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Friday, May 7, 2021

Alan Moore’s ‘Books of Blood’ and beyond

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Thank heaven it isn’t the Gospel According to Marion. This new thriller by Alan Moore set in the lively, colorful world of 1970s Dallas is positively dripping with dramatic revelations and character insights, poetry and sensuality. (For example, shortly before the very messy murder of Baby Phaetes, half a dozen women slash the heads off their dress-cutters, the thugs who by that point have been given free rein.)

But it takes five novels to tell a mystery so rich that one million pages in won’t do it justice. “Books of Blood” is narrated by a college-age daughter, Sunny Babineaux, known in some of the novels as the “weird little soul that brings out the evil in everyone.” That’s her burden, and she shoulder it convincingly.

Despite these annoyingly speculative tangents, the series does have a “Zero Dark Thirty” feel to it, with many examples of the vetting process so annoying and sloppily applied, and of the way the clumsy writing blocks the story. Sunny jumps in and out of details when a fellow character falls for someone else. This becomes bothersome. What else is he thinking about? Then there’s a handytime reference to a football game — five “rudimentary, sophisticated, sublime moments of symmetry” in the first game, which “will remain indelibly etched in my mind.” She chides her father about their misplaced schedules, “Hey dad, go to bed. I’m not sure what your job is.”

Moore writes of all sorts of popular culture and its contributors; the sharp minds behind “The Sopranos” will want to move books off shelves. It’s painful to hear of characters with names like “Neo-Nigralia.” A scene of horror should matter the way it does to us. (There are a lot of nervous-selling plans in this series, not that it’s anything new for Moore.)

Sunny’s method of storytelling includes a notebook of remembrances, handwritten letters to her mother and interview notes. She recalls reminders of what it’s like to be an orphan living in a whorehouse, how quickly she came to loathe the seamstress who made up her wedding dress and how one of the best friends of her mom’s (the aforementioned whorehouse owner) was this man named Lee. Lee “loved young girls and he made them beautiful.” His mom worked upstairs. She’d give Sunny the suitcase key, so she could get into the backrooms to wander. And she made her getaway by getting into a trunk at the back of the warehouse and climbing inside, dressing herself in the back-wash and washing her car with her dead mother’s bathwater.

From beneath her rawness, and some of her shrillness, there’s a lighthearted hilarity, brought out in the situations. The case grows increasingly bleak, though it’s not until the bloody climax — so disorienting it will disturb the most inexperienced reader — that Sunny earns her levity. When a part in a ballad of a childhood sacrifice is ripped off from the manuscript and presented as fact, she can’t help a note of disbelief.

“It makes me…hurt,” she says to her dad. This doesn’t go over well.

The author, 53, is a Texas-born novelist, and has written for media outlets like The New York Times, New York Magazine and the British publication The Times Literary Supplement. In his novels, he has displayed both a startling ability to imagine multiple narratives within a single story, and an acute understanding of how it would work if those three — tellable tales — were written by three different writers, each with a different time and place in which to inhabit his or her plot.

“Books of Blood” carries that same combination of fine elements. On a Texas bus, Sunny and her long-lost brother have a deep and reciprocal conversation about their father, who they suspect is having an affair, and they come to love each other — so much that they may want to stay together at some point. (We also learn that Sunny’s fiancé has been murdered by a former Texas detective.)

“The Lion and the Madonna” is the name of a passing carnival ride. There’s a Paris street at night, neon lights and old baseball games; a woman scarves and ties some gorgeous antique gold jewelry; a man transports an African infant on top of his car, fighting off a knife from inside the box.

Watch out. It’s

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