Last month, I reviewed Face of Evil, which was the first in a new series of e-books, that have their roots in the ‘Men of Action’ stories that were popular in the ’70s and ’80s. Ring of Knives is the second book in the series, based on characters created by Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin. Taking the helm for this entry is James Daniels.
When I talked about Face of Evil, I briefly talked about Clint Eastwood and Dirty Harry, and just to be predictable, I am going to talk about Eastwood again, but this time I am going to look at Pale Rider. While I enjoy Pale Rider, I have to admit that it is one of Eastwood’s weaker films. My disappointment in it stems from the fact that it is almost a carbon copy of Shane. Shane is undoubtedly a classic, and in my opinion, it is one of the finest examples of ‘The Stranger’ archetype (sometimes also known as ‘The Drifter’) in popular culture. Pale Rider doesn’t quite work, but the story elements are all in place. Eastwood, as the Preacher rides into town and ends up helping a ramshackle band of miners fight of a large disreputable mining company.
The Shane formula has been used time and time again in movies, not only in Eastwood’s Pale Rider. Off the top of my head I can think of Malone with Burt Reynolds and Nowhere to Run with Jean Claude Van Damme as other examples. However, where the formula has best been put to work is in countless television series. In these shows, The Stranger drifts from town to town, generally just trying to stay out of trouble, and ends up befriending some innocent townsfolk who are too weak to defend themselves from bullies. Mayhem ensues. I could cite many shows, but the ones that stand out most in my mind are Kung Fu, with David Carridine and The Hulk with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. And it is right that I should talk about television shows, as The Dead Man series began its life as a concept for a proposed television show. The show never went into production, but writers Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin thought that the idea was too good to go to waste, and have retooled it for this series, inviting some talented and successful mystery, western, horror and sci-fi authors, including Bill Crider, James Reasoner, Matt Witten, Joel Goldman, Burl Barer and David McAfee, to contribute to the project.
So there’s a bit of ‘The Stranger’ in Matthew Cahill, the hero of The Dead Man series, and this, the second entry, ‘The Stranger’ pattern begins to materialise. But there is far more to Cahill than just being a do-gooder who travels around righting wrongs. He has his own problems to sort out, and his journeys are solely for him to find out more about himself and the strange occurrences and visions that have become a regular part of his life.
When we left Face of Evil, Matthew Cahill’s life had changed dramatically. He had killed his best friend, and wasn’t sure if the visions that he sees – he sees evil people or those with malicious intent with festering sores - were a gift like a super-power, or if he was losing his mind. Neither was he sure where Mr. Dark fitted into the scheme of things. Was he really a malignant evil clown, who caused chaos and destruction and brought misery to the world, or was he too a part of Cahill’s madness.
So Cahill is seeking answers, and he thinks he may find some at the Carthage Medical Center where he has arranged to meet with one of the patients, named Jesse Watson, who is under the care of Dr. Dindren. It appears that Watson, after a spelunking accident, claims that he has visions of rotting flesh on people with evil intent. Naturally, Cahill believes that Watson’s story parallels his own, and if Watson had been cured, then there just may be hope for him too.
But upon arrival at Carthage, Cahill finds that Watson has been transferred and Dr. Dindren no longer works at the center. But Dindren is still at the center. The key word is ‘works’. Dindren is now a resident at Carthage. With some assistance from a foul-mouthed nurse named Maloria, Cahill contrives a plan to get to Dindren and find out what he knows, but Dindren is not quite the man he used to be. And Carthage is certainly not run like any other insane asylum. Cahill finds himself trapped inside and fighting for his life.
Earlier I talked about ‘The Stranger’ and how Matthew Cahill appears to be fitting into that character mold. In this story, at Carthage, Cahill had several opportunities to simply walk away. But instead, he chose to help other people – in particular a patient named Annica, who is a young girl, who is constantly set upon by both the male patients and staff. Cahill’s actions make him a fine avenger – and a good example of ‘The Stranger’ archetype.
The promo spiel:
Matt believes a madman may hold the secret to defeating Mr. Dark, the horrific jester with the rotting touch. But to reach him, Matt must infiltrate an asylum, where he is soon caught up in a spiral of bloodshed and madness. His only chance of escaping with his life and sanity intact is to face the unspeakable terror that awaits him deep in the asylum’s fog-shrouded woods…within the Ring of Knives.
Ring of Knives is a fine addition to the on-going story of The Dead Man, but – and as you would expect from a story written by a different author, it is very different in tone from Face of Evil. Ring lacks the humour of the first book, but in its stead Daniels has added some genuine tension and blood-curdling passages. There is a torture scene in the story, that Ian Fleming would have been proud of. Also, the ending to Ring, isn’t such a such a tease like it’s predecessor, so it is more like a complete stand-alone story.
All in all, Ring of Knives is very enjoyable, and suitably creepy. I guess now, all I have to do is wait another month for the next installment. Ring of Knives is available from today (April 4) at Amazon.