I picked up Regicide on a whim while out at a book store, having never heard of the author before, but more than willing to give him a chance. Both of the blurbs on the front cover were glowing: “Menacing and uncanny” and “immaculately sinister.” Which sounded exactly like what I was in the mood for.
Except both of those blurbs, on closer inspection, did not refer to this book, but rather a short story collection entitled Mortality. Okay, fine, that doesn’t mean that this book is necessarily bad, just that it probably isn’t as good as some of his other work. At least, that was my mentality when I began reading the book.
The story follows Carl, who runs a record store in London and is obsessed with Siousxie Sioux of Siousxie and the Banshees fame. And I do mean obsessed. Every girl he comes across is immediately compared in some way with Siousxie, and, as his ideal, every woman he is attracted to resembles Siousxie in some way. Which get very tedious, very quickly. In a nutshell, the story is about another sort of city inside/outside London, normally inaccessible to normal people. The king of this land has recently been murdered, and the country’s secret police are searching for insurgents, and Carl has been identified as one. Added to this is a map leading to this other city – although, just how is never explicated, and telephones which ring and ring and never have anyone on the other end.
Don’t get me wrong, the novel has its moments. There are some genuinely creepy moments in the first half of the story, before the half-baked psychoanalysis emerges. But overall, the novel fails to elicit anything remotely involving after the half-way point, and the ending is so abysmally bad that I had to read it twice just to be sure that I had actually read what I knew I had read.
On a more personal note, Royle – or at least Carl (can never be too careful not to conflate the two) – really, really dislikes pit bulls. And by extension, Staffordshire bull terriers. Now, I really don’t mean to get on a soapbox here, but the level of outright bigoted hatred towards this particular type of dog, one that has been recognized now as unfairly maligned in the media, makes an already poor novel that much worse. The fact that Carl dislikes pit bulls because he had a traumatic experience with the breed is understandable. However, the small-minded nature of his reasoning is too simplistically reductive. His reasoning is essentially that “because I had a bad experience with the breed, and because I dislike and fear the breed, they are evil, exist only to main and kill, and stand as a representative of all that I find frightening, ugly, and wrong with the world.” (For the record, I am paraphrasing here: Royle isn’t that poor an author). If Royle was aiming to instill a sense of fear in his novel through his utilization of the breed, it is poorly executed. To my – admittedly biased – mind, I think Stephen King had it right with Cujo. Pit bulls are a boogeyman; even now, after all of the more positive press they’ve received post-Michael Vick, they are still demonized to some extent or another.
Cujo was frightening, and hit home for so many people because the object of horror was something which was not typically considered horrifying. The dog in question was a St. Bernard, a family pet, and a breed which has been traditionally represented as either a mountain savior or a goofy, friendly giant. The idea that this family dog could become a monster is what made the story scary. Taking the familiar and making it monstrous.
Not by taking the vilified and vilifying further. That’s lazy writing, relying on sensationalism rather than artistic merit. It is low, and quite frankly, takes very little skill to accomplish. Had Royle utilized the dogs in an interesting manner, this might not have been the case. Sadly, he trades in inventive writing and the beginnings of a disturbing atmosphere for a few cheap thrills, and it diminishes the entire experience.
I might appear to be harping on a minor aspect of this novel, but really, I’m not. Pit bulls are the specter made flesh in the novel, and exist in both of the novel’s cities. Dogs are the dominant motif in the novel, and the totalitarian evil force employs them at – quite literally – every street corner.
Finally, Royle reaches for a literary pedigree by having Carl read snippets of Robbe-Grillet’s Regicide but falls victim to that old rule of never mentioning a better work in your own inferior one. He destroys his own story’s atmosphere with a rushed final act, and fails to maintain that delicate balance between telling too much and telling too little, so that what is uncovered is ultimately uninteresting, and what remains a mystery is no longer worth learning.
To put it lightly, the novel is a disappointment.