Sunday, March 23, 2014
The Lord of Central Park, by Avram Davidson
Well, it has happened again as it occasionally does. I did not read any stories this week I liked enough to report on so instead I am bringing up one from my top fifty. I remember reading this novella when it originally appeared in the October 1970 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, under the dreadful name of "Manhattan Night's Entertainment." Frederic Dannay was a great editor but a horrific tinkerer with titles.
Avram Davidson had one of those staggering imaginations, like John Collier, James Powell, or Terry Pratchett. You just never knew what would pour out of his typewriter. In this case it the simple story of a young lady from New Jersey and her encounters with a pickpocket, the Mafia, the Nafia, an Albanian Trotskyite who wants to blow up the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Hudson River pirates, and, of course, the Lord High Keeper of the Queen's Bears, who lives in a cave in Central Park.
Okay, maybe I lied about it being a simple story.
The main character is really the titular Lord, alias Arthur Marmaduke Roderick Lodowicke William Rufus de Powisse-Plunkert, 11th Marques of Grue and Groole in the peerage of England, 22nd Baron Bogle in the Peerage of Scotland, 6th Earl of Ballypatcooge in the Peerage of Ireland, Viscount Penhokey in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, Laird of Muckle Greet, Master of Snee, and Hereditary Lord High Keeper of the Queen's Bears.
By now you have probably figured out that Davidson loves words, for their own sake. He also uses them to tell a wonderful story.
The Marquess is broke and dishonest, which explains why he lives in a cave, cadging most of his meals from meat his trained falcon steals off grills on the surrounding balconies. He is a sharp fellow and when he spots rope in a store window that could only have been swiped from the British Navy he finds himself confronting the aforementioned river pirates who vehemently deny that they are pirates. You see, Peter Stuyvesant gave the family the right to collect taxes in 1662, just before the Dutch surrendered to the British.
For a moment no word broke the reverent silence. Then, slowly, Lord Grue and Groole removed his cap. "And naturally," he said, "your family has never recognized that surrender. Madam, as an unreconstructed Jacobite, I honor them for it, in your person." He gravely bowed.
I won't attempt to explain how everyone else fits into this mad mosiac. Just get your hands on the story and read it. Why it hasn't been made into a movie is one of those inexplicable mysteries. It's practically a film right on the page.