Tue 28 Feb 2012
GEORGE C. CHESBRO – The Language of Cannibals. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1990; paperback, March 1991.
[At the time this review was written, it was in the context of mysteries and crime fiction based on the politics in the US in the 1960s.] For a while I thought this was a book that might have been among them. But Chesbro certainly doesn’t pull any punches in his work, and the reader gradually discovers that his political view of the world, as expressed in The Language of Cannibals, includes an overwhelming disgust with right-wing conservatives of all forms, no matter what era it occurred, going back to the end of World War II.
A friend of Mongo, criminology professor and a high-powered investigator Dr. Robert Frederickson, has died. He was an FBI agent whose demotion within the agency had forced him into a surveillance on a small community of pacifists a short way north of New York City. The death is apparently a boating accident, but the dead man had his own reasons for staying away from the water. Mongo suspects there may be more to the story.
Headquartered in Cairn NY is more than the Community of Conciliation. Newly arrived, and taking over the town, is the famed ultra-conservative demagogue, Elysius Culhane. What Mongo doesn’t know is that a “death squad,” designed to eliminate undesirable members of society, is also active in Cairn. And in counterbalance to the presence of equally famed pacifist folksinger Mary Tree is the KGB, or various members thereof.
I remember that Hugh Pentecost (or more likely his alter ego Judson Phillips) used to write crime fiction like this, mixed with the high voltage wires of political extremism, but I don’t think he ever had the bass, treble and volume knobs turned up as high as this, all at the same time.
Reading The Language of Cannibals might be an enjoyable ride, but only if you’re of the same mind as the author. In essence, though, it’s only a two-dimensional portrait that’s presented here. It’s the science fictional concept of parallel worlds that’s at work — or is it out-and-out fantasy? — combined with detective fiction, and while the detective story survives, I’m not sure that my sense of wonder does. My eyeballs are still tingling.
May 1991 (with revisions).