Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dead Poet's Society

The scene is first set in Victorian London. The black-hearted magician and spiritualist Jonathan is in London on a quest to end all quests. He seeks the throne of Solomon. Why on earth would he do that? Well, perhaps it’s best to quote from the author’s preface:

History and legend, scripture and fable have all ranked Solomon as the wisest and wealthiest of kings. But it is within the occult lore of both east and west that one finds mention of the darker side of Solomon, for he is said to have commanded spirits, demons and evil forces to obey his every wish. Of all his treasures, none was the equal of his throne, a marvel surpassing any treasure owned by all of the world’s monarchs. … It is said that books showing the evocation and control of devils are buried beneath the throne and he who possesses the throne possesses more than all of the riches of the greatest sovereign who ever lived. He possesses power equal to that of Satan and rivalling that of God.

The prize is enormous, and so are the stakes. Jonathan follows a lead to New York City, a city of the worst kinds of slums and poverty. But someone is on his tail, looking for revenge. That someone is Pierce James Figg, a boxer well-trained in various arts of combat. Figg wants to murder Jonathan to avenge his wife, who was killed by him. But once Jonathan flees to New York, Figg cannot continue his quest alone. He gets help from Charles Dickens in the form of money and a letter of introduction to an American who can help him track Jonathan down… a certain Mr. Edgar Allan Poe…

If any of this excites you so far, just wait till you sit down and read Marc Olden’s book Poe Must Die. This was an extremely fun book. It’s a historical thriller/adventure story, and the author does an excellent job of capturing the New York from Poe’s time and transporting you there. It’s often an ugly city, full of poverty, illness, violence, starvation, etc. but it’s a fascinating backdrop. The time period is also portrayed unapologetically, which practically floored me. Even though Edgar Allan Poe is our hero, he expresses conventional attitudes of his day and age! He expresses some extremely racist ideas. The word “homophobic” doesn’t even begin to describe one of his rants late in the book. He’s even something of a snob. Heck, one of the villains is an abolitionist!!! It’s refreshing for an author to present these historically-accurate ideas without offering any sort of apology on behalf of the characters. It’s a massive risk that takes guts, and it also made this book an instantly memorable one.

There’s also an atmosphere not unlike a 70s B-movie running throughout the book: I half-expected Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to show up as Van Helsing and Dracula, respectively. There’s that kind of tone throughout the book. The villains are larger-than-life and colourful, such as an Irishman known as Johnny the Gent, whose sidekick is an enormous black woman known as Black Turtle (who acts as an enforcer). And what about the filthy rich Hugh Larney, who affects a fake British accent in a vain effort to impress others with his class, and whose faithful servant is a black man named Thor who does all of his master’s bidding (including murder)?

I really enjoyed Poe Must Die. It’s got a good plot, and Edgar Allan Poe is a fascinating central figure. Although the black arts and the supernatural are realities within this universe, Poe can still factor them in (albeit with a healthy dollop of scepticism) and come up with some impressive deductions. This isn’t much of a mystery – it’s more of a thriller/adventure story – but it’s a very good thriller, and a very enjoyable one at that.

The fight sequences are also terrific. The author, Marc Olden, held advanced black belt degrees in both Karate and Aikido, and he used his knowledge and experience very well. The fight scenes are fuelled by adrenaline: you feel like you’re right there in the thick of the action, with fists flying everywhere. It’s tremendously exciting and engaging, and there are several scenes of this sort.

Interestingly enough, back when Poe Must Die was first published, there was quite a bit of film interest in it. Sean Connery read it and apparently said it was the best thing he’d read in ten years, and committed to starring in the film as Pierce James Figg. Unfortunately, one of the producers got very ill before the production could get underway. As a result, it was shelved, and nothing ever came of it… but oh, what a movie this book would have made!

Overall, I really enjoyed Poe Must Die and can highly recommend. It’s an engaging, entertaining adventure which easily sucks you in and doesn’t want to let go. If you’re a fan of Poe, you’ll probably enjoy this book. You’ll also enjoy it if you like larger-than-life characters (especially villains), excellent action, and an engaging plot. Poe Must Die makes for wonderful reading.

AND NOW for some shameless self-promotion… now that we’ve dealt with some supernatural foes, what happens if we let supernatural horrors take over completely? Join me for my next review and you can see me confronted with a horror novel chock-full of supernatural manifestations! Be sure to drop in for a bit of a laugh…

1 comment:

  1. I have had a copy of the paperback for about 25 odd years, still unread but always mean to get round to it (I know, I know ...) - I really should by the sound of it and didn;t know about the proposed movie version - fascinating.