Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A devil of a dilemma

The Devil's Prayer

By Luke Gracias

Publisher: Australian eBook Publisher 

Pub. Date: February 18, 2016

Rating: 2 & 1/2 stars out of 5

The Devil's Prayer by Australian author Luke Gracias starts out strong. We get a brief prologue that sets the stage with a shocking suicide death of a nun. The nun is a woman who abandoned her two daughters six years ago. Her daughters, now at age 17 and 23, had no idea why she left and where she went . A priest takes the oldest daughter Siobhan aside and gives her a message that sends her to Europe to seek out answers about what happened to her mother . This leads to some dark secrets that not only threaten the lives of Siobhan and her family but the fate of the world .

The novel's mystery centers on an actual artifact called the Codex Gigas (The Devil's Bible) which is the largest medieval manuscript in existence. Gracias makes good use of a number of legends concerning the book including that it was written by a monk who sold his soul to the devil and that twelve pages (The Devil's Prayer) are missing from it. The author certainly did some impressive research, blending his story with the historical facts regarding the manuscript. In a way, this type of novel bears more than some resemblance to the conspiratorial thrillers of Dan Brown via The DaVinci Code. However, there is also a different story that is the bulk of this particular novel and separates it from a comparison of anything by Dan Brown.

The bulk of the narrative is taken from a confession written by Siobhan's mother and this is the best part of the book. In the telling of how her mother, Denise Russo, ended up in a monastery we get a tense supernatural tale. To describe it even briefly would steal the heart out of the novel. This is what kept me turning the pages. It is an imaginative plot that gives the book its particular uniqueness and charm. As long as we are caught up in the confession, the novel grabs and holds us.

Then something inexplicable happens . In order to pull in the story of the Devil's Bible and those missing pages, we are taken into a textbook account of its origin. We lose the main narrative. This is further interrupted by an account from a Father Zachary. All of this is necessary information but it severely disrupts the flow. Considering its Dan Brown influences, it would have been nice if the writer took Mr. Brown's habit of not breaking the flow and spreading the historical background through the book, revealing it only as it becomes necessary. The first two-thirds of the novel reads like wildfire. The last third to quarter drags like a boulder in the mud. But eventually we get back to our heroine Siobhan who we are caring deeply for. And then...

Some might consider this a spoiler . I consider it a dire warning since the author failed to warn us about this at the beginning. We are left hanging. The ending is a cliff-hanger of the worst kind. Frankly, I find this unforgivable especially since there is no warning that this is a series or in need of a sequel. If it is a stand-alone novel then it is even more infuriating. When one writes such an exciting novel and then denies us the pay-off, something is very wrong. Please. If you are writing a series let us know beforehand. It's one of my pet peeves.

So here is the low-down on this novel. We have a dynamite beginning with a four star story written by someone who knows how to write. Then in the last third or quarter, we are bogged down by an info dump. Still, if we had a climatic ending we would be looking at a three and a half star book at least. But instead...cliff hanger. No payoff. This serious error forces me to give this book two and a half stars. This may sound harsh especially since i enjoyed his writing so much. Yet endings in a thriller are essential and this one didn't. It's too bad because it is a terrific two thirds of a book.

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