Thursday, December 8, 2011

Book Review: The Lost Goddess by Tom Knox

Title: The Lost Goddess
Author: Tom Knox
Publisher: Penguin USA
Release Date: 01/19/2012
ISBN: 0670023183

If you're looking at this book and expecting a read along the lines of Dan Brown or James Rollins, look elsewhere. While Knox does try to expand on the wildly popular idea of the anthropological thriller, he fails to deliver the compulsive read his fellow authors have managed to bring to the table.

In the silent caves beneath France, young archaeologist Julia Kerrigan unearths an ancient skull-with a hole bored through the forehead. After she reveals her discovery, her mentor is brutally murdered. Deep in the jungles of Southeast Asia, photographer Jake Thurby is offered a mysterious assignment by a beautiful Cambodian lawyer who is investigating finds at the two-thousand-year-old Plain of Jars-finds that shadowy forces want kept secret.

From the temples of Angkor Wat and the wild streets of Bangkok to the prehistoric caves in Western Europe, what links Jake's and Julia's discoveries is a strange, demonic woman whose unquenchable thirst for vengeance-and the horrors she seeks to avenge- are truly shocking.

Now I do have to give credit where it's due. Rather than attempt to bring out the same ideas that have already been well trod, Knox manages to find a historical mystery that nobody seems to have written about yet: the Hands of Gargas and the Plain of Jars, two fascinating anthropological and social finds that are woefully underused in the world of fiction. In this aspect, Knox did a good job since these are things that would make for a good anthropological/sociological thriller.

However, where Knox flounders is in his penchant for overstating to the point of tedium. We're given themes, histories, and info dumps, which I admit are unavoidable in any book, but we're browbeaten by these elements until we're rolling our eyes at the occasionally overly dramatic and unnecessary prose. A good example would be how Knox uses the horrific atrocities that the Khmer Rouge made against the people of Cambodia. These elements are stated time and time again, occasionally at the expense of character development. We're told how communism is bad and how horrible the Khmer Rouge was, meanwhile the main characters seem to be little more than a platform for these views. While these viewpoints are valid, they just kept me from getting as invested in the characters as I'd wanted to be. That the plot jumps between different groups of characters doesn't help out either.

Then there's the ending. I won't elaborate, but I'll just say that the message in the end will be controversial to some readers. If it wasn't as subtle as Gallagher smashing a watermelon, Knox could have gotten away with it to where I don't believe anyone would have complained. Sometimes less is more and a briefer revelation with less exclamation would have driven the point in more than pages of exposition. It just diluted everything and made it more overzealous and annoying than thought provoking, making the ending (and the book in general) more of a chore to read than a joy.

Now, it isn't all bad. There are some good scenes in here and the general idea of the book is pretty darn intriguing. If Knox could have gone back and eased up on the overstating of ideas and focused more on the character development, this would have been an amazing read. It could have had at least 40-60 pages shaved off to make a tighter narrative. It's just that the book failed to deliver on its promise and while it might make for an OK library read, Knox still has a long way to go before he gets to Douglass and Preston levels.

1.7 out of 5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

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