THE CHARACTERS: Victor Saville is a fine replication of Shelley's original Victor Frankenstein. He is perhaps more moral than his father whose scientific experiments he abhors. He already knows of the dangerous and murderous character of the Monster his father created and who has survived these forty years since the original tale of Frankenstein published in 1818. Victor is accompanied in his adventures by Felicia McInnes, his aunt's ward, the daughter of an evangelical minister who died from cholera along with Felicia's mother. She begins as his confidante but soon he is falling in
Greene, Ritter and Victor's former valet all turn out to be the rogues and villains of the piece much more than Frankenstein's Creature, or rather Monster (with a capital M) as Myers refers to him throughout the novel. All of them seem to be in thrall to the Monster who though he has also managed to make it to America has a part so small in the plot that he is almost relegated to a cameo. Myers' Monster is like a stand-in for an animated statue of Baal. He is treated as an idol, worshipped and looked to as a conduit for the salvation of dead souls through resurrection. But unbeknownst to the foolish cultists led by Rev. Ritter the Monster is wholly evil, bent only on desturciton and killing.
The bulk of the story takes place in Virginia and its environs with the climax set in a networks of caves where a bizarre religious cult have made their home. They are formed of true believers awaiting the resurrection of their beloved dead relatives. In one of the many labyrinthine caverns Green has set up a laboratory similar to Victor's father's lab. Unlike the sacred resurrection of Jesus Christ which most of the cultists believe will occur with their loved ones Greene has, unknown to the cultists, hacked to pieces and reconstructed in a parody of surgical procedures all of the dead just as Frankenstein did. Greene has hopes of creating an army of what he hopes will be a slave population to work the mines and lumber mills of the American South. But the essential ingredient to making these reanimations possible is the formula that Victor was entrusted to replicate. All depends on the manufacture of this artificial purple blood.
ATMOSPHERE: The story is rife with adventure set pieces from horseback and carriage chases in the mountains to pursuit by canoe on the whitewater rapids near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. At times the book takes on the spirit of a James Fenimore Cooper novel and I expected Natty Bumppo to race out of the forests and come to Victor's aid at any minute. It is these sections where the writing is at its best, the excitement is genuine, and the reader waits with breath held awaiting what will happen next.
Sadly, the climax of the story takes an anachronistic detour into the land of sleazy sex. It was after all written and published in the 1970s when sex scenes seemed to be almost mandatory in popular fiction. When it happens in The Cross of Frankenstein (1975) the story ceases to be firmly rooted in the mid 19th century and reminds us of contemporary times. There is an absurdly graphic description of a blasphemous sexual ritual that ends in an orgiastic romp with the cultists coupling like mad rabbits in the caves. Felicia under the influence of Reverend Ritter's rhapsodic preaching allows herself to be ...how do I put this tastefully?... Oh heck, basically a zombie rape occurs. So it's not only a sex scene tainted by blasphemy with Reverend Ritter quoting Biblical passages, intoning about God's plan and all, but it is also a necrophilia scene. Doubly Gothic, eh? The sequence is just plain ridiculous especially when you note that much of the writing uses ill-chosen metaphors like "as a shank of lamb seeks the skewer" to describe the sexual activity. It's all unintentional hilarity. Maybe hysteria is a better word. The book takes on a decidedly salacious tone with Victor instantly transforming into a horndog obsessed with Felicia's naked body because (of course) she has managed to lose her clothes at this point and never bothers to cover up anything. I'm far from a prude, gang, but this was truly absurd and laughable and completely wrong for the book.
INNOVATIONS: Myers' attention to details in the life of Frankenstein are spot on. He clearly knows the book very well. The whole story begins as Shelley's Frankenstein begins with the introduction of Margaret Saville and talk of her correspondence with Captain Walcott. The entire first chapter in which Victor learns he is not her son, but was adopted and raised by her, soon becomes a miniature summary of Shelley's novel. Victor discovers his true parentage and of his unwanted inheritance, that he is the son of the infamous and immoral Frankenstein who dared to rival God as Creator. From the start, too, Myers has managed to capture the flavor of Shelley's 19th century prose and mostly manages to maintain the proper level of pastiche, until of course those sleazy sex scenes.
I liked especially the metaphor of slavery that pervades the novel setting up the sequel The Slave of Frankenstein (1976) in which Myers will more fully explore his idea of the reanimated dead as servants to mortal men. Frequently Myers has some pointed turns of phrase and sections where he discusses the difference between creating life and merely reanimating a corpse. While not heavy on philosophy or theology the inclusion of these passages gives the novel an extra heft that makes it more that just a potboiler thriller.
QUOTES: "Electricity and the fluid, then, were the essence of life. Not life -- animation. Life as I knew it had a spiritual and moral quality absent in the Monster. The hand of God touched not on this ghastly enterprise."
"Born without sin. Not the original sin, that is true. But I already knew that he was born from refuse, the offal of the charnel house, this soulless creature with no sense of right or wrong, a cleverness that passed for kindness to these simple folk, and cunning that knew no moral ends."
THE AUTHOR: Robert J. Myers had a rich life in Washington federal service and journalism. He began life as an Asian specialist in foreign service and was recruited during World War 2 by the OSS to work on a project to mobilize Koreans in the war against Japan. After the war he joined the CIA and continued assignments in Asia before becoming the station chief in Cambodia and deputy chief of the Far East division in the early 1960s. In 1965 he started a career in journalism. He founded Washingtonian magazine and later became publisher of the New Republic where he remained for more than a decade. In addition to the two novels based on Shelley's Frankenstein Myers also wrote The Tragedie of King Richard, the Second, a political satire and allegory in which Nixon becomes an avatar for the king.
EASY TO FIND? Very good news for this title. Close to 200 copies of The Cross Of Frankenstein are currently for sale in the used book markets on the vast shopping mall we call the internet. You have your choice of every available edition from the 1st US edition with its 19th century woodcut style DJ illustration to the paperback sporting Boris Karloff's iconic face of the Creature. Prices are very affordable based on what I saw, even the hardcovers with DJ are between $10 and $25 each. Happy hunting!
NOTE: The sequel to this first novel, The Slave of Frankenstein, will soon be written up as part on my ongoing "Frankenstein @ 200" series which so far includes posts on Frankenstein in Baghdad, Clay by David Almond and Monster by Dave Zeltserman.