When new books by much admired authors disappoint …

… 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 There’s Per Mörner, recently divorced and struggling to cope with a withdrawn son and a sickly daughter.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 …

23 responses

  1. I’m glad you mention names, because I kept thinking of Elizabeth George as I read your reviews. I haven’t read anything by either Theorin or Hill, but I’m familiar (as I’m sure all readers are) with the disappointment that comes with a book that doesn’t live up to its predecessors. With George, there was the slide into too much time spent on the personal lives of her investigators, and too much time debating social issues (not unlike what you write of Hill – in the last George novel I read the mystery felt secondary to questions like “what is family?” and debates over family services), as if she’d forgotten people read her books for the mystery. I hope these two authors recover their stride, too; at the least, I’ll visit their earlier books to find why you stuck with them through their more recent, mediocre, efforts.

    • I do like a mixture of crime story and human stories of those involved and affected, but the balance needs to be right. Elizabeth George used to do that very well, and Susan Hill even better. Those early books are worth looking out for, and I’m hoping for returns to form too.

  2. I fully agree about Janet Evanovich and Elizabeth George. I am waiting for a copy of Susan HIll’s new book, but with it and the new Laurie R. King, I’m not as anxious to read them as I’ve been in the past.

    • I am wondering if Susan Hill is losing interest in her crime writing. And though I’ve liked Laurie R King’s other books I’m holding off the Mary Russells until I’ve reread Holmes in order,

  3. I too loved Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler series, but I still haven’t read the 5th one, as my enthusiasm for them waned. It’s been a while since I read the other books so I’m a bit hazy on the details, but I thought family life and issues were getting too predominant. I don’t think a crime fiction book focussing on ageing, illness and how a life should end is one I want to read – in a non-fiction book that would be different! And all the dangling threads and the neat ending would annoy me. It sounds as though Hill is trying too hard – and maybe preoccupied with ageing problems??

    • I did think with the book before this that too much was happening to the Serailler family, but with this book their ongoing storylines felt rather rushed. Susan Hill wrote about the issues she raised well, but it was too much for me. Hopefully she’ll find a better balance next time around. Or possibly she’s tiring of crime fiction.

  4. The last book that I read by a much loved writer was The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I loved her first two books so was highly anticipating this one but I really couldn’t get into it and by the end I was left frustrated and wondering where Morton had gone wrong. I hope her next novel is more like the first two, it’s such a let down when your favourite writer goes astray.

    • This isn’t the first time I’ve read that about Kate Morton’s third book. I’m glad she tried something new, but hopefully she’ll find the magic again in future books.

  5. These books are too recent for me to know anything of them, but I think it is great that you have written this, and wanted to suggest that it is important for bloggers to at least mention when they don’t enjoy a book. No one individual’s opinion is definitive, but collectively the diversity of opinions helps to create a reliable picture of whether a book will have wide appeal or not. If bloggers self-censor, so that they only mention books they like, it biases the online record.

    I saw that Thomas from My Porch recently wrote a one word review of a book he didn’t enjoy, and I thought that was great, because that single word carries a lot of information, just by balancing out all the positive reviews.

    • I can only agree with you Karyn, and the question in my mind was really whether I should simply mention books I was disappointed in, or go into the reasons in more detail. I’ve enjoyed my green Penguins more than most contemporary crime writing this year, and I suspect my reading will move more in that direction in the future.

  6. I completely agree about crime fiction authors – I have noticed that about a few of my favourites recently too and been disappointed. Sometimes I think they have run out of steam and other times I think they are believing their own hype too much and writing sub-standard books that probably wouldn’t get published if it was their fisrt book.

    • Indeed – and I suspect that the pressure to write in a certain framework and add to a series regularly has an effect.

  7. I liked the first few Serraliers but think that he’s pretty boring, though his creator seems to like him. The best parts for me of these books are the other characters, eg the sister, but I’ve stopped reading the series now. I have to disagree with you about The Quarry, I thought it was as marvellous as the previous two. I especially liked the way that the author introduced two characters I didn’t like, and made me like them by the end. I also adore Gerolf, he’s one of my favourite fictional characters ever.

    I do agree with you on your three authors to give up on- enjoyed all three at first but now, no thanks. Karin Slaughter is another one, liked her first few but a combination of turgidly slow pace and ghastly torture descriptions has done it for me with her. I also got bored with Lindsay Davis, J D Robb’s Eve Dallas series – both lovely ideas and great at first, but rapidly became cautiously formulaic, predictable and very very dull.

    • A lot of people liked The Quarry much more than me. Part of the problem may just be that it wasn’t my sort of book, but while I appreciated many things done well I didn’t like the Vendala/diaries side of the plot. But Kudos to Theorin for giving us such different stories across three books.

      I gave up on Karin Slaughter a long time ago, and Lindsay Davis and J D Robb have never really appealed.

  8. I agree with you about both Elizabeth George and Susan Hill but I haven’t given up on wither of them yet. I have both of their new books to read and am keeping my fingers crossed. I loved The Quarry but it wasn’t Theorin’s best.

    • I haven’t given up on Elizabeth George or Susan Hill, though I am a few books behind with Elizabeth George, because I’m worried about how sh will portrat my native Cornwall, and because they’re so long. There were a lot of good things in The Quarry, but for me it didnlt work as a whole. It maybe didnlt help that the first two books set my expectations sky high. I’ll definitely read the next book.

  9. I loved the first two Johan Theorin books and have been looking forward to reading The Quarry, so I’m sorry to hear you didn’t think it was as good as the previous ones. I hope I’m not going to be disappointed by it too.

    • A lot of people (including Maxine!) have loved the Quarry, so I’d definitely give it the benefit of the doubt Helen.

  10. It is sad when a much loved author or series begins to disappoint and I too have given up on George, Cornwell etc. With an author who I’ve read for years I usually give them a couple of chances to re-engage me – as I did with Sara Paretsky for example who had a couple of books that disappointed me but whose last couple have been back on form – not everyone can write a 5-star read every time.

    I must admit though that for me Theorin’s THE QUARRY was a delight to read, in some ways I thought it his best though it is a little different from the previous two.

  11. I gave up on Cornwall a long time ago. I also tired of Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak books. Couldn’t finish the last one I started a few years ago, but was a faithful reader before that.
    I stopped reading Karin Slaughter after two books; the violence was just over the top and gory. And I read one of Tess Gerritson’s and gave up for the same reason; I couldn’t throw out the garbage for days after I read that one. I read one Eve Dallas and it was written at fifth-grade level, so I quit.
    I read Theorin’s second and it was ok, not my type of book. And your post has actually encouraged me to read Susan Hill’s earlier books. I don’t mind social issues (as long as a writer doesn’t just throw in research to show how much they know), and for many of us, aging parents — and our own aging is part of our daily lives. So that wouldn’t bother me.

  12. I liked this Susan Hill, as you know, but I can see your points. And now that I think of it, I was a little surprised by how Simon handled the resolution of the murder investigation. I’m noting down a lot of the other books you’re reading, though!

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