Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Parade of Cockeyed Creatures: Review

George Baxt is at his weirdly fantastic best in A Parade of Cockeyed Creatures OR Did Someone Murder Our Wandering Boy? (1967) He introduces us to an eclectic cast of characters, some really quite odd, whose lives have mingled with the "wandering boy." The investigation brings the reader in contact with several social concerns of the 1960s--including the peace movement, drugs, organized crime, and a touch of the occult. Not quite as far out as some of his other work, Parade also introduces a very human element to his carnival of the absurd in the person of investigating officer. 

The story opens with Marcus and Wilma Blaney in the Missing Persons office of the police department. Max Van Larsen is the cop there to help them. Van Larsen has just returned from compassionate leave after the death of his wife and son in an automobile accident. He isn't very grief-stricken--in fact, he feels a bit empty because he never really felt much at all for these two people who shared his life. His investigation into Henry Thorpe "Tippy" Blaney's disappearance will help him understand his own son and himself as he learns and begins to care about a boy he's never met.

After  listening to the Blaneys' description of Tippy and the events leading up to his disappearance, his first question is "Why'd you wait five days before reporting your son missing?" Their feeble excuses don't convince him and when he meets those who knew Tippy best--his schoolteacher, Sylvia Plotkin (one of the most normal characters in the book); his friend Ashley Tybor, who is obsessed with death and goes by the name "Prince of Darkness"; an art dealer who smuggles drugs amongst the art pieces; an artist addicted to heroin; an "aunt" with ties to mob; and a girlfriend who refused to marry him--he discovers that there is more to Tippy's last few days than his parents have told. There are several car accidents involved in the plot and Baxt plays a bit of sleight-of-hand on who died in which accident. The swirling colors and mixed messages of his carnival of clues keeps the reader on his toes and it will be a canny reader indeed who figures out what happened to Tippy before the final reveal.

This is one of Baxt's better novels--well-written and it does a good job mixing the absurd with the serious. It was nice to watch the growth of Van Larsen even while laughing at some of the situations he found himself in. My primary complaint is with the lack of fair-play clueing--but Baxt isn't exactly well-known for that. Overall, an entertaining read and well worth the time. ★★ and a half.

This counts for the "Weirdest Item(s)" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card--that's quite a cover....


Anonymous said...

I am something of a Baxt fan so always glad to see a positive review Bev, though I have not in fact got this one!

fredamans said...

It sounds like a different read. I love it come out the year my husband was born... lol

Jason Half said...

Thanks for the review! This is an author that I want to actively seek out. I rarely read mysteries and crime fiction from the 1960s -- the '30s and '40s take precedence, a bit unfairly -- and have seen Baxt's titles pop up before. Other than those Golden Age authors who have kept writing into the 1960s, like Rex Stout and Gladys Mitchell, the only author I have read eagerly from that era was Nicolas Freeling, whose Inspector Van der Valk books are first-rate European police procedurals with a great humanist approach.

So George Baxt goes on my "to read" list! Thanks again for your great website --