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Onyx reviews: Indigo by Graham Joyce

Ask an artist how many colors make up the visible spectrum and the answer will be seven. A scientist, however, will say that there are only six. The missing color is indigo, a mythical hue that supposedly exists between blue and violet.

The quest to see indigo is the driving force behind Graham Joyce's newest novel, billed as a literary thriller. Joyce has won the British Fantasy Award three times and his new American publishers seem to be trying to help him break into a larger market here by downplaying the fantastic elements in this novel. Still, Indigo dances precariously on the edge of multiple genres. There are too many unexplainable occurrences for it to be considered a "straight" novel. Not that that is a bad thing. Joyce is a skilled stylist who deserves a wider audience.

Jack Chambers is appointed the executor of his father Tim's estate, which comes as a surprise since he has not spoken to the wealthy eccentric in nearly two decades. The terms of the will are specific but difficult. He must dispose of properties in both Chicago and Rome, track down an heir, and get his father's manuscript published. If Jack is to see any compensation as executor he must follow all of the will's clauses explicitly.

The manuscript, entitled Invisibility: A Manual of Light, is a seven-step program designed to train readers to see the mystical color indigo. Once they have achieved this goal, they will be able to become invisible to others. Excerpts from Invisibility are scattered throughout the text of Indigo, permitting the reader to see first-hand the increasingly bizarre steps in Tim Chambers' philosophy. Chambers' book reads at times like a personal letter from father to son, a passing on of the torch.

A former British bobby currently working as a process server in England, Jack has problems of his own. He quit his previous job because he has "bobby-eye," the disturbing ability to see the corruption and lies in everyone he meets. Lately, though, he has begun cutting corners in his new profession, which has its own very exacting set of regulations. He escapes to Chicago to carry out the execution of his father's will.

His life is further complicated when he meets his half-sister, Louise, a single mother with a two-year-old son. He had pointedly ignored her on their first meeting when she was eleven. She has since blossomed into a beautiful woman and Jack cannot ignore his growing fondness for her, a forbidden attraction that his half-sister appears to reciprocate. They travel together to Rome as a family to locate the missing heir, Natalie Shearer.

Jack learns that an American painter disappeared on the same day that an Italian sculptor committed suicide. These events took place on a pagan holiday on which untrained individuals can see indigo, according to Invisibility. Both artists were members of his father's inner circle.

In Rome, Jack becomes intimately involved with Natalie Shearer, a mysterious and dangerous beauty, one of his father's former lovers and a follower of the cult of indigo. Jack disappears after he starts following the rituals in Invisibility while simultaneously trying to juggle his relationships with Natalie and Louise.

Indigo is a taut, sophisticated thriller, with an adeptly executed original premise. Both Chicago and Rome breathe like characters. The novel suffers, perhaps, by trying to be less of a fantasy than Joyce's previous books. Untold mysteries lurk beneath the skin of each page without becoming fully realized. In spite of this restraint, Joyce paints realistic, flawed and sophisticated characters in a richly imagined landscape.

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