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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006 11:06 am
A Very Qualified Thumbs-Up
Posted by: Keir Graff

I finished reading Night Falls on Damascus last night. After I passed the halfway mark, the stilted language stopped bugging me–mostly–and I found myself fairly absorbed in the story. This is one of those books that I have a lot of complaints about (stilted language, clunky exposition, slow pace) and yet I still don’t think it’s a bad book. “Not bad,” is how I’d describe it, I guess. Moreover, I think there are people who will like it more than I did, so this will be one of those reviews that will include both my complaints and still allow for the fact that it may find an audience.

It’s ambitious, too. As Faroun’s investigation goes deeper, he delves into complex and ancient animosities that make the book worthy of its Middle East setting. So, after all that grousing, a very qualified thumbs-up. Highland is good with setting and plot, but he could use help with pacing, dialogue, and some individual scenes. Despite the unfamiliar locale and history, there are encounters between characters (the at-gunpoint summation of the case with the villain, for example) and lines of dialogue (see below) and that could have used an unexpected spin.

“Old scores,” said Ihab.

“Wounds that never heal,” said Faroun.

“That’s what’s wrong with this place,” said Ihab sadly. “Damascus people never forget and they never forgive.”

“Not until Judgment Day. If then.”

You see what I mean.

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