The Church of Latter-Day Eugenics by Chris Kelso & Tom Bradley
Reviewed by Steve Ironside
Centuries away, the minstrel steels himself for his audience with the King. Based on what he is going to say, will he survive it?
Meanwhile, amongst The Church of Latter-Day Eugenics’ streets of London, Fulton, a hack journalist, is trying to find reality star Bryan Fix, who has gone missing after his stint on Celebrity Crack Den. Will he succeed?
How do these events link together? Come with me on a strange and terrible journey…
Fulton is the exemplar of everything that represents the term “tabloid journalist”. He’s crude and self-effacing with no moral compass, caring for nothing except his own convenience. His intern, Cheryl, is annoying, the world around him is uninteresting, and he’s getting to the end of his rope – contemplating taking his own life after getting one last big story.
Things take a turn though when Fix turns up dead, with evidence of ritual sacrifice leading to a cultish offshoot of the Mormons. Fulton & Cheryl find themselves dragged through the desperately grubby underside of London, to confrontations with semi-emasculated cultists, the mind-shattering drug Blue Lotus, and visions of the sky goddess Sheila and her insidious plan to ensure that only the worthy breed the next generation.
How does a nervous minstrel connect to all this? In the courts of medieval Europe, few could speak out against powerful men and get away with it. Minstrels could, and often did. Their satires, or lampoons, were licenses to ridicule the powerful and expose their flaws. This novella serves as a modern lampoon, striking at many things; mass-media morality, ineffectual law enforcement, the absurdity of organised religion and the general public’s indifference to dangerous extremes of behaviour in the modern world.
Every character we meet is deliberately a stereotype. O’Donoughie, the world-weary police detective. Susanna, the flirty madame who owns the porn-shop that’s a front for the cult. Nicoleaky, the social justice warrior who becomes key to Fulton’s investigation – they could have walked into the story from a hundred tales. That’s not to say that they aren’t well portrayed – each has their own voice and aren’t just window dressing – but they are there to serve as specific targets for the narrative that Kelso & Bradley seek to weave.
The locations are also suitably archetypal, from the “high-class joint” called The Pink Martini, to the porn-shop with the “neither tasteful or excessively clever name” are again, detailed and colourful; again designed to be comfortable, broadly known, lulling you into believing that you understand the lurid world that is being described to you.
And then, Blue Lotus.
After Fulton is exposed to it, his/our world view is stripped away, and the whole world shifts. The effect is akin to drinking three four-shot cappuccinos in quick succession. The story starts to fidget, then new glimpses of the world blurt out, tumbling over themselves faster and faster, rushing towards the now inescapable finale. The court gasps as the minstrel throws shade at the king – waiting to see what happens.
That pace may be the main difficulty I had with this book. You can’t dismiss the psychedelic impact of the rhythm of the text and plot twisting around, but it feels like the book should be longer to allow those ideas to play themselves out fully. By satirising almost everything, the narrative becomes dizzying and wearying, as you try to keep up with the many changes in perception. I came away from it with a feeling of vague dissatisfaction, like getting the munchies after smoking a joint.
It’s also a book that only really makes sense at the end – at first glance, a lot seemed like “shock tactics”. Only on reflection did I see the path that Kelso & Bradley were leading me down; a neat trick to pull off as a writer, provided your reader puts the effort in too.
Finally, if books with strong sexual language and “triggering” overtones are not for you then you’ll struggle. But the message is strong, regardless of means of delivery, so consider challenging yourself.
Overall, I’m not sure that I could claim to have enjoyed this book, but I did appreciate it – it’s a worthy addition to the tradition of the lampoon. It forces a look at our attitudes and which warrant saving. That I find those thoughts uncomfortable is perhaps the point. If so, then to Messrs. Kelso & Bradley, I tilt my crown. Well played.