And now for something (almost) completely different from the author of the popular literary thrillers The Alienist (1994) and The Angel of Darkness (1997).
Carr’s bizarre cautionary tale, subtitled “A Novel of the Future” (and reminiscent of both H.G. Wells’s tough-minded speculative romances and Jack London at his most engagingly deranged), examines the consequences of information overload and “image manipulation” in a craven new world in which two percent of the US population is in prison, the Balkans have re-erupted, and an ongoing war between India and Pakistan complicates international diplomacy and threatens the global community’s stability, if not its survival. It’s all a bit much for renowned criminologist Dr. Gideon Wolfe, whose employment by the widow of a murdered “special effects wizard” leads him to the discovery that the Afghani “terrorist” accused of the murder of US President Emily Forrester was framed by powerful anonymous vested interests. Dr. Wolfe is taken aboard an “airship” commanded by wheelchair-bound genius Malcolm Tressalian (images of Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove instantly leap to mind) and his gorgeous sister Larissa (an accomplished scientist and phlegmatic assassin). Wolfe gradually deciphers the full connotative meaning of the Latin epigram (Mundus vult decipi) that motivates the Tressalians’ highly skilled crew, but finds he cannot share Malcolm’s obsession with “the deceptions of this age, and my own attempts to reveal them through deception.” The ensuing melodrama moves (in and out of earth’s orbit, with the greatest of ease) from the uninhabited island of St. Kilda off the coast of Scotland to Kuala Lumpur in search of Israeli terrorist Dov Eshkol, thence to Moscow, and darkest Africa. Carr whizzes quickly through this entertaining nonsense in a hit-or-miss manner that’s perhaps a little too compressed, especially at the rather hurried close, which (just barely) manages to suggest that Malcolm—far and away the most potentially interesting of the book’s paper-thin characters—“had actually succeeded in his quest to conquer time.”
Fun, but awfully sketchy. Carr seems more at home in the past than in the future.