Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Death of a Transvestite, by Ed Wood Jr.

(pb; 1967: sequel to Killer in Drag)


Caveat: spoilers in this review.

At the end of Killer in Drag, Glen (aka, Glenda) Marker is still on the lam from the Syndicate (whom he "retired" from) and the cops (who have questions for him stemming from a murder he -- ironically -- didn't commit). Rose "Red" Graves, Glen/da's lover, is also on the run from the Syndicate, for her involvement with Glen/da. And another unnamed cross-dressing killer has been recruited by the Syndicate to whack Glen/da, their logic being "it takes one to know one."

Death of a Transvestite picks up the tale months after that, when Glen/Glenda is facing the electric chair. He offers to tell the remainder of the events that led to his date wtih fatal electricity, as long as they let him play dress-up in his final moments.

Glen/da's tale: Paul "Pauline" Hefner, the homosexual unnamed cross-dressing contract killer from the end of Killer, begins tracking Glen/da in earnest. The Syndicate catches up with Rose. Glen/da hightails to Hollywood, hooks up with Cynthia Harland, a raven-haired whore, and hides out in dive bars and motels on Hollywood Boulevard, where tensions between "queers," beatniks and the cops are building to (literally) riotous proportions.

Structurally, Death is more ambitious than its predecessor. Wood varies the storyline by presenting it in a broken-up fashion, alternating between police Composite Reports, select diaries (Paul/ine Hefner's, Glen/da's would-be assassin), Glen/da's "Taped Confessions", and the Warden's Notes.

The conceit is an admirable one. Problem is, Wood's writing is exactly the same as it was in Killer: it reads like a lurid, sometimes awkwardly-written noir novel, the characters' thoughts on display for the reader to see. An example -- how could the Warden, who never meets Paul/ine, know Paul/ine's thoughts during her climactic shoot-out with Glen/da? Sure, Paul/ine's diaries are full of simmering resentment and disturbing wants, but it doesn't cover all the information, supposedly gleaned from the diaries, that the Warden puts into his Notes.

On the whole, Death isn't a complete botch. There are pockets of excitement (the aforementioned climax comes to mind) and some note-worthy passages in the mix, but overall this is a disappointing follow-up to Killer in Drag.

Read it only to complete Glen/da's journey from Hot Mama Whackmeister to Prison-Fried High-Heeled Convict.

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