(creator: Christopher Leach)
|Lucius Rumsey was an itinerant American preacher of no particular denomination who had spent years travelling the country in a battered old Dodge pickup in an unsuccessful attempt to preach the gospel. The truck is on its last legs when he reaches the Texas town of Blair from where he has decided to carry a giant cross all the way across the country. (This is in fact what the evangelist Arthur Blissett had done in real life in 1969 - but there is no mention of him.) When he arrives in Blair, he is described as being thin with "a kind of starved, scarecrow quality about that thinness". He had "cropped black hair, a lean face with a three-day stubble; red-rimmed eyes, creased as though in a fierce, perpetual light."
By then he is not very sure about his faith - and it is not long before, faced with appalling murders, he loses it entirely. As he explains in a sermon that he is pressurised to preach at Blair, God just lets evil happen: "All the killin' and the famines and the disgusting cancers and the injustices: for what? To prove what? That we are free? Jesus, I've met more compassion from a dirt farmer's wife, knocked flat by drought and a bad harvest: handin' me food and water and bindin' my cuts. I tell you, I'm tired of belief. Nothing comes, it's a desert." It seems odd that he has not had to face up to the problem of evil before.
Ever ready to turn to violence, he explains,"I've seen the cheek turned a lot a time, an' people only cut it open." So in the end he is even prepared to assist in the torture of one of the murderers by nailing him to a cross, as for him "the cross was now a joke, as he knew now it would have appeared to the citizens of the land. It was foolish and it was laughable and much too easy. Faced with men like these, the pages of the good book shrivelled, all the sermons and the hymns were things of childhood, straws against the expression in the boy's (the young murderer's) half-smiling face. The world was beauty trampled, and if he was to die tonight, he would take the boy with him. All the prayers of all the good sisters in all the tame, enclosed convents would do nothing to wipe that smile away, or still the trigger-finger. He felt strength grow with purpose, and he watched with sharp eyes, and waited his opportunity."
It seems unlikely that an itinerant protestant preacher should be thinking about nuns in enclosed convents. It sounds much more as if the author was making a point of his own, as when Rumsey looked up at the black depth of the night, at the shivering stars. "You know something, Rawlins?" he said: " we're alone, you know that? He makes us, an' he does fucking nothin'."
Christopher Leach (1925-2004) was born in London and published numerous novels, including children's books. His widow tells me, "He never had a regular agent to promote his works and was an idealist, passionate about writing. He was sometimes reviewed as an American but never even visited USA. His 2 volumes of short stories are outstanding but I don't think they were published in America. Boston University has an archive."
Blood Games (UK, 1981. Subsequently published in the USA as Texas Station)
This makes an intriguing and interesting start, but before he can even set out, the hideously mutilated corpse of the carpenter's son is found nailed to the cross. This leads Rumsey to help the carpenter track down the three criminals responsible: their unhappy leader in his 40s who is dying of cancer, a psychpathic young man who is totally irresponsible and enjoys killing just for the fun of it, and a stooge who abruptly changes character in the course of the story and oddly takes the lead. They do not make a very convincing trio, and the bloodbath that develops, although frightening enough, makes it a distinctly unpleasant, if at times quite exciting, story to read.
When Rumsey loses what little faith he had, we end up with an unremitting description of evil with no hope of redemption. Indeed even the evil seems presented in a way that has a particularly nasty fascination to it, as when a boy who had been out swimming is murdered and we are told that "He did not hear the silencer. A bullet hit the left side of his temple, and the day went black. He fell into the shallow water, and the water began to change colour. The dog worried at the killer's pants, teeth tearing at the thick denim, until the silencer hissed again, and the animal was still. The killer knelt to the water and drank deeply. Then he turned to the boy ..." And we cut away to another scene.
Right at the end Rumsey rejoices that "Never again would he enter any church, or listen to an evangelist, or consider that thin body stretched on a cross. His days were over: he had been fooled long enough. The Earth was a fearful, ignorant place which no kind eye watched: but tonight one evil thing would be eliminated from its dust (meaning that he hoped to kill the murderers), and it was payment enough." It does not make for a happy ending - or an entirely satisfying story.
There is next to nothing about the author on the web, apart from lists of his books, as on the Fantastic Fiction site.
|The cover of the UK original is distinctly off-putting.
Below: the American cover gives little clue as to the content.