Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A First Rate Thriller: Seven Footprints to Satan by A. Merritt

Abraham Merritt (1884-1943 was a very popular fantasy writer. Since his death, his works have been reprinted from time to time.  He wrote a variety of types of fantasy tales:  lost civilization, heroic, and occult. Merritt was also a very successful journalist who spent the latter part of his career as editor of a Hearst publication, American Weekly, In his fiction, at least, he tended towards a lush style and his tales can have a certain intensity. While I like some of his fantasies (The Ship of Ishtar, Burn, Witch, Burn!, and Creep, Shadow!),  the yarn of his I like best, is his anomalous one:  Seven Footprints to Satan, published in 1928. (A film was made of it but I have never seen it.). 

Seven Footprints to Satan is a mystery adventure without supernatural elements.  James Kirkham, an adventurer recently returned to the United States, is forcibly made a part of a vast and startlingly effective criminal organization based on Long Island.  The brilliant head of the organization calls himself Satan, but he does not seriously pretend to be the devil, nor does anyone think he is.  This criminal mastermind is certainly one of the most interesting fictional villains I have come across.  In this tale, Merritt successfully combines a crisp plot with an eerie atmosphere , all the while keeping his lushness under control.  In its book review, the Saturday Review of Literature noted, “He [Merritt] has a remarkable facility for drawing the most outlandish, Dracula-like things with such perfect savoir faire that one accepts them as perfectly normal, as mosaics of realism.”

Seven Footprints to Satan is a first rate thriller long out of print in English (though the Spaniards and Russians had the good sense to publish translations not too many years ago).  It is available in some libraries and the used book market, however.  May it be reprinted soon!

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