Monday, January 31, 2011

The Silent Wall / The Return of Marvin Palaver by Peter Rabe (also includes "Hard Case Redhead")

Though they've previously reprinted ten other novels by author Peter Rabe, this volume is exciting news even for Stark House Press as it contains two works that have never been published in any form: the novel The Silent Wall and the novella The Return of Marvin Palaver. Sandwiched between the two longer works is the ultra-rare short story "Hard Case Redhead," which has not been seen since its original appearance in Mystery Tales Magazine. All of these will be welcome additions to the libraries of Rabe enthusiasts.

Because it was the shortest, I started with "Hard Case Redhead." This story is real shot-in-the-arm fiction, with two robbers kidnapping an accidental tourist on her way across their escape alley. The tension is high, the characters well drawn, and the insight is up to usual Rabe standards — all included in a package a fraction the size of the author's usual offering.

Stark House Press's regular proofreader Rick Ollerman steps up his participation (rating a special thanks from the publisher) with an incisive, though occasionally repetitive, introduction that displays his wide knowledge of the Rabe oeuvre. Ollerman's introduction is an even better advertisement for the other Rabe books in the Stark House library than the list in the back of the book.

The Return of Marvin Palaver is quite a departure for the author, giving the reader a supernatural revenge tale that uses dialect and humor to deliver its punch. "I died at the worst possible moment in life," Marvin tells us, "just when I was coming out even."

Just when he is about to pull a masterful schwindel on his nemesis, Sidney Minsk ("may he live to be a poor man forever"), Palaver drops dead on Minsk's office floor. Unwilling to let that be the period to his life, Palaver comes back down from heaven to manipulate events toward the ultimate revenge. The Return of Marvin Palaver is sure to leave a smile on the reader's face with its perfect plotting and characterization.

Sure to be the big draw in this collection is The Silent Wall. Radio man on a tanker, "Matty" Matheson finds himself once again in Sicily, in Messina near Forza d'Aguil, where he was stationed during the War. With a week to kill before the tanker is repaired, Matty decides to revisit his past and rents a Vespa to go "see how things have turned out — for her."

For some reason he does not understand, the Mafia now don't want him to leave and have sabotaged his exit. And to make things more complicated, the only person offering assistance is an innkeeper, Vinciguerra, who talks in riddles. The only real respite he finds comes in the person of the waitress Sophia, but any reader of noir fiction known you can never really trust the dames.

It's been almost forty years since the world has seen a new Rabe novel, and The Silent Wall was definitely worth the wait. It reads like the culmination of Rabe's career: a hardboiled story that depends more on the interactions of its characters than the machinations of its plot, their conversations holding as much appeal as their actions.

Never before have I found so engrossing a story where basically the same thing happens over and over again (Matty tries to escape and is foiled). The ending of The Silent Wall roughly switches gears, becoming a strange combination of sexy and confounding that nevertheless keeps the pages turning to the finish. Though I read the tales here in a different order than the publisher intended, I think I made the right choice as the quality seemed to get better with each one.

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