There are times when I finish a book and go in search of my next read, either at the library or a bookstore, and I get this sinking feeling that I will never find anything worth reading ever again.

Thankfully, now is not one of those times. Whenever I finally finish Michael Crichton’s State Of Fear, I have not one but two on deck. The first will be Curse of the Narrows by Laura M Mac Donald, a new book examining the Halifax disaster in 1917 when the munitions ship Mont Blanc bound for the war in Europe exploded in Halifax harbor after a collision with another vessel.

On December 6, 1917, two war ships, a Belgian relief ship, Imo, and a French ship carrying munitions, the Mont Blanc, fatally collided in Halifax Harbor. Incorrect signaling and misunderstanding between the two ships led the Imo to strike the side of the Mont Blanc. The Mont Blanc, which was carrying 400,000 pounds of TNT, 300 rounds of ammunitions, along with other explosive ingredients, caught fire and drifted closer into the city of Halifax. Before the fire could be put out, the Mont Blanc exploded creating the “biggest man-made explosion before the nuclear age”. The explosion killed over 2,000 people and injured 9,000. The explosion caused $28 million in damage – 326 acres of the north-end of Halifax’s waterfront had been destroyed.

Oddly enough I only learned of this tragedy because of its use in an Anita Shreve book Susan just finished reading. Awhile ago at Susan’s suggestion I read one of Shreve’s novel, Sea Glass, and while there’s no denying the author’s talent, I just didn’t find her too compelling and I’ve kidded Susan about “Anita Zzzzhreve” on occasion. Guess I should just shut up about that seeing as without Shreve I wouldn’t have found out about it.
Like me, Susan had never heard of the Halifax explosion and I became intrigued by the scope of its destruction. A web search divulged Mac Donald’s book on the subject and thankfully the library had a copy of it, which I checked it out on one of my most recent visits only to leave it dutifully on my desk while I trudge through Crichton’s latest concoction.

I’m sorry, but State of Fear just isn’t working for me. Like most of his novels it’s highly readable and Crichton as usual does thorough research on the topic driving the book, but it seems he failed to devote enough time to coming up with characters I give a crap about or a decent plot. Instead he gives us Peter Evans, a mostly clueless 30-something lawyer who has somehow managed to survive a plunge down an Antarctic crevasse, a flash flood in the southwestern United States and now the bite of some sort of highly venomous octopus in his L.A. apartment and the only thing I as the reader have to show for it is a bunch of lectures and graphs and footnotes about how global warming isn’t really happening.

Fascinating it isn’t. Disappointing it is. But I’m two-thirds through its 600 pages and I can’t give up now. But I have been cheating. No, not with Mac Donald’s Halifax narrative, but with a book of Susan’s by Marc Ross titled Dangerous Beauty, which is subtitled “Life and Death in Africa: True Stories From A Safari Guide.”

Susan had recommended this long ago but I refrained from reading it prior to our Africa trip primarily because the book includes Ross’ first-person explanation of the 1999 trek into Uganda’s Impenetrable Forest to view mountain gorillas there when they were attacked by Rwandan rebels and eight people were murdered. The deaths made headlines around the world and I’d read the stories, but I left the book alone not want anything discouraging me from our plans to go to Rwanda.

Since I pulled it off its shelf a couple days ago, I’ve been tempted to toss Crichton’s book into the recycle bin and just dive in, but other than a taste here and a few pages there, I’m set on finishing what I started and then holding Ross off in favor of Mac Donald because there’s a due date on her book.

We’ll see if that works out.