Split Image is best read cold, and this review is loaded with spoilers. Read ahead at your own peril and rest assured it is fantastic. But if you insist…
“It occurred to me—and this was my first conscious thought upon ‘awakening’—that the crows did not object to the carnage. Of course not. They were scavengers and were impatiently waiting their opportunity. Even so, I could not entirely dispel the notion that they were judging me—small black magistrates, feathery clerics.”
The idea is Andrew Neville’s; a failed playwright, three early critical successes and nothing since, making his living as an editor of a corporate newsletter. On a whim he travels to the woods of northern Wisconsin to the primitive hunting cabin of a friend. It is autumn, and deer are in season. He takes an old bow and its matching arrows from the cabin. He doesn’t expect a kill, but when a buck cuts his trail a lusty greed overtakes him. The deer is wounded, and while tracking it Andrew comes to a man cleaning a buck.
Andrew believes the deer is his, but the man calmly and reasonably claims it. The two have a cold exchange of words; at the end Andrew kills the other. He doesn’t remember the actual killing, but Andrew knows he did. He cleans up the cabin, disposes of the clothing and other evidence and returns to Chicago. A few days later he learns the man’s identity, and realizes, for the first time, he once knew the man. They were in the same theater company, and while Andrew failed as a writer his victim found significant success in Hollywood.
Andrew, after meeting his victim’s widow at the funeral, calculatingly insinuates himself into the dead man’s life. He moves into the boat house on his wooded estate, wears his clothes, befriends his only child, and smoothly woos his wife. The only hold up is a despicable man named Roland Scheiss—
“‘Scheiss means ‘shit’ in German, doesn’t it?’”
—hired by the murdered man’s parents to prove his widow, and by extension, Andrew Neville killed him. Scheiss is loathsome. He is filthy, crude, and corrupt. His game is blackmail, and he begins calling Andrew at odd moments of the night threatening, cajoling, taunting. Andrew remains calm, but his sanity begins to unravel; he converses with his victim in the dark hours, and small meaningless events begin to weigh heavily, and finally his narrative turns suspect; is the tale truly as it is being told, or is the reader being deceived?
Split Image is a fine novel. It is dark, riveting, and curious. It is as much literature as commercial. It weaves an enticing mixture of Edgar Allan Poe—think “The Tell-Tale Heart”—Alfred Hitchcock, and a 1950’s Gold Medal novel. Andrew Neville is a cold, almost empty narrator, who is as interesting, and enigmatic as any character in popular literature. The prose is sparse, poetic and meaningful. It is also satisfying, thought-provoking, and damn good.
Split Image is Ron Faust’s tenth published novel. It was published in 1997 by Forge as a hardcover. It is currently available as a trade paperback and ebook from Turner Publishing.