All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen
Those of you who have read more than one of these reviews will know I go on at length in sometimes quite complicated English. Worse, I often have more than one clause in each sentence, and routinely use words with more than two syllables. My apologies but this is the language in which I think. Insofar as I need a defence, I’m not trying to write a bestseller. This is just an outlet for me to express my personal opinions. Were I trying to get to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, I would change the style and write in more accessible English.
I begin in this way because All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen (Permanent Press, 2011) is something of an enigma. He prefers words like vomitous, wend and ringleted when nauseous, walk and curly-haired would do equally well. Yes, it’s unfair to pick out three words from the thousands, but it says something about an author’s intention when you study his vocabulary choices. For the record, he’s an academic writer crossing over into fiction. Insert a J and you have a man who teaches and writes about writing. Even more interesting is the melodrama of the opening. I’m not denying the emotional commitment of this Interpol detective to the chase, but our hero is curiously affected by this particular criminal. Indeed, his war crimes have disturbed the usual calm of this bloodhound. Then we have a book dotted with pictures of fractals and comparable matching natural/unnatural phenomena, and the text of the story slows down to accommodate a little of the theory behind this particular branch of mathematics — hence the title of the book. Taken overall, you might call this book erudite (i.e. potentially written for clever folk). Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong in writing for the upper band of the market, but it does somewhat limit sales when the presumed intention is to write a detective novel in a thrillerish mode.
From this opening you will understand All Cry Chaos is an ambitious first novel. It’s attempting to tell a good Interpol procedural story and say something about the human condition by reflecting on chaos theory. The nearest comparison is Death Qualified: A Mystery of Chaos by Kate Wilhelm which is a murder case for Brenda Holloway that flirts with the theory of chaos. I’ve always found the ending of the Wilhelm deeply annoying because it passes over the invisible genre line from a traditional investigation and murder trial into science fiction. Although Leonard Rosen is suggesting there may be a better predictive mathematical model, he more or less stays on the right side of the line. While the ability to predict does go further than current modelling permits, I was not offended by the possibility of more or less guaranteed financial returns on investment. That’s all part of the hype the math wonks put about to get jobs with the hedge funds. However, the Wilhelm investigation and description of the trial does stay firmly rooted in reality whereas Rosen has a somewhat less than credible view of the brand of justice meted out by some parts of the Interpol service. Although you might say our hero is something of a stickler for the rules of evidence and procedure, those around him have a more flexible view of how to fight crime. While I might sympathise with the clichéd notion that ends justify means, the idea such an approach might be endemic to a crime-fighting organisation is troubling. It suggests the possibility of officially-sanctioned vigilanteism.
Adding to the contradictions is this American author’s apparent approval of the International Criminal Court. This institution has been most consistently opposed by the US which is against granting criminal jurisdiction to any external body and so creating accountability for either its military personnel or political leaders. Yet the clear practice shown by Interpol in this novel represents a form of exceptionalism entirely consistent with neocon US foreign policy. Both before and, particularly, after an American takes over the management of Interpol, there’s a clear permissiveness when it comes to individuals taking action outside the formal rule structure. We readers are supposed to approve this muscular unilateralism because of the horror the author seeks to inspire from his descriptions of the massacre by Stipo Banovic.
So where does all this leave us? The answer comes from the nature of the story being told. All Cry Chaos is being trumpeted as the first of a series involving Henri Poincaré, a dedicated Interpol agent who doggedly pursues the unrighteous, no matter where they may lurk. In this instance, he picks up an unusual murder case in which an advanced rocket fuel is used as a murder weapon. The victim is almost completely incinerated in his hotel room by a very precisely focussed explosion. The solution to this crime is all rather elegant, emerging as Henri travels around Europe and visits America, talking with and interviewing a diverse range of people. This means the quality of the puzzle and its solution overcomes the clunkiness of the melodrama and the sentimentality of the ending on the family front. Relying on the theory that systems go through cycles of perturbation and then return to new patterns of stability is no excuse for this ending.
On balance, I’m impressed by this first attempt at fiction by this seasoned professional academic writer. For all I find fault with some aspects of the writing and plotting, I’m left with confidence the next book in the series, should he decide to write it, will be better. Leonard Rosen is someone to watch.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.