RogerBW's Blog

The Lion's Circle, Amelia Ellis 19 April 2023

2011 thriller, first of an ongoing series; translated from the original German by Rachel Ward. Nea Fox is a private investigator, going in undercover to a weekend gathering in a house said to be haunted. It's all going to get much more complicated.

This seems at first as though it'll be a country-house sort of mystery, but the action escalates fast, and it soon becomes clear that it's a conspiracy thriller – against an actual cult, with hooded robes, naked sacrifices, and the whole bit. (It's not an occult mystery, though – what matters is not whether these dark powers are real but what people will do as a result of believing in them.)

There's also a lot of… well, what in a normal thriller would be foreboding, as Nea goes out to dinner with an old friend she hasn't seen for a while and they catch up on their lives. In most thrillers, that old friend might as well be called Dead Meat, and they'll be stapled to a windmill by the end of the next chapter – but not so much here, and Nea is effectively shown as someone with a real life that's separate from going out and adventurously smiting the ungodly. (Though we still don't learn a great deal about Nea herself here, such as how she came to be involved in the whole PI lark and indeed anything she did before the first page – for an iconic character like Indiana Jones they can reasonably be introduced with all their talents and no questions asked, but I think Ellis is trying for someone a bit more human.)

Also, for a conspiracy thriller, there's surprisingly little of the usual motif that nobody is trustworthy and the cult has power everywhere; indeed, while they clearly have plenty of resources, they mostly use them to pull effective vanishing acts when the investigation gets too close rather than to deflect officialdom and hassle the good guys.

But there is investigation here between the segments of action, including an ancient-mechanism puzzle, and I'll admit that this paragraph turned my mild liking from the book to real enthusiasm:

‘There are five thousand and forty possible ways to reach each of the seven slabs in turn,' I said. ‘I know that the problem is very hard to solve for a large number of places, but for only seven it should be fairly easy. A short program with only a few dozen lines of code should find the solution for us very quickly.'

This is absolutely true; but more importantly, it's lovely to see this moderate degree of programming talent treated as a skill that a normal person can have rather than being the domain of the dedicated hacker.

This doesn't quite fit into many of the standard thriller patterns but I found I rather enjoyed it.

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Series: Nea Fox | Next in series: Lilies on Sand

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:04pm on 19 April 2023

    The trouble is a normal person does not have that degree of programming talent, they have none at all. Assuming by "normal" you mean a general member of the population at large. If by "normal" you mean someone with social skills that has a real life rather than an uber-nerd then I see what you mean, but it's not clear which it is.

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