From Katie “Sandwina” Brumbach

New guest reviews of “The Pale Blue Ribbon” and “The Isle of Dogs”

Suffrajitsu.com is pleased to present these two guest reviews of the Kindle Worlds stories The Pale Blue Ribbon and The Isle of Dogs, reviewed by Val Brown, author of the Toupie Lowther – her life website.

Click on the cover images below to visit the Kindle Worlds sales pages for each story!

PBR cover

THE PALE BLUE RIBBON  by John Longenbaugh

A new, sparkling novella that opens up into an upper-class  time frame wherein the young sportswoman  “Miss Toupie”  innocently falls in love with a charming young man. They become engaged to be married, but her engagement ring is villainously stolen. Sadly the charming young man rapidly  shows an unadmirable side to his character: to her amazement he declines to seek out the villain, declaring that the ring was of little value and refusing to contact the police!

However,  “Miss Toupie” is made of mightier stuff and she decides to turn detective and search for the mugger herself. Needing to know how  to defend herself if needed, she prudently enrolls at the famous  “Macpherson’s Gymnasium and School of Arms” – Fencing for Gentlemen”. Quickly becoming skilled to an extent that amazes the great MacPherson, she sets off fearlessly into deepest east end London, locates her villain and finally discovers  the terrible  truth …

Hovering  around the  reality of the real-life Toupie Lowther – who was, indeed, a noted sportswoman with both blade and racket – the  author of this novella successfully merges her real life  character into a thoughtful,  vigourous and likeable  heroine.  Polished and dramatic, this a great new read.

Isle of Dogs cover small

THE ISLE OF DOGS by Michael Lussier

A new novella that will grip your imagination, The Isle of Dogs features the amazing all-fighting, all-women battalion of bodyguards – known widely as “Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons” – in a mystery tale of blackmail, villainy and kidnapping.

Shocked by the sudden suicide of a former Amazon, the Bartitsu babes search out and uncover the evil “Grex Canum“;  a strangely secretive sodality with  grim headquarters in a public house – the Anne Boleyn – situated on the aptly named Isle of Dogs in east London.

The fighting Amazons arrive on a dark night, primed and battle ready for the assault on the Anne Boleyn. They are led by Miss Persephone Wright (always known as Persi) – star of the graphic novel Suffrajitsu and a skilled champion with foot, fist and her deadly malacca fighting-stick. The Amazon Army  soon attacks and holds the first and second floors of the Anne Boleyn, and finally Persi, along with Katie Brumbach the muscular heavyweight wrestler and the swordswoman Toupie Lowther – readily armed with her holstered and  loaded Bisley Colt (and recently prey to the blackmailing Grex Canum herself) – fight their way up to the secret top floor, finally  bursting into  the black heart of the Grex Canum.

A good read that will keep the reader entranced by the action, The Isle of Dogs is smoothly presented with a fine unravelling of dramatic action.  The incorporation of real life Amazons, trained in the application of the art of Bartitsu and fearful of no brutal opposition adds style as well as imagination to this well thought out and captivating novella.

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“The Isle of Dogs”: a Suffrajitsu novella by Michael Lussier

Isle of Dogs cover small

We’re very pleased to be able to bring you this interview with Michael Lussier, whose new Suffrajitsu-inspired novella The Isle of Dogs is now available via Kindle Worlds.

Isle of Dogs is a dark, hard-edged mystery/revenge drama that pits Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons against an insidious new enemy:

“London: July, 1913.

The body of a young socialite is pulled from the Thames, her suicide note hinting at blackmail, conspiracy and corruption in high places.

Meanwhile, a mysterious street gang is moving through the East End with military precision. leaving a trail of murder and mutilation in its wake.

Enter Persephone Wright and her outlaw band of Bartitsu-trained suffragette Amazons, who will stop at nothing to avenge a fallen comrade …”

Q: What was it that first attracted you to writing stories set in the Edwardian era?

M.L.: Style and personal taste have a lot to do with it.  I’ve always been a voracious reader, and there was something about Victorian and Edwardian literature that enchanted me when I was young.  I grew up reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Brontës,  Bram Stoker, G. K. Chesterton, Baroness Orczy, H. G. Wells, Arthur Machen, Kenneth Grahame, and Oscar Wilde.  I even enjoyed – god help me – that occult oddball Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Q: And what was it about the Foreworld Saga?

M.L: I am particularly drawn to the Foreworld because there are still huge areas of Edwardian society that have rarely been explored outside of academia. Suffrajitsu is a breath of fresh air, in that regard.  It isn’t so much historical revisionism as it is a shadow history of people who were shoved to the margins because they were poor, foreign, queer or female.

2) Can you describe some of the challenges in writing The Isle of Dogs?

M.L.: The amount of research that needed to be done was staggering.

I never imagined that I would spend more than a couple hours of my life studying Burke’s Peerage or exploring the links between C. & E. Morton’s Bloater Fish Paste and the Millwall Athletic Football Club.   Poor naïve bastard: I sacrificed whole days and weekends to these subjects.

3) What were the most interesting discoveries you made during your research?

M.L.: My story concerns the activities of a revived Hellfire Club, so I spent quite a bit of time researching contemporary attitudes toward sexuality.

There is a misconception that the Victorians were essentially prim, high-minded eunuchs.   This isn’t even remotely true.

Q: So what were they?

M.L: Several popular music hall songs of that period that are far filthier than anything I’ve ever heard in a bar or machine shop.  I’m not talking ‘saucy’ or ‘bawdy’.  Eskimo Nell and Kafoozalum are vulgar, profane and ribald on a level that surpasses Lil’ Kim and Too $hort.

I also came across an obscure genre, which I call Erotic Biography.  Probably the best known examples are Walter’s My Secret Life and The Romance of Lust.  These are explicit memoirs which detail an anonymous gentleman’s sexual development and experiences over the course of many years and several volumes.   They portray Victorian upper-class sex as ravenous, male-oriented, compulsive and predatory.  Maids and serving girls were obliged to observe the droit du seigneur, prostitution was commonplace, pregnancies were disowned, any female age nine and above was considered fair game.  These stories are Dickensian in a really disconcerting way.

4) In what way(s) would you say the themes of the Suffrajitsu series are relevant to us today?

M.L.: Suffrajitsu is the intersection of many fascinating underground streams.  Feminism, ‘mixed martial arts’, drug addiction, homosexuality, violence against women, police intimidation and institutional intolerance.  These are issues and subjects that are still incredibly pertinent to 21st century readers.

Q: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

M.L.: Read as much as you can, and study the techniques of your favorite authors.  Sit down and write every day.  Don’t worry about quality at first – no piece of writing is ever very good before the first revision.  Find an editor and listen very carefully to his/her advice.  Take your reader feedback with a grain of salt.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

M.L.: When I was young, there was a truism in advertising that declared the most coveted market demographic to be men between the ages of 18 and 49.  This is no longer true, although for the most part nobody in power wants to admit it just yet.

Women are emerging as a very powerful consumer block.  They represent 60% of the world’s population and 78% of gross domestic product.  I’ve seen reports that suggest that women will soon control two-thirds of the consumer wealth in the United States.   They are, for the most part, better educated and more media savvy than their male counterparts.

Additionally, young women are entering into fields that were once considered male-only; music, law, video gaming, martial arts, etc.

As the economic clout of women grows, so too will the visibility of their issues and interests.

Having spent so much time with Emmeline Pankhurst recently, I cannot help but wonder how she would seek to leverage this power in pursuit of equality in a country where the Violence Against Women Act can barely make it through Congress.

Bio

Michael Lussier has been a machinist, an orderly in a psychiatric hospital and (on one occasion only) a celebrity babysitter.  He is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Bartitsu, which can be found online here. As a general rule, Michael hates to talk about himself.

twitter: @Decervelage

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Meet the Amazons …

… the elite secret society of bodyguards sworn to protect the leaders of the radical women’s rights movement.

Persephone

Persephone Wright

Athletic, charismatic and a brilliant tactician, 27 year old “Persi” is the field leader of the Amazon team.  In daily life, she teaches the martial art of Bartitsu at her uncle Edward’s gymnasium in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Persi’s hedonistic, free-thinking lifestyle sometimes clashes with her disciplined drive to protect others at all costs.

Flossie

Flossie Le Mar

A rough-diamond adventuress from New Zealand, Flossie has a quick temper and a sarcastic wit.  She is, however, a passionate advocate of women’s rights, including the right of self-defence.

 

Toupie LowtherToupie

A skilled tennis player, singer, fencer and Bartitsu fighter, the aristocratic, cross-dressing lesbian Toupie Lowther is also one of England’s best “lady motorists”.  She serves as Mrs. Pankhurst’s chauffeur and getaway driver and is effectively the second-in-command of the Amazons.

Judith LeeJudith

Judith protests that she is not so much a detective as simply an inquisitive woman with some unusual talents; these happen to include martial arts training and lip-reading, which she employs in her daily work as a teacher of the deaf.  She is, however, “morally compelled” to investigate crimes and mysteries when they cross her path.

Miss SandersonMiss Sanderson

A silent woman of mystery – not even her Amazon teammates  know her first name.  Miss Sanderson is a mistress of the art of parasol fencing and is darkly rumoured to have worked as a “governess“.  She wears a tight-lipped, predatory grin in the heat of battle.

Katie “Sandwina” BrumbachMrs. Brumbach

At 6’2″ tall and 240 lbs., Mrs. Brumbach is a woman of notably feminine bearing when she’s not snapping iron chains and out-wrestling strongmen.  The only daughter of an Austrian circus family, she is fiercely loyal to her Amazon cohorts.

Kitty MarshallKitty

18 year old Kitty is the youngest member of the Amazon team.  She’s inclined to over-apologise and harbours a secret fear of ghosts, but she’s a quick-thinking and brave fighter for the cause of women’s freedom.

Kitty keeps her Amazon training and missions secret from her over-protective family.

 

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“Sandwina”, the Woman of Steel

Katharina Brumbach (1884-1952), better known by her stage name, “Sandwina”, was born into a family of Austrian circus athletes and strength performers.

As a teenager she received extensive physical training that augmented her natural gifts towards great strength. By the time she made her official debut in her family’s circus act – offering 100 marks to any man in the audience who could defeat her in a wrestling match – she already stood close to six feet tall and weighed in the region of two hundred pounds.

Her stage name was purportedly adopted after she defeated the famous strongman Eugen Sandow in a weightlifting contest during the very early 1900s (“Sandwina” being a feminine variant of “Sandow”). She and her husband, acrobat Max Heymann, developed a double act in which Sandwina played the role of a soldier going through a rifle drill, manipulating Heymann as if he were a rifle.

Sandwina

By 1911 the couple were touring vaudeville and circus circuits throughout the United States and Europe, with Sandwina performing numerous impressive feats of strength including bending iron bars, breaking chains and supporting enormous weights on her shoulders. She became particularly famous in America, where she was seen as an exemplar of several popular cultural trends including eugenics, physical culture and women’s suffrage. Circa 1912 she became the vice-president of a suffrage society within the Barnum and Bailey Circus, although she was quoted as saying that she feared suffrage might “masculinise” women.

Retiring from the circus life, Sandwina and her family opened a popular tavern and restaurant in Ridgeway, New Jersey, where she continued to perform feats of strength for their patrons every Saturday night. She also took a hand in training her son Teddy, who became a prominent professional boxer, during the 1920s and 30s.

A New York Mirror newspaper article of December 15, 1947 recorded an incident in which a “bruiser” had entered Sandwina’s bar, berated everyone in sight and then started aggressively for Max. Under such circumstances, Sandwina – known to all in the neighbourhood as “Mama” – was known to say to her husband, “Papa, open the door …”. She knocked the bruiser out cold with one punch and ejected him from the premises. Apparently, this sort of thing happened often enough that the local cops had developed a customary word of caution for Sandwina the strongwoman:

“Mama, don’t hit him too hard!”

Sandwina, the Woman of Steel appears as a member of the Amazon bodyguard team in the Suffrajitsu graphic novel series.

The Mighty Sandwina, aged 63 years, bends a steel strap into a pretzel.
The Mighty Sandwina, aged 63 years, bends a steel strap into a pretzel.
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Judith Lee – her new and wonderful detective feats – The Wrestler and the Diamond Ring

Judith Lee

I had lately returned to my London flat following a strenuous and morally stimulating adventure in Tuscany. Sifting through the inevitable accumulation of mail, I discovered a telegram dated just the previous day. It read:

DARLING JUDITH STOP FAR TOO LONG STOP URGENT THAT WE MEET AT EARLIEST CONVENIENCE STOP PERSI

followed by a telephone number.

“Persi” could only be my old school chum, Persephone Wright. The particulars were quickly arranged and so I set out for the Café Royal in Regent Street that very afternoon, most curious as to what might have become of Persi in the decade since we had last met.

She had never been precisely demure, but Persephone’s appearance and manner as she swept into the gilt-and-turquoise café was positively Bohemian, all gypsy shawls, art nouveau jewellery, dark honey hair and feline grace.

“Judith, dear”, she began as soon as we broke our embrace, “it’s smashing to see you! Now, I do hope you’ll be able to help – my friend Armand has just been arrested and things are in an awful state!”

This occasioned some raised eyebrows amongst the other café patrons and I ushered her into a booth post-haste.

“Well, I shall do what I can to help,” I began once we were settled, “but please understand that I am not so much a detective as simply an inquisitive woman with a few unusual talents.”

Chief amongst those talents, as my regular readers will be aware, is my ability to read lips, a skill I have honed since young childhood and which I currently employ in my occupation as a teacher of the deaf. It has occasionally happened that I am able to “overhear” by sight certain confidences of an illicit nature, which I have felt morally compelled to investigate; by these means have a number of frauds, thieves and even murderers been brought to justice.

Over our afternoon repast of milky mint tea and crumpets, Persephone informed me that her uncle Edward was the proprietor of the famous Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue, where the cream of London society took their exercise and learned the noble arts of self defence. The unfortunate “Armand” was Armand Cherpillod, the Club’s professor of physical culture and wrestling. Persephone described him as a kind and stalwart but unworldly man, of humble rural stock, who had emigrated from Switzerland some years earlier, at her uncle’s invitation. Since then, she said, Armand had often, and rather successfully, represented the Bartitsu Club in wrestling challenges upon the Tivoli and Alhambra stages.

“And what has brought this great wrestler so low?” I inquired.

Persi lit an exotic cigarette, perhaps to soothe her nerves.

“He has been accused of theft,” she said somberly. “The police found stolen property in his flat – a precious diamond ring that apparently belongs to Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, the wife of Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, who was himself a student of Armand’s.”

“Lady Duff-Gordon – better known as Lucile? The fashion designer?” I asked.

“The very same.”

“But you believe that Armand is innocent?”

“Absolutely so. Armand says that he was, in fact, given this ring as a gift by another of his wrestling students, a woman named Marjorie. I strongly suspect that she is the true thief, or at least the villain’s accomplice.” Persephone’s deep blue eyes narrowed as she drew pensively on her cigarette.

“We’ve seen nothing of Marjorie since Armand was arrested, and she’d never missed a class before. Of course, Uncle Edward is very concerned, not just for Armand’s well-being but also for the honour of the Bartitsu Club. A scandal might ruin him.”

“Well then,” I said, “we must find this woman as soon as we can. I assume that you have explained all of this to the police?”

At this, Persi frowned again.

“Of course, but I’m afraid there’s little that I, or any associate of the Bartitsu Club, can say to the police that would influence them for the better,” she said. “They are thoroughly suspicious of the lot of us, at the present time.”

“But why?”

Persi exhaled a thin stream of smoke and then, knowing my talent at lip reading, spoke silently, her lips and tongue forming the words:

“Judith, I understand that you support the fight for women’s suffrage?”

I nodded in assent.

“You should know that the Club is the headquarters of Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazon guards. The police are aware of that, though they’ve never been able to prove it; thus our dilemma.”

I understood at once. The Amazons were the subject of much newspaper speculation and street gossip; aside from serving as Mrs. Pankhurst’s personal bodyguards in sometimes violent affrays with the constabulary, they were rumoured to engage in no small amount of criminal activity to draw attention to their cause. I knew, however, that they took great pains to ensure that their protests by vandalism and arson caused no-one any physical harm. While I would not normally associate myself with lawbreakers, as far as I was concerned, the Amazons were serving the higher moral good.

“All right, then,” I said, “let’s pay a visit to your uncle’s Club.”

It was about a quarter to six o’clock when Persephone escorted me to the Bartitsu School of Arms in Soho, the two of us walking arm-in-arm and reminiscing about our girlhood escapades. We turned the slight left from Regent Street into Shaftesbury Avenue and five minutes later arrived at the Club, number 67. An ornate sign announcing the business name and that of its proprietor hung above the door.

Upon entering the spacious, high-ceilinged exercise hall of the Bartitsu Club, my predominant impression was of a curiously formal street brawl in progress. Most of the participants were women, and I wondered whether these were the mysterious Amazons themselves in training. Spread throughout the hall were about fifteen combatants, wearing dark blue exercise blouses and bloomer pants over their stockings, all swinging and jabbing, grappling and falling. One woman was shinnying her way up a thick rope that hung from the rafters, while others struck viciously at heavy leather punching bags. A group of four, attired in sabre fencing pads and helmets, appeared to be fencing with parasols!

The air was rent with occasional sharp cries (of focussed aggression, it seemed, rather than of fear or pain), the staccato smacks of fists and feet against the punching bags and the fearsome “thwap!” of bodies hurled to the mats. Altogether, it was quite a scene.

“This is Bartitsu,” Persephone confided. “My uncle’s invention and his pride and joy. It melds the best of European and Oriental antagonistics – boxing, wrestling, Monsieur Vigny’s art of self-defence with a walking stick or parasol, and Japanese jiujitsu.”

As a longtime physical culture enthusiast I had read of jiujitsu, whose principle was to employ an enemy’s weight and strength against himself, but this was my first experience of it in person. Persi pointed out the two young professors of the art, Tani-san and Uyenishi-san, and I was instantly reminded of the shway jao wrestlers who had served as my grandparents’ bodyguards in Hong Kong.  They were coaching several of the women in some impossibly acrobatic wrestling trick. I had but little time to take it in, however, for now Persephone was waving over a muscular fellow in grey leotards who, from his age (early fifties), demeanor (stern, moustachioed, vigorous) and eyes (blue, piercing) I judged correctly to be her uncle Edward.

“Thank you for coming, Miss Lee,” he said. “I do hope that you’ll be able to get to the bottom of this sorry business. Shall we retire to my office?” His accent possessed the eclectic intrigue of those who have travelled far, wide and long; it was impossible to say whether Scottish, Hindi, London English, French, German or even Japanese held sway. In any case, Mr. Barton-Wright’s voice was deep and commanding.

I accompanied the two of them as they skirted the balletic violence of the hardwood exercise floor. En route, I was surprised to recognise several of the women trainees; there was Toupie Lowther, the champion fencer and lawn tennis player, and Esme Beringer, the famous West End actress. No-one could have failed to spot the giant known popularly as Sandwina, whose fame as a circus strongwoman and wrestler was widespread.

As we entered the spartan office, I decided to take time by the forelock.

“If I may ask, Mr. Barton-Wright, who would most stand to benefit from ruining Mr. Cherpillod’s good name and the reputation of your Club? Do you have any enemies?”

Mr. Barton-Wright did not quite scowl, but his magnificent moustache twitched meaningfully. “Enemies? Oh, I should say so. Certain members of London’s wrestling fraternity come to mind; men who have been bested by Cherpillod, Tani and Uyenishi in honest matches, but who do not care to lose under any circumstances.”

He strode to the bookshelf behind his desk and withdrew a large, leather-bound scrapbook, which he laid upon the desk and flipped open. Inside were pasted pages of newspaper reports detailing the victories of his champions at the Tivoli, the Alhambra, St. James’s Hall and many other famous venues.

“Take your pick, Miss Lee,” he rumbled. “At one time or another I’ve had hard words with Jack Carkeek, Joe Carroll, the Gruhn brothers, Tom Cannon, Klemsky the Russian … the list goes on and on. Some of it’s swank, but some’s on the level.”

“Swank?” I asked.

“Music hall showmanship,” Persephone explained. “Staged arguments and bits of business to keep the punters amused and coming back day after day.”

“I see. But of the real disputants, who would you be most inclined to suspect?”

“If I had to put money on it, Miss Lee, I think Klemsky here is the likeliest malefactor,” replied Mr. Barton-Wright, showing me a publicity photograph of a beefy, balding fellow with a long, narrow moustache, crouching in a wrestling pose.

“He is not really a Russian – that’s an example of swanking, you see. His real name is John Chance. In any case, he lost fairly to Uyenishi-san, though he later claimed that he’d been hypnotised – if you can believe that! – and then to Cherpillod at catch-as-catch-can. He was very sore about that match. I’ve not seen him since then, but we’ve had some vehement exchanges via public correspondence in Health and Strength magazine. I believe that he bears us a real grudge – against Armand, especially.”

Mr. Barton-Wright closed the scrapbook with a soft thump.

“Chance has recently opened his own physical culture school in West London, called the Hammersmith Athletic Club,” Persephone offered. “He has a, well, a checkered past.”

“And perhaps,” I mused, “he believes he had reason to cause this Marjorie woman to pass the stolen diamond ring on to Mr. Cherpillod, disguised as a gift from an admiring pupil.”

“That is precisely Armand’s account of things, though I’ll be dashed if I know how to prove it,” replied Mr. Barton-Wright. “Unfortunately, none of us here ever saw the ring and he did not mention the gift until after he was arrested.”

“Whyever not?” I exclaimed. “It seems an extravagant present from a wrestling student to her professor, surely worthy of some comment.”

“Armand is a genius at wrestling, but he is also the son of a poor Swiss farmer,” said Persephone. “He’s always been ill-at-ease with ‘airs and graces’ and was probably too embarrassed to speak of the gift, precisely for the fear that it would seem extravagant or as if he were big-noting.”

She absently took out her cigarette case, noted her uncle’s reproving glance and primly put it away again.

“Armand’s humility is one of his most endearing qualities, though it’s done him no favours in this case,” she finished.

Mr. Barton-Wright nodded, a grim set to his strong jaw. “So now the poor lad languishes in Wandsworth Prison awaiting trial,” he said, “and our Club’s reputation suffers by the day. If he’s found guilty of theft …”

“Well then, I shall do what I can to investigate,” I interjected, “but while my own reputation may be one of forthrightness, I’ll confess that I’m a little worried about bearding this particular lion in his den alone.”

I turned to Persephone. “Your Amazons, Persi; might they be up for a little freelance excursion?”

She simply smiled.

Continue to Part 2 …

 

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