The Short Version: The brilliant and possibly crazy composer Solomon Gold was murdered while, supposedly, finishing a perfect completion of Mozart’s Requiem. His daughter, Canada, never quite got over the tragedy – but when she ends up back home in Chicago on a seemingly innocuous consulting gig, the truth behind her father, her family, and her particular set of special skills with math and observation bubbles to the surface. And on her heels, a wolf: a mysterious organization known as The Thousand…
The Review: I’m exhausted. You know how some authors clearly have so much going on, in their imaginations, that it can be almost too much? That’s Kevin Guilfoile for you: The Thousand is one of those books that was clearly such fun to write and that expands almost beyond its bounds as you read it. It’s just that the sheer fact of so much stuff going into this book makes it sort of get away from Guilfoile as the streams of story all come together at the end, leaving you a little out-of-breath from all that’s going on. But we’ll get to that.
I’ve been holding onto this one for a little while, waiting for that recurring moment when you want to just dive into something a little silly, a little outrageous, and totally fun. This book has – and you can get all this from the back cover copy, by the way – a main character named Canada Gold and a secretive cult/cabal founded on the teachings of Pythagoras… so, yeah, this book fits that bill. And the book is, above all, crazy-fun in the early going. The brilliantly named characters (Canada + Solomon Gold, Reggie Vallentine, Bobby Kloska, Wayne Jennings, Bea Beaujon) are all a little stock around the edges but Guilfoile breathes life into them, making each of them not only fallible (as all humans are) but giving them their own desires that make perfect sense – and that remain that way, throughout the novel, even as things get utterly bonkers.
This provides a nice contrast with the aforementioned shadowy organization, the titular Thousand. It’s a brilliant idea (better than any of Dan Brown’s religion-based schlock, a fact which must be stated because The Thousand does fall into the category of historical-conspiracy-thriller long overshadowed by Brown’s entries into the same) to create a cult whose primary focus is mathematic perfection, whose use of numbers (including, delightfully, an unknown number that can immediately fry a computer and calculations that can crash planes) is their tool of world domination. And the idea of their stretching back through history, to Pythagoras himself (who, as Guilfoile notes in the acknowledgements, is far more interesting than our history books often allow) but also including the likes of Mozart, is actually eerily plausible – especially when you consider the progress we’ve made with computers and numbers controlling otherwise “uncontrollable” events, like weather or music. It’s a hop, skip, and pretty small jump from here to the questions of Square Wave, you know?
But their aims in this particular novel remain frustratingly unclear. Guilfoile continues to introduce facets of this globe-spanning mystery after the book is already saturated with them and each new thing (Burning Patrick’s tiles, the Sheik’s dabbling in the financial markets, and so on) could sustain an entire story individually – but the reader here is left doggedly trying to follow Canada’s story, even as it gets subsumed into something so large it’s almost impossible for a single mind to compass. The Requiem matters, obviously – the Thousand want it, want to find it. But the compounding of events, especially for a group who can effectively manipulate pretty much anything, feels at times overwrought. Couldn’t they just hack Canada’s neurostimulator, for example? And why do they go out of their way to frame Wayne? Not to mention the sometimes confusing difference between the two factions of The Thousand and what their ultimate aims were. As the plot built and rebounded on itself, I longed for something a little more simple and clear-cut.
This all comes to a head in the big denouement, set in a Chicago suffering from a massive blackout (caused by, you guessed it, The Thousand) and specifically in the house where Canada has been living. Guilfoile moves almost like a film editor between points of view, creating a whirling carousel of movement that seeks to suck the reader up… but that often leaves you a little disoriented. Who is moving through the space in what way is not necessarily clear all the time, I think largely because things are moving so fast. And the ultimate showdown is surprising and sudden, although the less said about that in terms of content, the better for your own discovery. Still, I was jarred by the sudden ending and the realization that the story really, at its core, existed to solve one simple tiny mystery – and that’s what made me wonder if Guilfoile’s imagination hadn’t gotten the better of him as he was coming up with all the amazing ways the story wanted to sprawl out.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. Guilfoile is a masterful writer, turning in clever phrases and snappy dialogue with more frequency than most can pull off. His ideas, too, are multitudinous – but while that starts as a boon for the novel, that inventiveness quickly becomes wearying as the world expands beyond the scope of the story. By the end, I was barely afloat in all of the various alliances and desires influenced by the evil-genius-mathematicians lurking in the shadows. But the characters, goofy and contrived as they could sometimes be, got me through, because they lived and breathed even through the contrivances. That and the knowledge that an imagination like Guilfoile’s is one that shouldn’t go to waste – so perhaps it’s okay to find enjoyment more in the early going than the ultimate end. It’s been a while (excepting A Drive into the Gap) and I hope whatever comes next strikes that balance a little more firmly without giving up the joy of creating a wild ride for the reader.