Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Short Takes, August 2007

Right Livelihoods

Rick Moody's Right Livelihoods is three astonishing novellas that appear unconnected to each other or the volume's title. How a demented elderly alcoholic man; a mousy, paranoid, insurance office administrator in her 30's; and a journalist in a post-apocalyptic future New York are related is a mystery. The same can be said for how they relate to the Buddha's notion of "right livelihood," which is one of the Eight Noble Truths that lead to enlightenment. What they demonstrate, however, is Moody's prodigious talents, both of writing and of imagination. He can bring to life worlds so diverse as a small island community in the Long Island Sound, a small office in Boston, and, most impressively, a science-fiction take on life, memory, and meaning.

The Book of the Dead

Writing duo Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child pack The Book of the Dead, their 11th novel, with every kind of mystery and action. The Great Tomb of Senef, a complete Egyptian tomb hidden in the basement of the Museum of Natural History in New York for 70 years, is being opened again with no expense spared, regardless of its being cursed. All seems to be going well until two strange attacks occur. Meanwhile, Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast, framed by his brilliant psychopath brother Diogenes, is holed up in a maximum security federal prison. With his brother out of the way, Diogenese visits Constance Greene, the Agent's ward.

A bit bewildering at first to those new to the world of Agent Pendergast, this gothic story unfolds and all previous plot points are sufficiently explained. All the characters are stereotyped, and Agent Pendergast is a Holmsian figure, with fine breeding, an anachronistic manner of speech, and nearly superhuman abilities. If you don't mind straining credulity with such characters, the intricate plotting, excellent pacing, and interesting combination of genres make The Book of the Dead a fine bit of entertainment.

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