Friday, November 23, 2007
Book Review: Devlin's Razor
Devlin's Razor is a novel of The Continuing Time by Jodi Moran. Other novels in this series, by Daniel Keys Moran include the trilogy Emerald Eyes, The Long Run and The Last Dancer. Devlin's Razor is a murder mystery surrounding the character Harry Devlin, who is referred to as The Prophet Harry in the other novels.
Devlin's Razor differs dramatically from the trilogy noted above, as well as other stories in The Continuing Time like LeftBehind, in that it is not science fiction. There are no cyborgs, space travel, laser weapons or alien races; the whole story could have taken place last year in Los Angeles and it might not have made the news. Still, it's a good story, and well worth reading as a background piece for the other stories or as a standalone novel, whether or not you're a fan of either of the Morans.
I've commented elsewhere that Devlin's Razor is told in the voice of The Sunset Strip novels, such as Terminal Freedom that was written by Daniel and Jodi together. This is yet another departure from the rest of The Continuing Time stories, though given that Jodi Moran wrote Devlin's Razor alone, it's understandable. While the change of voice doesn't detract from the story being told, it is a distraction for a reader looking for the more hard-edged writing from, say Emerald Eyes. Devlin's Razor isn't exactly a rollicking, headlong crash of an adventure, but more of a character-filled whodunnit that seems like a colored-in version of a game of Clue.
The story of Devlin's Razor follows the painter Harry, accused of the murder of Phil Sullivan, the owner of the restaurant where Harry works as a waiter. Phil is married to Gayle Eris Sullivan, the leader of the Eris commune that eventually becomes the root of the Erisian cult, which plays heavily in the other novels. The murder case is investigated by two of L.A.'s finest, Detective Ted and Detective Joy, who are drawn about as two-dimensionally as possible. Throughout the story, you don't get the impression that they, nor any of the other police characters, exist outside of their interaction with the plot. This two-dimensionality extends somewhat to the other characters, though not nearly as much.
Harry lives with his girlfriend Iselma, who at one time had an affair with Sullivan and is currently having an affair with Sullivan's lawyer. Iselma is petulant and selfish, and it's hard to say why Harry loves her so much, particularly given that he's aware of her indiscretions, a point that figures heavily into the detective's case against him. Most readers recognize that things would be better between Harry and Iselma if they would sit down and actually talk to one another.
The supporting characters in the story are the most fun aspect of the whole book. Normally I tire of large casts, as I can't keep everyone straight. These characters, though, have such distinct aspects to them that they're easy to follow. There's Harry's cousin Spike, the Catholic priest and one of Harry's best friends. Harry and Spike are joined by Swami Dave, the eternally happy Hare Krishna, Julian the wise and always stoned Vietnam veteran who lost his legs in the war and spends 90% of his time on the bottom step of Harry's apartment stairs, and the twisted lawyer Jack, who plays as the main antagonist to the story.
One thing Jodi Moran does a very good job at is giving subtle clues throughout the story that support the big reveal at the end. I don't read murder mysteries very often at all, and I was surprised how it all fit together. Fans of the genre may feel differently, finding that the real culprit's identity was obvious fifty pages back.
Devlin's Razor will likely be published only in electronic format, though there has been mention of a "print on demand" service making hardcopies available. If you're looking for an easy-to-read murder mystery packed full of interesting, if not deep characters, or if you've always wondered who The Prophet Harry was when reading novels of The Continuing Time, look no further. If you're looking for hard-edged science fiction, with characters like Trent Castanaveras and Mohammed Vance, wait for AI War, Daniel Keys Moran's next novel to be published next year.