Friday, 19 June 2009


Don't Look Back is a 'high concept' novel: a serial killer called 'Goya' leaves his first victim in the Rose Bowl. Goya is avenging abuse by Catholic priests, and those who covered up that abuse, and he's leaving pictures and clues based on paintings (by guess which Spanish artist?), and, best of all, the Pope himself is coming to LA, and guess at which 100,000 seat stadium he's going to make his personal appearance? That's high concept!

It's also high concept because after concept, everything else is low priority. As I followed the investigations of Lt.Alex Delillo, I became intrigued at the notion he was a gay cop, working with a gay boyfriend. That, at one point he mentions his daughter merely added to the frisson; here was the potential for severe conflict, and all that in the face of the Catholic church. It wasn't until around halfway through the novel that Delillo mentions an ex-husband, and I realised she was a woman.

Highly embarrassed by my mistake, I went back and re-read carefully, looking for any evidence there might be as to Delillo's gender, and found none. Nothing descriptive, no personality traits, no reminiscence of that first embarrassing confessional, zip, nada, zilch. To say that Delillo has no personality would be an understatement; she hasn't even the hint of a personality. The boyfriend, Dylan Harrison (the rest of Traveling Wilburys preferred to remain anonymous, maybe because Don't Look Back was a Dylan movie, though a Motown song) has even less; he exists to make assumptions Delillo can correct and supply Latin translations, even those from religious use that Delillo has no idea about, although she can quote chapter and verse from the gospels. Go figure.

When it turns out Goya, whose personality is also subsumed beneath the artwork he's chosen as his trademark, has predicted Delillo will be his executioner, that should rachet up the suspense; instead, the finale proceeds like a clockwork toy, Black Sunday with wheelchairs instead of blimps. An intriguing subplot, with shadowy Swiss Guards who might be acting as the Vatican's enforcers, simply fades away.

Sometimes you can see the makings of a screenplay in a novel, sometimes even its roots. Here you can see Ashley Judd trying on the uniform and asking can't we throw in another sex scene or three? I don't know why I'm so bothered; at least I got the Pope's sex right.

Don't Look Back, Scott Frost
Headline £19.99 ISBN 9780755346479

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