Monday, 13 September 2010

"The Elephant Tree" by R.D. Ronald

A new voice from first-time (I believe) novelist R.D. Ronald, which I found a very pleasant surprise.

It is set in the world of petty career criminals and routine drug-taking, but despite such a sordid background tells a good story very well. One of the problems I usually find with books like this is that, unlike the old-time writers, modern authors tend to compete with each other in populating their books with characters that are as unpleasant as possible. What they overlook, but Ronald does not, is that if you cannot find a single person within the book remotely sympathetic then you very quickly switch off; after all, if you do not care what happens to any of the protagonists, then what's the point?

Like Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn, The Elephant Tree does not fall into this trap. The characters, despite their actions and attitudes, retain enough ambivalence to keep our interest. It is difficult to say more without giving away any important aspects of the plot, but I found Angela, in particular, strongly sympathetic.

I have in the past twice sat on the judging committee of a well known award for first novels, and I have to say that I found this book vastly superior to much of the rubbish from leading commercial publishers which I was forced to endure. Thank the Lord for proper use of the English language, complete with grammar and proper punctuation. You would have thought that this would be a required basic skill of a novelist, but not any more. Ronald's prose is clean, sparse and a pleasure to read.

I look forward to further books from this writer. Perhaps Detective Fallon might justify his own series ...?

The Elephant Tree is published by Matador under ISBN 978-184876-456-9

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