Romulus Ledbetter is one of the most usual protagonists that I have met in a long while. And I found myself not only intrigued by his complex characte...moreRomulus Ledbetter is one of the most usual protagonists that I have met in a long while. And I found myself not only intrigued by his complex character but liking him very much.
Rom used to be a brilliant piano student at the Julliard School of Music. He was a wonder on the keyboard and his compositions were extraordinary, according to his peers, professors and other musicians. When his girlfriend, Sheila, got pregnant, he married her and quit school to get a job that paid enough to support his new family. Then he began to manifest unusual behavior, which grew increasingly worse.
He stopped making music, left his beloved daughter and wife, and moved into a cave. That was years ago. Doctors diagnosed him as a "well compensated" paranoid, with, perhaps, some schizophrenic overtones. He is deemed "well compensated" because, although he lives in a shallow cave in New York City's Inwood Park, he is able to take care of himself. He grows his own food during the warmer months and scavenges during the winter. Of course, it helps that his daughter Lulu, a NYPD cop, keeps an eye on him. And, when he is not having "fits," his logic is just fine and his high IQ shines through. He is called "The Caveman" by all who know him or know of him.
Hallucinations, visions of his ex-wife, Sheila, looking as young as she did when they were first married, keep appearing before his eyes. She scolds him and dispenses advice as needed. Lulu visits him, in reality - not another figment of his imagination - and loves her father, who is still as kind and loving to her as he was when she was a little girl.
Rom is convinced that a man by the name of Cornelus Gould Stuyvesant controls the world with Y-rays from the top of the Chrysler Building. He believes that he was brought to Stuyvesant's attention because he is a "free" man! And this curdles Stuyvesant's blood! A "free man busting through to his own divinity, right?" "Ghetto kid making it at Julliard. Making a name for himself? Young composer? Hot, jumping? Getting his notes straight from God." He also believes that his mind is inhabited by moth-like angels.
On an especially cold night on February 14, Rom hears the sound of footsteps outside his cave. Swaddled in various coats and blankets, he leaves his shelter and finds a frozen body. He knows that this is not just another homeless man who froze to death. The person who made the sound of footsteps probably left the body at his front door, he deduces. The frozen corpse couldn't have walked there.
The dead man is handsome, and well-dressed, without a mark on his body, according to the medical examiner. His wallet ID reveals his name, Andrew Scott Gates, an unemployed model. Rom insists that he saw a man in a fancy white coat driving a fancy white car leaving the "crime scene." Rom is determined to find the murderer, even though the police, who ignore his ramblings, determine that the death was caused by accidental hypothermia. But, Romulus found Gates and his sense of justice and responsibility kicks in. Of course, he is convinced that Stuyvesant, or one of his minions, is the killer.
Rom is forced to reconnect with society because of his investigation. He leaves the narrow confines of his cave and journeys into the wider world, trying to keep his fits at bay. A homeless ex-lover of Scott's tells him that the murder was perpetrated by the famous avant-garde photographer, David Leppenraub. Leppenraub, according to rumor, is into drugs and sadomasochistic behavior. Apparently, Scott was the model Leppenraub used in most of his bizarre photographs. Rom hooks up with a former fellow student and musician who knows Leppenraub, and manages to wangle an invitation to one of the photographer's parties with the understanding that he will play for his supper, so to speak. Of course, he hasn't touched a piano in years.
As the story unfolds, the reader is caught up in a tale of deception, violence, mystery and a man's struggle against his madness.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is viewing the world through Romulus' sometimes deranged, sometimes almost normal mind. The extremely well written narrative is quirky and occasionally humorous. And the characters, especially the protagonist's, are very well developed. I really liked this most original novel and highly recommend it. (less)