There's a funny thing about the reception of the four Indiana Jones movies. Everyone loves the first and third films (the Ark of the Covenant and Holy Grail ones, respectively), while most find the second film (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) weak. And lots of people denounce the much-later, appended fourth film (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), kicking it out of the Indy canon altogether.
The tacit defence of this opinion is that the first and third films are somehow more "believable" than the second and fourth. The latter pair engages, it seems, both badly stereotyped religion (the "Hindu" temple) or clearly made-up stuff (an alien spaceship!) to the point of triggering scoffing incredulity.
This defence is silly, but implicit. People are eagerly inclined to suspend belief and enjoy stories of a pretty, divine, golden box that shoots lightning bolts at Nazis and of a modest quaffing cup that bestows immortality on medieval knights and heals mortal bullet wounds, but they grant no such favours to stories of still-beating hearts ripped out of chests and extra-terrestrial spacecraft that emerge from the earth.
Winnipeg writer/editor/blogger Evan Braun (working in some undisclosed way with American pastor and self-styled "demon realm" tourist [!] Clint Byars) has already written his Indy No. 1 book (The Book of Creation, 2012). With The City of Darkness, he scripts his Indy No. 4. There is no question there will be more in this romping series.
The City of Darkness picks up the story about a year after the climactic events of Braun's first fantasy. The dust has settled. The dead have been grieved. The preternaturally wise Rabbi is wandering the world somewhere. The great discovery of that story is again missing. (One needn't worry about the details: it's the titular book and it is powerful.)
Firmly in the Dan Brown genre, The City of Darkness follows two (and sometimes more) seemingly independent stories in alternating, brief chapters. As with Brown, it is the cheapest imaginable way to build suspense, but it is tried-and-true.
We follow the guy we remember from last time: Sherwood Brighton, a semi-crazed, hard-drinking whiz kid fleeing across the globe from -- you guessed it -- that nasty, meddling billionaire whose machinations drive the series, but who only lurks in its pages. Think Richard Attenborough's character in Jurassic Park but swap regenerated dinosaurs for resuscitated biblical-ish giants.
And then we follow the new guy, Dario Katsulas, an archaeologist in Bolivia, excavating the oldest city in the Americas. Unwelcome bits of disappearing and death occur and next thing you know this fresh face has found an underground, even older city shaped like a spoked wheel. Think of the "cornucopia" clock in the second Hunger Games movie, but bury it and trade reluctant murderous tributes for overly curious archaeologists and age-old extraterrestrials.
Throw in episodes of Ghostbusters-style possession (but subtract the funny), some Robert Ludlum international intrigue (but make it PG-rated) and quite a bit of James Bond insta-globe-trotting (but make the characters' clothes super-dirty).
Also, remember to make sure the Rabbi re-appears and explains the parts that go back to Genesis and the apocryphal books of Enoch. That's important. It makes it more like Indy No. 1.
There is a girl, too, but she is more interested in the dead, eccentric guy from The Book of Creation than in any of her breathing doters. And the new guy is too clouded by memories of that other girl to realize the lucky spot he's in.
It is a wilful mishmash of all these things. The pages turn easily. It is not entirely humourless -- it is silly, harmless, good fun. The potential audience is enormous, from the young to the old, from the actively conspiratorial to the lazily cynical.
The thing is, if you enjoyed the Raiders of the Lost Ark (the first Indy film), you should enjoy Indiana Jones and the Kindom of the Crystal Skull (the last one). You are only cheating yourself.
The same is true of Braun's Watchers Chronicle books.
Laurence Broadhurst teaches in the departments of religion and culture as well as classics at the University of Winnipeg.