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The Magician And The Fool by Barth Anderson

01/04/2009. Contributed by RJ Barker

Buy The Magician And The Fool in the USA - or Buy The Magician And The Fool in the UK

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pub: Bantam Spectra. 290 page enlarged paperback. Price: $13.00 (US), $16.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-38359-1.

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Disgraced historian Jeremiah Rosemont is backpacking in Central America when a man turns up out the blue and gives him an airline ticket. In America, a man called the Boy King sits in a squat sorting through the detritus of his life and having visions.

Rosemont takes his airline ticket and ends up in Rome, where he is whisked around meeting a cast of characters, some of whom have been alive for centuries, in search of an ancient tarot deck of immense power. Two killers hunt Rosemont and the Boy King.

Meanwhile, the reader looks on in bemusement waiting for something to make sense.

When I was reading this book, I half enjoyed it. When I put it down returning to it felt like a chore.

There are startling pieces within this. Some of the play with mirrors is wonderful and the street scenes are also captivating.

There's also a lot of people sitting around talking and these conversations seem to be the mainstay of the book. This makes it stutter, it doesn't flow in any natural way. I'm reasonably sure this is deliberate, the author is blurring the lines between reality and dreams, but it's also unsatisfying. Plot is secondary to events and these often leave you with more questions than answers.

There's a constant feeling that the author is hiding things from the reader. This isn't always a bad thing in fiction; noir fiction relies on it but also features a strong narrator to act as a lynchpin and Barth Anderson's book lacks that. Characters are largely unsympathetic. The lead, Jeremiah Rosemont, I found self-pitying and annoying. The supporting cast generally a little too clever for their own good.

Academics make up the major players in this and the entire book has the flavour of an academic spat. There's a lot of information flying around and although some of it may be interesting outside of its own ivory tower, it's largely unimportant to those uninvolved.

Although this all sounds very negative, there is pleasure to be had from this book. However, that pleasure is more akin to the trickery of a cryptic crossword than the compulsive draw of great fiction. There's no question Mr. Anderson has talent but this book exists in a no man's land. It's not paced well, interesting or compulsive enough to attract people looking for a thrilling read and it's not deep enough to appeal to readers of 'literature'.

The author clearly has masses of potential but I don't feel this book realises it.

RJ Barker

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