May 22, 2004

No Secrets, by Lance Rucker

Fair disclosure: I read this book because the author's publicist sent me a review copy.

No Secrets is a thriller, the second volume in Rucker's series about Brandon Drake the "high-tech information agent". (The first, which I've not read, is called Intimate Falls.) It's published by Lochenlode Fiction--say that name out loud.

Drake is just wrapping up a job in Japan, collecting information from the lab of an expatriate American named Ansel. Completely legally, I might add. Ansel is an absent minded genius inventor whose motto is "No national boundaries. No secrets."; in other words, he'll give his inventions to anyone except those who would use them to enforce national boundaries. In the current instance he's invented a tiny robotic arm for use in dentistry, and Drake has been hired to get the design and related information from Ansel and bring it to a professor in Canada. In short, the entire job is completely above-board.

But something goes wrong. Drake's main contact in Ansel's lab turns up dead. The documents are stolen from Drake's hotel room. And suddenly Drake and his primary love interest (there are two) are on the run from...someone...who thinks Drake knows more than he's saying.

There's a lot to like here. Ansel's a genuinely interesting character, and Rucker evokes the Japanese setting delightfully. With the exception of a few short lapses, the suspense is well-maintained. The villains are nasty, and the climax ties up most of the loose threads.

On the other hand...

The prose style is weird, especially in the first few chapters. The first paragraph appears to be first person, and then Rucker moves jarringly to the third person. There are several other jarring viewpoint shifts in the course of the book. There are lots of sentence fragments, and some of the sentences are just plain weird. For example, the following sentences appears in the opening scene. Drake is at a hot springs spa, looking for his interpreter in the hot baths:

The grey eyes of the tall, fair-skinned, lanky, tried to perforate the steam nebula and wondered again where Yamamoto might be.

See what I mean? The phrase "perforate the steam nebula" is absurd, as is the implication that it's Drake's "grey eyes" that "wondered again". Thankfully, most of the stylistic peculiarities evaporate once Rucker is well started.

Too much of the book is taken up with a romantic subplot between Drake and his once-upon-a-time housemate and occasional lover, Mikki Sullivan. Rucker uses it to humanize Drake and fill in some of his backstory, but frankly I didn't find Mikki or her past history all that enthralling. And the character I did find compelling, Ansel the inventor, is rarely on stage--and, ultimately, not all that important.

Finally, although Brandon Drake is supposed to be a pretty shrewd guy he misses a number of obvious things--at least, until he's hit over the head with them. And he never does realize the most important fact--that he's clearly being used throughout the book. Actually, that's my interpretation of the story, as the book never says so in so many words; it's just the only way that I can explain a number of events in the book that are otherwise just as absurd as Rucker's prose excesses.

In sum, the book had some very good moments, but it didn't hang together all that well for me. I didn't find Brandon Drake all that interesting, either, alas. Pity.

Posted by Will Duquette at May 22, 2004 10:28 AM

Craig Clarke said:

Thanks for this, Will. I got the same offer and--based on your review--I won't accept it. There's not much more time-wasting to me than a mediocre novel.

Will Duquette said:

I wouldn't say that it was completely mediocre; certainly, I don't find myself wishing that I'd read something else instead. But it's unlikely in the extreme that I'd ever want to re-read it.