2018 Airing of Grievances: Least Favorite Books of the Year

24 Festive Tasks: Door 19 – Festivus, Task 1

I’ve been blessed with a pretty amazing reading year in which disappointments were few and far between — so it was fortunately not difficult at all to spot the small number of candidates for my “grievances” list when scrolling back through my shelves.  They are / were, in no particular order (except for no. 1):

Margaret Drabble: The Red Queen
Pretentious, artificial, historically incorrect and, most of all, monumentally self-involved.  If this is the type of book that Drabble’s sister A.S. Byatt criticizes under the byword “faction”, then I’m with Byatt all the way — and that statement is far from a given where Byatt’s own fiction is concerned.  Someday I’ll seek out the actual memoirs of the Crown Princess whose story inspired this poor excuse for a novel.  I doubt I’ll go anywhere near Drabble’s writing again anytime soon, however.

Original review HERE.

 

Stephen Brusatte: The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
Speaking of monumentally self-involved, this wasn’t much better than Drabble’s book in that particular department.  It does contain the actual bit of paleonthological information, but that bit is essentially hidden between tales of Steve the Great and his almost-as-great famous friends and acquaintances, as well as Brusatte’s pet theories — pun not intended — and a lot of generalization on subjects that don’t necessarily lend themselves to same.  (Also, Brusatte obviously loves T-Rex … and his obsession with the Rex’s “puny arms” has me wondering about the wider psychological implications of Brusatte’s fascination with the big bad  boys (and girls) of dino-dom.)

Original review HERE.

 

Jennifer Wright: Get Well Soon
Our third candidate under the “monumentally self-involved” header.  Leaving aside that the book’s subtitle (“History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them”) is a complete misnomer, this, too, is chiefly about the bright and sparky Ms. Wright and her opinions, frequently at best shallow research, and largely inappropriate oh-so-clever (NOT) quips, asides, and pop culture references.  At least two of the “plagues” mentioned in the book actually are not epidemics at all (which shows that indeterminate “medical horrors” is what Wright was truly after), and on the epidemics that do get mentioned, entire chapters of medical research and the world-renowned scientists chiefly responsible for that research don’t even get so much as a passing mention.  Virtually the book’s only saving grace was Wright’s stance against anti-vaxxers and similar superstitious nonsense — the sum total of which, however, would easily have fit into one of the magazine articles that Wright produces when she’s not pretending she is a science writer.

Original review HERE.

 

Ethel Lina White: The Lady Vanishes
One of the rare examples where I like the movie adaptation (by the one and only Alfred Hitchcock, no less) vastly better than the literary original.  “Woman in peril” stories aren’t my cup of tea to begin with, but leaving aside that I rather like Hitch’s spin on the conspiracy at the heart of the book, most of all, the two protagonists (Margaret Lockwood’s Iris and her “knight in shining armour”, portrayed by Michael Redgrave in the movie) come across as much more likeable and believable in the screen version — the guy in particular is nothing more than a pretentious prick in the book, for however much he’s supposed to be the Hero and Iris’s big savior and love interest.  All in all, Hitchcock elevated what seems to amount at best to B movie material on paper into one of his early masterpieces — no small feat on his part.

Original review HERE.

 

Francine Mathews: The Cutout
Not strictly a disappointment, as I was a bit skeptical going in anyway; however, it had an interesting premise and started well and thus got my hopes up to a certain extent — only to deflate them pretty thoroughly, alas, before it had really gotten going.  Totalitarian political machinations in a post-collapse-of-the-Wall Europe may have sounded interesting when the book was written in the early 2000s — and sound even more up-to-date these days, in fact — but it would have required a different writer to pull this off convincingly.  Matthews has no understanding of Germany, German society and politics, nor that of the Eastern European countries where her book is set (if she ever lived in Berlin or any of the book’s other main locations, she obviously had virtually zero interactions with anybody other than her American intelligence colleagues), and unfortunately, name-dropping half a street atlas’ worth of names of tourist sites and major traffic arteries is no replacement for a believable reproduction of local atmosphere. Similarly, not one of the characters is anything other than a two-dimensional cipher, and by the time the book reaches its end, it degenerates into the cheapest of cheap spy thriller clichés once and for all.

Original review HERE.

 

Honorable mentions:

(Or would that be “dishonorable mentions”?)

John Bude: The Lake District Murder
I already used this for the task of finding something redeeming in an otherwise disappointing book (International Day of Tolerance / Door 6, Task 1), so I won’t formally use it again in this particular context — besides, unlike the five above-mentioned books it didn’t actually make me angry … it just fell flat of what it could have been.

Original review HERE.

 

Joanne Fluke / Laura Levine / Leslie Meier: Candy Cane Murder
A huge disappointment only considering how popular these three ladies’ books are (particularly so, Fluke’s) — ultimately, I guess this was nothing more than a confirmation of the fact that cozy mysteries aren’t actually my kind of thing (with the sole exception of Donna Andrews’s Meg Langslow series).  Of the three entries, Meier’s was by far the weakest, but I neither cared particularly for Fluke’s nor ultimately for Levine’s, either — though in the sense of “amongst the blind, the one-eyed man is king”, Levine’s was the strongest entry in an overall weak threesome.

Original review HERE.

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1824367/24-festive-tasks-door-19-festivus-task-1-airing-of-grievances

John Bude: The Lake District Murder — Book Redemption

24 Festive Tasks: Door 6 – International Day for Tolerance, Task 1

Looking back through my “read” shelf, one of the books I liked least this year was John Bude’s Lake District Murder.  I felt the book missed a monumental opportunity in not exploiting the dramatic setting of the Lake District where the action takes place, and I was also rather annoyed by the fact that the investigation into the murder discovered at the beginning of the book is sidetracked not once but twice — admittedly into ultimately related crimes, but by God, the two investigative strains should have been much more intertwined.

That said, any reader adverse to last-minute surprise revelations and preferring to remain on an equal footing with the book’s detectives will have absolutely no reason to complain here: Bude (like Freeman Wills Crofts) subscribed to the notion of “playing fair with the reader,” so any and all clues uncovered by the police are laid out the moment they are uncovered (and in excrutiating detail).  For me, the resulting conclusions were altogether a bit too obvious … but if this is your jam — and it has to be admitted that “playing fair with the reader” was a maxim to which all members of the Detection Club subscribed (even though they implemented it in vastly differing ways) — then maybe you should give Bude’s writing a try.

Original review HERE.

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1810010/24-festive-tasks-door-6-international-day-for-tolerance-task-1-book-redemption

John Bude: The Lake District Murder

A Wasted Opportunity


John Bude, Martin Edwards writes in The History of Classic Crime in 100 Books, deliberately set his first three books in picturesque real life locations — which then also appeared in the books’ respective titles — to set a counterpoint to the Golden Age mystery trope of concocting fictional country house settings at more or less remote distances from London.  If that truly was Bude’s intention, then in The Lake District Murder, his second mystery and the first one featuring Inspector / Superintendent Meredith, he egregiously wasted a magnificent opportunity.  The Lake District is indisputably one of England’s most striking regions, with its stark, towering fells (= hills / mountains), huge shimmering lakes, deep isolated valleys and ragged coastline.  Yet, although if Edwards is to be believed Bude was deeply familiar with the area — and deliberately even chose its less touristy part as his setting — none of this, nor any of the region’s other characteristics, is invoked by way of setting the scene.  Even about nearby Carlisle, seat of the district police headquarters, we only learn that it’s an “ancient walled city”; never mind the town’s manifold charms, which you’d have to be blind to miss even as the most casual of visitors. — Obviously, Bude wasn’t writing a tourist brochure, but damnit, setting and atmosphere matter in fiction, and there are plenty of novels that skillfully exploit the austere beauty of the Lake District (and of its less touristy parts, at that) in setting their scene.

Bude’s novels are in the tradition created by Freeman Wills Crofts in his Inspector French mysteries; i.e., they painstakingly “play fair” with the reader, which may result on occasion — and certainly does here — in an excessively detailed description of the steps undertaken by the protagonist investigator, to the point of getting bogged down with schedules, time frames, and the technical detail of machinery that, at least as far as I am concerned, tends to go straight over my head (in the present instance, even though I had some previous knowledge of the workings of at least part of the machinery involved).  Add to this a murder investigation that, not even 1/4 of the way into the book, gets seriously derailed by an investigation into a related criminal conspiracy (related, hence ultimately relevant also for the resolution of the murder, however completely sidelining the murder in terms of focus for the majority of the book) — which ancillary investigation, in turn, likewise takes a huge detour before finally moving onto the right track — as well as investigative methods that must make the fingernails of any modern reader with even the most marginal familiarity with real police work and criminal law roll up all the way to their cuticles in pain, and you’ve got … well, let’s just say a book that would have hugely benefitted from an unafraid editor’s honest pruning but which, as it is, only ever impinged on my reading brain whenever the results of the past 100 or so pages’ (or 3 hours’) worth of painstaking investigation were summed up for another character’s benefit.

I like Bude’s understated sense of humor, and I like Meredith — or rather, I liked him until a comment (albeit from the authorial, not the character’s perspective: not that that makes it any better if course) towards the very end of this book playing into the cliché according to which it is in woman’s nature to respond to any profound shock by fainting (for perspective: we’re talking about a very young housemaid who opens the door in the middle of the night to find a score of middle-aged policemen — emphasis: men; emphasis: in uniform; emphasis: armed — on the doorstep, who in turn, with nary a “by your leave”, proceed to enter her employer’s, and hence also her home, intent on arresting said employer, who thereupon instantly shoots himself).  So anyway, I will probably give Bude’s writing another chance at some point.  But it’s likely not going to be anytime soon, and the more books I read of the variety that define “playing fair by the reader” as holding back the protagonist sleuth’s investigation so as to make it patently easy for the reader to follow along every step of the way, the more I am convinced that this is not “my” type of mystery.  There may be situations, even in the most ingeniously crafted mysteries, where such a thing may be necessary (think: Dorothy L. Sayers’s Nine Tailors and Five Red Herrings), but by and large … give me Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells”, Sherlock Holmes’s “observation of trifles”, and a rousing surprise finale any day of the week.

I read this for chapter / square 6 of the Detection Club Bingo (“Serpents in Eden”).


In the Lake District:
On the road from Ambleside to Coniston (left) / Castlerigg Stone Circle (right)

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1656064/a-wasted-opportunity