"The Fallen" is a San Diego-based police procedural (sort of). On the first page of the book, we are told that the protagonist--for I find it very hard to think of him as a hero in any meaningful way--of the book, policeman Robbie Brownlaw, had been tossed out of a sixth floor window by a man he had attempted to save from a fire. Against all reasonable expectations, Brownlaw had survived his fall. Before long, we are told the same thing again, and a few pages farther on, again, and then again and yet again.
From the drum-like repetition of this scene, for the first, oh, say 340 pages of this 369 page paperback novel, I innocently assumed that the title of the book referred to Brownlaw, the man who had fallen out of a window. Thereafter it becomes increasingly clear that the title refers to the individual set up to take the fall as the villain of the piece, the one who has fallen from honor, from truth and from grace is, and always was "The Fallen."
Some Amazon US reviewers have praised this book as well-written and well-characterized. I don't see it. In this first person novel, Brownlaw is as endlessly introspective as he is utterly imperceptive. He is a man who knows not joy nor anger nor hate, save as words on a Scrabble board. He goes on and on about love, but love to him is a sort of tepid, passive possessiveness. He is, in fact, a classic portrayal of the kind of person characterized in Yiddish (or as Leo Rosten would say, in Ynglish) as a "nudzh." And everybody else in the book is something of a nudzh, too.
All this is, in its way, a moderately impressive accomplishment, but it is not, I am sure, an accomplishment at which author Parker aimed. Here is a passage which, structurally at least, marks one of the few emotional high points of the book:
"Do you know what you're doing?" I asked.
"Can you explain it to me?"
"I can try." She crossed her pale legs and folded her hands in her lap.
"I came here for a new life. I think there must be more."
"More everything. I know that sounds really shallow but I'm aching inside for something I can't see and can't touch. But I know it's there. It's right there, just past my ability to understand. Just out of reach of my words."
"I'd be happy to help you look for it."
"It's something I want to do alone." [Page 356 of the paperback edition]
"Just out of reach of my words," indeed! And this affectless soap opera dialogue goes on and on.
In another scene, Brownlaw confronts a powerful man in his lair. Now, this is a good, traditional detective story set-up. The most famous and brilliant of all such confrontations is the fateful initial meeting between Sam Spade and the Fat Man in the latter's hotel suite: "I like a man who likes to talk, Mr. Spade." In "The Fallen" a sinister money-man has the opportunity to emulate Gordon Gecko in a "Greed is Good" speech. In the book, alas, Mr. Sinister speaks in the flat tones of the very same self-convinced voice that characterizes Brownlaw and everybody else in the book. Just another nudzh.
Here is a speech plainly intended to represent the emotional demolition of one of Parker's characters. The speaker recalls the action that initiated every plot twist of the ensuing mystery:
"It was one of those moments we talked about in my office where everything changes in an instant. It was an impulse. A speculation. I didn't think that what I had imagined would actually happen. Then, a few minutes later I ... saw it really was happening. I only had a few seconds to decide. I decided to do the most terrifying thing I'd ever done--nothing. The sounds were quiet but awful, and nobody could hear except me. I knew that I'd sold my soul to the devil.... It was worth it." [Page 346-347]
For all intents and purposes, that is the speaker's suicide note. But do the words and tone carry emotional weight? I think not. I've heard stronger emotion and deeper stress in high school valedictory speeches.
Now let's consider the book's plotting. We readers are given every reason to anticipate a massive confrontation between Brownlaw and a group of shadowy and powerful foes. It may yet come, but this book wraps itself up in a powerful odor of red herrings.
In a subordinate plot line, a sex trade worker has participated in actions we are told (but never shown) that could have disastrous consequences for her. Strangely, neither she nor Brownlaw evidence the slightest hint of worry, even after her action. WHAT were they THINKING?
From that ever-repeated flight out the window, Brownlaw has acquired a synesthesia. After the fall, he is able to see emotions as colors. "... blue triangles generally came from a happy speaker. Red squares came from a deceptive one. Green trapezoids usually came from someone who was envious--green really is the color of envy, just like we were always told.... So I have what amounts to a primitive lie detector, though I'm not certain how reliable it is." [Page 5-6]
Amazon reprints this from Bookmarks Magazine: "Although critics could not decide whether Brownlaw's synesthesia was a gimmicky element or not, they agreed that ..." I can't imagine what puzzled these "critics." Of course it's a gimmick. Here's an easy test. For every passage in which Brownlaw maunders on about seeing red squares emerging from the mouth of a liar, simply substitute something along the lines of "I didn't think he was telling the truth." Having done that, does the change have any effect on the course of the book? The answer, of course, is no.
This is a book of unimpressive prose, flat characterization and indifferent plotting. It's not actually awful, but it's not especially good, either.
A run-of-the-mill three stars.