While accidentally reading John Grisham’s “Theodore Boone” the other day, what struck me the most was the sheer laziness of the characterization. In particular, Boone’s uncle came across to me a paint-by-numbers Donald Sutherland part – the whole failed-lawyer-looking-for-redemption-through-a-younger-man’s-action thing, if you remember Time To Kill. Kind of set my teeth on edge right from near the start: not good, not good at all.
Similarly, the moment that the female lead in Russell Blake’s The Voynich Cypher appears wearing a “skin-tight black jumpsuit crafted from suede that left little to the imagination and calf-height black leather boots boasting four-inch heels” was the precise moment that the author left me behind. It’s not exaggerated, it’s not comic, it’s just lame, big-stylee. It’s not even Angelina Jolie (who would be too tall for the part).
Don’t get me wrong, I like independent writing and independent publishing: but there’s only so heavy a storm of genre clichés I can weather before I just want to shut the door on the lot of them. And on those terms, this was a perfect storm.
Yet even though other writers seem hugely comfortable with The Good Conspiracy Vs The Bad Conspiracy plot structure virtually all such modern cipher thrillers seem to roll out, here it’s handled without much finesse. In fact, if I were to say that it came across to me as a kind of Poundland remake of The Da Vinci Code with the Voynich Manuscript spliced in awkwardly, rest assured that that wouldn’t be giving away the plot.
As far as the writing goes, only one line stands out in the whole book (a bakery-related semi-gag on p.230, *sigh*), which quickly turns out to be no more than a clumsy artifice for introducing the young-sexy-woman-gets-it-on-with-the-older-man-despite-their-daunting-age-gap cliché. How many times have I read that? More to the point, how many more times will I have to endure it?
Sure, you might possibly like The Voynich Cypher, it’s certainly a quick’n'easy read… but personally, I just didn’t get it. Then again, I thought Fifty Shades of Whatever was, ummm, pants, so what do I know?