Book Review: “Emerald Death” by Bill Craig

Setting: The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Time period: World War 2

Genre: Pulp fiction historical adventure

I’ve had this book for a while. And I’m going to be upfront. Pulp fiction doesn’t seem to be a thing I enjoy. This is my second pulp fiction book this year. (Read in 2020) One was the creator of the sub-genre of hardboiled detective novels and this one is a historical treasure hunt. It’s got nazi’s, a magic and gun-toting priest, a rural farm boy turned NYC kid on the run with a price tag on his head, an inventor Russian, a red-headed stubborn lady pilot, an Italian crime lord, an immortal Prester John and his lost city, and a possibly immortal demon.

I do think people who enjoy historical novels, especially those set in or around World War 2 would probably enjoy this book. Or fans of pulp fiction and adventure. I did learn a couple of things about the Congo during that time period. Like that during that era the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a colony of Belgium and that Belgium essentially used the country and its people for rubber plantations. And it’s a nice change of pace to read a book set somewhere that I’ve never been and don’t know much about. Always happy to learn something.

However, there were moments where I felt like maybe I needed to sit with a glass of something strong to parse my way through this book. The pacing drove me nuts. Almost every couple of paragraphs was cut up for a scene change, though not always a necessary one. Often it was a redo of the same scene from a different characters persepective that felt a little clunky to me. Almost all of the characters got a chance to be a main character within the book. While it mostly followed Mike Hannigram it would switch to the fighting priest McKenzie, or to his Russian friend Gregor. Or we’d jump to the past of McKenzie as his time as a fighting Hawk, a special group of men who during the great war, (Not sure which war was meant there, the first world war?) who fought demons including a monster of a man currently after the Emerald of Eternity. Then we’d jump to his adopted daughter Bridget, then to the head Nazi, then to the demon and sometimes to a river boat captain, guys after Hannigrams bounty, and some river pirates. It was a lot.

The other thing that drove me nuts was Bridget and Hannigram. Hannigram meets McKenzie first after killing some random strangers he doesn’t trust. McKenzie looks at him and then later decides ah yes, this guy is the right age for my adoptive daughter, maybe they’ll marry. So he takes his daughter to the seedy place he knows Hannigram will be to introduce them or at least point him out I guess? Only for the Nazi’s to show up and send them on the run together. And immediately, like in the space of an hour, they’re in love. Oh but then McKenzie decides maybe he doesn’t approve anymore. And Hannigram decides maybe McKenzie isn’t trustworthy. But Bridget who he just met, is.

We also have the Italian, Degiorno. (Which I’m sorry but I couldn’t read without thinking of the pizza, it’s not spelled the same but it’s so close.) He’s supposed to be, when first introduced Hannigram’s new boss. He’s the leader of the underworld, but he’s like the first bad guy in almost any cartoon. He immediately is proven to not be as scary as first made out to be and then is rather wimpy and cowardly. The worst part being that the poor guy is just tossed around like a sack of potatoes and is instantly deemed untrustworthy because of his size which didn’t sit with me right. Like Bridget used that as a reason to hate him immediately, not the fact that her and her father seemed to live in the same town and would’ve known of his previous misdeeds, no, but because of his weight.

Also despite being set in the Congo almost all of the main characters are white. We meet a few locals and their race isn’t mentioned for the most part but in some cases the terms thrown around were not kind. I can’t tell if the author was going for historical jargon, but a lot of the terms and phrases are out of date or just no longer okay.

I feel like a lot was trying to happen all at once and almost like there were a lot of characters trying to vie for the main character spot. McKenzie was interesting with his haunted background as a fighting hawk and it felt like that was trying to be its own novel within the novel. And then suddenly the novel ends. The whole lead up to meeting the immortal Prestor John and his Emerald of Eternity, the culmination of the Nazi’s, the heroes, and his soldiers all meeting up just fell upon the last couple of pages and ended in a cliffhanger. Which is fine, but the ending felt rushed. The majority of the novel was spent going back and forth between a riverboat in the river and the nearby land. To protect the boat from pirates twice, and then to hurry back to land to regroup. Every time I thought the riverboat set off to the mission it seemed like instead, it went nowhere because characters would shout from shore and be answered from the boat.

I think despite my complaints I might read a book about the fighting hawks. Or could see watching a show about them. Maybe.

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