"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked."Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.""How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice."You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."- Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
Before we plummet into today's review, I want to express my gratitude to everyone who turned this blog spot in one of his or her regular haunts on the web. Yesterday, I checked up on the statistics of this digital mausoleum and was aghast to find that the page-view counter had left the 10.000 mark behind it! I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I began posting these sketchy, rambling commentaries, a little over six months ago now, but none of mine previsions included garnering thousands of views and hundreds of comments over such a short period. So once again, thanks to everyone who has been reading these scribbles, posting responses or linked to this place.
But enough with these nauseating acknowledgements and lets zero in on the latest book that soared from the snow-covered mountain tops of my to-be-read pile, Virgil Markham's Death in the Dusk (1928) – which turned out to be a rival for Joel Townsley Rogers' The Red Right Hand (1945) and Fredric Brown's Night of the Jabberwock (1950) in the race for the title of most outlandish detective story ever contrived. This epic mystery story has a grim, fairytale-like flavor and its plot involves such phantasmagorical elements as an imperishable arm, a bone floating in mid-air, an enchanted duel between mediaeval sorcerers, a bleeding portrait and a cat that is impervious to gunfire.
The opening chapters, in which Alfred Bannerlee, antiquarian and narrator, roams a fog-enwrapped scenery, and the characters he encounters along the way, possesses all the dreamlike quality of a painting from the Romantic Era – effectively setting the mood for the rest of the story. It also conjures up a perfect atmosphere for his arrival at Highglen House, a hostelry whose master turns out to be an old acquaintance and he's subsequently absorbed into an engagement party, of sorts, but the incarnate form of a local fable has been casting a darkening shadow over the festivities.
Parson Lolly, The Arch-Lord of Disorder, has been making himself known at the old house, located near the spot where in ancient times he fought a magical duel with a rivaling necromancer, but, oddly enough, he leaves behind tangible evidence of his presence by dropping notes that bear dire warnings – which isn't the usual visiting card of otherworldly beings. Nevertheless, this sets tongues wagging with localized legends and superstitions, regarding the wind-born Parson, who, at times, can still be seen streaking through the sky with his ink-black cape bellowing behind him and the deathless arm of his antagonist, both of whom continue to plague the region, and consequently turn what began as a benevolent fable into a grim fairy-tale with a body count.
For the most part, the story is best described as a lucid account of the experiences one can have when you enter the state between wakefulness and sleep – placing this book in the same, but indefinable, category as The Red Right Hand and Night of the Jabberwock. The occurrences in these tales tend to give the impression of moving through a dream or nightmare and only you are aware that everything that is happening is just a figment of your imagination. This is an interesting and potentially satisfying approach to the detective story, but also one in which you can easily slip-up if you go full-out. I'm part of the crowd who doesn't think too highly of The Red Right Hand, but absolutely loved and adored Night of the Jabberwock – and it's somewhat fittingly that I place Death in the Dusk in between them.
I found this to be a fascinating and engrossing story, but I don't share the astonishment and disbelief, professed by another mystery fan, at how this book could've gone on so long without receiving numerous reprints or reviews. I think I understand why this book fell by the wayside.
First off, the solution is an early example of one of the classic ploys in the genre, but not one that started with this book nor is the execution as perfect or indelible as the archetype of this trick and thus has nothing really new to offer as a detective story. The second problem is the length of the narrative, which is ten pages shy of 400, and the antiquated writing style will probably make this a chore to go through for most contemporary readers who are used to short, clipped sentences and its plot is one that commends your full and undivided attention. As fascinating as it is, it's not a story that you read for the fun of it. I also understand now why nobody else took a stab at critiquing this story in the past few years or so... it's nearly impossible to coherently sum-up such a variegated plot as this one.
This goes to show how bizarre this blood-soaked fairy-tale really is. Basically, it has everything that I like in a detective story, from a well-enough constructed plot to apparently supernatural incidents, often bordering on the impossible, but, somehow, I find it hard to warm up to the story as a whole.
In short, supply yourself with a copy and decide for yourself. Don't worry, despite the limited print-run of the book it's still easily available second-hand without triple-digit price-tags attached to them.