Friday, November 25, 2011

revisiting wallace

After I had tried to catch up with the works of Sidney Sheldon and Robin Cook, it was inevitable for my attention to turn to Irving Wallace, another name familiar to fans of Sheldon, Cook, Ludlum, Cussler and Clancy. Wallace, if you didn't know it already, was responsible for encouraging Sidney Sheldon to publish his first novel The Naked Face. This might explain why s*x features a lot in the works of both writers. Research was more important to Irving Wallace than to Sheldon and he made sure his books were full of its fruits (consider books like The Seven Minutes and The Word); the experience for me as a reader was hardly as unpleasant as it was when I was unfortunate enough to read the works of Dan Brown, another purveyor of research.

But I digress. I just finished reading an old hardbound copy of The R Document that I had picked up at a book sale organised by the public library. I was surprised at how fast I had finished it, but I was also relieved that it was not as painful as The Pigeon Project. The latter also tried to be a travelogue of Venice while we follow Tim Jordan in his attempt to save the formula for yet another elixir for youth. The biggest problem with the novel is that it isn't hard to predict the end and once you have done that all the suspenseful goings-on are just not suspenseful anymore.

The R Document, on the other hand, is a conventional thriller with the appropriate twist and surprise tossed in ever so often to season the proceedings. The novel follows Christopher Collins, the Attorney General of the United States, as he races against time to find out more about a mysterious "R Document" that seems to be a rather nasty side of the 35th amendment (which is a new amendment to the Constitution that allows the powers-that-be to suspend the Bill of Rights during times of national emergency). Once again, you can predict how this is all going to end. But this time, Wallace does not try to do more than deliver a standard thriller while showing off his research on politics and the constitution of the United States. There is no travelogue. There is no sequitur into unrelated sub-plots. This is the stuff of efficient black and white low-budget thrillers (and in the hands of a competent journeyman that black and white thriller would have been a far better piece of art than this piece of pulp). Since this is fiction for the masses, it would be unfair to expect complex characters or a genuine sense of intrigue and dread. This novel was written 45 years ago, but could easily have been written today about the Patriot Act of 2001. That topical stroke of luck makes The R Document more memorable (is that too strong a word?) than The Pigeon Project.

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