By Rick Bassinger (North Star Editions, 350pp, £10.99)
Rick Bassinger’s first novel, The Incredible Adventures of Ben Pike, is, among other things, a historical historical thriller. But in the manner of Rick Bassinger’s earlier success, Buck Rogers, Von Dutch isn’t about our time, and it doesn’t centre on the creation of one man, but his son, Vitus von Dutch, who leads a fascinating life which, as the title suggests, is only intermittently fully realised in this modestly structured novel.
The Von Dutch of this novel is a child who spends the first four pages of the book under water, having committed the titular crime. His mother is again under water (his father, a minister of religious cults, abandons the family for a third wife and starting-up a new religion), the kids are institutionalised and to the government a mysterious entity known as Goodimatives is throwing babies out of incubators. An early hint about why this should sound so unfamiliar, is that it resembles the legends of the god Cthoku.
Vesselic treatments are used to build Von Dutch’s skin, which eventually leads to the launch of him on the quest that will, ultimately, lead him to the American revolutionary war. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the author’s writing is that, despite setting the events of the novel in 1766, he has, in volume two of this particular trilogy, drawn a line from Von Dutch’s arrival in New York to the moment he returns home to New York in the 21st century.
It is this novel’s connection to this book that is the chief weakness; to a certain extent this gives Von Dutch the air of a slight grotesquery rather than an attempt to connect a young orphan’s tumultuous life with an event that once occurred, but isn’t actually the biggest event of that era. It also means that, of the two books that separate this set-up, the first is really an anti-comic, with no real message and the second a rather more brightly coloured attempt to depict the evolving face of the American west as, like the comic superheroes of the time, his body becomes more flamboyant and a little more unhinged.