Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mamba Wamba and the Voodoo Hoodoo

I dreamt of blood upon the shore, of eyes that spoke of sin. 
The lake was smooth and deep and black, as was her scented skin...
"Sins of the Fathers"

It's been a while since I last held a normal, English-language paperback in my hands! The last few years, I've mostly been reading Japanese pockets. And as for the couple of English books I did read, most have them have been those oversized softcover POD books that all slightly differ in dimensions...

Gabriel Knight is a not very succesful horror writer and owner of the similarly not very succesful St. George's Book Shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Police detective (and childhood friend) Mosely has been giving Gabriel some inside information on a series of horrible murders that have been happening in New Orleans, under the impression that Gabriel will base his next book on him and the case. Not a lot of evidence is found at each of the crime scenes, but they are definitely all connected, as theses scenes are all colored red by the blood of the victim and other animals, strange patterns are left in flour and all of the victims are cut open and missing organs. The gruesome nature have resulted in the nomer Voodoo murders, even though the police believes the dress-up is all smoke and mirrors to confuse the investigation. As Gabriel does more background research for his book, he discovers that these murders all do show signs of real voodoo, as a name for old African religions, and that the case might be much bigger than he and Mosely had initially thought and that he and his family was be destined to solve this case in Jane Jensen's Sins of the Fathers (1997).

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is a horror-mystery adventure game originally released in 1993 for the PC by Sierra On-Line. The mature storyline and characters, the horror themes and star-filled voice cast (Tim Curry and Mark Hamill among others) made it a great success and led to two sequels. A novelization of the game was released in 1997, written by Jane Jensen (designer/writer of the series). I recently played the 20th Anniversary version of the game and quite enjoyed it, so when I happened to come across the book, I didn't hesitate to pick it up. The second game, The Beast Within, is also available as a novel by the way.

The Gabriel Knight series is a horror mystery series with supernatural elements, which are also present in Sins of the Fathers. Gabriel for example is revealed to be the last in a family line of Schattenjägers (Shadow Hunters), who similarly to Hoch's Simon Ark have a born instinct to oppose the forces of evil. The latter half of each of the Gabriel Knight adventures feature such supernatural elements quite heavily, but the stories always start with 'normal' detective work, like how Sins of the Fathers starts out with an interesting search for what lies behind the Voodoo murders. I think you can compare it to the Indiana Jones films, which do feature mystical elements, but actual supernatural performances usually stay in the background until the finale.

Jane Jensen has a knack for mixing real history with her fiction, and it works great in Sins of the Fathers: the theme of Voodoo, both authentic ancient African religions as well as the New Orleans kind, is mixed expertly with her own arc on Gabriel and the murders. I don't think I have seen the Voodoo theme often in mystery novels (at least, not so prominently) and I thought that Sins of the Fathers was both amusing and educational. I always love it when history is mixed with mystery novels, but I usually only see European and Japanese history in these novels, so this book wins a lot of originality points.

I have read some spin-off novels from game franchises before and also reviewed them on this blog (Professor Layton and the Wandering Castle, Danganronpa/ZERO and Tantei Jinguuji Saburou: Kagayakashii Mirai for example). But Sins of the Fathers is the first time I have read a novelization of a game, and the thing I had feared most was present in this book: it is too faithful to the source material. You could basically use this book as a walkthrough for the game, because I think practically all of the puzzles that appear in the game, also appear in the novel. Some of them work quite well (the infamous tomb code puzzle is a good example of a detective-like puzzle), but other puzzles that are overly obvious designed for games also make an appearance. A very early puzzle in the game for example, where Gabriel needs to distract a policeman with a mime so he can use the police motorbike radio sorta makes sense in the game (actually, I didn't really like it in the game either), but just sounds ridiculous in a novel. In adventure games grammar, it might be normal to pick up random items for later use, but in a novel, it just doesn't make sense to Gabriel to pick up item X for no reason, just so 60 pages later he could use it in a situation he could never have foreseen. I am all about making detective novels more like intellectual games, but this is just (not always sound) game-logic being forced into a novel. It really hurts the story, because a significant amount of the novel is taken up by these puzzles.

All in all I did enjoy Sins of the Fathers, that is, the overall story and atmosphere. As a supernatural horror-mystery, it's simply a good piece of fiction. But it bears its game-heritage too proudly and a lot of elements that might make sense for a game, are also present in this book, which makes the book appear to be nothing more than a glorified game walkthrough at times. I aree that novelizations shouldn't stray too far away from the source material, but still, not everything that works for a game works for a book and vice versa.


  1. kindaichi R chapter 1 feels a lot like the original first chapter of Kindaichi was not Kindaichi R a retcon?

    1. No, it's a continuation of all the series before it (and most obviously, the 20th Anniversary series). Though I do remember the chapter does start off very similar to the very first chapter of the series. I guess it was to give new readers a (very) short introduction to the character, especially as the manga series carried the same title as the recent TV series (I vaguely remember that the first episode of the R TV series actually used the opening scene from the R manga, even though the R TV series hasn't adapted anything of the R manga yet).

    2. So is Kindaichi still in the same class as in the original chapter?

    3. Yep. Pretty common in these episodic series. I mean, I'm pretty sure it's been Christmas several times in the series now.