SOMETHING MORE THAN NIGHT by Kim Newman
Titan Books p/b £7.37
Review by Nigel Robert Wilson
If you eat ghosts and you eat the wrong one, then you become possessed. This fascinating proposition is put forward by the fictional narrator of this tale, who is none other than Raymond Chandler. Yes, him! This is one of the many sage offerings from this deliciously complex, convoluted story which is the latest publication from Kim Newman.
The setting is in a parallel Hollywood in the late Thirties where the cruelties and greed of the motion picture world are magnified and the romance demolished. Here Raymond Chandler writes his detective stories, and Boris Karloff makes a living playing monsters. Both of them are the product of the English public school system and, like all proper chaps, share a common love for cricket and the presence of the goddess Ariadne as both muse and guardian. For some unaccountable reason, cricket plays little part in the entire book.
Kim Newman has a talent for imitating literary styles. He also does his homework, happily labouring in the archives to maximise the tale. In this work, he has reversed Raymond Chandler into his hero, Marlowe and Frankenstein’s monster into Billy Pratt via his acting persona of Boris Karloff. On this occasion, Devlin, a renegade detective in the District Attorney’s office, enlists their help in an enquiry into a suspicious, supposed accident at Home House, an ugly new mansion erected by family oil money alongside the studio lot of Pyramid Pictures.
Junior Home runs Pyramid and is financed in that endeavour by his indulgent oil-baron father, whose origins are in Thuringia. This is where trepidation starts to chime. It is German-American territory at the very time when Nazi Germany was seeking to influence the United States in the days of Roosevelt’s New Deal. It would appear that the apparent accident at Home House was a dangerous medical experiment in which the idea of the `ubermensch’ or Aryan supermen had become flesh in Los Angeles.
This is a science-fiction, whodunnit, tale of horror in which Junior Home and his film-gadget man, Norman Quinn, are the surviving casualties of this accident, apart from a strange lady of doubtful identity who leaves the scene largely intact and rather promptly. Whilst she becomes a fascinating part of the tale, Home and Quinn are quickly redirected to the Lamia Munro Clinic to be placed in the care of Dr Vaudois. Apparently, this clinic is largely staffed by male nurses with similar identities and powers of self-repair and resurrection. Dr Vaudois is a clinical researcher into immortality, enhanced human talents and physical powers, including the ability to smite people dead at the wave of a hand.
Chandler and Karloff are captured by Vaudois and his bizarre team but eventually contrive their escape by aeroplane only to crash and have to pretend to be Howard Hughes. At this point, the narrative reverts to Joh Devlin’s story, which is equally grotesque and terrifying, but all the reports of his death are exaggerated.
Despite this novel feeling somewhat fragmented, the plot works largely because the reader is taken through it in an entertaining and respectful manner. It is honest and with no contrivance. Newman has had a lot of fun researching the background of this story and has disciplined his excitement into a refreshing tale. The Marlowe pastiche does not prevail, although it pops up from time to time to be enjoyed. Newman invariably provides good work as he treats his readers with intelligence. At £7.37, this book is excellent value.