I’m a longtime fan of the Daedalus Books remainders house. I’ve learned about some of my favorite authors from their chatty, informative catalogs.
Every once in a while, though, I follow up a recommendation for a real dud. Hewson’s A Season for the Dead drew many comparisons to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, because (I surmise) it’s a thriller, it’s set in Rome (partly in the Vatican), and because one of its characters in an expert in ancient Christian texts. The Washington Post allegedly said it was “better written and more sophisticated” than Brown’s bestseller, and described it as “intelligent entertainment,” both of which strain my credulity.
This is a misleading comparison. Anyone who expects this novel to offer the sort of historical speculation that The Da Vinci Code trades in will be disappointed in that regard: A Season for the Dead starts with a gruesome scene in a Vatican reading room, but other than that, history is used almost exclusively as window dressing.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this book is that it’s not purely awful. There is some attempt to imbue its characters with inner lives, and there’s some attempt to give the plot events some thematic heft.
But these positive qualities are outweighed by the novel’s flaws, which include stilted dialogue, stock characters, and plot points both cliché-ridden and implausible. It’s the sort of book in which cops identify suspects on the basis of opportunity without considering motive or means. At one point I wondered if Hewson was setting up an especially shop-worn plot-twist, and thought to myself, “even Hewson wouldn’t stoop to that, and besides it would completely violate the continuity he’s established.” A few chapters later, he went for it. Hewson’s particularly shaky in attempting to portray the motivations and actions of the rich and powerful — you could except more nuanced and credible villainy from the average soap opera. Worse, his female characters manage between them to evoke just about every vile stereotype of women in crime fiction. Finally, there’s a lip-smacking prurience to Hewson’s descriptions of graphic violence that borders on the pornographic, and a pair of blatantly pornographic scenes that border on the ridiculous (I was reminded of the movie Team America: World Police).
Needs More Demons? Even an influx of demons couldn’t salvage this turkey.