Who Killed Jerusalem is a tale twisted by author George Albert Brown who took a real life character and their work, fitting it into his literary world of murder, mystery and obscene mayhem. If you don’t believe me that this book is just off the charts (even for 1970’s San Francisco culture), wait til you get to the funeral of Jerusalem, the murder victim. When a huge gingerbread cookie is rolled on stage and the mourners asked to partake of it, this scene, still a surprise, even after the others that occur first. Yes, the characters in the book are weird but they are also zany, creative and ingenious creations made to make the reader think not just about the story, but life, as a whole. George Albert Brown gets deep, presenting philosophy that drives readers to a cognitive state very much like one you find while in deep study while trying to understand the characters, through Ded.
Ded Smith is our main character and the investigator of Icky Jerusalem’s death. Icky is San Francisco’s poet laureate, in the 1970’s and, if San Francisco had this role (or position), at this point in time (which is the place in time readers are brought) I would very much believe someone like Icky to have been in it. He is weird, he is deep and the depth is almost to a point in which you don’t understand him. While Icky’s philosophy is understandable (with deep thought) that it is well outside normal thought, that is what one would expect of a popular person at the height of Hippie culture.
Near the end of the book, Ded discovers that Icky had a boat docked at a marina. Now, this was one with a “harbormaster” which, I am sure, included dues and fees. Well, when Ded goes to investigate the boat and sees it, after passing a 45-foot yacht they think is his, the harbormaster points out a “grubby” 11 foot wooden sailboat; it is nothing like what a person would keep there. Completely pointless when it comes to the large expenditure of the dock space, probably causing complaints from the others that dock there about the “grubby” little boat. Just a pointless thing to do. Well, for any normal person.
When the harbormaster is asked why Icky kept a boat like that there, the harbormaster said he asked Icky the same thing. Icky’s answer to that question had been, “he didn’t want to deprive the poem of its meaning.” Now, in nearing the end of the book, with all the other things readers, learning through Ded, that Icky had said and done, to add this, on top of everything else I read about the man, how his odd tendencies or peculiarities were what made him over and above others, I finally came to the conclusion that the harbormaster did. Because after he tells Ded the above information he says, “If you ask me, Jersulam was cruising through the sea of life without the full complement of navigational aids, if you know what I’m saying.” And here, to think that this man kept a boat barely worthy of being a boat, surrounded by yachts, in a place for extravagant boats, the expense of it, how annoying it must have been to people with real boats, and the fact Icky could have afforded a real boat to put here; maybe, in the end, Icky might not have been ever dealing with a “full deck”.
Maybe, just maybe, Icky was pointless, a mirage, someone who made no sense to me because he really was nonsensical. Someone who had fooled others into making him the poet laureate of and really he was a facade, a farce and the fact that he made no sense to others was because he really made no sense, period. However, when the mystery is solved the biggest clues to what happened in Icky’s death will be his work. Thus with this reveal, readers must conclude (as I did) that, if Icky was able to tell someone something through his work, especially about his own death, that the man was not pointless after all. However, to figure out how Icky died, with all the evidence of what was going on in the poet’s life and those around him, an insightful almost superhuman man must do the work. And that, readers, is Ded.
That is, at least, when it came to explaining how it was Icky died. That a person’s life work can explain a mystery like that, is a feat in itself, is my humble opinion. If everyone could do that, think of how easily mysteries could be solved, crimes and criminals revealed. And that Ded can, with his need to put all experiences of his life and others, label them, he is really the only person who could have done this. Ded is the perfect OCD “definer” to solve the mystery of who killed Jerusalem? Any other person would have blundered the case, which is evident when you look at the investigator from the police. While seeming a nice man (not all things considered), Investigator O’Nadir is the type of man who has to point out he does not have a “prejudiced bone” in his body, when it comes to “the gays”. I don’t think any other form of explanation of that sentence, and of the man, needs to be presented, as he really plays no point in solving any mystery here, more of a representation of the police in the story, to stand next to Ded and be there.
However when it comes to Ded, he isn’t even a police inspector, or working within the “establishment”. Ded Smith works for an Insurance agency, is the top man at solving mysteries that surround lots of money changing hands, and just happens to be on the same plane Icky Jerusalem is found dead on. While Icky is outside, not relatable, as a character or person, to me, Ded is very much like me, a character I grew to like, laugh at and with, in the end. Some of his inner thoughts that are shared with readers, well, they have forever bound me to the character and are some of the best scenes I have ever read in literature. Because, after reading this book, if you were to reflect who made the book, the Golden poet laureate, that everyone loved, respected and mourned, or Ded, the person no one would ever really know, the man who was probably easily forgotten? It was no hard answer for me, that if I had to choose one of the characters to meet IRL, it would be Ded, hands down. Actually, the new question now posed to readers is what character would they like to have coffee with, or meet? I have finally found my answer. This simple character, Ded.
Being a student of Sociology myself, I was quite amused at Ded’s concept he named The Sicilian Illusion. This is a concept Ded talks about in the beginning of the book and then, several times throughout the rest of it, references back to the thought. He does this throughout the whole book with several of these concepts he has created for himself, or learned in life and thought deeply about, like the Sicilian Illusion, ways in which Ded has defined life and the way people live, in it. In certain situations he mentions another concept, Plato’s concept of prisoner’s chained in a cave and the Grand Unifying Theory, one central to all the characters and the plot of the book. Ded’s life situations and moments that he relates to philosophy are so insightful and entertaining, making readers want to laugh and cry, depending on what Ded is speaking about. However, the Sicilian Illusion was the one that stuck with me the most and is the most original.
The concept seems to originate because of the time in Ded’s life and who was in it (as all the others seem to). Because his college professor, at the time, was from a small Sicilian village that strongly prohibited premarital sex. Coming from the culture, the teacher looked at other societies who did the same and believed this was done to prevent premature child bearing in situations where birth control was limited. However, studies showed that actual reactions of fathers were different, separated from any real facts such as those mentioned or others. Actual reactions of the fathers, stated in the book were: “Mama mia!”….”You have been ruined” (Brown states that this happened in 97.8% of the cases studied).
After that, Sicilian fathers were said to have “blown away” the daughter (yes, with a shotgun). And not to forget about the man that took their daughter’s virginity, they turned the gun on them, too. While I wanted to quote the actual language used in the book, I realize this review goes up on pages that will probably not like some of them, so I will clean them up and have them follow…The Sicilian father’s believed that this “penetration” of an unauthorized man into his daughter made her not just a social outcast but unclean. Hence, Ded’s Sicilian Illusion- the perception of something that was there that wasn’t. In the book Ded says it becomes his term of choice for many of his life experiences, as the man (Ded) feels safer in life having these labels for the experiences he finds himself and others in, that if they fit into these boxes, like a Sicilian Illusion, or if he points out the Plato’s parable of the prisoner’s in a cave, if something in life is relatable to that, in any way, analyzing everything seems to bring the man extreme comfort. To know, to analyze all. Regardless of what it does for Ded, it brought an area of enlightenment to the read, for me. And, it definitely helped him solve the murder of Icky Jerusalem.
Of course, since Icky Jerusalem is a person anyone could murder, and was either murdered by someone or himself, all of the intimate people in his life are all suspect, for one reason or another. And there are some crazy reasons created by Brown! They are far and beyond the most unique suspects and people, in general, I have ever had the chance of meeting, on page. George Albert Brown is nothing if not inventive in his personalities and traits that he gives characters. Who Killed Jerusalem is more or less Ded’s adventure with them as he investigates and gets to know them all, after the death and funeral of Icky.
And yes, all the names in the book are weird. After all, this was the seventies. There is Ghostflea, Beulah, Urizen (and his first name is the funny part), and several more to shake your head about and then delve into the world, trying to find out who done it.
Ded himself is in danger, after the death of Icky. Whether it be an exploding golf club (the whole event glossed over by the others to be so funny to readers as it was to me), a trip wire across the neck (but that may have been left for someone else), or being outright shot by a sharp shooter, if Ded makes it through this case alive well, the driver, Ghostflea may kill him, his driving so bad he is slightly suspect of being so terrible to be purposeful. It’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas while not hyped up on drugs, more the literary version of Hunter S. Thompson’s cult classic, a murder/ mystery adventure in a hippie counterculture many of us have long forgotten about.
Who Killed Jerusalem needs to be read on a day where the readers need an escape, when life gets too hard and they feel in need of a dark comedy. Because, in times like this, George Albert Brown’s book will get you outside yourself and make you think (if only trying to decipher each individuals character’s beliefs, no matter how misaligned they are from on another), taking you into a world of discord and disharmony, when all the while the characters, with their counterculture beliefs, try to exude the exact opposite. And, when you look back to the past, to the hippie culture, for all the peace and love it promoted, in the end, we find memories of Patty Hearst, the Manson family, utter discord and disharmony, the exact opposite portrayal. Don’t get me wrong, hippies won their fight because, in the end, all a hippie had to do was “be true to oneself” and reject middle class culture and they had it beat. But, even the History channel titles an article, “Murder at the Altamont Festival brings the 1960s to a violent end.”
Who Killed Jerusalem is of that culture, with characters who all exude beliefs, have views on issues, that end up producing these results completely misaligned with all of it. And, in the end, where did all the hippies go? If we look to answer that question maybe readers will understand why and how the book played out the way it did, as I think it did. George Albert Brown seems to write the book to either celebrate all this or mock it, whatever the readers deduce in the end, oblivious as Who Killed Jerusalem is worth the read, if only for the fact the book seems a piece of culture that needs to be experienced. Whether ours or the past, just like all the rest, meaningless in the bliss of having concluded the experience of it. And, an experience well worth it, in my humble opinion.