The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis?


I was in two minds about whether to include this and the next entry among Lafferty’s novels. In the most extensive list of Laff’s novels that I have ever seen, which appears in the novel Archipelago and which includes several unpublished books, this two appear as unpublished works under their separate titles.
But when they were published, it was as a single book compilation of the two stories, under the title Apocalypses, which makes them as appear as short stories. Long short stories, to be sure, or short novels. Given their credit in Archipelago, and given the wildly differing stories, I think they deserve a place in this series, and will treat them as such.
Where Have You Been, Sandaliotis? is one of my favourite Lafferty stories. In shape, it takes the form of a detective story, but really it’s a playful phantasmagoria of trickery, improbability and Fortean constructs.
It starts with Constantine Quiche, the World’s Greatest Detective, an agent of World Interpol, driving along the Grand Corniche towards Monaco. His superior, Grishwell, instructs him to ensure that Monaco is not stolen. That’s right, Monaco, the Principality. On impulse, Constantine stops at the home of his best friends, Salaadin and Regina Maquab, who have made mushroom quiche in honour of his visit, even though he only decided literally a minute before arriving. Also present are three guests, agents all, who Constantine knows, and he knows that one of them is dead. He knows this because he killed the agent last night.
Only he can’t remember which one it was. Or where he’s met any of the agents before. Or, given that they’re his best friends, how he knows the Maquabs. Or Grishwell, for that matter. And even whether he is actually the best detective in the world.
There is a scam going on, two scams at the same time, involving a 300 feet long Fortean construct that is simultaneously 1,000 feet in the air and resting on the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, which either is or isn’t, or is the work of the greatest forger in all the world, and Constantine’s not sure if he’s a forgery himself.
In short, nothing can be relied upon.
The very next day, Monaco is stolen. It’s stolen by the arrival of Sandaliotis. Sandaliotis is a country that does not exist, or at least most of the time it doesn’t. It’s the missing Mediterranean peninsula, lying between Iberia and Italy. It takes its name from being shaped like a sandal. Some of it is there all the time, being what we know as Corsica and Sardinia, but it’s a grand old country with deep roots in history, myth and culture.
Or is it? Lafferty invents and hints and suggests and proudly boasts left, right and centre, and like he does when he’s on form like this, we reel, wondering just how much of what he claims is true, if any of it, because he makes us believe, he makes us want to believe.
I mean, Sandaliotis is a fake. Most of it is green sea-foam, laid down upon an oil-base, and it’s a self-admitted con even as everybody proclaims it real and true, and I have never been able to make up my mind as to whether Lafferty is working with whole cloth or if there are grains and threads of true myth woven through the sheet.
But I said there were two cons going on. One of these is a pretty unashamed and admitted con, a great and expensive land con. Land on Sandaliotis is being sold, some of it over and over, to real estate developers looking to make a killing. Why not sell it a dozen times over, it isn’t going to be there all day? This is the con for which the green foam has been constructed. The other con is something completely different.
The other con is the world-bomb, the one at 1,000 feet. This con is being run by a combination of Earth elements and off-worlders, and it’s aimed at the world. The price of this con is world ownership, world domination. Because the world-bomb, long since known to Forteans and nick-named Thibeau’s Torpedo (what? Seriously? It’s a blackmail threat to the whole world and you’re calling it Thibeau’s Torpedo?), is supposed to be 300 feet of anti-matter that, if brought down to Earth and dropped into where Sandaliotis is supposed to be, will blow it up.
And this is where Constantine Quiche comes into his own. Whether he is or isn’t the world’s best detective, he’s the conduit who is supposed to convince the world that Thibeau’s Torpedo is lethal, and he says it isn’t.
And it isn’t helping that the world threatening broadcast keeps being interrupted by the clubs devoted to such other Fortean constructs as Hogan’s Bobsled, Snitzger’s Steamboat and Padarewski’s Porpoise with drunken challenges to dog-fights. Really, how can you conduct a serious world-jack in the face of this?
Where it all ends, we don’t really know. Lafferty indulges in his favourite trick of leaving the ending off which, since we have no idea what is actually real, adds to the fun. Constantine, who has been carrying a parachute around his waist since the morning, even when on the ground, is betrayed by the Master Forger, Angelo Cyan, to a fall into the sea from 1,000 feet at ground level, and indulges himself in a melodramatic attempt to land on in a straitened place, at the last second, and then there is no more book.
It’s a goof, it’s a romp, it’s a puzzle, it’s a glee. Ultimately, it makes no sense, but you believe in it from start to finish, and I want a holiday on Sandaliotis, as long as I don’t have to go into the Thirteen Sided Room.