Book Reviews: In Pursuit…, The Dark Half, and The White Devil

On our recent trip to Alaska, I had some time for reading. I finished Elizabeth George’s In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner much more quickly than I anticipated, so we ran out to the book store, and bought enough to keep us busy for a while: for Jeremy, Gates of Fire and Tides of War by Steven Pressfield; and for me, The Dark Half by Stephen King, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner

I think this is about the fourth Elizabeth George mystery I have read, all out of order, unfortunately. In Pursuit… is pretty much par for the course in this series–an excellent mystery that kept me guessing, with those main characters that repeatedly frustrate me. Not only can Havers not catch a break, apparently she did something in the previous novel (which I haven’t read) that makes DI Lynley quash her every effort to solve the case in this one. Still, a good vacation read.

The Dark Half

I haven’t read Stephen King’s entire oeuvre yet, but I think I have read a fairly representative sample. I particularly like those of his books in which the main character is an author. For instance, Misery remains one of my favorite King novels, with its overarching metaphor of obsession on both sides of the book, from writer to reader.

The Dark Half is another book about an aspect of the writer’s psyche, namely the creative genius on which he relies for inspiration. In it, King draws from his own experience as an author with a defunct pen-name, Richard Bachman, to create a supernatural horror piece with crime novel overtones. Written shortly after King put Bachman to bed, it follows the story of Thad Beaumont, an author who writes popular crime novels under the nom de plume George Stark. When Thad symbolically “kills” George by going public with his own identity, George manifests physically and goes on a killing spree that inexorably leads back to Thad himself. Along the way, King explores the kinship of twins and the “alter ego” of authors who write about horrific things, with a good splash of gore on the side.

This wasn’t my favorite King book, but it was a good read nonetheless, and at nearly 500 pages, it still took me less than two days to read (while visiting with family), so it wasn’t a major commitment by any means.

The White Devil

I finished off typing the last few pages of The White Devil this morning, but have not yet had a chance to post it on Project Gutenberg. I’ll give you the link when it is up. In the meantime, here is a brief review of the play.

John Webster is one of the later Elizabethan playrights, working in the beginning of the 17th century in the wake of giants such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson. Not much is known of his life, and the tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi remain his two best known works. The White Devil, is, according to the introduction to the compilation I used, “a dramatization of actual events which had occurred nearly thirty years before. . . . It is not known how the story came to Webster, and in his stage version many of the details differ from fact. The reality, however, was not less horrible than the play.” (Plays: Webster and Ford, intro. G.B. Harrison, Everyman: London; New York, 1949)

It was an interesting play, with some spots of decent poetry, though nothing to approach Shakespeare. A fairly typical revenge tragedy, it was very bloody, with no major characters sporting clean consciences. The character we hear most from, Flamineo, is a sort of Iago, manipulating and inflaming (hence his name) many of the other characters–even his own family–to betrayal and murder, for the rather weak personal motive of money. The entire piece had a harsh, bitter feel to it, with virtually no redeeming qualities to anyone. If anything, being good is a weakness here. I found most interesting the numerous homages to Shakespeare’s tragedies, notably Hamlet, and to a lesser extent, Othello.

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