The Europa Conspiracy: Chapter 1, Part 1: In Media Fall

As those of you who have been with me through the previous two books in the series know, the books always begin with Michael Murphy in the middle of some amazing adventure.

In the first book, he was falling down a hole in an abandoned warehouse.

In the second, he was rescuing puppies and nearly drowning in a cave.

In this one, he is suspended on wires over a gorge.

In a rather shocking departure from the mini-chapters of the Underground Zealot series, LaHaye and Phillips have here opted for a super-long expository opening chapter, cutting back and forth (and back and forth AND BACK AND FORTH) between Murphy at the gorge and Murphy some time earlier, following the clues that would eventually lead to the gorge.

Done right, this would be a cool way to drag out the suspense.  But the “clues” are so boring and stupid, and Murphy is such a bad detective, and so self-righteous and annoying, that it’s just a chore.

So I’ll give it to you straight: first, Methuselah sends Murphy a poem.  I am going to reproduce it in its entirety below, because I hate it so very much:

A gorgeous sight,
A Royal delight.
Travel not at night
But in the daylight.
He’s looking for you to come!

Beyond the gates
He there awaits.
He’s looking for you to come!

For he to you, he cannot go.
For him his time is slow.
He’s looking for you to come!

His name has been caught.
It is Tyler Scott.
He’s looking for you to come.

Use your brain, don’t be a blunder-head.
The Spanish name it for the color red.
He’s looking for you to come.

So Professor Mike and Shari begin to pick apart the poem:

“Well, he does mention ‘He’s waiting for you to come’ five different times.  That must be significant.” [said Shari]

“It must be a key thought.” [said Murphy]


Shari immediately discerns that Colorado is the “Spanish name is for the color red” part, even though you would think many things are named for the color red.

Then Murphy immediately susses out that the rest of the poem is referring to the Cañon City Penitentiary, by which I assume he means one of several prisons in the Cañon City area.  Now, he properly knows this because he visited with his parents when he was a kid and they “spent almost a month touring the state.”

Hot damn.  What did his parents do for a living that they could both take a month off?  No wonder Murphy takes his work responsibilities so lightly.

But Murphy goes on from there.  And thus begins the most annoying aspect of this book (yes, even more annoying that bad poetry): Bob Phillips’ reliance on Wikipedia to write his book for him.

At too many times in the book to count (not that it’ll stop me from trying!) a character will just STOP and expound on a subject to a hapless listener for minutes on end.

So even though it has absolutely nothing to do with anything, Murphy goes on and ON about the prison, talking about historical gas chambers and names of wardens and famous prisoners.  Then he finally gets to a point:

“Near Cañon City is the Royal Gorge…get it?  A gorgeous sight, a Royal delight.”

And the point is quickly obscured as Murphy rattles off exact statistics about bridge heights.  Because being smart only means you have instant recall of obscure numbers.

So all this poem is for is to show Murphy that there is a prisoner at the Cañon City prison named Tyler Scott.  And ever so coincidentally, it’s Spring Break, so Murphy can fly out to meet him!

Like he wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t a break.


At the prison, Murphy visits with Tyler Scott, a young man in prison for holding up a convenience store.  Even his parents have stopped coming to see him due to their disappointment.  And despite the fact that Methuselah visited him several MONTHS ago, Tyler proves to have remarkable recall, even using the same words Murphy has always used to describe Meth:

“His voice was different.  He sort of laughed and cackled when he talked.  Kind of spooky, if you ask me.”

Thanks, Tyler.  He also remembers in exact detail the instructions he was to give Murphy to get him to the Royal Gorge, which Murphy already knew from the poem anyway.  Which brings up a point: why the hell did Meth go to all this trouble to get Murphy to the Gorge?  In Babylon, Meth gave Murphy directions over the phone.  In Ararat, Meth sent Murphy a map.  In this case, Murphy has to dissect a poem just to get to the go-between guy who’s going to give him directions to the final destination.  Meth has involved a middleman, when he never has before.

Now, you guys and I all know that this is just a time-wasting technique on LaHaye & Phillips’ part.  But Murphy doesn’t know that.  You might, in fact, assume that young Tyler Scott has some significance.  Why, out of all the people in the state of Colorado, did Meth choose him to deliver a message to Murphy?  Is Tyler important to Meth?  His son, nephew, some kind of associate?

Um, no.  None of the above.  This was all totally random.

But hey, it filled up a few pages!

Plus, it gives Murphy the chance to spread the faith: he leaves Tyler Scott money and a Bible, to “help you create a new life for yourself.”

Plus plus, it gives him an opportunity to think superior thoughts:

What a great time I had [in Colorado] with my dad.  If Tyler Scott had had a caring dad, would his life be any different?

Okay, I know Tyler’s dad hasn’t visited and is disappointed in him, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a caring parent before.  Maybe this armed robbery was the last in a long string of huge criminal acts and assorted screw-ups on the part of his son, and Dad is finally resorting to Tough Love.

Speaking of the man, where is Murphy’s dad these days?  Remember, he didn’t show up at Laura’s funeral in Babylon Rising, yet Murphy has also never alluded to his dad being dead.  Yeah, real caring guy, I guess.

Murphy also doesn’t spare a thought for his mom, who was also along for the Colorado jaunt.  I guess wimmins don’t matter, at least when it comes to turning out non-criminal children.

Next time, the Gorgeous George Gorge!


Posted on January 10, 2016, in The Europa Conspiracy. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. cutting back and forth (and back and forth AND BACK AND FORTH) between Murphy at the gorge and Murphy some time earlier

    Steven Brust did this through the whole of one of his Vlad Taltos novels, Dragon, starting each chapter with some snippet of Vlad on his way to (or in the midst of) a climactic confrontation with the bad guy of the book, only to shortly cut back to the ongoing narrative of the days leading up to that confrontation. But then again, Brust is a good author who can balance exposition and pacing way better than anyone LaHaye keeps suckering into doing his work.

    That said, I think it still leaves Dragon one of Brust’s weaker books – it’s an interesting narrative device conceptually, cutting back and forth between “what’s happening now” and “how we got here,” but in practice I feel like it kills the momentum for at least one of those scenes getting cut away from. So if it’s hard for an actually decent author to do well, then it should probably be left alone by the Bad RTC Fiction crowd.

  2. ……It’s like the Dunning-Kruger of poetry.

  3. “Well, he does mention ‘He’s waiting for you to come’ five different times. That must be significant.” [said Shari]
    “It must be a key thought.” [said Murphy]

    “Though it could, perhaps, have been better phrased.” [said the resident twelve-year-old]

  4. “Like he wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t a break.”

    Word up on that homey.

    Did he do the stupid wikipedia thing in the last book? If not, why did he start now? Did LaHaye give him a tighter deadline or a flimsier outline to work with?

  5. I picture Methuselah thinking “eh, if I just tell him where to go again he might realise he’s basically my meat puppet, let’s dress it up in some bad poetry”.

    • Or maybe Methuselah’s realized that Murphy will basically do whatever he tells him to, no questions asked, so he’s trying to see just how long he can make his little monkey dance before giving him his treat.

      • “A pink tutu you must wear.
        Walk to Time’s Square, that is where.
        Do a pirouette once you are there
        so that your manhood may be bare.”

        • Laughed out loud at your poem, but I think the rhymes are too good to fit into the book.

        • “But what could it mean? Time’s Square is obviously the Old Town Square in Prague, with the astronomical clock, but… Meta-isis, why are you laughing?”

  6. I was going to say that I have read worse poetry. Then I realize that no, I haven’t.

    This book is one more piece of proof that works by Big Names are less inclined to get the rigorous editing that they need. Even a mediocre editor could have made improvements.

    • inquisitiveraven

      Not even by Vogons?

    • That’s the worst unintentionally bad* poem I’ve read in a while.

      * Jury’s still out on whether the cringeworthy rhymes in a bygone ad campaign for an optician were intentionally or unintentionally bad. They’re still the worst this far. Even Vogon poetry has a certain nonsensical charm.

  7. Sounds like Phillips or LaHaye heard about the clues in the National Treasure movies or various Dan Brown books and thought, “I can do better than that!” Apparently not.

  8. Wow, I had forgotten the poetry bit. I must have been blocking it out. I just tried reading a few lines aloud and ouch, my mouth is rebelling against me for uttering it. It is so awkward and limp; nothing flows smoothly here.

    I once heard that rhyming poetry like this is really considered a cliché now and should be avoided if you want to write poetry.

  9. inquisitiveraven

    Actually, my dad was a medical school professor and research pathologist, my mom was an MD working part time at a clinic run by the Teamster’s Union of all organizations, and we took a month’s vacation every summer. It probably helped that we took off July, while almost everyone else took off August. Heck, we even visited Colorado one year, although we spent most of our time in Aspen.

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