Son Of Monte Cristo

Quite a nice reprint edition actually

The French newspapers of the immediate post-Napoleonic era were the Kindle Unlimited of their day. Nowadays, prolific writers churn out episodic content for Amazon’s platform and build up a series-loyal readership. Each yarn unravels over small novellas, each following on from the next, as you are exhorted to save money by purchasing the bundle now. Successful writers can find their brand expands beyond their ability to produce new stories and thus a network of ghost writers, editors, proof-readers and cover designers make a living from the one writer’s brand.

Back in 1850, Alexandre Dumas was up to exactly the same thing. This book is an example because he quite clearly didn’t write it. He’d created the Dumas name-recognition and Count Of Monte Cristo was one of his most popular books. Readers thirsted for more stories within the Marvel Monte Cristo universe so, when Dumas had died without furnishing a sequel, ghost writers obliged on his behalf.

This book is actually written by Jules Lermina, a Frenchman who wrote not only this and another Monte Cristo story, but also stories inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and stories which pre-figured the Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the yellow peril stories of Edgar Wallace [1]

Three stooges

You don’t know the Three Edgars?

If I didn’t already know this wasn’t Dumas, I’d have guessed it within a handful of pages. Although Lermina does a serviceable job of imitating Dumas’ style, he can’t reproduce the quality. In particular, this book is extremely fast-paced to the extent that Lermina wastes almost no time on scene-setting or character development. This is a book of action. Characters do, they don’t much think.

This is a double-edged sword. I like derring-do as much as the next red-blooded male but to care about events you need to care about the characters experiencing them. Dumas was especially good at drawing scheming avaricious men, vampish women, and deluded pompous oafs. He’d constantly set characters to secretly swindle each other while making grand public gestures of nobility. Many many times upon reading Dumas, a wry smile crept onto my face.

Lermina is too straight-forward for that. In his story the white hats are all good and the black hats are all bad. It’s balls-to-the-wall and the plot hurtles forwards. I do wonder if he took this approach knowing his limitations, figuring that fast-moving action is the best way to prevent the reader lingering long enough to notice cracks in the edifice.

Movie poster

It would work well as a movie

As a simple tale of adventure in the Monte Cristo universe, I enjoyed this. In its 380 pages we have a public trial of Benedetto (a cutthroat whom Dante revenged himself upon near the end of Dumas’ original novel) and wrapping up of loose ends. The main characters are scattered to the winds. Benedetto escapes his sentence as a galley slave and reinvents himself as a pro-Austrian plotter in occupied Italy. Before the story is through, we’ve seen Paris intrigue, Marseille jail breaks, Italian revolution, tussles with desert Arabs in Algeria, and a big pub brawl on the wharf. Heady stuff.

Dumas patiently plotted his stories, switching perspectives from chapter to chapter to set up each plot thread in the first third, so the reader can enjoy all paths crossing in the second third. By the end of the last third, things have resolved in ways that were theoretically predictable from the beginning. Dumas relies a little on providence to supply chance encounters (e.g. the protagonist bumping into the antagonist in the same street in a city as large as Paris) and furnishes multiple rug-pulling surprises but it always feels fair and reasonable. Lermina isn’t as far-seeing so his story is more like a toddler telling a story.

And then this happened… and then that happened… and then this happened….

Still, I started reading this book at midnight, hit the halfway mark at 3am (my bedtime) [2] and then finished it the next morning by my third cup of coffee. I enjoyed it. I dare say it was a page-turner. It’s certainly an easier read than Dumas.

If you liked Count Of Monte Cristo and want more, you could do worse. If you like reading light, slightly-nonsensical fiction and wonder how the equivalent books were in 19th century France, you could do worse. Otherwise…. there are far better books out there, including dozens by the man that Lermina is imitating. That said, I will be reading volume two soon.

If you want to read a large high-quality book which has been shamelessly imitated by lesser writers, you could do worse than Daygame Mastery. If you want a real legitimate sequel, there’s only Daygame Infinite

[1] Evidently, he had a thing for men called Edgar.
[2] I’d had my supper, but thanks for asking