Friday, June 06, 2014

'The Fifth Horseman' Leaves the Starting Gate Slowly

Adams, Nathan M. The Fifth Horseman. New York: Random House. [Book Club Edition].

The Fifth Horseman reminds me a great deal of the bizarre film genre the Brits call "thriller." In particular, The Fifth Horseman independently contains a huge number of components that are often considered exciting (a travel agent in disguise, crafty and double-crossing spy agencies, SS officers who have gone into hiding, amateur sleuth work, and showdowns in Europe and South Africa). The grammar is acceptable, the fight scenes are easy to imagine, and the book referenced some really fascinating features of 1960s Europe, which I enjoyed from a historical perspective.

In reality, however, although the plot moves quickly, the book feels slow. Flipping back through the pages, it is apparent that the book isn't actually slow, so I attribute this ponderous pace to the structure. Adams hits upon one of my greatest pet peeves--that of telling the reader how the main character feels--and spends a lot of time describing dialogue and the actions of characters engaged in that dialogue. There are dozens of described feelings, a plethora of adverbs, and numerous descriptions of characters sitting and standing. I could be missing the point entirely. These descriptions could be the structure of a genius existential balance between the banality of everyday bowel movements (described in detail on page 146) and the main character's bloody past and conflicted response to committing murder in the present. However, much as these events and details have great potential, in my own encounter with the novel they simply slowed the pace so that each event of an otherwise quite fast-paced plot was drawn out almost interminably.

Overall, The Fifth Horseman had some really clever elements. The premise and choice of protagoinust were fresh and inspired. The tenuous thread of clues that the protagonist must follow to reach his quarry also worked well, although this was marred by repeated allusions to the patently obvious and recurring themes of duplicity and double-crossing. The showdown at the end was a little less overt than were some of the earlier confrontations, and the very last two pages were wildly clever. In general, this novel would work well for readers who are already interested in spy fiction and wanted a slower novel to break up a string of modern thrillers. As a first foray into the genre, however, many readers might find this novel a bit disappointing.

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