The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch opens in New York City in an unnamed year of the twenty-first century. Barney Mayerson, a pre-fash consultant for Perky Pat Layouts, drank too much the night before and slept with his new assistant, Rondinella “Roni” Fugate. Mayerson and Fugate are both precogs, blessed with a talent for seeing into the future. At P.P. Layouts, they evaluate common cultural objects for “minning” (miniaturizing), to be sent to the colonies on Mars, Venus, and a number of moons throughout the solar system.
The Plains of Cement is the third and final book in Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky collection, which follows three down-and-out characters through the streets of London in the fall and early winter of 1929. Book one, The Midnight Bell, follows the waiter, Bob, as he falls in love with prostitute Jenny Maples. Book two, The Siege of Pleasure, picks up with Jennie’s story just days after book one leaves off.
The Siege of Pleasure, the second book in Patrick Hamilton’s 1930’s London trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, picks up just days after the end of book one. Jenny Maple is walking the streets around the London Pavilion looking for a trick while trying to avoid a plainclothes cop who has recently arrested one of her friends. A seedy-looking middle-aged man has his eye on her, but can’t quite pluck up the courage to approach.
Bob, a waiter at a London saloon called The Midnight Bell, leads a relatively simple life. He works the lunch shift from 11 to 3 and the evening shift from 5 till 10. In between, he reads in his room, wanders the streets, goes to movies. The son of an American man and an Irish woman, he has no living family, no clear path ahead, and only the vaguest of dreams.
The Woman in White opens with a mysterious encounter between artist Walter Hartright and an unnamed woman dressed entirely in white. Hartright runs into her late at night along the dark road from Hampstead Heath to London. The woman is clearly frightened, fleeing some unseen pursuer. She asks Hartright for directions, which he gives. He doesn’t know who she is, but his instinct tells him to help her. In her disconcerted ramblings, she tells him she had spent a brief portion of her youth in the country house he is planning to visit, and she warns him of an evil man he will soon encounter.
Stanislaw Lem’s His Master’s Voice is science fiction of the highest order: a meditation on man’s place in the cosmos, an examination of the limits of our knowledge, and a scathing condemnation of how politics influences the practice of science. Originally published in 1967, this title, along with a number of Lem’s other works, was reissued in 2020 by MIT press. The opening chapters provide a brief backstory. Australian scientists, granted access to the Palomar Observatory, spent two years studying neutrino emissions raining down from space.
Bob Hartley’s North and Central opens in a bar in a working neighborhood of Chicago in the late 1970s. Andy, the bartender/narrator serves a clientele of factory workers, drunks, neighborhood characters and cops, many of whom are as brazenly corrupt as the city’s infamous politicians. From the opening chapter, which depicts the bar’s collection of oddball regulars exchanging crude insults, you might get the sense that this book is going to be something like Animal House meets Goodfellas.
Harry Madox has drifted in and out of a number of jobs, and has one failed marriage and some unspecified debts under his belt. When the story opens, he’s just landing a job as a car salesman in 1950’s small-town Texas. He’s not in town long before he meets two women. The young, sweet Gloria Harper brings out the best in him, against his nature and sometimes against his will. And then there’s the boss' wife, Dolores Harshaw, who has a knack for getting him into and out of trouble.
This is a brilliant book by a brilliant writer. Unlike so much contemporary genre fiction in which killers are portrayed as inhuman two-dimensional monsters, Hughes portrays Dix Steele as a human being gone horribly wrong. Though the story is told in third person, we see the world from the killer’s perspective. We occupy his unsteady mind as he becomes increasingly unhinged, and we see how his actions arise from feelings that most people experience as difficult and uncomfortable but that he experiences as intolerable, torturing, and unresolvable.
Reading Wilkie Collins was a revelation to me. How could I have taken so many English Lit. classes and not read this guy? This one starts out with a simple mystery: What happened to the missing jewel? Well, it takes lots of narrators to reach a conclusion, and we get quite a ride along the way. The strength of the book lies in the variety of narrative voices and the rich, compelling characters.
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