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The Caveman's Valentine ()

Edgar Award Winner: Best First Novel (1995)

The "Caveman" of the title is Romulus Ledbetter, once a gifted black piano prodigy at Julliard, then a struggling musician, husband and father, now a paranoid derelict, living in a cave in New York City's Inwood Park.  The "valentine" is the corpse of a young gay homeless man, with a heart tattoo, that's left near his cave.  When the dead man's lover comes to Romulus with a story about a famous artist who used the victim as a model in his work, but then tortured and probably killed him, the Caveman decides to investigate, despite objections from his police officer daughter.  Romulus is motivated at least in part by his own belief that the murder may be the work of his arch nemesis, Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, the evil criminal genius who lurks in the Chrysler Building, beaming his Y Rays throughout the unsuspecting city.

In spite of, or oftentimes because of, his delusional fantasies, Romulus is an engaging hero.  His homeless status makes him the ultimate outsider, and his frequent inability to separate reality from insanity and his warped certainty that everything is part of a huge conspiracy directed by Stuyvesant lend the story a tense nightmarish quality.  Though the book is overlong by at least fifty pages and  telegraphs its punches a tad too much, the Caveman is a sufficiently unusual and interesting character to make it worthwhile.


Grade: (B)


Book-related and General Links:
    -FILMOGRAPHY : George Dawes Green (Imdb)
    -PROFILE : Book Notes (Sarah Lyall, NY Times, June 15, 1994)
    -REVIEW : of The Caveman's Valentine (D. Keith Mano, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW : "The Caveman's Valentine" :  Director Kasi Lemmons might have a great movie in her, but this Samuel Jackson-led psychological thriller isn't it (Stephanie Zacharek, Salon)