Saas Fee ski resort, Switzerland, 7.00 am March 6, 2005
A group of skiers find themselves staring in horror at the half- naked body of a man, his outstretched arms tied crucifixion-like to the cable of the Alpin Express cable car. The victim is later identified as the outspoken, controversial Monsignor Antoine Salvador, Archbishop of Lyon.
Personal vendetta or the beginning of sectarian violence? The Swiss police are baffled by this grisly crime and call Interpol for help. Thierry Dulac, a caustic inspector with an enviable track record, gets the nod.
I must admit that thrillers with a religious scenario are not the sorts of books that I seek out, so DEAD BISHOPS DON'T LIE by André K. Baby would not be a book that I'd normally give a second glance. When offered by the author for review purposes, I did stop and think about it, and there was something about the blurb of the book that appealed. Probably the "caustic investigator" idea - being a declared fan of the less than perfect central protagonist.
Set in the European environments of Switzerland, Italy and Russia, with a touch of the exotic in the Caribbean, the gruesome murders of two archbishops seem to be related by the hidden meaning in the way that the killings were done, as well as the messages left by the murderers. Investigator Thierry Dulac, dry, acerbic, controlled and measured, is put in charge of the international investigation, and in turn he looks to an expert in mythology and symbolism for help in decoding the killer's cryptic messages.
Of course in this sort of thriller, you expect a big conspiracy, and in religious thrillers I doubt there's any more obvious source of that threat than the Vatican, the Code of Silence, and lurking Cardinal's influence. Toss in a bit of Russian past and present menace, a British Marchioness with some out there sexual habits and something that she seems to be hiding, and you're well into the realms of the money, the influence and the power.
Rule number 1 with these sorts of thrillers is that there must be a good sense of pace and action. It's a bonus if you can get some good, believable, realistic characters built into that. It's a bigger bonus if there's a good sense of place and the occasional bit of exotic as well. In the main, Baby's settings and characters are really good, the reader really gets a feel for each of the locations in this book, and a chance to connect with all of the major characters. The baddies were nicely lurking and threatening, without stepping that narrow line into cartoonish. There are a few problems with some the pacing at points in the book, and a couple of extraneous scenes that perhaps could have been dumped to get the action and pace of the book moving forward quickly, but really, once the scene is set, the story is very engaging.
If, like me, you're a bit wary of this sort of thriller, it would be worth swallowing the reticence and giving DEAD BISHOPS DON'T LIE a go.
FLASHFORWARD - Robert J. Sawyer
Even with no one at the helm, the world continues to turn. Time for chaos to take over, and so it reigns triumphant. For two paralysing minutes, humanity checks out of the present and shoots frighteningly into its own future.
The ABC tv series has prompted the re-release of the paperback but has little resemblance to the events of 2009 that Sawyer created.
The best science fiction novels will always have you firmly believing in the writer's vision of our future world. It is a given that there will be some hellishly dire warning as to where humanity will head if it trips merrily along its current path of debauchery and selfishness. Science fiction offers up all the cool stuff like great technology and at best, grounds this reality from whatever stage of advancement the world is at as the novel is written (which would be 1999 for FLASHFORWARD).
It is interesting to compare how we are now, to how Sawyer thought we might be a decade into the future. A layman's knowledge of quarks, the shelf life of a Supernova and the behaviours of neutrinos etc and suchlike might have been of valuable assistance to understanding what it is that causes the Flashforward, and it may be this aspect of the read that will appeal to the little space geek hidden inside of you anyway. (CERN's real life website will be helpful here ).
As the novel is multi perspective (necessary for a novel where catastrophes occur on a global scale) we are privy to the immediate after reactions of the scientists who work together at CERN, and how their lives spiral outwards from that couple of minutes when the whole conscious world goes bye-bye.
It's an incredible premise that is not fully explored and the complexities of space and technology swamp the human interactions in this novel. This does not necessarily detract from the read, however it strips away opportunities for possible morality explorations and "survivor" personal angst on a grand scale. FLASHFORWARD will make its readers question themselves - it is quite impossible not to project yourself right into this story. Is it best not to know your own future, so as to not consciously steer your life towards what may or not be a fixed path - one that was always going to be determined by your own actions?
FLASHFORWARD has enormous potential throughout the book but with such upward momentum, anything less than an apocalyptic conclusion might only serve as a let down. It is easy to see why this novel is so awarded and highly regarded in science fiction circles. Having every person on earth facing the same dilemma is an ambitious premise for a novel. The ideas are put out there with a lot of theorizing left to the reader - and perhaps that was always the intention.