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For me, the strength of the Bryant and May mysteries lie in the characters. This novel is no exception. Bryant, May, and Longbright come across as real people. I like these people, and I'm willing to put up with a lot for their sakes.
The problems with this novel start with its complexity. Even the author seems unable to keep the twisting snarl of plot lines straight. Information is repeated, facts are missed, and behaviors are left unexplained. The villains in this novel seem to be omnipotent, always appearing in just the right places at just the right times. The coincidences we as readers are asked to believe are off the charts. The heart of the mystery is contained in the title, and we are asked to grant the invention of a device that is impossible for anyone who understands what mechanics can deliver and what they cannot. In particular, fuzzy logic is something that we still haven't even begun to master in the twenty-first century--and yet the plot of this novel doesn't click forward without it.As a fictional device, it's no less implausible than Wells' time machine. Even if we concede this one suspension of disbelief, the behavior of the main villain destroys the illusion. The novel only works if we assume the victims are idiots, which the author does.
This is because this novel relies heavily on criticism of the class system that existed in Britain throughout much of its imperial history. It panders to the common belief that all rich people are undeserving and stupid. That they're greedy is a fact backed up by studies. That a few of them are stupid is a certainty. Perhaps I'm just an American and can't fathom the hatred a typical Brit has for anyone born into privilege--or perhaps it's just an ax the author wanted to grind and so grind it throughout the novel he did.
In addition, the political correctness of the novel reflects a modern sensibility that seems out of place at the end of 1973. This can be forgiven as these novels represent memories of one of the main characters rather than an accurate portrayal of that time. However, the telling of the memories colored by modern viewpoints seems unnecessary and feels again like the author's attempt to thrust forward personal inclinations.
I applaud the author's attempt at complexity in this novel. The case covered is pefect for the Peculiar Crimes unit, and given that the coincidences happened as written, it would indeed be difficult to solve. I think Tim Goodman does an excellent job with the performance and the ending is fast-paced and exciting, if also a bit stupid. I'd point out the problems, but that would introduce too many spoilers.
On the positive side, I considered giving this novel four stars rather than three. It's certainly not a bad novel and plenty of people have enjoyed it and plenty more will do so. If you read this series for the characters, I'd wholeheartedly recommend this novel. If you read these books for both plot and characters or especially plot alone, I'd recommend it with reservations. You might not spot the same problems I did--or if you do, you might not be irritated as much by them.
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