"Call Numbers" by Syntell Smith
Not at all what I was expecting, Call Numbers is a surprisingly gritty, and I have to say a particularly angry book, with all of its somewhat disagreeable characters displaying a level of aggression and antagonism which occasionally took me aback, and seemed strangely out of context with the book’s supposedly tranquil, library workplace setting. That is not to say it is not a good book – it is, and very well written by an undoubtedly good author – I’m just not sure what the intended narrative was. With its elements of armed school bullies, violently-menacing youth, racially insensitive customers and their sometimes overly-sensitive attendants, and overt racism within ethnic groups, this comes across as a book which takes itself and its reader seriously. Every character in the book looks ready for a dust-up; there are no shrinking violets here, for sure, when perhaps in the real world most people would have just walked away.
The melodrama is laid on thick, like a TV soap, the emotive expression of its characters intense, while the subplots within the story are more something you might expect from a murderously competitive understudy troupe, or a cut-throat Wall Street firm, than a library. Some of the shenanigans would give the Mob pause for thought, and for this reason, I have to be honest and say I just wasn’t sure if it wasn’t intended to be satirical, or some sort of spoof. There are several references to this angle, I suppose, in the form of the prominence of Mel Brooks movies, and characters reciting Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at a point in the book when it could be construed as metaphorical. Though, if the book was satire, and the library setting a metaphor for some shadowy organization, I’ll tell the truth and say I just couldn’t tell, any humour lost amongst the drama – I really hope that it was.
Still, I won’t deny that this book had me utterly gripped; it is hugely entertaining, and I read the whole thing in two sittings. Syntell is high quality, of that there is no doubt at all. I should warn the reader, this is the opening instalment in a series, which you might want to know before you take it up. Some of the PC moments get a little tiresome, but this is all an ingredient of the overall theme, and I did find myself gritting my teeth by the author’s continued use of numerals, instead of writing numbers, in dialogue. These points aside, if you can overlook the fact that the book is set in a library, and perhaps imagine it in a competitive sports club, or perhaps a car sales office, it is an engaging, entertaining, well-written book by Syntell.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: syntell-smith new-york melodrama satire racial