Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: The Vaults by Toby Ball

The Vaults
The Vaults by Toby Ball - neo-noir fiction - Cover Image
By Toby Ball
"The Vaults took up nearly half a city block. Files arranged in shelves arranged in rows; files from every case handled in the City for nearly the past century; files arranged, cross-referenced, and indexed. So complicated and arcane was the system that at any given time only one living person understood it. At this time, that person was Arthur Puskis, Archivist."
I went into this book completely blind. I must have read the synopsis at some point and purchased it from the Kindle store, but I'll be damned if I remember it. Whenever a book that looks half-decent crops up on the bargain pages, I start adding to my cart pretty willynilly.

From the title and the cover image, I figured that the story was going to take place, at least in part, within some sort of library. I pictured it as an endless sort of library, a metaphysical sort of place. Lord only knows why. But that certainly was not the case.

The Vault is a large (but not endless) warehouse (not library, metaphysical or otherwise) that houses the files of every police investigation, court case and crime that has taken place in The City during the past century or so. Arthur Puskis, the Archivist, is responsible for the organization and retrieval of these files, and through his exposure to them has become something of an expert on local crime. You have a question about a bank robbery that occurred six years ago? He'll get you the answer.

Essentially, the Vaults are a specialized analogue version of the Internet, and Puskis is Google.

Puskis is so familiar with these files that he is quick to notice a discrepancy, one that makes little sense to him. Being a bit of an anal-retentive sort (one would assume he would have to be to excel at such a job) he strikes out on an investigation to correct the discrepancy and right his files. But along the way, he falls ass-over-tea-kettle into a conspiracy involving murder, money, and government corruption.

Puskis isn't alone in this. Performing their own investigations are Ethan Poole, the hardboiled private eye; and Frings, the intrepid news reporter. Although their individual investigations rarely cross paths, they are all working toward the same goal.

This is a neo-noir type of novel that takes place in an alternate 1930s timeline within the confines of a city known only as...The City. It reminded me of a less self-aware (and less interesting) Manual of Detection.

Had Puskis been the primary protagonist here, I might have enjoyed it more. He's the best kind of hero--an unlikely one--and his mind and method were as unusual as they were strong. But too often the narrative followed Poole and Frings, two stock characters with very little to differentiate them from one another. Many, many times I grew confused regarding whose storyline I was following. Even now, thinking back, I have difficulty telling them apart.

The nature of the corruption, conspiracy and cover-up was only mildly interesting, and didn't get more exciting as the story went on. I was hoping for some grand twist that would make it all worth it, but it never really came. It's a shame, too. There was promise here. But promises are hard to keep.

It should have been a much more thrilling read, but it was written in such a way that thrills and excitement were kept to a minimum. I was bored on more than one occasion, and that's never a good way to feel while trying to be entertained.


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