Saturday, April 5, 2008

Review - The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary by Raymond Khoury is a book in the tradition of The Da Vinci Code: plucky heroine, uncertain loyalties, and wisdom of the ancients that would rock the world if it came out - some will do anything to possess it, others would do anything to protect it.

Khoury is a screenwriter, and this book demonstrates that sensibility. If you can read its 432 pages in 90 minutes or so, it may seem fast-paced and exciting, and you could see that, in the hands of a good director, especially one who could cut out some of the numbing repetition and driving around, it might be worthwhile.

But it is a book, and does not take full advantage of that. I'm not averse to long asides in a book like this about history, or geography, or religion (though many readers are). Perhaps as a concession to those readers, The Sanctuary does very little to draw us into the sweeping multi-era period that it covers. If we're not going to reap the fruits of Michener-like research, we're left with plot, characterization, and setting.

And what can you expect of characterization here? Thrillers tend to set the bar pretty low in that arena, but Khoury doesn't clear it. The central idea of the book could lead to some insightful thinking about how the radical discovery would change anyone who was a part of it; we blow by that idea in favor of stereotypes (which, again, are acceptable in a movie, where we have to peg our characters quickly).

As for place, there is some mild interest in the settings, but they are not quite vivid enough to overcome the cardboard people.

Then there's plot. Many people hate the novels of Ludlum, but, at his best, his books are propulsive, leaping from place to place with an exciting recklessness. Often, there's nothing more to his plots than that someone is being chased, but he does engage the reader. Khoury doesn't display that talent. The action scenes are routine, and the central motivator of the book is completely predictable. What little suspense there is often dissipates far too early.

There are also some major language errors. Maybe those bother you, maybe they don't, but it takes me right out of the plot when I read, in a book by a major publisher that employs editors, that someone "poured over the book." I have to stop and think what liquid they've just applied to the ancient text, and that's mighty distracting.

I didn't particularly care for The Da Vinci Code, so it's easy to see how I might be uninterested in a pale copy of it. I continue my quest for a historical thriller that has some meat on the bones; sadly, The Sanctuary isn't it.

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