I always enjoy when a writer dissects a legend or myth, laying out the pieces like a watch and then reassembling them into something new. In Flying Dutch by Tom Holt, this is done to the legend of the Flying Dutchman.
Poor Cornelius Vanderdecker. While on a slow merchant haul some hundreds of years ago, he and his crew got into the possessions of an Alchemist they were transporting and guzzled his bottles. The good news – they became immortal. The bad news – they stink to high heaven. I mean, a real stink, one that sees the fire brigade arrive and turn their hoses on you. So Vanderdecker and his men are forced to sea, way out beyond the shipping lanes, to sulk in bored misery except for a three week gap once every seven years that the ill-effect fades and they can return to the world of men.
So it is an interesting take on the Opera by Wagner, one that plays amid dry English quips. The fact that these boobs are immortal shouldn’t have made the least bit of difference to the world, save for the fact that the Captain (in an unthinking moment) bought a life insurance policy all those centuries ago, one that the collective GNPs of the world rest on. And of course, the Alchemist himself is alive (and immortal) and seemingly not hampered by the curse. In fact, he’s pretty much a controlling influence on the world, one who releases technology when it’s appropriate to do so and directs world events via his harpsichord computer.
While I enjoyed the book (I enjoy most books) the story came just a little shy of it’s potential. I laughed at all the right places and nodded at the plot twists. But still, there is a bit about a run-away nuclear reactor, a disaster never fully explained, and one that Vanderdecker and his immortals slap-stickishly solve. Yes, it was a climax of sorts, but not quite good enough to carry the book.
It’s interesting to note that I bought and read this over twenty years ago when it first came out, and I vaguely remember feeling the same – amused but disappointed. So there you go. Still, if you find it in the library, you might like to give it a try. Maybe it was just me.