Friday, May 11, 2012
FFB: The Secret Life of Algernon Pendleton - Russell H. Greenan
Russell Greenan's fourth book The Secret Life of Algernon Pendleton (1973) is a rarity in the crime fiction world that these days clings to gritty and violent realism. It's a wryly humorous book and a wondrous amalgamation of the fantastic and the criminal. It's all done stylishly in the literate sometimes fussy voice of Algernon, Al to his friends, who narrates the novel.
Al may have spent far too much time alone in the house he inherited from his famous great grandfather, a noted Egyptologist. In his loneliness he has found companions in the hundreds of objects and a few plants that fill the cavernous home. The house has become a veritable museum of valuable and rare antiquities and treasures of the pharaohs. When Al's finances are in danger of plummeting to the poverty level he helps himself to one or two of those treasures, takes a trip to Mahir Suleyman's junk/resale shop where they haggle over a price, and Al leaves with a chunk of change in his pockets. Life is easy - chats with Eulalia, a few gossipy whispers from the philodendrons, selling an ushabti or statuette of Bast every now and then. Then Norbie drops in unexpectedly for a visit.
Norbie is apparently Al's only human friend. They go back several years to their army days. Norbie saved Al from drowning after their ship was bombed in the Pacific. Al owes a lot to Norbie. And when he comes with suitcases in hand and a hard luck story of a failed marriage and failing health Al can't turn him out. Norbie becomes his roommate for an indeterminate stay. One night Norbie introduces Al to the lost art of drinking absinthe (complete with sugar cube and special spoon) and when Norbie goes to retrieve that cursed liquor from his suitcase he inadvertently reveals a huge cache of money - $60,000 to be exact. The next day Al confesses his wonder at the mysterious amount of money to Eulalia and she begins to fill his head with criminal ideas.
Mahir will figure prominently in the tale. As will Madge Clerisy, a woman professor of archeology, who is suspicious of a junk store that has a regular supply of extremely rare Egyptian artifacts. Al succumbs to the temptations of Eulalia but gets in way over his head. Soon all three are inextricably linked in a conspiracy of blackmail and extortion. And there I had better stop. To reveal any more would ruin a reader's own discovery of the ingenuity and sheer originality of the story.
For more about Russell H. Greenan visit this tribute website owned and maintained by his relatives.