Saturday, March 5, 2011

Book Review: The Treasure of Israel

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

Where do I begin with S. J. Munson's novel, The Treasure of Israel? From the first pages, the words sloppy, amateurish came to mind. The formatting is jarring, almost as if the author's rough manuscript was dumped into a book-espresso machine and vomited out as-is. Blank lines separate paragraphs. Scene breaks are marked (or is it marred?) by multiple blank lines and gaggles of asterisks.  The use of dashes is seriously inconsistent (some long, some short). Was no editing done by the publisher, Revival Nation Publishing of Ontario? Well, considering their web site is defunct, it's hard to tell the quality of their products. One profile of them indicates they dedicate profits to Christian ministry work -- a laudable goal, but no excuse for a sloppy end product. Maybe it is strictly vanity publishing.

To say the novel's characters are thin is an insult to all thin characters ever created. To quote Admiral Nimitz (Henry Fonda) from the movie Midway when discussing Objective A-F: "Thin? Damn near invisible!"  The main character is Michael Grammaticus, not to be confused with his father from the opening chapter, Michael Grammaticus. The storyline has a poor man's Da Vinci Code feel to it, where a secret left behind by the deceased Michael Sr. propels Michael Jr. into danger and intrigue following clues among Rome's ancient churches. And we have, of course, the obligatory accidental female sidekick babe who latches on for the ride. The dialog among the characters usually consists of pointless arguments and dribbling banter that pretends to be clever but fails miserably.

The only interesting part for me were the flashbacks that detailed the history behind the treasures of the ancient temple of Israel. If those portions are true, then it represents a significant body of research.  But, who knows how much is just made up?

Dive into a good Clive Cussler novel instead.  The Treasure of Israel is definitly a book to skip.

Book Review: Summer's Lease

Copyright © 2011, Steven E. Houchin. All rights reserved.

I recently finished John Mortimer's literary novel Summer's Lease. At first glance, it would seem to be another tedious story of a dysfunctional family. I was pleasantly surprised when plot elements of mystery and intrigue were introduced early.

The main character, Molly Pargeter, lives in England. She is "big-boned", has led a dull life lacking in ambition, and admires Italian paintings. She arranges a long summer vacation in Tuscany for her family: husband Hugh and the children. The arrangements are made by letter correspondence with a mysterious S. Kettering, who gives Molly precise, detailed instructions about use of his villa "La Felicita", such as "Above all, avoid flushing the lavatory next to the small sitting-room more than once in any given half hour or serious results may follow." Much to her chagrin, her gadfly father, Haverford Downs, manages to invite himself along. He writes a declining column for a low-rent publication, the Informer, convincing the editor that Tuscany was just the place to inspire his writing.

Once in Tuscany at La Felicita, Molly begins to notice odd happenings, the most dramatic of which is the sudden lack of water at the villa, including the remarkable disappearance of the pool's water overnight. She also becomes obsessed with meeting her landlord, S. Kettering, after finding a cryptic note that seems to indicate his imminent murder.

The story pulls the reader along from one curious event to another, as Molly's determination grows to find answers to the mysteries she sees. Along the way, her father makes mischeif, a murder happens, and Molly finds out her husband has been hiding something from her. The language is deliciously English, and there is a good cast of bit-players who keep things interesting.

Summer's Lease will keep you turning the page.