If Quasimodo had a love child with Holly Golightly, well, readers of this unchallenging but not unpleasant thriller wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
Debut novelist and former ITV cameraman/reporter Steele (War Junkie, 2002, etc.), a longtime resident of Switzerland, conjures a promising setup in which the oddball bell-ringer (in literature, there can be no other kind) of the Lausanne cathedral crosses paths with the superhot, superhigh-priced call girl who just happens to live across the street. Lon Chaney Jr. our ringer isn’t, not really, though young Marc Rochat knows everything that happens in, around and below his haunt. Katherine Taylor is no Esmeralda, either, though she has some of that gypsy’s soft touch. Enter third-wheel Jay Harper, a British Private Investigator who’s just arrived in Lausanne because people have been turning up dead all around the church, while strange noises have been coming from the basement. By some lights, that’s all to the good; says a friendly cafe keeper to Marc, “Surprise me sometime. This is Switzerland. We need surprises now and then. Keeps us from boring one another to death.” Well, one surprise is that Jay suffers from amnesia—but then, what detective hero doesn’t have a personal flaw to overcome? Another is that the efficient Swiss are inefficient killing machines compared to the fallen angels, halflings, monsters and other weirdos that turn up to duke it out, with the forces of good facing down the forces of evil and all that and sometimes not doing too good a job of it. Steele would seem to do a lot of borrowing here, particularly from the movies; some of the scenes echo the creepily apocalyptic 1995 film The Prophecy, while it’s probably not an accident that one of baddest of the bad guys shares a name with the baddest of the bad guys in the classic film Doctor Zhivago. And then the whole confection falls into territory somewhere between Stephen King (good) and Dan Brown (not good).
Still, there’s plenty of diabolical fun to be had here, with “I see dead people” happily rejoined by “But I wouldn’t call her dead, not really.”