Long time coming indeed

2010-06-02 00:00


Long Time Coming

Robert Goddard

Bantam Press

SOME thriller writers respond well to the demands of their contracts, cranking out splendid yarns year ­after year. Some are fairly consistent, but spotty here and there. And some seem really to go to pieces under the strain.

Sadly, Robert Goddard is showing signs of belonging to the last category, having started to go downhill several novels ago. This, his 21st, continues the slither, evidenced almost at once by the revelation that one of the most important characters is called ­Eldritch — Eldritch Swan — a name Charles Dickens might have coined as wittily descriptive of some bizarre ancient, but certainly not used for a person supposed to be taken seriously.

The novel opens in 1976 when ­Eldritch, always assumed by his nephew Stephen to be dead, reappears after a 36-year sojourn in an Irish prison. He gives no details of his incarceration, but insists he is innocent of any crime. Eventually he and Stephen embark on a journey into the past, back to World War 2, when ­Eldritch was personal assistant to a wealthy diamond dealer and noted collector of modern art in Antwerp. The wonderful collection of paintings vanished, as a result of which Eldritch found himself mired in the murky and violent events that led to his unjust ­imprisonment. But over three decades later someone seems bent on preventing him and his nephew from discovering the truth.

Potentially good stuff there, but my word, what a meal Goddard makes of it all: stodgy, boring, any real menace and suspense so diluted by the excess verbiage required to pad it out to ­“bestseller” length, that the sorely-tried reader eventually runs out of reasons for soldiering on to the end.

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