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Saul, John Ralston.

Toronto, Collins, c1986. 241pp, cloth, $22.95, ISBN 0-00-223043-7. CIP

Reviewed by Clare A. Darby

Volume 14 Number 4
1986 July

This is John Ralston Saul's third novel. His previous two, Baraka* and The Birds of Prey,** were translated into ten languages and sold more than a million copies. The Next Best Thing will probably follow a similar flight path.

The book falls nicely into the adventure genre re-popularized by such classics as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. This time, the setting is not Egypt or India, but Burma. The treasure is not gold or emeralds, but a set of twenty eleventh-century Buddhas. Our hero is not the independent, swash-buckling Jones, but an obsessed an collector, who is totally dependent upon the allies he makes. The rest of the characters, the drunken expatriate journalist, the woman with a past, the opium user, the small-time criminal, the guerrilla leaders, are all well-drawn stereotypes. Indiana Jones's part is left to Blake, our hero's expedition leader. All these Characters play their parts well, especially the guerrilla leader, Eddie, who adds a touch of much-needed humour by asking irreverent questions about Lady Di, Jane Fonda, and Margaret Trudeau.

Unfortunately, there is not enough comic relief; the story drags through a long section of exposition, the python who guards the Buddha on the cover never materializes, and the ending is a bit shaky.

Still, the setting is described effectively, and the style is never cumbersome. So, while there is nothing here to recommend this novel to a high school student, an adult will find it yet another example of good escapist literature.

Clare A. Darby, Three Oaks S.H.S., Summerside, P.E.I.

*Reviewed XII/2 Match 1984 p. 66.
**Reviewed VI/3 Summer 1978 p. 161.

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