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After the Novel

Fun activities BEFORE THE NOVEL is published

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book review

Multiple Spoiler Alert

Book review: Learning to Swim by Sara J Henry

Learning-to-Swim-150pxI want to spoil your enjoyment of this book. And not just this book. In fact, all the other self-serving authors and so-called ‘reviewers’ who pat each other on the back, all in the interests of promoting their own mediocre books.

There are some good paragraphs in Learning to Swim. Full stop. Henry is a columnist, editor and writing instructor, apparently. And there are occasional glimpses of the characters and their environs. But mostly there is bland story development, trivial life observations and an absolutely terrible ‘reveal’ at the end which is complete nonsense.

So what is my beef? A poor novel is hardly something to write home about. But …

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Almost Perfect Police Procedural

Book review: Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag

Tami-Hoag-Deeper-Than-The-Dead-254pxAt last a book with believable characters, skilful dialogue and just about perfect story arcs. And you can ignore the nearly-standard praise-blurbs. This is an exciting book in the way it contrasts 1985 police and FBI techniques with what we accept as the ‘norm’ now – post CSI etc.

The “lives of more women are at stake” blurb and the occasional mentions of same in the book are correct in a way, but the writing elsewhere is so good that we want to follow the stories and characters. And anyway, we know this type of book will have a ‘successful’ ending.

In fact, arriving at the conclusion is almost a non-event. The numerous red herrings are the one flaw with the book. The suspected-but-not-villains gradually fall by the wayside with monotonous and obvious regularity.

But I’m not going to end on a low note. Deeper Than the Dead is a clever, captivating and carefully crafted novel that ticks just about every box. Go read it now.

Police Procedural Pain

Book review: The Ice Child by Camilla Lackberg

Lackberg-The-Ice-ChildSo here are 41 characters introduced in the first 30 pages! And being Nordic there are a hell of a lot of them with surnames ending in …sson. And the point? Zero. Or should I say Noll.

Following that supernumerary error, we have crime thriller 101 errors followed by serial killer 101 errors and psychopathology 101 errors, ad nauseam.

For example: “Patrik wondered what an outsider would think about the banter that went on between them, even during the most harrowing investigations. But it was something they all needed. Sometimes the work left them so weighed down that they had to take a moment to relax, tease each other, and laugh. That was how they coped with all the sorrow, death and despair.”

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“Being Clever” rather than Telling a Story

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.

Continue reading ““Being Clever” rather than Telling a Story”

Mini cars, mini skirts, punk fashion and punk music

Book review: Stories We Could Tell by Tony Parsons

Parsons-Stories-We-Could-Tell.jpgThis is a wonderful #music #history #novel that was written before we had hashtags dominating our reading preferences. Nonetheless, there are dozens of potential hashtag references dotted through the story: #JohnLennon, #CarnabyStreet, #Mods, #Punks, #Riots, #MelodyMaker and on and on.

So what happens? Terry, Ray and Leon are all music journalists at various stages of development/disintegration, partly trying to grow up. But they’re in an age when we didn’t really have to grow up! Yes, it’s the 1970s and the fashion, music, non-fashion and non-music is tossed around the narrative with happy abandon. Let’s just say that Parsons appears to be a bit OCD about the 70s and the emergence of the attitudes and yoof-kulture of the time.

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A Tale of One City, or, Ian Rankin joins Mills & Boon

Book review: Doors Open by Ian Rankin

Doors Open by Ian RankinWell yes, I have loved the Rebus stories and the wonderful descriptions and depictions of Edinburgh as a character in the Ian Rankin novels. Although he is a curmudgeon of the highest order, there’s still huge humanity lurking beneath the Rebus exterior.

There’s depth of experience of life, there are the wrinkles of bad experiences and bad decisions, plus there are the friends and colleagues, loyal or not, who surround the Rebus plots with lightness or darkness — and all knit together into profoundly satisfying novels.

With Doors Open Rankin introduced a bunch of new characters and surrounded them with the Edinburgh personality with his usual acumen. The streets, buildings, climate and atmosphere are as alive as always. The characters, not so much — in fact hardly at all — and that was a disappointing surprise.

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A Tale of Two Cities

Book review: Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton

Book review: Canary by Duane Swierczynski

Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in the US of A, while Seattle is possibly the fifth most attractive. I’ll leave the second ranking up to the reader to decide.

In the two books under review, the cities are as much characters as the people, with both the urban areas lending obstructions and help in various ways to the inhabitants.

Past Crimes Glen Erik HamiltonPast Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton is the lesser of the two books, with too many of the characters not much more than a cliche – powerful grandfather, rugged henchmen, foolish minnows, etcetera. If the author had put as much time into developing the characters as he had into the often warm and loving descriptions of Philadelphia and its environs, the book would have soared. As it stands, it’s a rather obvious read of how the ‘hero’ will use his awesome talents to outwit the baddies, the weather, the ocean, asphyxia … you get the picture.

Canary Duane SwierczynskiCanary by Duane Swierczynski achieves so much more, even with a YA hero. Sidebar: are we allowed to say heroine any more? Or do heroines have to be called heros, just like actresses have to be called actors. Or so some would have us believe. And can a book that depends extensively on long passages from the YA’s journal really work?

Swierczynski pulls off every technique to perfection, giving us believable characters, believable plot and action, and very believable outcomes. Sure, there would be other stories very similar to Sarie’s which could end badly – and there a few in the book. But then there also stories where the Davids outwit the Goliaths, even if they occur one in a thousand. Canary is a one -in-a-thousand delight – about both the city and the YA heroine – so rush out and grab a slice of Swierczynski soon.

Top 10 Things Wrong with Girl in the Spider’s Web

Book review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

Yes, you are reading correctly. These are just the top 10 things wrong; I could go on for some time, otherwise, and that may not be fair to any brains hoping for a simple afternoon of catching up with the latest “international blockbuster”. Or whatever they’re saying this week.

girl in the spiders web book reviewSo let’s begin …

1. Personality Problems 

Blomkvist went into the kitchen to get some peace and quiet. He was exhausted and wanted to go home.

This is laughable. Blomkvist had just had sex with his lover, a married woman and therefore extra frisson, he had just heard from the most dangerously exciting woman in his life after many months of silence, he had just been shot at, and he was the first to discover a hugely important dead man alongside a highly traumatised autistic boy. Blomkvist would be wired on adrenaline, testosterone and a dozen other synaptic exciters. He would not be a tired wimp!

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The Trouble with So Much British Fiction

 

Book review: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Book review: When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson

One-Good-Turn-coverOnce upon a time you could rely on a majority of British fiction to supply thought-provoking and powerful novels, and the power could rest with the characters and/or the plotting and/or the wit. Ian Rankin, Ian McEwan and Val McDermid all spring to mind, so I thought Kate Atkinson – a neighbour of sorts – might provide similar enjoyment.

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Misogyny Masquerading as Literature

Book review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Devotion-of-Suspect-X-coverWell it was going fairly well, albeit rather tedious with the triangle of the ‘super intelligent men’ all trying to outdo and outsmart and out manoeuvre each other. And, once again, a whole lot of the author telling us who thought what and when and why.

That’s how the initial two-thirds of The Devotion of Suspect X reveals itself. Ho hum.

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A storyteller who’s not afraid of characters!

Book review: The Nature of the Beast by Frances Fyfield

Nature-of-the-Beast-coverAfter the rather plot-driven novels of late, heavy on intricate details and wooden characters, how refreshing to come upon an author who lets the characters shine. Frances Fyfield provides a wonderful cast in The Nature of the Beast, each one from minor to major as distinct and intriguing as the next.

The absence of drunk-or-otherwise male detective/cop in the central role lets the interactions between everyone else have almost equal value, and our sympathies are free to roam hither and yon as the stories unfold. For there are many stories here, each rich and detailed and, again, no matter whether minor or major.

It’s a mystery, and maybe a crime thriller, but it’s above all a smooth and crafted tale from a storyteller with a touch that most authors should envy.

Just another moderate-drinking male cop story

Book review: The Inspector and Silence by Hakan Nesser

hakan-nesser-the-inspector-and-silence-cover-200pxSo after my poor experience with Nesbo, I looked around for something with a bit of guts and novelty and, even, full-blown storytelling. So when I saw, “favourably compared with Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson”, how could I go wrong.

The Inspector and Silence is an Inspector Van Veerteren Mystery and VV spends a lot of time musing about cases, both current and past. And about women, both current and past. And a lot about when and how to have a cigarette, and/or a glass of wine, or a couple of beers, or which dish to choose on a menu, or whether to walk or row or drive, and which music could or should accompany any of the preceding activities.

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Just another drunk male cop story

Book review: The Bat by Jo Nesbo

jo-nesbo-the-bat-cover-200pxI’ve tried but Jo Nesbo is not for me. In fact The Bat is just about the worst ‘drunk male cop with issues’ story I think I’ve read.

Most drunk male cop stories have a girl/woman being abused/raped/tortured/murdered and then another one or two or five suffering similar fates. Meanwhile the drunk male cop goes on a bender or five. Sometime later the author adds a twist so the drunk male cop can find/arrest/kill the bad guy(s). And there’s been nothing in the preceding pages to suggest the drunk male cop has such abilities.

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The Crime is in the Writing, not the Story

Book review: P is for Peril by Sue Grafton

p-is-for-peril-by-sue-graftonThis is Grafton’s ongoing saga about private investigator Kinsey Millhone. It is terrible in many ways. Let’s itemise a few.

Spoilers? Not really, because there is no coherent plot.

One: the central mystery about a missing, highly respected doctor has no connection points. It’s all tell and no show. Having most characters say how marvellous he is/was achieves not much. So we don’t really care how that central story unfolds.

Continue reading “The Crime is in the Writing, not the Story”

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