Found at 17 Idle-Gossip Road

Found at 17 Idle-Gossip Road

“I still look up to the stars for some sort of meaning.”

Rumours are odd things. Once ignited, they either fizzle out due to lack of interest, or they explode like fireworks and pepper the world with their, sometimes dangerous, fallout. During World War II, rumour was everywhere, and both the Allies and Axis powers wanted to know what was going on with the other side. But among all of this were the ordinary people, some of them connected to the bigger picture, but others not. Our stories all interweave and in this novel, weaving stories join up with rumourmongering and the tarot to create an immense tapestry, providing a possible history of the last seventy years.

At its core, this is the story of a manuscript containing official secrets that is passed through the hands of various people from secret agents to prostitutes, from actors to science fiction writers, from 1941 up until the present day. However, the book is so much more than that. It’s about Rudolf Hess’s bizarre journey to Scotland during the war, the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, the possible existence of alien life, the evolving form of science fiction, and the all-consuming nature of cults.

Each chapter is named for one of the Major Arcana trump cards in a tarot deck, and each one has a different narrator, style, mission and tale. They are out of order, the book leaping backwards and forwards through seventy years, building up a picture of what might have occured. The story is bookended with the narration of Larry Zagorski, a science fiction writer who becomes quite well-known through his life for his excellent novels and short stories. In the 1940s, he is a starving artist, selling stories to magazines for mere pennies, but his skill and acclaim grow over the years. He would be an interesting enough narrator on his own, but the story expands extensively from his version of events.

“The Moon” tells the story of what happened when Hess left Germany and flew to Scotland. “Adjustment” is the tale of Larry’s teenage sweetheart Mary-Lou and her foray into the world of science fiction filmmaking. “The Magician” is the story of Ian Fleming (yes, that one) while he still worked for the secret services and his meetings with Aleister Crowley (yes, that one). “The Hanged Man” is the document that is being passed through various hands, written by secret agent Marius Trevelyan. And “The Tower” is Larry’s biography from an outsider.

While occasionally convoluted, the story does eventually tie up and provides a possible explanation to what led Hess to make his strange journey, what UFOs might actually be, and where Ian Fleming got his ideas for his novels from. It’s a dense tale, but the characters are very human and even Hess comes across as simply a man who was easily led and dangerously infatuated with Hitler, rather than a force for evil. He was, after all, attempting a peace mission.

The use of the tarot cards for the basic structure is a clever one, as the book is about the future and the occult. Science and magic get confused here, even moreso once L. Ron Hubbard turns up, having convinced himself that his novels are accounts of things that really happened, but everyone, whatever their belief system, is thinking about the future. A few of the tarot names are changed (Justice becomes Adjustment, Strength becomes Lust, Temperance becomes Art) but these are reflected in the story.

There’s a continuing theme throughout also about the place science fiction has in society throughout history. In the forties, the future still seems far away, but as Larry and Mary-Lou grow up, the things they wrote about – space travel, atomic weapons – become reality. There’s a suggestion that science fiction writers are the real prophets of the planet, always second-guessing the future and then becoming obsolete when it arrives. By the end, Larry even notes that in the thirties he wrote a story set on Mars in 2011, the year he’s now living in. There’s a moment of sadness as his discusses that humanity was turned in on itself. Where once it used to look out to the stars and seek answers, now it seems unable to think outside of the atmosphere. Even most of the satellites we’ve sent up since 1972 are there just to look back down on Earth, he laments.

It’s a book that requires your brain, but that’s never a bad thing, and it’s definitely a fun and engaging tale, providing you can keep on top of who everyone is and enjoy genre switches as routine. A smart blend of fact and fiction.