Secrets of the Loch
By Cheryl Morgan
One of the things I can be sure of when I come to read a new book by Tom Arden is that there will be something very strange about it. The Translation of Bastian Test is no exception. It starts off almost as if it is to be a mainstream novel. Our hero is the ward of Julian Test, a reclusive lesbian artist. The date is 1926. Julian is on the verge of a break-up with her latest "friend", the American actress, Magnolia Touch. Then everything goes wrong. Their house is burned down, Julian dies in the blaze, and Magnolia disappears. Bastian is left in the care of an eccentric lawyer called Mr. Quench.
At this point things turn a little pulpish. Quench takes Bastian up to London to introduce him to Society and do something about getting him educated (something Julian seemed to think would happen naturally). But it soon turns out that Quench is a member of an odd Freemason-like cult and has even odder Jacobite leanings. What is more, Bastian has a mysterious guardian, The Marquess of Drumhallurick, who is fabulously rich thanks to his involvement in something called the British African Survey Trust, a company that has based its fortune on gold mining in the British Anterior Sombagan Territory. (If you are starting to see a convergence of acronyms here, donít worry, you are supposed to.) Furthermore, said gold mines were supposedly found by an expedition led by Sir Lemuel Covery, FRS, an eccentric amateur geologist with some decidedly unorthodox views about prospecting that would not be out of place in a New Age bookstore.
Poor young Bastian gets packed off to his guardianís remote Scottish castle where he encounters yet more strange people: a retired Shakespearean actor, Sir Farley Elphinstone, who sounds like he was born to play Falstaff, and a villainous German-American scientist, Dr. Feuer. What has all this got to do with aliens from Antares? Well, if I havenít got you intrigued already then Arden has probably gone too far over the top for you. Otherwise youíll just have to read the book to find out.
In the meantime you will be treated to more and more revelations about Bastianís family. It is amazing what the British nobility hide away in their country houses and gothic castles. Really, thereís material here for no end of tragic romances. Mad old women in attics, villainous rapists, tragic suicides, those sort of books. Arden mines a fair number of them. Bastian spends some of his time reading Sir Walter Scott, as anyone marooned in a remote Scottish castle might.
Unlike Ardenís Orokon series, Bastian Test is not really a "gay book," although Bastian does develop relationships with both the son and daughter of Sir Farley. But like the Orokon books, this novel is at times very funny and at others decidedly off the wall. Hey, it is an erotic comedy gothic science fiction pulp mystery with added Tartan Tat. What can you expect? "Genre bending?" Did someone say, "genre bending"Ö?
Just one small warning to finish with. If the previous examples of word play have led you to expect the involvement of a certain Egyptian cat-goddess, then like me you will be slightly disappointed. Next time I see Mr. Arden I shall demand a bowl of fresh tuna in compensation.