This is the novel that took me the entire last summer to read. It’s not that it was too difficult. At 599 pages, it’s not the longest novel I’ve ever read (although it felt like 900 pages). Plus, I’m a fast reader, averaging a book a week. The problems with Our Lady of Dreams were manifold, but boil down to two problems. First, the book is written by an author, Chanson Duvall, who not only admits to being a rank amateur using a nom de plume, but writing is not even his main craft. Duvall (“song of the valley”) lives in Phoenix, AZ. where he is a self-described mystic and teaches meditation and enlightenment to his students. Crafting a well-written novel is not his specialty, and it shows.
The second problem with Our Lady of Dreams is that it’s two books in one. It purports to be a murder mystery about a young guru, John Paul Marconi, who is murdered in the Big Bear mountain area near Los Angeles. A young district attorney, Katherine Marconi, who just happens to be the victim’s sister, is following the case with police investigator, Pete Hanson. Katherine discovers a diary written by the top suspect, Thomas Mattkins, who also happens to be a star football player.
It’s this diary that intrudes on the whole flow of the book, becoming a volume in itself. It’s really not much of a diary, although it starts out that way. However, it becomes a primer on Eastern philosophy: how to meditate, the meaning of the chakras, the lives and guises of the various gods and ascended masters, and a detailed description on how to attain kundalini ecstasy (a type of meditative perfection that very few masters have achieved). Along the way, Mattkins explains how he met John Paul, how he became his devoted disciple, and how he nearly worshiped him, but all that seems besides the point. Katherine has sworn to Mattkins that she won’t divulge anything in the diaries to police or lawyers, so how can the writings help him?
The diaries really have almost nothing to do with the murder plot in this book at all. So, whenever Katherine stays up late and finds an excuse to reach for the memoirs, I put the novel aside. I knew all the action was going to disappear. Duvall was telegraphing to his readers that the fun was over and the dull New Age stuff was about to begin — not a smart move for an author. One final point about the New Age diaries: I’m fairly well-read in this area, and I found no reason for Duvall to go into such detail unless he wanted to write his own New Age series of books. If he wanted to discuss the chakras, why not bring up the subject briefly and then mention a source that Thomas would look up for further reading?
As far as the murder went, I found myself astonished at the characters’ behavior. At first Katherine wants to take on the case of her brother’s death when that’s clearly a violation of ethics. It’s a wonder she wasn’t fired when her boss found out. Instead, she’s merely moved to other cases. Still she finds ways to circumvent rules to keep close to the case when she’s been forbidden to stay away. We’re supposed to admire her pluck, but I was appalled at her cheek. Just quit the job already, and then you can stay close to the case all you want. You don’t win any brownie points by sneaking around your boss and half doing your job. In her personal life, she burns the candle at both ends, living on caffeine and never sleeping — yet we are constantly told how stunningly attractive she is. She ought to be stumbling around with bags under her eyes just a few weeks into the novel.
She hooks up with Pete the lead the detective (another barely ethical issue) and within no time at all, they are engaged. None of this seems kosher, and neither do the facts of the murder case. John Paul was killed by someone stringing him up to a tree and slitting his throat. But when the police arrived at the crime scene, John Paul was dead on his stomach in a field, and the unconscious Mattkins was beaten to pulp on top of him (he later went into a coma), and no knife was found. Two bodies, one dead and one left for dead. The knife showed up mysteriously at the cop shop with Mattkin’s prints on it. But how does anyone attest for the fact that Mattkins nearly lost his life in this caper? Did he turn on himself and knock himself senseless? Yet the cops and the D.A. stubbornly refuse to believe that a second person could be involved or that Mattkins is innocent. And the way Duvall explains the facts, especially in the courtroom scene, you’d think that the L.A.P.D. was filled with lunkheads who couldn’t put two clues together.
I won’t spoil the ending — if it is an ending at all. Many people will say it’s esoteric and in line with the New Age message of the diaries. I found it a sloppy way to end the plot and, frankly, no ending at all.
I really had hope for this book. Lately there have been a couple New Age books that gave it the old college try, The Celestine Prophecy and The Da Vinci Code. Both were dogs, although the Prophecy had some good ideas hidden within all that bad writing. Maybe it’s just New Age subject matter than dooms these books. Sadly, add Our Lady of Dreams to the list.