Friday, January 7, 2011

FRIDAY'S LITTLE KNOWN GEM: LIGHTS OUT BY PETER ABRAHAMS

Peter Abrahams is the author of a series of high class thrillers.  LIGHTS OUT is one I'd recommend both for its genre properties and its literary allusions due to its association with Samuel Coleridge's RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER.

The first edition: 1st printing, Mysterious Press, published by Warner Books, New York, March, 1994.

The dustjacket:  A very apt title and author name in large letters printed in bold gold against a black background.  There is a three-inch window with gold prison bars looking out on blue sky with a stylized albatross cut from United States currency half-way through the bars, as if stuck there.

The front dustjacket flap promises: "From one of today's major suspense writers comes a captivating pirate tale for the late twentieth century..."  The rear flap has a picture of the author, rather long hair slightly mussed, looking casual in a sports jacket over a sweater vest and shirt, no tie.
the enigma of the albatross 
   design credit Tom Tafuri/One Plus One Studio



Epigraph: "Justice pursues the body beyond all possible pain." --Michel Foucault, Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish)

Opening line:  Man is the word.

Eddie Nye is in prison, an innocent man framed and sentenced to fifteen years.  Reading is his only escape.  In the prison library, he starts with Max Brand and reads his way through everything.

"One day Eddie came upon 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.'  He returned to it over and over, not unlike a child who can't stop looking at a bloody crucifixion on the wall at Grandma's house."

'God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!
Why looks thou so?' -- With my crossbow
I shot the albatross."

"No explanation, unless you count the small print-text text in the left-hand margin -- 'The ancient Mariner inhospitably killeth the pious bird of good omen' -- and Eddie didn't consider it much of an explanation, didn't even know if the small print was  part of the poem or was added later by someone else.  No explanation.  In one verse everything's cool with the bird, in the next the guy plugs it.  Why?'

"Eddie had been through it a thousand times, without getting any closer to the answer.  That didn't mean much.  Eddie knew there must be plenty he didn't understand about 'The Ancient Mariner.'  For example, it had only recently struck him that there might be a reason that the mariner stopped only one of the three wedding guests, instead of telling the story to all of them.'

"Maybe the wedding guest wasn't saying 'Wherefore stopp'st thou me?' but, 'Wherefore stopp'st thou me?'  So Eddie wasn't even sure he understood the first verse."

"Just shot the albatross.  Why?  Because he was jealous it could fly?  Because he wanted it to suffer?  Because he was afraid of sailing fast?  Or because it was possible to do?  None of the answers felt right.  It occurred to him that the shooting was melodramatic.  Maybe the whole goddamn thing was melodramatic."

But after Eddie gets out of prison, neither the past nor the enigma of the poem will leave him alone.  This is the start of what becomes a thriller deluxe, one with building tension and genre adventure, but with the literary message of the albatross behind it.  Man is the word.

This is a literary string-along to Patti Abbot's FRIDAY'S FORGOTTEN BOOKS series, here.

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