Folsom, Allan. The Machiavelli Covenant. Forge. January 2007. c.558p. ISBN 978-0-765-31305-8. $25.95. Fiction.

At least seven men in the U.S. president’s cabinet are members of a cabal, which turns out to be a coven with at least 200 “major world players” who take part in annual ritual sacrifices. They want to assassinate the leaders of France and Germany, then launch a biological war against Muslim states. Why? Because the two European powers failed to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the cabal fears that jihadists might strike Saudia Arabia “one night.” If they did, “In less than thirty-six hours . . . Arabia would fall, then Kuwait, then Iraq and Iran, Syria and probably Jordan.” The flow of oil to the West would stop, “just like that.” Learning this, the president goes on the run. Fortunately, he has his toupee with him. Add to Folsom's (The Exile) brew an assassin who plans to kill three presidents with a single shot, a female photojournalist who learns that 27 other women in her family have been sacrificial victims, and . . . enough. As the president says, the situation “borders on the impossible if not the absurd,” though he later claims this is “not fiction”; this is “real.” Some thrillers are so gripping that one forgives bad writing; this novel—clichéd, repetitive, melodramatic, filled with insipid prose and mistranslations of foreign languages—is not one of them. Emphatically not recommended. [See below for an explanatory note that did not appear in Library Journal.]

Library Journal, 132, no. 2 (February 1, 2007), 62.

Of the 96 books I’ve now reviewed for LJ, this is the poorest written (although I also gave a “not recommended” review to at least one other book, but that was for highfalutin’ gobbledygook, not for bad writing). I hate to write this type of review but here's why I did so. (And whoever edited this manuscript ought to be fired.)

1) Here are five lines of dialogue from four different characters (page numbers refer to the galley, not the finished book):
“Jesus, God,” he [the president] breathed. (p. 116)
“Jesus, God,” Marten [another character] breathed. (p. 238)
“Jesus, God!” Fadden blurted.
“Jesus, God!” [spoken by Hap]
“Jesus, God,” he [Marten] breathed. (p. 527)

2) descriptive adjectives (all direct quotes from the first 50 or so pages):
dark suits, dark hair, dark cars, dark sidewalks, dark forces, dark sport coat, dark trousers, dark slacks, darkened doorways [used often], dark icy seconds, dark agenda, dark hole, etc.

3) the author’s favorite adverbs: abruptly, suddenly, immediately
(After reading the book, I quickly skimmed it, counting only the adverb “abruptly” and found at least 47 examples, with this being my favorite: “Abruptly he looked off to just stand there...”)

4) verbal tick: wholly natural, wholly reckless, wholly unexpected, wholly understandable, wholly unnerving, wholly by surprise, wholly singular, wholly private, wholly disbanded, wholly innocuous, wholly convinced (in the same paragraph with “desperately hopeless” and “brutally cruel”), wholly private, wholly surprised, wholly puzzled (I suppose this is better than “partially puzzled”), and one final sentence to itself: “Wholly.”

5) Here’s a line of dialogue repeated at least twice:
“They . . . murdered my . . . husband and . . . son . . . and now they’ve . . .
killed . . . me.”

6) Want ten questions in ten consecutive sentences? Not to worry. That’s here, too.

7) Here, from one paragraph, is what a woman says in her sleep: “Mike,” “Charlie,” “Katy,” “Charlie, please turn down the TV,” “The class is Tuesday,” “Mike, what is it?” “You’re frightened. I can see it!” “I don’t like the white-haired man.”

8) One example of many clunkers: “Small pitchers sitting back to back from Holland.”

9) foreign languages (spoken by natives) are BADLY translated or banal comments are made:
• “‘Merci,’ he said in French.”
• The English term for a military “fly over” is translated into Spanish as “Mosca [the noun fly!] encima.” Guess he couldn’t figure out the verb “volar” or Google’s translation efforts went astray.
• An “Outside [electrical] feed” is translated as “Alimentación exterior” (one of those electrical feeds that you can eat, I guess).
• “This way!” (As in let’s go this way): “¡Esta manera!” [he wanted via instead of “manera”–a more appropriate word for the “way” people dress]
• I’m still trying to figure out how he got the Italian “boschetto” (thicket, grove) for “coven” (congrega), used often throughout the novel.
• He’ll have a one-word sentence like “Terroristas.” followed immediately by the translation (“Terrorists.”) Does he have that low an opinion of his readers’ intelligence? Maybe his standard is his own ignorance of foreign languages.
• Valley girl talk? “‘Oh-mon-Dieu!’ Oh-my-God! she said in French.”

10) Over and over again the full dialogue of early scenes is repeated in the character’s mind later.

I could add endless other inanities, but I’m sure this is more than enough to drive a reader crazy. The title, by the way, refers to a sinister manuscript supposedly written by Machiavelli on his deathbed, an addendum to The Prince, “a kind of secondary blueprint for gaining power,” advocating ritual murder. Machiavelli the realist has become Machiavelli the surrealist.

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