Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Let’s Kill Uncle – Rohan O’Grady

August 9, 2010

Let's Kill UncleI picked up this book on a whim – I mean, face it, Let’s Kill Uncle is a great title and the red cover is pretty striking.

Then I discovered it was written in 1963 and, I confess, I almost put it back. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy novels written 50 years ago, but it crossed my mind that it could be very dated.

Then I saw a quote from Donna Tartt, who wrote one of my favourite books ever – deliciously dark The Secret History. That sealed it for me.

The basic plot of Let’s Kill Uncle is about a young boy and heir to a $10m fortune, Barnaby Gaunt, who ends up on an isolated Canadian island one summer, and decides to murder his uncle, with the help of new friend Christie, before his uncle can get to him first.

I needn’t have worried about it being dated. Yes, it’s set not long after the end of WW2, but that adds to the atmosphere and the plot – the local Mountie, Albert Coulter is a former war-hero – because with the development of the technology, it’s inconceivable that the island’s isolation would work in 2010.

In fact, the clever part of Let’s Kill Uncle is the way that the island itself is like a step back in time. There’s no-one else young living on the island and most of the inhabitants have spent their entire life there, lending the whole book a kind of dream-like existence.

Add to the mix, a philosophizing one-eared cougar, an assorted cast of quirky locals who all have their own sad tale to tell, the almost comic-book villain in the shape of the eponymous ‘Uncle’, plus the beautifully sketched 10-year-olds Barnaby and Christie, and you have a book that keeps you gripped from the outset.

This is no page-turner in the mould of Lee Child or Patricia Cornwell. There are no tales of derring-do, grisly murders to unearth, or staccato, machine-gun-fire prose. Instead, Let’s Kill Uncle relies on good old-fashioned story-telling, with well-written characters, a beautiful turn of phrase and a plot that guarantees you want to keep reading.

It’s astonishing that Rohan O’Grady is not better-known. A quick search leads me to discover that it is the pen-name for a Canadian novelist called June Skinner, who was ‘rediscovered’ in 2009, following a journalist’s attempts to discover what became of the author of Let’s Kill Uncle.

Although they are worlds apart, if you love The Secret History, then Let’s Kill Uncle should appeal to you.

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Alex Barclay – Blood Runs Cold

February 25, 2009

Alex Barclay - Blood Runs ColdAccording to the blurb, Alex Barclay is the rising star in the world of crime fiction. With this being her third novel, you’d have thought that she might have got into her stride by now and be displaying the talent that her agent and publishers saw in her.

Sadly, with Blood Runs Cold, this talent is yet to show itself.

This is a poorly plotted, lumpenly-written novel with about as much verve, sparkle and edge as a damp towel. In a genre filled with the likes of Janet Evanovich, Sara Paretsky, Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell, Alex Barclay needs to do a serious amount of work to do more than make up the numbers.

The protagonist in this novel is totally unsympathetic and the dialogue is at times laughable, often impossible to follow. As a whole, it didn’t feel genuine or believeable.

Another negative was the glut of supporting characters, none of whom felt real or sharply-enough drawn to hold the reader’s attention.

I’m sure somewhere in the book is a semblance of a good plot straining to get out, but it’s mired in clunkiness of the highest order.

Alex Barclay may be a talent, but on the evidence of this, it’s not clear if it will enough to sustain a career.

Try instead: Deja Dead, From Potter’s Field

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.