, writes theologically-inclined thrillers like he's channeling the Middle Ages through some odd combination of Ben Hecht and Dashiell Hammett. There's a loopy Catskills spin on every bit of dialogue--everyone (priests, Albanian torturers, Shin Bet agents, neurologists with a vague despair) has snappy patter: dense biblical allusions, cheap threadbare puns, metaphysical (as opposed to the more conventional physical) double entendres. The plots hinge on series of unexplained--if not plain inexplicable--deaths, which hard-nosed ennui-burdened protagonists struggle to make sense of. THEN take this very 20th-century attitude, lace freely with readings of pop science and pop theology, and Bosch the shit out of the thing: veer from moments of screwball banter to prose so purple it'd make Prince feel drab, to grotesqueries so outre and a religious anxiety so devoutly loony (or so loonily devout) that it'd make hairshirt-wearing, barbed-lash flagellating working joes pray with extra fervor an hour or two before Matins.
Phew. It tires me out just trying this shit on. So, here we open in Albania, with a Prisoner being tortured and not responding at all. The guy seems unworldly, filled with "goodness" (as one person notes). To make this heroically-silent tough-guy(-or-is-he-Angel?) talk, the Interrogator brings in a ten-year-old boy to proxy torture, using the kid's pain to get the Prisoner singing. But not just any ten-year-old boy: a ten-year-old boy with a clubfoot and a nerveless left arm, who is mentally defective, who the motley crew of torturers will put in a plastic bag and suffocate right up to the moment of death, over and over again, until the Prisoner talks. And to prove the kid isn't acting, they cut off his pinkie.
Of course, off-stage/-page, the Prisoner saves the child, kills all the torturers, escapes. Cut to Jerusalem, where on a terminal ward strange healings are occurring. And other strange unworldly visitations. And elsewhere in Jerusalem, murders, and espionage, and...
Phew. When Blatty works, you're friggin' amazed -- I still think The Exorcist
is the most batshit loony and terrifying evocation of religious faith and doubt I've ever read. And Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane
have no right to work as well as they do.
And this one doesn't work at all. Blatty steals liberally from his earlier works, which is no crime if the loot is then laid out with real skill. Here, it's never less than passionate, and rarely coherent, and just a plain mess. But what an interesting mess, eh? Screw those Left Behind
poseurs -- THIS is how pop pulp religious thrillers ought to read, right at the edge of crazytown -- and, when they really work (like previous Blatty), at times inspiring a kind of lucid dreaming terrifying wonder that comes close to that old-time sense of God and Satan and all that jazz.... Two stars just for whacked-out ambition.