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The King's Evil by David Helwig

The King's Evil

by David Helwig

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Dense and layered with obscurity, this is literally a tale told by a madman, the mind broken protagonist hopeful of returning to his radio position to produce a series on art forgery, returns to the question of what is the difference between original and forged art while immersed in the search for proof that documents he has found indicate that Charles I escaped execution. For me this was like being served Pastichio, a dish I can appreciate but not enjoy, too much bloody white sauce. ( )
  quondame | Feb 1, 2019 |
Real Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Dross stands on the precipice of sanity. One of his last lucid thoughts is that he knows he's going to tumble, shortly, into the abyss of madness. He is drugged by his past, haunted by his mother's madness, addicted to the memories of the woman who rejected him and later died in a hospital cancer ward. He does not know where she is buried.

Trapped in his personal history, Dross packs up his unwieldy body, takes a leave of absence from his work, and moves into his vacationing cousin's house in Niagara. Alone, mesmerized by log fires, Dross doubts if anything can keep him from insanity's beckoning flames.

There is an intruder, however, a knocking on his consciousness, a woman, a stranger with information about his cousin's house. She tells Dross she is a historical researcher and that the house had been razed in 1823 and was rebuilt on the original eighteenth century foundation. He explores the ancient basement one sleepless night. Through a hole in the wall Dross spies another room, deeper than the basement. Hidden there he finds an old book in a locked box, and in the book a secret. The owner was King Charles I who, according to history, was beheaded, but according to the cryptograms and notations in the margin, escaped his recorded fate and lived under another identity on the same foundation where Dross now stands. This is what Dross needs: One small thread of external thought to weave into a web large enough to catch him from his fall. The house in which he cannot sleep, the house in which he consumes too much brandy and too little food, has a history longer and more involved than his own.

Bolstered by a new obsession, Dross sets out to prove history wrong, and in this pursuit he, like Charles I, avoids his own fate.

My Review: I like Wikipedia's "Recent Deaths" obituary aggregation feature. I learned of David Helwig's existence from it. Being a CanLit fancying Murrikun, I sallied forth to the Long Beach Library's ALIScat site and, after discovering there were several Helwig titles available, eenie-meenied Coming Through: Three Novellas. See my review for details of my appreciation for Author Helwig's writing. The title of this work amused me. The conceit of Charles I not losing his head on 30 January 1649 (370 years ago this week) appealed to me. This slim book appeared among the eight holds I needed to pick up at my local library a few days ago, before they were due to be returned to their originating branches. Faithless to common sense's proddings, I jumped it up the queue. I came home to eagerly begin reading the story at once.

I'm a hopalong reader, not ordinarily reading books...even short ones...in one go. A chapter here, a subheading there, is my habit. It's a means of lowering my Pearl-Rule rate from over half of all library books I pick up. This book, however, grabbed me and kept me reading, with interruptions for canoodling with my Young Gentleman Caller when he showed up to surprise me; I then was implored to make us some food in order to prevent his young body from wasting away. At least that's how he presented the situation to me, poor hungry lamb. Despite some dire flap copy (see above), which usually bodes ill for how I receive the book, I dove deep into the story before my starveling was all the way out my door (carrying a hunk of my homemade banana bread as insurance against recurrent malnourishment).

The Freeport library sent me a 1984 Beaufort Books edition, surely one of the last titles they published before pioneering indie book distributor Eric Kampmann's mothballing of the imprint after buying it. (Twenty-four years later Kampmann revived the imprint by publishing OJ Simpson's [If I Did It] amid much hullaballoo.)

It's a great pity to me that there are only remnant hardcover copies of The King's Evil still available. Bunim & Bannigan, Helwig's Canadian publishers, don't appear to have the rights to this title as they don't list it for sale. But I'm realistic enough to sense that most people with any interest in the quiet pleasures of a bereaved-but-bereft unhusband's descent from grief into madness will most likely do as I did. The library is, in some places anyway, still the best resource for unusual and out-of-the-way older books.

A greatly expanded TL;DR version of this review will go live on 26 January 2019 at my blog. ( )
  richardderus | Jan 25, 2019 |
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