The Testament of James, by Vin Suprynowicz

A couple of days ago through the auspices of some friends I received a review copy of Vin’s new novel, and I confess I approached it with some trepidation. I’m on record as finding his first foray into fiction a rather silly thing. Good messy fun, and it’s still on my shelf, but still. Silly. I didn’t want to write a bad review for a new book from someone I largely respect.

But I figured, what the hell? I’ve already lived a long time.

Having now completed the book, I can breathe at least a bit easier. This new novel, which promises to be the first of a series, is a substantial change of pace. Anyone looking for breathless, angry prose, despicable government villains and nonstop superhero action will look in vain. The Testament of James is a quiet little book, for the most part. So quiet, in fact, that after finishing the fifth chapter I grumbled to myself that it should have been titled People Talking in a Book Store. And when it finally gets down to business, it does so in a most unexpected way.

“Books On Benefit” is an old-fashioned rare-book store, of the sort I used to love when I was young – the sort long since driven nearly extinct. The descriptions here are loving: You can practically smell the high-acid paper deteriorating and that dark, secret corner where an ungelded tomcat did something bad. Unfortunately, a few days before the book opens something very bad happened here: The much-loved manager died suddenly in a manner that might not have been sinister, and simultaneously an ancient codex that was supposed to have been delivered apparently wasn’t. But a lot of strange people seem to think it was. Matthew Hunter, the store’s owner, is at first only interested in seeing that his friend is properly buried and his beloved store put back into orderly operation, but those strange people all have their own agendas. Then there’s the break-in, and some Egyptian guys with knives show up…

…and yet for the next few chapters things just sort of go on. And on, as we’re introduced to all the characters that no doubt are intended to inhabit the next books in the series. And some of these characters are indeed amusing and intriguing: I for one would like to know if that one guy will really turn out to be a vampire in the fullness of time. But at some point I found myself wishing we could just get on with it. The book does start rather slowly.

And when at last it turns into a detective story, our hero and his very tough “doxy” employ methods probably not found in Private Detection for the Complete Idiot. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but Suprynowicz already gave away the show in the interview found at Claire’s place. The plausibility of this as a literary device is … questionable, but credit where it’s due: This certainly is not F Is For Formula. (I stole that last thing directly from the book, by the way. Some of the dialog in the slow bits is delightful.)

Suprynowicz’ characters are engaging and entertaining, and leave you wanting to get to know them better. His heroine kicks ass in a most satisfying manner – you do not want to kidnap this lady – and the resolution is satisfying and believable. There are pacing issues, and frankly the MacGuffin he chose for his heroes to chase is a tired old thing that left me rather cold. But I won’t spoil it for you, and your mileage may well vary. All in all, it’s well worth hanging in there to see how everything works out. Vin Suprynowicz may still be growing into fiction but he’s been an excellent professional writer for decades and he can do more than type.

Go thou and see for yourself! There are excerpts at the link.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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4 Responses to The Testament of James, by Vin Suprynowicz

  1. MJR says:

    I’m going to hold off a bit on picking up this book. I am sure that Mr. Suprynowicz has the potential of being a good writer but having tried to read Black Arrow…

    I say tried because after two atempts to read it the best I could do was manage to almost get halfway through the book before putting it down. I try not to be burned twice by authors so I will just hold off a wee bit before plunking down some hard earned Geld.

  2. MamaLiberty says:

    I love a story with lots and lots of characters, especially if well developed. And I love mysteries, fantasies and all sorts of stories even with completely implausible plots or characters, which is perhaps a bit strange since I’m so incredibly literal and practical otherwise.

    Anyway, I love Vin’s new story, and look forward to having all the rest of them. The Black Arrow is probably one of my favorite books, right next to much that was best from Heinlein and a few others. 🙂

  3. Claire says:

    Yes, this book is very different from, and IMHO much better than, The Black Arrow. It’s a quiet little good read that raises many interesting issues while telling a fine story. MJR, I wouldn’t fear to give it a try.

  4. Ben says:

    ML: I’m exactly the opposite. To me a good story is like a good recipe; the fewer ingredients, the better. If a book approaches six similar characters, I am likely to lose track. It does help me keep characters straight in my head when the author goes to the trouble to create a contrast between them.

To the stake with the heretic!