Reading this, I was reminded of P. F. Sloan’s song, Eve of Destruction, for that was the outlook of Vernon Halliday, editor of a failing newspaper, The Judge, charged with the responsibility of bringing the tabloid out of its growing place of obscurity. The book begins with Vernon and his friend Clive Linley, talking together at their friend Molly Lane’s funeral. Molly had been a powerful figure in the world of Vogue. She was a free and modern spirit who chose to live by her own rules. She and her husband occupied separate apartments, so she could practice her own kind of individuality, which meant living with abandon, disregarding housekeeping, being a bit unfaithful, but, nevertheless, always appearing well groomed in public and in the company of whatever male companion was of the moment. Clive was a world renowned composer commissioned to write a symphony for the coming millennial celebration, although it was still years in the future. Molly’s husband George was a financier, aware of and accepting of, her somewhat wanton lifestyle. Neither Clive nor Vernon could fathom what she saw in him. They both disliked him intensely. Molly only moved into her husband’s apartments, when she became ill, quickly deteriorated and could no longer care for herself.
Her husband George was a controlling figure of means, with many investments, including a stake in Vernon’s newspaper. He strictly monitored and controlled visitors and access to his wife as she lay dying, in opposition to what Molly probably would have wanted. Clive and Vernon were very resentful. As two of her former lovers, they were never able to give her a proper good-bye, although they had remained great friends even after her marriage. Following the funeral, both Clive and Vernon were at loose ends, wondering about the fragility of their own health. Clive decided that he didn’t want to die frail and helpless the way Molly did. He asked Vernon to make a pact with him to help him end his life if his time was approaching, so he didn’t die as ignobly as he perceived the death of his friend Molly to be. Vernon agreed so long as Clive would do the same for him. This agreement, or unofficial contract of sorts, proved to be the seed that was a major turning point in both of their lives.
Present at the funeral also, was another close friend, Foreign Secretary, Julian Garmony, a rather pompous, self-serving politician who was also disliked by Vernon and Clive. Politically, he was anathema to Vernon who believed he would be the death knell for Britain.
When George phoned Vernon asking him to meet with him, he sounded like it was quite urgent. Although it was an uncharacteristic invitation to a former lover, Vernon consented to see him. George proceeded to shares risqué photos with him that could bring down the Foreign Secretary. Vernon was enthralled. This was quite possibly the tool he needed to save his country, his newspaper and his own ego. Thus the worm turned, and the plot was truly set in motion. Although the book was written almost two decades ago, it still seems relevant in today’s world. Corrupt politicians, media bigwigs and influentially wealthy people, in abundance, are still alive and well, operating in the theater of the absurd, pulling our strings with abandon. The reader will witness a display of hypocrisy and betrayal, vengeance and retribution, justice and injustice as ethical and moral concerns are raised, abused and ignored. The choices made by the self-absorbed characters were, thus, very self-serving, putting all decisions concerning themselves, their needs and egos, above all else. Their belief in their own magnificence was often beyond the pale, lacking in judgment, and, therefore, brought about outcomes which often backfired from their original intent. I wondered in the end if the moral of the story could be that it was a “comedy of errors”.
This is a tale with a sinister sense of justice and humor. Most of the characters seem preoccupied with achieving power for themselves at the expense of others. They are preoccupied with thoughts of death and dying. They cheat, lie, and frame each other with moral turpitude. Although the tale takes place several years before the twenty-first century begins, the time and place could be juxtaposed to any large city and country of influence today, for our world leaders, newsmen and women, corporate heads and unions, and men and women of power and influence, are still serving the needs of shallow people, and themselves. I wondered when I finished the book and returned my thoughts to the current day, have we simply lost our moral compass?
There were no wasted words in this less than 200 page, simply told tale, and yet, the pathos of the characters came through loud and clear. In my mind, I pictured actors and actresses playing their roles. A rather benignly defined seemingly lesser character arises in the end, holding all the cards. He alone, essentially, engineered the perfect crime, called all the shots, and emerged victorious, as the last man standing.