Certain parts of it are formulaic -- when you open your novel with an evil tycoon luring an antagonist into a silo full of corn, it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to guess what's coming. Certain parts of it are gross -- after all, Dr. Nick "The Bug Man" Polchak loves nothing better than to chat about insects and what they do to human bodies. And certain parts of it cross the line between quirky and just plain unbelievable -- more on that in a moment.
And yet with all that, Ends of the Earth
is still a thoroughly good read. Nick, as always, is irresistible with his singlemindedness and his one-liners, which occasionally rise to Dr. House-like levels -- and that's a compliment I don't pay lightly. He's kept me reading for four books now despite being one of the most squeamish readers ever. (The first Bug Man novel I read made me decide to be cremated when I die.) As for the plot, despite its formulaic moments, it has a good solid premise and some cool twists and turns.
Nick's relationships are not quite as well-drawn as his character. An element of romance has been present in each previous novel -- in a way that sort of bugged me (har!), because I'm always a little annoyed by series in which there's a new love interest in every installment. Make a choice and settle down, I say. Well, here Nick decides to do just that . . . in a way that sort of works and sort of doesn't. To begin with, we have a love triangle with Nick and two women from previous novels -- if you can call it a triangle when both women are after Nick and he spends much of the book not even noticing -- so at least we're recycling and not bringing in yet ANOTHER woman. There's something in that. And though I don't like love triangles as a rule, there's at least a bit of originality in the way that the two women in question, Kathryn and Alena, grow to be friends and to look out for each other in a dangerous situation. And one of them, I won't say who, really got me rooting for her. She's gutsy and smart and goes after what she wants without beating around the bush.
What doesn't exactly work is that we see very little of Nick's mental processes as he falls in love with one of the women, so when he finally decides to propose, I was half "Goody!" and the other half "Really?" And here's where we get all gimmicky -- Downs ends the book without saying to whom Nick proposed! You had to go to his website and vote!! After the shock and a brief moment of hating the author with the heat of a thousand suns, I rushed to the site to do just that. Turned out I was too late, the voting had already closed . . . but, joy and relief, my choice had won by a huge margin. In the next book, which Downs is writing now, she'll be either engaged or married to Nick. In a way I like this (hurray, he's making a choice and settling down!); in another way I can't help feeling it's all been just a little too
quirky, and maybe a little too rushed; but in yet another way -- am I running out of ways? -- the weirdness of it kind of fits the characters and the general tone of the story.
So . . . I can't say that the story works the whole time. But I can say that when it works, it really works. Three-and-a-half out of five stars. I have a feeling the next one, when it comes out, may be higher; when we see Nick actually settled into a stable relationship with a very cool lady who gets him, I think it'll probably be better written than all the will-he-or-won't-he stuff. I just hope he gets her as well as she gets him.
Next: The Reef
by Edith Wharton. In his introduction, Louis Auchincloss calls it "a Jamesian novel." Uh-oh.