Friday, August 24, 2012

REVIEW: Gnosis / Tom Wallace

TITLE: Gnosis (A Jack Dantzler Mystery)
AUTHOR: Tom Wallace
PUBLISHER: Hydra Publications
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon US (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback),  Barnes & Noble (paperback), Powell's Books (paperback)
APPROXIMATE LENGTH: 259 pages (paperback)

Recommended for fans of crime mysteries like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels.


Gnosis is a fairly straightforward detective story. It follows Jack Dantzler, the main character, as he searches for clues and gradually unravels the mystery at the center of the plot, laying out his thought processes. There is also a prominent religious element, as the man whose innocence he’s trying to prove is a Christian reverend.

Page-turner. Gnosis immediately introduces the reader to a puzzling mystery, opening with a seemingly random murder and then fast-forwarding to several decades later, when Dantzler reinvestigates the case. Twists along the way keep a reader guessing until the end.

Third person limited. The majority of the narrative is written from Dantzler’s point of view and outlines his thoughts as he wrestles with his perplexing case. Every so often, there’s a chapter written from the point of view of a secondary character. Some parts of the narrative transition into a more omniscient perspective to explain the background of a character.

Like every good crime thriller, Gnosis opens with a murder, one that is perplexing in its apparent randomness. Twenty-nine years later, Jack Dantzler, a dedicated Lexington detective with years of experience, is summoned by Reverend Eli Whitehouse, who was convicted of the crime. Whitehouse had said little in his defense at his trial decades earlier, and all the evidence pointed at him. Now, he claims that he is innocent and wants Dantzler to prove it.

Dantzler is initially skeptical, but “like it or not, his interest had been piqued.” Too many things don’t add up—why would a reverend with no ties to anything nefarious coldly execute two young men? He is also unable to stand the thought of an innocent man could be in prison, and so he begins looking into the case. When one of the people who was involved in the case is brutally murdered, Dantzler realizes that not only is the reverend innocent, but the real killer is still out there—and still killing.

The majority of Gnosis is written like a typical detective story or police procedural, depicting conversations between investigators, interviews with witnesses, and the like. Wallace lays out Dantzler’s internal thoughts as he contemplates his case, outlining the detective’s logic, doubts, and ruminations. The reader is given the same information as Dantzler, and as a result, it is easy to get lost in Dantzler’s head and share his frustrations as he finds himself bombarded by questions: “Why would Eli take the blame, then silently spend the next three decades behind prison bars? Why didn’t he fight it with greater vigor? What was the reason for his silence? What was he afraid of? Who was he protecting? Who was the real murderer?”

There is also a major religious element woven into this murder mystery. Dantzler’s first discussion with Whitehouse concerns God, and his third-person internal monologues are strewn with his musings on the subject as the book progresses. Dantzler is a Gnostic, a man who believes in a Creator beyond the God of the Bible, religion beyond the institution. Whitehouse, meanwhile, is a man of God who struggles to understand why such a heavy burden was placed on him.

The puzzle at the center of Gnosis is intriguing enough to keep the pages turning, especially when the real killer shows up, depicted as an unnamed shadowy figure, and stalks Dantzler. At the same time, Wallace likes to paint vibrant portraits of his characters, including the ones he kills off. In fact, all the murders in Gnosis are written from the points of view of the soon-to-be DOAs, starting with one of the punk kids Whitehouse was convicted of murdering. He wants the reader to get to know the people involved in his story, to understand their backgrounds, personalities, and drives. Dantzler, as the main character, is given the fullest treatment—everything from his past as a rising tennis star to his current sort-of relationship with the obligatory sexy female investigator is detailed. These character studies are what set this book apart from an episode of CSI, adding depth to what could have been just another whodunit.

Wallace is a skilled author who clearly understands the ins and outs of his genre—how to set up a mystery, drop clues, and create suspense. His writing is mostly straightforward and down-to-earth, making it easy to move from sentence to sentence without realizing how many pages one has gone through. There are moments when he goes a little overboard with the metaphors, and some of his sweeping statements about life and religion seem rather heavy-handed, as though he’s using his detective novel as a platform for his philosophical musings. Then again, Dantzler is quite the thinker, a man who studied philosophy and reads books on religion in his spare time.

Gnosis is a book that’s virtually impossible to walk away from, the kind that had me flipping the pages thinking, “What happens? What happens? What happens?” I ended up finishing it in less than two days, and begrudging the time I had to spend away from it. Its slower character-centric scenes are more than offset by the swirling questions of a baffling case, one that is anything but closed.

There are a teeny-tiny, barely perceptible number of errors that are harder to find than the mystery killer in Gnosis.

This book features a number of murders, and there is one violent scene involving guns. The descriptions of the corpses can be somewhat disturbing. There is some adult language. Sex and drugs are mentioned but not described in detail.

Tom Wallace is a Vietnam vet and an active member of Mystery Writers of America and the Author’s Guild. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky, and has penned two previous mysteries featuring Detective Jack Dantzler, What Matters Blood and The Devil’s Racket.

No comments:

Post a Comment