Corrupting Dr. Nice

Posted by : atcampbell | On : September 15, 1998

Corrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel

Nine people attended the discussion of John Kessel’s Corrupting Dr. Nice. This is a time travel novel featuring elements of screwball comedy, romance, and social commentary. The plot involves a wealthy scientist who travels back in time to get a dinosaur specimen, and the complications that arise when he encounters a father-and-daughter con artist team in ancient Jerusalem on his way back to the 21st century.

We all found the book readable and slickly written, and none of us had any trouble finishing it. We thought the story was clever and funny. Kessel’s concept of time travel was original and well-developed. The characters were mostly stock roles from screwball comedies, and we could imagine Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn starring in a movie version. The story features variations on many stock situations, with a courtroom scene near the end in which famous orators from the past are arguing for each side of a legal case. The sports fans in our group enjoyed the clever scene where Pontius Pilate attends a professional baseball game.

While the book offers a lot to like and has no serious problems, we didn’t feel it had much of an edge to its social commentary. This was particularly surprising to those who’d read Kessel’s biting earlier novel, Good News From Outer Space. Still, Corrupting Dr. Nice is a lot of fun, and we’d recommend it to anyone looking for a pleasant diversion.

— A. T. Campbell, III