While investigating the death of a friend in a small village in the Hudson River Valley, Mongo must unexpectedly duel with an old enemy as well as a right-wing conspiracy.
Mongo, visiting Cairn in search of working air conditioning and a little information on a friend's mysterious drowning, dropped in on the exhibit to kill a little time and found only one art-as-therapy painting worthy of notice, because only Jack Trex of all the participants really tried to communicate. The exhibit's sponsor, political commentator Elysius Culhane (author of IF YOU'RE NOT RIGHT YOU'RE WRONG), disapproves of honesty in expressing any ideas he considers "un-American".
Culhane openly encourages Trex's troubled son Gregory, for example, to harass the local pacifist Community of Conciliation. Since Mongo's friend was an FBI agent who'd just been humiliated professionally by being tasked with monitoring the organization, Mongo takes an interest, particularly since his brother Garth's idol, folksinger Mary Tree, turns out to be a member of the organization. Naturally, the parties involved in the first mysterious death overreact to Mongo's interest, and the situation degrades from there.
Ironically, THE LANGUAGE OF CANNIBALS is mostly exposition rather than action, even then including few instances of the true "language of cannibals" as defined in the story (deceit, doubletalk, manipulation of symbols). Each chapter consists mainly of one or two conversations between Mongo and someone else, with occasional large blocks of exposition by Mongo as characters familiar to Mongo but new to the reader are introduced.
Other story construction issues:
- The opening is disorganized, with a lot of emphasis on "escaping broken air conditioning and killing time" switching to "investigating my friend Michael's death" once the police drift into view. Mongo's not taking matters very seriously at first.
- We're told a lot about how deeply Garth admires Mary Tree, but we don't see much of it except when Garth's listening to her music.
- The Gregory Trex plotline is a variation on a similar subplot used to somewhat better effect later in AN INCIDENT AT BLOODTIDE (emotionally disturbed youngster used as a dupe by the real power players).
- Three dead bodies.
- No sexual content (although according to Mongo, Garth drools over his idol Mary Tree a great deal).
- Several alphabet-soup agencies, starting with the FBI.
- Two fistfights.
- One gunfight.
- Two folksingers (including the first appearance of Mary Tree).
- One car crash.
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