Friday, September 9, 2011


Book 48: HUNT THROUGH NAPOLEON'S WEB by Gabriel Hunt and Raymond Benson, isbn 9780843962574, 320 pages, Dorchester Publishing, $14.00

The Premise: In the sixth, and possibly final, adventure of relic-hunter, and modern-day Indiana Jones, Gabriel Hunt finds himself on a quest to rescue his estranged younger sister, who has been kidnapped by a secret society intent on returning the ancient Egyptian treasures stolen by Napoleon and his men centuries ago. Of course, things are not quite as they seem, and there's the possibility Napoleon had secreted away another Rosetta Stone. Will Gabriel rescue his sister and find an artifact that might already have changed the course of history once?

My Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts: If this really is the last hurrah for Gabriel Hunt, he goes out in fine form thanks to Raymond Benson. As with the preceding five Hunt books, HUNT THROUGH NAPOLEON'S WEB starts out in a rush (Gabriel and a cohort in the midst of a spelunking accident) and gets faster from there. Oh, there are a few quiet moments mid-book, but like the best pulpy thrillers (both old and new)the quiet doesn't last long.

Benson's story balances the "hunting for clues" and "high adrenaline adventure" aspects pretty well, driving home the point I've made with each book: that Gabriel Hunt really is a modern Indiana Jones, albeit one with a more familial support system than Indy had in the original three movies. Of course Gabriel gets a woman, no surprise there. The least suspenseful part of the book is the "how will they end up in bed" question -- it's become such a predictable part of the books that I don't even worry my little head about it beforehand, unless there's more than one potential bedmate in the book (and in this case, there's not). Benson also provides we faithful readers of the series with a moment we've been waiting for through several books now, and it is a satisfying one.

On the downside, if this is the last Hunt book, there's at least one series-long mystery that has not been resolved and that left me a little frustrated. The background mystery of what happened to the Hunt parents when they disappeared from that cruise ship a decade ago is an intriguing one, but it's also one I'd hate to see go unresolved forever. Hopefully, publisher Charles Ardai can convince someone to bring out at least one more Gabriel Hunt book. And if Raymond Benson writes it, I'm okay with that too. (Benson, or Christa Faust, or Ardai himself -- they've provided I think my three favorite installments of the six, not that I've been disappointed in any of them.)

Book 49: AFTERTHOUGHTS by Lawrence Block, isbn 9780843962574, 320 pages, Dorchester Publishing, $14.00

The Premise: A lot of Lawrence Block's early work has been reissued recently in e-book format, and Block has written new afterwords (and in some cases forewords) to explain a bit about how the books were written. All of those pieces are collected in AFTERTHOUGHTS.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Thoughts: Every time in the past month that I told people I was reading a book collecting Lawrence Block's afterwords (and some introductions) from various ebooks, I got the same response: a somewhat quizzical raising of the eyebrows and a vague "oohhh" sound that indicated I had perhaps lost my mind, because how interesting could a bunch of afterwords be, anyway?

Very interesting is the answer.

Block is a master storyteller not matter what form or format he's working in. These essays (and that's what they are) are the next best thing to a full-on memoir. In them, he relates how each book he discusses came to be written but he also manages to tell the highlights of his life story and of course share some anecdotes about his writer friends.

What makes the book interesting is that each afterword was originally written and published separately. And so what we get when we take them as a whole is various angles on the same set of life experiences. In some hands, that could just feel repetitive. But Block doesn't tell the story the same way twice even as he manages to keep all the details consistent. By the sixth or seventh (I didn't bother actually counting) retelling of his time working the slush pile for the Scott Meredith Agency, I felt like I was hanging at the bar with an old friend listening to a story I knew the ending to but couldn't wait to hear anyway.

If you want a glimpse into what the "paperback originals" market was like for writers in the 60s and 70s, as well as a look at why someone would choose to write under multiple pseudonyms long past the time where he'd need to, read AFTERTHOUGHTS. If you want an overview of a writing life, read AFTERTHOUGHTS. If you want to get to know Lawrence Block better, but despair of ever meeting him in person, read AFTERTHOUGHTS. If you want to laugh while you glean some advice on writing, read AFTERTHOUGHTS.

Well, what are you waiting for? Go read AFTERTHOUGHTS already!

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