Dubious History is the tale of a History professor called upon to write the history of the small town of his forebears after his uncle, the one originally commissioned for the job, died in what appeared to be an accident. As the professor attempts to pick up where his uncle left off, he finds some very dusty skeletons hidden in some very deep closets and finds himself in danger.
This is not a book for fans of Dan Brown or Steve Berry, this is more of a traditional murder mystery, more Matlock than MI-5. Unfortunately while I am not a fan of Brown or Berry except so far as I can make fun of them, I am more of a MI-5 girl myself. In fact traditional murder mysteries are one genre I tend to avoid. Even so, I can appreciate the amount of work that went into a tome of this width, and I applaud anyone with the tenacity to tackle a work of this magnitude. While this book was not my particular cup of tea, I know several people I can pass it on to that will likely enjoy it.
If I were to sit down with P.H. Denson after imbibing a cup or two of wine to loosen my tongue, I'd offer the following alterations made to this book.
1. The main character, Zachary Honeychurch, is supposed to be 39 years old, but speaks and behaves like a 60 year old. I don't expect him to say "dude" and go to strip clubs, but I do expect him to be less doddering. He comes across as elderly. His very name, Zachary, gives one the impression of youth and vigor, but the character doesn't follow through with this impression. He's more of a Walter.
2. One thing this book is missing is sexual tension. Zack is already married, and while his wife is meant to be sexy and exotic she also comes across more like someone in her 60's who wears pink cardigans and freshwater pearls and pops into the Curl Up and Dye every Wednesday to have her hair set. Zach ought to be single or at least estranged, his leading lady kept apart from him by seemingly impossible circumstances, and she ought to be held hostage at some point. If a hostage situation can't be arranged, I'd recommend a tandem horseback ride or a stormy night holed up in an abandoned cabin with one old lantern and three wet matches.
3. Why is the book set in 1996? I suggest updating it to current times and spicing up the technology. I was 20 in 1996 and all the faxes and cassettes and answering machines made me feel like Methuselah's female counterpart. I almost felt compelled to make an appointment at the Curl Up and Dye.
4. I do find History and genealogy fascinating, but the book goes too far into tangents about the lineages of invented people. I'd cull this a bit so the reader doesn't get lost in a haze of surnames and dates. This is why I could never finish War and Peace. Everyone was named Anna in that book, and I could never sort them all out enough to follow the story.
5. When a murderer sends messages to his chosen intermediary, he really ought not to rhyme. In fact, don't let him Haiku either, I'm not sure which is worse. A message would be far more menacing and intriguing if left short and pointed with very carefully chosen words. Magazine collages are always a hit.
6. I'm afraid the murders and bombings just weren't very exciting. Zack may as well be describing his daily toilette as he plods through each of these. In fact, he didn't even make me want a chocolate soda when he described his love for them. I want to be able to taste the chocolate soda as he drinks it, feel the texture of it on my tongue, the condensation on the glass. When he was shot I think I actually stifled a yawn, he didn't even seem much bothered by it. There's too much of a disconnect for the reader to become truly immersed in the story.
7. The killer's big reveal was a bit of a let down because that particular character is barely involved in the story up to that point. I understand wanting to keep him under wraps a bit so the reader is left guessing, but he is kept so under wraps that his identity seems more random than surprising at the end. He needs to be more visible throughout the story, at least as much as the punk kid at the drug store or the the garden club matriarch. He ought to blend in enough to be overlooked by the reader as a potential suspect, but not hidden altogether.
8. Watch the commas, there seems to be some confusion about their placement. When in doubt, leave them out.
I received a copy of this book for the purpose of review and am not capable of keeping my honest opinion to myself.