The Likeness: Haunting

March 13, 2009

I believe that Tana French’s The Likeness is one of the best books I have read so far in 2009.  Granted, I haven’t read all that many books so far and the ones I have read wouldn’t exactly be candidates for any “best book” list, but The Likeness has stayed with me weeks after I finished it.  It was similar to American Wife in that it was the second book I had ready by an author but happily, while both first books were disappointments to me, I really enjoyed The Likeness.

We met Detective Cassie Maddox in In the Woods.  This novel picks up six months after the events in that novel.  Detective Maddox has transferred out of murder to domestic and while she is in a relationship with another detective, she remains too shaken to commit to him.  Then one day, Cassie’s boyfriend discovers a body of a young woman who eerily resembles Cassie.  She not only resembles Cassie but also carries identification giving her the name of an identity Cassie used when she was undercover at the beginning of her career.  Cassie, however, has never met her.  Cassie feels compelled to help solve the mystery of what happened to the young woman and agrees to go undercover and assume the dead girl’s life as a graduate student living in a house of extremely close  misfits.

There is so much going on in this novel.  Set in Ireland, it’s moody and eerie.  French’s gift as a writer is getting into her characters’ heads.  They are all fully fleshed out.  There are layers of secrets to be revealed, and French handles them compellingly.  Interestingly, how the dead woman came to have Maddox’s undercover identity is never revealed, but really, it doesn’t matter.  French has deeper mysteries to solve.

I really can’t stop thinking about this novel.  It’s not exactly action-packed, but I couldn’t wait to see what would happen. I thought the first quarter moved a little slowly as Cassie decided whether she would go undercover, but once she does, the book gets very interesting.

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Vigil: Christopher Walken Did It Better

August 30, 2008

I probably should have consigned Robert Masello’s purported thriller Vigil to the “Abandoned” pile but it was just good enough to save it. Barely. Doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel a few brain cells rot away though. 

Vigil is another entry in the sub-sub-genre of fiction dealing with ancient, apocryphal texts of the Bible and the truth that may or may not be contained here.  You could probably consider The Da Vinci Code to be part of this group as well due to its use of apocryphal texts for the Mary Magdalene-Jesus relationship.  But I digress. 

Vigil explores the Book of Enoch and its legend about the Watchers, a group of angels whose responsibility it was to look after the human race.  As they watched, they began to lust after human women and mated with them, violating God’s law. Other accounts say that they began to envy humans their souls, which made them especially beloved to God, and believed humans were unworthy of God’s regard.  A great battle took place with the rebel angels being cast from heaven forever. 

So, in Vigil we have a Jewish scholar attempting to translate the Book of Enoch and a paleontologist working with an amazing fossil that appears to be from before time began and whose DNA makes it almost human but not quite.  And then one night, an accident happens in the lab and the lab explodes, destroying everything in it.  But strangely, people report a glowing form leaving the burning lab.  Soon after, the mysterious Arius appears and he seems to have an especial love for the ladies.  Gee, who (or rather what) could he be? Oh, and throw in an infertility subplot with the main character who is sterile but trying to create a family with his beautiful wife and a strange being who loves the ladies, and it’s just too much.

I can say that this book had a lot of potential.  The idea is interesting, but Arius coming to life is almost ridiculous.  While none of the characters were especially well-drawn, his was really lacking.  Is he evil?  Is he just misunderstood?  His motivations are sort of explained yet seem so mundane (SEX!) for what he is.  I also found it a little preposterous that Ezra, the Jewish scholar, was going to all the effort to translate the Enoch scroll.  Um, the book was written in 2005.  Who doesn’t know what Enoch says by now (or then)?  And if he’s such a great scholar, he should have known already.  I know it was a way for Masello to introduce the legend to us, but really, he wasted a lot of space (and my time) on a legend that would have already been familiar to readers. 

The plot seemed to have a hard time getting anywhere fast.  Have you noticed that the harder a time an author has with a plot, the longer the book gets?  Action happened in fits and spurts but wasn’t consistent.  Say what you will about The DaVinci Code, but at least it was a genuine page turner.  A book like Vigil wants to be should be fast-paced.

I guess I’m just as frustrated with myself.  When will I learn that books dealing with this subject matter are more-often-than-not crap?  Sigh. 

However, if you are interested in the legend of the Watchers, I have a few recommendations:

  • Link (Becker):  In the vein of Graham Hancock and other fringe writers and pseudo-archaeologists, it explores the Watcher legend as evidence of extraterrestrial aid to the human race.  Interesting and fun.
  • The Prophecy : The legend of the Watchers as a movie.  Really, Christopher Walken in leather pants camping it up…what more could you ask for? 

Cold Plague: Not Exactly a Cure for Hot Summer Days

July 27, 2008

It might not be the best idea to post about Cold Plague by Daniel Kalla after having eaten a gorgeously medium, well-seasoned NY Strip last night.  But oh well.  I have 8 books to post about, and I need to start somewhere.

Cold Plague begins in Antarctica where a team of French scientists have managed to tap into a lake 2 miles under the ice that supposedly contains the purest water on earth, water that might contain healing properties.   Maybe this water could be bottled and sold for exorbitant amounts?!?!  The action then shifts to France where WHO doctors Haldane and McLeod have been summoned to explore a Mad Cow outbreak in a rural part of France.  Cows have not only tested positive for the deadly prion but there have also been several deaths ostensibly from eating the infected meat.  The problem is that these deaths occur much faster than those infected in previous Mad Cow outbreaks.  Much doesn’t add up.  The EU Agricultural Commission sends their own representative to join the doctors on their investigation.  Is there a connection between the water from the Antarctic lake and the deaths in France?   Will I ever eat steak again? 

This book feels like Kalla wrote it in about two or three days.  It contains an interesting germ of an idea, but it was shoddily developed.  It took too long to reach a resolution, and the climax wasn’t shocking at all.  By the time it comes, frankly, you don’t care because the villains are so stupid (especially since one of them is a biologist who should know better).  A police detective is awkwardly injected into the plot, and somehow her son becomes involved.  It takes forever for her to get together with the WHO doctors and compare notes.  And there was way too much emphasis on the personal lives and feelings of the characters.  I think it was Kalla’s attempt to flesh out his characters, but it seemed artificial.  The book overall just seemed cold and clinical when it could and should have been terrifying…mad cow, our conscipulously consumptive society and lust for over-priced bottled water, the poisoning of the food/water supply…

This is Kalla’s second book featuring doctors Haldane and McLeod, and apparently Pandemic, the first book is much better (though I haven’t read it).  His other books are supposed to be better too.

So, this book was ehhhhhh.  It wasn’t thrilling at all.  It had potential, but unfortunately, it didn’t.  And hell yes I will keep eating steak.  And I like tap water just fine thank you very much.