Stuart Douglas and others - Zenith Lives - Obverse Books - 2012
As explained previously, this is not a Sexton Blake book as such, but a collection of contemporary short stories featuring the character of Monsieur Zenith (Zenith the Albino), one of Blake`s pre-war adversaries.
The enigmatic Zenith was created by writer Anthony Skene but in these stories he lives again even though his creator is long since under the ground.
I`ve decided to review each story individually. As this may be a touch time-consuming, and knowing that people tend to have a short attention span I`ve decided to post the review in instalments. This posting contains my review of the first two stories in the collection, and my thoughts on the rest will follow in due course.
Mark Hodder - The Blood of our Land
The Blood of our Land is an absolute gem (as the plot concerns itself with a group of precious stones that have a particular significance, I should stress that the pun is entirely unintentional !). In the earlier parts particularly the writer creates almost an illusion of realism in the way character`s movements are observed ( "He reached into his velvet jacket and pulled out a flat platinum case, took from it a small hand-rolled cigarette, then produced a box of matches and struck one.") and this is very effective.
Towards the end we are in serious `big showdown` territory. Something more restrained might have been at least as effective, but let`s not quibble. The ingenious plot twists and the quality of the writing make this an excellent tale.
Paul Magrs - All the Many Rooms
This is not really my bag of chips but I gave it my best shot. There seems to be more than a hint of a William Burroughs influence here. That style of writing can be strangely evocative ("I arrived late, not because I was keen to seem fashionable or blase, but because I was tied up with some important papers and shapes of things, blurred as more snow fell in tireless shifts"), it can be intriguing ("I nodded to the doorman, snug in his den behind the window, and scurried up secret stairs"). It is certainly not predictable. Mr M introduces some welcome touches of humour (the guest list at a party includes "Ziggy and Alvin Stardust") . Against that, the reader is dropped into an unfamilar literary landscape with no signposts or explanations and as the piece goes on the danger is that the reader will too readily dismiss it as an intellectual`s game, a riddle with no solution other than that the reader provides for themselves. It`s not for everybody but those who like it will love it.
On a purely personal note, and it makes no sense at all really, for me this piece brought back memories of working away from home in younger days, and of a workmate who unfortunately died not so long ago. I think it was "blurred as more snow fell in tireless shifts" and "I nodded to the doorman, snug in his den behind the window." . Funny the way a few words can reverberate in a way the author can never have anticipated or intended.
As I`ve explained above, these are only the first two stories in the colection, and I`ll be reviewing the others in the very near future.
"Arrayed in full evening dress and habitually smoking his opium-laced cigarettes, Zenith repeatedly outwits the Police by doing what no sane man would dare. Such considerations as death have no influence on his conduct. What is life to him that he should fear to lose it ?
Yet, though an ambitious criminal, the albino has a strict code of conduct. Zenith`s honour, which would allow him to steal or even, upon occasion, to kill, would not permit treachery. His word is his bond and so, strangely, there are times when he can be trusted."
Mark Hodder, Blakiana
"The way I look at it is that I want to read more stories featuring the life of Zenith and nobody else was publishing them."
Stuart Douglas, Obverse Books
Regular visitors to this blog will no doubt have noticed my distinct preference for post-war Blake stories. Taken as a whole, the earlier Blake stories are just not my bag. Still I am not such a philistine as to assume there are no high points in the Blake saga pre-WW2. I`ve been impressed by the few works of Pierre Quiroule (W W Sayer) that I`ve read, and who could fail to be intrigued by the complex gothic anti-hero, Monsieur Zenith (Zenith the Albino) ?
We are fortunate that this enigmatic villain has not been consigned to the grave along with his creator (writer Anthony Skene if I recall correctly), but has in fact experienced a literary re-incarnation in a new collection of short stories from those nice people at Obverse Books, the aptly-named Zenith Lives.
A review of their book will be appearing on this blog very soon, but as it is already available, if anyone wants a copy and doesn`t feel the need to wait to see what I think about it (which would be entirely understandable), then it can be ordered from Obverse via their website.