By K.K. Beck
The Revenge of Kali-Ra is a mystery novel without the usual corpse. Instead of a know-it-all amateur detective, we have a diverse cast of characters each out to make the most of a long-forgotten pulp writer’s legacy.
The idea is that Nadia Wentworth, a prima-donna Hollywood star, decides she’s going to do a film based on the writings of Valerian Ricardo, the creator of Kali-Ra. Ricardo’s work combines the sinister super villain of Sax Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu with the Theosophism of Talbot Mundy and the tie-‘em-up-and-flog-‘em scenes from REH’s Conan tales (man, this book is so ripe for a Margaret Brundage cover!).
This starts bringing the odd-balls out of the woodwork. There is Dr. Glen Pendergast, an English prof who writes pretentious po-mo lit-crit about Kali-Ra. Nick Iverson is Ricardo’s grand-nephew, and perhaps heir. Ricardo’s loony widow turns up, as does a sleazy lawyer representing an even sleazier swindler who might own the rights to Kali-Ra. And then there’s Callie, a young woman whose relationship with Kali-Ra might be too close. Keeping the whole show moving is Melanie, Nadia’s long-suffering assistant. A drunk screenwriter and an over the hill crooner with ties to the Mob round out the cast.
Naturally, they all end up at Nadia’s Hollywood mansion. Just as naturally, the lights go out and mayhem ensues, albeit a very low-key sort of mayhem.
Kali-Ra is an amusing satire on pulp writers, Hollywood, cranky heirs to literary estates and even crankier fans. Having spent some years in REH fandom, I found myself laughing pretty hard at certain points in this story. While my taste in crime fiction runs more to hard-boiled PIs and serie noir, a good laugh is worthwhile every so often.