With Eaters of the Dead, Crichton presents a four-star novella padded out into a three-star novel with two-star commentary. The story itself, what little there is of it, revolves around an emissary from the Islamic world thrown into a nightmare situation in Scandinavia, becoming an impromptu warrior in the locals’ battle against a lingering tribe of Neanderthals, (literally). It is an intelligent enough work in its exploration of cultural differences, the society of the period, and in its description of the location. It has a few edge-of-seat moments, some nice description, even the odd bit of humour, and would have been worth reading were it not or the fact Crichton researched it so well.
As a rule that would be a positive, but not in this instance. Crichton doesn’t want a single minute he spent with his head buried in dusty tomes to be lost to us. He wants us to know all the effort he has gone to. So he presents us with a pseudo-scholarly work with an introduction to fake-up the historicity, littering the narrative itself with pesky little end notes. I ignored the end notes, reading them all when I’d finished the story. Other readers of this work would be well-advised to do likewise. Beyond the pseudo-scholarship, Crichton even tells us what inspired him to write the novel, (a bet of some sort, but I really didn’t care enough to take in the details by then), and we may be thankful he stopped there and didn’t extend it all out with a “How this book was written” daily journal, and perhaps a long list of acknowledgements sparing not even the cat.
What makes the pseudo-scholarly nonsense all the more frustrating is that much of it may have been incorporated into the narrative itself, particularly the end notes, with extended descriptions that would have worked to the story’s benefit. In addition, perhaps, he may have invested his story teller with a little more worldly nous. What remained could have been presented as a brief afterword if Crichton wanted to impress us with his research, but Crichton is far-from alone in conducting such research in order to write a novel. Better novels tend to weave that research into the narrative and hope a few people at least pick up on the subtleties, Easter-egg style. They don’t tend to blare “Look what I did!”
I tend to be a completist and have been known, on occasions, to read a work’s copyright notices when the urge is upon me, but for those who are not so obsessed, stick with the narrative alone. Maybe take in the end notes when you’ve finished it if you’re curious. Skip everything else. That way you’ll have a decent-enough story, albeit punctuated with annoying numbers.