When it comes to conspiracy thrillers, I can be hit or miss. I used to think that I loved them, finding books such Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, Domain by Steve Alten, a number of Atlantis books (especially Raising Atlantis by Thomas Greanias), and many other sorts of conspiracy theory/secret history novels lots of fun.
However, lately they have just been missing for me. Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons didn’t do much for me (although I didn’t get very far, and it might get better, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt) as well as Christopher Forrest’s The Genesis Code (see review) flopped. So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up my copy of Chris Roberson’s new novel, Book of Secrets. Roberson’s novel worked for me for the most part, but let me down a bit at the end.
Spencer Finch is a reporter, mucked down in a case about one J. Nathan Pierce. He receives an anonymous tip, and following up on it leads to the greatest adventure of his life. At the same time, Finch learns of the death of his grandfather, who helped raise him after the death of his parents, and his inheritance: a box of pulp magazines and seemingly random stacks of paper, along with a wooden chest without a key to its lock.
From here, Roberson mixes the elements of an action-thriller with pastiches of pulp-era crime and western stories, and succeeds incredibly. His short stories contained within this novel are fun and wonderful. The story of Finch moves along at a very nice pace as well, with plot elements popping up left and right. As the book flew along, leading to a bigger and bigger puzzle, I couldn’t be happier with how this book was going along. It was lots of fun.
Then I reached the end. I was significantly let down. Not necessarily by the ending itself, but by how it was done. In a very long monologue, we are explained how everything was connected, all this after a very sudden jump from the storyline to a new segment that felt entirely out of place. Not only is the novel wrapped up with a world-class info-dump, but the fate of certain characters is never discovered, leading you unsure if they even lived or died. The whole last section of the book felt rushed and incomplete, like it had a good plot that was forced into too small a space or too short a time. It was a vastly disappointing end to an otherwise wonderful book.
Roberson’s novel creates some fun, interesting ideas that use the conspiracy thriller in unique ways that I enjoyed, and the short stories threaded into the novel are nothing short of wonderful. However, the ending detracts from the book, and doesn’t leave the reader with much. Pick this one up for the pulp pastiches; they are great. So is the story of Finch, if you can get past an abrupt, awkward, hurried ending.