Saturday, April 24, 2004

This is hardly pivotal to the world of crime fiction, but I had a jolly time today and bought lots of books. Boris Akunin's Leviathan (his third book, but the second translated); The Human Stain by Philip Roth; Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld story A Hat Full of Sky; the paperbacks of A Question of Blood and The Conspiracy Club (I want to give that one a try as Kellerman's best books have been his standalones), David Hewson's A Season for the Dead and - book of the day; possibly the year - Mo Hayder's Tokyo, which I wasn't expecting for at least a week, and thus it was the making of my day. I began it immediately, of course.

Hayder also has a new, very snazzy website (a big thank you to Ali for bringing that to my attention!) Now, I have to say that I don't think I have ever seen such a huge slew of fellow author blurbs as endow the review page for Tokyo. They're all over the back of the book, too. (Well, of course they are.) Minette Walters, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Harlan Coben, Val McDermid, Karin Slaughter, and even Colin Dexter! (Who has impeccable taste, by the way.) I was aghast. Not even The da Vinci Code had that many. As I say, I have begun it in earnest, and it is so far every bit as good as its three-year gestation portended it to be.

Now, speaking of The Da Vinci Code...I finished it this morning, after a mere three days, and want, superfluously (after all, what difference am I going to make), to offer my thoughts.

I really liked the plot, and that is all the good I can say about it. It was a great idea, and I was rather impressed by Brown's actual conception of it. However, aside from that the book is fatuous nonsense. The characters are entirely vapid (the most interesting one dies in the opening pages; the most intriguing thing about the protagonist is that he wears a Mickey Mouse watch) and that is only the beginning. The writing is amateur at best, and there is a ridiculous amount of extraneous detail. Brown throws in almost every fact (I hesitate to even call them "facts" as what is true and what is not is stupidly unclear) he possibly can, and a good few of them add absolutely nothing. They were interesting, certainly, but they aided the story not at all and thus should have been removed.

Like I say, I almost desperately want to know what here is true and what is not. Some of the historical details and postulations on famous artworks are absolutely fascinating, but I can't help thinking that Brown has just made it up to suit the plot... Normally, that would be okay, but I would have liked a significant afterword about what was real and what imagined. The problem otherwise is that there are a lot of people about who will take this as gospel. Many of the reviews on amazon are testament to that.

The problem is that there is such a wealth of innaccuracy and unconvincing trash. The British police willing to take orders from the French? I don't think so Mr Brown. Even the geography of London and Paris is suspect; one gets the feeling he took a two-week vacation in Europe for research but otherwise relied on maps, figuring that it wouldn't matter to American readers. (There is another huge insult to the audience later on as well, but I'll get to that in due course.) The "suspense" that propels the reader through the chapters is of the worst kind; simply keeping things and revelations from the reader for a couple of chapters. I won't talk again about how easy some of the codes were to fathom apart from to say that anyone who has even a minor acquaintance with Fibonacci numbers, anagrams, and even the symbolism of poetry will not find themselves taxed. Oh, also, and a Swiss bank in Paris? Operating under the Swiss system? No.

At one point he horrifically misunderstands da Vinci's The Vitruvian man, as well as referring to Wicca as an "ancient religion". Now, paganism may be ancient but wicca definitely isn't. Wicca actually saw its inception in the 50's, through the influence of men like Gerald Gardner and then Alistair Crowley.

I don't even mind that this is "blasphemous", as I am no more a Christian than Brown is an adequate researcher, but there are enough religious misconceptions to leave the plot looking like Swiss cheese. I won't go into them all, but I will go into the one which annoyed me most.

Several points throughout the book, Brown refers to Eve as having eaten an "apple", which truly lays bear the depths (or lack thereof!) of his poor research. That Eve ate an apple is a popular belief, but entirely false. Apples are not mentioned anywhere in Genesis. What it actually says is that Eve partook of the "fruit" from the Tree of Good and Evil. Not an apple. The fact that the ENTIRE conclusion of the book is founded on this misconception completely demolishes the whole thing (the fact that he alters the true geography of the Louvre also doesn’t help.)

If Mr Brown is not aware of his mistake, that is a remarkable ignorance considering how easy it would be to verify through research. However, what is even worse is if he actually is aware but decided to use it anyway for the purposes of the plot. To assume that it will simply pass his audience by is the most appalling example of an author's low estimation of his readers that I have ever come across. Either way, he comes off badly.

Anyway, sorry about all that; it’s all rather disorganised. I have more I could say, but I shall leave it there.

On a lighter note, the winners of various LA Times Book Prizes are announced later. If it hasn't already been done, I'll let you know as soon as I find out. Personally, I'm rooting for Henning Mankell in the Mystery/Thriller category. The Dogs of Riga, isn't one of his best, but I'd still like to see it win. I think it'll actually go to George Pelecanos or, as an outsider, Peter Lovesey. In the main fiction category, if Tobias Wolff's Old School doesn't win, a crime against literature will have been comitted.

(Whoa..sorry that was so long. If you've made it all the way down here, pat yourself on the back.)