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"Draaaaag-thump. Draaaaag-thump." and "Du calme. Du calme."
on 18 August 2010
Judging by the ancillary material published with this book, co-authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are prolific and successful purveyors of popular pot boilers.
While reading through this book, I found myself shuttling between regarding this P&C opus as the most awful tripe (or codswallop, as some Canadians might say) and ruefully enjoying it as a guilty pleasure.
Let us be clear about one thing: this is a book of no literary merit whatever. The P&C formula clearly consists of improbable plotting, characters lifted from a better writer, undigested chunks of research material scattered throughout like raisins in a cookie, silly psychobabble notions, pointless quotations of poetry (proudly and even more pointlessly identified in an appendix) and occasional passages of laughably overwritten, absurdly high-flown material.
As a ghastly example of the last, consider this:
"Because it's time we spoke, you and I. It's the least courtesy you could pay me, after all."
Constance took another step, her fingers tailing along the polished wood. Then she paused. "Courtesy?"....
"Constance," he said in a quiet voice. "Du calme. Du calme."
"Courtesy!" she cried once again. "How dare you speak of courtesy! You murder my guardian's friends, disgrace him, tear him from this house!" She stopped abruptly and struggled. A soft groan rose in her throat: a moan of frustration, mingled with another, more complex emotion.
The man continued to speak in a smooth undertone. "Please understand, Constance, I'm not here to hurt you. I'm restraining you simply to prevent harm to myself."
She struggled again. "Hateful man!" [Pages 86-87 of the paperback edition]
I suggest that such dialogue is truly suitable in only two places: about halfway through the novel "Frankenstein," or in a Monty Python sketch. I laughed and groaned simultaneously, when I stumbled upon it.
And then there is that ever-memorable motif that pops up again and again: "Draaaaag-thump. Draaaaag-thump."
As for the lifted characters, can anybody possibly doubt that the lethally battling Pendergast brothers are other than Ersatz Holmes and Pseudo Moriarty, updated hardly a whit, and deposited improbably in the 21st Century?
There is doubtlessly a thesis to be mined by some industrious doctoral candidate-drone from P&C's lunatic plotting. Constrained by word-length requirements, I'll touch on no more than a jailbreak scenario that is considerably less convincing that the escapes orchestrated from Colonel Klink's stalag by Hogan's Heroes, a diabolical master plan, devised and carried out by the Moriarty-clone, that must have been lifted straight out of the Joker's Gotham City playbook, and a conclusion that all too obviously harks back to a very famous literary precedent, one that will be almost too painfully obvious to virtually anyone who reads it.
Speaking of that conclusion, it comes as a painfully over-extended anti-climax. The book ends properly and perfectly obviously with the conclusion of Chapter 66 on page 496. The book then abruptly changes direction and staggers on for another sixteen chapters--101 pages!--to a second and much lesser finale. If P&C had only a speck less of hack in their collective make-up and an additional speck of art, they might have realized that their second ending, needed or not, would have been better served had it been presented as a one-page kicker.
Finally, there is the matter of tone and style. Throughout the book I experienced odd feelings of familiarity that I could not quite place--particularly with the often repeated introductions of characters with their identifying tags: "Agent Pendergast," or "Captain of Homicide Laura Hayward" or Dr. Adrian Wicherly." It finally occurred to me that such things were characteristic of the old network radio crime dramas. "The Book of the Dead," I realized, owes as much to "The Green Hornet" and "The Shadow" as to "The Final Problem."
This lumpy confection really ought to get two disdainful stars, but I am forced to admit that it has just enough guilty pleasure in it to raise it up to the proud status of a full-fledged mediocrity, so ... three stars.