I have read Peter Lee’s stuff for several years, and maybe you have too, at his blog Hooks and Harmony. He doesn’t post often, but when he does, he always offers a fresh perspective. As it happens, we now know what’s been keeping him from blogging (apart from a family and a career and the need to mow the lawn and such): he’s about to publish a novel called The Death and Life of Mal Evans.
Evans is often described as the Beatles’ roadie. He was that, but he was also personal aide, errand-boy, and fixer for each of the Beatles individually. Evans took the whole ride, from the Cavern Club to the Sullivan show to the days with the Maharishi and onward to the bitter end. He’d bang a wood block in the recording studio and he’d run to the pub for bottles of beer. In his post-Beatle years, he stayed on the fringes at Apple before separating from his wife and moving to Los Angeles in 1973. On January 5, 1976, a week before he was to deliver the manuscript of an autobiography to a publisher, he got into a tussle with his live-in girlfriend. She called the police, and when they arrived, Evans pointed a gun at them. The cops shot him to death. After the shooting, it was discovered that he’d been holding an air rifle. He was 40 years old.
The Death and Life of Mal Evans begins with the shooting, but instead of dying, Evans hears a voice that tells him, “I want to show you another way.” And with that, he’s transported back to September 1969, where he gets the chance to change history through a simple act nobody will know about but him, and thereby keep the Beatles from breaking up. Over the next several years, he and the Beatles (and their fans) live through an alternate timeline in which there are more Beatles albums, and in which the members’ careers take unexpected turns.
Unexpected, maybe, but not unpredictable. What makes counterfactual history hard to do well is the amount of research and the level of craft it takes to plausibly project into a different reality the lives people lived in our reality, without rendering those people unrecognizable as themselves. You can’t just throw people into a different timeline and have at it. That’s just writing fiction with familiar names. Peter says the novel is the product of a decade’s work. What John, Paul, George, and Ringo say and do, and how they act, in their alternate 1970s, rings true. The albums they make as a quartet in the 70s ring true as well, and one of the novel’s major pleasures is seeing those albums come together. It’s been meticulously planned and is scrupulously written. It’s terrific entertainment, too. It moves quickly, and that’s a good thing, because once you’re into the story, you want to know what happens next.
I have been blogging in one forum or another for over 12 years now, 500 or 700 or 1,000 words at a time. It’s easy: I think about something for few minutes, type up whatever half-assed conclusions I choose to draw, and hit “publish.” It’s the perfect diversion for somebody with a short attention span and a poor work ethic. For that reason, I have tremendous admiration for Peter and The Death and Life of Mal Evans. He’s channeled his passion for the Beatles into an involving story, which is going to be a real book with pages and covers and everything. It will be available at Amazon next month, and you should buy it.
(Note From the Proprietor: Even after all this time, I’m never entirely sure what will strike a chord with the readership. Tuesday’s post clearly did. Thanks for your kind words about it. They’re greatly appreciated.)