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Better, And Worse, Than Dan Brown,
This review is from: The Thousand (Hardcover)"The Thousand" shares a genre with Dan Brown's intellectual history enhanced thrillers - Angels and Demons, the DaVinci Code, and the Lost Symbol, as well as a number of other recent thrillers featuring archaeologists or historians pursuing lost secrets of the past. It also share genre tropes with TV series like VR.5, Heroes, Lost, Kyle XY, the Bourne Identity, and even the X-Files, with the inner workings of secret society playing itself out as our protagonists propel themselves forward with a life or death interest in penetrating its secrets.
Dan Brown's novels are heavy on the art history and historical lacuna, but have flabby plots and flat characters. Guilfoile's characters, in contrast, are delightfully tragic, flawed and well fleshed out. Heroine Canada Gold's flawed mental health (she and her father had intense ADHD) and the flawed blessing of a cure that gives her extraordinary talents but fails to deliver friends, wealth or more than a modicum of happiness, make for fine psychological drama. Her late father's lawyer who is tormented at having exonorated a murderer, the middle aged self-destructing cop who won't let an old case go, and even bit characters like the succession of people who pick up Gold's hitchhiking boyfriend as he flees false murder charges, have great depth, delivered artfully and not a moment too soon.
But the plot device of the Pythagoreans fail to meet the test of Chekov's gun, that "one must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." "The Thousand" promises us an answer to the question of why twenty-five hundred years ago, a thousand souls in an Italian village would give up their lives for this mystic mathematician. The scene is more fully realized on the book jacket than any place in the novel itself. There are no historical flashbacks, despite an "eye of God" narration style that would have allowed for such a scene, even if no character had experienced it first hand. The math professor revealing most of what we learn about them is one of Guilfoile's worst realized characters. We are told in the abstract what drives these people and what knowledge binds them, but not shown it with emotional depth. Guilfoile has offered us the equivalent of a thumbnail sketch of the history of Christianity in a shadow world where it was suppressed instead of thriving, without a mention of the Gospels whose powerful story set it all in motion, and without any testimonials of people whose lives were transformed by their faith. Were his story about the Pythagoreans as compelling as his story about flawed minds, genius and the guilt of those who were caught up in their web, and told in both the past and the present, this could have been a masterpiece. Instead, it is merely a good read with some memorable characters, and insights into how we perceive the world - better than a lot of genre fiction, but not award winning quality work.