She had written, “Ode to Life”. Underneath the title: “Oh Life, you have been like a knife”–It was pretty bad, but it hardly deserved assassination.
My only previous encounter with Theodore Roscoe was the masterpiece Murder on the Way, a passionate bolt of pulp lightning that would never survive the first pass with a modern editor. It was an over-stuffed impossible-crime novel with a gallery of grotesques and about 500 adjectives too many. I have yet to embark on the other Roscoe novel on my shelves, the superbly titled I’ll Grind Their Bones, but it’s in good company with my massive collection of book TBR.
I purchased Four Corners Vol 2 on the strength of The Green Capsule’s rave of the collection’s first story, Ghoul’s Paradise. The book sat on my shelf unread for months. Recently, The Invisible Event reviewed Vol I and announced that Vol 2 was coming soon. I decided this could help get me out of my reading doldrums. Yesterday, came Jim’s review of Ghoul’s Paradise and…and here we are.
Our narrator comes to the town of Four Corners and immediately learns about the strangest residents, the Easter Family who live on the decaying landscape of Easter Farm. Isaac Easter is the clear ruler of the family (people even call him King Isaac) and he is not a benevolent ruler. There are several more members of the family and they live in the same house, bickering with each other as they wait for Isaac to die and bequeath his fortune to the rightful heirs.
Roscoe sets up the situation beautifully, relying less on detailed character descriptions and more on the grotesque details of their existence. Just like Murder on the Way, these details add up until they create a picture somehow more descriptive (and fun to read) than the intimate character work done by many revered novelists.
Isaac got rich off selling snake oil (there truly is nothing new under the sun) including an elixir that he claimed would bring the dead back to life. When Isaac finally falls dead, his will is read and…Oh boy, I love wills in murder mysteries. Isaac is to be buried in a locked mausoleum. The coffin lid is to remain unnailed and the only key is to be placed in Isaac’s corpse’s back pocket. Of course, a bottle of the elixir is to be placed in the coffin. Best of all, there is only one heir unless he/she dies in which case the next in line takes over. Oh, and in order to receive the inheritance, the heir must remain living in the house for one year. If you’ve read Murder on the Way, you’ll recognize this murderous incentivization.
Do I have to say what happens next? The body vanishes and Isaac is seen roaming around. The heirs start dying quickly.
I will mention here that the impossible crime element is less than rigorous. How the corpse escaped is not particularly satisfying. Indeed, Roscoe is less interested in crime scene mechanics and more in planting impossible crimes within a horrifying atmosphere. The story does have good clues, but its real pleasures involve murder within a whirlwind of madness. It’s a hugely enjoyable offshoot of his interest in zombies (sort of Murder on the Way in microcosm) and if you can accept spectacle over character, you’ll have a great time.