Monday, March 24, 2008

"The Malice Box", by Martin Langfield (Penguin)

Satisfying supernatural-tinged thriller from promising new author

Martin Langfield's The Malice Box was not what I was expecting. The supernatural/spiritual elements of the story took me a little by surprise, as I was expecting something more akin to a Indiana Jones-like romp. Instead, there's a lot to do with our psychic identities and some people's psychic powers, and whatnot.

This novel centres around three friends and their "entanglement" from their days back at Cambridge University together. These are Robert Reckliss, British journalist based in New York; Adam Hale, his eccentric friend; and Katherine, Robert's wife and once-girlfriend of Adam (no thriller is complete without a love-triangle of some sort). The characters are all believable (psychic-natures excepting, for some readers), and you do end up caring about them. Some times it can feel like not enough development went into creating all of them, though, and some elements might appear standard or cliched for the thriller genre.

Througout the novel, Langfield uses flash-backs a lot! This actually, is probably the only downside to this book; the author's addiction to changing timeline can sometimes be a little infuriating. I'm all for tantalising cliff-hanger endings, but sometimes it gets a little annoying, here.

But, if you're fine with these jumps back and forth through time, then The Malice Box is a very satisfying read. Set in two of my favourite places in the world, New York City and Cambridge, it had the added appeal to me because it read a little like a quide book - especially for the former. Some might be put off by this, but Langfield manages to describe each location in the city (of which Robert visits many) in a welcome, interesting way. Anecdotes about landmarks add local colour to the novel, while not detracting from the overall scavenger-hunt theme of the story. If you've been to New York before, then you will probably get more out of this novel than someone who either hasn't, or someone who has no intention of ever going. Langfield clearly loves this city, and it comes across very well in his writing.

To describe much of the story would ruin it for anyone not yet familiar with the novel. Needless to say, this is a very well written thriller, with decent pace, original ideas, likeable characters, and fluid prose. If you're looking for something light, but not trashy, then you should pick up The Malice Box. While there are better thriller writers out there (John Sandford, Kyle Mills and Vince Flynn come to mind), for a first novel, The Malice Box shows a natural skill for story-telling that bodes well for Langfield's future output. (Think a better-written, less schmaltzy James Patterson, or his earlier Alex Cross novels, if you need a reference.)
I've been unable to find any information on Mr Langfield's next novel, but I assume he will be writing one, and I am greatly looking forward to it.
A great mass-market appeal thriller. Recommended.

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