Archive for July, 2008

The Book Of The Dead – Patricia Cornwell

July 26, 2008

The Book Of The Dead - Patricia CornwellWhy on earth am I reviewing an author so successful, you might ask? I mean Patricia Cornwell has written close on 20-odd books and is a multi-million bestselling author…

I must confess I read quite a few of the Kay Scarpetta novels in the early days. Books like Post Mortem, From Potters Field and The Body Farm were passable without being Booker Prize-winning material.

The Book Of The Dead was sent into our office, so I picked it up on a whim. Having not read one from this ‘series’ for a few years, I wondered how Cornwell’s heroine and associated characters were shaping up.

Well, not very well, as it happens. This novel was one of the most turgid I’ve read in a long time. The plot was almost non-existent and what there was hung together so flimsily that it became more and more difficult to work out what was happening as the book continued.

In fact, the plot seemed almost secondary, just so we could discover what was happening to Scarpetta and her sidekicks, Benton (her fella), Lucy (her niece) and Marino (her long-time cop friend).

There was clearly an attempt here to turn the book into more of a psychological thriller, but that negates exactly what the Scarpetta books were so good at in the first place – pace, tension and intrigue. There’s none of that here.

For me, one of the hallmarks of a great series of books is that no matter how far down the line you are, a reader should be able to pick one up and understand everything without the need for excessive backplot and not feel as if they’ve missed everything. The Book Of The Dead does none of this.

A new reader to the Scarpetta series would feel totally out of their depth and, in my opinion, feel no compunction to check out any of the other books – a major failing.

I wonder if Cornwell is tiring of Scarpetta. As a character she is no longer endearing and I certainly didn’t care what happened to her. It’s not as if Cornwell needs to keep writing – she’s a multi-millionare now – perhaps she should kill Scarpetta off and do us all a big favour.

The Salesman – Joseph O’Connor

July 11, 2008

Joseph O'Connor - The Salesman

Joseph O'Connor - The Salesman

Joseph O’Connor became really famous in this country when the Richard & Judy Book Club championed his book Star Of The Sea and it shot to the top of the bestseller charts.

Anyone who read that and thought they should check out some of his other writings would be surprised by the likes of Inishowen and my personal favourite The Salesman.

O’Connor is, in case you’re interested, the brother of singer Sinead – that doesn’t add anything to the review, just a useless piece of trivia.

Anyway, the book. Well, it’s set in Dublin in 1994 and is about Billy Sweeney, a satellite salesman (which dates it, I guess, but that’s kinda of irrelevant).

It starts of fairly normally. Billy has a daughter in hospital and, wracked by guilt, he goes off in search of pursuit of her attacker.

Sounds like a pretty straightforward tale of revenge, but there are more twists and turns than in many a proper detective thriller. And the thing is, this isn’t a genre book, it’s a story about humanity, people and how we tick.

There’s a psychological element to the book and also a darkly comic side. It proves how life can change just like that and that you should never wish too hard for what you want.

O’Connor’s writing is clever, taut but also poetic. He manages to conjure up despair, humour and beauty in the same paragraph – no mean feat. The Salesman is a truly emotional rollercoaster but one that keeps you laughing and wincing at the same time.

If you read Star Of The Sea and hated it, then try this because you won’t believe it’s by the same author.

If you read Star Of The Sea and loved it, then give this a go just to see how varied great authors can be.

Random Acts of Heroic Love – Danny Scheinmann

July 10, 2008

Random Acts of Heroic Love

Random Acts of Heroic Love

From the cover, this struck me as a slightly more female-friendly story, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s written entirely from a male perspective.

Random Acts of Heroic Love is divided into two concurrent love stories, one set in the modern era, the other in WW1. It’s implicit from the start that the two are linked – otherwise why write the book in the first place – and as the novel unfolds the link becomes clearer and clearer.

So far so good. but, and it’s a big but, the novel just doesn’t have enough tension. It’s written nicely enough, but using the word ‘nice’ indicates that it’s not brilliant. And the ‘link’ I referred to earlier is also unbelievably obvious.

Apparently Scheinmann has been working on this book for years. Well, unfortunately it’s not as great as it should be if he’s been toiling away for that long. The two characters are possibly just a bit too limp and lifeless to be truly engaging and don’t carry enough conviction to make you want to care about them.

Clearly, some people like it. After all, it’s a Richard & Judy Summer Read, so it can’t be totally devoid of merit. And, in fact, I’m not suggesting it’s terrible, it’s just not outstanding. It’s readable, but ultimately a little disappointing.

Better luck next time, Mr Scheinmann – assuming there is one!