This review is for the W. W. Norton & Company hardcover first edition published in July 2003, 401 pages. This edition does not have a reader's guide. DUE PREPARATIONS FOR THE PLAGUE is Janette Turner Hospital's tenth novel. She also has published five collections of stories.
This is a literary spy thriller about the hijacking of Air France flight 64 bound for New York from Paris in September 1987. The narrative present, however, begins in September 2000 and focuses on two persons whose parent or parents died during the tragedy. The story has suspense, intrigue, CIA agents, spies, code names, Arab terrorists, and technological revelation consistent with the thriller genre. But unlike most thriller novels, it does not have a larger than life superhero/heroine, it does not require leaps of faith, and the plot does not terminate in the ridiculous or sublime. This well written novel is both character and plot driven.
For the first time in about fifty reviews that I've submitted, I just read the other customer reviews before finishing mine. Interesting. It appears that those who have tired of the thriller genre, which is gravitating towards formulaic ridiculousness before blissful ending, rate this puppy four or five stars, whereas fans of the genre, nauseated by literary aspects, upchuck two or three. And there is one reader who finds the melding of genre and literary a blasphemous sacrilege, as ignominious as interracial marriage.
I've two observations for the undecided.
Many with an MFA in writing soak their stories in sensory detail, use pages to describe their settings with perfumed words, interrupt dialogue with a symphony of gestures. Janette Turner Hospital is not one of those. Her writing snaps, crackles and pops; it is explicit and purposeful. She tells a story.
On the other hand, Ms. Hospital loaded this one with classical references. The quotations preceding sections are not a bother; read them or skip them. It's the stuff within the story, the analogies and metaphors drawn from the multitude of literature that I've not read that embarrassed me. So I looked them up. Daedalus and Icarus, Scipio and Polybius are from Greek mythology, as is Odysseus and the sorceress Circe. "Bloweth where it listeth" is from the bible (Jon iii 8). Yorick's skull is from Hamlet. Iseult, who fell in love with Tristan, is medieval legend, but Baal Shem Tov, the legendary rabbi, lived from 1698 to 1760. Oh, the Lorenz discovery refers to Edward Lorenz's Chaos Theory about the weather. The four horsemen of death ride in from Apocalypse. Shiva is an Indian god. Kalidasa wrote Cloud Messenger, an Indian love poem. Decameron is the first work of Tuscan literature, which Boccaccio wrote during the plague about the plague.
Notwithstanding, it's a five star read.