Book Review: The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody
May 8, 2012 7 Comments
I saw this book at my local book shop several times and I was so tempted. This is a beautiful big book, an American print (i.e., nice and floppy, stays open on the page that you fold it open on – unlike European paperbacks). So, after three separate visits to the shop staring at the book, I bought it.
It’s an intriguing story, science fiction. But it’s also very weird! It’s a big book, densely written. It took me a while to finish this one.
The Four Fingers of Death: What it is about
This book consists of four parts: an introduction and an afterword by “the writer” of the main story, Montese Crandall, and the actual story, in two parts, one taking place on Mars, the other on Earth.
Montese Crandall lives in 2025 and is a dealer in rare baseball cards. He meets and befriends a man with whom he plays chess. This man has been assigned to write a novelization of a 1963 horror movie, The Crawling Hand. Crandall and the man play chess with the novelization at stake: Crandall wins, and so he writes the book.
Crandall’s book is about a Mars exploration, with 3 manned space pods (each with 3 people inside) landing on Mars to start colonising it. Many things go wrong and in the end, it’s only one man that returns to Earth, that is, his arm does.
The second part of Crandall’s story is about the arm returning to Earth. It is contaminated with flesh-eating bacteria that will kill everyone (slowly) that comes into contact with it. Unfortunately, it can still move around by itself and somehow manages to travel some distance. This part of the story is centred around a scientist, Dr. Koo, who has been injecting a chimpanzee with the brain tissue of his deceased wife with interesting results. His assistent, Noelle, and his son Jean-Paul, also play a large part.
The Four Fingers of Death: What I thought
Monteses Crandall’s introduction was a little weird, but OK. I loved that it took place in the future, with things just a little bit different from now. Then the story about the Mars exploration: I loved that and totally bought it. I didn’t expect to see most of the crew die off one by one, but it all seemed very possible and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mars is a lot like it’s described in the book (and an exploration to Mars would follow roughly along the same lines).
I felt really present on Mars, with the Earth a long way away. Communications took over 30 minutes one way, so long discussions weren’t possible. Because of that, quite soon the crew started to ignore the instructions they had been given and filled their days the way they liked best. Still, there was the constant worry that one or more of the crew had been given a secret mission that might not be in the best interest of the rest of them. There were very believable quarrels and fights (and a love match) among the crew.
The second half of Crandall’s novelization was incredibly weird. I don’t mean run-for-your-life-and-don’t-look-back weird but more in a sense of where-did-that-writer-get-those-ideas? The Korean scientist has frozen his wife’s body and used parts of it on a chimp. A crawling arm infects some of the population and people who get into contact with the arm don’t bat many eyelids upon seeing such an arm.
I liked the post-apocalyptic feel of the Californian town where this part of the story took place. But the writing was very dense in places and not always held my interest. In this part, I skim-read some, maybe about 30 or so pages in total. The story of Jean-Paul story (the son of the scientist) was partially in the form of stream of consciousness which I really dislike.
So in the end, while I didn’t real all of the book, I very much enjoyed the experience of reading the book. Had the book been just about the Mars exploration, I’d probably have given it 5 stars. The second part could have been a sequel (or just left out) – although the second part was really the main story, as the Mars exploration was the preliminary to the crawling arm appearing in California.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Number of pages: 742
First published: 2010
Genre: science fiction