Thursday, September 10, 2009

DRAGONFLY by John Farris

John Farris is best known for his work in the horror genre—The Fury, All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By, Son of the Endless Night, etc.—but his body of work is much more varied and broad. His career began at the height of the pulp era and he wrote several very good examples, including Baby Moll, and Harrison High.

It was, however, the horror genre where he truly differentiated his work—he wrote with a keen eye towards culture and mythology. He was an observer and chronicler as much as anything. And he still is.

His work has changed and expanded over the years; from his early pulp-style crime novels, to his horror, to his more recent suspense, and finally to his current batch of hybrid suspense / supernatural novels. No matter where Mr Farris’ work is categorized you can always count on three things: wit, suspense, and more than a touch of humanity.

I recently read a John Farris’ novel titled Dragonfly. It was published in 1995. It is a large-scale suspense novel with a booming plot, flashy and developed characters, and enough twists to make its 500 pages pass far too quickly. It is a version of the Dean Koontz thriller, except where Koontz tends to populate his novels with working class characters Dragonfly is a hothouse of Southern aristocracy in all its contemptible glory.

Dr Joe Bryce is a conman. He makes his living swindling wealthy women of their treasure. His last job had a few loose ends and it didn’t turn out exactly how Joe had hoped. He has a mind to retire, but the dust jacket photograph of a beautiful and bestselling author haunts him until he decides for one more con. The only problem: Nothing is as he expects it.

The plot is so well rendered and designed that the less a reader knows about it, the more enjoyable it will be. The writing is pure in subtle and unobtrusive tones—it is deceivingly simple with a Southern, almost gothic, lilt:

“Joe awoke at the crack of dawn in the beach house, disoriented after a night of heavy sleep, wondering for a few moments just where he was and what he was up to.”

The characters are full-bodied, living, breathing people. Joe is a scoundrel that is not only likable, but, as the novel gains ground, begins a trembling, sorrowful journey of redemption. He is a flawed man in a flawed and harsh world. The setting is beautifully captured by Mr Farris in a muted eloquence—simple and direct with language that is permeated with intelligence and wit.

Dragonfly is one of the best novels I have read in 2009. It is a sound piece of literature with a muscular plot and a humanity that is startling. It is a true masterpiece of suspense. It may remind me of the Dean Koontz thriller, but Dragonfly is all John Farris.


Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for pointing this book out to me. I'm a new John Farris fan and am constantly amazed by his range.

Ben Boulden said...

Craig. I've only been reading Farris since 2004 and most of the titles I've read are from his later suspense titles, although I have read a few of his horror novels and the HCC edition of BABY MOLL.

PHANTOM NIGHTS is terrific. It is a supernatural-suspense novel of the 1950s South. A beautifully written novel. I also recommend SOLAR ECLIPSE, SON OF THE ENDLESS NIGHT, HARRISON HIGH, the FURY novels and probably just about any novel he wrote. I was disappointed with his recent YOU DON'T SCARE ME, but still it was an entertaining read.

Craig Clarke said...

I, too, have read Harrison High and Baby Moll. Also "The Ransome Women" novella in Transgressions.

Thanks for the recommendations. I've got Phantom Nights calling out to me from the shelf.