“I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud” (Jung)
The Life Assistance Agency, by Thomas Hocknell, introduces the reader to Ben Ferguson-Cripps, the author of a mildly popular blog and one published book with sales figures so disappointing his agent is considering no longer representing him. In need of an income, Ben has taken a job transferring data from an ancient mainframe onto a contemporary IT system, despite having no idea how to do this. When he is found out and dismissed he visits the newly formed Life Assistance Agency. He discovers it has been set up by an old friend, Scott Wildblood. Ben last saw Scott when he was having a heart attack in the office where they both used to work.
Scott offers Ben a job, although he has yet to secure any clients. Ben is sent out wearing a sandwich board to drum up business, but has more success when he rings the number on a missing person’s poster and taps into the desperation of a middle-aged woman whose husband has not been seen for two weeks. The man, Thomas Foxe, had an interest in medieval alchemy and had attempted to commune with angels, much to the irritation of his now worried wife. Ben and Scott discover that a series of related artefacts have recently gone missing, their provenance leading the less than intrepid duo to follow the errant lecturer across Europe.
Ben and Scott track the missing Dr Foxe whilst sinister operatives from a secret society, intent on retaining their monopoly on contacting higher beings, track them. There are night-time flits, car chases, underhand thefts, and the translation of a diary that dates back to the sixteenth century. This tells of an alchemist, Dr John Dee, who worked with a scryer in an attempt to create gold and the secrets known only by the angels.
The plot is fantastical and is told with a healthy dose of cynicism, especially when considering man’s preoccupation with wealth and longevity. However, after an entertaining opening I found I was not always engaged as the adventure progressed. There are many amusing one liners and I enjoyed the denouement but my concentration drifted during the twice detailed journey through Europe.
I enjoy the author’s blog and this is written in much the same style. It is a light-hearted and wry look at belief whilst pandering to modern day sensibilities. A shame then that, in places through the middle, it did not fully hold my attention.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane Publications.