24 July 2009
Joel Townsley Rogers: THE RED RIGHT HAND
I should state before commencing this review that there are few things I prefer to a well-written mystery or crime story. That such stories seem to have been published primarily between, say, 1925 and 1975 (if you want me to cut it any tighter, 1930-1960. Or, like 45-55) isn't necessarily an indication that that fifty-year golden age marked the ultimate apex of all crime fiction, with the rest trending inevitably downhill. There are, in fact, still many good crime writers active today, although I wouldn't count James Paterson or too many of those New York Times bestseller-list hacks on my shortlist (Charlie Huston--now there's a good contemporary crime writer. Also a good contemporary vampire writer. And probably the all time best vampire-crime writer, provided you don't consider Dracula a crime novel). I'm just stating, in the interest of full disclosure, that I happen to particularly enjoy, on a purely personal level, crime stories written during the 40s and 50s, of which Joel Townsley Rogers's The Red Right Hand happens to be one of the best I've read. It's an extremely unusual mystery (more reminiscent of Fredric Brown at his weirdest and best than of either Raymond Chandler or Arthur Conan Doyle, or any of their followers), and that may throw off some readers. It's also narrated in a fashion that can seem somewhat affected and distancing, although I don't really think any other narrative voice would've suited the story nearly so well. And it's permeated by meaningless coincidences that, while lending an eerie sense of drama and symbolism to the violent acts that drive the story, turn out to be meaningless coincidences, nothing more or less. It's not, in short, anything a mystery "should" be, which is what makes it such a superior mystery. Granted, without going into the plot in any detail, I'm not giving you all that much to go on, I'm probably not, in fact, even making all that much sense. But this much I promise you: what's there is good, is worth reading, is worth recommending on a blog nobody reads (or, for that matter, a blog people actually do read). This is good stuff. A+ stuff, all the way. You'll finish in a day. A few hours. Promise.