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Stephen Paul Foster: Fatal Friendship

We can tell that this book is going to be post-modern/frivolous i(n a good way) as we learn that it is divided into four parts and each part is named after a few words from a popular song, from Roberta Flack to AC/DC. This style is going to continue. Nearly all the characters (or, perhaps all, as there may well be some I did not spot) are named after someone else,mainly philosophers (many of which I had not heard of) to South American dictators to Mussolini’s mistress. For example, one of the characters, whose own name has Wagnerian connotation’s , has psychiatrists named variously after a German psychoanalyst, a Latin American dictator and the Three Stooges. I will not mention all those I spotted as it would take up most of the review. In addition we have quotations galore from the Great and Good (and, occasionally) the not so good such as Snoop Dogg. Frequent ones include T S Eliot (born in St Louis), Ezra Pound, Baudelaire, Nietzsche and the like.

We start with the decidedly neurotic Francis Herbert Bradley, named after , a philosopher I had never heard of and who is quoted later on. He wrote a book called Appearance and Reality, whose title is very relevant to this book.

This book is subtitled A Philosophical Novel and the author is a philosopher so we get quite a few of these references. Francis (whose friends call him Frank) was planning on writing a Guide for the Perplexed, a manual for the little man to prevail against the choreographed Tartufferies, to sniff out the frauds and denounce the fatuous, little emperors posturing sans ropa. Clever little joke: ropa sans is a font but here we have French and Spanish mixed to mean without clothes/. Postmodern means lots more little jokes of this nature.

But we now jump eight years back to St Louis and Frank receives a phone call from a philosopher-named homicide detective in Florida. It would seem that his friend Rich Wahnfried has brutally murdered his girlfriend in his condo. Frank does not know where Rich is. Rich comes from a distinguished background – mother a professor, father a diplomat, Rich well educated and multilingual, his victim a waitress in St Louis. We learn the details and, more particularly, that Rich has managed to flee the country.

Two journalists jump on the case, one named after a philosopher and another after a mathematician, and find that Rich has form when it comes to murdering young women but escapes the previous episode because the rich and well-connected do.

Frank had known nothing of Rich’s past and we learn that they had long had a strong intellectual friendship, based on a mutual love of philosophy and certain types of music, poetry and so on. Indeed, Frank moved to St Louis at Rich’s suggestion, where he found a suitable job. Both men have ups and downs in their love life . They have another mutual friend, George Sorel (another philosopher I had never heard of) who had known of Rich’s previous murder.

Meanwhile we learn that Rich has fled the country but, eventually comes back of his own volition and is arrested and charged. We go into considerable detail as regards the legal process. Foster has clearly done his homework on Florida law. We also follow in detail the tactics used by both the prosecution and defence. While we are following all of this so, of course, is Frank and, understandably, he is not happy about what his friend did.

Foster makes it clear that his basic aim is to raise the issue of Hobbes’ versus Rousseau’s view of the world. Frank has a Hobbesian view : Human beings, he believed, were deeply flawed pieces of work. One’s expectations of them should be framed with their serious limitations constantly in mind. Charlotte, his wife is more for Rousseau: Man is born free, but everywhere is in chains. Human beings, in her view, were fundamentally good: Their shortcomings and flaws are the result of social structures and institutions that have unfairness built into them. Doubtless we all have views on this but I take neither the Hobbes view or Rousseau view but the H L Mencken view(who sadly does not appear in this book in any form): For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. In other words it is more complex than that and there is not a straightforward Hobbes view nor the Rousseau view but a more complex mixture of both. As Baudelaire says (quoted in this book): The truth remains uncertain: “How will ever I tell a man from a beast?

There are varied reactions to Rich’s crime. Before he returned to the US, the victim’s father planned to hunt him down and kill him. Rich’s parents get an expensive lawyer to defend him. The prosecuting attorney is determined that Rich should face the ultimate penalty. As we have seen, Frank is horrified at what his friend did. Quoting Schopenhauer, he says of Rich an ignoble egotist who limits all reality to him himself and regards others as mere masks and phantasms.

The issue of whether we are inherently good or bad and, and, indeed, other philosophical conundrums, the complex trial of Rich and what happens afterwards and the many borrowed names and other postmodern games make this book both a good read, while giving us a lot to mull over. As for Frank and his Guide to thr Perplexed, he concludes, quoting Rilke, Wer spricht von Siegen? Uberstehn is alles. Who speaks of victories? Endurance is everything.and he may well be right.

Publishing history

First published in 2023 by ‎ Falling Marbles Press