- Evelyn Waugh, speaking of stories written by Flannery O'Connor
Former journalist Andrew E. Kaufman has managed to jump from self-publishing to a major house contract on the strength of three novels, two of which involve the character Patrick Bannister. It’s those two, The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, and Darkness and Shadows, that I’ll tell you about briefly today.
I was drawn to the Patrick Bannister novels because the main character is a fellow I can identify with. Though a successful journalist for a national magazine (OK, I don’t identify with that), he suffers from deep insecurities and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, brought on by a childhood dominated by a loveless and narcissistic mother. Patrick is, indeed, unusually unfortunate in his relationships with females, because the second book involves his disastrous first love relationship, with a girl who had a terrible secret.
In The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, Patrick goes home for his mother’s funeral, and retrieves a single box of his childhood possessions from the house where he grew up. In it he finds a couple odd things – a piece of paper bearing a name, which a little research tells him belongs to the victim of a child murder in Texas years back, and a St. Christopher medal. When he finds a picture of that dead boy and sees that the boy is wearing the same medal in it, he starts on a desperate search to discover his mother’s and uncle’s relationship to the crime.
In Darkness and Shadows, Patrick finds himself out of a job, having allowed his emotions to overcome his journalistic good judgment. Then he sees a news report about the murder of a wealthy woman, and realizes that she is the same person as a girl he dated in college, who had (he thought) died in a fire before his eyes. Forging an unexpected alliance with a disturbed female criminal, he uncovers a sinister conspiracy and learns truths that could tear up his personal world.
Author Kaufman has had considerable success with readers, so I’m not alone in finding these books fascinating. Speaking for myself, I found the description of the inner life of an abuse victim extremely well-rendered. I was less impressed with the stories themselves. The writing was good – perhaps it could use a little pruning – but the plotting seemed to me weak. The first book, especially, ended with a big action scene that got resolved by pure luck. And the big surprise at the end was one I had guessed in about the second chapter. The second book was a little better.
Still, the characters were fascinating, and if the psychology of abuse interests you, these are a pretty good read.