Monday, April 9, 2018

An Unusual Thriller

Our challenge this week was to write a jacket cover for a famous work of fiction as if it were a novel in the mystery genre. I changed it a bit to write it as a review rather than a synopsis.

The reviewer today is Terry Shames, who tackled a thriller that the crime-reading public has awaited with great interest:

ow better to prove Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy’s  chops as a top-notch thriller writer than with his new sprawling, muscular epic, War and Peace. Spanning across Russia during the Napoleanic invasion of 1812,  this historical mystery bounces the reader back and forth between the stultifying, intensely boring life of parties and flirtations that is peace, and the scintillating, riveting drama of a ghastly war. During the war segments the reader may find herself wandering in a fog, much like Tolstoy depicted the Russian soldiers in before a major battle with the French—except that their fog is real, adding to the intense question of exactly what Tolstoy is up to.

Within these confines, we become acquainted with characters who alternately puzzle us and endear us—but all of whom have secrets. Is Natasha simply a world-weary ingĂ©nue looking for a man? Or is she a spy? And what of Nikolai? Is he really worried about being a coward as he goes into battle, or is Tolstoy merely toying with the reader? And then there is Andre, driven to acts of supreme sacrifice…but by what, exactly? Is he a patriot? Is he insane? Or just eaten up with the desire for glory and fame? But most intriguing of all is the character Pierre. A seemingly hapless intellectual who professes his admiration for the enemy’s leader, Napolean Bonaparte, Pierre falls in thrall to an international conspiracy. I won’t spoil the fun for the reader by revealing what the group is up to, but trust me before the novel ends, you will be more baffled than ever.

In a quote that will tell you what the heart of the novel is about, the author inserts himself into the book long enough to opine, “A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known.” Tolstoy uses the thriller genre to great effect to illustrate this trope. One of the great questions of the book is whether the reader will know anything by the end.

In an aside, this reviewer would advise Mr. Tolstoy to stick to using English names in future attempts, as Russian names are too damned hard to follow. And one further note of caution: Count Tolstoy, commonly known as “Leo” would do well to find himself a good editor. He’ll find that many people will be put off by the book’s length, 1350 pages, and its weight, a little more than two pounds, making it a difficult bathtub read.

Just before this went to press, we were advised that Count Tolstoy intends to write another thriller, as yet unnamed about a woman, Anna Karenina, who comes to a bad end. We’ll be waiting to see if Tolstoy is able to pull off a thriller with a woman as a main protagonist. It will be interesting to see what kind of strength she brings to a genre that depends highly on physical prowess.

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