THE PICTURE IS COMPLETE:
Michael Kurland and I have been friends, colleagues, sometime collaborators and even occasional room-mates for something more than forty years. By this time I have a feeling that we would either hate each other or the opposite thereof, and I am pleased to report that the latter is the case.
Michael is one of the kindest, most thoughtful, most generous, and most talented persons in the world. You can take it from me. He is also a damned fine editor. Every time he has vetted a manuscript of mine he has offered insightful suggestions which invariably have contributed to making the work better than it had been.
It will not surprise you to know that I read his own works every time a new one comes to my attention. And these works are remarkably varied. Michael is possibly best known for his novel The Unicorn Girl, the middle volume of one of the oddest trilogies ever created. In case you’re wondering, Michael’s book was preceded by Chester Anderson’s The Butterfly Kid and followed by Tom Waters’ The Probability Pad.
But of course those books were all published long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. I’ve also read some of Michael’s more conventional science fiction novels. Well, slightly more conventional. Very slightly. Michael seldom does anything in a really conventional manner.
In the late 1990s he wrote a pair of mystery novels featuring Alexander Brass and Morgan DeWitt. Set in the 1930s, these two fine books, The Girls in the High-Heel Shoes and Too Soon Dead, are more than coincidentally redolent of the adventures of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, two of my favorite characters in the entire world of detective fiction. I wish Michael would write more of these, but in case he doesn’t get around to doing so, I’ve saved my copies of the first editions and will reread them when the craving becomes too great.
I’ve read his novels about Professor Moriarty and contributed stories to his Sherlockian anthologies. I’ve even read at least one Gothic novel that he wrote under the pseudonym of Jennifer Plum.
All of which is to say that I’m thoroughly familiar with his work, or thought I was until I became Editorial Director of Surinam Turtle Press. A couple of dozen books into my publishing program, Michael asked if I’d like to acquire rights to one of his earlier novels. It took me about one one-hundredth of a picosecond to say Yes. And about as long to ask what was available.
“Star Griffin,” Michael said.
I said, “What?”
He said, “What, what?”
Good grief, I felt as if I’d fallen into an Abbott-and-Costello routine. I said, “What was that title?”
“I never heard of that book. You wrote it? What is it?”
“It’s a science fiction novel. Published in 1987. It’s been out of print for twenty-odd years.”
“Well, I want to read it. Please send me a copy, and the sooner the better. And if I can’t guarantee that I’ll take it for Surinam Turtle Press, I can tell you that the odds are about a zillion to one that I will.”
He sent it, I read it, and I was absolutely delighted with it. What a pleasure it is, to come across a book you didn’t know even existed, by a favorite author, and then to find that it’s one of his best works.
I have no idea how I missed this book before, but I can tell you right now that it’s a sockdollager. If you enjoy it even remotely as much as I did, you are in for a major treat.
Like many writers, Michael has led a wildly checkered career. His employment has ranged from stage manager and director of theatrical productions to road manager of a rock and roll band to teacher at an exclusive boarding school.
Several decades ago he served in Military Intelligence. Assigned to intercepting coded transmissions between Russian and East German headquarters units, he developed an interest in the way the world of spies really works. Long after leaving the military, Michael wrote an excellent reference work called The Spy Master’s Handbook.
Star Griffin, in fact, opens deceptively as if it were a more or less conventional James Bond type spy novel. The utterly convincing background details of these sections of the book presumably call upon Michael’s Cold War experiences.
Michael refers to Star Griffin as “A Complex and Inconsistent Story.” I think that’s only half true. Complex, yes. The book is told from multiple viewpoints and involves seemingly unrelated themes. The reader will inevitably wonder if the author is ever going to pull these things together.
Trust me: he does.
I happened to finish reading Star Griffin as I lay in bed, about to fall asleep, crickets chirping in the yard and soft breezes stirring the leaves outside my window. My last waking thought concerned a couple of pieces of the Star Griffin puzzle that just didn’t seem to fit. A couple of hours later I had one of those small hours waking moments. I lay staring at the ceiling, a wry grin on my face, muttering, “He did it, by God, he did it. Every piece falls into place and the picture is complete!”
As indeed it is.