Review by Joey Madia
A few months ago, a publicist introduced me to the whimsical, socially conscious, quick-witted work and worlds of the novelist Pete Adams. John Broughton describes him as “the Salvador Dali of thriller writers,” a description I mention because it is so fitting. Two writers that also come to mind are James Joyce (Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses), and Robert Anton Wilson and his Illuminatus series, although reading his Cosmic Trigger books will also give you a sense of the lineage of which Pete Adams is a part, especially when it comes to the corruption of the international banking cabal.
The front matter describes Rite Judgement as “A politically correct / incorrect, risqué, mischievous, irreverent and, ever so naughty, crime mystery thriller. A real / surreal novel where life imitates art.” Quite a mouthful, and quite correct. Following on the heels of this quote is one from André Breton: “The imaginary is what tends to become real.” This is a form of spelling, or using words and the power of the mind in the form of poetry and prose, incantations, mantras, and the like to speak a new world into existence. After all, as we good (many now lapsed) Catholics and other religious types grew up hearing, and many still believe, in the beginning was the Logos… the Word. Which makes Trickster-Holy Storytellers like Adams invaluable to society indeed.
Still with me? I warn you, even more so than the book I read and reviewed a few months ago—Dead No More, from another of Adams’s series—the wit, metaphors, and action in Rite Judgement unroll at a very brisk pace. It is easy to get lost in the dense forest of words and images. There are plays on words, abundant cultural and political references, and rich social commentary. Therefore, Adams richly rewards those rare polymaths versed in history, art, and psychology, as so obviously is he.
But please don’t get me wrong—I highly recommend this book, as I did Dead No More. I believe that artists are well within their rights to make us work a little in our engagement with their art, especially when the art is no less than a new vision for the world.
If you are a fan of Paul Christopher, Dan Brown, and David Baldacci, imagine if they did not take themselves quite so seriously, so their stories were purposefully corny and outsized, rather than mistakenly so.
Rite Judgement (even the title is word play) is an echo of and metaphor for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Adams, at the end of the book, lays out how the metaphor works. He suggests that you do not read the explanation until after you’ve read the novel, but if you begin, and you feel lost, it is worth a read, which you can use as a kind of skeleton key, the way Joseph Campbell gave us one for Joyce’s Finnigan’s Wake.
The book opens with the decapitation of a nun who is a member of an all-nun’s orchestra. Her head is found next to the score of Rite of Spring, and we are quickly off to the races, meeting a janitor called Ernest Pugh (called Blind Pugh) and “the Duchess of Frisian Tun [who] was none other than the notorious London transvestite gangster and socialite, Mad Frankie the axeman.” Another member of the orchestra is called Bea Flat.
Enter the journalists and police, some of whom appear in Dead No More. Although there are several series, they all belong to the same world and Adams cues the reader when necessary to references in other books; he is also perfectly at ease breaking the fourth wall to tell you other things and make a pointed comment; it’s all quite natural when he does so, so enjoy it.
With names like Cecelia Crumpet and Everard Pimple for the journalists and Dick and Duck Austin for the police (owners of Da Da Detective Agency), you are consistently reminded that you are in a surrealist world where tired tropes are wonderfully, whimsically subverted. Adding to the fun are parodic characters from MI5, Vatican Intelligence, and No. 10 Downing Street. Adams even has a version of the Illuminati called the Illusionati, and the players that constellate around it remind me of distorted versions in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and Baudolino, especially the Priest-Finder General Liberato Zondo who reminds me also of Count Alessandro Cagliostro. There’s a very odd pope named Siderney (aka Fabio Sid Smith), who just might qualify as the oddest of the odd in Adams’s cast of oddballs.
There are bankers (one named Justin Thyme), politicians, and theologians. There is also a sect of the “real” Masons who go by the alternate name of The British Order of Orthodox Bricklayers (Boobs)—who are better than the “other bunch of Tits” who are the “other Masons.”
A highlight of the book is the flat of Aedd Murphy, a geography teacher from a family of cartographers and the like. With a map of the world printed large upon the walls, as Aedd and visitors move through the flat, the geography informs the scene and the story on numerous levels.
As things get downright supernatural (and boy do they ever—two characters that become prominent in the second half are a horse and a parrot), the three Abrahamic religions all send in their representatives to have their say and protect their brand. Out of this comes another of the author’s witty organizational names/acronyms: a “Christian group of the Coptic Orthodox Nile Synod (the CONS: a form of reactionary, counter-revolutionary, Church of Egypt Tory party).” I’ll give you one more—you’ll have to find the rest, like Easter Eggs, on your own: “The Barbaras [of Seville, who] were barbers but with a barbaric streak. They were a modern day incarnation of the Spanish Inquisition but on roller skates.” If you think for a moment about the absurdity of the organizations for whom Adams’s are simulacra, it all makes perfect sense.
Not to leave out the multinational corporations who really run the show, Adams includes a company called Ma-Santi (a riff on the agro-evil They Who Shall Not Be Named, who, taking a page from Satan, actually underwent a name change so the sheeple believe they no longer exist) centered in the financial heart of England, the City of London. There’s also a fracking company named Godzilla (I particularly love that last one, having seen firsthand what the fracking industry has done in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, including feeling my bed move beneath me when a fracking-caused earthquake damaged the Washington Monument). In the case of the latter, the author gets rather blunt: “They had no feeling for social justice or fairness. How could you if your focus was on maximising profit?”
Come for the absurdity, stay for the profundity. Robert Anton Wilson will be smiling from his celestial writing room if you do.
TITLE: Rite Judgement (DaDa Detective Agency Book 2)
AUTHOR: Pete Adams
PUBLISHER: Next Chapter, 2021