Review: People of the Silence

Husband-and-wife team W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear write thoroughly researched novels about the different people groups living in North America in pre-Columbian times. This one, about the Anasazi or Pueblo Indian ancestors, is actually set in about 1150 A.D. This culture is “prehistoric” only in the sense that we don’t have a formal, written record of everything that went down, although there is plenty of archaeological evidence and oral tradition.

A Ceremonial City

This book comes with three maps. (I love me some maps!) The first shows North America with the general locations of the people groups who will come into play in the novel: “The Tower Builders,” “The Straight Path People,” the Mogollon, and the Hohokam. A second shows the Four Corners region, including Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, where most of the action in this book takes place, including the Great South Road built by the Anasazi and the Straight Path People’s names for all the surrounding features. I flipped back to this map many times throughout the course of the book. A third map shows a closeup of Chaco Canyon, or as the characters call it, Straight Path Wash. It shows the locations of the towns there. These can still be seen today, but the authors have given them names that the ancient Pueblo Indians might have used, such as Talon Town, Starburst Town, etc.

Talon Town (the book’s name for what is now called Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon) is the capital of the Straight Path people’s civilization. It is occupied by their priest/king, the Blessed Sun; his wife, the nation’s Matron; a seer, the Sunwatcher; the nation’s War Chief; a number of warriors; and numerous slaves, mostly people captured from neighboring groups such as the Hohokam, who are there to serve these aristocrats. Talon Town produces almost no goods of its own. Food, clothing, blankets, shells, turquoise, etc. are brought in as tribute from surrounding villages over quite a wide area, or are obtained through trade. This is what the archaeological record seems to show us.

Talon Town has two large plazas, each with a kiva in it, so that it can host religious gatherings such as solstice ceremonies and funerals for important people. Here is the authors’ description of what it might have looked like inside one of the Great Kivas as a young apprentice prepares the Blessed Sun’s body for burial:

Thlatsina [=kachina] masks hung over the small wall crypts, glittering with precious stones. Thirty-six in all, they wore brilliantly colored headdresses of blue, yellow, red, and deep black feathers. Tufts of pure white eagle down crowned many masks. Neck ruffs of buffalo, badger, rabbit, and other hides gave the appearance of beards. But Poor Singer’s eyes lingered on the sharp fangs and polished beaks that glinted in the fire’s amber glow.

The circular kiva stretched at least a hundred hands across, supported by four red masonry pillars and encircled by three bench levels. Each bench had its own sacred color, yellow, red, and blue topped by white walls.

Another body rested on the opposite foot drum, covered completely by a beautiful Death Blanket. Poor Singer couldn’t guess who it might be.

People of the Silence, p. 416

Now, the Plot

Here is the review of People of the Silence I posted on Goodreads a month ago.

Some historical novels or speculative novels set in ancient times seem to cut-and-paste modern concerns onto those supposedly ancient characters. The Gears definitely don’t do that. That is one of my top concerns in historical fiction, so props to them.

It did take me a looong time to finish this. The novel starts with a steep climb through a lot of info dumps about Anasazi cosmology, including an extended vision that happens to a young man whom we haven’t gotten to know yet. All during the vision, I kept trying to figure out what the different elements in the vision represented in the cosmological scheme that had just been presented. Later, it turned out that we weren’t supposed to totally understand the vision at the time, and it would be revealed later. Perhaps, if I had read any other books by the Gears, I would have realized this sooner, but as this was my first one, I didn’t at first have that confidence.

The steep climb continues, as we are introduced to a large cast of characters. For about the first half of the novel, it wasn’t clear to me which characters, if any, I was supposed to sympathize with. In the book, the Anasazi have a brutal caste system based on “First People” and “Made People,” and slaves captured in raids on other tribes. Some of the First People later turn out to be sympathetic characters, but you don’t find that out until about halfway through the novel. Also, some characters who are supposed to be sympathetic are seen committing atrocities when we first meet them. Eventually it becomes clear that this is a very brutal society, and the prevalence and unavoidability of violence is part of the point of the novel; but again, the violence does make it hard to figure out who we are meant be to rooting for.

After the steep climb, which lasts about half the novel, we have a long plateau (a mesa top, if you will) where we are getting to know the characters and the intricate machinations taking place in their dying society. Wheels within wheels! The whole novel also includes a lot of beautiful, lyrical descriptions of the Four Corners landscape. The Gears do a great job giving you a sense of what time of day it is, what the weather and background look like, and details of what people are eating and wearing, and how they are wearing their hair. Almost every dialogue tag comes with a one-sentence description of what the character looks like at the moment (e.g. “Her greying black hair had come loose around her beautiful triangular face, which was covered in smears of reddish dust”). Stephen King would hate this, but I don’t mind it. It helps you keep track of the different characters by forming mental images of them, and it gives that much-coveted visual glimpse into what the Anasazi looked like. (For example, they dressed in bright colors, and their royalty decorated themselves with copper bells and macaw feathers.)

Finally, having scaled and then trekked across the mesa, once you are comfortable in the world and familiar with all the power dynamics, the last hundred or so pages take you on a mad, roller-coaster rush down the other side, as secrets are revealed, violence explodes, and desperate, last-minute measures are tried. This book even turned out to be a rather creepy murder mystery, with an unexpected but satisfying reveal of the murderer.

After the novel, there is an extensive bibliography of all the archaeological and anthropological sources the Gears consulted.

If you liked my book The Long Guest, you will probably like People of the Silence, and vice versa. 

Those Creepy Fates

Left to right: Broken Top, South Sister, North Sister

There is a trio of mountains in Oregon called the Three Sisters. In fact, the town of Sisters, OR, is named for them. In this picture, you can only see two of the them (the third is hiding behind).

I use this picture for my illustration because, while there is a lot of great art portraying the Three Fates, it’s a little hard to find a picture that I can use without copyright infringement.

I recently read, with my kids, The Black Cauldron. My imagination was captured by the three swamp-dwelling little old ladies (if human?) who guard the Cauldron: Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch. As far as I can tell, Lloyd Alexander made up these ladies and imported them into his story. Though triple goddesses are a recurring feature in Celtic mythology, they are not really the same as the three fates and it’s even a falsehood that they always came in the form of maiden, mother, and crone, as you will see if you read the scathing 1-star reviews of the book The White Goddess by Robert Graves.

The Greek fates are named Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Clotho spins the thread of a mortal’s life, Lachesis measures out its predetermined length, and Atropos cuts it. Norse cosmology also has fates, called the Norns … in some versions three, named Past, Present and Future; in some versions a large but unknown number, according to this article. Evidently the idea of fate personified as three or more women (or woman-like beings) goes way back in Indo-European cosmology. It shows up as late as Macbeth’s three witches.

I had ignored the Fates for some time (as one does); but reading The Black Cauldron made me wonder whether you can write a fantasy that draws on Indo-European cosmology and not at least tip your hat to them.

By their very nature, the Fates are creepy. Lloyd Alexander does a great job of making this feeling come through when he introduces Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch. The heroes of the book, on first seeing the fates’ house (and by the way, the word ‘fates’ is not used), think it is abandoned because it looks so run-down and blends so well into the swamp shrubberies. There’s a loom set up inside the house, on which is a tangled mess of a weaving. (Don’t touch!) Then the ladies show up. Rather like Tom Bombadil in The Lord of the Rings, they seem cavalier about things that ordinary people regard as matters of life and death. Orddu keeps offering to turn the travelers into toads (“You’ll grow to like it”). Orgoch is excited about this because if they were toads, it’s implied she could eat them. Orgoch, the only one of the three who is clad in a black cowl, seems to want to eat everything. As Orddu says, “It’s hard to keep pets with Orgoch around.”

The three ladies light up when they hear that the travelers know Dallben, who it transpires they discovered as a foundling and raised. They refer to him as “little Dallben.” (Dallben is over 300 years old.)

The travelers stay the night in an outbuilding belonging to the three ladies. Taran, the main character, wakes up in the middle of the night and sneaks up to the window of the dilapidated cottage, which is now alight. He returns, reporting, “They’re not the same ones!” Orwen, Orddu and Orgoch now look young and beautiful, and they spend all night working on their weaving. The next morning, however, they appear looking just as they did before, and with the same apparent disregard for human life.

Lloyd Alexander has set a really high bar with this fictional, Welsh version of the fates, and I’m not even sure I could approach it. Here is an article that dives more deeply into an analysis of the fates and of all of Prydain, the fantasy world in which the book is set. Be warned, the article assumes you are familiar with the whole series.

I Guess We’re Really Doing This, Book #2

Don’t you look handsome, Book #2!

Uploading you was tricky. It was a two-week ordeal that gave me fits. Now, that could have been because I am nearly computer illiterate, but I prefer to think it was Satan — a.k.a. Resistance — trying to keep you from being published. You know, because you are so important and all.

Anyway, here we are.

Hi Blog Readers! Soon You Can Buy My Second Book!

The Strange Land is set go on sale May 3, in honor of a certain dear older relative’s birthday. You should be able to pre-order it soon. I just checked, and it doesn’t appear to be on Amazon yet, but that’s probably because I only released it for publishing just a few hours ago. When I have a link, I will give you one on this very blog. I’m also updating the “buy my books” page.

The Strange Land picks up more or less where The Long Guest left off and follows the second generation of Enmer’s family. Here is the back cover:

Aaand there it is … the one embarrassing typo.

And just for the thrill of it, here is the spine:

A sample print copy is on the way to my house. Let’s hope that by the time it arrives, the typo will have vanished!

Have a great week, all, and I will keep you updated.

Pre-order The Strange Land on Amazon.

A Wizard of Earthsea (A Re-read)

The following is a re-post of a review that I put up on Goodreads. Five stars!

I read A Wizard of Earthsea probably 15 years ago, and just now, re-read it. My gosh, I had forgotten; it is sooo good. The prose is almost like poetry. But not in a way that makes it hard to read; quite the opposite.

Ged is a young man with an incredible talent for magic. Even in a world where many people have that talent, he stands out. Consequently, he is arrogant, hard to teach, impatient to get on with things and to realize his greatness. The main danger in this book comes NOT from some dark, ancient force outside of Ged, like Sauron, but from within his own ignorant, arrogant, immature young heart. But this doesn’t make this book boring. Ged’s flawed nature takes on a creepy, demonic reality outside of himself, and he must fix the evil he has unleashed before it destroys the people he loves.

Ursula Le Guin isn’t a Christian, and I would say this book flirts with the Jungian idea that we all need our shadow side and need to “embrace” it in order to be whole. But there is so much wisdom in this book as well. The novel recognizes that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and that humans must face this fact. This is a fact about the world, taught in Judeo-Christian doctrine but also observable to anyone. And Le Guin has observed it.

Another big perk of this book is the worldbuilding. Earthsea is a world of oceans, archipelagos, and “far reaches.” Each island has its own distinct culture, and the fact that some of them are more remote and you of course have to sail to them, gives that expansive feeling of exploring exotic new territory that readers of high fantasy look for. Although islands, the world seems to be temperate to Arctic in climate. So it doesn’t give the feel so much of the Pacific as of ancient Britain. A lot of scenes take place in the snow or in the cold rain.

“Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.” 

Serial Reader Book Tag

Yes, I’m a serial reader. If nothing else, I am definitely that.

But this tag is about book series. A book tag is something that comes with a bunch of questions or prompts that the blogger answers. Normally, the blogger is also supposed to “tag” a bunch of other people, like one of those chain e-mails from back in the day, but I don’t usually do that part. I personally got this tag from Fran Laniado. It was most likely created by Dutch blogger, @Zwartraafje in this post.

From which series did you read the spinoff series?

First, I read a number of books in the Emberverse series. The premise of this series is that one day, inexplicably, in the middle of the 90s, a bunch of technology stops working: engines, electricity, and gunpowder. This event, which people begin to call “The Change,” throws the world back into preindustrial technology. Naturally, the first book (Dies the Fire, above) is post-apocalyptic with lots of starvation, hand to hand fighting, and horrendous die-offs in the cities especially. As the series develops, people rebuild a medieval-style world. (Because it turns out that in the absence of gunpowder, you need a warrior class and a peasant class to support them.) Eventually, the young hero goes on a quest to find the source of all the weirdness, which seems to be centered around Nantucket. It turns out that right when The Change happened, modern Nantucket was replaced by an ancient version, from well before Europe colonized the New World.

All of that is background to set up the spinoff series. This is called, not surprisingly, the Nantucket series. In the first book, Island in the Sea of Time, the modern island of Nantucket and a ship near it are suddenly transported back into the Bronze Age. The islanders have to learn how to survive without any mainland. Eventually, they make their way to England and meet the original builders (or at least users) of Stonehenge. I’ve read Island. I own the second book in the series, which opens with King Agamemnon realizing how much he loves artillery. I just needed a break from this spinoff series, but I’ll come back to it some day.

With which series did the first book not sell you over from the start?

Sacred Clowns is one book in the “series,” but not the one I had the bad experience with.

Stretching the meaning of “first book” a bit, I’m going to go with Tony Hillerman’s Navajo police procedural series, starring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.

Unfortunately, these books are not labeled as a series, though the contents do have a chronological order. So when I say “first book,” it’s the first one I happened to pick up. I just got unlucky. Unlike most of the Chee/Leaphorn books, most of the action in the one I picked up does not take place in Dinetah (the Navajo homeland in the Four Corners area), but rather in Washington, DC. Also, in that particular book one of the major point-of-view characters was a stone-cold killer with a back story that was just so sad I wasn’t sure I could handle any more by that author. Luckily, later I caved and picked up another of Hillerman’s books.

Which series hooked you from the start?

Well, I mean all of them. If I read any distance into a series, it’s usually because it hooked me. But I am going to have to go with The Belgariad. It opens with the hero, Garion, growing up in a big farm kitchen on a hardworking, prosperous, devout farmstead similar to the one in Farmer Boy, but bigger and more medival. Garion’s Aunt Pol, who we later learn is a sorceress, is first introduced as an amazing cook whose dishes can make farmhands from other farms weep. I’m a sucker for this kind of simple, wholesome stuff.

Which series do you have completed on your shelves?

I have The Chronicles of Narnia, because somebody once gave me a nice, thick doorstop where all the books are together in one volume. Also, I just last week acquired a nice hardbound copy of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy. It was on the sales shelf at the library! I am very excited about this, because it’s a brilliant trilogy and I feel that finding it in hardback is like finding treasure.

Which series have you read completely?

*deep breath*

The Chronicles of Narnia, all the Brother Cadfael books (I think), The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, all The Three Investigators books (I think), all of Susan Howatch’s Church of England series except the last one, The Little House books, everything ever written by Agatha Christie (not really a series), the Belgariad & Mallorean (but not the spinoffs), the A Wrinkle in Time trilogy.

Which series do you not own completely but would like to?

Well, this is a tough one. In theory, I would like to own a complete set of every series I like. In practice, until recently I moved house every few years (sometimes much more often), and I have a limited budget. Both of these factors make it difficult to build up a dream library. Also, I have plenty of bookish friends and relatives, so if I want to re-read something, often I can borrow it. I guess if I had to name a series that I would like to own all of, it would all of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo cop books and also all of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries. I’d also like to own all the Tintin albums and all the Asterix albums, because those are great for kids, table reading, and art inspiration. But that’s one where it’s possible to borrow.

Which series to do you not want to own completely but still read?

Andrew Klavan’s Homelander series. I convinced my librarian to order them and then I read them all.

Which series are you not continuing?

There are plenty of contenders here. Life is short.

The latest series that I started, enjoyed several of, and then broke off was Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series. The later books aren’t bad, it was just that once I’d learned Odd’s tricks, it got so that I could take or leave further books.

Which series you haven’t started yet are you curious about?

Which series did others love and you did not?

The Legacy of Orisha series. I read the first book: Children of Blood and Bone.

Here’s a sample of an incident that drove me crazy: the romantic hero, who is also sort of the villain, is the son of a king who has oppressed magicians with harsh purges. He is just starting to discover that he himself has a magical power: he can directly sense others’ thoughts and feelings. He has a terrifying moment when he picks up on a memory of the heroine. It was the lynching of her mother. He is shocked and horrified by what he sees and feels. And then he concludes, “I will never understand her pain.” Even though he literally just did! He literally just lived through it! But that line is a clue that the author is not going to give him a redemption arc or let him out of the role of oppressor. Nor is the author going to let him and his sister off the hook for “not seeing sooner” that their father was an awful tyrant, even though they are about 18 years old and just came of age themselves. So, if you like merciless class war, you’ll love this series.

Sorry, that might not be the most cheerful note to end on, but that’s the way the tag crumbles. Have a great day, everyone!

I Like Bears … But Not as Much as Ethan Nicolle Does

I mean, look at him!

It’s no secret that I like bears.

My upcoming book, The Strange Land, even features … a bear. (Spoiler alert.) (Pray for the book, by the way, if you are interested in reading it. Let’s not allow some petty formatting issues to stand between you and any literary bear.)

But I will never be on about bears as much as author, graphic artist, and funnyman Ethan Nicolle.

Here he is again.

He works for the Babylon Bee. But that is only the beginning of his ursine depths.

His first bear-related book was Bears Want to Kill You.

This is a reminder we all need. But I haven’t read it.

He also has to his credit the following typology:

I was given this for Christmas. Actually, my kids were. And boy, am I glad that someone cared enough to warn us about the existence of the Beaardvark, Bearilla, Bear Crab, and of course the Abearican Eagle.

But I am mainly here to talk about this:

Brave Ollie Possum is the awesomest chapter book/family read-along that I have encountered in a long time. It just so poignant, twisty, tense, funny, and gross. The early chapters gave us nightmares. In the later chapters, some passages were so disgusting that as I read them out loud, I had to suppress a gag reflex. (Perfect for school-aged boys!) Other passages were so funny that we had to stop and laugh it out before we could recover. This is the book for you if you never knew how much you needed to watch a possum use the kitchen of an Italian restaurant to cook a late-night pan of lasagna for his forest friends. Other than that, I won’t spoil the plot except to say, What better animal than a possum for an author to explore themes of cowardice and courage?

Also, of course … bears.

I Know What You Want.

You want 30 hours of theology podcasts.

I mean, who wouldn’t want that?

So, here’s what this is. Christian novelist Brian Godawa has gotten his hands on a pre-release copy of a commentary on the book of Revelation, The Divorce of Israel, by Kenneth Gentry. The gist of it is that Gentry’s interpretation is preterist, i.e. coming from a point of view that most of the events in Revelation have already happened during the horrible years of Rome’s siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In other words, they were not prophecies of the distant future when John gave them, but rather prophecies of the immediate future. That’s the reason for the frequent warnings that “these things will soon take place.”

But, you say, what about all the stuff in Revelation that definitely sounds like the end of the world: the stars falling, the sky rolling up like a scroll, Jesus coming in the clouds, etc., etc.? Godawa shows, following Gentry, that all of this “collapsing universe imagery” was conventionally used in the Old Testament to describe God’s judgements on nations, usually through a siege, military defeat, and the razing of the countryside.

In the videos linked to above (and the first one embedded below), Through the Black interviews Brian Godawa in a series of 16 videos that are 1 – 2 hours each. That’s how long it takes them to go through Revelation chapter by chapter (and also Matthew 24), answering all the “what about”s that are probably popping into your head if you have ever been exposed to the usual type of modern evangelical teaching on Revelation.

As the Through the Black host says many times on these podcasts, eschatology matters. It can even have life-and-death consequences. Just look at David Koresh. Even mentioning Revelation, outside of Christian circles, nowadays is enough to get you branded as a loon. Inside Christian circles, it can still cause people to run screaming from the room, and who could blame them? Preterism gives us a way to look at this book that is consistent with the rest of Scripture and which doesn’t force us to create elaborate, increasingly self-contradictory systems of thought that will drive us crazy. If you like to listen to podcasts, join me in working your way through this one.

The Word is Murder: A Review

“Why do you think anyone would want to read about you?” I asked.

“I’m a detective. People like reading about detectives.”

“But you’re not a proper detective. You got fired. Why did you get fired, by the way?”

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Well, if I was going to write about you, you’d have to tell me. I’d have to know where you live, whether you’re married or not, what you have for breakfast, what you do on your day off. That’s why people read murder stories.”

“Is that what you think?”

“Yes!”

He shook his head. “I don’t agree. The word is murder. That’s what matters.”

Anthony Horowitz, The Word is Murder, 2018, p. 25

The blurb on the back of this book calls it a “meta-mystery,” and that’s a perfect description. It is so, so meta.

Horowitz writes about himself, Anthony Horowitz, the guy who has created the TV series Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War and who has written a popular series for kids, and is now trying to break into the adult market. He has just published The House of Silk, a Sherlock Holmes novel in the style of Conan Doyle. He’s approached by this ex-detective, Hawthorne, who still sometimes does consulting work for the local police force. Hawthorne’s idea is that Horowitz will follow him around as he investigates, turn the investigation into a crime novel, and make both of them rich and famous. The problem is that the investigation has just begun, and it’s unknown whether Hawthorne will solve it and, if so, whether it will have a satisfying ending. Also, though Horowitz naturally has to be present while Hawthorne interviews suspects, he is under no circumstances supposed to interrupt, ask his own questions, or contribute in any way. If Hawthorne misses something due to one of these interruptions, it’s Horowitz’s fault.

But How Meta Is It, Really?

I still don’t know how much of this novel is truth and how much is fiction. I think the whole thing is made up. But references to Horowitz’s past books and TV shows, and his descriptions of the industry, seem to be real.

There’s a very funny, agonizing scene where Horowitz is in a meeting with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg to show them the script he’s written for a planned second Tintin movie. He’s been working on the script for months, and he’s feeling excited as well as startstruck to be in the same room as Spielberg. But Spielberg abruptly tells him that the Tintin book he has turned into a script is the “wrong” book, even though that’s the one he and Jackson had agreed to use. Into this tense moment, Hawthorne bursts in. He fails to recognize Spielberg, but recognizes Jackson and compliments him. He then insists that Horowitz leave with him. The directors insist that Horowitz leave too, saying they will call him back, which they never do.

That sounds awfully realistic, even if it didn’t happen with Hawthorne. Even if there is no such person as Hawthorne. There is also no such person as Damian Cowper, the British movie star, recently relocated to Hollywood, who is at the center of the mystery.

So, on the whole, I think this actually is, as they say, a “fiction novel,” weaving in nonfiction glimpses into Horowitz’s career, modern London, and the conditions in the publishing and movie/TV industry. Horowitz’s insights about writing and marketing his work are enjoyable. And the novel is extremely professionally written. The characters, the writing itself, the clues, and the satisfying nature of the mystery all show that Horowitz has been writing mysteries for many years.

The Tintin Rant

I do have to take one side trip to rant about a rant of Horowitz’s. If you will pardon a long quote:

Tintin is a European phenomenon and one that has never been particularly popular across the Atlantic. Part of the reason for this may be historical. The 1932 album, Tintin in America, is a ruthless satire on the United States, showing Americans to be vicious, corrupt and insatiable: the very first panel shows a policeman saluting a masked bandit who is walking past with a smoking gun — and no sooner has Tintin arrived in New York and climbed into a taxi than he finds himself being kidnapped by the Mob. The entire history of Native Americans is brilliantly told in five panels. Oil is discovered on a reservation. Cigar-smoking businessmen move in. Soldiers drive the crying Native American children off their land. Builders and bankers arrive. Just one day later, a policeman tells Tintin to get out of the way of a major traffic intersection. “Where do you think you are — the Wild West?”

The Word is Murder, p. 148

Side eye.

O.K., Mr. Horowitz.

First of all, I can tell you the exact reason Tintin isn’t popular in the United States: It’s just not available. Oh, sure, it’s available now. Now we can get anything, with the Internet. But when I was a kid, there was just nowhere in the U.S. that you would see Tintin albums for sale. I was first exposed to them because we knew a family who had lived in Europe for a time, and once we knew of his existence, my siblings and I enjoyed Tintin just as much as any kids would. The same goes for Asterix and Obelix, by the way. It’s still kind of difficult to get good-quality A&O albums. When I tried to buy some for my kids, one arrived with the pages falling out.

Secondly, it never occurred to me, reading Tintin in America in the 1990s, that it was a “vicious satire” of America. I just figured it was all the silliest and most extreme stereotypes about America, which is the same treatment that Herge gives pretty much every country he portrays. And, the idea that Americans would be shocked by this portrayal? I don’t know, maybe in the 1930s. But this generation Xer would like to point out that gangster movies are one of our most beloved film genres, and that we are taught from knee-high about the injustices done to the Native Americans (besides many films and books being made about same). And in fact, Herge’s portrayal of the way the Indians talk would not be considered acceptable in America today. So, yeah, Mr. Horowitz, I realize you are very smart British author — and it’s obvious from your craft that you are smarter than I will ever be — but I think you may have overestimated Americans’ provinciality just a tad, while also underestimating our IQ.

The Detective

The best thing about this book, in a way, is the detective, Hawthorne. He is also the most unsatisfying thing. He never does allow Horowitz to get to know him. He really does prove to be brilliant, and Horowitz sort of ends up playing Hastings to Hawthorne’s Poirot. This is all the more frustrating for Horowitz (and for the reader) because Horowitz is not dumb and he knows it. He’s an adult with a good career well underway, and he knows his way around a mystery novel. He just hasn’t had direct experience with real-life investigating.

Hawthorne is the sort of person that all of us have had to work with at one time or another. He comes off as unwittingly controlling, always telling Horowitz his business. He doesn’t like the title “The Word is Murder,” for example. He wants it to be “Hawthorne Investigates.” (Spielberg and Jackson back him up.) He doesn’t like the way that Horowitz sets the scene in the first chapter. Although not a writer, he thinks that Horowitz should methodically introduce every detail that Hawthorne would notice, without any atmosphere or description. He gives advice about choice of words. Whenever Horowitz objects “But I’m the one you asked to write it!”, Hawthorne says something like, “Hey, don’t get all upset! I was just trying to help.”

This is the kind of person that you cannot be around for very long. Unless you are pathologically conceited, all their “help” can’t help but make you doubt yourself. Although we cannot work long-term with such a person, it is nice to see one portrayed in fiction (if this … is … fiction?). It lets us know that even pros like Horowitz have had the same experience.