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Dor Does Books

Oh, hai! I read books, then I write down what I think of them. 



A sub-Crichtonian disapointment - No Harm Can Come To A Good Man by James Smythe

No Harm Can Come to a Good Man - James Smythe

As those of us who have nothing better to do than stalk me know, I really like James Smythe's books. When this first cropped up on my radar, for some reason I thought it was YA, which it isn't, so I wasn't really on the look-out for it. Happily, I have a rather fabulous local library who have a knack for carrying all the books I want to read including this one.


No Harm Can Come To A Good Man is what, back in the day, we called a techo-thriller. It's set in the near future, in a world one piece of technology further along than ours. ClearVista is an algorithm which extrapolates all known data to accurately predict the future. Want to know if you're going to get a job? ClearVista can steer you right. Keen to determine if the time is right to be impregnated? ClearVista is totally with it. Want to know how many seconds your son can survive underwater? ClearVista knows.


ClearVista is the most powerful tool in the aspiring US Presidential candidate's armoury. But for Lawrence Walker, widely assumed to be a shoe-in for the role, the video of his future shows him sitting before his terrified family, holding a gun which will be fired.


For Lawrence and his PR guy, Amit, there's clearly an error. Something's gone wrong with the algorithm, but how? And why? And while Amit tries to find the answers, Lawrence is under pressure and failing to respond well.


It's a fun premise this future prediction, and the story works extremely well with it. However, although there were certain aspects I loved, the actual book was quite disappointing. 


It takes an awfully long time to get going. There's a large amount of necessary set-up which doesn't quite throw the reader - who is given the description of the video as a prologue - enough bones to feel a sense of mounting tension. That prologue feels like a lazy editorial decision after the main book was done, especially when on page 200-ish, a character dramatically finds out the bang on the film has been isolated and they've confirmed it's ... a gunshot. Even without the prologue, it's a real 'Ya thunk?' moment. 


The king of the the techo-thriller is the late Michael Crichton, a writer I loved as a teen. Smythe and I are about the same age and were inhaling Stephen King's oeuvre at the same time so it wouldn't surprise me if he was also reading Crichton when I was (although I'll bet his Mum didn't take Rising Sun away from him for being age inappropriate). No Harm's flat writing style feels like a deliberate imitation. Unfortunately, the characterisation suffers, the same as it did in Crichton's work. Lawrence Walker is just some guy who has some things happen to him; his wife, Deanna, is just some guy who has some things happen to her; Amit is the everyman sidekick. It's difficult to care what happens to them and even at the moments of high emotional drama, I remained at a remove. The *really* dramatic moments felt over-the-top and I had some trouble taking it as seriously as it took itself.


This is a rather inbetween-y book which doesn't quite do enough of anything. It's not really a thriller although it has aspects of one (that's an observation, not a complaint), and the ideas - which I loved - are almost too sophisticated for the rest of the book. If I handed it to my Mammy (big fan of the 'rollicking good yarn'), I don't think she'd get those parts and would instead find an okay book which would make a jolly good film. I (who understood The Matrix first time round), found a rather 2d thriller enormously improved by the resolution of its sub-plot, which would make a jolly good film.


Without the idea this would probably be 2.5 stars simply for the time it took to get going, so I'm going to give it 3, although I'm not going to look askance at anybody marking it lower.