Pentecost, Hugh- The Girl With Six Fingers (Pinnacle Books, NYC, 1969, 181pp)
The fifth in the John Jericho series of detective novels The Girl With Six Fingers sees its author once more trying his best to be hip and once more failing. To begin with the novel’s hero is an artist and as we all know artists are bohemians and therefore hip. The only problem in this case is that Jericho is an artist with a background as a veteran of the Korean war (he’s too staid to live up to the usual tortured Vietnam Vet cliches) who paints the kind of paintings that presumably appeal to the readers of male oriented action novels. Nothing too weird or potentially queer here as in the style of Norman Rockwell Jericho’s paintings look like the things they depict- if the topic is war then you can see a war going on, etc. As the hero of the piece Jericho may be kind of liberal so far as tough guy novels are concerned, but a freaky beatnik he certainly isn’t.
But he does know some freaky beatnik performance artist types and thus the premise of the novel is born. Jericho and a journalist buddy, through whose eyes the story is confusingly and woefully told in both the first and second person, rush down to a conservative New England town after a Happening is busted up by local vigilantes. In the process of trashing the party and deporting the performers back to New York a naked model who had previously posed for the hero goes missing. When Jericho and her boyfriend try to track her down they stumble upon a cover up that threatens the entire power structure of the region. When the team stick their noses in too deeply key members of that power structure strike out attempting to push them off the case, if not off the earth.
All tediously predictable stuff and told in a way that could not fail to challenge the most stupid of readers. Without giving anything more away one of the main topics of the book is LSD and for all the author’s pretences of understanding the power of hallucinogens his characters come across as though they are quoting their knowledge from a Salvation Army text book. Despite being written in 1969, by which time LSD had been well and truly on the scene for many years, Pentecost’s descriptions of a bum trip are so hokey they defy humour. Whilst he was clearly desperate to be hip with the times The Girl With Six Fingers shows that it’s author was only too square.
" ‘How long has she been on LSD?’ I asked.
Nikki looked at me as though I was off my rocker. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘I should have spotted it when she walked in here in that outfit’ I said ‘The bright, flowing colours, the slippers. You can usually spot them by the colours alone. And those dilated pupils. Now she thinks she has grown an extra finger on her right hand.’
‘Extra finger!’ The coffee cups rattled as Nikki put down the tray.
‘She hasn’t of course. But she sees it there. It’s not an unusual hallucination for LSD users. The Happening must have been unbearable for her, which is why she ran instead of helping the kids when Smith’s Army arrived. Sound is magnified when you’re on LSD. That amplified music, triply amplified in her ears, must have driven her off her nut. The sounds, the colours, everything heightened beyond endurance; it was in the middle of this agony that she imagined she had grown an extra finger. I think we should go after her. She could do herself harm out there. She’s in a state of wild panic.’
I’m not an expert on hallucinogenic drugs, but I’d done an article for Newsview magazine on the use of hallucinogens by the college communities- glue sniffing, nutmegs, marijuana and LSD. I was loaded with factual information, but I’d never actually seen it at work. I don’t mind saying I was badly shaken by my grotesque encounter with Angela Dryden. I knew that claims are made by certain disciples of LSD that the use of this potent drug is beneficial. They claim it produces an expansion of the mind, an awareness of beauty and peace, new insights into the user’s own personality, a kind of euphoria. In others use is terrifying; a world of relative security can be damaged beyond repair. People who have survived it have called it a living hell, waking nightmares horrible beyond description. Murder, suicide, self mutilation are a part of the pattern" (pp44-45)