March was a frustrating month for reading. For one thing, my focus was on finishing edits to Ghost White Murder, so I didn’t have the time or energy to read many books. For another, the books I chose were, for the most part, disappointing.
Reading “The Lost Symbol” for me was a bit of research as well as a bit of pleasure. The idea for a different kind of series has been tickling at the back of my brain for more than a year. My nascent series is part science fiction, part allegory, part treasure hunt, part the revealing of great secrets. The bits and pieces haven’t quite gelled into a plot yet, but I’ve always imagined it as somewhat of a religious thriller. And if there is anyone who can be considered the master of this kind of book, it’s Dan Brown.
I’ve read several of Dan Brown’s books, including, of course “The DaVinci Code.” I found “Angels and Demons” disappointing, somewhat of a warmup exercise for “The DaVinci Code,” where Brown pulled all of the pieces together in a page-turning mystery-thriller that set the world on fire. I thought “Digital Fortress” was horrible. While I don’t remember the details, the fact that its portrayal of computer science was quite a bit off the mark totally turned me off.
“The Lost Symbol” was another disappointment. Brown mines his well-known tropes, including Freemasons, mysticism, and ancient mysteries waiting to be rediscovered. If you’ve explored these topics before, whether in Brown’s books or through other sources, you’re not going to find a whole lot new here. As always, there’s a ton of information on symbology, with Robert Langdon acting as the protagonist who must decipher the true meaning of it all.
The problem was, I was ahead of him a lot of the time. I kept wondering how this genius was missing what was plain to me long before he arrived at the solution. Worse, once the primary plot is resolved, there’s still ten percent of the book left to read. This consists of changing points of view intended to keep the tension going as he drags out the final explanations of all the threads that are supposed to lead to the big reveal, the underlying secret. Since, as I said, I’d figured out much of this over the course of the book, my primary reaction was “Get on with it!”
I’m pretty sure it will be a while before I read another Dan Brown book. I just hope I can find another author who will satisfy my craving for this kind of story in the meantime.
After an action-adventure book, I was ready for another classic story from the golden age of British mystery. This is a book I heard about in high school, but I never actually read it.
This is a different kind of book, a historical mystery which takes place in the present rather than in the past. (The present being defined as the early twentieth century when the book was written.) It’s also told differently than the usual mystery, which from what I read in the preface was typical of Josephine Tey.
Alan Grant, an inspector at Scotland Yard, is flat on his back in hospital after falling through a trap door while chasing a criminal. Needless to say, he’s bored. Looking at the ceiling has been his primary occupation, and it’s not very satisfying.
His friend Marta arrives with yet more novels for him to read, of which he already has plenty, and they discuss his problem. She suggests that what he misses is solving crimes and perhaps he could solve one from his bed. She comes up with the idea of solving one of the unsolved cases from the past, and the next day brings him a stack of pictures.
This proves to be exactly the stimulus Grant needs. One of his skills as a detective is reading faces. When he comes upon a picture of Richard III, he sees a face that doesn’t seem capable of murdering the princes in the tower.
For those who don’t know what this means, Richard III is remembered as murdering his two nephews after having them locked up in the Tower of London so he could assume the throne of England. This theory was popularized by Shakespeare in his play “Richard III.”
But Alan Grant is a detective, and his instincts tell him Richard didn’t murder the princes. He decides he’s going to investigate the crime as if it were one of his cases from his bed. Marta happens to know a young American researcher who’s working at the British Museum and puts the two together.
As I read the book, I was amazed at how engaged I was by a story with so little live action. The discoveries are made both by the researcher and by Grant as he reviews the notes and reads books. The live action consists solely of conversations between the two of them, with the occasional discussion with other people.
The only fault I could find was the use of so many names in the book. Tey makes an assumption that you’re familiar with the players, which if you’re British, you probably are for the most part. But I’m not as familiar with British royalty, and with multiple Elizabeths and Henrys and the houses of Lancaster and York, I found it a bit difficult. The book does include the family trees of both Richard III and Henry VII, but a Kindle isn’t the best device for examining things like this closely.
I think it would be worthwhile to read the book again now that I’ve been introduced to everyone and have a better idea of the people and events. However, other books are calling my name, so it may be a while before I reread it.
Although I read the first book in this series years ago and didn’t find it to my taste, this month I attempted to read the second book based on the enthusiasm of a writer I respect. Unfortunately, I found this one no more engaging than the first one.
It’s not that it’s a bad book. The writing is very good.
But when you find yourself looking forward to an hour of reading, and then have to force yourself to continue to read the book you’ve started rather than another book you’re excited about starting, you have to admit that the current one just isn’t your cup of tea.
I used to read every book to the end whether I liked it or not. I’m the kind of person who feels they have a commitment to finishing what they start. It’s only recently that I’ve stopped reading a book that doesn’t engage me. I realized that there are so many books I want to read, I don’t have the time to struggle to the end of every book.
What about you? Do you read a book from start to finish every time? Or do you bail out of a book you don’t particularly like? If you don’t finish every book, how much of the book do you read before deciding to stop?