“What do you know about the sephiroth? Or gematria?” What, indeed? Cabala and codex, mystery and melodrama—it’s all here in this debut novel.
Since David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas, every other commercially aspiring literary novel, it seems, jumps around over continents and centuries. This is no exception, with the perhaps unfortunate nexus of the Venices of California and Italy and the Venetian hotel of Las Vegas and a time span joining the Renaissance to the present by way of the Beat era. The cast of characters is suitably broad but with three principal figures. One is a salty, hard-boiled private investigator with a quick temper and a potty mouth (“fuck it, fuck Damon for putting some sketchy shitbag onto him without giving him a heads-up”) who falls into the ambit of a sometime gambler, sometime philosopher (“At any given moment, you may be certain of the cards, but the other man—your opponent, your mark—you can never be certain of what he perceives, what he thinks, what he will do”) who just happens to know a little something about a book, called, of course, The Mirror Thief, one that is in demand for the odd power it enfolds. It also contains a Nicosian ne’er-do-well who, four centuries ago, sets off on a mission that will find him tap-dancing his way out of the clutches of spies and inquisitors. He’s a likable rogue, and by far the most interesting fellow in the book. Seay’s great challenge is to bind these talky stories together, which he does to varying degrees of success; often the story seems an exercise in stringing together index-card notes on various arcane subjects, and while the book is well-written and admirable in the ambition of its scope, it still feels undercooked.
Entertaining enough, if less a hall of mirrors than a house of cards.