Crime Thriller


Merrick” wasn’t too heavy on the gothic atmosphere so it was not difficult to decide to pick up another gothic-themed novel for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. “The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters”, was initially quite far down my TBR list before this challenge; but, being one mentioned in the pool of books the challenge host, Stainless Steel Droppings, had lined for himself, I decided to plunge into this heavy, page-laden book for my next read.

Author : Gordon Dahlquist

Date of Publication : 2006  (Hardcover edition)

Publisher : Bantam Books

ISBN-10: 0385340354

ISBN-13: 978-0385340359

No. of pages :  768

The Story :

In Victorian England, a rich plantation heiress receives an abrupt “dear john” letter from her beau.  In her pride, the stricken Miss Temple decides to follow her fiance to find out the reason for his rejection.  She tails him on a long train ride and arrives at Lord Vandaariff’s huge labyrinthine Harschmort Manor where a  masked ball is in full swing presumably for the engagement of Vandaariff’s daughter to the German Prince of Macklenberg.  She is mistaken as a woman sent to undergo a mysterious “Process” but is soon discovered to be a gate-crasher, deemed to have seen too much.  Suddenly Miss Temple finds her little adventure taking a dangerous turn when she is forced to save her own life.

At that same time, a half blind assassin, Cardinal Chang, is at the ball with a mission to terminate a Colonel Trapping.  He creeps about for his quarry only to find him already murdered.  But who, why, and how are questions that leave him baffled.  A few days later, he is approached by a wealthy sophisticate  who asks him to find a woman, Isobel Hastings (Miss Temple who gave an assumed name) who is believed to be the killer of the Colonel.

Meanwhile,  Doctor Abelard Svenson of the Macklenburg Prince’s entourage loses his charge in Harschmort Manor.  His search leads him to conclude that  something sinister is brewing in the Vandaariff home.  His independent investigation suddenly imperils his life but his duty-bound nature forces him to continue to try to protect his Prince.

In pursuit of their own agenda, these three people stumble on a secret cabal whose sinister plans involve strange alchemical scientific processes and malign blue glass books which serve as a dire yet addicting repository of memories while relinquishing a person of the same.  Anyone who stares into its thin, crystal pages is stripped of their personal memories and turned into pleasure-addicted, compliant zombies, easily controlled and subverted to the group’s aims.

Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and Doctor Svenson propitiously meet and form an unlikely triumvirate bent on stopping this unholy cabal.

What follows is a merry chase with mystery, suspense, science fiction, and even a little romance.  Lest this be construed as simply a long, quaint narrative, Dahlquist has thrown in a good deal of  sex and a bit of gore in the mix which contrast quite nicely with its Victorian prudery and formality.

The Review :

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” is a brilliantly creative debut from author, Gordon Dahlquist.  It is a unique albeit outlandish novel that will, as you read, play out old-fashioned comic book scenes in your head.  Indeed, the narrative would lend itself very well to comic strip illustrations of its events, complete with “Boom!”, “Pow!”, “Whack!” sounds written on it.   And like an old-fashioned comic book, the heroes often extricate themselves from sticky situations after long dialogues with the villains, instead of each realistically  going straight into action to resolve the conflict.  Although an annoyance to some, it does have its charms, especially when executed with Dahlquist’s wonderful prose.  Besides, such an outdated style is quite at home with the book’s outré antiquated atmosphere as well.

Although the book has this unreal yet special flavor, its characters are surprisingly well developed, each discovering himself/herself as the adventure unfolds.

Division of the book’s chapters deal with the narrative accordingly from one character’s perspective.  So for instance, one chapter deals with adventures of Miss Temple, the next, those of Cardinal Chang, etc.  Being long chapters, the reader may find himself going back through a previous few pages to refresh his memory of the others’ experiences.  Still, it wasn’t much of an annoyance as, on the whole, the book had cast its charms on me enough to discount little bothers like this.

What is most captivating about the book is not its unusual plot nor its dark  steampunk  theme but its author’s ornate prose that gives so much allure to the novel.  His style is romantic yet explicitly descriptive, laced with intelligent humor and irony:

“His hair was pale but streaked with grey, long and greasy, combed back behind his ears.  His coat was fine enough but unkempt— in fact the man’s whole appearance gave the impression of a once-cherished article — a sofa, for example — that had been left in the rain and partially ruined.” — p. 155

“Moral perspective is what we carry around with us — it exists nowhere else, I can promise you.   Do you see?  There is liberation and responsibility — for what is natural depends on where you are, Bascombe.  Moreover, vices are like genitals — most are ugly to behold, and yet we find our own dear to us.” — p. 164

To Read Or Not To Read :

To enjoy this book,  be prepared to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow.  After all, it is fantasy.

Mind you, this is a lengthy novel, of which its chief fault (according to some reviews), is its wordiness and long-windedness.  For me, however, this is exactly the novel’s charm as it rests on Dahlquist’s excellent descriptive prose, without which a  book like this can become rather tedious and boring when rendered with a flat, indelicate hand.   Slash the verbiage and this may end up an unremarkable read — not bad, but not great either.

You must have the time to indulge in this book;  otherwise,  you’ll be better off with something else.

As An Aside :

For all my praises for this novel and despite its glowing reception by critics, Bantam Books, its publisher,  has written this off as a massive failure. The book failed to pull in the sales and lost Bantam over U$850,000, after having advanced two million U. S. dollars to the author for a two-book deal.

Most of those, however, who have put in the time to read the book, review this novel with praises.  Perhaps, in time, more readers will get to know this atypical literary work and appreciate it for its originality.

The sequel, “The Dark Volume“, must have already been released this year.   This definitely goes into my list of “must-haves” for 2009. 🙂

In A Nutshell :

This is one of the best books I’ve enjoyed this year.  Its strangeness and inventiveness coupled with Dahlquist’s superb writing skills really had me riveted.  A definite keeper!

My Mark  :  Excellent

Author :  John Dunning

Publication Date :  January 25, 2005

Publisher :  Pocket Star Books

ISBN-10: 0743476298

ISBN-13: 978-0743476294

No. of pages : 496 (Mass Market  Paperback)

The Story:

Homicide cop turned book collector and seller, Cliff  Janeway acquires a valuable book written by a famous Victorian era explorer, Richard Burton.  The book is in pristine condition and worth thousands of dollars; but,  Janeway’s pleasure is short-lived.  A ninety-year old woman shows up at his door, claiming ownership of the treasured book through her grandfather, Charles Warren, whom she  insisted to have been Burton’s companion during one of his travels.

Furthermore, she  tells  a surprised Janeway that the book  is only part of an incredible library of Burton material, all of  which had been sold unscrupulously to shady book dealers.    A few days after,  the old woman is on her deathbed and extracts a promise from  Janeway :   find the rare collection, in particular,  a priceless journal which purportedly Burton gave to her grandfather for safekeeping.

What starts out as a skeptical investigation soon becomes a serious and deadly tag with other treasure hunters.  When a friend is murdered, Janeway realizes there is something more than just treasure hunting.  A past secret is being covered up and Janeway  is now in the way.

The Review :

With “The Bookman’s Promise“, John Dunning presents us with some refreshing elements for a crime/mystery thriller. Now a book collector is a macho hero and the hullabaloo is about books — old, invaluable books written by a real live explorer, Richard Francis Burton.  Plus, the author incorporates the world of a book trader which makes for an interesting facet in this novel.

As much as Burton becomes, through Dunning’s engaging portrayal of the man,  an intriguing personality for a number of his readers, this novel still very much targets a small niche in the reading  audience.  Not many, this reviewer included, have heard of this famously irreverent explorer and so may have some difficulty in appreciating the novel in the way it deserves.  One simply cannot appreciate Burton’s idiosyncrasies or whatever the author wishes to please us with if one does not know him. Familiarity of Burton is indeed essential for the full enjoyment of this book as the core plot is rather mundane, despite the aforementioned new elements.

However, if you are familiar with Burton, you may take a different tack.  You would perhaps revel in the fictitious or factual (I wouldn’t know which) details generously written in the book and pronounce Dunning’s novel a capital one.  This is simply this reviewer’s conjecture on something she is not very sure about.

Like its hero, the prose is quite masculine.  One could immediately discern that the story was written by a man, which is nice as long as the testosterone is not overly used to include most of its characters.  However, it does, as the majority of the characters, whether male or female, exhibit a strong will and drive.

Dunning’s characters show too many strong traits as to render them sometimes irksome and distant.    For instance, Erin is a sassy lawyer who constantly takes offense at anything she deems chauvinistic.  This is okay in some situations but downright pesky in some, where, in reality,  she clearly will be in the way.  She is not a character one can empathize much with, unless one believes that someone can be constantly strong and fearless.   There seems a lot of sass in the dialogues, too, between characters which tend to be tiresome halfway through.

In A Nutshell :

The Bookman’s Promise” is neither a great novel nor a very bad one.   One major weakness is that a reader’s  unfamiliarity with Burton  may be a significant block for him seeking to enjoy this novel.  This, and possible character non-empathy could be two very detrimental factors in capturing reader interest.  Otherwise,  it could be an enjoyable read.

Having said these, I recognize that there are probably two stark opposing camps to this novel :  those who loved it (readers who understood the nuances of Burton and the book trade) and those who just couldn’t get into it (readers who don’t know a fig about them).   Sadly, I belong to the latter for the reasons stated above:  I don’t know Burton and I just couldn’t like the characters so much.

My Mark :  Mediocre

But you must read the book to know for sure.

Author :  John Connolly

Release Date : April 25, 2005

“In the crowded killing fields of crime fiction, John Connolly is a unique voice.” — Michael Connelly

Indeed he is.  As my first foray into John Connolly’s work, I am amazed by his ability to elevate crime fiction writing with beautifully crafted prose.  He has a rare knack of weaving elegant, loftily worded paragraphs with contemporary, casually-toned ones.  The result is a smooth read with seamless alterations in moods, without jarring stops and starts, mid-stride.

Black Angel is the fifth novel in a crime series.  The central hero, Charlie Parker,  embroils himself in an investigation over the disappearance of a close friend’s cousin, Alice.  His search leads him to face a horrible truth—the existence of a demonic being known as the Dark Angel, whose lost whereabouts over the centuries have led The Believers, an army of evil men and fallen demons in human guise, to carve a bloody, gruesome trail of death in their search for him.  The Believers is championed by the Dark Angel’s twin, accompanied by a  malevolent soul-eater.

The novel is heavy on the paranormal and the gothic, its inspiration drawn largely from at least three major sources:

a) an Old Testament apocryphal book, The Book of Enoch;

b) the Sedlec ossuary in Czechoslovakia, which as a major setting, appropriately lends the macabre flavor to the story;

(If you’ve never heard of this place, take a peek : )

Official Website

Sterf

Panoramic views of the Bone Church

The Ossuary in Sedlec

c) a controversial Mexican religion venerating the Santa Muerte.

John Connolly’s delightfully detailed historical accounts in this book have probably fired up some readers to learn more about them.  I know they have compelled me to scurry through the internet for my own research.  So midway through the book, I’ve been entertained with a mound of fascinating albeit morbid material on this novel’s inspirations.

The characters are also what make the book interesting.  This particular novel, being the sequel to four others, does not elaborate on the backgrounds of its protagonists; but, you may glean some bits and pieces about them as the story progresses.  Not knowing much about them, though, will not impede anyone’s enjoyment of this book.  However, to know the characters intimately, a new reader to John Connolly would be better served if he were to start from the first in the series, Every Dead Thing.

A lot of credit should also go to the author’s ability to present violence so artistically.   He has an intensely meticulous graphical style that makes his descriptions so vividly crystalline.  Unfortunately, it is precisely this quality that may render the novel too verbose for some readers.   People who prefer a straight-to-the-point manner may be annoyed at being drenched with all that verbiage.

True, the novel could have been a shorter read.   But for readers like me who revel in Connolly’s beautiful phraseologies, there is no such wordiness.  It is a rare treat to find a crime-thriller written with such eloquent and oftentimes almost poetic language; and, an even rarer pleasure to discover one that dared to successfully defy the accustomed patterns of its genre.

My Mark : Excellent

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