Book Reviews

Legion * William Peter Blatty

‘Perhaps that one memory may keep us from evil and we will reflect and say: Yes, I was brave and good and honest then.’ Then Alyosha tells them something that is vitally important. ‘First, and above all, be kind,’ he says. And the boys—they all love him—they all shout, ‘Hurrah for Karamazov!’

One by one the bizarre murders frustrate and torment Lt. Kinderman , the homicide detective from The Exorcist. A boy, crucified; a priest, decapitated; another priest slain; a nurse, slaughtered — all bear the Zodiac mark of the Gemini Killer.

BUT … the Gemini Killer has been dead for 12 years — Lt. Kinderman stalks the brutal and elusive killer down the dark streets. Until ,finally, in desperation he dares to cross the boundary that separates the living from the dead.

Was the universe eternal? Could be. Who knows? An immortal dentist could fill cavities forever. But what was it that sustained the universe now? Was the universe the cause of its own constitution? Would it matter if the links in the chain of causation were extended indefinitely? Wouldn’t help, the detective concluded.

This was an interesting book. Written in 1983, it’s definitely a thriller for its time. The narration of this book has a very distinct voice that, for better or worse, makes this story its own thing. While the prose is not quite as wonderful as Blatty’s best work, there are still some very sleek moments of writing. But I just feel that the story as a whole does not live up to the reputation set by The Exorcist. The premise is more or less a common serial killer thriller. The deaths mount up, the victim’s killed in increasingly imaginative and disgusting ways. The detective protagonist is at a complete loss as to how to find the culprit. Pretty standard though workable fare. Except Blatty gives the concept his own spin, and unfortunately I just don’t think he hits the mark this time around. Kinderman was, even in The Exorcist, slightly annoying with his meandering dialogue. You can tell this based on how the novel starts:

He thought of death in its infinite groanings, of Aztecs ripping out living hearts and of cancer and three-year-olds buried alive and he wondered whether God was alien and cruel, but then remembered Beethoven and the dappling of things and “Hurrah for Karamazov” and kindness. He stared at the sun coming up behind the Capitol, streaking the Potomac with orange light, and then down at the outrage, the horror at his feet. Something had gone wrong between man and his creator, and the evidence was here on this boathouse dock.

The discussion about God, the nature of Evil, evolution and its walking fishies, continues throughout the book in the same tone. While in The Exorcist he was only a minor character, in this book he dominates the dialogue and his tone is grating at best and annoying at worst.

Every now and then, things do start getting interesting and exciting – (occasionally, though not often enough, even scary) – but Blatty unceasingly halts these moments with completely unnecessary philosophical speculations which hardly make sense to a reader approaching this book with expectations implanted from the spellbinding first novel.

Kinderman shifted his weight a little. God’s love burned with a fierce dark heat but gave no light. Were there shadows in His nature? Was He brilliant and sensitive, but bent? After all was said and done was the answer to the mystery no more than that God was really Leopold and Loeb? Or could it be that He was closer to being a putz than anyone heretofore had imagined, a being of stupendous but limited power? The detective envisioned such a God in court pleading, “Guilty with an explanation, Your Honor.” The theory had appeal. It was rational and obvious and certainly the simplest that suited all the facts. But Kinderman rejected it out of hand and subordinated logic to his intuition, as he had in so many of his homicide cases. “I did not come into this world to sell William of Occam door-to-door,” he had often been heard to tell baffled associates or even, on one occasion, a computer. “My hunch, my opinion,” he would always say. And he felt that way now about the problem of evil. Something whispered to his soul that the truth was staggering and somehow connected to Original Sin; but only by analogy and dimly.

Urgh. As I dredged along this dreary path, I could tell that the horror in this book would do nothing for me. All the fazzazzle had gone out of me and this was weak. Extremely weak.

I considered putting it down and starting something else but I persevered against my better judgement.

“You’re a goddamn hostile, angry man and you’re fucking crazier than a loon!”

Yes, yes I was.  Sometimes Kinderman thinks witty theories. In the dialogue with the Catholic physician Anfortas (one of the lucid moments of the novel) he could stand out for his Dostoyevskiana quality. Sometimes I had the feeling that Kinderman was Porfiri, Lukian Timofeyevich Lebedev, or Ivan Ardalionovitch Ivolguin. He had a lot of Russian peasant, and sometimes he was a liar Kinderman, but at these bright moments. I remained in darkness throughout the story.

It’s because he doesn’t know this book, that he wants to be older, if a thriller, a police novel, a theological-philosophical essay and the truth is that the medley is indigestible. It is true, that when you investigate Gemini’s past, with its traumatic past. Another evil fanatical evangelist, who confuses religiosity with fanaticism, and who advocates children or atheism, or to be serial killers. Anyway, this is the kind of person who most harms religion, and our enemies use them mercilessly.  Film and literature have different languages. We see that the murders are happening, and they are identical to those carried out by Gemini. Some of special cruelty, like Kintry. Then Blatty after a novel with multiple ups and downs makes a decision, and decides to sacrifice one of his best characters, as if he were an expert chess player.

Meh. 2/5, Charity Pile

 

 

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