3 Stars

The Werewolf Principle

THe Werewolf PrincipleThe Werewolf Principle by Clifford D. Simak (1904 – 1988) was first published in 1967. I read the Berkley paperback with the Richard Powers (1921 – 1996) cover art.  My copy was only 216 pages, but I think it took over a week to read – because I had just gotten home from travel and for whatever reason, my mind was feeling listless and disinterested.  This is the eighth Simak novel that I have read, though, so I feel he and I are old friends, so to speak.

First of all, there are no “werewolves” and there is no “werewolf principle.”  Like all of our favorite science fiction grandmasters, Simak had a keen, uncanny eye for the future, but I doubt even he could have guessed our pop culture fascination with werewolves – and the many iterations of them that we have designed. Unfortunately, it seems we have saturated ourselves with werewolves (yes, and other monsters associated with them like vampires) and so the title of this novel from 1967 might be off-putting to someone in 2022.

Second of all, Simak’s love for pastoral, middle-America farms and woodlands is once again present. It seems no matter the storyline or the characters, Simak will find a way to take the reader fishing. He will also tell you all about the woods nearby, the critters that roam those woods, the farmland across the way, and the hills that overlook it all.  I, personally, am not a big fan of scenery, but it is such a part of Simak and his writing that I have come to accept it and understand it as necessary to enjoying Simak’s worldview and creations.  By the way, I do enjoy fishing. Trout, panfish, Bass, etc. although in my youth I did more big lake stuff like Walleye and Pike.

Generally I find Simak’s novels to be uneven.  Whether it is uneven in plotting, pacing, or execution, it does not really matter because the result is always somewhat of a rolling up and down read. This novel may be slightly more uneven than some of the others I have read, but its, again, something I have learned to expect with Simak. Specifically, the opening quarter of the novel is very in media res.  And chapter six is especially difficult/frustrating to read.  The novel moves in and out of a variety of “action/fugitive” moments to segments of introspection and description that seem so very sluggish.

Solar panels on houses – houses that are really Smart Homes. The A.I. of the houses is very intrusive and oppressive. The various rooms of the house are very often harassing the people in the house. Its really invasive and annoying – and I am just reading about it. I pity the main character. But, on the other hand, I think of some of the Smart Homes in society currently and I have to shrug a little. Perspectives….. Anyway, I really snorted at one of the interactions of the overbearing Kitchen in chapter seven.  While its obnoxious, I can relate to it. Many times my household has to throttle back my cooking. Literally, massive meals with Old World styled courses and plating. Also, enough to feed a battalion. So, when in chapter seven the Kitchen lets loose, I had to cheer!

The theme of the overall novel is about the meaning of the Self or what it is to be a mind. I am taken back to my graduate school days where we read things like Gilbert Ryle and argued about BIVs [Brain in Vat] for endless semesters. In this novel, Simak has BIVs. This fact is a little unnerving because I swear Simak predates a lot of the academic inquiry. It is not just about BIVs, though. There is also a wrangling that the characters do with what it means to be human and what it means to have/be a self.  I remember there was a lot of Macquarrie and Calvin O. Schrag that I had to read through. Everyone after Heidegger is very busy discovering themselves, you know…. I digress….

While this may sound interesting to some readers, it is very uneven and at some point in the novel, the tone changes. There is a very negative feeling that comes through the writing toward and about humanity. The main character, though full of knowledge and data, is also extremely emotional. Toward the end of the book, he basically makes a sudden decision that “oh, humans will be mean to me, so bye, I’m leaving.” It feels ridiculously abrupt and nearly childish.

The main character has three selves (so to speak), two of which are very alien to a human. In fact, the main character is not exactly a natural specimen of humanity. So, there is a lot going on there.  Some of this Simak looks at, some of it he does not. Its a lot to unpack and the story instead grinds along. Some of the “internal” dialogue between the three is interesting, most of it is tedious. They have names for each other (that symbolically designate themselves). Changer, Quester, Thinker. These seem like as good of names as any, but look too closely and they do not really stand up to scrutiny.

The very ending is a little bit better than some of Simak’s works. This ending had a surprise twist that I did not see coming, but that is very welcome – to the reader and to the main character. It pleases the main character a great deal, but it does not erase the bad taste of him being a bit impulsive and harboring a jealousy/bitterness.

With Simak’s writing there is also sometimes what I call a “comic book” feel to it. For example, the characters will have an epiphany in a very comic book manner. They might be on a long introspection jag and when an idea comes to them, the writing just feels like the yellow narrative boxes instead of a prose edit. It does not happen often, but its there in most of the Simak novels. Just a brief section where it feels like a novelization of some tense moment from a comic.

Anyway, I liked the usual things one likes about Simak novels. I disliked the unevenness and I definitely did not like the sudden negative mood of the main character. Like I have said, some of these themes arise in other novels by Simak, and I would not be surprised if the next novel I read of his also contains a character who does not fit in with humanity, finds a deep nostalgia for Earth and nature, but has a uncomfortable attitude toward humans.  This is NOT a bad read, certainly not at all. It just is not the high level of Simak’s work.

3 stars

Mystery Mile

Mystery Mile coverMystery Mile by Margery Allingham (1904 – 1966) was first published in 1930.  It is the second in the Albert Campion series; I read the first back in 2015 and did not really care for it. Mystery Mile, however, is the first novel in which the character Albert Campion actually stars having the main rôle.  Anywhere online where I saw anything about “Albert Campion,” I saw mention of how the character is a parody of or very similar to Lord Peter Wimsey of Dorothy L. Sayers’ work.  I feel like this is some sort of literary-world mantra that has been repeated so much that most readers accept it as fact. In my reading, I can see how readers might draw that conclusion, but at the same time, I do not think the connection is all that strong. Campion is made to produce a lot of chatter, some of it learned, most of it just free-association. It annoys his fellow characters more than it annoys the reader, truthfully. The Wimsey character can keep up a similar monologue, but his is somehow both more intelligent and more forlorn. So, Allingham might have taken a certain tidbit from Sayers and spun it a little differently. I doubt Wimsey is the only source; I seem to recall Sherlock et al. having a bit of – seemingly – irreverent chatter.

Of the bunch of Golden Age mysteries and detective yarns that I have read, Allingham’s are the least serious.  These are not quite the usual leisurely detecting that, say, are parodied in Leo Bruce’s novels. You know the ones – the murder happens, usually in a country manor home, and all the suspects sit around having brandy while the detective plays at various intellectual exercises.  These are also not the sort of heavy, serious stories that feel like the fate of the world is directly waiting the conclusion of the case. These are romps, a word I do not use often.  These are 1930s action/adventure mysteries.  Indeed, and I am going to go out on a limb here, they are entertaining and fun.

Now, the amount of fun and entertainment mileage a reader gets from a novel like this will vary. The story itself is fairly well-written, no one will accuse Allingham of being a lazy writer or a writer that did not have a grasp of plot, setting, characters, etc. However, at times it seems a bit overwritten.  At times, especially, in this particular novel, it seems the author focused too much on the main character and made the rest of the characters run around like panting obedient dogs behind him.  Do not get me wrong, though, this novel does introduce us to a number of definitely interesting characters who stand on their own. We meet Campion’s manservant/houseman, Magersfontein Lugg.  And Lugg’s associate Thos. T Knapp.  The segments of the story involving this latter character light up because Knapp is such a colorful and lively creature.  The scenes with his mother and their little apartment are also rather priceless.  Knapp’s character does play on some of those archetypes and Allingham pulls in those elements with skill.  Specifically, things like his accent, his skill set, his physical movements, etc.

Still, some of the other characters, though independent and not cardboard placeholders when taken on their own, seem unable to do otherwise than follow and obey the main character. They never really develop or show any particular insights or dynamic other than what their face value has already presented to the reader.  These characters, though likeable in their own way, make for some tediousness.

My main complaint about this novel is a singular plot point. I feel like left alone, most of the plot is organized and reasonable. However, there is one piece that were it not so, would utterly collapse the entire book.  So, it has to do with the early night in which guests arrive and a certain character, Anthony Datchett arrives – uninvited.  The housemaid, Cuddy, lets him in and hands his card to the lady of the house. The rest of the household should, at this point, knowing full-well why all of them are gathered the heck out on this swamp, misty peninsula, punt this guy right back out into the night. Literally, why he is allowed entrance to the room, much less the house and why he is allowed to engage with the guests is inexplicable.

My second complaint is really a bit unfair and very minor. In the middle of the book, the main character is given a specific prop. Apparently, he is aware of what it signifies, but no one else is. And there is no way any reader could know because we do not live on the peninsula nor do we have a map of it. So, when Campion reveals its meaning – though the prop is alluded to a number of times and suspense is allowed to build over it – it falls flat. It makes sense, its logical. However, I think this could have been handled better and been an awesome prop as opposed to a fizzled out element.

“Two young females in this ‘ere flat,” said Lugg. “Well!”

“Shocking!” agreed Campion. “I don’t know what my wife would say.”
Marlowe stared at him. “Good Lord, you haven’t a wife, have you?” he said.

“No,” said Mr. Campion. “That’s why I don’t know what she’d say. Get your coats on, my little Rotarians.” — pg. 199, chapter 24

I laughed at the above.  Some readers might find it stupid. Most of Campion’s punchlines are hit or miss, but this one tickled me. Allingham did provide several nicely done action scenes. There is a rooftop house-breaking rescue full of all the excitement readers could want. There is a nighttime escape and evasion late in the book which results in several reveals, but also things like gunfire and quicksand! There are comical moments as well:  being introduced to the rear entrance to Campion’s apartment is priceless.

Overall, this is a serviceable enjoyable read.  Readers ought not take it too seriously and have fun with the little romp.  There is a dog who provides little levity and amusement, as well. I will very likely read the next in the series, which I already own. However, this is not a series I can gobble down – it definitely does better with breaks in between stories.

3 stars

Love In Amsterdam

Love In AmsterdamContinuing in my reading crime spree (a lovely ambiguous way of putting it) I finished Love In Amsterdam by Nicolas Freeling (1927 – 2003).  The novel was first published in 1962 and was the source for at least one film and two television series. It seems to me that this novel was read more frequently when the years began with 19– than in the contemporary times.  I have to be honest and say that this is a difficult novel to review and rate.  It makes sense that readers seem to be a bit polar opposite in their feelings toward it.

The difficulties in discussing this novel begin straightaway because this is a crime novel but the bulk of it is really a psychological non-thriller.  Definitely a very slow-burn, as they say.  Being honest, there were plenty of points that I would have given this, just barely, a weak 2-star rating. My reaction immediately upon finishing the novel was that it was a 4-star novel, for sure, and certainly the author is underrated and incredibly talented.

Truthfully, I strongly disliked all of the characters.  Every one of these characters I could spend a paragraph or two complaining about – pointing out their flaws and the things about them that I found off-putting.  For example, the main character, Martin is wretched with emotions and opinions and he is just generally lazy and self-centered.  The deceased of the novel is absolutely horrible in that she is very toxic and rotten.  All of the characters seem to lack morality on some level.  Usually a lack of morals or a nasty ethics is a good thing in a crime novel, but here it just makes things slog on in a claustrophobic and uncomfortable manner. The characters hang on each other, as if there is nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.  Similar feathers flocking together. Drawn to each other out of lethargy and stupidity – love and hate having nothing to do with it.

She blossomed on dramas and scenes, loved upheavals, denouncements, tremendous rages, weeping reconciliations.  That kind of thing was her daily bread and butter.  – pg. 16

I mean, thankfully, most people are not as extreme in these scenarios as this character is, but I am sure we have all met or known a person who seems to thrive on drama – creating it when there is none. Now, there are people who enjoy such theatrics, but on a lesser scale. Almost as if having any drama validates their lives or situations. Most of these people, I think, tend to just be exaggerative, acting overwrought about water cooler moments, so to speak. But the character who blossoms on great upheavals – of course becomes the murder victim, because the reader would think this sort of person developed dozens of tumultuous relationships that would result, maybe, in murder.

Yet, here we are:  the police are focused on one gentleman, Martin, because there actually are no other suspects. Immediately, more or less, we are given to believe that the chief detective, Van Der Valk, believes in Martin’s innocence.  However, throughout the entire novel, I was convinced that Van Der Valk was being duplicitous.  I did not, and do not, trust him – not even after the last page was turned. Of course, throughout the novel the detective is very much a tertiary character.  He is really nothing more than dialogue – a specifically stilted dialogue at that. We learn nothing about him; he remains more or less an empty concept with barely an outline.  Again, I do not trust him.

The novel is divided, unequally, into three sections.  The first seems choppy, but is readable. We meet some characters and its a bit difficult to believe how unlikeable so much of the novel is. Still, there is a little sleuthing, albeit very unique and immersive detecting. Martin is innocent, Van Der Valk also thinks so, except it seems like Van Der Valk is trying to make Martin “crack” and confess. Maybe he is just trying to see what Martin knows subconsciously. It is difficult to tell.

The second section is, obviously, the part that loses readers. If readers are going to quit or complain – it is definitely in this second section.  It is such a slog. It repeats the entire history of the relationship between Martin and the deceased.  The relationship, too, is hideously toxic. It is insanely claustrophobic and emotional and the characters really seem to dislike each other and just use each other – but only in a vague and lethargic manner.  The cigars and gin are not spicy and sharp like in Red Harvest.  Here, they are smog and lay heavy in the small crowded homes.  Martin quotes stupid quotes from artists and writers. The characters fight about nothing.  Obsession and stubbornness are on every page.

As I read this lengthy slog, I kept wondering why this was happening – both the chapters and words and also the in-story relationships. Why. Why any of this. Sure, it would be all right for an author to give us some background, to describe the characters by using their past narrative history.  However, after all the gray and lethargic days and nights sitting drinking first coffee then liquor, and frequently noting the runners in the lady’s stockings, the matchboxes that are used to gesture with, its too much. It feels like no background story could be worth this.

On one hand, the two main characters are written as if they are in near-poverty.  Neither has employment or works at well, anything other than being miserable. Yet, they seem to have an endless supply of liquor, cigars, coffees, etc.  People in dire straits do not usually lounge around draped in armchairs, sprawled on carpeted floors, leisurely wandering around bedrooms. In other words, the characters ought to be eating snow and licking dirt for meals and yet they are acting like the lords and ladies of manor homes. The characters are utterly self-absorbed creatures.  The best example is how the husband of the deceased character, Elsa, comes and goes and the characters seem to misinterpret his feelings and actions completely. As if the husband inhabits a parallel, but ultimately different world than they do.  Do not get me wrong, the husband, too, has a bunch of hideous and unpleasant personality traits that make him as unlikeable as the lot of them.

Somehow, though, I made it out the other end of this middle third. Immediately, the novel was improved. The storyline picked up again and the action and intensity was reasonable and then the resolution. The last third is intense, relatively exciting, and interesting. As I said, though, I still do not trust the detective. I thought for certain in this last section he was going to show his true face and show that he was being deceptive.  The odd thing about this is that I really do not like the main character.  So the fact that I was worried and concerned about Martin’s case does not make a whole lot of sense to me. It is probably less that I was caring about Martin and more so I could not stand to have Van Der Valk be cruel.

The water of the Amsterdamse Vaart was shaking itself and rattling at the canal banks like a bored child in a playpen. – pg. 189

The setting and place do not play enough of a rôle in this novel as I, the judicial reader, think that they should.  I think more descriptions of cold, ice, gray clouds would have suited this story. However, there is very little discussion of the location and setting whatsoever.  Actually, there is a great deal of words in Dutch, German, French that pepper the whole story. (Allegedly, Martin is fluent in multiple languages, I guess.) But using all of these languages does not help situate the story. I wonder if that is how Amsterdam was (1960s) – a place known by the multi-lingual conversations.

“….but I haven’t the men to go nosing in every corner; we aren’t the FBI with a thousand judo experts and television hidden in a baker’s van.  Not having all of this tripe means we have to use our brains, though.” – 198

I admit this quote from Van Der Valk had me chortle. The dig at USA FBI measures was delivered perfectly. Tongue-in-cheek, amphiboly sort of thing with no emotion or snark. True wit, I guess. Anyway, this is about Van Der Valk’s only good line in the novel. As I said above, readers are not really given anything about him. He remains an outline at best. Maybe the novel could have used more of him. Literally, more of him, rather than just whatever lines he was handing Martin all the time (see, I don’t trust Van Der Valk).

Anyway, this is a slow, slow-burning noir. It looks at unpleasant people and their obsessions and connections in their unhealthy relationship.  Guilt and revenge and stubbornness are examined. That whole immensely tiring middle section of the novel is horrible to have to read through. However, once its read, it fits perfectly and makes the weight of the novel and gives the characters a reality that otherwise would not be there. It is a well developed investigation of what was a gross relationship. Why did this relationship exist? Was the murder, at the end of the day, just a form of entropy? Was it revenge? And, did the relationship end before or after the murder? There is a lot to sort through for those readers who do like pondersome, heavy novels.

The best scene in the novel is a series of about five pages in which Martin is returned to his prison cell after his examination with the state-hired Psychiatrist. Martin, for the only time in the novel, is at wit’s end. The guilt, imagination, worries, fantastical thinking, catastrophic thinking, rationalization, etc show Martin’s breakdown. Alone in his cell he, for once, seems to be engaged in introspection.  One wishes he had been so introspective as he was smoking in the armchair of Elsa’s home the first few times.  But this writing is what Freeling excels at.  Its nearly perfect for this novel and would work in any sort of noir crime fiction.  Its gripping and intense – even if Martin is no one’s hero. I am giving this novel three stars. It could deserve four, to be honest. But the brutality on the reader of that middle historical section is a very muddy slog – I say that knowing that there really was not another method to plot this storyline.

3 stars

Red Harvest

Red Harvest coverRed Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1894 – 1961) was published as a whole novel in 1929.  It had previously been published in parts from 1927-1928 in a pulp magazine. Technically, it is his first novel, but he had plenty of short stories and other smaller published pieces before 1929.  It is really quite an absurdity that I have not read any Hammett before. The only thing I can do about that, seeing as I have no ability to time travel to the past, is to read more now and in the future. I am about thirty minutes away, I guess, from a whole collection of Hammett documents and paraphernalia (photos, scrapbooks, writings, letters).  The collection, owned and housed at a nearby library, includes about 250 prints and pencil drawings of Hammett’s work for the Army newspaper he created. He was stationed in the Aleutian Islands where he developed the Army newspaper, The Adakian.

Hammett allegedly wrote Red Harvest with a lot of personal experience and current events in mind. I suspect this has a whole lot more meaning to literary people than to Hammett himself or his audience. Not to say that he or his audience were daft, I just think he used what was ready-at-hand to create the story. He had previously written stories involving a character called “The Continental Op.”  He split with the magazine over money issues. His first story back with the magazine, Hammett dedicated the novel to Joseph Thompson Shaw who was the newly installed editor of the pulp magazine (Black Mask). To me, this sounds like a writer chasing the dollars and not a writer with some lofty literary goals.

All of this being said, this is a very famous novel that I think usually receives top marks from readers and critics.  Taken utterly by itself, not looking at context or comparing it to any other work, I do not see how it can get very high ratings.  Even so, taken contextually and comparatively, giving the novel five stars seems silly.  What is the comparison? Well, let’s look at things like Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Wimsey and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.  The stories tell us about a more refined and genteel culture. The settings, characters, and plots are mysteries and isolated crimes.  Hammett wrote this work which showed another facet of “real life” in which workers’ strikes, kingpins, gang wars, and corrupt police departments were the norm. Hammett’s depictions play up the wild, wild West zeitgeist in which the American culture of independence slides into lawlessness and corruption.  Poirot ain’t comin’ to Poisonville.

However, taken novel qua novel, what does the reader of today get out of this? Well, the 1928-1930 time period had the tail end of the Roaring Twenties and prohibition marching straight into the “Great Depression” and general global civil wars. Knowing these basic historical facts, the reader should expect a story of excess and anxiety. Economies are toppling, but everyone is still partying, and there is a general confusion of morality everywhere. On a very small scale, this is what is occurring in Personville as it implodes because the fuse named The Continental Op showed up.

Why did he show up? Its 2022 and it is not common knowledge what the methods and rôles of the Pinkertons or the “Continental Detective Agency” might be. The story is that the Agency was hired to investigate a murder.  This situation goes rather sideways and I honestly find one of the plotholes to be that there is insufficient reason for the Op to have stayed in the town. Frankly, it just seems like the guy is stubborn and as toxic as everyone else in the place.  Anyway, he stays and decides to stir the pot to try to make the city combust with all of its crime goings-on.  This is passed to the reader as “cleaning the place up” by the method of “turning everyone against each other until they extinguish each other.”

The story is written via dialogue. So, if readers want the story told to them through conversation they can find that here. This is, of course, a bit of a departure from the British detectives who are conversing, surely, but still we are given long paragraphs of general information.  Hammett, the star of the new noir/hardboiled genre, keeps the dialogue crispy and direct.  This is a long conversation between all the characters. Here is my complaint – all of the characters and their dialogue sound exactly the same.  One conversation is the same as another.

Similarly, all the characters get jumbled.  Its kind of difficult to sort out who did what to whom and whatever. I think that is kind of the point of the web of crime in this town.  Toward the end of the novel, its clear that even the criminals do not know who is their enemy or their ally or what side anyone is on. In one sense, this could be an effective writing element, but it does not change the fact that it is a bit frustrating for the reader, too. So here is my main feeling on this:  if all the characters seem the same and if I have a feeling of frustration/annoyance, this is not going to be a five-star novel – even if the novel depicts the scenery well.

There is a little morality tale here about sleeping with dogs. You know, you get up with their fleas. So, in chapter 20, our main character is unsettled and goes on a bit of a rant about how he has been changed and snared by the burg.  In other words, the crime he is supposedly fighting against he has gotten snagged within and maybe has lost his moral center – if he ever had one.  Which, when reading this chapter, I wonder how other readers/critics have said that this Continental Op is amoral? Anyway, chapter 20 is probably one of the most important chapters in American fiction – how about that?!  I must give props to Hammett for making things worse – the next chapter, chapter 21, things get even worse for The Continental Op and all those rantings show there was substance to them. In other words, instead of just letting his character have a preachy monologue, he shows that the character had a reason to be concerned.

I liked the character Dinah Brand. I think she was really well-written and a bit different than I expected her to be. I felt vaguely bad about her ending, but she deserved it in the context of this storyline! One of the things a researcher should hunt for in his rummaging in the Hammett Family Papers should be who Dinah was in Hammett’s life. He admitted that nearly all of his characters were taken from “real life” so I would be interested to see who Dinah was patterned on. She was a hoot and probably my favorite character.  Honestly, The Continental Op himself does not impress me. I feel rather non-plussed about the guy.  He behaves as expected and he did not do anything truly amazing. I am kind of hard to impress….

I enjoyed the guns, cigars, and the rivers of gin flowing on every page. I like Hammett’s wordplay a lot. He turns phrases with an awkward fun-ness. One of the key characteristics of The Continental Op is his nonchalant manner. In the middle of gunfights his character is written as if everything is no big deal and he takes nothing seriously.  He comes across as a man who is bored by anyone without a severe economy of words.  He even gets bored with himself when he has to explain things and usually just truncates his own speech. He is all of our definitions of hardboiled.

3 stars

The Red House Mystery

red houseThe Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne is a rather famous mystery novel by the well-known author of Winnie The Pooh. It was first published in 1922.  I got my hardback copy back in 2018 and have been sluggish about reading it.  The cover design on the jacket is unremarkable and the first chapter is a wee bit difficult to read through unless you are in a patient mood. Once one gets beyond the first three chapters, though, the pages really do fly.

At first the novel really does seem precisely like some writing exercise. It seems as if it is an exercise in writing a whodunit mystery by a competent and, even, strong author. However, it does not immediately present as something engaging and exciting. The novel is very British and the setting is the not-quite-manor home of a man who is a bit of a fop and a dandy.  Truthfully, until I got a ways into the story, I really was doubting what all the fuss and praise for this novel were about.  I am really glad that I finally set myself to reading the whole thing and I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I am not sure it qualifies as one of the best I have ever read.  It did improve as I read along and I can recommend it to any general reader who enjoys vintage British mystery stories.

The characters are a bit unbelievable – particularly the four main characters.  Everything is such a setup for the story that I felt Milne might have been a bit lazy. It is not that the setting and characters do not work, it is just that it seems too easy. In other words, it feels like the author wants to write a murder mystery and wants to jump to the heart of the situation without any development or building as to why or whom or how. Just hurry up and get to the detecting parts of the thing.

In a lot of ways Antony, the main character, is too good to be true. He’s too smart, too slick, too convenient, too casual, too friendly, too forgiving, too honest.  I expect every reader likes him a whole lot and wants him to be safe and succeed and win the day.  However, if I am being honest, the character is a little too cool.

It is fun to follow his detecting. Antony is so smart about everything. He is good-natured and a real pal. So, as he runs through the various scenarios and investigates while he enjoys plenty of relaxation, the reader gets a good schooling on how to run a proper vintage British amateur locked-room murder mystery.  An official Inspector is, of course, called in to the crime scene, however, his deductions are not really a part of the story and only become interesting at the inquest.

As if Antony’s skills and personality were not enough, he gets his own “Watson” in this story. A younger lad named William Beverley who is willing to play the Watson rôle because he loves the fun and excitement of the whole thing. He keeps Antony company, does a bit of the dirty work, and provides a little comic relief. Bill Beverley is just the sort of harmless and helpful friend you would want to help you solve your murder mystery.

The murder is not very horrifying. It takes place in the office behind closed doors. The police are notified. Houseguests are sent away and “witnesses” are left to entertain themselves. The detecting takes place amidst dinners, pipe smoking, and leisurely walks. Eventually the frustrations and/or lack of possible solutions narrows the options to the point where the story must end. There can be nothing further to investigate.

I enjoyed the novel because it is a little bit of a writing exercise. I also enjoyed the camaraderie and fun spirit of the characters.  They poke fun at Sherlock and Watson, they tease detective novels, and they sport about the manor home. The story itself is grounded and reasonable. There is a lot to like in the novel and I think it is good to have read it, but it will not remain in my collection because I doubt I would read it again.

3 stars

Case Without a Corpse

Case Without a CorpseCase Without a Corpse by Leo Bruce (Rupert Croft-Cooke 1903 – 1979) was published in 1937 and is the second of Bruce’s Sergeant Beef mysteries.  I cannot imagine any of his other stories to be on the level of the first Beef mystery, Case for Three Detectives, but readers who somehow expected the same seem to be a bit disappointed in this second offering.  In my opinion, once you get used to how Bruce is writing these stories – with the poking fun at the whole detective novel industry – you can settle in and simply enjoy the read.

Overall, this novel was an entertaining read this week that did not strain my eyes or annoy me in some other way.  The characters are not very subtle, but they are a relatively fun group to trek around the countryside with.  The story is told from the perspective of Townsend who also chronicled the first Beef mystery. Townsend is a novelist and he hangs about Beef’s location in Braxham in the hopes of getting fodder for his next detective novel.  Beef is a fun character; the foil of all the very obnoxious detectives that most of the famous novels give us.

This is, first and foremost, a comedy. A tongue-in-cheek amusement that actually has a decent murder-mystery storyline as its frame. The humor is redundant and the plot is not a speeding bullet train.  However, it is entertaining and it all turns out right in the end. So, one of the main targets for the humor is the amateur who tags along with the detectives and inserts himself into the investigation.  In this case it is Townsend who is extremely up-front and honest about the fact that he has no business meddling, but is going to anyway.

There was, of course, no reason why I should be admitted, but my reading of detective novels, which had been considerable, had taught me that an outsider, with no particular excuse, was often welcomed on these occasions, especially if he had the gift of native fatuity, and could ask ludicrous questions at the right moment, so I hoped for the best. . . . That, I thought, is one good thing that writers of detective novels have done – taught Scotland Yard to admit miscellaneous strangers to their most secret conclaves. – pg. 62, chapter 8

So, authors who include this random character in order to make the whole story work, using the character as a lever or wedge when necessary, are being mocked here. And it is funny.  Its a dry humor, of course, but it is also a breath of fresh air.

This novel pits the simple, plodding honesty of Sgt. Beef against the modern methods of the professional Scotland Yard Inspector named Stute.  Stute is strict and is constantly demanding facts and efficiency.  His interviews of subjects are clip, direct, and sharp.  He will inevitably interrupt the witness to demand that they tell him the precise time or moment.  Method, facts….these are his tools.

Beef and his constable Galsworthy often take the brunt of Stute’s elitist prejudices and frustrations.  Galsworthy and Beef are outrageously saintly in their good-natured and long-suffering patience. The poking at Galsworthy’s name is repetitive, but several times had me snort. Stute has a need for Townsend’s presence, of course, but he does not spare him, either.

“But how can you spare the time to follow us round? Don’t you ever do anything?”

“I write detective novels,” I admitted.

Stute made a curious and I thought rather hostile sound with his lips. – pg. 165, chapter 20

It is absurd, and Bruce is correct to point out this absurdity in novels.  Townsend ends up spending weeks in Braxham following this case.  Every day paying, presumably, for his lodging, his meals, and endless pints at every pub they pass. Most of the time I am amazed at how wealthy these hangers-on must be in order to just lodge and eat and drink.

While Stute tends to be pointed and sharp with his comments, Beef tends to leave everyone wondering if his comments are genuine or if he is being tongue-in-cheek.  I think that is the most amusing part of the character and, of course, when Beef solves the mystery, we suspect he may have been toying with us all along. But I turned the pages from 217 to 218 and laughed out loud:

Beef shook his head.

“Its all these modern methods wot confuses those chaps,” he said sadly, “Vucetich System, and Psy. . . sy. . . “

“Psychology?”

“That’s it–Sickology.  And tracing this, that, and the other.  And analysis and wot not. I go on wot I been taught.” pg. 218, chapter 26

Yep. “Sickology” had me laughing and currently has me with a rueful smile on my face.

The nice thing about the novel is that it is not all just parody and absurdity. There actually is a rather interesting case – it starts off suddenly in the early chapters and it becomes even more fraught as the storyline continues.  And yes, it is literally a case without a corpse, in a sense. And it all hinges on perspective, which is a truly witty and clever thing for Bruce to have done to the reader. The perspectives of Beef and Stute and a little misdirection.

Recommended for summer vacations and vintage mystery fans.

3 stars


P.S.  My copy of this novel was ⚓ Heather M. Schroeder’s (nee Anderson) (1937- 2017) copy.  Schroeder was a Royal Canadian Navy commissioned Officer who also enjoyed mystery novels.  She was married to Colonel John K. Schroeder, Jr. (1929 – 2021) who was a highly decorated USAF officer.  Unfortunately, it remains unknown to me how many “stars” she gave Case Without A Corpse.

The Late Monsieur Gallet

Monsieur Gallet Simenon coverThe Late Monsieur Gallet (also known as The Death of Monsieur Gallet) by Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989) was first published in 1931.  It is the third Inspector Jules Maigret novel that I have read. I think I like this one the most, so far. Still, I am giving it the same rating as the first that I read, Pietr the Latvian.  I think that Maigret’s brooding, aloof manner really suits this storyline very well. The mystery was revealed carefully enough to complement Maigret’s personality.

These are short novels, so far. M. Gallet was only 155 pages in the Penguin Classics edition (2013) that I read. Its nice and noir, so to speak, how Simenon gives us such bare bones stories with so much character in them. I do not feel like I missed out on anything, that the book was lacking in some obvious respect, or that the story needed to be expanded in any direction.

Some of the phrases and sentences are slightly awkward. They are not maligned, but just ever-so-slightly off. I assume that is the translation, though. I have enough French that I could get through Simenon, but I have yet to see a physical copy of one of these novels in French. So, every once in awhile a sentence is a little less than smooth.  It usually seems fine because it melds with the noir feeling and Maigret’s ever-somber personality.

The story begins 27 June 1930 and it is a hot summer, a fact that seems to wear heavily on Maigret. In the low 90°s throughout the novel.  Maigret, of the Flying Squad, is sent to investigate a murder in Sancerre (just about the center of France, south of Paris). Strikes me as a bit absurd – having Maigret with his imposing stature being in the Flying Squad. He travels to Saint-Fargeau by train in the heat to meet with the family of the deceased. He meets the Madame Gallet and informs her of the situation – but the whole time, he seems distracted and set at great unease by the temper and status of the household.

One of the things that I enjoy about Maigret is how he very much allows his thoughts to take control of his movements and attitude and he is little swayed by the, let us say, smoke and mirrors that appear around him.  From this first experience at the Gallet home, Maigret is never able to shake a feeling of wrongness that pervades his whole investigation. There is also a particular prop that is collected here and remains with Maigret and the reader throughout the novel.

It was so extraordinary that the picture the inspector was constructing for himself made him feel an indefinable anxiety, as if it evoked certain phenomena that shake our sense of reality. – pg. 57, chapter 4

Anyway, once in Sancerre, we meet a variety of other characters as Maigret gets to the typical work of detecting.  We meet an almost-charming landholder and we are pestered by an enthusiastic hotelier.  There is a sort of femme fatale going about who is first described as similar to a Greek statue. The deceased has been shot and stabbed and no one seems to have very much information at all. Maigret’s sense of unease and dissatisfaction with the case continues to haunt the pages.

Every criminal case has a feature of its own, one that you identify sooner or later, and it often provides the key to the mystery. He thought that the feature of this one was, surely, its mediocrity. – pg. 23, chapter 2

In a sense Maigret’s gut-instinct here in the beginning is quite valid, but it plays out in an unexpected and interesting way. I do not want to give away the plot, but mediocrity is such a significant term for this novel.  Ironic and paradoxical.

The plot is relatively unique and I did not really see what had happened until it happened. It is not complex – once it is demonstrated. However, the looming, angry Maigret during the big reveal is a terrible and frightening image. This is not a novel that will restore a reader’s faith and hope in mankind.  There are some crooked and selfish characters in this one that will make readers as dissatisfied and sour as Maigret.  But there IS Maigret – the bulky and brooding detective that ferrets out these ugly incidents of human action and is the reader’s consolation because he, too, is angered and repulsed.

This is a quick read and most vintage mystery readers ought to be familiar with it, I think.  I like the economy of the novel and the strength of the main characters. Overall, while it is not a cheerful read, it is a solid noir-type mystery.

3 stars

The Case of the Gilded Fly

CrispinI finished The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin last night. I have been reading it this week and at several points I was inclined to read sections aloud to my household, to the chagrin of my household. I did not love so many things about this novel to include the plot and the murder.  However, there are a whole lot of things that I really did enjoy, which more than makes up for the things that I disliked.  Before I begin, let me mention that “Edmund Crispin” is the penname for Englishman Robert Bruce Montgomery (1921 – 1978).  He was a relatively prolific writer along with being an organ scholar and music composer. Allegedly he was friends with Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis.  The Case of the Gilded Fly is his first novel and stars his detective Gervase Fen.  It was first published in 1944 when Crispin was himself an undergraduate at Oxford.

I have a feeling that this novel will divide contemporary readers.  I can imagine how it would irritate and vex readers who are not as comfortable with madcap tongue-in-cheek satirical moments in their novels. It is also obvious that readers who are not very classically well-read (how’s your off-the-cuff Latin? your drop-of-a-dime Shakespeare? how familiar are you with the traditional Anglican Evensong?) will feel this novel is “obnoxious.”  I had a blast with the novel – for the most part.  I want to give this one four stars. Unfortunately, when I am very honest and I do not let myself get carried away by how amused I was, I can truly only grant it three stars.

So, the novel begins with a tedious introduction to each of the primary characters as they travel via train to Oxford. One long segment dedicated to each of the characters, one after another, is not the most engaging writing. I understand the importance of giving the reader the roster and just dumping the background of these characters all at once at the reader, but it is a slog to get through straight into the novel.  However, being honest, I have to knock a star off (in a sense) because its not a very fun method.

Here is where the story really had no chance of being five stars – I really dislike theatre and plays and film and none of that is my scene. I have written about this before.  Acting troupes and actors and the stage are probably my least favorite topics/themes etc.  I want you to know this though:  as I sit here and complain grouchily about the theatre, I literally have a copy of the complete works of Aristophanes tucked under my pillow in my bed. I am re-reading the stuff. Love The Frogs best of all.  I read it at night, usually, and I just shove the book wherever because I do tend to read to exhaustion.

This brings me to the detective of the novel, Gervase Fen.  I think he is fantastic. He is a forty-two year old literature professor.  At the start of Chapter Thirteen, through the mind’s eye of the character Nigel Blake, Crispin gives us a well-colored, insightful, and developed description of his concept for the character. Readers who had been utterly annoyed by Fen thus far, hopefully can establish a somewhat kinder view of him after reading this? I am absolutely not going to lie, part of my appreciation for Fen is that he reminds me, in bits and shades, of a certain person…….

One of the segments that I read aloud was the story-in-a-story told by Wilkes. It is a ghost story and it seems to set the tone of the novel for an upcoming murder – but it, itself, has nothing to do with the murder. On one hand it is a strange inclusion, on the other, it does more to set the tone and style the setting than most authors are capable of doing directly.  I also found the story itself to be creepy and imagined it quite clearly. A chilling little story, peppered with just the correct amount of wit. Its a beautifully written segment.

From the moment of Wilkes’ arrival, throughout the rest of this section, Fen’s reactions are amusing as heck. Familiar, too, I might add quietly. Fen cracks me up. I feel like readers will find him to be utterly rude and cantankerous, but they ought to understand he is not malicious whatsoever. Balancing his moments with his sensible and patient wife Dolly’s comments is a fine bit of writing by Crispin.

In chapter six, when the group has found the body and the police are on the scene, there is a section that had me laughing aloud and I even read the section to my, once again, long-suffering household.  Sir Richard and Fen get absorbed by an examination of a certain prop – and Crispin writes it absolutely perfectly. Its beyond humorous and silly. I feel almost embarrassed because I feel like this is precisely the absurd moment that would occur in my world. I, and my associates, would huffily tell you that “accuracy matters” and would not feel that any such enquiry wastes time since it is all in service to the great heap of “Knowledge.”

The pacing of the novel is a bit off, though. I mean, like the train that it starts with, it seems to take a bit for the whole thing to get rolling. There are parts where it seems like nothing is going anywhere and everyone is lost and dazed. After all is said and done, nearly at the very end, there is a seemingly random theory about trains proposed by Nicholas that really seems out of place in the novel, though it does have amusing qualities. I do not really care for the characters.  Nicholas seems the most realistic, though Nigel, I suppose, is the character readers are supposed to use for grounding, let’s say.  Nigel is a former student of Fen’s. Nigel Blake is a character that I am sure has any number of referents to other bits external to this novel though, since I am not a Crispin scholar, I could not say what they are definitively. (Cp. Nigel Strangeways/Cecil Day-Lewis and also “Nigel Bathgate” of Marsh’s 1934 novel).  The character Yseut Haskell is quite awful. Everyone thinks so.

I think that, for modern readers, one of the more challenging aspects of the novel is the frequent self-awareness of the novel.  It sometimes critiques itself, refers to itself, mocks itself. Its subtle at times and other times its loud and brash.  I think readers unused to this sort of writing will find it disconcerting and dislike not knowing on what terms to take the novel.  Its easier for readers to accept a novel that is this or that, let us say, rather than one that chooses a style and remains there throughout.  This novel is a detective novel, its a entertainment, its also a satire, and its a bit of an homage.  If that is not enough, at times, it also is self-aware and purposely talks past the reader or shuts the reader out.  Yes, I am sure these things can aggravate readers unprepared for them. Or readers who lack imagination.

An example of this is how throughout we are frequently told by all of the characters that Yseut is hideous and no one likes her whatsoever. The reader begins to, perhaps, accept this as reality and as a reasonable thing.  Then, abruptly, late in the novel, there is an about-face, if you will, when the novel nearly rebukes the characters and readers for being so accepting of the harshness toward Yseut.  A delicate reader might actually feel a twinge of guilt here; after all Yseut, with all of her public flaws, is still only a silly, young thing.

A murder mystery with some witty criticism and commentary that might pick fun at other detective novels (Fen mutters against the dull police investigation, the ridiculousness of Oxford zeitgeist, generally, and overall comments about the theatre.) A subtle farce, an amusing mystery. One of the things readers should watch for with Fen is that while he completely disassembles a seemingly pompous and snarky character (Nicholas), he also admits (later on) that Nicholas has an excellent intelligence. Almost as if Fen is harshest on those from whom he expects more.

Fen’s baleful worries about how he should act with regard to the fact that he can solve the murder that mostly everyone wants to believe is a suicide does bring up some interesting ethical questions.  He bluntly demands characters to state their opinions on murder. He lets all the characters share their opinions, almost as if welcoming them to assert that they are comfortable with murder “in some cases” and then he will suddenly make a comment scolding them for such immorality.  I feel some of this, too, must be taken in the context of that lovely year 1944 and the war-weary world.

Overall, this novel is a little messy – the resolution of the murder (the actual locked-room is a bit too difficult for me to really deal with).  It has some flaws. It also has some of the best wit and humor that I have read in quite awhile. I think Fen is really priceless. This is definitely not a novel for all readers, whether readers want to hear that or not.  I think, however, blaming the novel for educational deficiencies in the reader would be the incorrect way to go. Of course I am most certainly going to read more Crispin.

3 stars

Forever Odd

ForeverOddThe next novel that I finished in my current reading spree is the Dean Koontz ( b. 1945) story Forever Odd.  It is the second novel in the Odd Thomas series and was released in 2005.  I did read the first novel in the series, back in 2015. Overall, I liked this second novel more than the first because it was somehow just slightly less gory or dark or something. Well, there were some really dark parts in the first novel.  There are also some dark parts in the second novel, but they are somehow a bit more balanced and manageable, at least to me.

In 2015, I was not sure if I would continue the series. My household has, though, and I wanted to read the next novel so we can move the book on out, as we do when its been read by everyone.  Its weird and dark and yet there is something intriguing about the main character.  My problem with the first book is that the main character, Odd Thomas, seemed more mature and more intelligent than most twenty year olds that I meet.  That same problem holds in this book. In fact, in this book it becomes really obvious that Odd Thomas is not “just” a character, but he actually is, to some extent, the mouthpiece and alter-ego of the author. To what extent, I cannot say.  Is all of this a problem? Not at all. And to be very honest – maybe that is what I am reading these books for. I am a bit interested or intrigued or bemused or something about this situation. Do not misunderstand me, I am not rapt with fascination about anything here. I just find it curious and I want to see how all of this goes.

As I have said before, I have shied away from Koontz’ novels because I was not interested in how they seemed to be very much in the horror genre or even the dark and disturbing category.  I have a vague concept of a friend’s father reading a Koontz novel. He read whatever his wife picked up for him at the library book sale. He seemed to enjoy reading, but it was utterly diversionary – and I found it so strange that he would read whatever his wife purchased for him. As I recall, he would read mostly these sorts of paperbacks:  Koontz, Clancy, Grisham, et al.  I only read non-fiction back then. The reader I am speaking about died a few years back and I can still remember him lounging reading a Koontz novel.

Anyway, abandoning my digression – I just want to say that I never thought much about Koontz novels. Now that I am through two of the Odd Thomas novels, I find the author far more interesting.  Odd Thomas is interesting.  Koontz creates some of the weirdest, most bizarre, incredibly twisted characters.  Two books in, I find these books to be some of the most unbelieveable things ever.  More science fiction and more fantasy than actual books “officially” in those genres.  This is perfectly acceptable, though, because these are entertainments, not instruction manuals etc.  Still, if a reader likes suspense and thriller novels, these seem to even push the necessity for suspending disbelief farther than most fiction.  The plot is far out there, the characters are far out there, the novel’s events are far out there, and everything is just quite a bit, well, far out there.

There is something endearing and interesting about the main character, though, and I do mean beyond his “special” paranormal abilities.  A fry cook with occult skills is a unique character.  Very noticeably Koontz makes Odd Thomas much wiser than he ought to be.  For example, in this book, what Odd Thomas is able to accomplish tends to run beyond unbelieveable. He ends up doing stuff that one reads about in other novels done by career special forces guys with lots of awesome training. It is not just his lack of physical training – but also his skillful tactical thinking that seems stretched.

However, as a reader, I am pulling for him the whole time – c’mon, kiddo, you got this! And then every time one of the “oh nos!” happens I am indeed worried and scared for the guy.

Odd Thomas is likeable.  You root for him because he is unlucky yet he seems to still be humble and honest and a generally good person.  He laments things like his choice of shoes. He quips down-to-earth and utterly matter-of-fact things. For example, the contents of his backpack, which he eventually admits to selecting poorly, but which at the time seemed utterly correct. Its amusing, but also probably “realistic” (I mean, inasmuch as any of this is realistic).

The storyline in this one is a doozy, I am not sure it has believeable setup motives. It hinges on the bizarre – and I mean the really bizarre. So bizarre that its truly difficult to be horrified correctly. Drilled down directly, the whole plot stems from coincidence. A phone call connecting two people. What are the odds [pun!]?

I like the setting a lot. I am a sucker for rundown, abandoned buildings, chases in mazes, singular locations like hotels and forts. It is super weird – but put the weird in a fired-out, earthquaked ex-hotel and I am all in.

I mentioned above that this novel seemed less dark than the previous Odd Thomas novel.  I think because the humor and wit is even more present here – it really balances the totally bonkers weird dark stuff that is going on.  Ever been in an earthquake and a blizzard simultaneously? I have. Trust me, I was laughing like a fool because the utter ridiculousness of the situation was not lost on me – even as I worried about the damage/safety. Some day when I have a lot of spare time on my hands and I can just write frivolous nothings all day long, I am going to write an essay investigating the similarities of humor and horror.

This novel is not for all readers. The dark twisted stuff is dark and twisted, no matter how Koontz balances it with wit.  Still, Odd Thomas is an interesting character and worth reading a few novels for.  I think I will continue in the series, which would put me halfway and then, of course, why not finish it off? Readers who hate outlandish plots and action scenes may want to steer clear, there is a whole lot of “really out there” impossibilities.

3 stars

The Running Man

The Running Man coverThe Running Man by Stephen King (b. 1947) was originally published in 1982 as by Richard Bachman.  I read the May 2016 Pocket Books edition.  I think this is the earliest King novel that I have read.  The Gunslinger was published as a collected “fix-up” novel in the same year as The Running Man was released.  The contents of The Gunslinger having come from 1978 – 1981, allegedly. So, splitting hairs about the dating here…

I find it difficult to write about such an exceedingly popular author.  I think that this is because I want to be very objective and honest, but that since I have literally been “living through” King’s publishing, the familiarity and yet the unfamiliarity feel at odds.  What I mean is, the market/media sensation of King releasing a book has always been, at least, in the background. I have always spent time in bookstores! Nowadays I feel there is something similar with certain authors; maybe Brandon Sanderson, maybe John Grisham, maybe Neil Gaiman. You walk past (What? Who walks *past*…) a bookstore and see a display or a banner with the latest of these authors. Or maybe you see an ad in a magazine or newspaper. Or, more contemporary, ads and headlines all over the Internet. It feels like one always is aware of a new Stephen King release, even when a reader (like myself) does not consider oneself a reader/fan of Stephen King.  Its a “big deal” because his fans will be excited and, doubtless, the industry will surge with the (even if only momentary) inundation of the market.

I think I could probably read all of King’s work and still not consider myself a Stephen King reader.  I know……..   All of that being said, I would like to gently draw your attention to the fact that it is 2022 and I am talking about how I read a book published by a popular bestselling author released in 1982.

I have, however, seen the movie (several times, I suspect) that was very vaguely-based on this novel. In 1987 the movie with the same title was released starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, other actors of note include:  Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, and Yaphet Kotto.  If your referent for all of this is the film, though, you should probably just jettison that.  This book and that film are really not related and its best to take them as separate entities.  I am given to understand a possible adaptation of this novel is in the works (as of 2021), but who knows what will come of that.

This novel is really straight-forward and heavy-handed.  It is really fast-paced and the structure of it (one or two page chapters) is designed to make the pressure of the storyline accessible to the reader. 412 pages of sparsely spaced text written in dialogue and quick, easy sentences does not require much from a reader.  This is, after all, a dark-tinted thriller novel.

The main character, Benjamin Stuart Richards, is our unfortunate hero. He is not the robust and mighty Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Richards is half-starved, overworked, underslept, unhealthy.  He represents the utterly downtrodden and miserable of the lower class of society.  Unlike the true lowest levels, though, he has some education, is something of a hard-worker, and maintains a sense of morality. He is also the archtype family man who is willing to sacrifice everything for his family.  The main aspect of Richards, though, is his anger. He is enraged all the time – presumably because of and directed at “society,” but maybe even just generally as a personality trait.  Life/society has perhaps treated him unfairly, which has also given him a chip-on-his-shoulder and a dose of indignant hostility.

T.V. or Free-Vee is both a symptom and a cause of the downfall of society. Its entertainment and industry and brainwashing and its just insidious and awful.  Call King up right now and ask if he still holds that opinion – I think several of his fictions (and that of his son) that were adapted are currently running on our “Free-Vees.” Anyway, a desperate family man makes a choice that starts the story and so we enter into the fugitive plotline. Fox and hound, hound and hare, etcThe Fugitive, by the way, is a really good parallel so let me give you some dates on that. The ABC TV series ran 1961 – 1967 and the notable film starring Harrison Ford was released in 1993.  The gimmick here is that Ben Richards is a fugitive on Reality TV.

There is a whole chunk of subplot where we discover corruption and societal distortions regarding air pollution.  Seriously, in 2022 it is sobering and frustrating to read about. As far as the novel goes, though, this subplot does a little filling out of the very linear storyline. It gives some characters motives and helps out the novel. Overall, though, it feels like everything else:  hammer-style storytelling.

I do not want to ruin the story – every action thriller has some similar elements and those are here, too.  These sorts of novels are easy to spoil because of it.  Nevertheless, we can ask some basic questions like these:   did the main character who tends to hate society accomplish much because of that very society he claims to hate?  In other words, how much did he rely on others for his successes? How much was luck? How much was his own skillful strategy?  And also, was he, like many action heroes, too invincible, too amazing, too adept? Or just right? Should he have wiped out by chapter four and done or is it plausible that the book is over 400 pages?

I am giving this three stars because I like some of the parts of the book because they did not go the way I thought they might – King did not shy away from having to do the likely result.  He did not sell-out, as they say.  However, there is a rage and anger to the book that seems too forced.  Almost as if King wanted to make us really hate Richards and his attitude rather than have us root for the underdog. I would rather have met the character and made up my own mind.

Also, and this is a frequent thought when I read King, his writing can be so vulgar and crass that it can stomp on the storyline.  I can hear the argumentation that when reading a post-apocalyptic-ish story like The Gunslinger or reading a dystopia in which societal struggles on every level show up one expects the very worst of humanity. And I do, but somehow King makes it amplified and sometimes that amplification can be very inauthentic and pasted on.

So, here is a book about a fugitive.  Its largely a criticism of “entertainment TV” that is based on economic disparity. King does not, whatsoever, hide from divisions and struggles between gender, race, geographic differences.  He takes direct aim at air pollution and its effects on different groups in society. All of this is done with a whole lot of rage. I give it three stars as thriller novel qua thriller novel. Plus, there are a few small elements that were nearly prophetic. Unfortunately, dystopias always feel so angry and their resolution is always a disappointment.

3 stars