Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Lazarus Club

The Secrets of the Lazarus Club The Secrets of the Lazarus Club by Tony Pollard

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I had high hopes for this book - but I was disappointed. The book is a sort of mystery/thriller, set in England in the mid-1800's. Several corpses have been found in the Thames with their hearts and lungs torn out. The story is told by a medical doctor who is first brought into the investigation to help, and then becomes a suspect. Several historical figures play a part (Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Babbage), which is what drew me to the book. However, other than IK Brunel, none of the other historical figures play much of a role. They are just guests or members of "The Lazarus Club", a discussion group of scientific/progressive thinkers. Our doctor gets drawn into the club, and soon gets caught up in the hunt for a mysterious mechanical device create by Brunel, that people are getting killed for, and the doctor finds his own life in danger and begins to suspect members of the club.

It all sounds rather exciting, and, at times, it is. (The entrance of the Lady Ada Lovelace - the first computer programmer who wrote programs for Babbage's Analytical Engine - ranks up there with some of the best scenes from Frankenstein.) But, the problem is the author can't make up his mind what story he is telling. There are too many dead ends, too many sections of the book which do nothing to drive the story forward, etc. I think there could be at least 2, if not 3, GOOD books made from this one book.

Also, the way the story is told, I never really connected with any of the characters - I couldn't really feel any emotion, except in rare passages. Most of the time, the narrator (the doctor) just seemed to be dryly relating what happened. This kept me from really getting into the story. Though the author captures the era well, the dry narrative style is a real shortcoming. (I still remember a high school English teacher I had, who, in the creative writing portion of the class would say "SHOW me, don't TELL me what happens" - too bad Mr. Pollard didn't have her as a teacher!)

Because of this, I can't really recommend this book, unless you are interested in this time period or in IK Brunel. There are other, better, books out there.

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