Ring of Knives (Dead Man #2) by James Daniels
The second book in the Dead Man series, Ring of Knives, is also the first one where the series creators, Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, brought in another author to write it. Series novels with multiple authors were a common practice in the pulp era. Lester Dent wrote most of the Doc Savage novels,but the publisher brought other writers in from time to time. Even in the paperback action era, many of the series novels were written by various authors, although credited to one writer. For instance, Donald Pendelton wrote the bulk of the Executioner novels, but sub-contracted a lot of the later ones to others. However, the Dead Man series is openly credited to different authors. The standard practice was to publish them under a house name so as not to confuse the readers (and not to become reliant on one writer). The Dead Man books is the first time I have ever seen different writers used as a selling point on a series.
Daniels was an excellent choice for Dead Man writer. He’s published several books on his own in the crime/thriller fields. From an online interview, he mentioned how he was given the basic story to work with, but was allowed a lot of freedom on how to develop it. And he has an interesting take on the whole horror genre (as shown in the same interview):
“For myself, however, that principle is Entropy, and the madness and despair that arise from our recognition that all our efforts will ultimately end in death. The major challenge of life is to withstand – and maybe even overcome – that terrible prospect.”
In Ring of Knives, Matt Cahill travels to the “Carthage Mental Health Center” to find clues to the identity of Mr. Dark, the spectral figure who can create evil with a touch. He’s made an appointment to see a patient who might have information he needs, but the facility administrator has gone missing. The Carthage asylum is one of the most frightening madhouses ever created. Daniels uses his background in dealing with these facilities to show how a truly mismanaged one would appear. He also points out in the interview referenced above this place is a his creation of himself and in no way resembles any one place.
At Carthage, aides spend their time watching porn on the TV and ignore the patients. Medications are scattered all over the floor. But the worst of what happens at night when the really sadistic crew shows up. I live near a former state hospital which was closed down due to complaints of patient mistreatment and these images struck home.
Daniels introduces us to Maloria who is the antithesis of the “magic negro“. Large, pushing 40, and having wittinessed the slow destruction of the facility, she just wants to survive until her retirement kicks in:
“This place gone to hell is what, and that’s no joke. First they cut the fundin’ to nothin’, then they lay off, then they start usin’ part-timers. But with shit pay, shit hours, no benefits, an’ no supervision, who you gonna get? …methamphetamine-cookin’, probation-dodgin’, dead-beat, crackhead, stripper-for-a-girlfriend, no-count ma’fuckahs, is what.”
Ring of Knives is a creepy and action-filled addition to the series. It makes me want to read the next one and more books by James Daniels.