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Friday, October 17, 2008

“The Book of Lies” by Brad Meltzer (Reviewed by Fábio Fernandes)

Read An Interview with Brad Meltzer HERE

What happened if you found out that the story of Cain and Abel—or, at least, a very important part of it—was true? That, when Cain murdered Abel, he used a weapon that may still exist and, according to the Bible and other sources, may confer to its user a great power?

That is the premise of Brad Meltzer’s new novel, “The Book of Lies”. A lightweight conspiracy story, “The Book of Lies” presents us with interesting, enjoyable characters, though more biased to the bi-dimensional end of the spectrum. The protagonist, Calvin Harper, is a social worker who still lives in sorrow and guilt years after he witnessed the “accidental” murder of his mother by his own father, and is a skeptical guy who can’t bring himself to believe in anything or anyone. The only guy who he considers a real friend is former priest Roosevelt, a peaceful, hippie-like man who helps him pick up homeless people out of the streets and takes them back to shelters.

So, when he learns that his father Lloyd got out of jail a long time ago, but didn’t even try to contact him until now when he needs Cal to find this artifact, you already know what will happen. An unhealthy (and sometimes predictable, boring) family fight, complete with car chases, and the occasional murder by Ellis, an independent agent tattooed with the marks of Cain but perpetually disguised as a cop who, with his faithful dog Benoni, tracks Cal and his father until he can get the artifact and bring it to the secret society of which he is an acolyte.

This search will take them from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to a certain house Cleveland, more specifically the former home of
Jerry Siegel, who happens to be the creator of Superman. When Jerry was a child, his father Mitchell died of a heart attack—or did he? They will uncover a somber truth: Mitchell was murdered because he knew too much. He knew about the artifact and was confronted by the secret society. But not before he passed on the secret to Jerry

Now, seventy years later, it’s up to Cal, Lloyd and his lady friend Serena to find the artifact before Ellis does.

Even though Meltzer is an accomplished writer, “The Book of Lies” has a comic book feeling all over it. Of course, one can easily think that this feeling is due to the fact that Meltzer indeed deals with comic book culture in the story, and this is where things work best.

The references to comics and pop culture are very well plotted and keeps us interested throughout the book. It’s like seeing an alternate version of Umberto Eco´s
Foucault´s Pendulum, writing for the sake of entertainment instead of intellectuality—which is also an excellent thing to do, make no mistake; but Meltzer chose what I would call an upgraded version of the Robert Ludlum Approach (and that’s a compliment): an action-packed story but with plenty of well-thought.

One of the big attractions of the story is the relation to
Jerry Siegel and Superman. It’s interesting to know that the story of Siegel is much more related to Batman (his father was murdered, though in all probability not in front of him, like Bruce Wayne’s parents). And Meltzer uses this fact very cleverly.

Another interesting thing is to find out that the 1938 Superman wasn’t the first one—Siegel & Shuster wrote two previous versions before the one we all know, and, in a way not dissimilar to what Umberto Eco does in another book of his,
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Meltzer fills the pages with fac-similar reproductions of some pages (though some of them are fake, drawn exclusively for Meltzer’s story), thus offering to the readers a visual mapping of the conspiracy territory in which he enfolds them.

But the thing that can be very bothersome is the use of language. It’s as if Meltzer was writing this book already with an eye on a movie or TV adaptation. In a story that features deceit and murder, it doesn’t stand to reason that all the characters should avoid at all costs the use of profanity. “Craparoo”, “bullcrap”, and all crap-related words you can possibly think of abound in the book.

All in all, however, “The Book of Lies” is a good book. Not an excellent one, but an intriguing, theme-oriented narrative which delivers to the readers what it promises. Thinking of
The Book of Fate (which is not related to The Book of Lies, except for the choice of theme) I wonder if there will be a third installment and what kind of book it would be.


raul said...

i did like it, but was annoyed that the characters who lived on the edge of society(homeless-worker, cops, killers) all avoided actaul bad language, kinda broke the reality of it.

cindy said...

I was thinking of giving this book a try. It might be a break from some of the books that I have been reading. I will add it to my to read list. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Why does the book say that Lloyd hit Naomi w/the trophy and then later says it was Serena that hit Naomi?? Did I miss something or did the editor?

Mike Cantrell said...

Naomi hot her with a broomstick and then Lloyd hit her with the trophy. This was when Naomi showed back up at Superman's house.

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