Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge (Rob MacGregor)
Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge, the fourth book in the series of novels detailing Indy's life prior to the events of the blockbuster trilogy, ups the stakes quite a bit and introduces an interesting new relic bolstered by some of the strongest character moments and world building of the series. Unfortunately, the book feels very rushed, the conclusion is terrible, and it seems that our heroes spend most of the book imprisoned and at the mercy of other people. A fast and largely unsatisfying read, this book was in dire need of an exciting climax and instead presented fifteen pages of forgettable fluff to top off the story.
The book is set about a year after the events of the previous novel, Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils. Indy is still reeling over the death of his wife in the Amazon jungle, and resigns his teaching post due to his inconsolable grief. He then moves to Chicago to seek employment at his alma mater and catch up with his old friend Jack Shannon. Everything goes wrong due to events mostly out of Indy's control, and in his desperation he agrees to an expedition with a Russian father-daughter team looking to find Noah's Ark. Jack comes along for "protection" after his life is flipped upside down too. Chicago is definitely the strongest aspect of the book, as was the case in the first novel in the series, Peril at Delphi. Author Rob MacGregor just knows how to bring the city to life, and the various changes that have occurred in the six years since we first saw the city (1921-1927) make for a compelling reading experience. Couple this with Indy's run in with the Italian Mafia, some of the most poignant character moments in the book, and a premise that brings to mind the artifacts from two of the first three Indiana Jones movies, and you have a very promising beginning.
The second act is where things start to drag a bit. Indy, Jack, Katrina, and Mr. Zobolotsky make their way to Istanbul for the second leg of their journey. Though Istanbul is an interesting city with an above average portrayal here, drawing mostly on its increasingly Western styling and the decline of the old culture, this sequence is bogged down by far too many chase scenes that leave Indy at the mercy of others. The opposition for this novel consists of the Janissaries, an elite group of warriors hellbent on keeping explorers away from the Ark, because they believe that its discovery would lead to the end of the world. Also involved are two Bolshevik spies who are working under orders of their government to keep the Ark out of the public eye in order to suppress religion. The Bolsheviks end up having a somewhat important to the Russian half of the team, but the Janissaries are completely underdeveloped and a very unconvincing group of enemies. This isn't from lack of trying though. An inordinate amount of time in this book, whether it is in an underground city, on Mount Aranat, or in the streets of Istanbul, features Indy and his companions at the mercy of the Turks. A majority of the chapters ends with Indy being captured yet again, only to narrowly escape death through some combination of quick thinking and extraordinary luck. This takes up a ton of our time with the already short book, and it gets quite silly after about the third time. Indy's exceptionally incompetent performance in this book devalues both him and his opponents, and slows the book to a crawl despite all the action. Action without a purpose is just as bad as endless and useless exposition in terms of pacing. This book is a prime example of that.
Conversely, the third and final act is laughably short. The expedition up Mount Aramat is unwisely truncated, with no real danger and very generic descriptions of the setting. By the time our heroes actually make it to the Ark, there are about fifteen pages left in the entire book. Therefore the entire ending is one of the most rushed I've ever encountered. There is no time to explore the Ark, no time to deal with deadly and ingenious traps, no debate over what should be done with it. Instead, the villains show up, Indy is spared by divine intervention AGAIN (this is really starting to bother me) and the book ends. This ending was the antithesis of everything an Indiana Jones adventure should be, and it was quite frankly embarrassing to get a description of what could be any random trek up a mountain followed by about ten pages involving the Ark itself.
Characterization is actually fairly intriguing in the earlier sequences of the book, but it becomes progressively less interesting as more characters are thrown into the fray and less time is spent exploring their thoughts due to the increasingly frantic rush to conclude the book. Indy is characterized about how you would expect, but he benefits from some very poignant scenes early on. Reflecting on his father's ambitions for him, his lost lover Deirdre, and his long gone college days give us a unique insight into the character that the previous books tended to ignore. After the Chicago portion these moments drop off substantially, instead rendering him with a kind of generic personality, but while the author is making an effort to flesh him out Indy gets a bit of extra depth. Jack Shannon finally gets some interesting development as his family's connection to organized crime, and his newfound involvement in these illegal activities, causes him to have a spirited argument with Indy. Additionally, he has turned to religion and the quest that the group undertakes to find the Ark has a special significance for him. The two both fall head over heels for Katrina, a love interest that isn't as bad as Dorian from the first book in the series, but is a far cry from most of the girls from the movies. The rest of the cast is badly underdeveloped, though Katrina's father manages to be a mysterious figure instead of simply a lifeless one. On the other hand, the antagonists seem to be small on motivation and even less of a true match for our heroes. At no point does the outcome feel in question, and the antagonists never do anything interesting other than capturing our heroes a ridiculous number of times.
Writing in The Genesis Deluge is about what you would expect from the series thus far. The author does a fantastic job of working in world building elements to help immerse the reader in a relatively far away time. Pulling on cultural (the rise of Jazz) and historical (Al Capone and his gang) landmarks, there is a very strong effort to place the book in the time period. There isn't as much effort put in making dialogue sound like it is from the 1920s, but the compelling settings are well worth it on their own.
Outside of the heartfelt arguments between Indy and Jack early in the book, the dialogue fails to impress. There is nothing remotely funny here, and the romantic interaction between both men and Katrina doesn't create any intrigue or charm. The villains are even worse, with their simplistic motives being amplified by their inelegant ideas and plans. Action scenes also lack the flair of the movies and even some of the previous books, with nearly every conflict in this book consisting of a simple chase with no imaginative spin on the trope. Where we had the fantastic cable car scene in the previous book, everything here is cut and dry and very boring. The Ark is described hastily and with none of the appeal that the cities of Chicago and Istanbul are afforded. For all the time spent explaining it, it could have just been a random pirate ship thrown on top of a huge mountain. This book really doesn't have much going for it in the prose department beyond the world building; everything else is mediocre at best.
Genesis Deluge had easily the most promising idea of the Indiana Jones novels thus far, with an iconic artifact to find and the classic mix of rogues and assassins trying to kill our hero. Unfortunately, the artifact barely even shows up, the villains are nearly as incompetent as our hero, and the author relies far too much on chase scenes and putting our protagonists in one seemingly inescapable bind after another to create tension. Even some strong character moments and fantastic world building can't salvage yet another wreck in this increasingly disappointing series of novels.