Friday, April 29, 2011

26. The Menorah Men by Lionel Davidson

Though the copy I found at Chainon had a very contemporary cover, the book was originally published in 1966 and was touted as being a classic action thriller in the mode of Deighton, LeCarré and Innes. Also, it was about a lost artifact and took place in the middle east. Right up my alley, so I took the risk. After having read it, I found that Lionel Davidson was quite succesful and though he only wrote around a half-dozen books, they were all big sellers and got excellent critical reviews.

So I don't know if the Menorah Men is a particularly bad example of his work or if his success was more a reflection of the time than any particular quality he may have had as a writer. Because this book was really not very good. From the very beginning, I struggled to get through the language, which was convoluted and overly clever. I couldn't even really figure out what the hell was going on there was so much innuendo and half-references. Just tell us that he is at a party and where and who the people are that he meets. I guess if you are a super pro, you can take your writing to that level, but Davidson was not there when he wrote this, that's for sure. I don't know if I got used to his "style" or if it toned down, but after the first 50 pages, I was able to actually get into it.

And the thing is, Davidson is actually a pretty good writer, when he stopped trying to be all 60s cool. His descriptions of the desert are quite evocative and there is a scene near the end, where two lawyers go at it, that was quite thrilling. But even if the whole book had been clearly written, it wouldn't have mattered, because the protagonist is such a prick. I mean I get the idea of the slighly boorish action hero or the normal guy in the wrong place surviving by his wits. But the hero here spends the whole book basically date-raping the hot Israeli soldier that is assigned to him (and of course she gives in and loves him by the end), being basically constantly drunk and even more so when an important military action has to go down and being completely disrespectful to the locals and religious people (barging into a synagogue on the sabbath and demanding some guy to open a store because he needs a map now which he could have waited for).

The story is about the search for a lost fabled Menorah that represented the spiritual wealth of the Jews after they were massacred by the the Romans. There is some neat history and the present day stuff is a cool set-up, with conflicts between archeologists and developers, Israelis and Jordanians at the border and artifact smugglers. The location is great. But the story meanders (the thrilling legal debate being the high point of the entire book is testimony to that) and when you don't hate the protagonist, you really don't give a shit.

Sorry, Lionel Davidson, maybe your other books kick ass, but I'm going to need someone whom I respect really argue that for me before I pick one up.

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