By Raymond Khoury
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Expectations are a dangerous beast. As a consumer of entertainment, we enter each new “relationship” with a TV show, movie or book with a set of expectations, based on previous experience with a creator or a marketing campaign or word of mouth, or some combination. When expectations meet reality, this is a good thing. But when expectations and reality don’t quite seem to mesh, it leaves us as entertainment consumers feeling like we have been short-changed in some way.
For me, “The Devil’s Elixir” was a case of unmet expectations. “The Devil’s Elixir” is the third book in the series Khoury started in 2005 with “The Last Templar” and continued in 2010 with “The Templar Salvation.” Again, the story centers around FBI agent Sean Reilly and his girlfriend, archaeologist Tess Chaykin. The first two books were action/thrillers that combined a modern-day quest with a healthy dose of history, including several chapters interspersed through each book that were set in the past. This time around, Khoury seems to tease at following that same pattern but fails to follow through.
The book opens with three prologues – the first set in 18th century Mexico and the other two in the more recent past. From there, Khoury jumps right into the action. Former DEA agent Michelle Martinez is on the run in California after gunmen burst into her home and kill her boyfriend. She escapes with her 4-year-old son and calls the only person she thinks can help, her ex-boyfriend, Reilly. Reilly immediately jumps on a plane and flies across the country to help protect Michelle and her son from the killers who are still on her tail. Unfortunately, Reilly is unable to protect Michelle from the killers, leaving her son alone with Reilly. To help take care of the boy, Tess also flies across the country
In the course of his investigation, Reilly discovers that the killers are working for a drug lord in search of long-lost information about a drug that produces an experience so amazing that it would instantly change our society and make the drug lord the richest, most powerful man in the world. And for reasons Reilly and Tess must discover, the boy is the key.
The last part of the book contains an odd twist which makes sense in the context of the story, but still seems a little far-fetched and even more outside-the-box than what I would normally expect to find in this genre.
“The Devil’s Elixir” was more of a straight-forward action novel without the historical mystery and quest element that made the previous two books in the series fun. As I mentioned at the start, it’s quite possible that if this was my first exposure to a Raymond Khoury novel I may have loved it. But I really wasn’t expecting a simple action novel involving drug dealers and gangs when I started reading “The Devil’s Elixir.”
I also was a little put off by Khoury’s decision this time to write in the first person for Reilly. The previous two books had been written in the third person, and while I applaud Khoury for stretching his literary legs and trying something new, it just didn’t work for me. Action stories seem to work better in the third person without all the “I”s and “we”s.
I really wanted to like this book, since I had liked his previous works, and on some level, I did enjoy parts of the story. But as a whole, it just felt like a hodge-podge of ideas thrown together in a way that didn’t quite work.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I gave “The Devil’s Elixir” a 3.