Thursday, 9 October 2014

Book Review: The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix by Paul Sussman




I was lucky enough to win The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix when Doubleday were hosts of #bookadayuk on Twitter. As soon as it arrived, with its gorgeous cover illustration by Lynn Hatzius I decided the people at Doubleday are either genius or psychic because it's exactly the sort of book I'm drawn to!
On the face of it Raphael isn't a sympathetic character, he is after all a serial killer and an unrepentant one at that. Yet this darkly humorous novel had me cheering for our unlikely anti-hero. It's wholly unbelievable of course, this man who spent years living on the streets who also spent time as a Hollywood star and was at various times a prisoner of war,  a butler and and member of a successful rock band, The Executioners when in his sixties, with the whole sex, drugs and rock n roll lifestyle that came with it. However, rather like The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared it's the sort of book that delights in its sheer incredulous nonsense. The story is told by the elderly Raphael who has a suicide pill ready to end his life on his hundredth birthday (Raphael Ignatius Phoenix - RIP) but has decided to document his extraordinary life before the time arrives for him to end it. He decides to write his memoir on the walls of the castle he now lives in, describing his murders and the events leading to them in reverse chronological order. This in itself creates moments of drama and humour, will his ageing body be up to the task? Will he be able to write his words on the damp and musty castle walls? And has he bought enough pens?
It's not the done thing of course to sympathise with a murderer and yet as each story unfolds it's Raphael who the reader is cheering for. He is often a man driven to the brink of exasperation by others and finally flips. His methods of dispatching his victims are as unique as the man himself and shouldn't be given away here. You'll need to read the book to see why cream cakes, pumpkins, teddy bears and alligators are involved.
It's probably not a book to everybody's tastes but it's one of the most memorable books I've read this year with a surprisingly touching ending and I loved it. I was saddened to read that the author, Paul Sussman died suddenly in 2012 without ever seeing its publication, having consigned it to a drawer while he wrote other books. His wife thankfully managed to have it published posthumously and it's a fitting legacy, an absolute treat to read.

The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix by Paul Sussman is published in the UK by Transworld.

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