Friday, August 19, 2016

Historical Fiction: The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay

I sought out Martin Seay's The Mirror Thief because of its interesting premise and its inclusion of three interwoven story lines that take place during three different points in history. When done well, this method of storytelling can make for an amazing and unforgettable novel, and I looked forward to putting pieces together and seeing where it all ended up.

The Situation: Curtis has arrived in Las Vegas to look for an old friend, Stanley. As a highly skilled former military man, Curtis was given this assignment because if anyone could do it, it was him. It seems Stanley has gotten himself into some trouble and needs to be found. And to make matters even more urgent, it seems Stanley may be seriously ill and may not have much time left. Then the timeline of the novel shifts to when Stanley was a young boy in California, making his own way by scamming unsuspecting tourists, while avoiding gang members he had angered, and also searching for the author of his favorite book, The Mirror Thief. The third part of the story follows Crivano, the mirror thief himself, in 16th century Venice as he attempts to fool local authorities at the risk of his own life.

The Problem: It becomes clear pretty quickly that the man who sent Curtis didn't tell him everything, and is holding back more and more information the longer the assignment goes on. There are more people involved than Curtis initially realized; the reasons he was given for hunting Stanley down were not entirely accurate; and the more people he runs into and interviews, the more he begins to think that he knows the least out of everyone. And if that weren't enough, his involvement in the situation now means he could be in trouble too. Back in the 1950s, Stanley managed to track down the author of The Mirror Thief, but the old adage about the dangers of meeting your hero turn out to be true, as Adrian Welles is not quite the man Stanley had hoped he would be. And, much to his growing frustration, the older man isn't able to give him the answers he wants regarding the book's hero, Crivano. Much like with Curtis and Stanley, Crivano is having his own issues pulling off his plan, and the chances of him coming out of it all alive seem to grow slimmer by the day. He may have very little to lose, but he would rather not lose his life. It may seem silly to people in our time that a government would expressly forbid mirror makers from leaving a country, but the Venetian fascination with the object as lead to exactly that, and Crivano is determined to help a couple of mirror makers escape Italy.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in three different locations and times. The first one encountered takes place in Las Vegas in 2003, as Curtis is attempting to locate Stanley after an incident involving several casinos in Atlantic City. The second setting is Venice Beach in 1958, as Stanley and his sidekick Claudio make an existence out of grifting and scamming. And then in the 16th century Venice, Italy, Crivano is attempting to assist mirror-makers in leaving the country, an act that has been expressly forbidden. All three stories are linked together by The Mirror Thief, a book that Stanley loved, and whose main character is Crivano. In other words, it is incredibly meta, and often somewhat confusing. And the third person limited narrating doesn't much help in clearing things up. What is clear, however, is that in all three stories the main characters are missing key pieces of information. They often believe, or at least want to believe, they have all of the answers that will allow their plans to work, but it becomes clear fairly quickly that someone else almost always holds the cards, and no one is safe.

My Verdict: First of all, this book is nearly 600 pages long. And while there may be three different stories being told within it, it still felt like way too long. Near the end it started to feel as if the author didn't feel like he had enough material for three different books, so instead he simply fused them all together. I don't know if that is actually true or not, but that is how it felt. And even with those three stories to work with, while they all had their interesting and exciting points, I was mostly bored with what was happening and immediately eager to move onto the next story as soon as a new one picked up. Usually the links that bring different side stories together are exciting and fun to discover, but the link between these three felt tacked-on at times and not enough to hold everything in place. It's a long story with very little payout, and I think there is better historical fiction out there to enjoy.

Favorite Moment: When Claudio finally stands up to Stanley after he's been the victim of a vicious attack because of his friend's actions.

Favorite Character: Perina is a woman about to take up orders to be a nun when Crivano meets her. While she isn't crucial to his mission, or even part of it, she proves herself to be both useful and faithful.

Recommended Reading: I would recommend The Coffee Trader or A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss.

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