Given how whole-heartedly I’ve enjoyed Noah Hawley’s work in the past, I was expecting a similar reaction to his recently reprinted debut novel A Conspiracy of Tall Men (1998). It does, after all, feature a protagonist named Linus Owen, an academic who specializes in conspiracy theories a la Community‘s notorious Professor Professorson. It’s certainly a worthwhile read, but I found it a little more rambly and distancing compared to the recent, thoroughly engrossing Before the Fall.
A Conspiracy of Tall Men begins when Linus, a modest academic relatively complacent in the pursuit of his niche discipline, receives devastating news. His wife, Claudia, has died in a plane crash; even worse, she was on her way to Brazil when she died, possibly with another man. Was Claudia having an affair? What’s the mystery behind her death? Linus has dedicated his life to studying conspiracies; now he’s convinced his wife is entangled in one. But is his imagination running away from him, or is there something to his professional suspicions? With the assistance of his slightly neurotic fellow buffs Edward and Roy, Linus begins an investigation to find out.
The bones of an entertaining conspiracy thriller lurk somewhere within A Conspiracy of Tall Men, but it’s concealed by a propensity for diverting tangents, humor, and observation, which frequently obscure the plot’s cause-and-effect connections. This makes for an entertaining read, if a less-than-embracing one, more notable as a formative record of Hawley’s creative vision than as a wholly satisfying book. One can see in the scattered exploits of Linus, Roy, and Edward a hint of the sensibility that informs Hawley’s later TV work, including a Lynchian tendency toward quirky, mysterious encounters and incidents. As such, I enjoyed its amusing, cryptic intrigues even as I never quite fell in love with it.