Death & The Devil by Frank Schatzing - Book Review

After finally being chosen as a Harper Collins advance reviewer, I excitedly settled in with Death and the Devil. By page 22 I knew I was in trouble. I was so put off by the modern language/dialogue, I could barely focus on the story. Although the story takes place in the 13th century, you’d never know it. The dialogue is modern and cliché. I couldn’t figure out if the error was in the translation from German to English or in the actual writing. Phrases like, “every Tom, Dick and Harry” and “What’s up…” just don’t fit the vernacular of 1260 CE. Did they know the terms ‘rheumatism’ and ‘conscience’ then? The editing is additionally offensive, with improper names used several times causing one to have to reread passages (of course, they must have surely fixed that in the final copy).

As for the story itself, foreshadowing is not only used liberally, it’s pounded onto the page. The best thing about good foreshadowing is its subtlety. The writer has no idea what that word means. Then, after we’ve been told and told to look out for this or that, the actual events fall flat. This could be a result of the hammering, but I feel it’s more the writer’s building climax to Nowhereville. Example: A dying man whispers his last words to a thief. For 194 pages we almost get to know what the secret is all about. When we finally get the words, they’re, “It is wrong.” For 340 pages we hear about how this alliance of conspirators is remorseful for having to kill one character. They speak of religious damnation and remorse in almost every scene. But, we never know what they are actually conspiring toward. When the big reveal happens, their conspiracy is to kill another man! If they were planning to be killers all along, why the big deal?

Large sections are heavy-handedly contrived. A son has an epiphany about his mother (any idiot’s known this information for most of the book). A character’s imposing voice creates a diversion (we’ve been blatantly told that the character has a special voice only pages earlier). And some scenes seem more like a screenplay.

I’d love to have written a glowing commentary for my first, and hopefully not last, review, but I must cling to my conscience. Yes, that’s a word in 2007.

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