Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Faulks revives Wodehouse character

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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 Spider-Man, 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.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2013 A1

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