Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Canyon of Souls - Ronald Malfi

Timothy Overleigh has inner demons to fight - a specific one is that of his estranged wife, Hannah who died in an accident in Italy. Timothy blames himself for not being an attentive husband, and thereby driving her away from him. Hannah's death not only throws him into a downward spiral when it comes to his sculpting but also turns him self-destructive.

When Tim meets with a spelunking accident in a cave, it is a vision of Hannah that gets him out. When she begins to appear frequently to him, Tim decides that he's had enough and accepts an offer from an old acquaintance and adventurer, Andrew Trumbauer, to join an expedition to the mystical Canyon of Souls where no man has gone before and lived to tell the tale.

The rather disparate individuals for the expedition are all connected to Andrew in some way. Other than Tim, who is battling alcohol withdrawal, the crew comprises the very fatherly John Petras, the brash, talkative Chad Nando, the ex-Marine Curtis Booker, a quiet Australian Michael Hollinger and an out-of-shape, unlikely climber, Donald Shotsky. Just before they leave, a local named Shomas secretly warns Tim that the canyon is not meant to be crossed and if it is, great disaster would befall the group. This warning is, or course, ignored.

As the group battles the elements, every man, except the now-aloof Andrew, begins to depend on the others. Once they reach the point beyond which no man has returned alive, things begin to go horribly wrong for the climbers. Tim suspects Andrew of jeopardizing the expedition, but each time, Andrew seems to have a plausible explanation for the accidents that befall them. As each member of the group begins to die, Tim comes into his own, laying his old fears to rest and embracing his own guilt over Hannah, as his survival instinct kicks into high gear in the altitudes of the Himalayas.

Malfi's book is a quick read, although the language seems a trifle laborious. It's confusing to find a good plot being let down by careless wordcraft. There are some repetitive usages of phrases, some obvious spelling errors and some words that disrupt the cadence and some metaphors that to me, seemed simply too convoluted. Maybe a once-over by an experienced editor could have smoothed out some of the chinks in the language. Malfi already had two chances to do that - a quick websearch reveals that the same book was published earlier as The Ascent. Andrew Trumbauer's reasons for choosing each member of the group, in some instances, seem a bit of a stretch.

There would have been a real threat to the narrative if the journey seemed too easy for it to be beyond the abilities of the skilled climber. But Malfi does justice to this part, making the climb as arduous and dangerous as it turns out.

Canyon of Souls has enough adventure to keep the 'armchair-adrenaline junkies' happy and there're a few insights into the human mind to satisfy those who want a wee bit more from their average read.

Published on Book Cover Pic from publisher's website.

A sampler of the novel is available at : 
Update: For some strange reason, I had this niggling feeling that the author was not as American as we would like to assume from the profile. Reminded me of this Indian writer I met who wanted to try writing a convincing novel set in America with American characters, with no trace of Indianness in either the plot or the narrative or the characters. Is it really possible to shrug off the colonial nuances that influence our English?

No comments: