Monday, May 31, 2010

Cemetery Dance

Cemetery Dance, the New York Times bestseller by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, is an interesting and often absorbing murder mystery was set in Manhattan.  It is always fun to read about various Manhattan landmarks since that's where I live. Zombies commit murders, and exotic West Indian voodoo references are plentiful. The book held my attention throughout most of its 566 pages, but in the end it let me down.

Cemetery Dance didn't need to be so long. After about 300 pages, I got impatient with rambling descriptions. The writing was clear and adequate, but utilitarian. The descriptions were not so poetic or so well crafted that you would read any of them a second time just for the sheer pleasure of it. Let's face it, Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angela's Ashes (the book I just finished) is a hard act to follow!

Preston and Child established a tension between the down-to-earth police Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta (the realist) and the eccentric FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast (a believer the power of in vodou, being raised in New Orleans). As a reader, I found myself identifying with first D'Agosta, then Pendergast, as I tried to figure out if there was some plausible explanation for the murders or if the killer was really an undead zombi thing.

My assumption with mystery novels is that the author will make subtle suggestions or intimations which will add up to a revelation at the end. Along the way I may catch some of the hints but will miss others, which is exactly what the author intends. At the conclusion, though, I expect to be able to look back and realize the missed clues.

Preston and Child apparently don't share my assumptions. They allowed me, the reader, to share D'Agosta's suspicions at least part of the time, but on page 463 when Pendergast made the significant discovery that would solve the mystery, I was completely unable to intuit what Pendergast would do next or even why the discovery was so significant! In the 103 pages that followed, Preston and Child introduced an elaborate turn of events that the reader could never have anticipated, each twist of the plot more outrageous than the one before it. In the final 20 pages they resorted to having Pendergast explain the whys and wherefores to D'Agosta in order to ensure the reader had followed the plot.

I felt like the authors paid me, the reader, a disservice. They used the sensationalism of vodou and animal sacrifice to put me off other theories. By withholding so much information until the end, it was clear they never meant to engage me. They strung me along with cheap thrills, then after 546 pages they just dumped the explanation on me. That was that, end of story. I closed the book feeling frustrated, manipulated, and a bit insulted. Did they think I wouldn't be trying to solve the mystery myself?

Apparently Preston and Child have a loyal following, and the eccentric Pendergast appears in all their novels. I much prefer the understated Miss Marple and the hard-working Inspector Lewis.

I bought the book at the Kennedy airport to read on a flight to Florida. Next time I'll buy an Agatha Christie or a Colin Dexter novel in advance.

To see blog posts about other books I've read, click HERE

© 2010, Linda Mason Hood
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1 comment:

gothchic172 said...

I find that the book was quite interesting.Not at all frustrating. I enjoyed and I am only 13 years old