*I received a free copy of this book, with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: A pinch of paranormal. A dash of time travel. A deliciously outrageous look at the inner workings of an art museum.
Dark Side of the Museum is a number of stories all rolled into one cover!
Half of the novel is comprised of the kind of petty backstabbing, office politics, shady dealings and mindless bureaucracy that come with a realistic, cynical campus-style satire of a large institution. The other half is a maelstrom of ghost stories, sci-fi time travel, espionage crime thriller and paranormal mystery. So there is A LOT going on here!
Most of the story is told in the third-person by an omniscient narrator, with the exception of sections starring Edgar (a furniture conservator for the museum), which switched into first person. This created a bit of a disjointed effect and, at times, made the narrative a little hard to follow, as we flipped in and out of Edgar’s voice.
The characters, Edgar included, are universally pretty unlikable. All out for themselves, they smarm, backstab and bully their way through events; careless of anything past their own desires for love, power, money or prestige. Of course, you don’t have to like characters to enjoy a story, and in fact it is the unpleasantness of the characters that allows the reader to feel vicariously gratified if and when they get their individual comeuppances! The absence of sympathy leaves the reader free to skip lightly through the escapades emotionally unscathed. This effect is bolstered by the way in which the narrative skips from character to character in quick bursts – like a flick-book view of museum life.
With so much happening, and so many characters to follow, the book offers a slow-build of a number of different story threads: from American Indian claims to their cultural relics, to Chinese heists of their cultural relics; from budget-related staff cuts, to haunted paintings; time travel and super-healing powers; ancient Nazi mummies; paranormal pregnancies and psychically disturbed nuns. The list goes on!
The author slowly draws these threads together, weaving them in and out of each other as he builds towards the dramatic climax points (yes, multiple climaxes for multiple threads!). Then he wraps them all up abruptly in the final chapter, in a series of short summaries that read like a bullet-pointed list. I was left slightly bewildered, as it felt like some of the storylines had plenty of steam left in them, and it was almost as if the author had just had enough and finished on a John Hughes style filmic montage instead.
I did really enjoy the individual story threads (particularly Edgar’s discoveries, the director’s projects, the painting and the pregnancy), but wanted more of them than I got. It felt like too many great ideas crammed into a space too small to do them full justice. This would work great is it were split into a series of museum-based, linked shorter stories.
I could see no sign that the finial could be opened. I put quite a bit of pressure on the piece of wood thinking it might simply screw off. But it didn’t budge. The piece of furniture had been made in Gould’s Salem workshop in the mid-1750s for the rich merchant John Cabot.
I went through a mental progression that brought me to a decision that would have shocked my fellow conservators. Something is hidden so it can be retrieved. Unless it is hidden so it can never be retrieved. I’ll have to cut the finial off!
– Randy Attwood, Dark Side of the Museum
Dark Side of the Museum is available on Amazon right now.