Thursday, 30 September 2010

"Dead of Winter" by Rennie Airth

I have just completed this, the last volume of the John Madden trilogy - though let us hope that Airth changes his mind and writes some more.

I can remember being bowled over by the first book, River of Darkness, which is the one I would recommend for starters, although each story is self-contained. Despite the first book having been published as long ago as 1999, and having won acclaim and prizes in other countries, Airth remains a neglected author in this country - why?

Perhaps because his books, despite being extremely well written, are somehow viewed differently in England because they are policiers. We have had this debate before on this blog, with reference to things like SF and historical fiction.

Perhaps because we seem to be awash with crime fiction, as the shelves of any public library reveal. While this is a testament to the enduring appeal of the genre, it must be admitted that much of it is indifferently written at best, and some downright appalling.

More likely, though, because in an increasingly illiterate and ill-read society we are now completely in thrall to television, and thus to what has or has not been adapted for TV, and there seems little rhyme or reason to this. Neither Airth nor Fowler, who are both very good writers, have been taken up, whereas Dexter and Wingfield, neither of whom would pretend to any great literary quality, have.

Don't get me wrong. I admire both the Morse and Frost TV series but what those viewers who have not also read the books may not realise is (1) that in neither case is the character portrayed on TV the same as that depicted in the books and (2) the books themselves, if one comes to them cold, are unremarkable, whereas both Airth and Fowler's books stay with you long after you read them, even for someone who reads as many books as I do (about 250 a year).

This was particularly so in the case of River of Darkness, which was written partly from the point of view of a deeply disturbed individual, and was gripping, chilling and horrific yet still managed to engage the reader and draw them in. This was in no small measure due to the excellent characterisation, particularly of the central character, Madden who returns from army service in the First World War to resume his job as a detective. Others have used this device, but none so sympathetically as Airth.

So, Airth's relative obscurity in his adopted country (he was born in South Africa) must remain a mystery, but there is no further excuse for not being "in the know". Go out and read these books. You will not be disappointed.

Friday, 24 September 2010

BT Broadband

I am currently without internet access and have no real idea when it will be restored. I will answer all emails when I am able to.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

"Bryant and May Off The Rails" by Christopher Fowler

I see from Christopher Fowler's blog that this new release might be the last in the series unless either (1) sales pick up dramatically as a result of word-of-mouth promotion or (2) they get made into a TV series. Well, I can't do anything about (2) but I certainly can about (1).

This is a very, very good series of books indeed - far better than most detective stories I have read (and I have read an awful lot). It would be a tragedy if no more of these quirky, affectionate stories were to be forthcoming. So please get out there and buy this wonderful book.

Here is the Amazon link

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