The Gift of Illusion
Sometimes in life, it's very easy to envision the embodiment of evil. Some villainous people we see on the six o'clock news, found guilty of some crime or atrocity--take your pick--seem to be the very personification of evil. But, in reality, evil is not something so tangible. It's an idea. What if, however, evil did crop up to take physical form?
That's what happens in part through the course of The Gift of Illusion. There is a force at work, killing people one by one, leaving no real evidence of identity or motive--except for a small statuette. Each victim is burned--incinerated, really--and Detective Isaac Winters is baffled as to how the crimes are being committed and who could possibly be responsible. Winters is also dealing with a personal trauma related the murder of his wife during a home invasion. He and his young daughter survived, but even years later he is still emotionally scarred. And things just kind of bubble up to the surface for him with the introduction of a new case involving a young girl burned to death, and her parents missing.
Along with seeing the story through Isaac's eyes, we also see the villain's side of things, which is slowly revealed, first by way of the little girl discovering a small figurine in the park near her home. It becomes apparent quite quickly that the figurine houses the spirit of an evil force, one that possesses whoever holds the amulet, then moves on to a new victim, leaving the previous victim to ... well, be incinerated through spontaneous combustion.
Now, this is a premise that I should have gotten into, in fact I recall a Denzel Washington film called Fallen that involved a plot vaguely similar, with an angel passing through person to person via touch and taunting Denzel's character the whole time. I rather liked that movie, though it's been over a decade since I saw it last, but even then the movie barely held itself together. With The Gift of Illusion, I felt the story was having the same kind of problem keeping the entity's actions and motivations cohesive, even though the two aspects seemed to contradict at times.
I am still burned out on thrillers with detectives as the protagonist, but I keep trying. I thought the premise for this novel was strong and I wanted to give it a chance. Unfortunately, the novel as a whole had a bit too much minutia for my tastes. While the villain's side of things was handled efficiently and squeezed for every last drop of tension, I thought Winter's side of the story was bogged down in bits of family drama that didn't seem to go anywhere, and dialogue and inner monologue that slowed the pace too much for my liking. The book starts strong, but lags through the middle, and manages to finish strong. Although, the last chapter was monstrously long compared to all the preceding chapters, and I thought it should have been carved up into two or three chapters, if for nothing else than to make the story a bit more digestible.
If you are the kind of reader drawn to these types of stories, Richard's novel is one to consider, even for its flaws. But, for me, it didn't resonate and I really had to slog through it to get to the end.