Monte Cristo on a Gondola: Michel Zevaco – “The Bridge of Sighs” and “The Lovers of Venice”


“I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; a palace and a prison on each hand.” -Lord Byron, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”













Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” has inspired almost two centuries of pastiches. There’s several less-than-authorized sequels, (with titles like “The Countess of Monte Cristo,” “The Return of Monte Cristo,” “The Hand of the Dead,” “The Daughter/ Son/Wife of Monte Cristo”); there’s the respectful, duly-acknowledging homages, like Jules Verne’s “Mathias Sandorf,” Lorenzo Carcaterra’s “Sleepers,” Italo Calvino’s “The Count of Montecristo,” and, heck, Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”;  there are the geographical re-settings (“An American Monte Cristo,” “An Irish Monte Cristo,” “The Prisoner of Algiers”); there’s the wilder re-imaginings, (the anime color-explosion that was “Gankutsuo,” or Park Chan-Wook’s “Old Boy,” or Alfred Bester’s Nebula-winning classic “The Stars My Destination”); there’s recent imitations from TV Land (both guilty-pleasures like “Revenge” and out-and-out pleasures like the currently-running “Taboo”) A truly exhaustive list would be exhausting, (and might even include my undeserving name upon it.)

Michel Zevaco’s duology “The Bridge of Sighs” and “The Lovers of Venice,” like the crowd-pleasing bat, is equally at home among mammals and birds: among rip-offs, homages, wild re-imaginings, and geographical re-settings.

Making “The Captain” look subtle in its Dumasian-ness, “The Bridge of Sighs” and “The Lovers of Venice” follows Roland Candiano, a promising young man who is about to marry his betrothed, Leonore, when his petty, jealous frenemies have him falsely accused of conspiracy and sent to walk the famous, lattice-windowed Ponte Dei Suspiri which connects the Dogi’s palace with the Prisons, (hence all the loud sighing).

After years in solitary, Roland finally escapes in an action packed scene that has him a-historically punch a hole on the Bridge of Sighs and drop from it to the Rio di Palazzo below. Up to that moment, Zevaco has merely done a “Find and Replace” job on “The Count of Montecristo,” (Roland for Edmond, Leonore for Mercedes, Venice for Marseilles, etc etc) with the difference that where Dumas is expansive, Zevaco is an abridger. Roland makes his daring escape by chapter 6; compare to chapter 20 of “Monte Cristo.”

For those who wonder why anyone would read an inferior “shot-by-shot” remake, it’s important to note that after Roland’s escape, Zevaco abandons the slavish adherence to his literary master. Instead of a slow-burning, subtle revenge plot, Roland is more interested in hacking-and-slashing, and by chapter 22 (of 100 or so), his incognito is over, he’s declared out-and-out war on his enemies, and is more or less murdering them on sight. It’s here that Zevaco, desirous of bodies for this massacre, adds a neat twist to the formula: Roland not only takes revenge against the handful of people who put him in prison, but also against anyone else foolish enough to associate with them.




To Kill a Famous Reclusive Author : Stephen King – “Finders Keepers”

ABOVE: Bookers Weepers

“Finders Keepers” is second in Stephen King’s new genre-shifting trilogy, after “Mr. Mercedes,” and it’s another very successful action thriller even if you can see King straining to keep up with publishing trends. (Is a YA supernatural romance far behind? Or does “Carrie” already sort of cover that territory?) I mentioned the first novel had a certain “Michael Connelly” smell to it, and here King backs me up: retired detective Bill Hodges even refers to Connelly as “his kind of writer.”

“Finders Keepers” is foremost a thriller about literature; it’s not coincidental that it was released at about the same time as Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman.” It opens in 1978. John Rothstein is a reclusive author responsible for a beloved classic of American literature, the “Jimmy Gold” trilogy (think John Updike’s “Rabbit” books.) Rothstein is Updike, Salinger, Harper Lee and Philip Roth all at once, but that doesn’t save him from being murdered by Morris Bellamy, a literary fanatic dying to get his hands on Rothstein’s unreleased notebooks, where Jimmy Gold’s adventures reputedly continue.

Predictably things go bad for Bellamy, who gets caught and lands in prison for thirty-six years to more or less re-enact “The Shawshank Redemption” minus the redemption part. Upon his release, Bellamy aims straight for the golden notebooks he’s secreted away in a trunk. Problem: the notebooks have already been unearthed by a young boy, Pete Saubers, the son of one of the victims of “Mr. Mercedes” – and as much of a Rothstein fanatic as Bellamy. Cue cat and mouse game, leading to a heart-pounding final scene. It’s not an ORIGINAL scene, mind you: it owes a huge cinematic debt to “Night of the Hunter,” not to mention D. W. Griffith’s cross-cutting techniques. But it’s a scene that WORKS.

ABOVE: Seriously, this might as well be a still from the movie version of “Finders Keepers”

King usually gets slammed for not knowing how to end his horror novels, for summoning supernatural forces that he can’t quite confront satisfactorily. These two thrillers have side-swiped the issue with excellent climaxes. The flaws in the book lie elsewhere. Watching Bellamy and Pete in their collision course is far more interesting than anything going on with boring “hero” Bill Hodges and his side-kicks: crazy-lady Holly and Jerome “Tyrone Feelgood.” I’m glad SOMEONE obviously told King to cut it out with the “Tyrone” shtick, but we still get stuck with moments like this:

“Tyrone Feelgood Delight makes a mercifully brief guest appearance. ‘Dis here black boy goan tote dat barge an’ lift dat bale, Massa Hodges!’”

UGH. Not “brief” enough, let me assure you.

For those who feel King isn’t entirely in his element with  procedural business, there are good news: King hasn’t entirely gone Benedict Arnold on the horror field, and “Finders Keepers” ends with an implicit promise to takes us back into chiller territory for the trilogy’s finale.

RATING: COOL! Part 3, please!