Saturday, September 11, 2021

56. The Q Document by James Hall Roberts

I found this book at the super cool Eyesore Cinema on Bloor in Toronto.  My nephew and I were tooling around the streets as we are wont to do when we get together and found it open.  We had come here a couple years ago and seen a backroom late-night screening of The Howling II so I had always wanted to stop by.  I was quite pleased to see they have a small bookshelf of paperbacks for sale. I first thought this was some bad non-fiction exposé that was some actual substantive origin of the nonsense behind those qanon fucks.  My nephew, in his teenage certainty was like "No, it's fiction." and he was right.

It is a bit hard to categorize this book.  It's sort of a thriller but not really thrilling.  The story is about, Cooper an academic living in Japan in the early 60s who has recently lost his wife and daughter in a fire.  He now translates ancient documents for a brothel owner with a side business in trafficked antiquities.  The brothel owner brings him a strange set of documents that were smuggled out of China and appear to be quite valuable.  As Cooper digs into them, he discovers that they seem to be proof that Jesus Christ was just a charismatic rebel who died and was never resurrected.  At the same time, he gets connected with an 11-year old girl who was sold into the brothel and then escaped.    

So the existential theme here is can Cooper take the responsibility of verifying the document that disproves Christ, thus destroying Christianity.  The more practical matter is protecting the girl.  The two become opposed.  

It's a very well-written book and I found myself absorbed in the narrative.  The descriptions of Japan, including lots of train scenes and a ski lodge, were enjoyable and seemed to be fairly accurate.  There is a lot of reflection by Cooper and the Pulitzer prize winning war journalist who has lost her mojo that he alllies with.  I usually don't go for that kind of wanking but for some reason it worked here.  Finally, the bad guy, the brothel owner is just a great character.  Always super polite and verbose, while being weirdly clean and yet also somehow kind of disgusting.

The big reveal that resolves all the conflict felt a bit cheap, as the author breaks some basic premises established earlier in the book so you couldn't have figured it out yourself. Despite that, I put it down satisfied.  Not a masterpiece or anything, but a nice obscure find and a good read.

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