Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Egyptian by Layton Green

The EgyptianA former diplomatic security agent, a religious phenomenologist and an ambitious reporter sift through science and myth to uncover the truth behind a sinister biotech company’s miraculous life-extension product.

The Egyptian is the second novel in the Dominic Grey series. It isn't necessary to have read the first book, The Summoner, to follow along. Mr. Green provides enough flashbacks to give the reader an idea of what happened. However, readers who enjoy this book should consider checking it out.

After the intriguing first chapter, I found The Egyptian to be a bit slow. However, I stuck with it and the pace picked up. From time to time, I found myself thinking "get on with it" as the characters got sidetracked with detours that didn't advance the story (anything involving Veronica's boss) or plodded along with either hesitation or too much idle speculation about how profound an effect a life-extension product would have upon society. It's not as if I need non-stop action in a story, but the pacing should at least give the reader the sense that the story is moving forward.

But maybe the fault lies with the main character: Dominic Grey. His surname is a good clue as to his personality. He isn't grey in the interesting sense: a character whose behavior blends right and wrong (Grey's hat is definitely starchy white). He's grey as in a dreary, cloudy day. He couldn't make up his mind whether or not he wanted to hook up with the fun-loving, driven reporter, Veronica. Instead, he pined for a woman from The Summoner who Green wrote out of the picture by page 9 in The Egyptian. While this brooding ex-Marine recon specialist clearly made Veronica swoon, I found him to be wishy washy until it came time to do his job: private investigator.

Maybe if I'd read The Summoner I'd understand Grey's misery as Green showed their relationship to us rather than him telling us about its end now. I say that because in Pale Boundaries, Scott Cleveland handled the "tough guy on the outside/vulnerable guy on the inside" protagonist very well. But it is the first book in its series and only when the sequel comes out will I know how well he (Terson) carries on going forward.

The character that stole the show, or at least my interest, was Jax the mercenary. While he was clearly a rogue with few redeeming qualities, his scenes were entertaining. He was the life of the party compared to Grey's dour paladin.

As for the villain, after his initial introduction, he's reduced to "give me back my property" proclamations. We don't get a clear picture of him until the end.

Green is at his best when describing the settings his characters inhabit. Manhattan is "alive, possessed of an inexorable energy bubbling up from the bottomless wellspring of humanity in the surrounding boroughs and cascading like a waterfall into the maelstrom of Manhattan." In Bulgaria, the city of Sofia was "a labyrinth of leafy cobblestone streets and hidden squares, where dour old men sat on benches, sipped syrupy Bulgarian coffee and took world-weary drags on cigarettes while they engaged in lively discussion." And of Cairo he notes: "the faint parched taste of sand in the air, the sun hovering overhead as if Cairo were her firstborn, the nonchalant juxtaposition of ancient and new." These places are described as only someone who's been there would.

Unfortunately, this splendid prose is tainted by a variety of technical mistakes. It's not as if the manuscript is rife with errors. It's not. However, too many got through that should've been caught. Among these were: missing periods, using a plural pronoun instead of singular, repeated phrases in the same paragraph, several typos, not utilizing pronouns where applicable, and many misplaced commas.

The Egyptian has the basic elements of a solid thriller which carries the reader to vividly detailed locales across the globe. However, the main character of the series is upstaged by a minor one and is better off being left alone to brood about humanity's sins, or until he gets over his ex-girlfriend.

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