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The Good-Neighbor Policy
Charles Ardai
Midsummer Night's Press, £8.99

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reviewed by the Judge

Not about Batman at all

This book saved my life. Well, maybe not my life, but it did save one insomniac hour which I would otherwise (probably) have spent on my laptop watching How I Met Your Mother, and which I ended up consuming in the grips of a rather unusual thriller narrative.

That this should be a genre story, and one written in a format that is not its own (poetry, not the novel) is pretty much the pitch of Charles Ardaiís book, The Good Neighbor Policy. It is subtitled ĎA Double-Cross in Double Dactylsí, and at this stage all I could think of was Two-Face from the Batman reciting Tennyson (I digress).

Itís a comedic mystery story in verse, and pretty rigorous formal verse, so it certainly has a voice of its own.

So whatís the book like? Well, itís a comedic mystery story in verse, and pretty rigorous formal verse at that, so it certainly has a voice of its own. The plot concerns the investigations of a Deputy Coroner into a shooting after it has been reported to him by the octogenarian Perseus Algernon (a duplicitous name in and of itself, seen how it invokes Classical mythology and science-fictionÖ the Two-Face scenario seems more and more realistic). The tone is light and the verse sets a humorous tone from the outset:

Captain Mahoney
investigates homicide,
covers a county in
Eastern P.A.
Murders are rarer than
births in the Vatican Ė
captain goes fly fishing
many a day.

Iím not going to spoil the ending of course (though I can tell you that Algernon doesnít get killed by Batman in an attempt to save Commissioner Gordonís kidÖ have you ever wondered why he doesnít use the Batarang at that point? Ok, I digress again), but on the whole the story flows quite nicely and it can be read in one pleasant hour, if that. Itís both funny and musical, and from this point of view the chapbook is clearly a success. My favourite thing about Ardai is his plastic use of adjectives:

Melanie wanted his
cooperation so
aphrodisiacally
gained his support;
Ungeriatrically
they became lovers, and
he became Melanieís
witness in court.

Possibly the only thing that occasionally breaks the rhythm are a couple of clunks in the dactylic metre, kind of like when you read Shakespeare and youíve got to imagine thereís a stress on a syllable that you normally wouldnít stress for your life (ĎFather, I have been receiVEDDD at courtí). I canít blame Ardai for this Ė dactyls are extremely challenging to sustain for an extended poem and barring miracles (yes yes I know, THE RAVEN!!!) they are best suited to lyric than narrative verse.

I think this points to the major issue Ė or at least incongruity Ė within this chapbook. The form just doesnít seem to fit the story. In spite of Ardaiís talent for musical humour, the mystery tale seems too conventional not to work better in the traditional form of the novel. Likewise the language and themes donít have the kind of density and depth that calls for the use of verse, though Iím still a bit puzzled by this little reference:

Adrian hands her the
flowers for Algernon.
She takes them graciously,
as if by rote.

For anyone who doesnít know, Flowers for Algernon is a pretty famous sci-fi novel by Daniel Keyes. The sudden wink by the author left me wondering whether the rest of the poem might not be sprent with intertextual objects along the same lines. I spent ages, at least ten minutes, trying to figure out why the characterís first name is ĎPerseusí (he doesnít cut off the heads of monsters, doesnít ride a winged horse, doesnít fight giant scorpions, so whatís the deal with him?). If there are any more clever references, however, they were lost on this critic. Iím open to the possibility of there being allusions to works in the crime genre, which I would have missed as I donít read them (itís only the Iliad for me, *humph*Ö and How I Met Your Mother when I have the time), but in general I think Ardaiís language looks simple because it is simple.

Ultimately The Good Neighbor Policy does not make for good poetry policy, despite being a good book in and of itself. Writing the whole thing in dactyls must have cost Ardai a great deal of work (and itís still not perfect), one that is not commensurate to the simple story that he is trying to tell. Not that thereís anything wrong with that, at least not as long as the results are funny and readable. I guess thereís nothing wrong with making things difficult for yourself. Batman does it all the time (why didnít he use that Batarang?).