“The Malice Box by Martin Langfeld”
The book I spent the most time with this year was The Malice Box. It was enjoyable at times, and while I felt was disconnected in many ways, I kept plodding through this large piece of fiction.
It stars Robert Reckliss, a middle-aged journalist living in New York (where have you ever read that before), having marital difficulties with his wife, Katherine. A puzzle box is delivered to them and, well, nothing happens about it for a while. This is the titular Malice Box, a supernatural ornament forged with red gold and dangerous alchemy. They assume it’s a game from their friend Adam, who matched the two of them up years ago.
We get a lot of the “years ago” stories, which revolve around Sir Isaac Newton’s untold experiments. These hidden papers could be real, and could also be the key to the destruction of the Western civilization.
After a long introduction, which almost had me stop reading altogether, we begin an adventure. Robert boldly accepts a mission to save Manhattan from a deadly “soul-bomb” and his friend Adam from the clutches of those who plan to detonate it. The plot sounds like it’s from Japanese anime program, but it’s unfortunately too rooted in reality to use it’s supernatural connection effectively.
The book unfolds a mythology based in the beginnings of time about a unicorn and a minotaur fighting throughout the ages. The cartoonish idea is put off by a very detailed tour through Manhattan and it’s surrounding areas. Langfield becomes distracted by how beautiful he perceives his locations. Unfortunately, the puzzles that drive the plot forward become secondary to the architecture in New York.
We meet a spirited elderly gentleman, Horace, who guides Robert along his path, which offers him plenty of time for eating, sleeping, sex, and blogging. Seriously, he’s got to blog about the day-to-day thoughts he has on his experiences.
But self-discovery is a central theme to the book. The path that Robert is being guided through is an important process of learning his mistakes and fixing them slowly, but surely over the course of well-timed problems. The forced nature of the plot leads to a quickened pace, but is held back due to all the time it seems Robert has to go through it, despite actually only having a week.
His kidnapped friend Adam seems to play both sides, while resisting those who captured him at some moments, and utterly terrorizing Robert in others. We’re not sure what side Adam is playing, if he’s even conscious of it, and it really helps maintain the human connection. Katherine’s mysterious past also comes into play in many ways.
It’s up to Robert to make sense of it all and search for hidden clues around Manhattan. Each puzzle corresponds to a natural or spiritual element of life, and with each correct examination of the experience, Robert transforms himself into something stronger and more able to stop the detonation.
If this were the “popcorn-movie” book it’s made out to be, I’d be biting down on kernels and cold, stale puffs of corn. But damn it if I wouldn’t finish the bag. And at the end of it, I was glad I ate, but I was still hungry for something a little more filling. The Malice Box was creative with it’s location and mythology, but ultimately gets too caught up with what it knows to give way to it’s incredible lack of fun.