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October 24, 2010

Sunday Book Thread

I've mentioned before my fondness for Lincoln Preston and Douglas Child's "Pendergast" series of supernatural thrillers. The novels are always outlandish, but have generally been fun, quick reads -- and Pendergast, the brilliant, eccentric, aristocratic FBI agent, is one of my favorite detectives in all of fiction.

So you'll know how much it pains me to report that Wheel of Darkness is a piece of shit. This is harsh language, but the book deserves it. It pairs Pendergast up with the series' least-interesting and shallow character (Constance Greene), takes them out of their usual academic/museum milieu and places them on an ocean liner (in a series of plot developments so stupid I was rolling my eyes), and transitions between straight mystery and supernatural horror in such a ham-handed fashion it's hard to believe that the same authors who wrote this book wrote all the others. It's like their research for the book consisted of an afternoon watching Titanic, The Poseidon Adventure, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. And the liberal lean is so pronounced it's a wonder everyone doesn't fall over. Class-warfare (rich people are wasteful, arrogant and bullying!)? Check. Preference for Eastern "mysticism" over Western rationality? Check. Anti-corporate screeds? Check.

A reviewer on Amazon compared it to a bad Murder, She Wrote episode where Pendergast was channeling Angela Lansbury, and I really couldn't argue with that judgement. Awful, awful book. Preston and Child have built up a lot of goodwill with the books in this series, but Wheel of Darkness is so bad I almost don't want to continue with the other books. I'm going to give Cemetery Dance a try, and if that doesn't live up to expectations, I'm going to give up on it. I don't want my fond memories of Aloysius X. A. Pendergast tainted.

In other news, I am still working my way up the western face of a mountain of paper called The Oxford History of Western Music by Richard Taruskin.

I also just bought copies of the three-volume history of Nazi Germany by Richard J. Evans: The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War. One question that historians have tried to answer (with mixed success) since the end of the war is how a high civilization like that of Germany could devolve into barbarity so quickly. The question has only become more complicated as time has gone by and new documents and primary sources have come to light; I'm hoping that these books can shed some light on the issue, because it has implications for our own country going forward. Culture and the relationship of the citizen to the state are vital issues -- was Germany's example an anomaly, or was there something deeper and more universal at work there?

And finally, on a more light-hearted note, I picked up a copy of P. G. Wodehouse's "Wooster and Jeeves" stories called Carry On, Jeeves. Jeeves is a wonderful creature: smart, capable, unflappable, calm, and subtle, an anchor to Bertie Wooster's "refined gormlessness". It's a snapshot of a Victorian Britain that was already disappearing by the time the stories were published in 1919 (just after the disaster of World War I), but the stories have a gentle charm and humor that never grows stale. (The "Wooster and Jeeves" DVD set is also available, with Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie ("House") as Bertie Wooster. Recommended!)

[EDIT: CanaDave reminds me that it's Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.]


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posted by Monty at 08:36 AM

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