The Caveman's Valentine

The Caveman's Valentine

4.1 7
by George Dawes Green

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Romulus Ledbetter wasn't always homeless. He once was a devoted husband, father, and musician with a bright future. He now forages for food in the trash cans of the city's better neighborhoods and wages a strenuous one-man war against Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, an evil — and imaginary — power broker who is responsible for society's ills, as well as the

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Romulus Ledbetter wasn't always homeless. He once was a devoted husband, father, and musician with a bright future. He now forages for food in the trash cans of the city's better neighborhoods and wages a strenuous one-man war against Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, an evil — and imaginary — power broker who is responsible for society's ills, as well as the sinister Y- and Z-rays that are corrupting humankind. Then one wintry night, Rom finds a corpse at the mouth of his cave that rouses his well-defined sense of ethics and launches him on an obsessive quest for answers. Forced to reconnect with society, Rom leaves his world and journeys through a spiraling web of clues and hunches, straight into a sinister den of money, temptation, and murder—otherwise known as the "civilized" world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this remarkable first novel, the caveman is Romulus Ledbetter, a Juilliard graduate, husband and father, former mental patient and current resident of a cave in Manhattan's Inwood Park. His valentine is the naked body of Scotty Gales, a homeless former photographer's model. The police say Gales simply froze to death, but Romulus knows that he was killed by agents of the evil Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, who rules the world from his offices in the Chrysler Building. Sometimes aided--and sometimes humored--by everyone from his daughter Lulu (a police officer) to people he meets on the street, Romulus tracks Scotty's murderer, doggedly following his twisted vision of reality into a world of money and violence where things and people are never what they seem. Although Green's plotting is solid, the narrative draws its power from the superbly realized protagonist. Romulus is that rarity, a truly original character whose fits and rantings retain a dangerous edge and never become lovable tics. Green makes a wonderful debut with this gripping, well-written portrait of modern dislocation and homelessness--although Romulus would object to the latter term: he has a home; it just happens to be in a cave. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Romulus Ledbetter has seen better times. Once a gifted Juilliard student of jazz piano, he fell in love, married, and fathered a daughter who grew up to be a New York City cop. At some point, however, Romulus succumbed to the gremlin voices in his mind, dissolved his home life to inhabit a cave in Inwood Park, and was labeled a paranoid schizophrenic. An unlikely character to turn detective, he feels compelled to do so when the corpse of a beautiful, young homeless man named Scotty Gates lands at his front door. Early leads point suspiciously to the affluent art photographer David Leppenraub, who had adopted Scotty as a teenager and used him as his model. The meanderings of the plot collide and coincide with those of Romulus's confused mind, adding complexity and depth to a suspenseful, quirky, and well-written murder mystery. A first novel, this is recommended for mystery/thriller collections.-- Sheila Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C.

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Grand Central Publishing
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You figure now you got me in your clutches, you going to read me, like a book, right? — going to look right into my brain and you going to read it page by page, like I was some cheap-jack midnight entertainment to make you forget the mess you're in — right? Get you chuckling, get your greasy thumbprints all over my thoughts, get you through another miserable lonely night, right, Stuyvesant?"

"Who's Stuyvesant?"

"You're Stuyvesant."

"I'm not Stuyvesant."

"No, you're a zit on Stuyvesant's ass. But you're Stuyvesant just the same. You're all Stuyvesant."

"I just want to take you to the shelter, Mr. Ledbetter."

"But watch out when you're in my skull, because I got legions of angels in there, and they're going to beat the shit out of you with their little wings, and pick your limbs apart and spin you around and slide you on out of there. Oh, I'm going to crap you out and be free of you. You hear me? I'M GOING TO CRAP YOU OUT, STUYVESANT!"

"It's the coldest night of the year, Mr. Ledbetter."

"It is cold."

"If you stay in this cave, you'll freeze. You'll die out here."

"I might. The world turns, it takes some of us with it. But if I swallow your con, if I go to your damn smelter—"

"Shelter, Mr. Ledbetter."

"Then I would die for sure."

"Oh, the shelter's ... well, it's not a hundred percent safe, but ... at least it's warm."

"Damn right it's warm. You know why it's warm? Because you burn the bodies in the furnace! That's why it's warm. Our livers you serve for breakfast, and our hearts you sacrifice to Stuyvesant, and the rest you cook up in the furnace! To keep everybody toasty."

"Mr. Ledbetter, I'm freezing out here."

"Then go."

"Your daughter asked me to come looking for you."

Romulus Ledbetter glared at his visitor.

Then he sloughed off his blankets and came out of his cave and rose up to his full height. Rose up before the social worker the way in a nightmare a grizzly will rise on its hind legs and it's too late to run. His hat was a Teflon saucepan lined with the furs of squirrels killed on the Henry Hudson Parkway. His stink was enormous. For a scarf he wore the "Week in Review" section of the Sunday New York Times.

"My daughter."

There was a wheeze in his voice, and the big eyes in his black face looked off somewhere.

"She's worried about you. She says tomorrow's Valentine's Day. She says how's her old man going to be her valentine if he freezes to death?"

"Well, you tell her not to worry. You tell her for me, tell her maybe I'm low, maybe they knocked me low, but I'm still a free man."

He stood there and simply loomed. Until at last the social worker shrugged and went away.

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Caveman's Valentine 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
drdyson More than 1 year ago
A very gritty, realistic look at mental illness and the impact on Caveman's whole life.
mandersj More than 1 year ago
Romulus (Rom) Ledbetter lives in a cave in Manhattan's Inwood Park, wears a sauce pan on his head, and believes a corporate businessman named Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant is trying to kill him by sending out Y-rays through the air after him. However, Rom also fights his classification of "homeless," has a police officer daughter with whom he's on good terms, is a Julliard-trained pianist, and has a brilliant mind in "The Caveman's Valentine." Rom and his wife Sheila divorced after Rom's mental illness became too much to live with. Rom stays in contact with his family and they come to his cave annually to throw him a birthday party. They still love him, they just cannot understand his paranoia about the imaginary Stuyvesant. Therefore, when a frozen corpse is deposited at the entryway of Rom's cave one night, no one believes him when he goes on about how he witnessed a car leaving the scene, and how he's sure that famous photographer David Leppenraub is the murderer. The corpse, a homeless teen named Scotty, was known to be Leppenraub's model for a series of famous photographs. Scotty's lover, Matthew, lives in the same park as Rom and has told Rom stories that Scotty had passed on about the level of torture and sexual abuse that went on at Leppenraub's home, that eventually led to Scotty's death. Matthew convinced Rom that Leppenraub was behind the murder, and Rom went to his daughter Lulu and another police friend of his, Detective Jack Cork, to try to help them in their investigation. The problem is, what Rom believes and what is reality are often inconsistent. Rom decides to take matters into his own hands, forcing him to enter the real world he chose to leave years ago. He begs a suit from a businessman he often sees walking past and the businessman also offers Rom a shower, shave and all-around clean-up when he realizes Rom is more than just a dirty bum. Rom then goes to the Leppenraub estate under the guise of a pianist/professor who is there to perform after a charity dinner. He gets involved with Leppenraub's sister and finds out a lot of background information before his brain fails him and he has a fit that causes a phone call to the police. Rom decides there's enough to the story that he must investigate further, however after his fit he has given his investigation away to Leppenraub and is now being chased by people who want to murder him to shut him up. An interesting mystery and an unusual hero lead this strong story, a great debut novel. Originally released in 1994, this has been re-released in paperback to support Green's newest novel, "Ravens."
harstan More than 1 year ago
At one time, talented musician Romulus Ledbetter was a loving spouse and father until he went insane. Rom now lives in a cave in Upper Manhattan's Inwood Park. He grocery shops in garbage cans and alleys. Rom is so gone he believes in an evil presence, Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, who is responsible for destroying mankind with the evil Y and Z rays.

Rom¿s weird outlook is intruded upon when he finds a corpse just outside his home. Rom believes the forces of Stuyvesant killed the victim and begins his own brand of investigation, especially when the police write off the case as the death of a frozen homeless loser. His inquiries take the schizoid lunatic meandering throughout the elite of the city¿s most 'civilized' neighborhoods, who would not mind leaving another homeless corpse in Inwood Park or some other woody environs in Manhattan.

Readers will quickly understand why THE CAVEMAN¿S VALENTINE is an award winning novel filled with an amusing indictment of society¿s ability to push the needy out of sight and thus out of mind. The story line is cleverly written, but clearly belongs to its weird superstar, as strange of a an amateur sleuth as a reader will ever find. Rom never becomes a huggable as his paranoid comments leave the audience wondering if he is dangerous to any of them. That sense of a maniac wandering the streets of the city adds to the overall feel of absurdity yet plausibility that makes the novel work. George Dawes Green heads to the top of the irony amateur sleuth tale with this Valentine gift to sub-genre fans, who will want to read his second novel, THE JUROR.

Harriet Klausner

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