Marc Behm in English
Here’s something unique: an American born, English-speaking author whose literary output is only partially in English. The late Marc Behm (1925-2007) was a prolific screenwriter who scripted at least two acknowledged classics (CHARADE, HELP!) as well as quite a few not-so-classic films (THE MAD BOMBER, HOSPITAL MASSACRE), and also drafted several novels. Below I’ll be focusing on those novels, specifically the four available in English. Among them are a masterpiece (THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER), a near-masterpiece (AFRAID TO DEATH), a fascinating and unsettling oddity (THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT)…and THE ICE MAIDEN.
chronological order, we’ll start with Marc Behm’s 1977 debut novel
THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT, written when Behm was in his forties.
Echoing the infamous 1974 film THE NIGHT PORTER and foreshadowing D.M.
Thomas’ THE WHITE HOTEL (1981) and Steve Erickson’s TOURS OF THE BLACK
CLOCK (1989), it’s a highly picturesque first person account of a
sexually voracious young woman’s exploits in Nazi Germany.
THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER followed in
1980, a private eye thriller/psychological case study/love story that’s
absolutely the last word on voyeurism. It begins with a severely
disturbed private dick known only as “the Eye” getting contracted by a
distraught father to track down his errant son. The latter, it seems,
has run off with a mysterious femme fatale. The boy marries the
woman and then, on their wedding night, she murders him--all in plain
view of the appropriately monikered Eye. His feelings are mixed, to say
the least, and he simply follows the woman as she moves on, ensnares
another man, and murders him.
After such an unqualified triumph it was
probably inevitable that Behm’s following novel would be something of a
let-down. That was indeed the case with 1983’s THE ICE MAIDEN, an
imaginative but rather wobbly and misconceived vampire romp (whose sole
English language appearance was in a three-novel omnibus published by
Zomba Books). It centers on Cora, Brand and Terry, a trio of
centuries-old vamps looking to get rich by pulling off a complex
robbery. The planning and execution of the caper are juxtaposed rather
clumsily with lengthy flashbacks depicting the characters’ past
exploits. These vampires can shape-shift, frequently transforming into
bats, wolves and a shapeless invisible mass--a talent that comes in
mighty handy during the robbery!
Finally we have
1991’s AFRAID TO DEATH, which represented a welcome return to
Marc Behm published three further novels, including OFF THE WALL (1991), SEEK TO KNOW NO MORE (1993) and CRABS (1994). All, alas, appeared only in French--which makes sense, as Behm resided in France for much of his life. He apparently never made much of an effort to get his final novels published outside of France, and the chances of ever seeing English language versions of those novels is remote. For that matter, I don’t foresee subsequent editions of any of Marc Behm’s novels, even though all of them (even THE ICE MAIDEN) are richly deserving, even demanding, of our attention and admiration.