Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Val Landi: A Woman from Cairo

I have been reading Val Landi's novel A Woman from Cairo, a book which has been mentioned on this blog many a time, and one which has, naturally, its very own web site.

A Woman from Cairo is a thriller, set in the present day, and for the moment Val Landi has published it himself, through Booksurge, the publishing arm of Amazon. (Booksurge have done a pretty good job, by the way. The text is very nicely laid out and well printed.)

Perhaps the easiest way to summarise this novel's quality is to say this: if you'd asked me to read it blind, without knowing anything about its origins, and if you had then told me that it was published by HarperCollins, and had got to number eight on the NY Times bestseller list, I wouldn't have at all been surprised. In other words, what we have here is a highly professional and polished piece of work.

That said, I do need to add that it is not absolutely out of the top drawer. It is not, for instance, as good as Martin Cruz Smith's Wolves Eat Dogs, Robert Littell's Legends, or Charles McCarry's Old Boys. But then all those guys have been doing the job for decades. If Val Landi sticks around, and goes on writing a book every year or two (as I hope he will), then in the course of time he will acquire just that little bit extra that the truly experienced writers have. But for a first book this is a strong one. I found it much more impressive, for instance, than the much-hyped The Traveller/Traveler.

Here's the Amazon summary:
A Woman from Cairo is a novel of suspense about a young Egyptian documentary filmmaker who accidentally films the assassination of a fictionalized Osama bin Laden. It is an absorbing tale of intrigue, orbiting around an axis of betrayal, love, passion, stolen identity, history and religion, murder and revenge. The landscape shifts from the peaks of the Hindu Kush to Cairo's Old City, Manhattan, and Madrid's Prado Museum to its startling conclusion at the Sundance Film Festival.
In essence, this is a novel about what we have come to call terrorism. And, of course, if you've been following the history of the book with even half an eye, you will know that that is the 'problem'.

Val Landi has worked both in publishing and in the wired world of internet technology. He also has a Master's degree in History and Literature from Harvard. So he is as well equipped as anyone on the planet to (a) write a good novel and (b) figure out how to market it effectively in the 21st century.

Not surprisingly, Val's ms soon found itself a top agent (Jean Naggar), but to date the major publishers have taken the view that 'This is fine, but...' And the but takes the form of a belief that the American public is not interested in buying novels about terrorism, and much prefers books about dogs and how to knit woolly sweaters. Well, maybe. But there are those of us, me for instance, who are more than ready to read a good thriller. Been reading them for well over fifty years. So for updates on what happens to A Woman from Cairo from here on in, keep an eye on Val's blog.

Of course, since A Woman from Cairo is the author's debut novel, it could be better. The book is, perhaps, too intelligent and thoughtful for many readers. There are, for my taste, a few too many viewpoint characters. And every one of the characters comes complete with a lengthy and detailed c.v. which explains how they came to be what they are. Which is fine, but it leads to a book which is very information-dense. Not all of that information, it seems to me, is absolutely essential, and some of it could have been sacrificed to speed with advantage. Facts are not necessarily emotionally involving; action does that better. And then there are one or two plot points which strained my credulity just a little.

These are, however, relatively minor points, and it will be enlightening to the rest of us to see whether Val Landi can force this one on to the public stage in a big way. I would like to think that the trick is at least capable of being performed, by those with the talent, energy, time, and (it has to be said) capital.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I have to admire Mr. Landi's struggle. Self-publishing still has a hard row to hoe and quality writers like Landi are the ones who are giving it a better name. It's amusing to watch "real" publishers, who have scoffed so long at self-publishing, now pulling books out of the toilet to tout to the public. It may not be that self-publishing needs to catch up--the established industry may well simply undo itself through its own arrogance and contempt. Interesting times.