Tuesday, June 24, 2008

'The Righteous Men' by Sam Bourne [NO SPOILERS]

I don't read that many thrillers, finding them to be rather formulaic and... what? Yes, I know... I know I read comics, I, no, I- Look, do you want to write this? No? Well be quiet then, don't make me put you in the green box!

Anyway, having read too many books where some middle-aged male with a fairly identikit standard life is motivated to discover a conspiracy of persons by either the kidnapping or murder of a close family member I now limit myself to only one or two a year, such as when they come up for a book group I'm a member of.

The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne is such a book. It's a couple of years old now and of the subset of thrillers called 'vaguely using religious imagery/theology'. Someone from the Mirror has helpfully given the publishers 'The biggest challenger to Dan Brown's crown' which should tell you most of what you need to know. Showing no inclination towards genre-busting at all it at least sets about it's appointed task with vim and vigour: Bodycount? Check. Ridiculous premise? Check. Personal stake? Yep, the wife is kidnapped. No real attempt to make any characters interesting but take time every few pages to remind us how tired and worried about his wife the main character is? Check.

I'm actually being rather unfair to the book. I nipped through this in a few days and it's actually fairly fun and, unlike Dan Brown, didn't make me want to stick two spoons in my head and call myself a strawberry sundae.


There is one major flaw I found with the book which is, I assume, the fault of HarperCollins and not of Bourne (nee Jonathan Freedland (and if the publishers are willing to expose an author writing under a pseudonym in his own book might it not suggest there's no point using the pseudonym?)). Anyone who was enamoured of The X-Files in the 1990s might have been foolish enough to try reading the awful tie-in novels. In one of the books Mulder and Skully are trying to work out what caused some scene of devastation. Mulder is throwing out ideas about goat-suckers and little grey men and next Thursday in the form of a really angry stoat but he's doing this in a book called something like 'Whirlwind' or 'Twister', which means we readers know that the correct answer is that it's some sort of mind-controlled wind vortex of some kind and we get impatient and cranky with the book until Mulder catches up with us, then we realise we're reading a crappy tie-in novel and try to kill ourselves out of self-loathing.

At 562 pages this book is already trying our patience and it takes about half of those for 'stock hero character' to work out what is going on, that someone is finding and killing 'Righteous Men'. Although a loathsome maggot of a man at least Dan Brown has the sense to give his books meaningless titles like Angels and Demons or The Dave Itchy Code that don't mean anything to anyone. It's no wonder that once 'stock hero character' works out the plot halfway through (and this is no fault of Freedland, it would have been difficult to work it out faster) the book changes gear as we lose our sense of superiority to 'stc' and the novel races along quite nicely.

So yes, if this book were a sweet it would be a stick of rock with 'totally average thriller' written all the way through it, it's probably about fifty pages longer than it needs to be but that's probably because you have to wait longer at airports for your holiday flights these days.



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