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An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe

01/12/2009. Contributed by Neale Monks

Buy An Evil Guest in the USA - or Buy An Evil Guest in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 404 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), $28.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2133-6.

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Given the glowing reviews on the dust jacket of 'An Evil Guest', I had assumed that reviewing this book would be a pleasure. In fact, it turned out to be a chore. The problem is that while the author can undoubtedly write well and the concept behind the book is an interesting one, the actual book itself is, not to put too fine a point on it, boring.

The central issue is pacing. The reader has to make it about half-way through the book before anything surprising or even merely exciting ever happens. For most of that first half, the text is a series of conversations between people who really aren't all that engaging. To be fair, there are hints at the deeper mystery, but not enough to make the book an easy read.

At its simplest, what Gene Wolfe has attempted to write is a combination of a noir thriller, Lovecraftian cosmic horror novel and Science Fiction mystery. Unfortunately, Wolfe fails to pull a coherent story from the resulting mix, so while bits of the book might be identified with any one of these styles, what ends up in print feels disjointed and confusing.

To his credit, Wolfe works hard to create some interesting characters, but for a book as short as this one, there are rather too many of them. The three main characters are Carrie, an actress, and two men, Gideon, a private detective-wizard of some sort, and Reis, a wealthy businessman who may or may not have something to do with evil aliens. But besides these three, there are countless secondary characters with seemingly little to no depth at all.

It's usually a bad sign when an author has to include a who's who list of characters at the back of the book, since that implies the reader isn't likely to remember them all. 'An Evil Guest' has precisely this kind of list and it runs for two pages.

The mystery part of the plot is thin, almost elusive and instead swamped by some nonsensical theatrical plot that somehow throws up allusions to the deeper cosmic horror part that (barely) comes into focus in the second half of the book. But to get to this second half you have to wade through endless conversations, assignations in restaurants and rides in limousines. Some may see this as subtlety, but most will find this just plain tedious.

Bottom line, as much as I wanted to like this book, I just couldn't. I'm a huge fan of Lovecraftian horror fiction and thoroughly enjoy most of the pastiches and reinterpretations of the genre I've come across. For an author as highly regarded as Gene Wolfe, I expected a great deal but, unfortunately, 'An Evil Guest' singularly fails to deliver.

Neale Monks

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