The Sign feels like it was dropped in from an alternate universe where John McCain won the 2008 election. While the issues it’s concerned with (the overabundance of religion in American politics, global warming, uh, shooting guys in the chest) haven’t gone away, the book seems to emanate from a time when everyone was worried about the United States becoming a theocracy, and our vague sense of freewheeling apocalypse had nothing to do with the economic engines of global capitalism shutting down. Raymond Khoury tries to salvage all of this late in his thriller novel by giving one character a long monologue about how electing Obama hasn’t changed anything, man, but it comes too late to really sink in.
Khoury has a considerable talent for writing fast-moving, pseudo-mystical bullshit, so The Sign’s relative failure in this regard is odd. His book The Last Templar, while not exactly good, was at least fun to read because of its sheer faith in its weird convictions. The Sign, centered on the sudden appearance of a seemingly heavenly object in Earth’s skies, is too lugubrious by half. Khoury writes nicely efficient run-and-gun action scenes, but he’s more interested in imparting a message about the grave danger the world finds itself in with this one, and that means anytime the book builds any momentum, it halts so another character can talk at length about how everything’s going to hell.
The central problem with The Sign is that the otherworldly sphere is supposed to be deeply, strangely moving to all who see it, but Khoury’s prose is strictly utilitarian. This serves him well when he’s laying out exactly how hero Matt Sherwood takes out a house full of goons to rescue a kidnapped girl (one of the few sequences in the book that lifts off the page), but it doesn’t capture the sphere’s ethereal quality. Just when the prose needs to sing, it descends into a long series of strained reaction shots.
It’s nice that Khoury is stretching his wings and all, but The Sign probably needed just a few more edits, both to modernize it and to give it an internal consistency it’s sorely lacking. Khoury’s passion for raising global-warming awareness is palpable, but he’s also the sort of author who spends paragraphs lovingly describing the raw power of a gas-guzzling SUV.