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The Book of the Dead

October 31, 2011

Have you ever read a book you thought was going to be bad, on purpose so you could make fun of it afterwards? I have, because Freshhell sent me The Book of the Dead, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. She thought it was laughably bad when she listened to it on audio, and she actually took the trouble to send me a copy so I could laugh, too.

Now, maybe because I was expecting badness, and maybe because I skimmed through it pretty quickly (it’s a co-authored book, and that often means badly written, in my experience), I thought it was a pleasant-enough mystery story. Maybe my liking it also had to do with the fact that I’m a sucker for Egyptian-type mysticism; my parents stood in line to take me and my brother through the first King Tut exhibition in Chicago in 1977, so my childhood was replete with dreams of mummies and gold.

Yes, some of the writing was hokey. One character was “dressed elegantly and with less than the usual degree of academic rumpledness” which, as we all know, is obligatory. The lightning-quick and meant-to-be-clever by-play between two characters who are playing “who’s more important” on the telephone consists of one asking “How are things down on the farm?” and the other answering “seems to be ruttin’ season for hogs.” When a woman turns down one of the Egyptologists, a British guy, he thinks “the woman was as common as muck.” That’s telling her, man!

And yet the mystery, with various characters who are unable to remember traumatic events from their past interacting as they set up a museum exhibit of an ancient Egyptian tomb, complete with curse, was compelling enough that it kept me reading. When one character who seemed completely harmless suddenly tried to kill another character who had survived an earlier attack, I got hooked. Rather than laughing at the woman who is seduced by a man suggesting that her life is too much of the mind and not enough of the body, I was charmed by the gifts he sends to her: “The Satyricon of Petronius; Huysman’s Au rebours; Oscar Wilde’s letters to Lord Alfred Douglas; the love poetry of Sappho; Boccaccio’s Decameron.”

By the time the characters arrive at “The Doorway to Hell,” the mystery has been pretty thoroughly laid out before the reader, and yet it was absorbing, at least to me, to watch how the denouement is neatly unfolded. When a mummy rises from the tomb “the bony fingers sank into the linen wrappings and ripped them away, revealing a visage of such horror…” that you’re left to imagine it. Except that for good measure, there’s a sound one paragraph later that was so “full of dread and horror, so loud it seemed to violate her very being.” Okay, well, how many different ways are there, anyway, to describe scary stuff? If there are better ones, I don’t really care to hear them. I like the way there are no supernatural villains in this book, and the human perpetrator of all the horror is finally caught and sent over the edge into a literal hell. For me, this was a good Halloween season read.

So although I really intended to present this review as the first in my upcoming series entitled “Reading Dreck, So You Don’t Have To,” I thought the book was too much fun and couldn’t do it. Freshhell, I guess you’re going to have to send me even worse books if you want to set more snark in motion.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2011 9:27 am

    *shakes head and sighs* This book make me scream, while listening to cliche after cliche, in my car. I will have to try again. Maybe a Patricia Cornwell will do the trick.

  2. October 31, 2011 11:42 am

    I think speed of reading makes the difference. My eye glides over cliches if there’s any semblance of plot, while having them read out loud to me will usually make me scream, too. And I did use the word “hokey,” which was fun.

  3. freshhell permalink
    October 31, 2011 1:04 pm

    Hokey is a good word. This book was not. That said, I took it back to the library unfinished.

    • November 1, 2011 8:23 am

      What you must think of me now.

      • November 1, 2011 11:51 am

        I imagine she thinks of you the way you think of me after I suggested you read The Wasp Factory.

        • November 1, 2011 12:08 pm

          Hee. I think it’s worse. She now doubts my taste, whereas I realized yours is deeply twisted 😉

  4. October 31, 2011 6:08 pm

    Hee! I think I’ve actually read this one as well. I had pretty much the same thoughts as you about it, and I definitely didn’t spend too much time carefully reading it.

    You might try The Relic by the same authors. This one came out in the 90s and I remember totally loving it back then.

    • November 1, 2011 8:24 am

      I did read that this one is the third in a series–there were hints and allegations about how some of the characters were already embroiled with each other. But even though I enjoyed this one, I don’t think I’ll be looking for any of the others. After Halloween, I start looking for less scary books to get me through the dark days.

  5. Mumsy permalink
    October 31, 2011 8:36 pm

    Why do writers ever co-write? Surely experience has taught us that IT CAN ONLY RESULT IN DRECK. (Although Sorcery and Cecelia was rather fun.)

  6. November 1, 2011 8:25 am

    There are a few exceptions. Ron wants to make a list, so we can start with Sorcery and Cecelia…

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