William Kotzwinkle must be the most idiosyncratic (some might say the weirdest) writer active today. One of his books, for example, is “The Bear who went over the mountain”, a story about a Grizzly who attacks and devours a writer who has sequestered himself in a mountain cabin in order to finish his great novel. The bear then walks over the mountain into metropolitan Southern California, carrying the manuscript, where he finds himself a feted literary celebrity!
Fata Morgana is, in my view, his masterwork. It is a homage to the great early detective writing of Edgar Allen Poe, but – just as Virgil did much more than merely imitate Homer – so Kotzwinkle adds a brilliant modern touch to Poe’s originality. Inspector Paul Picard – alias Monsieur Fanjoy – is for me the greatest literary detective of all. In this story he encounters every form of human conceit and deceit as he pursues a sinister magician who possesses a deadly fortune telling machine.
Kotzwinkle, better than any other writer I know, is the master of the single detail that tells you everything about a character in a brief, microcosmic glimpse into their unconscious.
In this story it is a destitute street cleaner who sleeps rough and rummages through the garbage in search of a meagre living. He is one of the army of prostitutes, pimps, down-and-outs and scoundrels that Fanjoy retains as informers. His clothes are merely rags he has found in the garbage, but in the buttonhole of his threadbare coat, he wears a grubby paper flower he has rescued from the junk. He is a man who has sunk low, but he has not lost the capacity to dream.