Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi (Rob MacGregor)
Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi is the first in a twelve book series of prequels that takes Indiana Jones around the world prior to his adventures in the films. The Peril at Delphi is an interesting start, but it isn't exactly your typical Indiana Jones adventure. The side kicks are fairly forgettable, the girl is frustratingly, implausibly indecisive, and the setting is really muted and hardly adventurous. Despite these flaws, Indy fans will love the vignette of his college days seen at the beginning of the book, and overall it is at least a competent tale of Indy's youth.
The book starts with its best scenes. A young Indiana Jones is close to achieving his undergraduate degree when he decides to pull a prank prior to the graduation ceremony. The prank, and subsequent fallout, are representative of Indy's daring nature, and he outsmarts the dean of the school with his history-based rebuttal. It is a really funny, endearing episode to start the book off with, and perfectly foreshadows Indy's future persona.
The action then shifts to Paris, where Indy is studying for his graduate's degree in linguistics and Greek Archaeology. Indy is studying under the instruction of Dorian Belecamus, a Greek archaeologist. She presents the opportunity of a lifetime to him- the chance to go to Greece and help with a dig that has recently been made possible through a large earthquake. Despite the adamant warnings of his two friends, former classmate Jack Shannon and former teacher Ted Conrad, Indy decides to go on the voyage, mostly because of his attraction to Ms. Belecamus. His friends later show up to further complicate matters and give us someone besides Indy to cheer for, but they never develop memorable personalities or do anything particularly noteworthy during this encore appearance. They act more as baggage and inconveniences for Indy to deal with than anything else.
Once Indy takes off to Greece, the action really starts. Unfortunately, it is a bit confusing. There are several factions vying for control of the mysterious artifact at the crux of the story, including the Greek military, a local group of cultists, and a greedy archaeologist. The characters behind each of these motivations are hollow, and they mix and mingle intermittently, making the story needlessly complex. At the center of the dynamic is Indy's teacher, Dorian. Dorian runs the gamut of allegiances throughout the book, particularly at the end when she is seemingly with-then against-then with-then against-then with Indy within the span of about 80 pages. Her loyalties are liquid, she isn't a great character to begin with, and she is used as an excuse to make Indiana Jones an idiot. I find it hard to believe that Indy would be so stupid when it comes to Dorian, even if he is relatively young at the time of this adventure. Even his friends know she is bad news! If Indy was in it primarily for the "fortune and glory" or to learn about history, I wouldn't have as much of a problem with the supposed romance. As it is though, Indy is depicted as wanting to kick start his career due to his love of Dorian and not because he was born to be an adventurer/scholar.
Our story ends with a suitably fast paced climax and an ending befitting an Indiana Jones story. One of the best scenes comes at the end, when Indy uses the artifact to experience a vision of his future adventures. This scene, along with the beginning of the novel, are far more pivotal to Indy's growth as an adventurer than anything contained in the rest of the book.
One of my biggest complaints is the lack of settings at work here. The adventure really only takes place in one city in Greece. This is a sharp contrast to the movies, which always have three or four vastly different settings for the adventure to play out in. Our characters remain at the same dig site for the entire adventure, seeing the same sights and never expanding the scope of the conflict. While this can work, it just feels too static in this particular novel. Indy is forced to sit and wait for the action to come to him, as opposed to seeking out the treasure on his own terms.
Besides the vignette at the beginning, the book doesn't have a lot going for it. The writing style is really good though. With references to period clothing, literature, and music (including the birth and popularization of the Jazz movement) the book really does feel rooted in the 1920s. This is a wonderful touch that makes the book feel more like an Indiana Jones story, as the movies always strive to attach themselves with the time in which they are set. There is no iconic army to oppose our hero here, but there are plenty of references to real world events in Greece and the Ottoman Empire at this time. It isn't the Nazis, but it still works. Furthermore, the brisk action scenes and rapid fire dialogue do wonders for the feel of the book. The only bizarre element of the writing is the somewhat suggestive approach to Indy and Dorian's relationship. Nothing X-rated, but probably a little more than what I was reasonably expecting.
The Peril at Delphi is a decidedly mediocre work. It works as an introduction to the series, but it is a bit too static for me. I also can't stand characters like Dorian, and the final few pages read almost like a parody because of her ever changing loyalties. The rest of the cast is nothing special either, even Indy's companions are a bit bland for my tastes. Luckily the writing gives the story an adventurous feel that neither the setting nor plot convey. The series has plenty of potential for more compelling adventures, but this opening work falls flat.