The Darker Arts (Frey & McGray, #5), by Oscar de Muriel

I read one book at a time, always. I simply cannot just “switch” from one book to another anymore. So, if I hit a rotten tomato I tend to actually read less.

I’m typing this on my iPhone. A minute ago, I found myself wondering and thinking, “I usually read at a time like this.” – while I was playing a game. Then it began to dawn on me: ‘How much must you despise a book to fantasise about writing its review on GoodReads while actively trying to avoid reading said book?!‘

The answer in a nutshell: Very much, and the reason is that pretty much everything in this book is bland, wrong and unbalanced.

Let’s start with the supernatural aspects: While I’m in no way superstitious, don’t believe in anything supernatural, I actually greatly enjoyed the ambivalence of the previous instalments in this series. For McGray pretty much everything was at least supernaturally influenced whereas Frey never really believed in anything like that. The resulting strains between both and the different approaches made things interesting. It made for a nice balance.

Even better: De Muriel kept the ambivalence and we never knew for certain if there were supernatural elements or not. We, as readers, could make up our minds ourselves.

In “Darker Arts”, though, Frey and his no-nonsense philosophy clearly dominate the entire book. McGray basically only features as an unhinged clown who has a good idea at times but mostly raves or broods, sometimes attacking people.

Somehow, among complicated family trees, goldmines in Africa and lots of spiteful people the story meanders along, seemingly aimlessly and no progress is being made. At first, our heroes don’t worry but time passes and nothing really seems to be moving anywhere. Lots of false leads, a travesty of a trial and until the sensationalist ending during which Frey miraculously conceives the solution to the crime in a most unbelievable way, de Muriel obviously tries hard to bore us to death.

The solution to the crime is so complicated that de Muriel actually has to resort to having Frey spell everything out to his superior and, thus, us. If an author has to resort to such desperate measures, they’d better gone back and revised their plot.

Plus: Frey is basically constantly bemoaning his uncle’s untimely death during the previous book. The previous book, in fact, overshadows this one as it is being alluded to all the time. So often actually that I became annoyed about it. Yes, I enjoyed “The Loch of the Dead” but it’s not like it would garner de Muriel Nobel the Nobel Prize in Literature…

“Darker Arts” reads like de Muriel has spent all his good ideas. If it wasn’t for certain developments at the very end, I’d say this might be a farewell to the series – McGray receives grim personal news, Frey is impaired by the events of “The Loch of the Dead”, another important character leaves the scene…

Ultimately, considering the bland story, the bad writing and the fact that this book made me read less, I think that’s it for me – Oscar de Muriel just lost a reader for good. Or, to say it with McGray’s constantly repeated words: “Och nae…”

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