Friday, February 11, 2011

THE BOOK OF LIES by Brad Meltzer


Despite being the most well-known murder of all time, the weapon with which Cain killed his brother Abel remains unknown. The Bible is vague on Cain's ultimate fate as well — while we know that God reprimanded him for his actions, it is not revealed how or when he actually died.

On an unrelated note, Mitchell Siegel, father of SUPERMAN creator Jerry Siegel, was mysteriously shot and killed when Jerry was young. Neither the murderer nor the murder weapon were ever identified; in interviews, Jerry would tell that his father died of a heart attack.

If you've ever wondered about the connection between the original Biblical murder and issue #1 of SUPERMAN IN ACTION COMICS, then Brad Meltzer's got your ticket. He took two seemingly unrelated stories and through them weaved a labyrinthine conspiracy thriller, a Da Vinci Code for comic book fans, except good.

The story follows Calvin Harper, a former Homeland Security officer who now works for a homeless shelter in Miami, driving around in a van and picking up vagrants off the street. One night he comes upon his estranged father in a park with a fresh bullet wound. Calvin doesn't trust this as a chance meeting, and soon finds himself wrapped up in an elaborate search for Cain's original murder weapon (an artifact that could potentially uproot the entire Christian establishment), with nothing but a mint condition copy of ACTION COMICS #1 as his guide. Meanwhile, he and his father are pursued by a devoted Cain worshipped named Ellis Belasco. (CALvin and ELlis? Get it?...oh. Ya know, don't worry about it)

Brad Meltzer is a talented writer; you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue with that fact. I had heard nothing but high praise for him, with reputable creators touting him as "a master of structure," and so forth. Even the trailer for the book (below) features Damien Lindolf, Joss Whedon, and Brian K. Vaughan worshipping at the altar of Meltzer. As such, I was initially disappointed in The Book of Lies, because it was only good. It's nothing groundbreaking, nothing that will be studied in universities for years to come and mined for its literary richness.

But as I continued reading and found myself wrapped up and intrigued by the story, I realized — that's okay. Not every story has to blow my mind open and change the way the world looks. I started the book with unfairly high expectations, but ultimately enjoyed myself. Brad is a master plotter capable of writing sleek and thrilling prose. The characters never felt truly real and alive, but they were richly developed enough to service the story, and each fulfill their given roles. I cared less for them than I did for the Byzantine conspiracy that drove them, but I didn't mind letting them guide me there either.


The Book of Lies
by Brad Meltzer

Style — 6.0
Meltzer is clearly a competent writer, but his prose isn't particularly colorful or imaginative. It's effective and thrilling, but not especially fanciful. He does lose points, however, for including multiple lines of dialogue like, "This isn't just some action movie cliché!" or "This isn't like some covenient thriller novel, this is serious!" As you can probably guess, everytime a character uttered something along those lines, it actually was a typical action/thriller movie/novel moment. Which is fine, but pointing it out to me (even if the irony wasn't intentional) pulled me straight out of the story, every time. I was also bothered by the inconsistency of perspective — different chapters were told from different characters' points of view, but the Calvin chapters were in First Person, while everyone else was in Third, and there was really no reason for this (especially since there were a few parts that focused on Calvin written in Third Person). It may just be me, but I generally prefer my perspectives to be all or nothing.

Story — 6.8
The clever and creative connection between the murder of Abel and the first issue of Superman, and the accompanying conspiracy of Bible re-interpretations was endlessly captivating. Meltzer certainly did his research, and keeps the mysteries coming all the way through the end, slowly revealing his cards and twisting the plot around more. It's a great idea, and the plotting is masterfully executed. That being said, the characters hardly mattered to me at all — I just wanted to knew the truth about the relationship between Cain and Superman.

General — 6.7
Once I got over my expectations for the book to be the modern day Ulysses, I really enjoyed it. It was an easy read, always entertaining, and endlessly intriguing. If I had found this on the paperback rack at the airport, I would have thought it was incredible. Meltzer is certainly a step above your average paperback thriller, but certainly not yet in the upper echelon of literary masters. He just writes really enjoyable books, and if you're looking for a good read, it's absolutely worth checking out.

Overall — 6.5

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