Gabriel Knight is a New Orleans bookseller and horror novelist. He wants to make it big as an author, but everything he's written so far has flopped. He has high hopes for his next novel, which he plans to base on the recent killings the media has dubbed the Voodoo Murders. First, though, he wants to figure out as much as possible about what's really going on. The police think all the voodoo stuff is fake, a smokescreen meant to hide mob activity, but Gabriel's not so sure. He finds his investigation mixing strangely and uncomfortably with the horrifying dreams he keeps having, in which a woman is burned at the stake.
Okay, I'll start this off with a few questions: Have you ever played the Gabriel Knight computer games, and do you have fond memories of them? Are you a fan of point-and-click adventure games? If you answered “yes” to any of this but don't particularly want to play/replay Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, then this book might be for you. Everyone else is probably better off moving on to something else.
I played the second and third Gabriel Knight games around the time they first came out (1995 and 1999), but I never got around to playing the first one, the one on which this book is based. Even so, I found this to be an enormously nostalgia-filled read. The dialogue, the characters, the way Gabriel went about his investigation, all of it felt familiar. It was wonderful and fun. And also terrifically bad.
Although I haven't played the original game, I suspect the novel is very closely based on it, right down to its depiction of the puzzles players would have had to solve. This is great for nostalgia but otherwise not good, because adventure game logic and book logic are not the same thing.
In an adventure game, a player's inventory can hold all manner of things for however long they're needed. Players pick up all kinds of random junk, even if they don't know how or why it might be useful, because anything that can be picked up is guaranteed to eventually be useful. And just because players think a particular inventory item should be able to accomplish a task doesn't mean that it actually will. For example, a screwdriver is never going to be able to pry open a cheap locked box if the game designers decided that players need to find and use a key instead.
While book logic isn't necessarily exactly like real world logic, it's closer to real world logic than game logic, which is why some of the things Gabriel did and some of the ways characters reacted to him were absolutely bizarre. For example, at one point he decided he wanted to steal Detective Mosely's badge. I would never have guessed that the best and most foolproof way for him to do this would be for him to complain about the heat, wait for Mosely to feel sympathetically hot and take off his jacket, and then ask for a cup of coffee (who asks for coffee immediately after complaining about the heat?), prompting Mosely to leave the office and his jacket, with his badge still in it, unattended. It didn't help that readers weren't told what his goal was until after he'd achieved it.
There were so many weird things. Like the mask with the $100 price tag that cost exactly $100 (no sales tax!). Or the journals from hundreds of years ago that were inexplicably written in English, even though the people writing them were German. Jensen should probably have left that one alone, but instead she drew attention to its strangeness by trying to explain it. The best she could come up with was that the journal writers must have somehow sensed that Gabriel would one day read their entries and therefore wrote them in English, to which I can only say “huh?”
Even back when I was playing the games, I enjoyed them more for their stories and puzzles than for their characters. The same held true for this novelization. Although Gabriel could have been worse, any time he was in a scene with a woman I cringed a little. Nearly every single younger woman was described in terms of how physically appealing she was to Gabriel. In one of my least favorite scenes, Gabriel essentially harassed Malia Gedde, a woman he was interested in, at her mother's grave, telling her not to belittle his love for her. He'd spoken to her maybe twice by that point. Not long after that, the two of them had sex. The only reason I could accept any of that was because it seemed fairly obvious that Gabriel's feelings were being magically manipulated by Malia.
The way Grace was handled could have been better. She was a better logical thinker than Gabriel, and yet he never sat down and bounced ideas off her or even told her much about what was really going on. Mostly, she was there to provide Gabriel with someone he needed to save near the end of the book, and to do Gabriel's research, even when that "research" amounted to no more than checking the phone book for a particular name. I gritted my teeth when she first appeared in the book and Gabriel described her by basically calling her "exotic" without ever actually using that word. For example:
"And beyond all that, Grace was Japanese or, rather, Japanese-American. Although she spoke and acted as American as a native (well, she was a native), there were subtle things about her that Gabriel found incomprehensible. Her loyalty to her parents, for example. She called them daily and they still seemed to run her life to an extent that Gabriel could not comprehend any grown person putting up with. Hell, his gran had never been that bad, and he'd still moved out when he was sixteen." (7)
I'm not sure why some of that info was included, considering that Grace was never shown calling her parents. In fact, at the end of the book she made a decision, all on her own and without even mentioning her parents, that could have an enormous effect on her future. Meanwhile, Gabriel spent a portion of the book at his grandmother's house.
Jensen's writing could have been better. "Relinquished" was one of her top favorite words, used even when other word choices might have been more appropriate, and Gabriel frequently described attractive women using the word "creamy" (there were "creamy" legs and even a bizarre instance of a "creamy" face). There was also a lot of infodumping, although that was probably at least partly an artifact of the original game: lots of instances of Gabriel reading about drumming, voodoo lore, or other subjects in books, or receiving a long lecture from another character.
This was one of those strange reads that I both thought was terrible and thoroughly enjoyed. Here's hoping Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within manages to be similarly appealing. I expect the nostalgia aspect to be even stronger in that one, since I've actually played the game.
If I could, I'd give this book multiple star ratings: 4 stars for entertainment value, 4.5 stars for nostalgia, 1 star for issues with the writing, either 2.5 or 3 stars for the story. Instead, I've settled on 3 stars. It was a fun read and I kind of loved it even when I hated it, but I wouldn't recommend it to most people.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)