Thursday, March 05, 2009

“The Book of Lies”, by Brad Meltzer (Hodder)

Meltzer-BookOfLies A fast-paced thriller with a unique, intriguing premise; which sadly fails to excite…

The book kicks off by introducing us to the villain of the piece, Ellis, as he tries to extract the location of the Book of Lies from its one-time owner, using a fiendish method of torture. Meanwhile, homeless-shelter employee Calvin “Cal” Harper comes across his estranged father (Lloyd), bleeding from a gunshot wound in a Florida park. Cal, a former ICE (customs) agent, finds a bill of lading when he takes Lloyd to the hospital, which starts a series of events potentially lethal for Cal and Lloyd. Following the trail of clues, Cal and Lloyd are caught up in a treasure-hunt of sorts, searching for the weapon (or information on the weapon) that Cain used to kill Abel, and how this is somehow related to the death of (creator of Superman) Jerry Siegel’s father in 1932. If that description sounds unsure or confused, well… so’s the book.

While the pace of the story rattles along at a fair clip, Meltzer has mastered the drawn-out reveal. We are only slowly made aware of what the Book of Lies actually is, and what’s really going on. For this novel, Meltzer has drawn on his love for the comic world (a medium he has written extensively for himself), adding a sprinkle of biblical mystery (involving Cain’s murder of Abel) to form the basis of the plot.

The Book of Lies was an easy read, with an original premise, a quick writing style, and interesting characters. What more could you ask for? Well, perhaps a little more depth in the plot, and a little more attention to making things a little more realistic for starters. The dialogue is a bit forced, and often rather flat. While reading the novel, I felt like I was having a good time, but whenever I put it down, I found myself wondering what was going on – whether or not something had actually happened over the past few chapters (of which there are many brief ones – Meltzer’s going the way of James Patterson). It sounds harsher than I intend, but could this be the novel equivalent of bubblegum?

If you’ve enjoyed Meltzer’s previous work (or that of any of the other authors I mention above), then you’ll likely enjoy this book, only not as much as you perhaps could have, and you’ll likely find yourself wondering what on earth is going on. Previous novels by the author – specifically, The Tenth Justice, The Millionaires and The Zero Game – have been much better. I applaud the author for trying something new, but it’s a real pity that it rather missed the mark, resulting in a series of far-fetched events. I’d recommend his other novels in a heartbeat, but with this one I’d hesitate quite a bit.

Lazy comparisons with Dan Brown are inevitable, but I would say that Brad Meltzer’s work belongs more in the company of the likes of James Patterson, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, and Matthew Reilly.

An uncharacteristically unfulfilling novel.

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