Shelf 14: Lost Souls, Null Psychics, and Dull Satanists

The Inferno Collection, by Jacqueline Seewald, promised a great deal: set in an unnamed university, where the main character is both a reference librarian and a latent psychic (aren’t all reference librarians psychic, I ask myself?), who struggles to solve the murder of her friend with the assistance of not one but two romantic interests, and is opposed by a rogue’s gallery of academics, Satanists, and both. How could a book with this premise fail to entice, excite, and fascinate?

Quite easily, as it turns out.

I don’t particularly enjoy giving overly negative reviews (if a book is so bad that it need kicking down the stairs, I don’t finish it), so I am going to try to convey exactly how I feel about this book. It was not good, it was not bad, it was not engrossing but it was entertaining, and it held my interest for the full day it took me to read it, even though I closed the book with a wet thump of resounding disappointment. But those are generalities: I will move on to specifics, starting with the negatives.

This is not a “book” mystery. At no point does the collection of manuscripts (an alleged “Inferno” collection; which is a collection of books kept seperate from the main stacks of the library due to their salacious or heretical content: a Victorian concept, primarilly) figure prominently in the story, and when they are finally discovered I, for one, felt let down by their utter mundanity. This is also not a “psychic” mystery: although the protagonist is mentioned as having a “seventh sense,” she never manifests even the slightest psychic ability, and in fact seems to blunder about rather a bit more than a normal person operating only by common sense would. The “psychic” status of the protagonist (Kim Reynolds) seems more like a gimmick to explain her immediate attraction to a “hunk” of a police detective, who also happens to have “psychic” powers (and manifests them in much the same way; which is to say, not at all). And this is not an “occult” mystery: there are vague hints at Satanic practices and so forth, and even a suggestion that, at a certain moment, something actually outside of the realm of “normal” experience occurs, but it is given one line and never referred to again.

The positives of this book, however, are not to be discounted entirely. It is an interesting read, if only for the slow reveal of Kim Reynold’s history and the complex relationship she has with her mother, due to incidents in the past revealed throughout the book. The mystery of Kim’s friend Lorette’s murder is, frankly, slim stuff indeed compared to the depth of family secrets and pasts left untended. Seewald was both a reference librarian and a Creative Writing instructor at the collegiate level, and much of her book is given over to amusing but simplistic characters (caricatures?) through which she pokes quite a bit of fun at academe. (A lecherous professor from England who uses his accent to good effect with undergraduates rang particularly true for me…) Her workman-like prose bears up well: there are few phrases that will remain after the book is closed, but there are also few if any obvious gaffes. The mystery as mystery is also interesting in its way, and actually surprised me when the killer was revealed: a rather obvious set of connections (obvious in retrospect, as they should be in mysteries) failed to point me even vaguely in the right direction. The sting of this is somewhat lessened by the fact that it also failed to lead Kim Reynolds in the right direction, “psychic” powers and all. The mystery is not so much “solved” as “revealed,” and no character can really be called a detective in this story (except in the strict sense of “municipal employment as such”).

So, to sum up The Inferno Collection: is it worth reading? Yes, I think so, as light entertainment, particularly for those of us who have fond or unfond memories of our years up the Ivory Tower. But it is more a collection of missed opportunities than a solid mystery.

(For those of you interested in the kind of world that produces tomb gnomes, I thought it might be interesting to point out that my public library had an inferno collection when I was growing up: all books concerning sex, the occult, and certain other subjects were kept off of the stacks and could not be checked out by children [meaning anyone under 18] without parental consent, and had to be requested by adults. Since this was the 1980s, it gives you some idea of the backward clay that I have had to spin my life with…)

Published in: on September 6, 2007 at 8:48 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You are right, the premise sounds like it has all the makings of a fantastic read. Sorry to hear that it is disappointing. It just goes to show that great ideas still need a talented writer to pull them off. Hopefully your next R.I.P. read will be more along the lines of Baltimore, and less like this.

  2. I suspect it will be: my next selection is “At the Mountains of Madness,” with an intro by Chine Mieville. It cannot possibly go wrong.

  3. Though the books on sex and the occult certainly aren’t kept hidden away in our library today, I wonder if there is still an inferno collection we don’t know about. What would be in it?

  4. I love your reviews. You had me chuckling with that comment on, “the backward clay that I have had to spin my life with.” I’m with you on that. Sorry the book was a disappointment but I’m glad it had its redeeming qualities. I tend to set aside books that don’t enthrall me, as well; although, there are some that I just shove myself through. I’m not quite certain why, but Ghost Walk by Heather Graham probably left me with similar feelings – not quotable, not great, not so horrible it deserved a place in the wood pile.

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