"How was Ack-Ack stabbed three times in the back when he was the only airman in the rear turret?" [asked] Liz.An invocation to the god! Crucified (2008) is part thriller, part challenging puzzle mystery, part collection of arcane lore and history, and (unfortunately) part splatterpunk horror. The promise of not one, but two, impossible crimes was good enough for me to stick with this hodgepodge of retro pulp fiction and tangential history lessons...and over-the-top gruesome deaths described in surgical detail. It turned out to be yet another example of a subgenre of crime fiction I try to avoid -- extreme sadism as entertainment. Sure there’s an audience for it, but I don’t want to know who they are. And I don’t want to hear them laugh uproariously and high five each other when the characters “get it but good.” All reasons that I also never watch horror movies in a theater anymore.
"What we have here," Wyatt declared, "is a locked room puzzle. If we solve the howdunit, we'll solve the whodunit."
"But how do we solve it?"
"We seek help."
"Help from whom?"
"From John Dickson Carr."
I did read the first two sadistic torture killing sequences. That was more than enough for me. Anytime some poor character was about to be dispatched with yet another ancient torture implement I skipped all paragraphs with killing descriptions. In some cases they went on for pages. The book is actually easily and more quickly read if you skip every single chapter told from the killer’s point of view. After the first killing the drawn out sequences are pointless. Because they say exactly the same thing every single time he kills someone.
You learn what weapon he uses – one of several torture devices stolen from a museum that houses artifacts from the Inquisition. (BTW, we are never shown this scene. But we are expected to believe that the killer/thief made away, single-handedly, with seven different and very cumbersome torture weapons, one of which is a chair with a spike embedded on top. So easy to stuff into a bag and stroll out to an awaiting escape vehicle, right?) You learn that he thinks he is possessed by the Devil. You learn that he is driven to protect the Church from non-believers and all those who impede his path. All reiterated seven different times with seven stomach churning methods of murder. And if that isn’t enough for the gorehounds there are three near murders in the finale all performed simultaneously in the same setting.
The entire plot hinges on the search for artifacts and documents related to Jesus’ crucifixion. Those damning artifacts which if they were to be examined for DNA would prove or disprove the entire basis of Christianity. An entire religion could be eradicated with a single scientific test. Shades of The Da Vinci Code? Definitely, but Slade's novel is smarter, more suspenseful and more exciting.
Which brings us to the puzzle of the submarine. The artifacts are wrapped in a scroll and taken on board the submarine. The mission was to be sabotaged in such a way that the person with the artifacts could get them off the sub. But the plan backfires, the sub is wrecked. When the wreck is finally located the sub was still completely sealed and the entire crew had perished with the artifacts nowhere in sight. Amazingly, they had been removed from a sealed and completely submerged submarine. How was that accomplished?
I managed to figure out the solution to the submarine puzzle based on one single clue. The gunner murder solution is a bit more complicated and involves the design of the plane’s interior and who could see what depending on where they were situated during the final moments prior to evacuation via parachute. Both are rather clever puzzles even if the airplane puzzle seems a bit disappointing in its solution.
|Rommel, "The Desert Fox"|
plays a significant part in
the historical sections
Then there is, of course, all the gruesome violence. The body count is excessive and the descriptions are over-the-top. The puzzle aspects of this thriller hold attention, but for me, the murders and torture come as gross out interruptions to all the interesting character work and the inventive manner in which Slade ties together all his disparate plot machinations. Despite a finale in which our hero and heroine are saved by a deus ex machina, delivered so nonchalantly and indifferently in a single sentence as to be utterly laughable, the book provides no catharsis for all the violence and blood-soaked action.
For a review of Ripper by Michael Slade (one of the books I purchased) see TomCat's blog post. He somehow managed to endure the "slaughter" that occurs in a house bobby-trapped with a variety of hidden murder means.