The Third Gate
Lincoln Child (read by Johnathan McClain)
Random House Audio, 2012
If there is one thing I’ve learned about reading fantasy it’s that it has sort of ruined the way I approach most mainstream popular fiction particularly when said mainstream fiction contains sfnal elements. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the lighter science fiction and fantasy fare that populates the mainstream market but I think I tend to take a harsher stance on it than other readers. I rather enjoyed Lincoln Child’s 2009 novel Terminal Freeze, a sort of action packed monster movie type thriller that was just perfect for the long car ride on vacation. So, with a vacation looming once more I decided to give Mr. Child’s latest, The Third Gate, a try.
The Third Gate stars “enigmologist” Jeremy Logan whose blends a deep knowledge of history with a touch of the supernatural. Logan specializes in the strange and is here brought on to investigate some strange happens at an Egyptian dig site precariously situation in the shifting Sudd. As the team of scientists and adventurers race against the environment (and a looming Egyptian construction project) Logan must find the truth behind the curse that looms over the expedition to uncover the King Narmer’s ancient tomb. Reading the blurb for this book I couldn’t help but be excited: an ancient Egyptian curse being investigated by a pseudo-scientific main character in a unique and unsettling environment. It seemed like a win from the start. Truth be told it is difficult not to judge this book more harshly against my initial expectations but I’ll do my best. Needless to say it did not come close to meeting my expectations.
I will give Child’s credit in his handling of the setting. The cloying and oppressive nature of the Sudd, the sense of decay and death in its wet sands definitely lends a certain air of desperation and fear to the story. Child’s use of the environment as a means of setting tone was similar to Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows (weird that this is the second book I’ve read recently to recall that story). Child’s shows the same flair as Blackwood in turning the perfectly mundane (if rather impressive) environment into a vehicle of fear and dread. It is only a shame that rest of The Third Gate doesn’t live up to the novel’s stellar setting.
My main difficulty with The Third Gate is with the characters. They all just sort of felt flat and boring. Jeremy Logan has all the hallmarks of being a potentially great character but he just does not live up to his promise. The opening of the novel introduces characters to Dr. Jeremy Rush and it takes quite some time for the novel to get around the explaining the relevance of that opening The novels spends quite a meandering journey in linking that opening chapter with revelations and thoughts regarding the Egyptian afterlife. Unfortunately for readers the revelations that spawn from this link offer little emotional impact since they don’t truly impact on the life of Jeremy Logan. There never seems to be a clear picture of what Logan does and, for someone brought in to troubleshoot the uncanny, there are rarely any characters that pay heed to his warnings. Many of the characters a simplistic and easily pigeonholed into stereotypical roles we have skeptical scientist, brash adventurer, thoughtless obsessive researcher, and a woman determined to make it in a “boy’s club”. None of which really add a taste of originality in the story. What little time spent revealing the motivations of these characters is time away from getting to know Logan. In the end this leaves the novel with a complete story but one curiously absent of heart or emotion.
The Third Gate was a serious disappointment. Child did try to win me over with a cut off mention of a certain book by a certain Mad Arab but even that doesn’t mitigate my feeling of dissatisfaction over the novel. That said, The Third Gate isn’t a terrible novel but it isn’t a particularly good one either. This is, at best, a passable thriller that doesn’t do much to expand on that genre.