Book Review: In Tongues of the Dead by Brad Kelln

It is impossible to read Brad Kelln's novel, In Tongues of the Dead, and not immediately begin to draw comparisons between it and The Da Vinci Code. Both center around a little-known (or little-understood, as is the case in Brown's work) aspect of Biblical history and the controversies and coverups caused by these supposed "myths." While this is not necessarily a bad thing, those of you who know my snobbish literary ways know that to me Dan Brown (while valuable to the publishing community) is not exactly the role model for well-written fiction.

In Tongues of the Dead is based on the myth of the Nephilim, children of angel and woman, who have been forsaken by God. Their secrets are supposedly recorded in the Voynich manuscript, written in a language that no one can decipher... except Matthew (annoying called "Little Matthew" throughout the story), an autistic elementary school foster kid. The only catch is that the Vatican wants the kid, and the manuscript. But then, so do a bunch of other people. And therein lies the bulk of the plot.

Though Kelln's book is a page-turner, no doubt, it falls short of its goal with flat writing and even flatter characters. Transparent in every way, Kelln's writing constantly tells instead of shows, that Creative Writing 101 faux-pas we've all spent our writing lives trying to avoid. The characters do not develop as the story unfolds; what is more, they are introduced and then left to disappear for chapters on end, making a miraculous re-appearance later on in the story. Even worse than flat characters, though, is that all of the characters-even the children-speak in the same voice. Presumably this is how the author speaks ("Little Matthew" and "Little Wyatt" invokes images of resentful nieces and nephews politely tolerating cheek-pinching to the age of 16); this is not how children, priests, cardinals, assassins, psychologists and nurses speak.

Sadly, what could have been an entertaing story is seemingly lost in the author's mind: the story is inconsistent, often confusing and there are several bits left unexplained or forgotten about. The ending almost-kind-of-sort-of wraps up all of the various strings of the one plot line, but even there it falls short: relationships are left undefined, characters have disappeared and relics start magically appearing in unexplained places.

Bottom line: Overall, if you are a fan of Church-cult fiction such as The Da Vinci Code, et al, In Tongues of the Dead might be of interest to you. To be sure, it is a quick read, and not a particularly challenging one, so it could be a great distraction for an evening lost in a book. But if you're looking for believable characters, a comprehensive plotline or something a bit more substantial, I'd take a pass.


Thanks to ECW Press' Shelf Monkey program for supplying a review copy of this title.

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