Nobody reads British writer Nicholas Mosley—author of 23 books of fiction and nonfiction—and this is utterly mystifying. Yes, his dialogue can sound like a philosophy debate; his novels can sport intimidating titles like his latest, Inventing God, or his best known, Hopeful Monsters; and his references range from Voltaire to Catastrophe Theory. But the erudite Mosley is nicely balanced by a Mosley who revels in people and knotty plotlines that, in summary form, sound like flap copy from a Le Carré thriller.
What smart reader could want for more? Erudition plus a tense religious/political backdrop—the Middle East, just pre-9-11—and a missing professor with a secret that may advance biological warfare to its hideous genocidal conclusion make Inventing God a learned, engrossing read. Mosley wields hypnotic syntax (after a line of dialogue, he inserts “thoughts”—as in “Andros thought—That girl has made the telephone call? Then—Maurice would have liked this story!”) and walks the line between depressing reality and a seductive dream state in which every surface conceals a trap. A professor returning home from a class falls into a hole, landing beside a pile of bones that may or may not be the remains of a missing colleague; an Israeli girl explores a tunnel near the Temple Mount and becomes a sudden captive in the ruins. Aboveground, traps of a different sort are baited and set for the conscience and the intellect. Is there a gene for hatred? Can right and wrong best be determined by watching rather than intellectualizing? The ability to generate questions, Mosley suggests, is the only way to reinvent a god who has become an excuse to smite, rather than understand, the so-called enemy.