Sunday, November 25, 2012

"If you would gain a throne and hold it, . . .

fear not to make of human skulls they stepping stones."
Taitu Betul (Empress of Abyssinia) 

Is murder an outward demonstration of psychosis? Does a thirst for power, and acting on it, make someone a psychotic killer? In my previous blogs, I've discussed novels that pertain to certain psych-killers in fiction. Today, I'll highlight a case that is debatable as psychotic or as simply strategic. Was she a homicidal maniac or extreme opportunist? Maybe she was both.

Taitu Betul is often seen as a heroine in Ethiopia, and hailed the "mother warrior." In the late 1800's while battling with the Italians, she helped to keep the leaders of Italy from taking over the country. She's considered a strong female hero in her country and many websites and articles praise her strength and perseverence.

But who was Taitu Betul before she rose to power? One thing articles of praise fail to mention is that she was married several times in her life. She's alleged to have killed eleven husbands, labeling her one of the most aristocratic "black widows" of her time.  The following is a listing of her husbands:

1 – RAS ABARA (married him at age 16) 

2—A COMMON SOLDIER (reportedly stabbed him in the back) 

3—THE CONQUERING GENERAL (stabbed him through the heart)

4—RAS MOGOLO (contracted to have her husband murdered)

5—RAS MONTARA (it is sais she beheaded him)

6—GEN. TACKEL GHEORGHIS (her husband was executed after her plot to take over the kingdom of Tigre) 

7—THE GOVERNOR OK EGIOU (her husband died as a result of her conspiracy with others)

8—THE MONEY LENDER OF GONDOR. (reportedly died showing symptoms of poisoning)

9—ABEBA. (Her husband was decapitated as a result of conspiracy against Menelik)

10—ZECCARAGAGIAN (cause of death not mentioned)

11—MENELIK (reportedly died years before his death was announced)

This listing was supposedly obtained from an article written in 1914:

“The Worst Woman In the World – Dowager Empress Taitu, Who Climbed from the Gutter to the Throne, Married Eleven Times, Joined in Innumerable Intrigues and Murders, and Is Now at Last Safely Locked Up, to the Great Relief of Abyssinia,” Indianapolis Star Magazine Section (In.), Feb. 22, 1914, p. 1]

In addition, the following are quotes attributed to Empress Taitu Betul

As a woman dealing with men, let dissimulation be thy watch-word. Let no man know thy secret thoughts and ambitions.

If another woman stand in thy way, take her to thy bosom; if a man, beguile and marry him.

Harden thy heart to all pity, all remorse; then shall thy mind and heart be free, without scruple, to gain high aims.

A heart that is without tenderness of mercy alone can inhabit a body able to endure and to suffer all.

When thou hast gained thy throne, yearn not weakly for the love of thy subjects lest they perceive thy weakness and one day overthrow thee; as by blood thou gainest thy crown, through blood only shall thou retain it.


There is little other than these quotes and brief history that describe the Empress. Was she a victim of circumstance eleven times? You decide.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Perhaps you'll kill me. Perhaps I'll kill you...

Perhaps sooner. Perhaps later."
~Batman: The Killing Joke - written by Alan Moore/ illustrations/art by Brian Bolland

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I happen to love comic books. I grew up on them, which means my parents wouldn't buy them for me (not the ones I wanted) and so when I did get the ones I pined for... I hoarded them and read them, then re-read them over and over again. My favorites? X-Men (by far), Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer. and Sheena of the Jungle (yeah, laugh). There were others, but these were on my top list. Most hated? The Archies. My parents didn't mind me having the Archies comics. Ugh.

I bought the deluxe edition of "The Killing Joke," because that was all I could find at the time. It's a very nice edition and I love the artwork and coloring. The story line wasn't all that interesting for me, and I happen to love Alan Moore's works like "Watchmen" and "V for Vendetta." I think the story could have been filled with more conflict. More controversial. Instead, there are a couple of past references where the reader can "feel" for the Joker, and understand the position of Batman, but it's a numb story overall.

Regardless, I'm a graphic novel, comics lover, and the story wasn't bad. The artwork was phenomenal, and I'd love to see these two do something mind-blowing in the future. A fun read, though not intense. I enjoyed it.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

"You're not gonna believe this,” he said to Rule.

“We got a shooting out on I-89. Lady in a station wagon. Is this piece-of-shit day never gonna end?”
~Joyride - by Jack Ketchum (2010)

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I put off reviewing this novel for a couple of reasons. One: I'm often one of the first to submit a review before reading other writers' critiques in my SHU program. I decided to do things differently this time. Second: I'm afraid I'm a real freak. I love Jack Ketchum's writing. Not just his writing, but his stories. What does that say about me? I've read how others feel that his novels are a bummer. A trip down the filthy alleyways of a twisted humanity that only exists in the worst of nightmarish dreams. And maybe it's true, but it doesn't bother me. If anything, I'm appreciative. His prose is real, and he dives into storytelling in a way that is different from others.

The first part of the story, Wayne witnesses a murder and it thrills him. His sentiment about it is not so different from those who enjoy reading about serial killers, or those who look on the internet for fatality crashes and are amazed at the blood and aftermath. Is he so different from the person who drives a car and just for a moment wonders what it would be like to plunge her/his bumper into a crowd of people taking their time crossing the road when the light is green...the person who is waiting to turn right but can't because that person dosen't dare?

"It was not the product of the kill, which was nothing but meat and emptiness when you got down to it, though the person you killed wasn’t there anymore and that was something. But the act itself, the moment of the taking and the losing. That was classy. That was important."
Ketchum (Kindle Locations 425-427). 

And that is what is important in this story when you read it. Something you need to stick in the back of your brain as your fingers turn the pages.

Another thing I really liked about the way Ketchum put this book together is that he plays with your thoughts as you read. An example is when Lieutenant Rule reflects on what he knows about Carole. Where you might think at one point she's one hell of a bitch, later you discover she had real reasons for wanting her ex-husband dead. But then you have to consider, is there ever a real reason for wanting someone dead? And does the wanting ever justify the actual act?

As a writer and student of writing popular fiction, there were some POV errors I noticed now and then. None of them seriously bothered me, but I noticed them just the same. The way the story flowed I caught myself wondering if we're too hard on POV changes in manuscripts. Perhaps. I also had a problem with some of the sentence structure. There were places on the pages that a comma would have been beneficial and kept me from reading the same sentence over a few times to catch the meaning.

I've heard others call this book "in your face" writing, but I'd rather describe it as "stare in the mirror" prose. If you enjoy traveling a road where the scenery isn't pretty, but you can acknowledge the loveliness and complexity of a sewer or waste-treatment plant, this story is for you. If you're afraid to stare into the pupils of your own reflection, or you gag at the stench of decaying muscle or mounds of stinking raw feces . . . then don't inhale the words written inside this masterpiece. This is a book best devoured by those who have a palate for the nuances of evil mixed with the subtleties of a timebomb. Overall, this was an excellent read and anyone who disagrees is going in my notebook.



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