Faulks re­vives Wode­house char­ac­ter

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - By David Pitt

ABOUT five years ago Bri­tish nov­el­ist Sebastian Faulks pub­lished Devil May Care, a James Bond novel. He wasn’t im­i­tat­ing Ian Flem­ing, but he did use a voice that re­minded us of Flem­ing. Now he’s done it again, evok­ing mem­o­ries of P.G. Wode­house in a new Jeeves and Wooster novel, Jeeves and the Wed­ding Bells (Hutchin­son, 259 pages, $25). The plot is straight out of Wode­house: Ber­tie Wooster, the up­per-class gad­about, has fallen in love (again), and in or­der to win over the girl’s fa­ther it be­comes nec­es­sary for Ber­tie and his clever manser­vant, Jeeves, to switch roles. But how can Ber­tie pos­si­bly pre­tend to be Jeeves’ manser­vant, when he has barely a clue about… well, about any­thing? There are mo­ments when it feels like we’re read­ing an ac­tual Wode­house novel, one that some­how got shoved into a desk drawer decades ago and is only now see­ing the light of day. De­light­ful. Mar­vel Comics: The Un­told Story (HarperPeren­nial, 484 pages, $18), by Brook­lyn’s Sean Howe, is an ex­cit­ing look at the folks who gave us Spi­der­Man, Cap­tain Amer­ica, Iron Man and dozens of other clas­sic su­per­heroes and vil­lains. Howe takes us back to the early days, be­fore Mar­vel was Mar­vel, when it was an off­shoot of a mag­a­zine publisher and the leg­endary Stan Lee was a wannabe writer who got hired on be­cause he was the cir­cu­la­tion man­ager’s nephew. Lee might be the most fa­mous face of Mar­vel, but this isn’t ex­clu­sively his story. It’s also the story of artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, who gave the early Mar­vel char­ac­ters their vis­ual style but had to fight for credit.

It’s a story of friend­ships that were built and shat­tered; of tal­ent that came and went (like Frank Miller or Todd McFarlane and who scored their big­gest suc­cesses else­where), as Mar­vel tried to fig­ure out just what sort of com­pany it wanted to be, and what kinds of sto­ries it wanted to tell. Not a puff piece, but a solid, rig­or­ously doc­u­mented busi­ness book. Dan Wells, the Amer­i­can au­thor of a trio of thrillers about teenage se­rial-killer John Wayne Cleaver, strikes out in a bold new di­rec­tion in The Hol­low City (Tor, 355 pages, $10). Michael Ship­man is a para­noid schizophrenic; he’s been con­nected to a se­ries of mur­ders — the vic­tims all seem to be con­nected to Ship­man in one way or another — but he swears he’s in­no­cent. Michael tells us a con­vo­luted story about be­ing fol­lowed by men with­out faces, about peo­ple lis­ten­ing in on his life through his elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances, and it’d be easy to write this all off as the ram­blings of a dis­turbed fel­low, but here’s the thing: we think he might be telling the truth. Is Ship­man a vic­tim, or is he sim­ply delu­sional? The real ge­nius of the book is that you can make a case that he’s ei­ther, or even both. The clas­sic movie What Ever Hap­pened to Baby Jane? — that’s the one with Bette Davis and Joan Craw­ford as sis­ters, and one of them is nuts — was based on the late Henry Far­rell’s 1960 novel of the same name. It’s just been reis­sued (Grand Cen­tral, 285 pages, $17), and if you’ve never read it, you should take the time now. Like the movie, the book is essen­tially a two-char­ac­ter drama con­structed like a thriller. Blanche Hud­son was a big-name ac­tress be­fore a car ac­ci­dent ended her Hol­ly­wood ca­reer. Her sis­ter Jane, who’s spent the last sev­eral decades car­ing for Blanche, had her own flir­ta­tion with celebrity, as the sug­ary-sweet Baby Jane. Now Jane wants to res­ur­rect her ca­reer, and there’s only one thing stand­ing in her way: Blanche. It’s a bril­liant novel, fea­tur­ing two ex­tremely well-crafted char­ac­ters and a story that’s full of sur­prises. Halifax free­lance writer David Pitt’s col­umn runs

on the first weekend of the month.

ROBERT BAR­ROW PHOTO

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