December 15, 2005

Dream of Darkness, by Reginald Hill

Usually I like Hill's stuff a whole lot. Usually I finish books I start. Neither is true in this case.

Dream of Darkness, which was originally published under a pen name, is something of a schizophrenic thriller. The main plot concerns a young woman named Sairey Ellis, who is tormented by nightmares involving her mother's death in Uganda during the time of Idi Amin, and the therapy she receives at the hands of a psychiatrist who is also an old family friend. She was just a small girl when her mother died; now, save for her dreams her memories of those days have vanished.

Sairey's story is interlarded with brief memories of Idi Amin and his reign of terror. Some are cast as letters, reminiscences, and journal entries from some kind of government intelligence archive; others are excerpts from a book being written by Ellis' father, a British agent who was instrumental in bringing Amin to power and now regrets it.

The point of the book seems to be that Idi Amin was a very bad man, and that Britain did wrong to covertly assist him--assuming, of course, that they actually did. OK, fine. Amin was a monster; I buy that. I've met men who narrowly escaped being killed by him. But the piecemeal nature of the Ugandan side of the narrative isn't compelling, and young Sairey Ellis and her problems are frankly dull. There's some evidence, up to the point that I've read, that the events of yesteryear are going to intrude into Sairey's quiet if troubled life, but unfortunately I can't bring myself to care.

Possibly Hill was trying to awaken a national sense of guilt by exposing Britain's complicity with Amin's rise. I dunno. But the book sure fell flat for me.

Posted by Will Duquette at December 15, 2005 07:38 AM