By age thirty, Christopher Rice was already well-established as an author. Beginning with a literary debut at twenty-two (A Density of Souls), he’d published four more novels. While his fans deny that their love of his work has anything to do with the realization that he's the son of vampire-erotic-southern gothic darling Anne Rice (author of a bazillion books), most still seem painfully aware of it.
Which makes me ask, “Does literary talent breed true?” After slogging through young Rice's fifth novel, The Moonlit Earth (2010), I'd say, "No": it looks like a lot like textbook literary nepotism, much like Tabitha King (though not Joe Hill)...
Cameron Reynolds' face was broadcast worldwide on two occasions. An ad campaign made the handsome flight attendant one face of Peninsula Airlines, his smile featured on billboards throughout the Pacific. When his hotel in Hong Kong exploded in a hurricane of gore, though, his face was caught on video as he fled the scene with some "Middle Eastern Man." The Hong Kong cops viewed his failure to reappear as evidence that he had caused the blast that killed almost seventy people.
Two days later, Reynolds’ big sister Meagan arrived in the Pearl of the Orient on the trail of a string of cryptic texts originating on Cameron's phone. Certain her bro is held hostage by billionaire Zach Holder (who owns the boutique airline where Cam works), Meagan rushed straight into the unknown. Instead of her brother she found death and destruction; a barely-legal Saudi Prince with a deep secret; and a trail of lies and misdirection as tangled as a ball of yarn in a roomful of cats.
Meagan probably won’t ever figure it out -- probably because Christopher Rice won’t ever figure it out.Though labeled a “thriller,” The Moonlit Earth was no more thrilling than your average wiring guide. The action moves at a snail's pace, with page after page wasted on meaningful glances and averted gazes among its handful of characters. Rice occasionally drops in a random chapter or two of back-story, interrupting the little flow the narrative had built at that point.
What begins as a mystery-thriller disintegrates into a mishmash of confused plot threads whose double- and triple-crosses are almost worthy of a Robert Ludlum novel plagued with characters who come read as dimwitted and trite. My comparison to Ludlum is on purpose – just like the late thriller author, the younger Rice insists on italicizing random words in nearly every sentence.
Rice's insistence on dribbling a little Reynolds family history into the plot further muddies his progress. Given Christopher’s southern roots, however, he probably thinks all novels require the exposure of a skeleton stashed deep in the hero's family closet. This particular surprise is nastier than many, and at its core is about as unbelievable as any villain I've read in the last decade. It doesn’t help that Rice reduces Hong Kong’s teeming streets to a couple of boat rides and a visit to an almost unpopulated island. He must not have taken good notes on the research trip he wrote off on his income taxes...
Rice's characterization of his young Saudi prince is somewhat troubling, given that Rice is – like his character – gay. The young man is presented as a swishy, lisping naïf who could have been lifted straight (I use the term loosely) from a "Will & Grace" script. Cameron, gay himself; is drawn as less stereotypical. Like sister Meagan, however, he’s obviously of barely average intelligence – why else would he be in such a hot mess? Come to think of it, all the Reynolds family – bro, sis, absent daddy, gold-digger mommy, filthy-rich cuz – are somewhat short on common sense.
If you possess the smarts the Reynolds family seems to be missing, you'll pass on The Moonlit Earth.