Page 45 Review by Stephen
How are you this month, Chief Inspector?
Do you require any dental attention?
I had them filed back the week before last.
Good, good. So
have you been having any tendencies?
Haha! Aristocrats are vampires, the lower classes are mindless zombies, and the British are all prone to tendencies: that everyones prejudices satisfied, then.
There are so many veins of dry humour mined here some perfectly poised rejoinders but under its wink-wink-nudge-nudge surface and the crowd-pleasing capitalisation on the current trend for all things shambling, there is one hell of a heart and much to be said.
Its London 1910, fifty years after the Memorial War. In 1961 Prince Albert died and a monarch and country in mourning were suddenly faced with a proletariat turned Restless. Thats what they call the hoards of mindless zombies spontaneously raised from the dead The Restless and although the British army with its aristocratic officers fought hard in murderous campaigns reminiscent of the Zulu wars, the country is still under siege. Whole zones are barricaded off to keep out the ravenous riff-raff, and quite right too.
Zones designated A like Marylebone and the Houses of Parliament are the safest havens well patrolled by police. There the aristos live, the so-called Young who age not one jot for they are now vampires albeit well heeled, genteel and successfully resisting their neck-nibbling thirst with a stiff upper lip that has killed them inside. They have servants, of course, who are mere mortals called The Bright. Most of those live in Zone Bs: areas like the East End where youll find artists and poets and prostitutes those still alive to what their limited life-spans have to offer. I loved this joke at a checkpoint:
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING ZONE A. PLEASE MIND YOUR LANGUAGE.
You wait until you see Zone D.
Unfortunately Chief Inspector George Suttle of Marylebone has had a break-in and lost one member of his household staff to a zombie, with another bitten and in danger of turning. To save her, Suttle takes the socially unheard-of step of bringing young Louisa with him to receive The Cure, which will turn her into a vampire, while he receives a booster of blood which is where we came in.
Meanwhile overnight a body has washed up on the banks of the Thames. Or, more specifically, its been dumped on the mud right in front of the Houses of Parliament and the Albert Memorial Tower. Is someone making a statement, do you think? The body is male, naked, had his right hand chopped off and in his mid-forties. Well, he might be, or he might not, because hes recently had his teeth filed too. His name is Lord Hinchcliffe, an advisor to Queen Victoria, and his corpse bears three additional markings of note: burn marks to the neck, another which looks like a quite specific brand, and a wearing of the gums which suggests he wore false dentition. It suggests he had
tendencies. But hes a vampire immune to but three causes of death, so heres a quick conundrum:
Thats not possible, Chief Inspector. For a fatal case, there are none of the three causes present: impalement of the heart, decapitation, incineration. None of them.
Quite so. I didnt say I could explain it, Doctor. But somehow, someone has managed to murder that which was not alive.
What has Lord Hinchcliffe been up to?
Those familiar with Ian Culbards work (his several Sherlock Holmes adaptations like THE VALLEY OF FEAR and his Lovecraft book such as THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD) are in for a bit of a surprise: his lines here are far slimmer and crisper than usual. There is so much space. His tour de force is Georges bedridden, ancient mother, whose hooded eyes and pursed lips in one silent panel of what-on-earth-does-that-matter disdain are an absolute scream. Its my single favourite Culbard moment so far.
My breakfast is inordinately overdue, George.
Im sorry, mother. There was an incident below stairs this morning.
Cue silent panel, mentioned above.
I am quite beside myself with hunger. I think I may perish.
I dont think youll ever perish, mother.
Throughout, however, Culbards consistent application of Victorian implacability in Georges countenance fits perfectly with what Abnett returns to over and again: the death of the spirit on acquisition of life ever-lasting. The deadening of the senses too: even when his investigations take George to a brothel, he finds he has no sex drive, but he may have hit upon a lead. Shes certainly hitting on him.
I dont know about telephones, George. But if you want to ask anything else, you can always come back this way and pump me for information.
Just so you know, I like to protect my confidences, so you might have to pump me quite strenuously.
Am I stirring anything yet, George?
Well see. But your perseverance is awfully sporting.
Patricia Mulvihills colours are clean, soft and bright the very antithesis of what Vertigo was renowned for. Theyre classy, if you like, while Culbards forms and compositions are so full of decorum that its startling when all hell breaks loose.
Abnett find ingenious ways of weaving in all manner of social issues from patriarchal repression and womens suffrage to what might happen in the matter of inheritance when no one is a family is ever going to die. Propriety was always highly valued by the toffs in Victorian England good manners over good will and there is a moment here that is pure Oscar Wilde when George visits Lord Hinchcliffes estate to pay his respects to the victims grieving widow.
This way. Her ladyship is in the drawing room, applying her tears.