Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A library could be a dangerous place...

The Book of Spies
by Gayle Lynds

For years now, I've heard nothing but good things about the work of Gayle Lynds. So much so that I've purchased several novels, but never got around to reading any until now. I'm sorry to report that as introductions go, The Book of Spies was a real disappointment.

Where to start? How about with the excellent first sentence: A library could be a dangerous place. This is proven quickly enough by the murder of a librarian on the third page. This, incidentally, is our introduction to the novel's antagonist, amusingly named Doug Preston. Unlike his namesake, he's not a pleasant man.

Rapidly after the opening murder, we're introduced to manuscript conservator Eva Blake. Eva, we learn, is about to be jailed for her role in the drunk driving death of her husband Charles. Next, two years later we're in the head of CIA operative Tucker Anderson. Just before an old friend can spill the beans about a possible terrorist plot, he's assassinated right there in downtown DC. And so begins what truly felt like a very worn plot. An international cat and mouse game, a hunt for a fabled treasure--in this case the Library of Gold--and a side plot concerning Middle Eastern politics.

Here are a few things I did learn in The Book of Spies:
  • It is totally believable for a scholar of illuminated manuscripts to also be an expert pickpocket and a black belt in karate.
  • If you are an academician, it is totally natural for you to pepper your dialog with pithy Latin quotations, no matter how tense or volatile the situation you may be in.
  • Even though I can never seem to find a colleague in the same office, while being hunted by bad guys through the major cities of Europe, you'll run into each other by accident time and time again.
  • An anklet is an excellent way to track a missing CIA asset when necessary, and it will never cause a delay at airport security.
  • No matter how good the disguise, any individual can be identified by any stalker by their gait.
  • These days you don't just have to be rich and white to be part of a secret, villainous cabal, you also have to be at least six feet tall. It's mentioned more than once.

Snarkiness aside, that's just the tip of the iceberg of what bugged me in this book. I wanted to get caught up in the action, and I tried, I really tried, to just ignore the sloppy writing and ridiculous plot contrivances, but I couldn't. I spoke to a respected friend who also read this book, and he enjoyed it and wasn't bothered by anything. So, perhaps I was just in a vile mood, but I couldn't see past what were to me glaring faults. That said, Ms. Lynds knows a thing or two about writing an action sequence. Also, even I enjoyed the character known as "the Carnivore." He was just pure fun, and I'd love to see a novel built around him.

My friend, who has read several of Ms. Lynds' novels told me that The Book of Spies isn't typical of her work. He acknowledged that it's the most poorly written, but the most commercial. And so it goes. I predict a best-seller.

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