25 April 2011

One Long, Tedious Suicide Note

Death Be My Destiny
Neil H. Perrin [pseud. Danny Halperin]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

The most interesting thing about Death Be My Destiny is that it begins with protagonist Karel Martin setting himself up as a teenage bellhop/pimp. The misbehaviour and misadventure that follow can be described with fair detail in five sentences. I know this to be true because I did just that in an early draft of this post. Bland and simple, like the novel, the synopsis isn't worth reading.

That Death Be My Destiny followed This Was Joanna, the first Neil H. Perrin book, by just two months, might explain its failings. Like many pulp novels, it starts strongly, then wanders weakly, eventually becoming nothing more than fragments as it crawls toward the final sentence: "Tomorrow you will read in the papers that I died by my own hand." You see, there's a gimmick to all this; Death Be My Destiny presents itself as the autobiography of a man who is about to put a gun to his head.

To reach that messy ending, Halperin – or Perrin, if you prefer – peppers the novel with some pretty good lines, none of which quite fit. "When you cut a friend's throat never use a dull knife," seems clever until one realizes that Karel has no friends. What's more, the advice is used to close a chapter in which no throats not figuratively, not literally are cut.

As with This Was Joanna and the strikingly bizarre The Door Between, the most interesting writing concerns sex:
What happened between us was, technically, absolute perfection. Marcia, in those hushed hours of the night, was mine as completely as she was ever, could ever, belong to anyone. Her little flushed cries of joy were like a sweet oil lavished over my battered ego, and my conceit flowered mightily as, enraptured, she surrendered.
I felt nothing. Her joy was dust in my mouth. Her very real tremors seemed slightly comical to me as if the carnality was a circus with Marcia the fragile clown and I the phony ringmaster cracking his terrible whip.
There is fun to be found in passages like this, but here they are few and far between.

What more to say? Death Be My Destiny passes by like Karel Martin's life, not worthy of mention. So, I leave off – as I always do with Perrin – by recommending The Door Between, that weird and wonderful follow-up to Death Be My Destiny.

Oh, one last thing: Karel's revolver might be loaded, but you'll note that it has no trigger.

Object: I've gone on a bit about News Stand Library's shoddy production standards – here and here and here and here and here and here but this is the worst of the lot. A difficult book to read in more ways than one, the print blurs, fades and at times disappears completely. Good on NSL for spelling the author's nom de plume correctly.

Access: Death Be My Destiny is an uncommon book, but it's also a bargain. The four copies currently listed online can each be had for under fourteen dollars. Of the world's libraries, academic and otherwise, it appears that only Library and Archives Canada holds a copy.


  1. Triggerless revolver! You've got eagle eyes. I'm not sure I would've caught that.

    These remind me of the Thriler Novel Classics, a US digest reprint publisher that chose some less than worthy authors and books for their line. Every now and then one of them is unusual in concept. Very rarely are they staggeringly original. But then there was TERROR IN THE NIGHT (to be featured at my blog soon) - a book with a bland and unoriginal title that belies the bizarre and imaginative story inside the covers.

  2. Though not often bizarre or even imaginative, I find that News Stand Library titles tend to be delightfully quirky... which is what makes the the bland Death Be My Destiny so very disappointing. A little more fragile clown and phony ringmaster, please!

    Must say, you have me looking forward to reading about Terror in the Night.