Friday, September 11, 2009

Mystery Book Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

by
Non-series

Anchor Books (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-307-38867-0 (0307388670)
ISBN-13: 978-0-307-38867-4 (9780307388674)
Publication Date: August 2009
List Price: $15.00

Review: Andrew Davidson's debut novel, The Gargoyle, will likely elicit strong reactions from readers, some of whom will love it, others not so much. Impossible to categorize, it's best described as cross-genre, a paranormal psychological romantic thriller, but unique in its own way.

The narrator is an unnamed man living in an unnamed city (though for many reasons, Los Angeles comes to mind when reading it). He's been in a horrific car accident of his own doing—he was high on cocaine and drunk on bourbon at the time—resulting in severe burns over most of his body. He survives, but just barely. He proceeds to address the reader directly, initially relating in alternating passages, his life story, his recovery from the accident, and his plans to kill himself once he leaves the hospital. A strange woman then comes to visit him, Marianne Engel, who tells him they were together in a previous life, in medieval Germany, and their lives today are eerily similar to what they were in the 13th century. Of course he doesn't believe her, but the over months of his recovery he's attracted to her, and comes to accept, even embrace, her story, even if he doesn't think it to be true.

There's a sense here that The Gargoyle was not written by a single author, but by a number of people in some sort of non-linear fashion, as if they were given an outline of a scene and asked to fill in the details without knowing what the movie was about. Some are writing the narrator's past, some the present. Some take the role of the narrator's intellect, others write Marianne's past and present lives. Still more write tales that occur in other times and places. All these stories, many of which are stylistically different from each other, are then interweaved with little attempt to add logical transitions, relationships, or cohesion. Then there are the numerous platitudes, some of which are groan-worthy: "Your skin was the emblem of your identity, the image that you presented to the world. But it was never who you really are. Being burned doesn't make you any less—or more—human. It only makes you burnt." A long way of saying, "beauty is only skin deep".

The Gargoyle really can't be said to be good or bad, it simply is. Like some modern art, many will find it brilliant, insightful, introspective, provocative; others will say it's just a black dot on a white background.

Special thanks to Random House for providing a trade paperback edition of The Gargoyle for this review.

Buy from Amazon.com

If you are interested in purchasing The Gargoyle from Amazon.com, please click the button to the right. The Gargoyle (Kindle edition) is also available. Learn more about the Kindle, Amazon's Wireless Reading Device.

Synopsis (from the publisher): The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide—for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul.

A beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life—and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete—and her time on earth will be finished.

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