Stephen Hayes's Reviews > The Seal

The Seal by Meg Hutchinson
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it was ok
bookshelves: tshwane-library

A disappointing read.

It's written by Meg Hutchinson writing as Margaret Astbury, writing as Meg Hutchinson.

It has the ingredients of an interesting plot, but they are badly handled and it is badly written.

A bad-tempered autistic unemployed ex-commando and a chain-smoking journalist on a local newspaper live in a small town in the English Midlands, where the journalist is sent by her editor, under protest, to report on a scene of vandalism in a local cemetery, where the jobless man sees a ghost. The journalist suddenly gets interested in the story of the cemetery, which her editor has lost interest in, and she and her jobless buddy want to keep it secret from a dyspeptic detective with whom they had had some sort of run-in in a previous book.

The cemetery incident, the reader is informed, was the work of a local coven of satanists who seem to have stepped straight out of the pages of a novel by Dennis Wheatley, and for the first 30 pages or so I thought I was reading a piece of Dennis Wheatley fan fiction, but Wheatley writes much better than this -- at least he has a coherent narrative. But we are never told what the Satanists were actually doing in the cemetery, or trying to do, only that they thought they had made some kind of mistake while they were there.

The reader is presumed to know what happened in the previous book in which these three characters appeared, and the reader is also presumed to be familiar with their relationships with some of the other characters in the earlier book who don't appear in this one.

The characters are flat, and each seems to have one main characteristic that gets emphasised out of all proportion. The journalist has a capacious handbag in which she carries cigarettes by the carton, and quite a lot of the narrative is devoted to her search for places in which she is permitted to smoke them, and the frustration caused by her failure to find them quickly enough. The jobless ex-commando behaves inexplicably rudely to people when he is supposed to be trying to win their cooperation. The detective is as addicted to stomach tablets as the journalist is to cigarettes.

I kept falling asleep in passages where one or other of the characters is agonising over a decision, where the reader has to wait three or four pages to discover what courses of action the character was trying to decide between. Should I tell him? Shouldn't I? On the one hand.... On the other hand.... Tell him what? the reader wants to know.

There are curious convolutions of language, like "bodyguards, who bothered to make little secret of the fact they were armed". As characters are always saying in American soaps, "What's that supposed to mean?"

There is the newly-recruited satanist who enjoys the rituals and consorting with the idle rich and with evil spirits, but draws the line at murder, but the book opens with him being recruited by the satanists because they helped him to cover up a murder in the first place.

The ingredients for a good story are all there: the evil satanists doing the devil's work of sowing discord and conflict among the nations of the earth, the international arms trade, the ordinary people like the journalist and the jobless man (who eventually gets a job with one of the satanists, and is threatened by them) who foil the plot. but in the telling of the story the author makes a complete hash of it.


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Reading Progress

January 16, 2019 – Started Reading
January 16, 2019 – Shelved
January 16, 2019 – Shelved as: tshwane-library
January 17, 2019 – Finished Reading

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