After you read Barry’s review below, make sure you check out the full list at Patti Abbott’s blog.
WHO’S NEXT? (1988) by George Baxt
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
Multimillionaire Medwin Patton collects “protégés,” people whose talents he can exploit to their mutual benefit. In his case, the benefits might be, on occasion, sexual as well as financial. The latest protégé is eighteen-year-old Vanessa Clay, a ballerina who “was already acclaimed as one of the brightest luminaries in the Gotham Ballet Theatre…Haven Haskell, considered the next best choreographer to Jerome Robbins, was leaving Gotham Ballet to form his own company with financing supplied by Medwin Patton.”
Before he and Vanessa have even met Patton, Vanessa’s widowed father Jethro Clay is having misgivings about his daughter’s welfare in the company of her would-be benefactor. On the other hand, being impoverished, he understands Vanessa’s desire for a big career break and its attendant wealth. An inventor who does “free-lance work as a patents specialist,” he has in the past done some work for the movie industry, creating for films “all forms of infernal machinery with which to astonish and then horrify the teenage audiences who mostly patronized the junk.” Among those films was The Scarecrow, based on the best-selling novel by Lilith Manley, now Mrs. Medwin Patton.
Lilith and Medwin have developed an open marriage so that when, at a lavish party at the Pattons’ Westchester estate, Lilith and Jethro meet and exchange sparks, Medwin could care less. What he does care about—and intensely—is Vanessa as an object of his lust. When the two are alone in the library and he makes a pass at her, the instantly repelled young woman bolts from the room and the house. Medwin has the habit, when angered, of jumping into his Volvo and driving maniacally off the estate to settle himself. On this particular evening, Vanessa flees along the driveway as Medwin decides against slowing down. Besides Jethro and Lilith, there are seven of the many party-going protégés on the estate’s grounds who witness what they all subsequently testify to as an accident, despite recognizing it as purposeful murder lest they lose any sort of personal celebrity status and, more importantly, Patton monetary benefits.
Jethro is determined to avenge his daughter’s death, but realizes he would be the suspect investigators would look at immediately and most intensely. Lilith is the one witness who sided with him, and their mutual attraction, along with her hatred of Patton, leads them to devise a plan for Jethro’s phony suicide coupled with murder methods appropriate to the professions or personal quirks of the witnesses. What follows is a well-paced, absolutely improbable, often absurd tale of retribution.
It’s also pretty funny, its omniscient narrative, along with some of its dialogue, packed with wry observations and occasional word-play. Its final couple of moments of dialogue struck me as suitably and humorously ambiguous, in a dark sort of way, though I’m sure not everyone will agree.
Readers preferring grim, ominous vengeance tales of the sort found in some Mickey Spillane novels and Clint Eastwood westerns will be sorely disappointed. Absurdities apply to some of Jethro’s murderous inventions--e.g., his method of disposing of a sculptress is one that must be accepted as something that would appear in a science fiction or horror film: just go along with it unanalytically and enjoy the ride because in real life the odds don’t favor its hurried devising if it could be devised at all. (Nowadays, who knows? It probably could be.)
Who’s Next? is good criminous comic entertainment.
© 2017 Barry Ergang