)

The Completely Superior Person's Book of Words - "Pick of the week ... Bowler has a wicked sense of humour" (Sydney Morning Herald)

The True Believers -..."it will probably be a best seller" (Weekend  Australian)

What a Way to Go!  "bizarre, extravagant, eccentric" (Canberra Times)

 

Author Biography 

Peter Bowler spent many years in public and private sector management before retiring to subtropical Queensland where, surrounded by the impedimenta of his many foolish hobbies, he continues to write books which treat serious subjects with regrettable flippancy.   

His published books include the “Superior Person’s” series about the outer limits of language, Human Remains, The True Believers, What a Way to Go!, Your Child From One to Ten, The Annotated Onomasticon and The Creepy-Crawly.

A note to the reader: 

De Reszke did exist. The possible existence of one or even two de Reszke disc recordings is a matter of – if you will forgive the word – record.

Michael Quinn’s book Before the Echoes Fade: Historical Vocal Reissues from Acoustic Odeon and Fonotipia Masters 1931-2000 does exist, and I thank him for permission to quote excerpts from it.

Apart from that, dear reader, do not lose sight of the fact that what follows is entirely a work of fiction.

 Read a sample:

To think that I had reached the age of 48 years before seeing my first dead body.

An unpleasant experience. More so when the body in question is that of a murdered man. Still more so when it is the body of a man who had clearly been tortured before being murdered. And a man who had been my closest friend.

If one can use the word ‘friend’ of someone known only through the happenstance of common accommodation necessities. I suppose ‘fellow inmate’ might be better, given our circumstances. God, I’m juggling verbal niceties in my mind at such a time. What was it that Nurse Humsey once called me? “Pedantry in motion.” One of her quicksilver little sallies. I must put all that behind me. This is a serious business that I am now engaged upon.

Poor Maisky. Hard to realise that it was only three days ago that I found his body in Ward 17. So much has happened since then. So much planning on my part. So much fear, especially in the long nights. I begged them to leave the corridor lights on, but they wouldn’t.

It would have been easier if I hadn’t been able to overhear, on a daily basis, the development of the police investigation. Their ‘incident room’, as they called it – Maisky’s death an ‘incident’, for God’s sake – being next door to my ward, and the acoustic accident of conjoined plumbing pipes affording me a fine hearing of their supposedly secret conversations. To find out in this way why it was that Maisky had not been able to scream during his torture, that was bad enough. To think that he had been at the mercy of such medical expertise, in the service of such malice, over such a period of time.

Then to hear that the police regarded me as a suspect.

Nobody could imagine why Maisky had been killed. Nobody could imagine why he had been tortured. Nobody except me, that is. That was the hardest part over those three days. I knew.

And they, those unknown dark intruders who vivisected poor Maisky in the dead of night, might know that I knew.

So here I am, setting out on my journey. Sneaking out in the silence before the dawn. I owe it to myself, for my own safety. The police no longer view me as a suspect, I know. But after they have gone, after they have written off their investigation as hopeless, after they have vacated the incident room, after they have left the Home for good, then what long unimaginable nights would await me there?

I need to be far away. I need to vanish.

But also I owe it to Maisky, the only one to befriend me in that place. I need to find the object of his sole and unrelenting passion, I need to carry out the quest that his physical infirmities prevented him from carrying out. I have his tatty old notebook, with the inserted clippings and scraps of torn paper scribbled on by Maisky at times when he did not have the notebook with him. At the meal table. In the Home bus. Even in the toilet. And I have the memory of his conversation. When his old face lightened, his eyes brightened, and he rhapsodised about the mystery and the wonder of his personal Holy Grail. I owe it to him to find that grail.

I will find it for poor dead Maisky. I will find the de Reszke record.

 

***

                  

I do not know how many miles I must travel, nor will I think about that, for I know that the mere number of them would appal me and that I would stay here, rooted to the stop – I mean spot, there’s a Freudian slip for you, or perhaps it could be the old aphasia creeping up on me. Dyslexics of the world, untie! An old one, but a good one. Rooted to the spot, as I was saying. Because this is not a mere ten-mile jaunt that I am entering upon. I may need to travel a thousand miles, I may need to travel overseas, despite my phobia. Better not to think about it, as here I step out for the first few metres, I who could never run to the end of the street without going into bronchial spasm.

So I am leaving the Home. In the quiet before the dawn. When they awake I will be gone, and their mounting chorus of interrogation and perplexity will bounce off their own ears alone, or perhaps those of an unlucky passer-by as well. I shall be in quieter environs, for I have calculated the distance that I can walk in two hours, even providing for stoppages such as the stone in the shoe and the need to urinate, and I have calculated the distance that sound waves can travel, allowing for their significantly greater speed than my own and postulating the maximum decibel level of the generating source, which I take to be the voice of Matron Mullins. I calculate that the first and loudest querimony will be dissipating itself harmlessly among the rhododendrons lining the drive, while I am already seven leagues distant, walking in green fields, the only sound that of the magpies calling from the far treetops and the gentle lapping of the dewy grass against my shiny black shoes.

I am clad in my best pin-striped charcoal grey suit, which I have had cleaned and pressed especially for the occasion, my white shirt, my university tie, my brand new woollen socks of the first quality and, something I do not normally affect, a corner of white handkerchief showing above the lip of my breast pocket. My shoes I have polished, another unusual event, in the dead of night in the blackness and the silence, breathing on the invisible leather and scrubbing more blackness onto it and rubbing away like a demented masseur, wondering if any of them could hear me and if so what they would think I was doing. In the afternoon I had gone to the visiting barber and had asked him to make my hair look trim and distinguished. He looked and paused and looked and paused and said will you settle for a trim, and I said yes. I am therefore groomed and accoutred as if for a wedding, a funeral or any noble occasion; and such this is after all, for am I not moving from one life into another, a difficult thing to do and a dangerous one for the soul, which is why the Malays threw rice on the heads of newlyweds to give their birdlike spirits something to keep them in attendance and stop them from flying away in terror. No rice on my head, I may be mildly eccentric but at least I retain my sense of the ridiculous.

 

***

                  

Maisky was a pansophist. A knower of all things. Well, of course, not all things. But many, many things not known to the rest of us. If a question came up in conversation, a question that I, no slouch in the knowledge stakes myself, could not answer, a question normally requiring reference to an encyclopædia, it was amazing how often Maisky could provide the answer, along with much related background information. He knew the scientific names of trees, shrubs and groundcovers. He knew the names and periods of the geological epochs and could identify palæological specimens. He understood the International Date Line, a thing beyond me. On the debit side of the ledger, like all doctors he was convinced that he knew everything about the use of the English language. Engineers are the same. They have this little book of rules in their head. Maisky was a true believer in the myth of the so-called ‘split infinitive’, and in his written submissions to the Home management, of which there were many, he was capable of constructing the most grotesquely misshapen sentences solely to avoid splitting an infinitive. He once argued with me long and hard in favour of using an apostrophe in ‘it’s’ to indicate the possessive. On the other hand, he spoke fluent French and Russian, and in those languages his command of syntax was, I feel sure, impeccable. But above all, he knew music. He told me that, long before his physical degeneration, in the days of his youth, he had played nightly in the second violins in the Bolshoi Opera orchestra, while studying medicine by day. He knew all about the great Russian and Polish singers of his era, and almost as much about those of the previous era, the so-called ‘Golden Age’, when the Tsars ruled in Russia and Tamagno ruled at La Scala. That is why he knew so much about the great Jean de Reszke.

Perhaps his vast general knowledge stemmed from the circumstances of a childhood spent in a white Russian family, refugees in China during the Japanese invasion, a childhood spent in retreat and concealment from the outside world, a childhood spent in isolation from other children, a childhood spent curled up in a corner reading the only books that his family possessed, the many volumes of a huge encyclopædia. This might also explain his introversion, a condition so extreme that it could probably have justified his admission to the Home even without his physical infirmities. He preferred solitude to company, silence to conversation. After returning to Russia after the war, a brave act in the circumstances, and obtaining his medical qualifications, he never engaged in general practice, or indeed any form of direct interaction with the ill or injured. Instead he went straight into a lifetime of medical research. His joy was in collecting, another solitary pastime. He collected medals. He collected fossils. He collected nineteenth-century concert programmes and advertising bills. He loved old things. He once – indeed, more than once, since his short term memory was beginning to deteriorate – quoted to me with great signs of approbation the remark of Samuel Rogers: “Every time a new book comes out, I make a point of reading an old one.” Rogers, being an early nineteenth-century writer whose poems, though much anthologised, are now totally forgotten. Though not by Maisky. He knew well all the stories about Rogers, and related numerous anecdotes of the sayings of great men when sitting at Rogers’ dining table. Maisky even knew the writings of Martin Tupper, the moralistic poet whose works sold in their thousands in the nineteenth century but whose very name is now long forgotten.

So here I am, thinking about Maisky as I step in stately fashion through the dim glow of the streetlights, across lawn after lawn until I can trust the sound of my shoes on bitumen not to carry back to the lightly sleeping ears that I am leaving behind me. I am leaving the Home, with its other occupants, its harassed staff, its moribund budgerigar and its repulsive noisy nosy noisome dog, also moribund by now if it has partaken of the succulent little going-away present that I left for it behind the gardener’s shed in its favourite masturbating spot. Still, de morituribus and all that, I shouldn’t speak ill of the little canker, may it rest in peace, at least if it does a few others will be able to, instead of being woken up by the damned thing’s midnight barking.

I carry with me no luggage, no travelling aids, no personal effects other than my necessary medication. Of the latter, I have managed to secrete, by my nocturnal visits to the Home’s inadequately secured pharmacy, sufficient to protect me from my unreasoning dreads for at least six months. I am setting out to travel a thousand miles, perhaps as many as two thousand, with little more than the clothes that I am wearing. I have made no advance bookings for bus, train, plane, hotel, motel or caravan park. I have left behind my bank accounts, my insurance policies, my shares, my accommodation contract, my income tax returns, my birth certificate, my club membership card, my benevolent society subscription book, my badges, my optical prescription, my correspondence with the consumers association, my supply of antacid tablets, my disability pension papers, my collection of old and curious engravings, my books, my records and so much more. Goodbye to all that, goodbye I say goodbye. I do not even carry a suitcase, no not even a small one; I would cut a pathetic figure running away from home with a little suitcase. And in any case I am not running, or walking away. I am walking towards. I have a goal. And it is proper that I travel light, for my heart is light. The moment that I closed the door behind me, the weight, all the accumulated weight, lifted from me and it was as much as I could do to stop myself from soaring skyward like a helium balloon, in my grey pin-striped suit a suburban miracle smiling benignly down on the astonished regiment of cats who alone would be awake at that hour to see the surprising event and relate it to their sceptical fellows in bewildered mewings long after I had receded bullet-like, a diminishing grey speck into the cloud cover growing roseate above their uplifted furry little heads.

The measured tread of my feet now on bitumen returns me to the earth and to the reality of the task before me, a task for which despite my apparent lack of equipment I am in fact well armed. For I carry with me my hope, my creativity, my ingenuity, my optimism, my cheque book and above all those ultimate weapons of modern civilisation my credit cards. With a hundred cheques and three credit cards it will be an indictment indeed of contemporary society if I cannot travel a mere thousand or so miles and survive for six months in good health, rested, well-dressed, fresh and sparkling in mind and body. Besides, the people that I leave behind will in this way be given a new interest in life, something to add to the TV and the card tables and the dog, if there is still a dog. They will be able to follow with bated breath my progress across the countryside from the succession of bills, statements, credit card accounts, bank balances the latter diminishing rapidly into the conceptually surreal domain of negative numbers, all the papers that will flow into the Home’s letter box in my name. They could of course track me down from this evidence, to follow and reclaim me, but that they should try at all is questionable, after all they are rid of me now, why should they not know a good thing when they see it; and that they should, if they try, succeed is even more questionable since at any one time they will know not where I am going, only where I have been. Which of us ever knows more, I muse, stepping onwards. Our life is a wandering to unknown places. That is perhaps how life can be defined, in contradistinction to death, the only known journey’s end.

Alone as I am in the early morn, in the suburban silence, with till now no sign of other human life, the appearance of a figure coming towards me puts a chill of momentary fear in my lower abdomen.

I reflect that at any time Maisky’s murderers could come upon me. If they have found out that I was Maisky’s best, indeed only friend. If they should guess that I have the notebook ….

I must not get paranoid about this, I tell myself, as the figure comes closer through the mist. I almost laugh at myself for the thought. After all I am paranoid. That was why I was at the Home. My unreasoning dreads. But I have taken my morning medication. I can afford to tell myself not to be paranoid. Maisky once told me that he had read of a condition called narapoia, in which the sufferer believed that he was following someone and that people were out to do him good. I think that was one of Maisky’s little jokes.

These morbid thoughts are soon dispelled by the distraction of the first human encounter of my journey. It now becomes apparent that the figure padding and panting towards me monstrously out of the gloom is female. Her face is shrouded in rapidly forming and dissolving white clouds of expired breath, like a nineteenth-century medium generating ectoplasm. She is an early-morning jogger.

As the distance between us reduces she becomes ever more clearly visible in the now rapidly burgeoning light of morn, bourgeoning being my preferred spelling but thinking in diphthongs is not easy, and now that I think of it, is there any other word with the letter sequence phth?

She has slowed almost to a walk, evidently recuperating after a particularly long and energetic passage from whatever far-flung cottage spewed her out at first light, bounding at first like a gazelle but now reduced to a dogged trot. Yes, of course, ophthalmic. We approach each other at a relative velocity of approximately eleven kilometres per hour, that is to say the sum of our two respective velocities, mine being approximately six kilometres per hours and hers approximately five kilometres per hour. I am positioned on the right hand side of the footpath from my perspective, she on the left from her perspective. That is to say, we confront each other precisely, and, in the absence of any lateral displacement on the part of either one of us, we will shortly meet head on.

Calculating the elapsed time to the encounter as of the order of sixteen seconds, and not wishing to seem intransigent in the matter of my rights to the particular side of the footpath that I occupy, I politely move to my left.

At precisely the same instant she, evidently from motives similar to my own, moves to her right.

We again confront each other, this time from a distance of approximately thirty-five metres, and still closing. Hastening not to put her to further inconvenience, I move to my right, more quickly this time, only to find that she performs the mirror image of my manoeuvre, with absolute simultaneity. Recognising the potential for embarrassment in a third such performance, I now proceed forward in a straight line; giving her the opportunity to sidestep at will without inadvertent frustration by a similar move on my part. The woman’s mental processes and sense of timing must be identical with my own; she too moves straight forward. Heavens, is she my doppelganger, my reflection, have I become a woman in a multi-coloured jogging outfit?

We are now virtually face to face, only a couple of metres separate us, I leisurely walking, she wearily trotting; that difference alone quickly reassures me on the issue of possible doppelgangership. If that is the right word. It is not, of course. Doppelgangerishness? Again I move to the left, as she does to the right. We are both brought to a full stop, a metre apart. Signs of exasperation show in her face. Her expression conveys to me that strolling gentlemen in business suits have no business occupying footpaths during the Hour of the Jogger. My own sentiments tend to the reverse direction but no matter, with a self-deprecatory half-smile I step smartly and purposefully to the right, two paces this time so that even if she steps to the left I will have outstripped her and left us both clear passage. At precisely the same instant she steps smartly and purposefully two paces to her left. Again we are eyeball to eyeball.

I quickly step one pace to my left. She quickly steps one pace to her right.

I wait momentarily and then step one pace to my right. She steps one pace to her left.

I stand motionless for a second, to see which way she will move next. She stands motionless for a second, to see which way I will move next.

Suddenly we both move, at exactly the same moment, again into each other’s path.

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