The Third Gate by Lincoln Child is the third book in his Jeremy Logan series. I have read the previous two novels. The Third Gate was published in 2012 and is the first in the series that has Logan on every page of the book, so to speak. In the previous novels, Logan was not a major character; here he takes control of the narrative.
This book is a bit of a mess and is a definite step-down from the previous novel Terminal Freeze. The setup is somewhat the same – in all three novels there is a wealthy, eccentric individual who is at the heart of whatever adventure is going on. This time Logan is pulled in right from the beginning – he is introduced as an enigmalogist. Logan meets the “eccentric” individual in the depths of the Cairo museum and agrees to join the adventure. The mission, this time, is to locate Narmer’s tomb. In the author’s note Child admits that he liberally manipulated and adjusted all facets of Egyptology and related sciences in service of his novel. In other words, there is historical fiction and then there is adventure fiction and The Third Gate is most certainly in the latter category.
Once again, as with the first Logan novel, I want to accuse Child of lazy writing. There are a couple of things here and there that could have been done better and, yes, I do mean even in the context of a little adventure pulp novel. For example, the coffee that someone is sipping in the dark deep basements of the Cairo museum – its probably cold. And where did it come from? Somehow I doubt there is a stove deep in the museum among the papyrus stacks – at least, when I was there, I did not see one. Another example is where Child unnecessarily refers to the technicians (i.e. the digital and technological crew) as “tech weenies.” It feels jarringly crude in a setting wherein we are frequently told the adventure has gathered highly-vetted, highly-trained, highly-established experts in so many fields of study. “Tech weenies”…..?
Anyway, Logan shows up to the site with his duffel bag of items. A variety of items, kind of similar to a doctor’s bag crossed with a magician’s bag. When asked about it, Logan shares some of the items, but also plays it a bit vague. At the same time, throughout, readers get the sense that the characters are suspicious or at least skeptical of Logan’s field of study and of his need to join the mission. To counter that, several times readers are given Logan’s resume and stories of his expert field work and research, to include a sidebar regarding his dissertation. All of this being said, several times during the novel, Logan utilizes a device that tests air ionization. Every time except once is the air “normal.” The one time it reads “not normal,” or increased ionization, he says he does not know what it means. This just seems incongruous and stupid.
I disliked every character and for that reason I really was not rooting for any of them. Makes me feel a little bad, I guess. I like adventure stories that keep me on the edge of my seat and I can cheer for a hero or something. The character that is supposed to “balance” the Logan character is one of the world’s top Egyptologists, Christina Romero. I am not sure what to make of her – most of the time she comes across as impulsively rude, which I very much find toxic. I guess we are supposed to think that because she is an elite expert, she is also given to temperamental behavior? I dislike that sort of stereotyping, too.
Finally, the plot itself is stupid and difficult and has this adjacent co-plot that I really hated. I really disliked the entire psychological, NDE, “crossing-over” story thread. I hated the characters and how it overtook the plot and I did not enjoy it. Accepting Logan as an enigmalogist and as a scientist is possible. But this type of plot overextends my suspension of disbelief.
The good thing: listen, I love setting and the setting of this novel is really good. I mean it. I was surprised to find such a strong, interesting, and intense setting in an adventure pulp. Child liberally utilizes the concept of the Sudd (Cp. The White Nile by Alan Moorehead – 1960) and expands and develops it as needed. Seriously, this stuff captured my imagination and I wanted to spend more time in this setting having it weigh on us, confuse us, frighten us. In other words, Child’s idea to use it is a great idea and he did a decent job. I just want him to have done an even better job. I did pull my old, crusty copy off of my bookshelves and think I will skim through it, just because I can.
They crawled forward into an ever-thicker tangle of logs and bracken. The noises from the riverbanks – if indeed there were still any banks to be found in this morass – had all but ceased. It was as if they were now surrounded by an infinite riot of flora, dead and dying, all wedged into one colossal tangle. They waited in the bow, barely speaking, as the boat followed the line of flashing beacons. Now and then the path seemed to Logan to lead to a dead end; but each time, after making a blind turn, the fetid tangle of vegetation widened once again. Frequently, the boat had to use its own superstructure to push aside the oozing warp and weft. – pg. 67, chapter 7
At the end of the day, Ancient Egypt adventure stories and swamps and scary things are always going to draw readers in, I think. However, this novel had too much lazy writing. Again, I am not expecting high-brow literature here, but I think a lot of tidying and a little thought would have really worked. Instead, this novel is a mess, its a bit flat, and I did not really enjoy anything at all other than the setting. That is not a basis for a great recommendation.
I am a bit concerned about the “development” of the Jeremy Logan character. I like him as an enigmalogist. I dislike the esoteric, pseudo-ghost hunter stuff. I am glad that he got to be a main character in a novel, for once, which is amusing to consider. Strangely, even as a main character, I feel he was extraneous. Still, I am nervous that in the next novel in the series he might actually have a magic wand or something.