The Book of Spies is an intelligent work. However, intelligence and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Intended as a thriller, the work fails to thrill. The underlying premise is that a secret library of ancient texts is under the control of a bunch of billionaires who relish the fact they have access to the works of the ancient Greeks and others thought lost to history. As premises go, it’s weak. Sure the billionaires are prone to paranoia and bumping one another off along with their aides, but who are the stakeholders in an internal squabble? Who cares? As for the secret itself, academe would be fascinated to have access to the library perhaps and be thrilled by the underlying premise of this work, but how many of them actually read thrillers?
One of our billionaires has a sideline in a diamond mine in Afghanistan. An Afghani warlord with an anti-American plot makes for a side-story, but as an add-on there’s not much too it. Unfortunate. It may have made for a better novel and justified the body-count in the work which mounts dramatically in its pursuit of the lost works of Greek playwrights.
Back in that library, and American agencies get involved to the apparent puzzlement of some departmental heads, a puzzlement we share. Okay, Lynds fills in that gap with reasonable enough explanations, but only insofar as plaster reasonably fills the cracks in a wall. Without a good paint job, the cracks still show.
Lynds has done a great deal of research. Or travel. Or both. She has facts at her fingertips and doesn’t want to waste any of them. An abundance of useless information is thrown into the work to little effect beyond slowing down the pace. The potential for mystery here is great, but we’re shown events unfolding from both sides of the battle, so that’s gone. The only mystery is the location of the library, and I don’t feel as if I’m introducing a spoiler here in revealing it is on an uncharted Greek island. Seriously, so what? If it had been lurking beneath some major city – as the mythical library that inspired this work is supposed to lurk beneath Moscow – it would have made for a better work.
Plot devices stretch credulity to breaking-point, such as the library member who has the secret of the location tattooed on the top of his head hidden by his hair in the form of a clue which takes some working out for our heroes, but honestly? Would you? Who would? Yes, it mirrors nicely some minor incident in some work of an ancient Greek, but let’s be serious here.
That classical Greek literature doesn’t sit well in a down-to-earth thriller is all-but caricatured by some of the dialogue.
“My ass,” Eva retorted. “You’re alive. Don’t try for more. As Horace said, ‘Semper avarus eget.’ That means a greedy man’s always in need, you greedy bastard.”
Ironically, the notes at the end make for a better story in telling the tale of the mythical library upon which the novel was based than does the novel itself. Lynds may have been better sticking with that, though the assertion that some claim the existence of a piece by Homer lettered in gold on a twelve-foot-long snakeskin is impossible on so many levels that Lynds may require better sources for something more scholarly.
I have only given out one two-star review besides this one, and that for an obligation read. Two stars means “I didn’t finish the book so I can’t review it.” I’m not sure why I finished this one except, perhaps, that it holds out the hope throughout that it could get better, but it never does.
All I can say to ameliorate all this criticism is Lynds could probably write a half-decent work with better research in a different vernacular, but she needs to steer clear of thrillers.