Review: ‘Library of the Dead’ by Glenn Cooper

What started out as an impulse purchase to pass a train journey has ended up as an intensely riveting read: Glenn Cooper’s ‘Library of the Dead’ follows the precedent set by other historical-modern crime-thriller crossovers in creating an intense environment within the novel that propels you towards the psychologically intriguing conclusion.

 I’ll admit, I started off skeptical: here’s another author trying to emulate Dan Brown and the like, and other attempts to do so have never ended well (S.J.Parris’ ‘Prophecy’ springs to mind). Lesson learned, though: it’s not only Dan Brown who can pull off Da Vinci-esque plots.

It starts off with a serial killer, sending his victims postcards with their date of death on. But this is where simplicity ends: the postcards are a power-play, the killer is fate, and the past begins to take a new shape in FBI Special Agent Will Piper’s uncovering of the truth behind the omniscient killer.

First thing’s first: this book is set in a man’s world. Women are objects by which you reach the men, and a gauge for levels of sanity or otherwise in the men. However, I’m no feminist: to be frank, the novel works because it is a male world. It is this world which allows Will’s personal demons to become subsumed by his passion, allows Mark to unravel in his increasing erratic extravagance, and allows Octavus’ line to continue unimpeded. In short, women are objects, but I don’t think the novel loses anything through this, because it is the status as objects that allows the mystery to unravel, as the women signal the male determination to reach the long-awaited conclusion.

The blending of history with the present is a major strength in ‘LotD’. At first, throwing Churchill, President Truman, Area 51 and the like seems a bit contrived, and again I couldn’t help comparing it to Dan Brown, where history seamlessly links the past and present. However, continuing to read the novel shows how Cooper has cleverly manipulated history and perceptions of it to show the depths of deception lurking within multiple governments. The best example of this is the idea behind Area 51: the idea that the public was fed a lie but made to think that the truth had been unwittingly exposed was brilliant. The public become entangled in a series of lies that they believe are true and lies they didn’t even know existed. The truth, essentially, is hidden in plain site: everyone knows about Area 51, everyone believes a conspiracy regarding UFOs occurred, but no one looks beyond the exterior and sees the truth within.

I also loved the ominous ending to the novel. Whilst the knowledge of pre-determined fates causes harmony for Will and his family, the revelation of the significance of BTH (‘beyond the horizon’) dates in the final chapter mars this happiness. The reader is left in a psychological quandry: how does one live in the present knowing the future is set? What would the real ramifications of this information be? Cooper does the right thing in not even attempting to address the cause of Octavus’ supernatural foresight, instead leaving it to readers to speculate, and become more involved in the novel’s premise that life is for the living.

The only slightly jarring note was Mark: why did he decide to stake his place in the world by creating a killer, then use it on an insurance scam? The Doomsday killer, in short, was just a propeller to reach the Library, and a damn good one at that, but the story behind the killer was slightly lacklustre. But then, money is power, and for Mark this power was attempting to erase his dissatisfaction with his life. So maybe it is plausible, it just jarred slightly with the fast-paced nature of the rest of the novel.

Definitely a must for (sorry to align it to this again…) Dan Brown fans, as this is one novel that (finally!) lives up to the precedent left before it, and I will definitely be checking out Cooper’s other novel, ‘Book of Souls’, in the near future. Well, that’s if my date isn’t already written out in the library…

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2 thoughts on “Review: ‘Library of the Dead’ by Glenn Cooper

  1. I just read “Secret of the Seventh Son” (Book of the Dead) for the third or fourth time..I LOVE it. I also love your review of it!! Everything you said is spot-on about the depth and brilliance of the book. The only thing about your review I don’t agree with is your summary of Mark. I agree the story behind the killer was lackluster, but Mark himself was a pretty common, boring person, so I think it goes together perfectly. It is just another way that Glenn Cooper is a great writer; he took a boring character with no real interesting qualities, other than being ridiculously smart, and created mass chaos through this person. It shows that disasters can be caused by anyone, even a “nobody” type that is by all means forgettable. Such a wonderfully thought out and written book!!

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