Book review: Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid

‘I’m not entirely sure,’ Charlie had prevaricated.

McDermid-Trick-of-the-DarkOh no, I thought. Surely not. The Val wouldn’t write like that. But the whole book is a peculiar departure from the usual tight storytelling and crisp arcs you might expect from McDermid. Although this book is copyright 2010 it’s almost as if it sat in a bottom drawer for the past 20 years. And the editor(s) didn’t get around to a close reading before sending to print.

Apart from the adverb issues (of which there are many), there are the cardboard characters and the enormous “tell, don’t show” passages that go on for page after page. Repeatedly.

So what we’ve got is the smarter-than-smart main protagonist and an emotional goddess partner, alongside the stunningly attractive heroine (sort of) and her plain-Jane but oh-so-sharp sister, plus the fiendishly wicked antagonist, and the … . Need I go on.

Set in and around Oxford, there’s an assumed intelligence to the characters and the plots that soon starts to fail. By about half way through the book I was tired of yet another impossibly smart tutor-friend-family-member. No, I’m not wanting to chop down the tall poppies, but the book reeks of “being clever” rather than telling a story.

Graedon-The-Word-ExchangeSidebar: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon also happened to arrive in my reading pile and, my gosh, what a barely-disguised MFA thesis that turned out to be. The excesses here, howe
ver, far outweigh those of Trick of the Dark. Under the pretext of “a story for our cyber age” The Word Exchange throws down passages like “”atavistic anxiety shivered through me” and “a dire jeremiad” and “the violent music of shattering glass” and “one thought kept tugging me back from the cliff of doubt” and many words that will require a thesaurus by your side, if you were so inclined. But, in the end, I decided no, this was all a writing exercise gone waaaaay overboard. And presumably some editor(s) somewhere were awed enough to send it to print.

So maybe my gripe about Trick of the Dark is not really about the author and the writing. Maybe it’s about the frequently and increasingly observed decline in editing ability, all the way from newspapers to magazines to movie scripts and, now, novels. (And no, this is not the place to comment on the writing standards on blogs or Facebook or online ‘news’ sites.)