Friday, 20 March 2009

“The Doomsday Prophecy”, Scott Mariani

Like so many books in the 'thriller' genre, it's hard to escape the conclusion with Scott Mariani's "The Doomsday Prophecy" that you are dealing with something very silly indeed. I'm not saying this to be rude about books such as this, and indeed this is exactly the sort of material that helped me make the leap from children's fiction something a little more adult (if not grown up) when an aunt won a copy of Clive Cussler's "Deep Six" in 1985 and pointed it in my general direction. Guiltily, "The Doomsday Prophecy" really is rather good, but it does help to leave preconceptions at the door, and overcome any nagging embarrasment one might feel at reading something that probably wasn't put on the planet to make you a better person.

Scott Mariani has clearly been picked up by editors desperate to jump on the Dan Brown bandwagon, wrapping the tradition thriller/adventure in the garb of the grand historical conspiracy. As others out there have pointed out, there's nothing particularly new in this, Umberto Eco doing it to great effect in "Foucault's Pendulum" - which is still a realistic contender for my Desert Island book, however where Eco laid claim to the literary high ground, works like this are much more in the line of the penny dreadful. For all that, Mariani executes his storytelling really rather well; the pace of plot is relentless, in Ben Hope he's built a reasonably rounded central character who, if a little superhero like, is perfectly likeable, and critically, his plots are built around characters rather than falling into the easy trap of relying on a plethora of unlikely gadgets to drive interest.

The central failings of Dan Brown, namely the scale of the conspiracy, the utterly formulaic nature of the plots, and the need to cram absolutely everything that happens into a 24 hour period, are neatly avoided in "The Doomsday Prophecy". For all that Ben Hope has superman like tendencies, he's not without flaws and vulnerabilities, and while there is the perhaps obligatory level of extreme peril, the main plot device is, one discovers, pleasingly mundane and refreshingly non-earth shattering. There probably is a formula at work here, but like watching "24" the plot has sufficient momentum and the set pieces are executed with such drama and panache that any predictability is effectively masked, and occasionally clunky language can be overlooked - although I am more or less certain there's no real need for "if it comes down to a sniper-counter-sniper situation, I have evidence that proves to me you're just about the best guy in the world for this job".

Scott Mariani has a prodigious work rate. Since the publication of "The Alchemist's Secret" in 2008 he's pumped out a further two Ben Hope books, with a fourth on the way scheduled for July 2009. It's no surprise really to find that his other work has been a guide to how to write a thriller, and herein he makes the key point to understanding this as a genre. His point that "a thriller writer doesn't need to have much in the way of literary pretensions - as a matter of fact these may be more of hinderance than a help" really does cut to the heart of the concept, and probably helps us as readers as much as it does aspiring writers. I can't help wishing that there wasn't a gushing endorsement from "Closer" on the cover, and the pictorial key on the back (pictured) really does make me despair about how publishers are communicating with their readers, but that doesn't alter the fact that in its time and place a pot boiler like "The Doomsday Prophecy" is an utterly pleasurable way of keeping one simultaneously off the street and, let's be honest here, entertained.

I appreciate publishers have to use innovative methods to
tempt readers in, but is this graphic really necessary?

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