All authors have certain themes that hum through their works because they provide the framework for the ways in which they understand the world and how their story ideas are shaped into a plot. In a novel, the plot is only one part of the total experience of reading the book. The themes, characters and settings, among other things are part of what ultimately makes the book fascinating or dull.
In Barbara D’Amato’s most recent book, Other Eyes, the central theme is that modern people are very similar to people who lived thousands of years ago. “A baby born ten thousand years ago but raised by modern parents would not seem different from a child born and raised today,” she said in an interview. And one of the characters says, “We are in no significant way different from a person born ten thousand years ago.”
In illustrating that theme, she takes the reader to ancient cultures in Peru and Turkey and even has the characters, modern day archeologists, imagine what it might be like to have lived in those times. We are treated to a narrative of a young boy who is sacrificed to save his city in Peru and the death of a young girl in childbirth in Turkey.
I loved the descriptions of the archeological areas and enjoyed the imaginative leaps back in time. However, from a strictly plot point, it wasn’t clear to me why the team was going to both Peru and Turkey in such a short time frame. The historical and cultural connection between the two areas was murky, so the juxtaposition of the two cultures seemed random. D’Amato’s explanation in the book was that they were studying the effect of hallucinogenic drugs on the development of religion, but wouldn’t there be other cultures, closer geographically, to study rather than traipsing all over the globe?
I suppose this is a sticking point for me because I’m a practical person. In these days of tight budgets, I couldn’t get past wondering why the team would spend all that money and energy to get themselves and their equipment to a place only to stay a few days. I imagine archeologists going to a site and staying for several weeks, but I could be wrong about this since I don’t personally know any archeologists who do field work.
Actually, the book skips all over the globe. There are scenes in Chicago, D.C., Turkey, Switzerland, Mexico, Peru, and Holland. Each location has its own cast of characters, some of whom never meet or even know about each other. I didn’t have trouble keeping track of them, which says something about the skill with which they were introduced, but at the end I wondered about their relevance to the story.
The premise of the book is intriguing— Blue Eriksen, while researching the effect of hallucinogenic drugs on the creation of religion, stumbles upon a way to successfully cure drug addiction. She has published a best-selling book and so has a moderately high profile and thus a pulpit from which to push her idea. An international drug cartel sends an assassin to kill her before her ideas can take hold and negatively affect business.
There are some nail-biting moments when she realizes she is being stalked by a cold-blooded murderer, but this part of the story did not mesh as well as one might wish with the descriptions of old cultures. The archeological story was satisfying enough and did not need to be appended to a thriller plot.
I had started to reread another D’Amato novel, Good Cop, Bad Cop, before buying her latest. I put it down to read Other Eyes, and then returned to it. It was interesting to see the reappearance of some plot devices and themes in both books.
I found Good Cop, Bad Cop a more cohesive story because there are fewer subplots and extraneous characters. However, although it was part of a series, the recurring characters, Suze Figueroa and Norm Bennis, were more of a subplot than focal characters. Their contribution to the solution of the story was tangential.
Both books have a weary world view. Not much positive is evident at the end, not even the personal growth of the characters. In Good Cop, Bad Cop the police superintendant is forced out and there is no redemption for him. In Other Eyes, Blue Eriksen will be discredited by the drug cartel and what she hopes will be a cure for drug addiction will be turned against her. D’Amato does not predict happy futures for her characters, even the ones who are ethical and honorable.
In both books the bad guy dies, one by being hit by a bus and one by being hit by a cement truck. D’Amato’s sense of justice for evil demands that this happen but these deaths seem more gruesome than just being shot by the protagonist. It’s the justice of the larger society that kills them or maybe, the laws of physics. Both books have honest central characters who are strongly connected to their families, both books have evil doers who don’t care who gets hurt as long as their objective is reached and both books have minor characters who are weak. Richard Dickenson in Good Cop, Bad Cop reminds me strongly of Andy Becker in Other Eyes, down to both being sacrificed for the story line.
Nevertheless, Other Eyes is a rewarding read, not because it is the best thriller D’Amato has written but because the characters and the story are interesting and the settings are unusual. And a reread of Good Cop, Bad Cop is a great way to spend a gray March afternoon.
The books are available through Centuries & Sleuths Book Store, The Book Table and the local libraries.