This long, long, LONG-awaited follow-up to the justifiably legendary (at least 'round my way it is) "Bad Wisdom" is finally with us, twice the size of its predecessor and groaning with subversive delights. I would never use the word 'subversive' lightly, but Messers Drummond and Manning live and breathe it.
This time around they're off to Africa, former Zaire to be precise, on an insanely dangerous mission to track down the notorious President Mobutu on the grounds that he is the closest Earthly equivalent to Satan himself and can perhaps be wheedled with or conned into giving Bill and Z their souls back - they apparantly sold theirs way back in their KLF/Zodiac Mindwarp days. Bill intends to use a Punch and Judy show for this purpose. Don't ask.
One might think that with the very real horrors of everyday life in Africa, yet another volume full of Z's psychosexual phantasies would be not only tiresome but irrelevant, made a nonsense of by the brutal surroundings. Not a bit of it. Scarcely believably, Manning has outdone even himself here, the hallucinatory horrorshow and sub-De Sade misogyny making the collected lives and times of Patrick Bateman, Klaus Kinski and "Bad Wisdom"'s more outrageous excesses seem almost tame. Yes, really. Even when he calms down a little, he remains possessed of a wonderfully acrid turn of phrase, not to mention an almost schizophrenic ability to connect unrelated idioms. Bits alluding to "Naked Lunch" and "Moby Dick" slide in and out of his narratives. Aleister Crowley, Baudelaire and the revolting Arab slave trader Tippu Tipp make cameo appearences. His account of a bad trip on ibogaine will raise the hairs on the back of your neck - Daniel Pinchbeck's account in "Breaking Open The Head" made the drug seem comparitively benign. The likes of Steven Wells and Stewart Home couldn't hold the minutest candle to the deranged genius of Manning.
If Manning is deranged, then Drummond is downright disturbed. As always he has a pathological inability to explain why he does what he does - he skirts round the edges but has no real reason other than that he feels it is right. (Even Manning wouldn't burn a million quid, for instance...). Needless to say, the African trip is his idea. Losing every squabble with the gobby Manning, he instead worries about his health (unsurprising in the circumstances) and broods with unfathomable seriousness on Presbyterianism, demonology, Punch and Judy, racism, etc.
This is, I hardly need say, a troubling book. Racism and homophobia are universally smeared throughout its pages, although Manning seems titillated as much as repulsed by it and Drummond at least attempts to make excuses. Crap excuses, naturally. At least they're being honest. "The Wild Highway" is valuable precisely because it is a genuine ride into the darkest corners of the psychic landscape, places where all kinds of terrible things dwell. You know, the kind of things we all think, but don't have the bottle to say, or even the grace to admit to ourselves.
I predict the third and final volume in this projected trilogy may never appear - their final quest is to go to the moon. You heard me.