Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mayans and divers and scares--oh my!

Black Sun: A Thriller
by Graham Brown

I'm just going to put this out there--I loved Graham Brown's debut novel. In my review of that book, I basically concluded with, "I want more." And I was very fortunate, because not only was the follow up, Black Sun, released a mere seven months later; it's basically the second half of the story begun in Black Rain. (And it's not that you can't read them both as stand alone novels, but I certainly think you'll get far more from reading them sequentially.)

So, Black Rain had a complete arc and came to a satisfying conclusion, but it was fairly obvious that the story would continue. In fact, it picks up two years later in Black Sun. Four of the surviving characters from Black Rain are back, and eventually they are united in a quest that involves the Mayan prophesy regarding December 21, 2012 and the fate of the world. Sigh.

Oh, sorry, did I sigh aloud? Just what we need, yet another 2012 thriller. (Do these things expire once that date passes?) Anyway, suffice it to say, despite the goodwill Mr. Brown had banked with his debut, I wasn't too enthused about the concept. I'll say this for him--he actually went somewhere quite interesting and different with it.

In Black Rain, I was delighted with Brown's use of exotic locations, ancient puzzles, and cutting-edge science. All of the above are back, and this time he adds a whole lot of sharks to the mix! (Oh, Mr. Brown, I think I love you.) Add sharks to any thriller and that's a winning recipe right there. As it happens, I'm kind of an expert on all things shark- and dive-related, and Brown does a reasonably good job with the material. Just when I'd think I was going to catch him writing something completely implausible, he'd add a little something or explain something that fixed it. He made his larger-than-life tale just plausible enough every step of the way. Nowhere was this more important than in dealing with the science in the book. There's a fair amount, from marine biology to astronomy, geology, and some really snazzy physics. I'm not an expert on all of those subjects, but I know enough to know when I smell a rat. Time and time again Brown sold it. He made me believe the science, and the science is the backbone of the story.

As mentioned above, we're dealing with characters we already know, but I'm honestly not sure if that's a plus or minus here. I think Mr. Brown used that familiarity as a short cut to character development. Picking back up with this cast after just a few months, it took a surprisingly long time to get a feel for who they were again. And I can't really say that I learned much more about them, or that their individual arcs moved forward very significantly. Of the antagonists, there were three different men of three different nationalities, and the primary baddie was just a bit too Bond villain for me. (Someone get a white Persian for Mr. Kang!) Fortunately, the other two were more believable in their motivations and their flaws. Finally, there was one especially interesting new character introduced latish in the book, and I was frustrated not to learn more about him. But the way the novel ends leaves me hopeful that we may see him again.

The story begun in Black Rain is now completely and satisfyingly resolved. But the door has been left wide open for further adventures with at least some of these NRI operatives. While I don't believe that this second novel was quite as strong as his debut, I had a rollicking good time reading it. Mr. Brown is writing science/adventure thrillers at a level head and shoulders above most of the field. I'm definitely on board for further adventures!

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