CHARACTERS: In Requiem at Rogano (1979) Inspector Brough and Nicholas Calvin meet a variety of eccentrics all of whom uncannily have information related to the murders in Rogano. From Dr. Orchard who telephones Brough with an urgent message and arranges to meet with him privately to the strange old man who gives Nicholas his personal translation of some obscure passages in Nostradamus' book of eerie prophecies everyone seems to be privy to the disturbing parallels between the Deptford Strangler and the murders in Rogano. Nicholas has been having blackouts and weird dreams which he vaguely recalls. He says he was putting his hands on the necks of people he has never seen. Then Nicholas is told that he is the reincarnation of Antonio Aquilina, one of two brothers executed for the Rogano murders centuries ago. Adding to overall paranoia of the novel Nicholas keeps encountering a mysterious figure he calls "The Man with Odd Eyes" who seems to be following him everywhere. Eventually the mystery man steps out of the shadows to introduce himself as Rudolf van Galen. Galen joins forces with the two researchers when he reveals that he is the reincarnation of Giuseppe Aquilina, brother of Antonio.
INNOVATIONS: For the first half of the book I could not stop thinking that this fell into a subgenre of reincarnation thrillers that were so popular in the 1970s with The Reincarnation of Peter Proud and Audrey Rose probably the most well remembered thanks to their movie adaptations. Knight tries his best to put forth his understanding of reincarnation by drawing parallels from the German legend of the Doppelgänger to the Norwegian myth of the fylgja, "a soul or spirit as mortal and physical as the body itself" that emerges and forms alongside every human from the minute they are conceived. At first the notion that every character in the book is a reincarnated soul from 15th century beggars belief. And yet by the time the characters set foot in Rogano Knight manages to make sense of his idea because the novel really belongs to conspiracy theory fiction.
Knight's universe is one in which no human is controlled by free will, but rather at the mercy of a previous life. Behavior and personality are predetermined by an ominous force that allows for this transference of souls over the ages. Some specific examples: Nicholas finds himself repulsed by the sight and smell of meat. He learns he has visited a male brothel and apparently had sex with another man. Why? Because Antonio Aquilina, his former soul, was both a vegetarian and a gay man. Or so he learns from Rudolf van Galen. The truth behind Nicholas' strange behavior transformation is, in fact, much more bizarre.
If the reader fully embraces that Requiem at Rogano is actually a form of conspiracy theory fiction, then the book that readers may find it easier to draw comparisons to is The Da Vinci Code. It is not only Knight's obsession with Nostradamus's writings that made me think of Dan Brown. The climactic revelation about the motivation for the Rogano murders having to do with the viability of Christianity was his crowning touch. The solution and killer's motive are jaw dropping quite frankly. It made me reassess the entire structure of the novel. When Brough delivers the truly shocking conclusion the reader discovers that all along the novel was an ingeniously plotted detective novel with all the evidence and clues right there in front of him.
QUOTES: "The idea of the fetch, once prevalent in Great Britain, is revived every time we read newspaper reports of ghosts of the living appearing at the moment of death to relatives and or dear friends. In Ireland the fetch is often thought to haunt its own human double."
"I am inured against shock in such cases. [...] The great lesson I learned [in India] from first-hand experience was that almost anything is possible."
"Herr van Galen has only demonstrated what you say you have believed all your life, what Christians have been taught for nineteen hundred years. Man has a soul. What's so monstrous about that?"
"We speak of enormous issues, far beyond our comprehension, and yet we use words like certainty and truth with such confidence. Most of us don't even know for certain that our heart will make its next beat. Do we, in fact, really know anything at all?"
THINGS I LEARNED: As mentioned above Nostradamus and his oracular writing are featured prominently. I learned that there are numerous translations, some of which tinker with his original wording in order to make the prophecies more adaptable to modern events and historical figures. Knight draws on some of these translations but also treats us to literal translations and his own interpretation of those sentences. Much of it is laughable, but some of it is clever. Reading someone's interpretation of a prophecy applied to a man called Hitler who will rise to power in the year 1939 in a book set in 1902 and yet published in 1979 is hardly impressive or awe inspiring as was probably his intent. The characters are impressed, but I was not.
Learning about the fylgja was an eye-opener for me. Knight only briefly mentions it in the novel, but further online research was enlightening. The word means "follower" in Norwegian. The concept as I learned on a Norse mythology website is more akin to the idea of a witch's familiar and the fylgja is always in the form of an animal. In some variations of the myth the human can actually shapeshift into the fylgja.
Towards the end of the book there is a lot of talk about the Inquisition which I learned was not geographically confined to Spain. There were acolytes of the Inquisition carrying out punishments, torture and executions on heretics all over Europe including Italy, France and even England.
|Stephen Knight in 1979 as seen on|
the rear DJ of the US edition
(photo: Fay Godwin)
EASY TO FIND? The quick answer is the best answer for the majority of you out there. Valancourt Books has reprinted the book under its original British title Requiem at Rogano. Their reprint includes a brief foreword by Bernard Taylor, horror writer and one time collaborator with Knight on a true crime book. As with most small press distribution methods these days the book is available only through internet book sites. My experience says that they unfortunately do not distribute to brick and mortar stores. For those of you who like the smell and feel of an old book I found 55 copies of the 1979 edition for sale, a mix of US and UK editions, and nearly all of them offered at less than $5. Such a deal!