I hate to admit it, but Brett King’s new book “The Radix” has very nearly pushed me over the edge as far as Voynich-themed novels go. OK, if you like your cipher mystery fiction spiced up with implausibly steel-chinned Secret Government Agency action heroes with PhD-level history credentials and who the US President just happens to owe a favour (basically Cotton Malone or Daniel Knox on overdrive), then maybe you’d like it. M-a-y-b-e. But if not, I strongly suspect you won’t, sorry.
It’s completely true that Dan Brown’s books leave me wanting to shoot the fumblingly-drawn main protagonists by the end of Chapter One, all the secondary characters by the end of Chapter Two, and the publisher by the end of Chapter Three (given that I see Dan as closer to Gavin Menzies than to Machiavelli, I’d rather cut his hands off than shoot him): and compared to that particular cultural nadir, I’m delighted to say that The Radix is at least reasonably well written. But all the same, I can’t think of a single book where I so badly wanted the bad guys – in this instance, Renaissance conspiracy fans, the evil Borgias’ evil descendants (did I mention they were evil?) – to kick John Brynstone (King’s hero)’s unbelievably buff butt down the road to Hell so very quickly (specifically, by page 17).
But then I thought, hold on a mo’… could it be that “The Radix” is actually some kind of postmodern-ish reversal-of-expectations gag – by which I mean, did King consciously make the protagonist so unlikeable, so implausible, and so unsexy because he wanted the bad guys to be, ummm, the good guys? Historically, it’s true that (for example) Lucrezia Borgia has been demonized for so long that even now it’s desperately hard for historians (even Sarah Bradford in her 2004 biography of Lucrezia, which I’m still halfway through) to untie every Borgia-damning knot that partisan writers have tied over the centuries: so could it be that King’s novel is merely Part I of some bizarre rehabilitatory Borgia anti-history?
Achhhhh… try as I might, I can’t really believe that King has a uber-revisionist angle in mind, given that his “Radix” is so close in spirit to a comic-book escapade (and not one of dear Alan Moore’s sardonic club-sandwich plots, with a beard-hair delight in each multi-layered bite) crossed with an airport novella, with John Brynstone so utterly 2d that his action sequences practically jerk from static box to static box. All of which makes it perfect for a Jason Statham vehicle for 2011, then? Alas, yes – which alone is probably a damn good reason why the film-of-the-book shouldn’t be made. Despite King’s agent’s best attempts, let’s all just hope divine justice prevails, shall we?
Though “The Radix” has doubtless been pitched at the cipher mystery beach brigade, my worthless personal opinion is that Cipher Mysteries readers looking for 2010 summer holiday fiction should instead plump for Enrique Joven’s completely antithetical “The Book of God and Physics: a Novel of the Voynich Mystery”, which manages to tell its own Voynich-themed story with nary a jutting jaw or a laws-of-physics-defying stunt. Of course, please feel free to read both and tell me if I’m just plain wrong – comment below, I don’t mind. 🙂