Sunday, December 10, 2017
This is Davidson's second appearance in this column.
Usually when I point out that I might not be objective about a story it is because I am friends with the author (like last week). This week the reason is different: I have visited most of the places she describes.
Suzanne is visiting Israel for the first time. It would be a great visit except for the people she is traveling with, a group from her church. Well, not exactly her church. Husband Bobby made them join it because it is the road to promotion at his company.
And the head of the church, Pastor Ted, is a major jerk. He's the one who brings up Jerusalem Syndrome -- and let's talk about that for a moment. It refers to a mental derangement in which the patient, typically an American or European Christian visits the Holy Land and freaks out. Suddenly they are out on the streets of Jerusalem, wrapped in bed sheets, proclaiming themselves John the Baptist or Mary Magdalene.
I understand why it occurs. People have heard about these places since they were toddlers and suddenly each one is real. The road you take to Jericho is the same one in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It's sort of like visiting the Black Forest and the tour guide casually pointing to a decaying cabin and says "That's where Goldilocks met the Three Bears." Except more so, because this is about your religion. Some people's heads just explode.
When I read the story I thought it was odd that Pastor Ted describes something much more minor as Jerusalem Syndrome, but it actually makes perfect sense. He is a control freak and part of that is attacking any sign of rebellion.
And Suzanne is beginning to rebel... I enjoyed this story a lot.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
The narrator of this story has just arrived in South America on a one-way ticket. We don't know her story at first, just that there is a tragedy in the background. Was she victim, villain, or something else?
While we ponder that we meet the other vacationers at the hacienda in rural Peru where she is staying. One is a sleazy actor, on the make. But the others may bear watching as well. And our protagonist just wants to be left alone to fulfill a grim promise...
This is one of those stories that sneaks up on you. I like a story in which a character has a second chance, as happens here, but I had no idea it would be my best of the week until I got to one sentence that made my jaw drop. If I had come up with that bit of plot I would have spent at least a page on it; Davidson fires it off in ten well-chosen words. Hammett and Stark would be proud.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
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.