Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Memory of Blood, finis

Yeah, yeah, I'll get to the book in a sec, but in the meantime, if you watch any sailing during the Olympics, you might enjoy this parody.

I stand by my earlier assessment of The Memory of Blood (Bantam Books, 2011), the latest installment in the Bryant and May series.  It is the weakest one in an otherwise strongly entertaining oeuvre.  The play's the thing again, as it was in the very first novel, Full Dark House.  There the theme mesmerized with dark arcana, but here it is just a half-baked plot scaffold.  I think this is because in addition to the classic locked-door-murder-at-a-party-full-of-kooky-theater-people, there is the subplot of what happens to Arthur's memoir manuscript, which feels completely unrelated to the main theater-murder tale.  In fact, it is!  This second plot is the vague continuation of a thread involving the fiendish Oskar Kasavian, which will apparently be revisited in the next, maybe final? episode.  It almost feels as if this bit was edited out of the next book because it made the whole thing too long and complex. 

The characters even feel like shadows of themselves.  We barely see any boiled sweeties on Arthur's part, John's interest in a fair maiden is quickly (and sensibly) diverted, Longbright's fashion sense barely registers (except for coral lipstick ca. 1970), and our secondary players - Giles, Colin, Meera, Jack, Dan, Raymondo - argue about the same thing that they do in earlier books, except that they all seem kind of tired of the same old.  The story is lacking in the quirky details that are usually employed to reveal some new facet of these supporting characters' existence. 

That said, we do have an all-too-brief visit to one of my favorite fringe characters in the series, Maggie Armitage, Grand Order Grade IV White Witch of the Coven of St. James the Elder, Kentish Town.  Visits to Maggie are always comic interludes, but nevertheless advance the plot with some wacky insight.  When Bryant stops by in this story, she's dealing with an infestation of sprites.  Mice?  asks Bryant, thinking he's not hearing correctly.

"No, these are white and made of discarded ectoplasm, but they have little legs and can really shift.  They appeared after a seance and now we can't get rid of them.  I can't see them but Daphne swears she can [is Daphne a roommate?  A spectre?  who knows, we never see her but Maggie serves her faithfully], ever since her accident.  She says they moved into the back of the television, but something has repelled them.  The poor quality of the programmes, I imagine.  Perhaps they don't like Simon Cowell.  It's nice to see you, give me a kiss."  (262)

Bryant needs to be hypnotized by Maggie, in order to try and recall what in his memoir manuscript may be of interest to nefarious types.  She obliges of course, preparing her client. 

"'Take a couple of these first.  They'll help you to relax'.
'What are they?' Bryant peeked under a tea towel.
'Custard creams.  They always work for me.'" (264)

It's this mix of weird and silly and actually quite deep erudition on the topics of London and theater and spiritualist? history that makes the books work. 

"May peered around the door of his partner's office and watched Bryant knocking the contents of his pipe into the brainpan of the Tibetan skull on his desk.  Half of the bookcase had been emptied, and two immense stacks towered on either side of the desk, framing the old man with playscripts, manuals, comics, art books, histories, encylopedias, miscellanies, and a number of surprisingly sleazy pulp thrillers. 
'I knew it,' May said with a sigh.  'You've been thinking again.'" (113)

Bryant and May are old - they can't last forever, no matter how much we might wish they did.  But keep thinking, gents.  I for one am willing to wait for what I hope will be a spectacularly idiosyncratic and enormously entertaining finale, if indeed that is what is coming.

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