ORPHEUS LOST is latest novel from Janette Turner Hospital, her last crime fiction novel being DUE PREPARATIONS FOR THE PLAGUE, which won the Davitt Award for the "Best Crime Novel by an Australian Woman in 2003".
ORPHEUS LOST is the story of 3 people. Leela is a mathematical genius from a small town American Southern state, studying in Boston. Cobb is her childhood friend, mathematically gifted as well, but he took a different path in life - into the Armed Services and ultimately Iraq. Mishka is a young Australian musician, grandson of refugee Jewish Hungarians, unknowingly the son of a Lebanese Muslim terrorism leader.
Leela and Mishka meet in Boston where they are both studying, the attraction between them is instantaneous. Cobb is drawn into the circle when Mishka is implicated in a terrorist attack on the Boston train network. Mishka has been seen meeting with the suicide bomber responsible for the attack and he's hanging around a notorious Mosque. That and the links to his father make Mishka instantly suspicious to American authorities. When Mishka suddenly disappears Leela is no more aware of Mishka's background than his current activities and it seems that Cobb, who she did not even know was watching them, knows more about Mishka than Leela ever did.
ORPHEUS LOST is categorised as Fiction - not Crime Fiction or a Thriller and the author is quoted as saying that she's "always been interested in examining ordinary human beings, people without political agendas, who are suddenly caught up in the fist of history and crisis." Certainly ORPHEUS LOST explores the accidental acts of history - familial and current affairs - that place people in extraordinary circumstances. Each of the 3 main characters in this book have their own backstory which has elements of sadness, eccentricity, secrets, extreme stress and loving care. Leela and Cobb experienced childhoods in the same town, with fathers with different but equally damaging behaviour for their children. Mishka's family background is disconnected, private, intensely damaged by the Second World War - his unknown father only becoming somebody when he's an adult, seeking his own identity. When these 3 people come back together again, the results are quite complicated and very intricate.
Where ORPHEUS LOST becomes less of an interesting book is in a device that the author uses a lot - where characters move rapidly from real life events into dreams / dream sequences / imaginings of events. There is certainly a lyrical flavour to these sequences but they also jar within the pace of the general book - driving the reader out of the story. This is likely to make the book less appealing for many readers, and it's a pity because the basic premise is very clever and extremely well executed, the 3 main characters very sympathetic and interesting and the supporting cast well drawn and involving.