Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Review: 'Identity Seven' by Robert Lory

2 / 5 Stars

In the first few years of its existence DAW Books regularly filled out its catalogue by releasing short novels of 150 pages or less. Some of these novels were well-written (‘Blue Face’ by G. C. Edmondson), while others were forgettable. ‘Identity Seven’ unfortunately falls into the latter category.

Robert Lory wrote a large number of paperback novels in the 60s and 70s, and is perhaps best known for authoring all the volumes of the ‘Dracula’ series published by the New English Library in the mid-70s. ‘Identity Seven’ (155 pp.) was DAW Book No. 95, released in March 1974, and features a striking cover illustration by Kelly Freas.

The plot has something to do with a galactic organization called Hunters Associated, which hires out agents to take the identity of corporate officers and magnates whose lives might be in danger. The unnamed first-person narrator, known only as agent Seven, is dispatched to the planet Usulkan to assume the identity of a powerful businessman named Kalian Pendek. It seems Pendek has been assassinated, and before the world recognizes his demise, the Hunters have inserted Seven to take his place and to investigate the circumstances of the assassination. 

As his inquiries proceed, Pendek quickly learns that the conspiracy to deprive his predecessor of life and liberty is growing in intensity and threatens the stability of the entire planet. The keys to identifying the conspirators ? An exotic jeweled pendant, a talking squid, and a set of blueprints to a massive underwater redoubt lying somewhere on the sea floor of Usulkan…..

In terms of its prose style, ‘Identity’ reads as a series novel from the 60s spy genre – think ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ –with a science fiction coating hastily applied. The plot is frenetic, and shifts from one danger-filled moment to another in the span of a few pages. The novel’s sentence structure is so carelessly assembled that I found myself having to re-read many passages in order to ferret out exactly which words and phrases were governing the assignment of the Subject, Object, and Verb.  The author regularly employs  the clipped, wisecracking prose style commonly encountered in the more campy 60s spy literature. You will  find passages in which the same words are used multiple times, and hyphenated constructions are tossed around in a manner that apes the worst of the New Wave approach to writing:

I let it pass as a holdover from my morning’s mind-wanderings under the approaching death-spell of the jackal-grain. Or let’s say I tried to let it pass. At the end of that dream world was a large pit of blackness, a mammoth blot of smothering death. And in this real dream world there was waiting, below the crags, on the sea floor strewn with memories of past slaughters, a very real and mammoth blot of smothering destruction.

 ‘Identity Seven’ is best avoided, even by those intent on reading everything in the early DAW catalogue.

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