If you have ever read my writing, you have read the words of a geektard fanboy attempting rather lamely to emulate the writing style of science fiction’s most brilliant m0th3rf*ck1ng stylist, Roger Zelazny.
Srsly: I learned how to write worth a damn, if I did, by reading this guy’s early short stories. Roger Zelazny is far and away my favorite writer, and when it comes to style as far as I’m concerned you can just bloody well fuck Chandler, Hammett, Ellison, Uncle Bill, Moorcock, Willeford, Ellroy, Twain, Shaw, HST, Bowles, Woolrich, Lovecraft, David Dodge, Camus and that balding smegger from Avon RIGHT IN THE EAR, you hear me? Zelazny could write stylistic circles around all of them, always, it seemed, without ever being bothered to try, which much of the time I’m pretty sure he didn’t. He didn’t seem to have to.
That said, Zelazny put out some stupendously unreadable books, atrocities so stunningly bad that just reading the titles of them on a bookshelf make my brains start crawling down my spinal column, desperately trying to hide in my ass.
Zelazny also had serious character development problems; his best works were populated with charmingly engaging ciphers; look for the deep, complex human themes in the first five books of the Amber series and… ummmm…. did I mention he’s a really good stylist?
Given those facts, it won’t be a news flash that I’m about as high as Amy Winehouse right now on a speedball of excitement and trepidation about Zelazny’s lost noir novel, The Dead Man’s Brother, which comes out next week from Hard Case Crime.
Yes! You read that right; this is Roger Z’s lost noir novel!! The manuscript was lost among Zelazny’s papers for well over 30 years, and this is the novel’s first publication. According to Wikipedia, the book was completed in 1971, which would put it smack dab bumpin’ fuzzies up against my absolute favorite Zelazny novel of all time, Jack of Shadows, which has always felt to me, as with many passages in the Amber series, like a brilliant fantasy pastiche of noir writing.
The summary from the Hard Case Crime site:
“Once an art smuggler, now a respectable art dealer, Ovid Wiley awoke to find his former partner stabbed to death on his gallery floor. That was strange enough—but when a CIA agent showed up to spring him from NYPD custody, things got a lot stranger.
“Now the CIA is offering to clear up the murder charge, but only in return for a favor: They want Ovid to fly to Vatican City and trace the trail of a renegade priest who has gone missing with millions in church funds. What’s the connection? The priest’s lover, a woman Ovid knew in his smuggling days…”
Who knows? Garbage or gold, it’s Roger Zelazny, and so what if the site of Dorchester Publishing, Hard Case’s parent company, claims the book is by Robert Zelazny, which I would have figured had to be the old Master’s son, except that I already knew his sons were named Devin and Trent — that’s how much of a f*ing geek I am, people.
Hard Case Crime, incidentally, is helmed by Charles Ardai, who was a contributor to my very first anthology, Noirotica, for which he wrote what I still consider the definitive vintage dirty detective story, and to Noirotica 2: Pulp Friction, for which he wrote a Japanese gangster story so freakin’ twisted I’m still to this day utterly stunned that Masquerade Books ever let me publish it.
Ardai went on to write an absolutely stunningly brilliant pair of crime novels, Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence, as Richard Aleas, and has a new one, Fifty to One, that sounds like about the best god damned thing to happen to crime since the Browning Automatic Rifle.
In addition to publishing a number of other great contemporary crime novels, including Christa Faust’s porno-noir Money Shot, Hard Case has been responsible for an absolute PILE of mind-bendingly good classic crime novels from the days of pulp publishing. Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, Max Alan Colins, Lawrence Block, Lester Dent, Ed McBain, David Goodis, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Mickey Spillane all appear in the Hard Case roster, and I have Ardai to thank for introducing me to one of my new favorites, David Dodge.
If you are not a fan of vintage crime fiction those names might mean nothing to you… in which case, the world you live in, my friend, is most likely not rendered in the stark black and white of impressionist tragedy but some weird shade of yellow, with streaks of like lime green or something, and oh Christ, probably sickly orange polkadots. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.
Getting back to The Dead Man’s Brother: I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic, exactly, because when you crack a Hard Case Book you expect the the very worst: blood, betrayal, murder and mayhem, rendered in brilliantly readable prose. If it’s up to snuff, it’s going to be brutally icky and I’m going to need a shower afterwards.
Can Zelazny’s lost, discarded thriller stand up against the genius of, for instance, Lawrence Block’s first novel Grifter’s Game, which Hard Case brought back into print? Can Roger Z match the best themes of the greatest noir fiction with its doom and despair, its tragedy and agony, its central belief that there’s a gooey caramel-center to every human heart — and inside that a hard piece of flint that, if you whack it really fucking hard enough times with a hatchet, just might strike a brilliant spark of redemption — a spark made all the more beautiful because it’s makes such a nice phhhffffft!!-ing noise when all the gore snuffs that spark right back out?
Er… did I mention the guy was a hell of a stylist?
Well he was. He was really fucking good. And sometimes, when you’re so good, that just might be all it really takes.
Was Roger Z able to go there? Is his soul black and awful, with a diamond inside, or are we going to get Madwand with Tommy guns?
I’ll be reading it with a bottle of bourbon, just in case.