Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Silver Spire

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Silver Spire (Bantam, 1992).

I think that if I had been following Nero Wolfe in the 1980s and 1990s, I would have, then, been a lot less forgiving of this novel, Goldsborough's sixth, than I am today. In a way, it's almost charming the way that most of his books come across as period pieces, with cultural touchstones that are straight from that debased era. Just as the previous Fade to Black somehow managed to make the '80s cola wars, of all things, into a compelling and fun backdrop for a novel, this one, if you can believe it, manages to make the televangelist scandals of the day into something almost worth reading. Goldsborough even manages to take a Swaggart / Bakker figure and make him sympathetic, albeit a little obnoxious.

Actually, a lot of the characters in this book are pretty darned obnoxious, which is the biggest strike against actually sitting down and reading the novel. Not one of them wants to assist Archie with his investigation, each of them is hyper-defensive, reluctant to give an alibi, and is convinced that the guilty party has already been arrested. There's a usual scene where, once everybody has been gathered, Wolfe reminds the group that this will go quicker without interruption. This time out, Wolfe gives up reminding them. It's an agonizing scene, so full of interruptions as it is. That's a real shame, as Goldsborough turned the structure of this scene completely on its head, and it should have been a winner.

Upon reflection, though, the really contrived nature of the killing really makes this book a much less satisfying read than I hoped. Sadly, it opens very well, only to have my high hopes dashed. Archie cannot convince Wolfe to take a case involving anonymous threats dropped in a Staten Island megachurch's collection plates, and so he recommends the church hire their frequent associate Fred Durkin. Fred is written as somewhat more of a "dese, dem, dose" boor than usually, but it's an interesting angle, ruined by the silly and contrived business that leads him to become a murder suspect. There were some good ideas at work here, but it looks very sadly like my feeling that Goldsborough's tenure on the series was going to end with a bang will be proved mistaken. There's a good notion for a book here, and clever elements to it, but it is executed quite badly. Not recommended.

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