Saturday, October 12, 2013

Unthinkable: Review

Unthinkable by Richard Cibrano is a book that I expected to like.  It had a lot of things going for it...Time Period: early 20th Century.  Subject: the sinking of the Titanic. Mystery: was there more to that tragedy than meets the eye?  It involved the Pinkerton Detective Agency and a cross-Atlantic conspiracy.  What was there not to like?

Item One: The Present Tense narrative--that's what.  I guess I'm picky--but if you're telling me a story, then the story has already happened. You went here.  You did that.  You talked to those people over there.  I just don't get the recent craze with present tense.  I've read quite a few new releases that seem to think telling it like it's happening right now is the best thing since sliced bread.  It's not. It's awkward.  It makes the narrative ungainly.  It feels laborious. It just doesn't work. It especially doesn't work when that's your primary narrative tense and then you throw in several quick-changes to past tense.  That's even more uneven.

Item Two: There is way too much telling and not enough showing going on.  We get tons of narrative telling us what Pinkerton, or his operatives, or Ismay, or J.P. Morgan and company, or British Intelligence or whoever did off-stage.  Then a bunch of dialogue mixed in with what's happening (currently, right now, present tense).  Then more telling about stuff.  Just let the characters do--let the reader follow along and see what actually happened.

Item Three: Minor point--but the word is used repeatedly and it began to bug the crap out of me.  The word scam, according to every website I can find as well as my good, old-fashioned hardbound dictionary, was first used in mainstream America in the 1960s. Fifty years after the events in this novel.  No wonder Pinkerton and company sometimes sound like private investigators from the James Bond era.

There...I got all the complaints out of my system.  Now, let me tell you what I liked about this novel.  First and foremost, kudos for the sheer audacity of the idea.   Here it is:  So, what if the sinking of the Titanic wasn't just the unfortunate run-in with an iceberg that we've always thought?  What if there was this huge plot to take the ship down and start an international incident?  Maybe even war? Wow.  And the thing is Cibrano really made me believe it could have happened.  It's scary to think it could have happened--that men could be so ruthless in the pursuit of their own goals.  The investigation is logical and the events that lead up to what could have been the greatest confidence scheme in recent history make such an event seem perfectly plausible.

The Pinkerton Agency is contacted by former President Theodore Roosevelt to investigate just such a possibility.  Roosevelt has received a letter from his former adviser, Major Archibald Butt, which was mailed just before the Titanic set sail.  Since assisting Roosevelt, Butt has been serving current President Taft and was on his way back from a diplomatic visit to Italy.  Butt writes that a representative from Italy had told him in confidence that there were rumors of a plot to bring about world war.  This plot would focus on the sinking of a passenger liner and the pomp and circumstance surrounding the launch of the mighty Titanic made her a prime target.  Now that the White Star's pride has indeed gone down, Roosevelt wants Allan Pinkerton and his men to discover whether there is any truth to the rumors from Italy. What they find is even worse than what is first suspected.

The other very strong component of this novel is the characterization.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Allan Pinkerton, Francis Dimaio, and the fresh-from-Dartmouth, young detective Oswald Mogg.  They are well-defined, genuine men of action with very human sides.  Cibrano also does very well with his representation of the already larger-than-life Roosevelt.  He uses the President's well-known phrases and mannerisms to emphasize his character without making him a caricature.

Overall, a fantastic story idea that could benefit from a little bit better delivery.  Still--very enjoyable at 2 and 3/4 quarter stars.  Almost 3 and I will round up on Goodreads.

[Disclaimer: My review policy is posted on my blog, but just to reiterate....The book was offered to me for impartial review by the author's publicists and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]

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