This is such a complex book--some might say a bit muddled--but I enjoyed it nonetheless. There's swashbuckling, a couple of evil masterminds intent on nothing less than global domination by means worthy of most comic-book supervillains, a damsel-in-distress (sort of), and a secret, highly intelligent underground network. And yet, at the same time, Pötzsch's continued development of the character of Jakob Kuisl, the series' protagonist, provides a meditation on the toll that state-sanctioned violence and cruelty, combined with a rigid and punitive social order, takes on ordinary humans of good will. I look forward to the next installment.
Of the three Gervase Fen novels I've read so far (I am taking them in order), this is definitely the best and most engaging. The humor ranges from bone-dry wit to laugh-out-loud slapstick, and yet for all his curmudgeonly demeanor, Fen remains a man of conscience and compassion. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and look forward to Fen's continuing escapades.
Amazingly, in the midst of all the screwball hilarity, Richard Cadogan manages to pull off a brilliant, thoughtful meditation on poetic inspiration.
Martin Walker mentions, in the course of this novel, that there are little memorials to the 20th-century war dead all over France, evoking memories of a plaque my husband spotted on the outer wall of an elementary school in a quiet side street in Paris when we were visiting this past May. It listed three or four teachers and about fifteen students of the school, all Jewish, who perished, presumably in concentration camps, around 1942. It was deeply disturbing and saddening to imagine that in one of the world's major centers of civilized thought and culture the school was unable, or even unwilling, to keep its pupils safe.
The crimes of the Vichy government loom large in this mystery, as does the Franco-Algerian War and its veterans. I love mysteries that not only take me to distant places but give me an unexpected window into a specific time in history that I would be unlikely to otherwise encounter, and this one does that splendidly, thanks, in part, to its narrator. I also tend to note how appropriate the accents of various characters are, but hearing the title character voiced with an Oxonian inflection didn't really bother me that much, as he himself is a highly literate man. The food, wine, and landscape of the novel are enchanting, and I look forward to meeting many of the characters again in future installments of the series.
I love the way Tim Goodman brings these characters to life, especially dear old Arthur Bryant. I highly recommend the audio version of the entire series, and I'm so glad that the first one has just been made available.
While the plotting of The Invisible Code may be a bit less meticulous than that of the previous volumes, and the mystery itself ends in a rather hurried denouement that ties up the loose ends of a prior subplot in a clumsy manner, it seems hardly to matter in the end, because the story is, like all its predecessors, still enthralling. Once again, Bryant and May land a blow for truth and justice against the dark heart of London power on behalf of its most vulnerable prey. And from the conclusion, it would appear that the darkest is yet to come...
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