Saturday, April 19, 2008

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

I listened to this book on my iPod, which I love to do. When I am being read to, I can listen while I drive and wait in the pick-up line to get the kidlets after school. I can listen while I am grocery shopping, or walking the dog, or folding laundry, or anything that is too hopelessly boring to do without a book--without having to carry around a book!

I do think the fact that this was read to me does alter my experience, however--characters are voiced by the reader in ways that I might not have imagined if I just read their words on the page. On the other hand, having this novel of "underground" London read with an English accent might have improved the experience. It is hard to tell.

This is an odd book--it was originally written as a television series, which Neil Gaiman wrote with some other people, and afterward he went back and novelized it. As such, there are a lot of ideas just bumping around, but not fully integrated into the story. This may also be because it is an early Gaiman work, and so suffers in comparison to more recent works, like and The Anansi Boys and American Gods which are both more fully realized.

The story is told largely from the viewpoint of an "ordinary" Londoner named Richard Mayhew, who finds an injured girl lying on the pavement, and feels a moral obligation to assist her. As a result, he finds he has been "erased" from his own life--as he stands in his flat, an estate agent shows it to an older couple who agree to lease it, for example. His fiancee doesn't remember him, his co-workers can't recall him. In the end, he finds himself in "London Below," a quasi-magical place of fiefdoms, animal totems, and an entire society based on barter of goods and favors. Haunting London Below are two thugs of "The Old Firm," named Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, who are unfunny versions of Mr. Tulip and Mr. Pin from Terry Pratchett's The Truth.

One of the strengths of this book is the inventive inversion Gaiman gives to London Below, often based on the names of London tube stops. Knightsbridge is transformed into the Night Bridge, where the inky blackness of night can actually snatch up pedestrians, and they are never seen again. Earl's Court is actually the court of an earl, whose palace is contained inside a darkened train car. Ordinary people see only that the car is dark and closed: it takes the special powers of London Below to actually enter it and find it contains multiple rooms and grand hallways, much larger than the volume visible from outside it.

There is an angel called Islington, who is responsible for watching over London Below--apparently a demotion, after he failed to protect Atlantis, and may even have caused it to sink into the ocean. Richard Mayhew finds the girl he assisted in the London Above--a member of a aristocratic family named Door. Her family has the ability to "open" things that are closed; even to move between dimensions it appears. She is the last of her family; the rest were recently murdered, and Door is determined to avoid the same fate and to find out why they were killed.

The character of Richard Mayhew serves the obvious purpose of failing to understand all the aspects of this new world, so that the other characters have a reason to explain how things work. After a bit, he gets more than a little annoying, as he absolutely fails to learn anything about how to survive in this dangerous world. He repeatedly asserts things like "there is no bridge at Knightsbridge" and "there is no earl's court at E arl's Court." After about the fifth time he does this--and is proved wrong ONCE AGAIN--I found myself wanting to slap him.

To be honest, I listened to this book a month ago or so, and I have already forgotten a lot of it. It is interesting, but far from Gaiman's better work. Read it if you want to read his entire oeuvre; otherwise, spend your time more profitably with Anansi Boys and American Gods.

The Rossetti Letter, by Chrsti Phillips

I picked this up on from a "Buy one, get one half price" table while on vacation in Palm Springs, and only got around to it now. It's a great book for a vacation: interesting, not too taxing, paperback and inexpensive so you could leave it behind to save room in your bag.

The plot unfolds in parallel: in 1618, a Venetian courtesan becomes aware of a plot to overthrow the Republic and make Venice part of Spain. This is an actual historical event--of some controversy--known as the "Spanish Conspiracy." The second plot takes place in modern times, as a graduate student works on her dissertation about he Spanish Conspiracy. The core of her work is the letter, allegedly written by the 17th century courtesan, Alessandra Rossetti, warning the government of the conspiracy and naming the traitors.

The graduate student, Claire Donovan, manages to make her way to Venice to find out about a book that is soon to be published by an Oxford historian on the same topic. The publication of this book could render her entire dissertation moot, and it is important that she find out what the author intends to disclose.

Of course, it turns out that the author is an unpleasant man that Claire met and disliked before she knew who he was. As she finds out at the conference she is attending, the thesis of his book is that the "Spanish Conspiracy" was invented by a Venetian senator to advance his political career, and the "Rossetti Letter" was written by a woman who was a mere pawn in a larger game. Of course, Claire's thesis is the exact opposite, and she wants to prove her point.

So there is a lot of wrangling between these academic, although no actual romance blooms between them. In the end, they manage to work together to translate Rossetti's letters, which they discover are actually coded messages. The key to breaking the code is discovered rather conveniently, mere minutes after they have decided there must be a code--which feels a bit too pat, but since the puzzle is clearly presented and worked out for the reader, it's a small quibble. As a result of their combined research, Claire and Andrew conclude that they were both right--there was a Spanish conspiracy, but in the absence of enough evidence to prove it, the Venetian senator forced Rossetti to write the letter "revealing" it. Andrew turns his last lecture at the conference to Claire (which is a bizarre thing to do, but since this is fiction, just let it go) and Claire outlines their theories as to what happened back in 1618.

At this point (since their research certainly doesn't bear this out at all), the book shifts us back in time to see Alessandra Rossetti attempting to escape Venice with her compromised lover, her capture and her deal with the senator--she will write the letter as he dictates it to her, and he will let her lover go free. Claire wraps up her lecture, she and Andrew part on amicable terms, and the book sets up the sequel, where Claire will take a one year post at Oxford, and she and Andrew will solve another mystery.

There are a few annoying scenes that place this book solidly into genre fiction. Alessandra Rossetti--of course!--has to be a courtesan, who is the "most beautiful woman in Venice" and we are dragged through a couple of sex scenes that are both gratuitous and not very well written either Similarly, the bad, evil, nasty Venetian senator is not only ambitious, but ugly, misshapen, and enjoys torturing people for information. Characters are generally painted with the broadest of strokes, and tend to be rather unbelievable.

On the other hand, Phillips does take on a number of subplots, which are more ambitious than effective, but do expand the scope of the novel. For example, Andrew is involved with a beautiful, cultured and famous woman, and any possible romance between him and Claire is stifled as a result. There is a long subplot about Claire's relationship with the 14 year old girl she is chaperoning in Venice, which gives another dimension to her character. There is a romantic possibility with a "drop dead gorgeous" Italian, who turns out to be an architect from a wealthy family--and she also manages to not have a romance with him either. Alessandra Rossetti doesn't get the happiest of ending herself--although on the whole, everyone in the book gets what they wanted, so it's not entirely free from convention.

This is a book which wades in the same waters as The Da Vinci Code, although better written and with fewer puzzles in it. The prose is deft, and Phillips obviously loves Venice for all its faults. Phillips has written a book that avoids the pitfalls that so crippled The Birth of Venus, which also took place in Renaissance Italy, but managed to clumsily cram in every famous Italian who could possibly be force into the story.

This is by no means a "must read" book, but it is a pleasant and diverting story, about a historical event I had never even heard of before reading it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Ten Year Nap, by Meg Wolitzer

I read The Wife by Meg Wolitzer a few years ago, and was impressed by her careful observation and precise language. I spotted the "twist" ending well before it happened, even without knowing that there was a twist. So, when The Ten Year Nap came out, it seemed like a Must Read.

The title refers to the fact that women spend an average of 11 years out of the workforce while raising their children--the women of this book are facing their children's 10th year, and are confronting where they have been and where they are going after having been out of the world of work for so long. There is Amy, a former trusts and estates lawyer who never went back after her son was born; Jill, who had her graduate dissertation rejected and never really recovered; Karen, a brilliant statistical analyst who used numbers like other people use words; and Roberta, an artist and puppeteer who gave up art for craft while raising her kids.

Things happen, though this is not a book to read for the plot. Jill moves out of New York City to a suburb, and while there finds her adopted daughter has significant learning deficits. Jill fears she is an inadequate mother and struggles to find the easy love she thinks she should have for her daughter. Amy meets and befriends a new woman, Penny, who is the curator of a small museum. At first, Amy idolizes Penny as a woman who did not make compromises when her children were born, but kept her pre-child identity in a way Amy did not. Inevitably, Penny reveals herself as flawed, and the friendship does not survive.

Roberta was a talented artist, but never got out of the ghetto of "women artists." She moved into puppetry, where she met her husband. When the children arrived, he took a regular job as a news cameraman, and continued to perform with his puppets on weekends. Toward the end of the book, he is launching a network children's television show, and Roberta has to struggle with her resentment of his success and her failure to continue to paint over the decade she was raising the children.

Karen Woo is the most amorphous of the four main characters: while she lives and thinks in numbers, she does not seem to regret being at home. Her husband is happy with his job, he makes enough money to keep them happy, she continues to go on job interviews but refuses them. There is some attempt to contrast her current life with her mother's life in a restaurant in Chinatown, but it never really comes into focus.

What movement there is in these women's lives comes in the last quarter of the book, if not later. Amy felt herself increasingly distant from her husband, feeling that her life was of no interest to him. Eventually, she discovers her husband passing off personal purchases as business receipts, which forces her to confront the scope of their debt. She finds a job in a small law firm, not because she loves the work, but because they need the income. However, her marriage seems the most honest of the four womens'--at the end, her husband confesses his fears and failures, and the two of them seem to re-commit to each other.

Jill was an academic over-achiever until the failure of her thesis, and she never quite finds something she loves to do. However, she finds herself very busy managing the appointments and therapies for her daughter, and settles into that life--recognizing that it is only for a limited number of years.

Roberta and her family move out of their tiny apartment and buy a house in Harlem, where she can have a studio, but she finds it hard to paint--the studio remains, though largely unused.

We are also treated to vignettes of the generation before theirs--their fathers and mothers, and their dreams and disappointments, as well as cameos of the lives of other women who are peripheral to these four.

On the whole? I'm not certain that it says much at all about where women and work shake out in this new millennium. These women are very privileged, in that they have the option to work or not. We see women who love their jobs, who retain those jobs even while raising children; we see women who have no choice but to work; we see women who did not want to work while their children were small, reaching a point in their lives where the question of work becomes inevitable. Amy is the only one who does return to work, largely because she doesn't have a choice any more. The other women just keep on as they had before.

Furthermore, I kept expecting that the book had reached its natural end, but then it went on for another eight chapters. The writing is cool and distant, and I felt as if Wolitzer was reporting on these women, rather than developing them as characters. There is a lot of self-inflicted angst, as these women seem to take it as given that failing to achieve great success in your 20s means you have failed at life. The book ends up giving everybody a little bit of success by the end--so the reader is left with the distinct sense that things can be really really hard for a long time, but then they get easier, so lighten up.

Perhaps it is the title of this book that raises such expectations that it will illuminate the state of American society and address head on the realities that women face while raising small children. Frankly, the book does not show anyone who manages parenthood without any regrets, whether they stay at work or stay at home. It's really a fairly bleak book, and while interesting, is not a book I would actually recommend that anyone read.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Then We Came To The End, by Joshua Ferris

This first novel has been astoundingly successful, and it addresses an issue not often found in contemporary literature--corporate work life. The story takes place in an advertising agency in Chicago, which began during the tech boom of the 1990s, but began to run out of steam at the end of 2000.

Written in the unusual first person plural, the book is narrated by the aggregate "we" of the agency. "We" drink our first cup of coffee, or "we" stopped by someone's office to get the latest gossip. There are plenty of individual characters, but those characters are sometimes subsumed into the amorphous "we."

By the time the novel gets underway, the agency is under serious financial pressure, and layoffs have begun. No one actually likes their job, it seems, but none of them want to be let go either. Each layoff is met with a "why'd they let him/her go" and a "thank God it wasn't me." The awkward leave taking, the sad scavenging of office furniture--all the mundane and nasty gossip of a workplace is represented, made toxic by the slow squeeze of financial failure.

For most of the book, there is only one project in the entire office, and it's pro bono at that. A possibly fictitious client, The Alliance Against Breast Cancer, wants the firm to develop a fundraising campaign. Two days later, the project changes--develop something that would make a breast cancer patient laugh. Everyone is absolutely stumped: what the hell is funny about breast cancer? And if I can't find something funny about breast cancer, will I be the next person laid off?

Meanwhile, the rumor circulates that the partner in charge of their team has breast cancer herself. She has never told anyone, yet everybody knows. Until the day comes when her surgery was scheduled, and she spends the entire day in the office. "We" can't tolerate this: does she have cancer or not? Who told us she had cancer if she didn't? Who is to blame? How can we not know? We need to know.

The center part of the book is the heart and soul of the story. Lynn Mason does in fact have breast cancer, and she is having a hell of a time dealing with it. Written in third person, it follows Lynn as she leaves the office the night before her surgery and struggles to find the right place to be, the one right thing to do this last night before the operation. In the end, it is her paralyzing fear that leads her back to her office at one in the morning, and she simply refuses to leave. There are two new business proposals, and if the agency can land these accounts, the firm will be saved. She simply doesn't have time for an operation--it is the work that is important.

"We" reappear after this interlude, and "we" resort to the most ridiculous strategems to find out if Lynn really has cancer. Two of the employees confront her in her office, and she tells them that no, she does not have breast cancer and she has no idea why they think she does.

Meanwhile, we see the odd behaviors of the people who have been laid off. One man returns to dismantle an office chair, smuggles it out of the building, and then throws each piece as far as he can into Lake Michigan. Another man returns, dressed as a clown, carrying a gun. He starts shooting those people with whom he had disagreements, working his way through the building reciting quotations from Emerson and causing panic and fear. "We" are forced to confront our horror of dying while at work, but when the gun is revealed to be a paint gun, only one person actually resigns and changes his career to something that makes him happier.

This review in no way captures the power of this book. Ferris has caught the all consuming bitterness of competition in a supposedly collegial workplace, made worse by the inexorable squeezing of failure: one can almost feel the walls closing in and the ceiling lowering as time passes and the business continues to fail. Ferris also captures the odd scurrying panic such a time engenders--"we" are afraid to stop and enjoy a cup of coffee, because being seen enjoying a cup of coffee would indicate that "we" weren't working and thus were expendable. Even though the only "work" there was to do was pro bono, and so wasn't remunerative anyway.

This is definitely a book worth reading.

The Murders of Richard III, by Elizabeth Peters

Another audio book by the prolific writer of the Amelia Peabody series. This one is set in the present day--or the time that was present when the book was written in 1975--and features a different detective. Jacqueline Kirby is a middle-aged reference librarian from the US, who is visiting London and meets up with her old friend Thomas, who is a Ricardian--a person who believes that the real Richard III was not the monster depicted by Sir Thomas Moore and William Shakespeare, but was instead a decent and honorable king unfairly slandered by the Tudors who defeated him at Bosworth Field in 1485.

History, as we know, is written by the winners, and the legend of the malevolent crook-backed king persists to this day. The most heinous of his alleged crimes is the murder of the two young princes in the Tower of London, his nephews Edward V and the Duke of York, who were 12 and 10 at the time they disappeared. Thomas tells Jacqueline that a letter has appeared that seems to clear Richard of his crimes, and it is to be reviewed by his Ricardian Society over the weekend, and then revealed to the press on Sunday. Would she please join him at the house party and authenticate the document?

Admittedly, this is a hard book to get through for a light read. Jacqueline goes to the house party, which in good old Agatha Christie fashion has one each of everybody staying the weekend: the wealthy homeowner, the enormous and overbearing dowager, the scrawny drunken lady novelist, the army colonel recently back from the Middle East, the ingenue and her fiancee, the Harley Street doctor, and the obnoxious small boy. This crew has gathered for the weekend and each has adopted the persona of a character from Ricardian history. The story gets complicated at this point, since so many of the characters from this time have the same names, and some of those names overlap with the names of the people playing those characters. It becomes no small feat to remember who is whom, both their contemporary selves and their assumed roles.

Things begin to get ghoulish as a series of "pranks" occur. One character, portraying Richard's brother George, the Duke of Clarence, is hit over the head and comes to bound and stuffed into an empty wine barrel--mimicking the alleged murder of the duke in a "butt of malmsey." Another guest, portraying the unfortunate Duke of Buckingham (who was beheaded by Richard) is found unconscious on the floor, his head covered by a cloth the color of the carpet and a mannequin head placed some distance away.

Various characters are drugged, poisoned, and before long it becomes apparent that pranks are being pulled by an insider. Who? and why? Are these recreations of the murders of Richard III supposed to be funny, or are they going to turn fatal?

Personally, as a fan of the era, I enjoyed the role playing by the characters, as well as the earnest discussions about the relative morality of Richard III versus Henry VII. Heavily salted with what I can only assume is real historical scholarship, the book offers a pleasant history lesson about a period that is not well known. It also ably adapts the conventions of Agatha Christie to a more skeptical age: why would so many different people gather at a country home, and why would they not leave as soon as things got grisly? And who, except a psychopath, would try to kill people according to a theme?

Certainly, the characters are paper thin, and I found them difficult to keep them distinct from each other. Which one was the doctor? Or was he the military man? confusion can be distracting. On the other hand, Peters delivered some real chills, as well as an interesting exploration of the end of the Wars of the Roses.

Peters acknowledges Josephine Tey's book "The Daughter of Time," which is an altogether better book on the subject of Richard III's innocence, but if you have the time, why not read them both?

The Curse of the Pharoahs by Elizabeth Peters

I have been listening to several of these mysteries, narrated by Barbara Rosenblatt, and they are an odd lot of books. Like the Martha Grimes series, these are not easily read in order, because the titles are all over the place. (Unlike Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone series, which are alphabetized, or Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum stories, which are numbered in their titles.) As a result, I have listened to the first two books in the series, and the last two. I can report that from that sampling, they remain very consistent in quality and tone.

The heroine of these books is a woman named Amelia Peabody Emerson, who was a spinster in England until at the age of 32 inherited a sizable fortune and used it to travel. She found herself in Egypt and fell in love with the land and its history, as well as an Egyptologist named Radcliffe Emerson. They meet, solve a murder, and fall in love in the first book of the series, "The Crocodile on the Sandbank." "The Curse of the Pharoahs" is the second book, and finds them married for 5 years, parents of a four year old boy they call Ramses, and back in Egypt for the first time at the request of a Lady Baskerville. Her husband, Lord Baskerville, has died and left a bequest to complete the excavation of a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The Emersons are hired to complete the work, which has been disrupted by Baskerville's death and the rumor of a pharoah's curse at work.

These books are an odd treat--Amelia Peabody is by no means an immediately likable character. She is tart, self-satisfied, convinced of her ability to do anything to which she turns her hand--and do it better than anyone else could. Her first person narration is quite wordy, always using eight words where one would do, and full of self-congratulation. Emerson is described as a bull, both in his physical appearance and his terrible temper and tendency to bellow at everyone in his orbit. I am not at all certain I would want to meet either of these people in real life. Yet it is hard to stop listening to these stories. The experience is equivalent to drinking cranberry juice--rather bitter, not very quenching, but satisfying nonetheless.

The Curse of the Pharoahs starts with the death of Lord Baskerville, and the disappearance of his right hand man, after the first hole is made into the sealed wall of the newly discovered tomb. Amelia (or "Peabody," as her husband calls her) is immediately convinced that he was killed by his now missing assistant. Once in Luxor, more bodies turn up, along with a number of suspects, interspersed with descriptions of the process of excavation during the Victorian era. We are also treated to moonlight landscapes, natives both noble and villainous, tales of the ancient gods and kings, Brits of all classes and professions, ghosts and thieves. It is a heady mix, and one I find hard to resist.

Throughout the series is the eternal question of whether there are any more royal tombs to be found. Of course, as the series starts in the 1880s we know that the greatest find of all--Tutankhamun's tomb--has yet to be discovered. There are sly hints scattered throughout the four books I have finished. In the first one, the excavations take place in Amarna, the city of Tutankhamun's father, Ahkenaten, the heretic. In this second book, the tomb the Emersons excavate has been defaced in ancient times--the name of the occupant and his face have been roughly obliterated. The Emersons don't know why, but the reader can speculate that the tomb belongs to an Amarna heretic.

As they start the excavation, Amelia asks her husband where he wants the rubble to be dumped. He pauses for a moment, looking over the landscape and then points to the southwest. "There, by the entrance to the tomb of Ramses VI. Those ruins are only of workmen's huts, there is nothing of interest there."* Of course, as we now know (and as the Emersons discover in the most recent book, "The Tomb of the Golden Bird") those workmen's huts sit atop the entrance to Tutankhamun's tomb. At the end of the book, the Emersons speculate as to the meaning of a pectoral found on the remains of an ancient robber in the tomb they have finished for Lord Baskerville.

"You remember that pectoral we found on the body of the grave robber, Peabody?"
"Of course, Emerson."
"We deciphered the cartouche to be the name of Tutankhamun."
"We thought that might be the name of the occupant."
"Yes, well, it couldn't have been, given what we found there. But do you think, Peabody, that a thief could have robbed two graves in one night?"
"Only if they were very close together, Emerson." And they laugh at such an absurd thought. Although we know better, don't we, reader, even if Tut's tomb isn't discovered until 1922.

*All quotes are approximations, at best, based on my recollection and not intended to be taken as actually from the book.

The Old Wine Shades, by Martha Grimes

Martha Grimes has long been one of those detective series writers who is one of my guilty pleasure. Her series centers on detective Richard Jury, who is a sort of Byronic/Heathcliffian hero--tall, lean, ineffably sad for no apparent reason, and hopelessly attractive to females of all ages. (Seriously. Even the six year olds like him.) His good friend is a peer from a small town named Melrose Plant, who has a puckish sense of humor, enough money to be a man of leisure, and a secret over his own past. The two men form a friendship that evolves into near side-kickery over the various books, as each begins to show the other their secret hearts.

One of the difficulties of this series, however is that Grimes names each book after a whimsically named British pub, and it becomes a mental challenge to get the books read in the right order. Does "The Man With a Load of Mischief" come before or after "I Am The Only Running Footman?" Although, given the interesting names she has uncovered, I am willing to do that work.

Although I am making an exception for "The Old Wine Shades, " which should have been called "Hastily Produced Contractual Obligation," or more succinctly "WTF?"

The book starts with Richard Jury on a semi-informal leave from his post. He has apparently solved a previous mystery by breaking into the suspects' premises and removing several children who were in jeopardy, but without a warrant. His superior, D.C. Racer, hates Jury anyway, and uses the opportunity to lecture him at every turn, while neither suspending nor clearing him. As a result, Jury finds himself in employment limbo, unable to work on any cases, but not truly free. Entering "The Old Wine Shades," a wine bar in London, he meets a man named Harry Johnson, who has a story about a friend of his. The friend is named Hugh Gault, and Gault's wife was looking at property in the country with her eight year old autistic son and their dog. Between the first and second property, all three of them disappeared. Nine months later, the dog came back.

Jury is caught up in this tale, and finds himself doing some discrete checking up on the facts. He also returns to the Old Wine Shades to hear the tale unfold. In the course of the conversation, we are treated to a fairly clunky and pedantic treatise on quantum physics, especially the paradox of Schrodinger's cat. The "mystery" is an attempt to illustrate a version of the paradox of physics--that something can be true, but not provable.

Of course, in a crime novel, this is hardly new. After all, there are plenty of books in which the detective knows the solution but cannot prove it. Back in the old days of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, the criminal feels such remorse that he takes "the gentleman's solution" and kills himself before his family can be humiliated. Nearly the entire catalog of 1970s cop shows involve cops who "know" who the perpetrator is, and use unorthodox (read, illegal) methods of catching the bad guys. And Jessica Fletcher ended every hour of detection describing a bizarre set of facts that are completely unprovable unless the suspect confesses.

In this case, the facts seem to line up--Hugh Gault really exists, living as reported in a sanatorium. The real estate agent supports the event--the woman, her son and dog did take the keys to two different properties, saw the first one and called the office, then was never heard from again. The keys were never returned. The dog, who came back, is now sitting under the barstool of the man telling the tale.

Then, the body of "Mrs. Gault" turns up, except she isn't. When Jury goes to the sanatorium to ask Hugh Gault to come identify his wife's body, his wife is actually there visiting him. The real Mrs. Gault had been in the south of France dealing with her grief over the death of their eight year old autistic son in a sailing accident nearly a year before. Nothing is as it appeared.

In fact, it seems that Harry Johnson is some sort of a sociopath who set up the scenario, using his Italian girlfriend to play the wife, borrowing a boy from a badly run special school to portray the son, and using his own dog. The girlfriend represents herself as "Mrs. Gault" and does in fact go to look at the first property, then drives away from the second without making any further contact with the rental agent. The boy is dropped back at the school, and nothing happens for nine months, until Johnson meets Jury in the bar.

The boy from the school is subsequently kidnapped, along with a little girl, and stashed in Harry Johnson's basement. Why? Was he going to keep them there for a while? Was he going to kill them? He has already killed his girlfriend--so why has he saddled himself with these two kids, taking risks to keep them unharmed?

Why does Grimes drag Melrose Plant into the story only to force him to get a make-over to impersonate Niels Bohr? Why does she have the dog narrate at least two chapters? Who knows?

In the end, Jury becomes convinced that Harry Johnson has set this all up and that Jury will never be able to prove it. Did Johnson know who Jury was when he started telling the story? Had he set the whole thing up for a reason? The answer is unknowable--like the fate of Schrodinger's cat, and unprovable.

In a series as long lasting as this one, there are bound to be one or two clunkers. This is one of those clunkers. Don't judge the series on this book--in fact, don't read this one at all.