An Affair of Sorcerers (3rd Edition) Paperback
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"Try me again..."
"I'm the only one who knows whom to talk to...Nobody who matters will talk to you. You'll never be able to find the right people in time, and you'll make it impossible for *me* to find them."
- a ceremonial magician, refusing to answer questions
Chesbro has attempted to use AFFAIR to combine, expand, and improve four earlier Mongo short stories, three of which involve occult/paranormal elements ("Book of Shadows", "Dark Hole on a Silent Planet", "Falling Star", and "The Healer"; see the collection IN THE HOUSE OF SECRET ENEMIES). While this improves the individual subplots by allowing Chesbro to flesh out some of the characters and replace exposition with direct action, the subplots weren't well-suited to work together, and the added elements intended to connect them cause new story problems in attempting to resolve other issues.
The novel shifts the opening from a Saturday to a Friday to allow the subplots of "Dark Hole on a Silent Planet", "The Healer" and "Book of Shadows" to begin on the same day. Consequently, the novel initially tries to have everything happening at once, but after that an individual case may be ignored for several chapters at a stretch while the others play out.
"Silent Planet" dominates the first two chapters, as an administrator at Mongo's university hires him to discreetly check out a fellow faculty member, a psychologist whose main field of study is in the area of sensory deprivation. Smathers is a Nobel laureate, but since a former POW claims to have seen Smathers with former torturers, the university administration is belatedly beginning to look their gift horse in the mouth.
Then a second client turns up with an unrelated case; a senator wants a psychic healer's current troubles with the law discreetly resolved, because only Esteban's talents have alleviated his daughter's cystic fibrosis. Finally, Kathy Marlowe, a neighbour's young daughter, hires him with her allowance money to find her writer father's missing "book of shadows". If he were a witch like his ex-wife April, this would be his personal journal, but as they differed on religious issues, what has been going on?
Mongo's brother Garth, meanwhile, has been placed on an NYPD task force dealing with crime in the occult community, so he's able to provide one of two unexpected additional sources of information. The other, Mongo's friend and university colleague astronomer Madeleine "Mad" Jones, dabbles in covertly analyzing various 'occult' practices (such as astrology) to see if their success rates suggest anything worthy of further study.
While the "Silent Planet" subplot has a very snappy opening, it's handled badly after that. Mongo sensibly asks a friend near Smathers' previous university to help with the background check, but he neglects to pursue the fact that Smathers is a pedophile, then inexplicably refuses to report to his client. (If he had, the subplot would've required heavier revision than it got.) This would've turned me off Mongo's character if I didn't see it as botched editing rather than deliberate characterization. The "Silent Planet" subplot then fades from view for so long that one loses track, mostly because while it's an interesting story, the changes made to integrate it with the rest of the book merely exchanged one set of flaws for another.
The main difficulty with the next two subplots is that "The Healer" has the same structure as "Book of Shadows" (a young girl is dying of a condition that can't be treated unless Mongo he pries loose the right person/information); it's too big a coincidence to have two such similar unrelated events in the same book. AFFAIR would be much stronger if "The Healer" had been cut; the characters are underdeveloped with an adult victim we meet only after the crisis, while Kathy from "Book of Shadows" is not only a known quantity but a cute little kid.
The best two integrated subplots are "Book of Shadows" (which dominates the story and has undergone heavy revision, making Mongo more familiar with his neighbours and completely rewriting the parents) and "Falling Star", largely because they started out in similar frames of reference. The title character of "Falling Star", a former student of Mongo's and ex-flame of Jones' who became a rock star as 'Harley Davidson', got mixed up with the wrong varieties of promoter and spiritual advisor and is in deep trouble as a result.
- Multiple mad scientists with funding.
- Nobel fu (although Smathers isn't as interesting as Loge from THE BEASTS OF VALHALLA).
- Sex, drugs, rock'n'roll.
- Good witches, bad witches, and accompanying philosophy lectures, leavened by action scenes.
- Developments in Mongo's personal life that aren't discussed again until AN INCIDENT AT BLOODTIDE, despite their supposedly profound effects on him.
Mr. Lippitt does not appear in AFFAIR, but that's compensated for in THE BEASTS OF VALHALLA.
I have found that the Mongo books tend to cycle between the odd and the Bizzare. In this book the majority of the story is a traditional detective story, abet with a twist since the client is a young girl... Not exactly the fare of the square jawed detective by any means.
The plot moves reasonably well, and the character development or exposition is fairly complete.
I do find this story to be one of the more depressing of the Mongo books, if only for the losses in Mongo's life.