Here’s another little snippet from an Abel Jones mystery by Owen Parry, Rebels of Babylon. I need to set the scene up a little. Jones, a strict Methodist, made a point in the earlier books of saying that he disapproved of novels, since they were made up entirely of lies, and were a frivolous waste of time. But recently he made the discovery of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and was completely won over—providing the novel was morally upright, of course.
In Rebels of Babylon he makes the acquaintance once again of Barnaby B. Barnaby, an English “gentleman’s gentleman” who had told him in Call Each River Jordan that he was a great reader—but only of one book. He read The Pickwick Papers again and again, comforted by its predictability.
In this scene, Jones tries to persuade Barnaby to try Great Expectations. (Ever try to recommend a book to a friend who wasn’t interested? I’ll bet you never got quite the response Jones gets):
Mr. Barnaby shook his head, slowly but with decision. “I couldn’t do it, sir. Really, I couldn’t. It’s all too awful and ’orrible. I couldn’t bear to undertake the experience of more suffering. And people always suffers in a novel, sir, if it’s worth the ink and paper…. I’ve even ’ad to give up reading Mr. Pickwick, I ’as. I couldn’t bear it no more, knowing as ’ow all ’is ’appiness is bound to be torn from ’is bosom. Not all Sam Weller’s wits can’t save the poor man, sir. ’E goes to ’is sufferings over and over again. Without end, sir, without end! As if that Charlie Dickens ’as trapped ’im forever in the pages, so ’e can’t never escape…. A writer fellow must be ’orrible wicked, sir, to go killing folks with ink and making everyone suffer for ’is pleasure. And for profit, sir! The scribblers takes money to make the innocent suffer in their books. It just ain’t right to do a thing like that.”
That says it about as clearly as it could be said, I think.
This is the last Abel Jones book published to date, and I wish I could get information on the next. I searched the web, and found an interview with Parry (actually Col. Ralph Peters) in which he projects a series of about twelve books. But where each previous volume ended with the note, “The adventures of Abel Jones will continue in _______________,” this one just says, “The adventures of Abel Jones will continue.” And this one came out in 2005. That’s getting to be a three year hiatus, which is too long for a series, as I can tell you with some authority.
I may have given the impression, in my previous review of Honor’s Kingdom, that these are Christian books. They aren’t. They’re books about a Christian (and sometimes the author gets the theology badly wrong), but the Christian is a likeable and admirable one, which is relatively rare in contemporary fiction.
This book goes deeper than previous episodes into an analysis of Jones’ faith, and the author makes it clear that much of Jones’ rigor rises from some deep, repressed fears. It’s possible future books may cross the line for me, and I’ll feel compelled to give up on the series.
But I’m willing to take that chance with the wicked writer fellow, for now.