George C. Chesbro's semi-popular dwarf private detective, lecturer and criminologist Dr. Robert Frederickson, better known as retired circus acrobat "Mongo the Magnificent," first appeared in various magazines in the early 1970s, most notably Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine. Chesbro was fundamentally a mystery writer, but much of his work was infused with elements of the supernatural, as were the Mongo novels. AHMM was not averse to publishing mysteries that contained elements of the supernatural, and featured many mixed genre mystery stories, including a handful by Chesbro himself. The novella that was the basis for the first Mongo novel, Shadow of a Broken Man, was titled "Strange Prey" (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, August 1970), and featured the plight of telepathic New York architect Victor Rafferty. The novella predates "Mongo," and did not feature an investigating detective of any kind, but instead pursued Rafferty's plight from agents wanting to recruit him for talents that could help transform him into a natural, undetectable super-spy.
Shadow of a Broken Man is set several years following the events of "Strange Prey." Detective Mongo is hired to find the missing architect. For those reading the novel without having read the novella, the secret to Rafferty's disappearance is one discovered alongside our detective's own investigations, while those who have read the novella are aware of many of the facts Mongo is in the process of unveiling, and there is less suspense offered to the reader. I had read "Strange Prey" a number of years ago, but was not aware of its connection to the novel, and only when I was well into the book did I realize that the elusive Victor Rafferty was the sympathetic character in Chesbro's novella, which as a pre-teen was among my favourite AHMM stories.
Most striking between the two narratives is the perception of character. In the shorter version we read of Rafferty's experiences coping with his new powers, whereas in the novel we are quite removed from the man, and he comes across as cold and confident, not at all the sympathetic anti-hero of the earlier version. Of course the novel is set years later when Rafferty has taken on a new identity, has properly trained himself to control his powers and, most importantly, has found a purpose in life for his new, "improved" self. Moreover, this change is actually properly in tune with where Rafferty, having made a decision to take charge of his fate at the end of "Strange Prey," is expected to find himself years later. Otherwise the stories are closely connected, and the novel for most part, even in smaller details, follows the events of "Strange Prey" quite accurately.
Shadow of a Broken Man begins as a conventional mystery, as Mongo is hired by the former Mrs. Rafferty's new husband to investigate the possibility that Mr. Rafferty is still alive. Our detective follows the expected path in interviewing and investigating, and it isn't until we're quite drawn into the case that the reader becomes aware that there is a supernatural element involved, and even later as to the extent of that element. The work is quite solid and satisfying, and though I like "Strange Prey" and loved it as a kid, I do wonder how I would have responded to the novel not knowing the nature of our mysterious Rafferty; namely how I would have responded to the supernatural element and its introduction into the mystery.
To be continued...For my complete review, please visit Casual Debris.
Robert Coover's postmodern detective novel Noir is not a parody nor a satire of the noir detecti...more For my full-length review, please visit Casual Debris.
Robert Coover's postmodern detective novel Noir is not a parody nor a satire of the noir detective mystery, though it does contain elements of both. Instead it is an examination of the sub-genre and its relationship with the reader, proposing that the genre is a wholly artificial fabrication designed to elude even the cleverest of deductive readers.
The novel is composed entirely in the second person, and follows the "you," private investigator Philip M. Noir, during an investigation of a widow's former husband and some shady dealings in which he might have been involved. Second person is placed amid a semi-surreal narrative in all its exaggerated noirish glory, and by creating an incompetent protagonist destined to fail and refering to him as "you," Coover seems to be making the point that the reader makes a poor detective. His comment on the genre is that whatever the outcome and whatever the mystery, its plot connections are fabricated and unreal, so how is a reader to piece together something that simply is not there? "What's the connection?" the narrator asks. "No idea. Connections probably an illusion... Illusory connection." (113) The links throughout the novel that bring us from one plot point to another and toward its eventual convenient conclusion do not exist: we are brought to that conclusion via artificial craft and not deductive logic: "Some knots, like the twist your thumped brain's in now, cannot be untangled." (186) The reader is destined to fail as detective because the mystery is intertwined in such a way that no reader can piece its parts into a cohesive whole.
Moreover, the novel is filled with distractions, character delineations and back stories that are interesting, even fascinating (such as the tattooed prostitute), yet have no place in the story as a whole. The novel is filled with these sidebars, and are among the more entertaining points of the work. In any mystery distractions serve to confuse the reader, leading them on false trails and overstuffing the brain with needless detail. Coover makes light of this in his wild ramblings on underworld dealings and Noir's own absurd past experiences.
And Noir's experiences are more than just distractions.
The novel's title embodies the whole: Noir is both genre and character, and the two are expertly encapsulated in the whole. Coover brings together all the elements of classic noir from both book and film: its damsels and thugs and hard-living detective and urban sprawl, and also its language, the secondary settings from dockyards to alleys, and its filmic details with foreboding shadows and lights filtered through slats of cheap office window blinds. More than genre, Noir is character. Protagonist Philip M. Noir is such a presence that his character is elevated above the plot. We are not reading about this particular case, but rather about a man, a caricature who has faced many cases, many hardships, though in essence each one is like the other. Our detective, however, is altered from standard detective hero to substandard incompetent, and aside from its commentary on the mystery reader and the unsolvable tangled plot, the transformation makes for a great comedy.(less)
After eight years as assistant to Private Investigator Hutte, who is now taking...more For my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
Rating is more of a 3.5.
After eight years as assistant to Private Investigator Hutte, who is now taking his retirement, Guy Roland can undertake the investigation of his own past. Suffering from severe amnesia, Roland was once Hutte's client, named and trained by the man, and finding himself with no specific purpose, he takes on the task of discovering his identity.
Roland's past is set in occupied Paris of the 1940s, and is weighted with paranoia, persecution and an overwhelming sense of melancholy. His life is a collection of fragments that cannot form a cohesive whole, and there is no satisfying link between the man he was and the person he is now. Jumping from identity to identity, when we are finally satisfied with who he was once was, it turns out that person might also have been on a borrowed identity. Indeed, no character is fully him or herself, since in the midst of occupied Paris most people lived on false papers. Even now, in the 1960s, paranoia is still rampant, and the people Roland interviews have only vague recollections of their own pasts.(less)
Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is a book made up not of i...more For my full-length review, please visit Casual Debris.
(A 3.5 perhaps, or 7/10)
Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is a book made up not of interrelated short stories, but instead of interrelated episodes. A few of the episodes can be read as stand-alone stories, but as we move further into the work, the reader relies on knowledge of character relations and previous information to piece some puzzles together, such as the mystery of the mad woman raving about missing children. Many of the stories do not read like the modern short story, and the book fits nicely into that limbo between novel and short story collection.
Like a novel it deals with specific themes, utilizes multiple characters, maintains tone and elemental focus, yet is lacking in a defined plot, overarching resolution or any Aristotelian idea of a unified poetic work. The book cannot accurately be described as a collection of interrelated stories since, in the traditional modern sense, most of these chapters are not proper short stories. Some stories overlap too much into others, and many important character elements are incorporated into a tale via another story. We rely too much on the whole to understand each individual part. Instead, as the title implies, the episodes function not in the way a modern story would function, but rather in the way a fairy tale might. There is a simplicity of structure and authorial freedom in these tales of cannibalism, incest, patricide, rape, and so forth, while the complexities lie not in the parts but in the whole.
Each story is told through the point of view of one of five townsfolk, grown up now but telling of the years spanning childhood into teens. The narratives are for the most part distant and unaffected, no matter of the horrible incidents the narrators are recalling. The voices are similar, but the women are more sympathetic, and their narratives are thereby more involved since they maintain an emotional component that is lacking in the tales of the men. This lacking is not a bad thing, however, but striking, as we read, for example, a matter-of-fact retelling of the cold innocent killing of a sister.
A series of tragedies delivered in a matter-of-fact tone. The distance works well in creating tragedy without melodrama, and unlikable characters without judgement. Unique and powerful, I look forward to Kiesbye's follow-up. (less)