Wednesday, January 26, 2022

"The Torqued Man"

Peter Mann grew up in Kansas City. He teaches history and literature at Stanford and is a past recipient of the Whiting Fellowship. He is also a graphic artist & cartoonist and draws the online comic The Quixote Syndrome

Mann applied the Page 69 Test to The Torqued Man, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69 of The Torqued Man:
“Who’d’ve thought? Bleedin’ heart Frank Pike gone off to make Spain red, and now he’s living under the swastika? I hope the colors didn’t confuse you.”

“They call me Finn now, Seán.”

“Finn? Larger than life now, are you—the great Fionn MacCumhaill?”

“Precisely. Finn McCool in the bowels of Teutonia.”

“Bowels of Teutonia. Ah, that’s a good laugh, that. Speakin’ of, I’ve got an appointment.”

Russell stood and went to the hallway toilet.

He came back some minutes later.

“What do you make of the German shelf toilet, Seán?” asked Finn, the emptied saltshaker safely back in his pocket.

“Foul business. I’ve streaked it something dreadful.”

“Can’t be avoided. It’s designed to keep the memory of the past alive.”

“They’re a queer lot, these Germans.”

“What can you say? They’re fixated on their own history.”

Finn reached for the tray of drinks. “Come, Seán, try the cider. Apfelschorle, they call it.”

“Better not. Damn ulcer’s put the bag clean out of order. He won’t stand for even a nip.”

“Well, then, this Apfel’s ‘shorely’ your man—nary a drop of spirit in it.”

“You don’t say.... Well, alright, then.... My, that does have a refreshing tingle to it.”

“They add a touch of ginger to it, I’m told. A salutary burn.”

“I’ll say. Well, I’m told ginger’s good for the bag.”

“Yes, Seán, and so it is.”

“Say, Pike—er, rather, Finn—I do hope there are no hard feelings about that whole bit of bad business in ’34. We were fraying at the seams, and I was just trying to hold things together.”
And the results are... not too shabby! Our hurried browser has flipped to a page that gives a pretty decent sample of the book’s overall flavor and a pivotal moment in the plot, though perhaps requiring a bit of context.

The conversation is between one of the main characters, the Irish spy Frank Pike, aka Finn McCool, and his old comrade-turned-nemesis, Seán Russell. The two old IRA fighters have just been reunited in Berlin, on the eve of their return by U-boat to Ireland, where they are to help rouse their countrymen for the planned German invasion of Britain.

What luck that right off the bat we have Russell orienting the reader: Pike went off to fight fascists in the Spanish Civil War, but he now finds himself in rather peculiar circumstances for an anti-fascist—living abroad in Nazi Germany. Pike informs him that here in Berlin he goes by his newly adopted alter ego of Finn McCool, the legendary hero of Celtic myth. The banter moves swiftly from shelf toilets to stomach ailments and finally to the troubled past between the two men, back in 1934 when Sean Russell oversaw the expulsion of Pike from the IRA for his socialist sympathies.

But there’s more than idle conversation afoot. The very last line on page 68 tells us that Finn has pinched a saltshaker full of rat poison from the kitchen pantry—the very same saltshaker he now empties into Russell’s apple cider while the latter is emptying his bowels. So, in fact, the reader has serendipitously flipped to the moment when Pike, as Finn McCool, commits his first act as a “secret death-dealing ambidexter.”

The consequences of this extra-spicy Apfelschorle will play out in the following chapters aboard the submarine in spectacularly graphic and foul-smelling fashion. And thanks to its rippling effects, Finn will return to Berlin—"the bowels of Teutonia”— to continue his murderous exploits, as well as develop a complicated, life-changing friendship with his German spy handler, Adrian de Groot.
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--Marshal Zeringue