Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Michael Gruber: Valley of Bones

If you were paying attention, you will remember that I reviewed Michael Gruber's 'first' novel, Tropic of Night, back in August. And, having read that one, I naturally rushed out to find his follow-up. And Valley of Bones is it.

As might be expected, this one also features Miami detective Jimmy Paz. But Jimmy turns out to take second place, at least in my judgement, to a strange young woman called Emmylou Dideroff (among other names).

Also heavily featured is a hypochondriac police psychologist (female) who provides Mr Paz's love interest; and who knows, the arrangement may become permanent.

Once again this is an absolutely first class thriller -- or police procedural -- or crime novel. Actually, I suspect it is really about religion, in the same way that Tropic of Night was about black magic or voodoo or the occult. But don't worry: this is not one of your fancypants novels of ideas. This is a bite-your-fingernails kind of a book in the best tradition. Its subject matter is, however, those who are possessed by the devil, and those who are filled with the grace of God.

Gruber has, as we discovered last time, been a professional writer for decades, although this is only his second book under his own name. So it is not remotely surprising to find that he is a master of technique, switching between normal third-person narrative to first-person autobiographical confession to transcribed interview tape. All done without the slightest apparent effort or strain.

It would be a great mistake, however, to assume that this all comes easily. This book incorporates a lifetime of the author's accumulated wisdom, plus, I suspect, a great deal of research specifically for this project.

It will do no harm, I hope, if I state, yet again, that anyone who thinks that commercial fiction of this calibre is in any sense inferior to even the best of literary fiction is not just mistaken, they are nuts. There is no kind, polite, friendly way to put it. They are just plain ordinary nuts. Devoid of all judgement and common sense.