Wednesday, December 20, 2017

THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton

It’s 1867, and Walter Moody has just arrived in Hokitika, New Zealand, and aims to pan for gold.  As he settles into the smoking room of the semi-shabby Crown Hotel, he finds that he has disturbed a private meeting of twelve men.  We will soon discover, through the paraphrased words of shipping agent Thomas Balfour, that the meeting concerns three unusual events that all happened on the same day two weeks prior.  One man died, one man disappeared, and a prostitute apparently attempted suicide via opium overdose.  Gradually, the stories of these three people unfold, along with those of the twelve men and Walter Moody himself.  There are multiple mysteries here, and, with these 16 characters plus several more, the storyline becomes quite convoluted.  Not only are the characters’ stories a bit confusing, but props get moved around and change owners frequently—dresses with gold hidden in the seams, several misplaced cargo items, assorted paperwork, and, of course, some gold treasure.  This is a very long book, so that there’s plenty of time to get everything sorted out, but I have to confess that I still have a few important unanswered questions, including the identity of a murderer.  In any case, I loved this book, even if I didn’t quite put all the pieces together.  The whole zodiac theme was lost on me as well, but somehow I don’t think that angle was really pertinent to the plot.  What’s not to love when you have great writing, plus séances, pistol shots, bloody bodies jumping out of crates, long lost relatives, false identities, a villainous sea captain with a facial scar, an unsigned bequest, and a sinister widow with a checkered past laying claim to her husband’s fortune?  This is a really good yarn whose mood felt to me like that of an American western, churned with a bit of sea salt to spice it up.

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