Back Matter

The Duh Vinci Code

The magnitude of a new Dan Brown book overshadows worthy contemporaries.

Book Cover As usual, it is the best of times and the worst of times, which is as good a time as any to spin a tale of two novels. Ron Carlson, a masterful writer of a number of story collections and books, has published The Signal (Viking), a compact, 200-page novel set in the deep woods and mountains of Wyoming. Protagonist Mack, whose commitment to keeping the family ranch has led him to various shades of felony and crime, and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Vonnie have arranged to say goodbye on their 10th (and obviously final) annual backpacking trip into the Wind River Mountains. Mack has an additional reason for this--a secret that triggers mayhem and violence in this well-crafted love story.

Harvard Law graduate Daniel Levin, who practiced international law at Louis Begley's law firm, presents The Last Ember (Riverhead), his maiden fictional effort with all sorts of collateral information attached--starting with (well, I started with these) blurbs by Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz that suggest an energetic publicity initiative continued in an overdone question and answer. The book features young Manhattan lawyer (and antiquities scholar) Jonathan Marcus, who is suddenly (meaning he doesn't have time to change the Herm├Ęs tie he is wearing) and mysteriously summoned to his firm's Rome office. Ostensibly he is to examine a client's ancient map fragment, but this is the leaping-off point to digging up a bit of chicanery from two millenniums prior, and the corresponding contemporary attempt to achieve the same goals (I am trying not to give away this novel's details, in case that matters). The publisher describes The Last Ember as "a riveting tale spanning the high-stakes worlds of archaeology, politics, and terrorism, in its portrayal of the modern struggle to define--and redefine--history itself." Comparisons to The Da Vinci Code abound.

Ron Carlson's novel suffers from no lack of attention and acknowledgement, with grateful reviews in major metropolitan newspapers. Here for your reading pleasure is the Sun-Sentinel on Levin's tome: "It may be a coincidence--or just good marketing--but it seems as if many publishers are launching mysteries that deal with myths, antiquities, or icons before Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol comes out Sept. 15." Really?

Yet as of this writing, Ron Carlson's novel is 2,179 on Amazon's sales ranking and The Last Ember is striding along at 1,407. Amazing, huh?
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