Monday, February 20, 2012

Pierce’s Picks: “The Technologists”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

The Technologists, by Matthew Pearl (Random House):
Like his 2003 debut work, The Dante Club, Pearl’s new, fourth novel is set in 1860s Boston. The story here focuses on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s inaugural class of graduates and, in particular, on a gifted subset of those young scholars, who hope to employ their scientific expertise to solve a succession of frightening local disturbances--one of which led to sudden instrument malfunctioning among ships in Boston Harbor, another that resulted in the glass in windows and doors throughout the city’s financial district suddenly melting. The methods employed by these “technologists,” though, are vigorously opposed by the too-frequently sensationalistic press, the “traditionalists” at rival Harvard, and a diabolical agitator bent on bringing New England’s largest city to its knees.

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Also new this week is an old but never-before-published Donald E. Westlake novel, The Comedy Is Finished (Hard Case Crime). Written and set in the late 1970s--and rediscovered not so long ago by author Max Allan Collins--Westlake’s tale focuses on an aging, tediously patriotic comedian, Koo Davis, who is kidnapped by a waning militant group hoping to reignite its revolutionary cause. There are funny scenes here, but this yarn is also dark and hopeless at times, reflecting a period in U.S. history that Westlake evidently found disillusioning. As the back story goes, the author didn’t publish The Comedy Is Finished during his lifetime, because he thought it was overly similar to the premise of Martin Scorsese’s 1983 film, The King of Comedy.

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