Whatever I had expected of this book, they did not come true at all because this book turned out to be most unpredictable read of 2020 so far.
In a way, this book was a bit like going for a walk in the hills and suddenly being slapped across the head by a fish falling from the skies. And in a way, that also describes 2020 so far. So, it’s been a timely read.
In all seriousness, Antal Szerb was having fun here in this collage of all the genres that I can only describe as a satire of all of the popular fiction that had been written up to the book’s date of publication…and somehow preempting Scooby Doo, Indiana Jones, The Da Vinci Code, and I am sure some “rad” 70s fiction that I am glad I have not discovered, yet.
We get a scholarly MC, who ends up banding with a motley crew on the way to a Welsh castle, which may or may not be haunted, to visit an aristocrat, who may or may not also be an evil practitioner of the occult … or a version of Dr. Frankenstein … one can’t be too sure.
We also have weird prophets, superstitious priests, potential human sacrifice, a whole lot of atmospheric fog that appears just at the most thrilling moments. We have Englishmen with upper lips so stiff that it takes a whole lot of questionable femininity to make them wobble, and we have an Earl’s daughter, who spoils the usual script of a murder mystery that ends in falling for the crime-solving hero.
This was a romp. It was fun, but for crying out loud, don’t ask me what I’ve just read.
“I was back in my historic bed (Queen Anne, I believe). With time, this room had come to seem like home. A not entirely restful home. Somewhere above my head the giant axolotls swam. A few yards from my window stood the balcony Maloney had fallen from. And there was the vivid memory of the night rider circling the house with his flaming torch. It was home to me, as a trench would be to a soldier. I pulled my head down under the blanket.”