A NEW UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF INFAMY

Rhys Hughes, Author, John Coulthart, Illustrator . Ministry of Whimsy $25 (183p) ISBN 978-1-892389-83-1

Bloodthirsty despots, fleabitten pirates, slick con-men and other knaves and tyrants make a memorable rogues gallery in this fetching miscellany of pseudo-biographical essays. Inspired by Jorge Luis Borges's 1935 satire Historia Universal de la Infamia , Welsh fantasist Hughes (Journeys Beyond Advice ) profiles seven scoundrels whose unremarkable origins combine with unspeakable careers to give new meaning to the term "the banality of evil." Buccaneer François l'Olonnais was revered as a god by natives of the Yucatan because he feasted on the hearts of ritually sacrificed victims, while Dick Turpin, a legendary 18th-century highwayman, was an early example of the Peter Principle that incompetents are destined to rise to the top of their profession. In the cleverest of the accounts, "The Honest Liar, Denis Zachaire," an alchemist's conversion to debunker of others in his line of work represents his ultimate alchemical transmutation. Hughes relates his subjects' stories in a sober documentary style that contrasts sharply with their extravagant personalities and gives authenticity to the absurdities of their lives. At its best, this volume is a reminder that outrageous behavior is sometimes grist for comic fantasy with high entertainment value. (Apr.)

Forecast: More accessible than Hughes's debut U.S. collection , Nowhere Near Milkwood (2002), this one should win readers among fans of Jeff VanderMeer, Michael Cisco and other hard-to-classify fantasy writers. The jacket, with its period portraits subtly evoking "Wild West" wanted posters, will attract casual browsers.

Reviewed on: 03/29/2004
Release date: 08/01/2005
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 181 pages - 978-1-892389-84-8
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