Zombie (Evil Eye)
THE DEFENSE OF RORKE'S DRIFT by Alphonse de Neuville (Detail)
British edition of ZOMBIE
ZOMBIE (North American title EVIL EYE) is Michael Slade's cop hater thriller. Here's the story behind it.
What's the most influential novel you have ever read? For Slade, it's Ed McBain's LADY, LADY, I DID IT!
When Slade was a boy, the police procedural was brand-new. THE NAKED CITY (1948) had morphed into DRAGNET on TV. Slade was voraciously reading along two separate lines. The flow of horror ran from the Brothers Grimm to EC Comics to Poe to Lovecraft. See GHOUL. The flow of mystery ran from the Hardy Boys to the Golden Age puzzles of Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, and Ellery Queen. See RIPPER and CRUCIFIED. Then, in 1960, Slade discovered McBain.
What electrified Slade about LADY, LADY, I DID IT! was how the plot fused a Golden Age puzzle - Ellery Queen's forte: the dying message - with gritty police procedure and horror. The crime was horrific enough: a gunman walks into a bookstore and shoots everyone in sight. But the motive was even more horrific, and the cops' reaction...
The next few months saw Slade tear through the 87th Precinct. From the beginning.
The trilogy above contained the first three "8-7s" (Slade was fast learning the lingo): COP HATER, THE MUGGER, and THE PUSHER.
COP HATER was the hook that - decades later - would tug Slade to write ZOMBIE. The covers that follow illustrate McBain's riveting effect on him. No more 13 TOMBES. "One day, I'll write something like this!"
John Dickson Carr (see CRUCIFIED) must have laughed out loud when he read KILLER'S WEDGE. As with the dying message in LADY, LADY, I DID IT!, McBain took the Golden Age locked room puzzle and gave it a wink. So simple. So brilliant. It's no exaggeration to say that reading the 87th Precinct yanked Slade into criminal law.
Two cases in particular inspired Slade to write ZOMBIE.
In March 1974, M and C drank beer in a bar and later at a house party. M was angry because his brother had been killed four days earlier in a high-speed chase with Mounties. The two men discussed shooting a cop for revenge. They went for a drive, and M took a .30-30 Winchester rifle loaded with a shell in the chamber.
In town, the courthouse and the police station were side by side. M drove around the block, and C threw a beer bottle through a courtroom window. That night, Constable P was patrolling alone in a marked police car. Something caught his attention, so he stopped their vehicle. M sat behind the wheel, with the gun resting on his arms. The muzzle aimed at the open window. When the Mountie approached the driver's door, the passenger, C, pulled the trigger. The bullet struck P in the chest.
The backup officer arrived to find P dying on the road and the gunmen roaring away. A high-speed chase ensued, with Mounties closing in from every direction. The fugitives were rammed and forced off the road. M and C were charged with capital murder.
Tried and convicted, the killers were sentenced to hang. Slade represented C in the Supreme Court of Canada. For that part of the case, see the story behind HANGMAN.
M and C's motive for ambushing Constable P was they were cop haters.
The second case was a baby kidnapping. In 1976, two California women - H (24) and C (21) - traveled to Vancouver and got jobs at a local hospital. Posing as a student of postnatal care, H approached a new mother in the maternity ward and arranged a home interview. There, H threatened the mother with a knife, bound and gagged her, and fled with the baby in a brown paper bag.
Composite drawings and a hotline show scored a tip. Two similar women had been seen in a car with a bassinet in back, but no baby. The license plates were from Washington State, and the car had a sticker from an American rental agency. The Mounties called the FBI, and the Bureau located the suspects heading for California. The arrests took place in San Francisco, and the baby was recovered. Extradition proceedings began in the U.S. courts, and Slade was hired to defend C.
As you'd expect, the case became a pissing contest between the Bureau and the Mounted. Both believed themselves to be the world's Top Cops. Slade flew back and forth between Vancouver and San Francisco, and quickly absorbed the stark differences between the forces. The Mounties emerged from the British Colonial Army, and still maintain those cavalry traditions. The FBI came of age in the Lawless Years: the G-Men who got Dillinger and "Pretty Boy" Floyd.
The mother picked H from a U.S. lineup as the woman who snatched her baby. C was charged as an accomplice. Slade didn't want the women relating as close friends in front of a jury, so while H fought extradition, he and C's American lawyer waived that process. After voluntarily returning to Vancouver, C elected trial by judge and jury. That launched a preliminary hearing in the lower court to determine if there was enough evidence to commit C for trial on a charge of kidnapping.
H's life was tragic in the extreme. She had been raped by her stepfather between the ages of three and five. At 13, she was made pregnant by an outlaw biker. By 16, she had three children. In 1972, during a Christmas visit, the estranged father absconded with her kids. H never saw them again. Surgery in 1973 rendered her incapable of having more children. Several witnesses at the preliminary hearing said H talked constantly about buying a black market baby.
C's defense was that H dropped her off at a Big Scoop restaurant. Two hours later, H returned with a baby purchased from a black market broker for $400. The women left immediately and drove to San Francisco. Slade found three Big Scoop waitresses working at the relevant time who recognized C's photo as someone they'd seen before.
The case boiled down to whether C was a willing and knowing accomplice to a kidnapping, or a naive young woman unaware of the crime committed by an unstable friend obsessed with obtaining a baby. By the end of the prelim, the evidence against C on that issue was circumstantial, so Slade had her re-elect down for trial by the current judge.
That done, the shock came when the Crown applied to reopen its case and call another witness. The witness was a neighbor of the baby's mother who ID'd C as a woman she'd seen driving around the block at the time of the kidnapping. In other words, C was the wheel woman at the scene of the crime with the getaway car!
Huh? How did that make sense? Something wasn't right. Why wasn't this crucial witness called at the start of the prelim? And what tool could Slade use to get to the bottom of this?
FBI agents are commonly called "the Suits." The Suits who showed up for C's case were impeccably dressed, and each carried a thick binder of witness statements embossed with the FBI crest. On spotting a Mountie in red serge, one of them joked, "I thought we took care of these Redcoats in 1776." Not to be one-upped in the rivalry between the Bureau and the Mounted, one of the Horsemen replied, "They must think this is the Oscars. They sent us a bunch of accountants."
A defense lawyer didn't have the right to see Crown witness statements. Because he was taken by surprise by the last-minute witness, Slade applied to the judge to have the lead Mountie recalled for questioning. With the Horseman in the witness box, Slade tapped the FBI binder on the prosecution table and praised the Bureau for its thorough job.
"Our job was just as thorough," the Mountie replied. And to make the point, he produced a binder every bit as thick, embossed with the bison-head crest of the RCMP.
"May I see the statement taken from the neighbor?" Slade asked the judge.
"Show it to him," the judge ordered.
"I can't," replied the Horseman. "We didn't take a statement."
"Do I have this right?" Slade asked incredulously. "That binder is full of witness statements taken in this case. Yet it's missing the statement that would record the most incriminating evidence the Crown could lead? Why?"
"Because we checked what the neighbor said and it didn't pan out."
"You mean you didn't believe her."
The lesson every lawyer learns is that you never give the judge reason to suspect you're trying to hoodwink him or her. The judge acquitted C and she returned to California. H was extradited and pleaded guilty to kidnapping the baby. Despite her "heart-rending" background, she was sentenced to life imprisonment.
By watching the rivalry between the two police forces unfold, Slade picked up clues to the inner workings of the Mounted Police. They weren't the "bulls" of the 87th Precinct in red tunics, and if he wrote a police procedure novel about them, it would have to reflect the mystique behind the Western concept of "donning red serge." In the eyes of the Mounted, the uniform is the cop.
A Mounted Police funeral horse. Note the boot in the stirrup
The back of a Canadian $50 bill
The tails side of a Canadian dollar
The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics $75 coin
A Canadian 10-cent stamp
Mountie chapel stained glass
Mountie Royal Doulton china
What Canadians eat
What Canadians drink
Beer can detail
Canadian hard bar
What Canadians read
The mystique of red serge
Who wants to be a Mountie?
BATMAN of the Mounties
What Canadian girls play with
What Canadian boys play with
And so it goes. There are literally hundreds more. Canada is the only country with a cop as its national icon.
By 1993, Slade had published three Special X thrillers, all researched with the help of the Mounted Police. In September, the Mounties invited him to their regimental ball. A Red Serge Ball is formal, so Slade would need a tuxedo. The tuxedo rental store flaunted these god-awful suits in colors ranging from purple to chartreuse, accessorized with frilly shirts. Slade would look like a fop out of Oscar Wilde's circle.
"Don't you have something more...classic?"
Eventually, the fitter decked him out in the sort of gentleman's garb that prompts one to say to the mirror, "The name is Slade. Michael Slade." That was the point at which the manager miraculously appeared (there must be a toe switch that flicks on a light in the backroom), and while the fitter flitted around adjusting this and that, he addressed Slade in the understated tone of a manor house butler, "I know not where you're going, sir, but I guarantee you'll be the best-dressed man in attendance."
A Red Serge Ball must be seen to be fully appreciated. It's a swirling sea of scarlet jackets glittering with medals, buttons, gleaming crests, spurs, and shiny boots. The manual that sets the uniform for various occasions is inches thick. A reviewer once asked a Mountie what struck him most about Slade's novels. "I'm amazed he gets the uniform right," was his reply.
In that whirlpool of color can you picture Slade? He's the penguin in black and white traipsing around the dancefloor. On second thought, he should have worn the magenta tux with orange frills.
The Red Serge Ball
Note the Toast to the Queen. That puts the "Royal" in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Note the Toast to the Force. Police fraternities don't come any tighter than the Horsemen. Note the pipers. Bagpipes wail flourishes for commanding ceremonies. Note the RCMP Band. Alas, due to budget cuts, that was its final performance. But the Musical Ride is still going strong.
RCMP Musical Ride: The Charge (Ionic Lodge)
In 1994, Slade was the guest speaker at two Mounted Police regimental dinners: in Sechelt, on the Sunshine Coast, in March; and in Trail (Nelson), near the Rocky Mountains, in April. Even more than a Red Serge Ball, where the Mounties bring dates, a regimental dinner captures the historic traditions of the force. Slade was the only civilian.
A regimental dinner
The Mounties stand in scarlet ranks along several barracks tables. Every aspect of each uniform has meaning. Note the lanyard - the white cord - around Sergeant Preston's neck. See how it's attached to the butt of his gun? In the heat of battle, should he drop his weapon, it will fall only as far as his reach. Even in the dark, he can grab it. If a Mountie falls in the line of duty, he takes a "last ride." A funeral horse accompanies his coffin. His boots are reversed in the stirrups, heels to the front, left boot in the right stirrup, right boot in the left.
The head table is piped in to the dinner. Officers follow the bagpiper up and down the ranks. That tradition goes back to Scottish clans and regiments. After a battle, pipes paraded their lairds so Scots could witness who had survived. That done, a Mountie "pays the piper" by locking arms and downing a dram.
"Grace Before Meat" blesses the dinner. The commanding officer personally serves the most junior member, the high and the low to forge camaraderie. The lights are dimmed when a flaming pudding arrives for dessert, followed by "the Passing of Port." Each bottle is relayed hand to hand to the left, and shouldn't touch the table until every glass is poured. Six bars of "God Save the Queen" are played before "the Loyal Toast," and after coffee and smoking comes "the Toast to the Force."
Female Mounties fought long and hard to win the right to wear the classic Stetson uniform. Never before had Slade seen so many women enjoying a good cigar.
Slade had ventured a long way from the urban ghetto of the 87th Precinct. When Ed McBain wrote COP HATER in 1956, American cop killers focused their hatred on cops as authority figures. Given the way in which America's Wild West was settled, individualists hating lawmen was inevitable. The American West was a free-for-all of unbridled violence until law was imposed by men like Wyatt Earp. McBain, of course, used a trick to give that don't-fence-me-in motive a sly twist.
North of the border, "the uniform is the cop" had real meaning. The Mounties were dispatched West before the settlers (see BIO and HEADHUNTER), and the uniform derived from Cree and Blackfoot respect for red serge. Today - except for Coca-Cola - the redcoated Mountie is the world's best-known "brand." Canada is the only country known first and foremost for its police force. So Slade conceived a cop hater fixated on the icon.
The psycho in ZOMBIE doesn't hate cops as authority figures. The same way a serial killer who butchers blonde women doesn't hate his specific victims - he hates what the blonde hair stands for - the psychotic killer hunting Mounties hates red serge. A bull charges a red flag simply because it "sees red." So why would a psycho hate the Mounties' uniform?
If you had never been anywhere except where you're sitting now, where in the whole wide world would you want to go most? For Slade, the answer was easy. "Africa!"
When Slade was eight, few fantasy thrills could equal that pagan ritual: the Saturday Matinee. Imagine a horde of kinetic kids crammed into the Ridge Theater, each having paid 15 cents to watch four hours of Hollywood cinema at its best. The program was always the same. First came a Tarzan or Jungle Jim movie, followed by an hour of mostly Tom & Jerry cartoons, followed by a cliffhanger serial - THE GREEN ARCHER - to bring you back next week, and ending with a Western.
Is it any wonder that Africa and Westerns are fused in Slade's mind?
Tarzan doesn't pay taxes. That says it all. Except for Sherlock Holmes, no other fictional hero captured as many generations of escapist fans. Before political correctness, Africa offered the landscape for the armchair individualist to pit his wits and strength against wildlife unleashed, lost tribes, forbidden lands, cannibals, and juju.
West African juju house
Congo nail fetishes, 1902
Witch doctor's juju hut, 1930
Witch doctor, Uganda, 1936
Witch doctor, Sudan
Witch doctor, Congo
Witch doctor, 1920
Zulu witch doctor, 1879
THE WITCH DOCTOR THROWS THE BONES by Alfred Palmer
Juju - African fetish witchcraft - isn't a horror of the past. Since 2007, almost 60 African albinos, mostly women and children, have been murdered in Tanzania and Burundi for their body parts. A complete dismembered set of limbs, genitals, ears, tongue, and nose is worth $75,000. Witch doctors turn the body parts into good-luck potions and charms. In 2009, Tanzania sentenced four men to hang for albino killings.
Two of Slade's favorite horror stories are Edward Lucas White's "LUKUNDOO" (1927), and H.G. Wells's "POLLOCK AND THE PORROH MAN" (1895). Imperial conquest and colonial revenge chill Slade's spine. (For India, see W.W. Jacobs's "THE MONKEY'S PAW" (1902), and Rudyard Kipling's "THE MARK OF THE BEAST" (1890).) The moral of all four? Don't mess with juju!
ZOMBIE, Slade decided, would be his juju thriller.
Are you an armchair general? If you're male, odds are the answer is yes. All contact team sports are battle substitutes. So, of all the battles ever fought in history, which most captures your imagination? For Slade, the answer is easy. Rorke's Drift.
What is it about a "last stand" that makes it iconic? The psychological hook? War is hell: a bloody, brutal endeavor driven by jingoism and rah-rah that causes incalculable suffering and death. Those embroiled in a last stand are on the losing side, so they speak to the irrational limbic core of the human brain, the home of the Four Fs: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fucking. When you're caught in a last stand, your back's against the wall. No more feeding, fleeing, and fucking for you. Nothing remains but to fight.
Macaulay nailed the icon in "HORATIUS AT THE BRIDGE":
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods."
Ah, yes. Of all the Greek warriors, we remember Leonidas and his 300 Spartans holding the pass of Thermopylae (the Hot Gates) against the Persian army of Xerxes the Great. The defenders died. Of all the battles fought in the American West, we remember Davy Crockett swinging Old Betsy on the ramparts of the Alamo, and George Custer on the crest of Battle Ridge. The defenders died...
And that makes Rorke's Drift different.
So, here's the setup. In January 1879, Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand with 3,500 soldiers. They forded the Mzinyathi River at Rorke's Drift. Drift is the African term for a river crossing. Rorke's Drift had two buildings. Chelmsford commandeered the church as a food depot, and the house as a hospital for thirty sick men. A company of the 24th Foot was left to guard it.
The advance to Isandlwana
Deep in Zululand, the main army camped at the foot of Isandlwana, a mountain resembling a lion. Chelmsford split his force and left with half to hunt for Zulus in the Mangeni Valley. While he was gone, 20,000 African warriors attacked the base camp, and slaughtered around 1,400 British Redcoats and local troops. Isandlwana was the worst defeat suffered by the British Empire in any colonial war.
THE LAST STAND OF THE 24th REGIMENT AT ISANDLWANA
by Charles Edwin Fripp
H Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Foot: wiped out at Isandlwana
The Redcoats had greatly underestimated the Zulus.
Cetshwayo, King of the Zulus, c. 1875
The Zulus fought in an impi formation called the "beast's horns." Imagine a Cape buffalo. Young warriors made up the "chest" at the center of the front line that engaged the Redcoats, and the "horns" that swept around both flanks to encircle the enemy. If required as reserves, veteran warriors made up the "loins" behind the line. If a Zulu warrior didn't "wash his spear" in the enemy's blood, he went without sex. Because the loin reserves weren't released at Isandlwana, those 4,000-plus Zulus set off to kill the Redcoats ten miles away: the 100 soldiers of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot guarding Rorke's Drift.
Rorke's Drift before the battle
Rorke's Drift was under the command of Lieutenant John Chard, a 32-year-old Royal Engineer who had yet to face enemy action.
Chard wearing his Victoria Cross
When word of the disaster at Isandlwana reached Chard, he had his men build a perimeter wall defending both buildings out of mealie bags, and bisect the yard with a barricade of biscuit boxes. In one half, they piled up mealie bags to construct a redoubt - a small circular fort - as a final fallback position for a last stand.
The Zulus were under the command of Prince Dabulamanzi kaMapande, Cetshwayo's half brother.
The Induna: Dabulamanzi
The battle began around 4:30 p.m. on January 22, and raged for almost six hours of hand-to-hand combat, plus four more of sporadic fire. Most Zulus were armed with a deadly assegai stabbing spear - called an iklwa from the sucking noise it made when yanked from an enemy's body - and a skull-smashing knobkerry club. The Redcoats had single-shot breech-loading rifles, spiked with 22-inch "lunger" bayonets. Of the 152 men at Rorke's Drift, about 100 were trained fighters. The odds were 40 to 1.
First, the Zulus attacked the perimeter wall.
THE DEFENSE OF RORKE'S DRIFT
by Lady Elizabeth Butler
Butler's RORKE'S DRIFT (Detail). Chard pointing
Butler: RORKE'S DRIFT (Detail)
de Neuville: RORKE'S DRIFT (Detail)
de Neuville: RORKE'S DRIFT (Detail)
de Neuville: RORKE'S DRIFT (Detail)
de Neuville: RORKE'S DRIFT (Detail)
de Neuville: RORKE'S DRIFT (Detail). The dog was actually there
At six p.m., the Zulus burst into the hospital. For two hours, those inside fought room to room. Because there were no connecting doors, the Redcoats had to gouge and claw through the walls. Finally, the survivors escaped, and regrouped with the others behind the biscuit box barricade. The Zulus torched the hospital. That was a mistake. It lit them up as targets when darkness fell.
Storming the hospital. Note the knobkerry club
de Neuville: RORKE'S DRIFT (Detail). Escape from the hospital
The biscuit box barricade
How, you might be wondering, do 100 men with single-shot rifles hold 4,000 men at bay? On land, the British Empire was built with three formations: the column, the line, and the square. The "thin red line" of Kipling's poem...
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?'
But it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes' when the drums begin to roll.
...could be doubled up. Here, in ZULU, the 1964 film about Rorke's Drift, is that tactic in action. For a last stand at the mealie bag redoubt, the firing line could be tripled, effectively turning single-shot rifles into a machine gun. Like this. Because Rorke's Drift was a storehouse, there was plenty of ammunution. During the defense, the Redcoats fired almost 20,000 rounds.
The last shots were fired at two a.m. By dawn, the Zulus had withdrawn. Chelmsford's cavalry arrived that morning.
ZOMBIE (EVIL EYE) opens at Rorke's Drift.
One of the Redcoats battling within the hospital is Lance-Sergeant Rex Craven of the 24th. For generations, Cravens have served king and queen. A Craven helped Wolfe capture Quebec from France, and a Craven fought Napoleon at Waterloo. Rex Craven is in this photo of the defenders of Rorke's Drift, taken after the battle.
The Victoria Cross is Britain's highest medal for bravery. Eleven VCs were awarded to the defenders of Rorke's Drift, the highest number ever for a single battle. The average age of the defenders was 23. Some were scarred for life. One ruined his hands by clawing through the walls of the hospital. Another was later found wandering penniless in Manchester, England, having sold his VC for six pounds. His overwrought mind was still at Rorke's Drift. Convinced that Zulus were coming in through the windows of his family's home, he grabbed his grandchildren and ran out of the house. Declared insane, he died in an asylum.
When Chelmsford's column returned to the Isandlwana battlefield from hunting Zulus in the Mangeni Valley, the Redcoats got a jolt. Their comrades killed by Zulus had been stripped, disemboweled, and, in some cases, skewered to the ground with spears. The sketch below is by a trooper who was there. See the open bellies?
The Redcoats saw that as a desecration. A sacrilege. But from the Zulus' point of view, it was necessary. Killing an enemy in battle releases evil forces of "blackness," or umnyama. Evil can only be countered by cleansing rituals called zila. To dissipate umnyama lingering around a corpse, the belly must be ripped open from sternum to groin. Ignoring that ritual means decomposition gases will swell the abdomen, and a supernatural curse will attach to the slayer and swell him too.
Shades are the "living dead" no longer here. Shades choose witch doctors by brooding over them. Too much brooding will drive a Zulu insane. Evildoers are smelled out by death specialists who use bones - "pointers" called izikhombi - to divine the will of the shades. "Slaughter for the shades" begins the ritual, and the living dead appear when organs - isiko - are burned.
Lance-Sergeant Rex Craven got one of the eleven VCs. Like warriors have always done, he went home to Britain with trophies from Rorke's Drift. Imagine an oblong wooden box with the name Rex Lancelot Craven engraved on the lid. Inside are two compartments lined with velvet. Red plush in the upper half displays his lunger bayonet and his Victoria Cross. Black plush in the lower half cushions a Zulu knobkerry club and a snakeskin pouch containing ten knucklebones, each carved with an eye. The pouch was snatched from around the neck of a witch doctor Craven skewered to death near the biscuit box barricade.
What Craven took home from Africa was a juju curse.
"Why don't you write about the supernatural?" Slade has been asked many times. His answer is, "I do. The definition of psychosis is 'a break with reality.' Does breaking with reality not define the supernatural? Through the mind of an insane killer acting out his fantasy in the real world, I can write about any aspect of the supernatural. And it's believable."
Japanese edition of ZOMBIE (EVIL EYE).
Note the frame. Umnyama
A crazed cop killer driven to annihilate the Royal Canadian Mounted Police...A last stand colonial battle with epic consequences in 19th century South Africa...An innocent Mountie - Corporal Nick Craven - on trial for murder in a case fraught with hidden agendas...A neo-Nazi skinhead persecuted by animate skeletons...Sinister shades from the shadowlands on the border of life and death...A suicide bomber loose on a ship floating the Mounties' Red Serge Ball...A pair of ruthless mercenaries - the Terrible Ones - hunting naked prey - Inspector Zinc Chandler - in the wilds of Africa...What thin red line from the heart of darkness connects this chain of mystery, mayhem, and madness?
Canadian edition of EVIL EYE
"A thin line separates crime and horror, and in Michael Slade's thrillers the demarcation vanishes altogether." - Time Out
"EVIL EYE holds you spellbound. This tension-filled whodunit keeps you guessing at the killer's identity and motive. Slade's thrillers always make demands on readers' gray matter, and always make the effort worthwhile." - The Ottawa Citizen
"Slade books have a texture of gritty authenticity that only an insider could bring to them. The details and characters of EVIL EYE ring true." - Winnipeg Free Press
"A riveting crime/horror novel. EVIL EYE is a heart-stopping thriller." - The Edmonton Sunday Sun
"Unspeakable acts, plot U-turns, and autopsy-horrific detail. EVIL EYE sets the same murderous pace that made HEADHUNTER and GHOUL mystery-thriller bestsellers. Slade is the guru of gruesome. He makes readers squirm." - The Toronto Sun
"EVIL EYE is jam-packed with action. Watch for the breathtaking car chase. Even the most perceptive reader will not likely be able to string together the subtle clues that solve the whodunit. Rise to that challenge, and enjoy the complex plot, the rich characterization, and the amazing precision with which all the story's ingredients are synthesized." - The Halifax Daily News
"Slade is a reprimand to the stereotype that all things Canadian must be mundane. He gives his RCMP characters human foibles. They drink, they fool around, they turn on one another. All imposed on a background of Red Serge - the history of the RCMP and the strict code of honor it demands. In return, the RCMP helps Slade research. For once, here's an author who treats them as human beings." - The Vancouver Sun
"Canada's Stephen King. EVIL EYE packs in the thrills. A bomb is ticking." - Equity
"Slade's tight wound mystery plots, extremely nasty bad guys, and police procedures keep readers turning pages." - The Richmond News
"EVIL EYE is scary! After turning pages past my bedtime to find out whodunit, I had nightmares. The accuracy in detail makes the reading easy to picture, easy to believe, and easy to get drawn into. Slade's legal experience with the criminally insane has filled him with 'thriller' material. Telling it as he sees it is fundamental to Slade." - Arts Alive
"Gross, engaging, and witty, Slade pulls no punches. I was hooked. I think you will be too." The Advocate (for lawyers).
"A thrilling and chilling whodunit with taut, seamless, and complex story lines. EVIL EYE makes you fearful to read on. Like putting a popcorn-smeared hand up to your eyes in a dark theater, only to peek through your fingers." - North Shore News
"Master of horror Michael Slade's thrillers are known for near mathematical engineering of plot twists and red herrings. Slade's trip to Africa was no holiday in the sun. On safari through Zimbabwe and Botswana, he dipped his quill in empire blood and came back with the tincture of slaughter to jazz up this tale of the RCMP. Slade's a master of the contemporary whodunit and teeth-clattering action. There's a malevolent trial in which an innocent Mountie is trapped in a grudge match between a brutal judge, a self-absorbed prosecutor, and an amoral defense counsel." - Lifestyles
"Canada's Master of Horror. The tag is fully justified. EVIL EYE's plot moves at lightning speed, uncovering bizarre motives. Given the number of corpses wearing red serge, Slade's admiration for the RCMP is a very special case of tough love." - Maclean's Magazine
American edition of EVIL EYE
With pioneer roots in Alberta going back to 1883 (see BIO), Slade was a boy when he first heard the legend of Colter's Run. Not only was Colter a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but he was also the first white man to witness Yellowstone National Park, where the geysers and other geothermal phenomena became known as "Colter's Hell."
In the fall of 1809, he and another mountain man named John Potts were trapping beavers when they ran afoul of Blackfeet warriors. The Blackfeet are a Montana tribe associated with the Blackfoot Confederacy of Alberta. Potts opened fire and got riddled with arrows. Colter was stripped naked, including his moccasins, and given a head start so he could run for his life.
The Blackfeet pursued the explorer as game in a human hunt. A powerful runner, Colter eluded all but a single warrior. After miles, and with blood gushing from his nose through overexertion, he turned back to fight his stalker, who stumbled while thrusting his spear. Colter seized the weapon and pinned him to the ground.
Wrapped in the warrior's blanket, the naked prey reached a river, plunged into the water, and hid under driftwood. After dark, the Blackfeet gave up the search. Eleven days later, and having walked 200 miles, with only the blanket for warmth and roots and bark to eat, Colter staggered into the stockade at Fort Raymond.
THE NAKED PREY (1966)
In 1966, actor/director Cornel Wilde transposed the legend of Colter's Run to 19th century South Africa. Greedy white ivory hunters run afoul of Zulu warriors.
The Zulus allow the least culpable hunter to run for his life.
And the chase is on.
From all of that, Slade conceived a double-barreled climax for ZOMBIE. The Mounties are holding their Red Serge Ball on a ship cruising off the Pacific Northwest coast, unaware that one of the revelers is a suicide bomber. The man's intestines are packed with plastic explosives (based on a real-life terrorist plot).
To solve the whodunit of who is the cop-killing psycho possessed by juju dating back to Rorke's Drift, Inspector Zinc Chandler has flown to Africa. The man he's looking for is a soldier of fortune, a mercenary secretly involved in an imminent political assassination. The last thing he and his partner need is a prying cop, so they lure the Mountie into the wilds of uninhabited Africa. Code-named the Black and the White, and jointly known as the Gray, the "Terrible Ones" will embroil Chandler in their own game of human-hunting naked prey.
Before he writes a novel, Slade "lives" the plot. Armed with a notebook and a handheld recorder, he visits the setting to fantasize and act the story out. His notes form the skeleton of what later goes down on the page. So, at last - at long last - Slade was going to Africa!
Slade's trek to Zimbabwe and Botswana did not start well. Guide books warned he might contract diseases: cholera, malaria, giardia, dysentery, typhoid, worms, tetanus, rabies, meningitis, bilharzia, diptheria, myiassis, typhus, yellow fever, sleeping sickness, hepatitis, viral gastroenteritis, so beware. Almost 25% of the population carries the AIDS virus - known locally as "Slim" - so bring your own needles and hope you don't need a transfusion. Why you might need local blood was the hungry animals and venomous snakes.
"What's that?" Slade asked his wife as they packed his medical bag. It resembled a hypodermic syringe with two prongs.
"A snake bite extractor kit," she replied. "You don't want strangers sucking your blood, nor will they want to. You stick the prongs in the fang holes and pull back the plunger."
Slade was not impressed. You think Tarzan swings through the trees with a knife on one hip and a snake bite extractor on the other? Women don't understand such things, so he tossed the gizmo into the bag, never to see the light of day...little did he know.
Nine hours to London, then eleven hours to Harare is a grueling trek. Seasoned traveler that he is, Slade split the flights. Arriving at the break of day, he rode the tube into central London and got off at the wrong stop. That July, the city welcomed him with an inversion layer and a garbage strike. Translation: London was as hot as hell and stank to high heaven. By the time Slade dragged his suitcase for blocks past pyramids of steaming trash to his mirage-like hotel, the dominating thought in his mind was "Shower!"
Every so often, you hear the news that so-and-so slipped in the shower and broke his hip. Slade's reaction? What sort of fool does that? Before reaching for the towel on the far rack, the intelligent man grabs hold of the strut at the end of the glass partition, then leans out...to discover things are different here. Instead of the strut being secured to the top of the tub as it is back home, it swings on a pivot so the cleaning staff can wipe along the rim. That's why Slade found himself flying across the room, where he tore the seat from - and slammed his head against - the toilet bowl.
On coming to, Slade found the floor red with blood. A hand to his face revealed the laceration along his jaw, followed by realization that he was departing for the wilds of disease-ridden Africa with an open wound! Plus, he'd read on the plane, there was an outbreak of ebola.
Dazed, Slade gained his feet and staggered off to phone for a doctor. The bathroom door was ajar, so he mistakenly opened the main door and stepped out into the hall.
Slade naked is not a pretty sight. Slade naked, with blood covering his face, is worse. But Slade naked, with blood covering his face and hugging a toilet seat like a Teddy bear, was the Pakistani chambermaid's worst nightmare come true. She threw her linens in the air, let out a scream to wake the dead, and fled in terror down the hall.
Had his heel not caught the door swinging shut behind him, Slade would have been locked out naked and forced to descend to the lobby for a replacement key. Instead, he retreated, grabbed the phone, and called the front desk. Luckily, a Lebanese doctor in the bar said he'd come up as soon as he finished his gin and tonic.
With that, Slade's penny-pinching Scottish blood kicked in. Would his travel insurance cover slipping in the shower? If not, the meter was running, so he'd save time by shaving off his beard to bare the wound. He began with the uninjured side of his face, and was about to tackle the cut when knuckles rapped on the door.
"What are you doing?" the doctor exclaimed on entering. "Damage the edges of the laceration and your face will be scarred for life."
Consequently, Slade arrived in Zimbabwe with half his face clean-shaven and the other half wearing a beard. His safari began with frightened African kids clinging to their moms, pointing at him and wailing about the hairy bogeyman.
Yes, folks, he's back (see DEATH'S DOOR). The intrepid explorer? Or the damn fool?
The "Lost City" of Great Zimbabwe is the stuff of myth. Zimbabwe, a Shona word, means "Houses of Stone." In the early 1500s, Portuguese traders in Mozambique heard Swahili rumors of a "City of Gold" inland. Soon hearsay grew to fantasy of biblical proportions. The city became Ophir: the legendary home of King Solomon's Mines. The first white to gaze upon the most significant man-made relics south of the Pyramids was a German hunter, Adam Render, in 1871. When he showed the ruins to Carl Mauch, that geologist promptly declared, "The fortress on the hill is a copy of King Solomon's Temple."
In 1885, H. Rider Haggard wrote KING SOLOMON'S MINES. So what better place than Great Zimbabwe for ZOMBIE readers to meet the Terrible Ones?
Hill Complex, home of the king and his witch doctor
Looking down on the Great Enclosure from the Hill Complex
Great Enclosure, home of the king's mother and his harem
Passage inside Great Enclosure
Conical Tower, of mysterious phallic significance
Having toured "King Solomon's Mines," Slade sat on the ground to plot ZOMBIE and photograph the apes of Great Zimbabwe. As he snapped this picture...
...Slade heard rustling and a sharp crack behind him. He turned to find a park ranger had just killed a snake in the grass with a slingshot made of a rubber band attached to his fingers. The snake sneaking up on Slade was a M'fezi, or Mozambique spitting cobra. That reptile spits a stream of venom at your startled eyes, and a 40mg squirt is fatal to humans. Slade's first day on safari, and he was almost picked off by Africa's second-deadliest snake! Remember the snake bite extractor kit and "how women don't understand..."?
From that point on, the venom kit was always in Slade's pocket.
For juju inspiration, Slade didn't need to look far. Witch doctors sold their weird wares in the public markets. And as for ritual fantasy in Zimbabwe culture, you be the judge.
From Great Zimbabwe, Slade flew north to a bush camp on an island in the Zambezi River. That night in the bar, he asked the safari guides to tell him the horror stories they don't tell tourists. That's how he heard the "Androcles parallel" recounted in ZOMBIE, about the lioness who killed the park warden. When Slade mentioned that he was after "authentic experience," one of the bush guides said, "Lions are on the island." Southern Africa was undergoing a drought, so the waters of the Zambezi had lowered to form an isthmus.
An hour later, Slade was bouncing through the night in an open Jeep. The southern sky has three times as many stars as the North. At the top of a hill, his teenage guide killed the engine and coasted down the slope. When Slade asked why they were stopping here, the driver shone a flashlight.
The rule of thumb in Africa is "Don't get out of the Jeep." Lions won't attack something bigger than they are. At least, that's the theory. The problem was Slade spent his legal career dealing with aberrant outlaws, and he writes about misfits with no respect for rules. The Jeep was parked smack-dab in the midst of a pride of nine lions. The driver wasn't armed because "These are my friends." By moonlight, the disturbed beasts prowled around the topless vehicle, and the swipe of a paw would easily have shredded Slade's face. Of that, he was constantly reminded by Agrippa's scars. A young lion had tried to take over the pride before the old boy was ready. Agrippa won the fight at the cost of an eye and a severely mauled face. He was named for the Roman general who defeated Antony and Cleopatra.
Later, as they were driving back, the teen asked Slade, "Was that authentic enough?"
In Hwange, Zimbabwe's main game park, Slade slept in a treehouse. There, when you hear the thunder of hoofbeats, you do think zebras.
Like human fingerprints, every zebra has different stripes.
Hard to believe, but a giraffe's neck has the same number of vertebrae as a human's.
Until you've seen dawn in Africa, you haven't seen dawn at all. Note the elephants crossing the horizon.
Slade's close call in Hwange was when he tried to snap this photo. The elephant looked so small and far away in the viewfinder as people yelled, "He's charging!" Slade was almost trampled...but he got the shot.
This statue stands in the northwest corner of Zimbabwe.
"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
Two million years ago, Stone Age humans chipped tools around the rim of this precipice.
Decades before the Defense of Rorke's Drift, Makololo refugees fleeing from conquest by the Zulus settled here. They named the falls Mosi-oa-Tunya, "Smoke That Thunders." Their witch doctors stood on the lip islands to practice juju and access the spirit world. On November 16, 1885, the Africans brought Livingstone here in a dugout canoe. "On sights as beautiful as this, Angels in their flight must have gazed," the explorer gushed in his journal. He christened the cascade Victoria Falls, in honor of his queen. In ZOMBIE, it's where the Terrible Ones meet the Money Man.
For a taste of Colonial Africa (Zimbabwe was once Rhodesia), Slade spent several nights at the Victoria Falls Hotel. High tea in the afternoon, and crocodile tail with sauce Bearnaise on the evening menu. Back when the hotel was built in 1914, a trolley carried guests down to the Big Splash, and African trolley boys pushed them back up.
While walking in the gardens, Slade encountered this little guy. Study his face, his ears, his hands, and note how fascinated he is with his toy. Does it not make you wonder how anyone can doubt the validity of Darwin's theory of evolution?
From Victoria Falls, Slade drove west into Botswana, where the Chobe River marks its northern border.
In Chobe, Slade saw elephants drinking along the bank of the river.
Then he saw hippopotamuses wallowing in the mud.
And then he chanced across this horror of mummified Cape buffalos. There were dozens of them rotting on the bank.
Months ago, lions had stampeded a herd to take out stragglers. The buffalos in front got mired in the mud onshore. Those behind trampled on them to reach the river. Soon, the merciless sun desiccated the carcasses, and each retained its look of fear at the moment of death.
Slade had found a spooky place for Inspector Zinc Chandler to meet the White half of the Terrible Ones. From here, the Mountie would be lured into the Okavango Delta, where the odds were he would disappear without leaving a trace. Just another safariman lost to the law of the jungle.
Here's a satellite photo of the Okavango Delta. In the upper right corner, you can see the chasm that creates Victoria Falls. Most rivers form deltas on the coast. The Okavango does the reverse. It flows inland from the Atlantic mountains of Angola to fan countless fingers across the sands of the Kalahari Desert. "The river that never finds the sea" is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Virtually untouched by civilization, the 9,000-square-mile Okavango Delta offers the perfect hunting ground for naked prey.
Slade flew west from Chobe in a single-engine plane. Both it and the pilot had seen better days. For almost two hours, the land below was nothing but a spread of swamps, canals, and thicket islands. If the pilot suffered a heart attack and the plane went down, Slade would have to fight his way out like Tarzan.
Here's the bar at Slade's first Okavango bush camp.
Early next morning, Slade witnessed survival of the fittest. From the Jeep, he spied three cheetahs looking for breakfast. Everything about these cats has evolved for speed. From zero to seventy mph in seconds, the cheetah is the fastest land animal on Earth.
As Slade watched, the hunters took off.
By the time the Jeep caught up, they were feasting. Note the blood on their faces. But what are they gazing at?
Off in the distance, Slade saw lions.
Lions are lazy. They only hunt when they have to. It's easier to let cheetahs do the work, then move in and usurp the kill. Unlike other cats, cheetahs can't retract their claws. Cheetah claws are blunt and doglike for traction in a chase. Claws like that are useless in a fight. Lions take from every predator in Africa. That's why the lion is King of the Beasts.
And so it was here.
All the cheetahs could do was watch the thieves eat. Note the length of their front legs, and the thickness of their tails, used to swish in counterbalance for sharp chase turns. Cheetahs feast immediately, with no return to the kill. They have evolved to eat on the run.
Sated, the lions were ready for a siesta. They found a hillock and settled in, while Slade moved closer for these shots.
The delta chase forming in Slade's mind grew out of that. The Terrible Ones, like the cheetahs, were going for the kill. To survive, the naked prey must turn the tables on them, and like the lions, must steal the kill from under the bloody fangs of the mercenaries.
But enough of big cats (until later). For you dog lovers, here's something rare. Wild dogs.
Slade found the setting for the manhunt at the next bush camp. The plane from Mombo landed on a makeshift island strip. A Bushman met Slade and walked him to the dock.
In Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS, Marlow sets out on a perilous voyage up the jungly Congo River in search of the rogue ivory hunter, Kurtz. When Marlow finds him dying, Kurtz's last words summing up his African experiences are "The horror! The horror!"
This part of the Okavango Delta was a desolate waterworld. Slade's boat trip to the isolated bush camp took an hour. Part way, the canal was blocked by a submerged hippo. There was no alternative but to wait him out. Most accidents occur when hippos surface under boats. If riled, they'll chomp off a limb.
Snaking deeper, Slade spotted crocodiles on the bank. The boat veered in for him to snap closeups.
Suddenly, a croc bolted from the bank...
...and almost upset the rocking boat as it passed under.
Out on the water, Slade saw the reason.
Never get between a maneater and its young, or you might end up like the stomach contents of this croc. "The horror! The horror!"
The hippo encounter morphed into ZOMBIE like this:
The crocodile charge like this:
The waterworld bush camp was really "out there." Slade was greeted with a glass of white wine, and a book of cautionary clippings about tourists killed in the delta. His tent had two zippers. One was the front door, and the other led to a shower and chemical toilet along a short bamboo corridor. A female tourist had got up to pee in the night, and undid the wrong zipper. A lion got her. At the end of the book was a legal release for Slade to sign. He'd come here for the "real Africa," and he was going to get it.
From the great enclosure, Slade watched the sun go down.
Have you ever slept in the country, where you can hear sounds for miles? The night is feeding time for nocturnal leopards. As Slade lay in his bed, he heard animal death shrieks all around. At one point, he woke up to a full moon, and watched the shadows of lions prowling around his tent.
The next day began with a game walk. At previous bush camps near civilization, the safari guides had carried elephant guns. Here, the guide (an ex-South African Army soldier) was armed with a Zulu spear. As he put it, "Even predators deserve a fighting chance."
After breakfast came a day-long mokoro trek. A mokoro is a hollowed-out sausage tree. It's poled by a Bushman akin to a Venetian gondolier.
Slade and a Swiss adventurer were the only guests. For hours, they drifted lazily through the reeds of Africa's "last Eden" alive with myriad tropical birds. Eden may be a literal as well as a figurative term. Mitochondrial Eve - the woman from whom every human being alive today inherited his or her DNA -evolved in Africa. What part of Africa is open to debate, but one theory is that Eve was a Botswana Bushman. A few feet under the water, Slade watched his shadow pass over the sands of the Kalahari.
At noon, they beached for lunch. The unarmed Bushmen led them on a cursory tour of the seemingly uninhabited island. By now, Slade felt like an Old Africa Hand. After eating, the Bushmen (like the lions before) took a siesta on a hillock under a canopy tree.
Slade wasn't in Africa to sleep the day away. Convinced the island was deserted, he and the Swiss wandered off until they hit water. As Slade snapped this picture of Eden...
...the foolish "bwana" heard a sound over his shoulder. It was just the Bushmen making sure they hadn't lost their charges. Slade assured them everything was okay. One of the Bushmen crooked his finger and led Slade back to where a set of lion tracks crossed his path. Look hard and you'll see a paw print superimposed on his shoe tread.
"What does that mean?" Slade asked, not the brightest question.
"It means it wasn't hungry," the Bushman replied.
If the lion had been hungry, Slade would now look like this.
Before we leave the Okavango, there's an outstanding question. It wouldn't be Eden, would it, without a snake? If the Mozambique spitting cobra is the second-deadliest snake in Africa, you're probably wondering, what's the deadliest? Answer: the black mamba. At up to 14 feet in length, it's one of the fastest snakes in the world. When chasing prey, it can rear up in the shape of a Z, its bottom third slithering across the ground as its top third strikes forward at you. A mamba can produce enough venom to kill 15 to 25 people. Its mortality rate, without treatment, is about 100%. Did Slade encounter a black mamba? Yes, he snapped this photo.
It's a long way from the ghetto streets of the 87th Precinct to a Canadian Mountie being chased by mercenaries through the last Eden. But there's no doubt that if there were no Ed McBain, there'd be no Michael Slade. The 87th Precinct ran through more than 50 novels from 1956 until McBain died in 2005. The main character, Detective Steve Carella, aged about two years. McBain's impact on the police procedural can't be gauged from a single book. It's the series that counts, and as a lifelong fan, Slade was there most of the way.
How do you determine your favorite author? Here's Slade's test. Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) wrote: "The realisation that one is to be hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully." Assume that every author you have ever liked has one book that you haven't read. You're to be hanged in the morning, so the warden offers you last rites, a last meal, a last cigarette, and a last read. Which author would you choose?
Sure, to be arty, Slade should say, "Marcel Proust's IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME (previous title REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST)" or something comparable. But hell, since it's The Last Read, his answer would undoubtedly be, "Ed McBain, the last 87th Precinct novel."
Ergo, Ed McBain (real name Evan Hunter) is Slade's favorite author.
In 1986, Slade met McBain in New York City when he was made a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America. By 2001, McBain was in shaky health and pushing 80. Under the influence of McBain's fiction, Slade became both a criminal lawyer and a writer of police procedurals. Time was running out for him to acknowledge the debt, so on the day after Christmas, Slade sent McBain an email:
How better to spend Boxing Day than writing to your favorite author(s)? My introduction to the 87th Precinct was LADY, LADY, I DID IT! That was in 1961 when I was 14...
On December 29, Slade received a reply:
What better way to spend the Saturday before 2002 than to respond to the most wonderful letter I've received all year. (Discounting the one that told me my Uncle Frank had died and left me seven million dollars!)...
Ed McBain (1926 - 2005)
A frequently asked question is, "Why does Slade's Africa novel have two titles: ZOMBIE and EVIL EYE?" The original title was ZOMBIE, in keeping with the previous single-word psychological monsters: HEADHUNTER, GHOUL, CUTTHROAT, and RIPPER. Slade simultaneously delivered the manuscript to his British and American publishers. His British publisher quickly inserted the title ZOMBIE into its catalogue and began production. In America, however, a problem developed. Both Slade and Joyce Carol Oates had delivered manuscripts with the same title - ZOMBIE - to the same publisher. Hers was about the cannibal killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and it had arrived first. To avoid confusion, the North American title of Slade's Africa thriller was changed to EVIL EYE.