Author du Jour: David Morrell

Morrell-RulerNight-SmallRuler of the Night,” by David Morrell

(Mulholland Books, pp 342, $27.00)

If you go down the street and ask anyone who David Morrell is chances are you will be met with blank stares. And yet, there is not a soul on earth who does not know “Rambo,” the iconic character Morrell created more than 45 years ago. In “Ruler of the Night,” Morrell spruces up another dormant icon of the 19th century British literature, the troubled soul, Thomas de Quincey, here turned detective. De Quincey has remained on bookstores’ shelves through the ages for writing “Confessions of an Opium-Eater,” a substance, which himself relied on to soothe his aching existence. Quite à propos in our age of cannabis legalization.

Ruler of the Night” is first and foremost a locked-room mystery, where a crime is committed in a train compartment even though no one, but the victim, has access to it. The setup reminds at once of Agatha Christie’s Orient Express. But here, de Quincey happens to be in the train when the crime occurs, and he sets up to find the murderer. Unlike in Christie’s, the “Ruler of the Night” carries a strong metaphor. It is not simply the darkness of the murderer. The title also evokes the monstrous machine that de Quincey perceives as a degradation of humanity. The invention of the train itself, which was to transform the fabric of societies beyond recognition, redefining time and the shrinking notion of space, which ultimately, by extension, gave rise to the British Empire. An achievement accomplished not without substantial numbers of victims along the way.

The attraction, beside the plot, here is the prose itself. More layered than many of his peers’, Morrell’s prose tastes of crimson velvet and blood. It carries the whiffs of the inescapable texture of Victorian era when the most horrific murders took place with disarming realism. One can touch both Baudelaire’s flâneur who wanders aimless through the streets of Paris, and E. A. Poe’s bedroom drama in the “Purloin Letter.” The novel, the plot and its prose . . . will turn you into an addict, even against your will.

Author du Jour: A. Scott Berg

WWI-in-US-LOA-jacket-smallWorld War I and America: Told by the American Who Lived It,” edited by A. Scott Berg

(Library of America, pp 896, $40.00)

Besides the inviting silky quality of the paper, this volume from the Library of America offers an impressive collection of articles, essays, personal stories, and declassified documents from WWI, from both participants and observers. The volume aims at providing a never-before kaleidoscope view of the “never again” war, that is the French-German butchery which supposedly was going to be the war that ends all wars.

I can only imagine the headaches A. Scott Berg, the supreme editor of the book, must have experienced to decide what to include and exclude. The wealth of the materials is just staggering, spanning the beginning of the war to the ratification of the infamous “Versailles Treaty.” Lots of names will be recognizable to the modern readers, Edith Wharton, John Reed (who proceeded to go to Russia), Willa Cather, W.E.B Dubois, and of course Woodrow Wilson. But there are many others to whom history has not been so kind and who nonetheless made important contributions. Charles Lauriat is one of them. His telling of the sinking of the “Lusitania” reads like a novel, a first direct personal account of the tragedy during the swift German Torpedo attack. The sinking of the luxury liner was pivotal, for it signaled an important escalation towards the eventual US entry into the WWI conflict in 1917. The major lessons to be learned here come from the abundance of testimonies left to us as vestiges of the past, from which we are still trying to make sense. Given that in our new millennial age the past seems to carry less and less weight, the publication of this volume offers an in-depth ballast to anchor ourselves with the understanding that where we stand today is not so random. Especially in the light of the upcoming 100-year anniversary. Time for reflection is never wasted.

Author du Jour: Alan Jacobson

March 2017. Only six weeks have elapsed since Trump took power, and what a contrast with the previous administration. The country seems to have been seized by the invisible hand of hysteria and neurosis. In recent memory, never a concentration of angry and vocal citizens has been so strident and quick to gather. In this time of uncertainty, it is always wise to take a deep breath and step to the sideline to better understand what is happening. Are we deluding ourselves with this new administration? Is the threat real? Or are we just venting the seething resentment that has been cementing since the beginning of the Great Recession and, why not, the costly Iraq War? This month’s selection provides reflections on our national and chaotic mental states.

DarknessEvil_Jacobson-smallThe Darkness of Evil,” by Alan Jacobson

(Open Road Integrated Media, pp 488, $16.99)

Sanity can be regained in many ways. While there are those who go to great lengths to analyze a person’s psyche to better penetrate it and spend a great deal of time to suggest curative solutions by trial and error, there are also those who advocate the more expeditive fire-by-fire approach. Divergent psychologies imply different perception and understanding of humankind. This is where Alan Jacobson (a truly underrated author) situates himself. Not that he necessarily believes in the latter approach, but in terms of thriller writing, his willingness to throw his characters into the darkest recesses of the human mind makes his story feel like boarding a hell-train from page one. His new Karen Vail’s novel, “The Darkness of Evil” is beautifully layered for this reason.

Think for a second if you woke one morning and found out your father was a serial killer. What would you do? What would you say? This is what happens to Jasmine Marcks, one of the protagonists. Is it possible to love a father who tortures innocent young women? Can a sadistic killer be a good father? Whose allegiance should a daughter have in mind, the community or her father? No easy answer, no matter who we are. But here the novel addresses the question in an original way. Jasmine, who turned her father in to the police, has written a book about him. But the incarcerated serial-killer father manages to escape and now seeks revenge. Karen Vail must protect Jasmine from her own father. But what is Jasmine now going to do about it? . . . “The Darkness of Evil” is a brisk, surprise-filled twisted ride, which will drain every ounce of darkness out of you and make you feel like a sober angel.