… it is hard to know what to write. Or indeed whether to write.
I’d hate to deter anyone from reading the works of an author whose other work I have appreciated … and maybe sometimes I come to a book at the wrong time, or with the wrong expectations …
ButI think I have to set out my feelings, remembering that there was enough in these books for me to read them to the end.
Two recent crime novels.
The first is The Quarry by Johan Theorin. It’s the third book in a loosely linked quartet of crime novels, one for each season, set on the Swedish island of Öland. I was very impressed by the first two books in the series, and so I didn’t hesitate to pick this one up.
As spring begins retired Gerlof Davidsson has decides to leave the senior home where he has been living and return to his own cottage. It is in a quiet spot, but he has a few neighbours. There’s Per Mörner, recently divorced and struggling to cope with a withdrawn son and a sickly daughter. And there’s Vendela Larsson, who has persuaded her husband, Max, to buy a luxury home close to her childhood home on the island. The plot will link them all.
Per is estranged from his father, Gerry, a man with a very dubious past, but he takes him in after he suffers a stroke and then his house is destroyed by fire. A man was killed in the fire. And Gerry is agitated. Per begins to investigate.
Gerlof offers him counsel, but he is distracted. Because he is reading his late wife’s diaries, and what he learns will have consequences for Per and for Vendela.
The plot is cleverly constructed, the characterisation is excellent, and the sense of place is wonderful.
But it felt contrived, particularly the way in which Vendela was drawn into the story. No one element was wrong, but the elements didn’t work together.
A disappointment, but the quality of the first two books, and the things that did work in this one, are more than enough to make sure I will pick up the final book in the quartet when it arrives.
The second is The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill, the sixth book in her Simon Serrailler detective series.
I have loved this series for so many reasons. The quality of the writing. The perfectly drawn, complex characters and relationships. The broad view of crime and all those it touches. Consideration of serious issues. And the willingness to break the conventions of crime fiction, leaving loose ends, carrying plot strands between books.
All of that is still present. The body of a girl missing for many years and another, unidentified body, are found. The lives of the Serailler family continue to evolve. A woman considers ending her life when she is diagnosed with a progressive, debilitating disease. And another woman struggles to cope with her partner’s slide into dementia. The plot links them all.
But the plot is unbalanced. The crime story felt secondary to the consideration of ageing, illness and how a life should end. Important issues but, for me, having to consider motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease all in one piece of crime fiction was too much.
The ending of the crime story was much too neat, and much too rushed, ongoing storylines were advanced too little, and far too many threads were left hanging.
I can but hope that there will be another book to answer my questions, and that book will get the balance right.
I’ll mention no names, but crime fiction series can go wrong. Some run out of ideas and become predictable. Some paint themselves into corners. Some just go over the top …
Actually I will mention names: Janet Evanovich, Elizabeth George, Patricia Cornwell …
But I think, I hope, these two have only wobbled.
Time will tell …