Description by the author / blurb:
Chaos reigns around the world. Strange creatures, accorded the title “Phantom Ninjas” by the media, are leaping off tall buildings and somersaulting back up without any scratch – and then disappear. There follows more spontaneous acts of magic, confounding the world. Who – or what – is responsible? In the middle of the mystery arrives Detective Hetfield, a private investigator just recently retired from the FBI, who is accustomed to fame as a star witness in the murder trial of a beloved actress. Hetfield, seeking ever more celebrity to boost his profile, uses the media to put forward the theory that a person of extraordinary magical powers is behind all the incidents, and labels him Dr. Magic. Hetfield gets much more than what he bargained for when that powerful being does exist – in the form of a young man long disillusioned with his past – and cruelly takes him up on his offer.
“Seeking Dr. Magic” is not a bad book. The language is concise and flows easily, except for two or three instances when it is the very effort at conciseness that appears laborious: “Dr. Magic focused intensely by placing his thumbs and the next two fingers outwards from this thumbs on each hand, on his temples.” Else the editing has been crafty and careful. And though the idea behind the novel, a young man with super powers struggling to come to terms with his identity, is by no means original, original is his way of “looking for an opening” towards the citizens of Earth with the strangely comical incidents mentioned in the book blurb. The structure of the novel is reasonably tailored to its shape, with a limited set of scenes and few characters. The book, it has to be repeated, is by no means of poor quality.
It is just boring. No inner conflict is played out in torn souls. No revelations are to be expected. And no serious threat for anybody arises.
The reader knows immediately that there is never a moment when Hetfield is actually in danger from Dr. Magic. On their first encounter, the latter leaves the detective thirty stories high suspended in mid-air. „Goodbye, Tony,“ he says provocatively. And Hetfield falls. But suddenly he is yanked back – Dr. Magic has him bouncing on a bungee jumping cord. „If you wanted to kill me, you would have done so by now,“ the detective will say at their second encounter to the young man. But you didn’t back then. Therefore, you won’t do now. And given Dr. Magic’s behaviour, the reader will agree with Hetfield’s conclusion. When, on that second confrontation, Dr. Magic conjures up a fire-spewing dragon, the reader has already been counting on the dragon to turn his head away from Hetfield before it lets out the fiery eruption. Therefore, it is with impatience rather than with any feeling of suspense that the reader will watch how Hetfield’s life is exposed again, in their third meeting, and how again he must be rescued by external forces.
There are no unexpected turns, no twists in the novel. It develops very straight and very uneventful. Were it not for the three moments of endangerment of Hetfield, there wouldn’t even be the resemblance of excitement. After all, the Ninja stuntmen and rainbow-painting people Dr. Magic sets the world in awe with are innocuous enough. And, of course, it is impossible to believe the gigantic fire wall which later on rumbles across the ocean will actually bring about the catastrophe that the world population is fearing. Dr. Magic is just too charming and, in his dealings with Hetfield, right from the start too hesitant to make for an antagonist. The reader cannot be afraid of Dr. Magic. Though, just going by mere facts, he proves he can be dangerous. At the end of the novel, it is clear that people will have died from his hands. But this appears rather like a conception artificially grafted unto an image of Dr. Magic that must have appeared much too benign, much too straight even for the author. Of course, this pretension of danger emanating from Dr. Magic, pasted unto his fluffy character, cannot misguide the reader. He knows, and knows with regret, that no suspense will be derived from this angle of the story. There never is the danger of Dr. Magic turning evil, of loosing his soul. The reader cannot doubt a second he must be reconciled to Hetfield as a father figure and come to woe over his sins past and present.
There is another angle by which the novel could have built suspense: by leaving Dr. Magic’s identity unclear for the better part of the story. Indeed that’s the impression I’ve got from the book blurb and still I cannot help thinking that this is exactly what the blurb purports – which would render the blurb quite misleading. „Hetfield, seeking ever more celebrity to boost his profile,“ puts forth the Dr. Magic theory and „Hetfield gets much more than what he bargained for when that powerful being does exist“. But this is not more than what the detective bargained for. It is exactly what he bargained for. After thinking through all the different explanations for the startling phenomena occurring at the start of the novel, Hetfield, by cold deduction, allows for just one possibility: „There was a human who was part of Earth, who grew up in this world. And he – or she – had super powers.“ Therefore, Hetfield is by no means flabbergasted when he can confirm the real existence of Dr. Magic – after all, this existence has been the exact result of his own reasoning.
Understanding the blurb as I did – and, in my opinion, understanding it, as it reads, quite correctly -, I was confused when the novel didn’t turn out what I had been bargaining for, that is, what I had been expecting – and what would have made the novel so much more interesting. I had thought Dr. Magic really would be an invention of Hetfield. I had thought Hetfield would himself assume that a being with superpowers was impossible to exist, but nevertheless divulge that theory to the media to boost his own fame. I even imagined – though, by that, passing with my imagination beyond the blurb – that Hetfield would initiate a search for Dr. Magic, that is, a spurious search, adducing bits of falsified information where this impossible wizard had last turned up and where he was most likely to be right now. I imagined the detective pretending to do his detective work, pretending to ever get closer to Dr. Magic, while his media fame would skyrocket, and while he himself would orchestrate this deception with mastery and glee. Now imagine, in that situation, Hetfield starting to really find traces of the existence of such a Dr. Magic – and imagine, after that, an encounter with such a Dr. Magic. Like that, there would have been a whole lot more vibe to the novel and a dazzling comical twist.
But with this book, as Spotson has actually written it, I got less than I bargained for from the book blurb. When Dr. Magic first pops up in front of Hetfield, the novel has barely begun. His identity is confirmed. The mystery has evaporated. And the following search for his identity as a citizen – what his true name is, where he lived as a child, who his parents are – can only entice but a meagre interest. In this respect, not just the book blurb, I think even the title is misleading. It says “Seeking Dr. Magic” but really he has been found right from the start, when he first shows himself to Hetfield on page twenty-nine.
The novel is missing its potential. Its story is open towards some different directions for the development of uncertainty, tension and unexpected disclosures, but none of those directions is taken by the author. The way for the story he chooses is as linear and flat as the pavement of a tranquil suburb. It is nice, nice indeed. And just that.
Rating: 2 of 5 stars