crap i have read recently #12

raiders of the lost ark warehouse

Another look at some Nook Free Fridays selections.  I guarantee you I would never seek these out deliberately but it’s hard to turn down free stuff.   As always, there may be SPOILERS below.

Protector (Laurel Dewey):  Sometimes when you have to spend a lot of time on an airplane you want to read something not too deep, not too complicated, and not too challenging, something that will pass the time quickly.   So it was that I decided to read this little charmer of a detective novel on my recent flight to Asia.  I say “charmer” with a heavy dose of irony because mostly this book is sordid and unpleasant.   We first meet Denver homicide detective Jane Perry as she is coming off of an epic alcoholic bender following her inability to save a young girl from burning to death.  She is assigned to watch over Emily, a nine year old girl who witnessed the murder of her parents but who has blocked it from her memory.  Perry’s job is to stay overnight with the girl in the same house where her parents died and try to elicit a memory of the killer.  Since Perry has no experience with or much love for children this goes about as well as you might expect.  There is another murder and it becomes clear that someone in the police department is involved.  Jane then pretends to be Emily’s mother as the two are put into witness protection in a small town while the police try to figure out what to do next.  Throughout her experiences with Emily, Perry obsesses about the earlier crime where the little girl died, and lugs her case files and graphic photos around with her, which of course Emily eventually finds.  The crimes are solved with what I presume was meant to be a twist.  Unfortunately it was obvious halfway through the book whodunnit and by that point I could barely bring myself to care.

This is mostly because the main character is such a drag.  Aside from her partiality to the bottle, Detective Perry has all sorts of issues: trust issues, family issues, abuse issues, commitment issues, responsibility issues, judgement issues, guilt issues.   Her list of vices is heroic: drinking, smoking, cursing, chronic tardiness, ineptitude at her job, stubbornness.   She actively encourages her little brother’s alcoholism because she needs a drinking buddy.  On top of all this, she is possibly the worst cop ever.  She misses blatant clues, makes really stupid mistakes, and repeatedly endangers herself, her colleagues on the force, and Emily.   Most of the characters in the book are tedious cliches:  Jane’s tough but fair supervisor, her handsome but shallow partner, the inanely insipid social worker, any number of small town busybodies and their bratty children, the strong silent local yokel who falls for Jane, even “warm fuzzy secret heart” Jane herself.

There is so much in this book that makes no sense.  Perry and her brother are serious, long-term alcoholics who define co-dependency, yet both stop drinking literally on the spot with no apparent ill-effects.   Their lifetime of post traumatic stress following horrific abuse (all described in detail) is apparently cured overnight by their father’s death.  Following that aforementioned episode of irresponsible binge-drinking her supervisor rightfully suspends her but then almost immediately hands a young child over to her care and even puts her and the girl into a witness protection program together.   The police department actually uses that young child as bait.   The plot turns on an unbelievably lame coincidence, one that would have escaped ABSOLUTELY NO ONE’S attention had they been even remotely credible as a police officer.  For good measure, Perry is mildly psychic and occasionally has visions and foreshadowings, none of which advance the plot much.

Combine all this with a generally uninteresting writing style (lots of exclamation points!!, even more adjectives, possibly more than 500 uses of the word “fuck”) and all I can really say about this book is that it adequately passed a couple of hours on a very long flight.  Barely.

Score:  Meh.

The Last Secret of the Temple (Paul Sussman):  This is another book I read on my long flight and although it is another detective story it was a more interesting read.  The book starts with a couple of historical vignettes, one at the Temple in Jerusalem as it is about to fall to the Romans in 70 AD and the other at a remote mine in the Austrian Alps in the waning days of WWII.  In the present day Inspector Khalifa of the Luxor police department is touring the Valley of the Kings with his son when he is called to the scene of an apparent homicide.  The victim, Piet Jansen, turns out to have died from natural causes but his death causes Khalifa to reopen an older murder case involving an Israeli woman.  Eventually he needs to work with the Israeli police and Detective Arieh Ben-Roi is assigned to assist him.  Ben-Roi lost his fiancee to a suicide bomber and he is rapidly self-medicating himself into an early grave.  He wants nothing to do with the Egyptian detective or his cold case but even he gets drawn into the mystery of what happened to Hannah Schlegel.   Meanwhile, Palestinian reporter Layla al-Madani, who spends much of her time cataloging Israeli crimes against Palestinians, receives an anonymous message requesting her assistance in contacting a shadowy terrorist with some information that could permanently derail any hope of peace in the Middle East.  The ancient document included with the message starts her on a search for a legendary treasure that leads her to England, France, and Jerusalem and deep into the history of the Crusades, the Cathar heresy, and the Nazi fascination with the occult.  The plot contrives to bring these three together to solve both the modern mystery surrounding the death of Hannah Schlegel and the ancient mystery surrounding the fall of the Temple of Jerusalem and the fate of its treasures.

So yes, it’s a little Dan Brown-esque.  (I cannot state firmly enough how much I hated The DaVinci Code.)    And really, Nazis?  In this day and age?  Can we not come up with something, anything, more novel than Nazis?  Still though, for a detective mystery it is not terrible.  Thankfully there is little of the reveling in gore and sadism that appears to be common in the genre these days.  The interplay between the two detectives is sometimes interesting.  Khalifa gave up his beloved archaeology when circumstances forced him to get a job.  Although basically an honest man he has survived in the police department because he has willed himself not to see its corruption.  His life is filled with regret and guilt and reopening the Schlegel case provides him an opportunity to fix at least one of those things.  Ben-Roi is channeling his survivor guilt into bitterness and hate.  He stepped away from his fiancee to buy her a flower and so he lived and she died.  He cannot forgive himself and he really cannot forgive the terrorists who killed his fiancee nor anyone who even slightly reminds him of them.  It is not until he begins to assist Khalifa in discovering what happened to Hannah that he is able to put aside his rage for a larger purpose.   Layla al-Madani’s beloved father was murdered by his fellow Palestinians when he helped an injured Israeli soldier and she’s internalized that as hatred of the Israelis.  She’s become a crusading reporter and made it her avocation to point out all the ways large and small that the Israeli government contrives to humiliate her people.   She has a secret though and it is her machinations that bring the plot finally to a head in that abandoned mine.   The simple murder is of course not so simple and there is a twist near the end that I actually did not see coming.

Some plot elements in the book are not entirely credible.  I find it ludicrous that any educated person, much less a police officer who once studied history, would not know the meaning of a tattooed number on the arm of an elderly Jewish woman.  The ease with which Layla is able to track down primary source documents that no one else has been able to find in hundreds of years is just silly.  The whole story line involving her search for an ancient artifact that will destroy Israel and derail Mideast peace talks is the weakest part of the book.  There are entirely too many coincidences required to make it work (an elderly man in Jerusalem and an elderly French woman picking mushrooms in the Languedoc are instrumental).  There is rather a lot of superficial Israeli-Palestinian politics and the author’s studious effort to portray all sides in the conflict equally will most likely just piss everyone off.  Khalifa, Ben-Roi, and al-Madani are no doubt intended to be stand-ins for the region’s complicated blend of religion, history, and grievances, and the symbolism is a heavy weight for them to carry.   The denoument is a blend of touchy-feely mysticism and “can’t we all just get along” politics that falls somewhat flat.  Poor Hannah Schegel is mostly forgotten by the time everything winds up.

Still, this book was not as embarrassingly stupid as The Da Vinci Code.  It was also worlds better than Protector.  All in all it turned out to be a couple of hours of my flight better spent.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on May 9, 2013.

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