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 Basic Eight – Daniel Handler

September 5, 2008

The Basic EightMost people know Daniel Handler, if they know him at all, for being the genius behind the extraordinarily successful Lemony Snicket series of books.

It was with some interest, therefore, that I picked up The Basic Eight some 7 or 8 years ago to see if Handler could replicate his Lemony Snicket success for a significantly older audience.

The Basic Eight is told from the point of view of Flannery Culp and her friends ‘The Basic Eight’. Although the book only lasts for a period of a month, the things that happen to Culp and her friends highlight how tough life can be for teenagers.

If you’ve read the Lemony Snicket books and think they’re pretty dark, then you should try The Basic Eight. This is darkness on a night-time level.

As the story progresses, everyone’s behaviour and motives get more and more sinister and the life of a teenage girl is laid bare.

What’s more there’s an almighty twist at the end of the book that will have most people going, ‘huh?’ and scurrying back to the start and re-reading to spot the clues that are there throughout – a bit like The Sixth Sense, but probably a little bit more clever.

All in all, definitely worth a read and worth investigating. And I managed to get through the entire review without mentioning The Secret History, to which it owes a huge debt!

The Celeb Diaries – Mark Frith

August 27, 2008

The Celeb DiariesGreat excitement in our house at the end of last week as a review copy of Mark Frith’s Celeb Diaries plopped onto the doormat.

For those of you who don’t know who Mark Frith is, he edited Heat magazine pretty much from its launch until earlier this year, when he finally left.

As such, he presided over the magazine success story of the noughties and the rise of celebrity culture.

As we have both worked on celeb magazine in our house, we were interested to read Mark Frith’s revelations and both read the book in the space of 3 days.

So what’s it like? Well, actually a little disappointing. Very near the start of the book, Frith talks about how he was inspired to write the book after reading Piers Morgan’s The Insider. You can tell that he desperately wants The Celeb Diaries to be the magazine equivalent of Morgan’s romp through the decade.

The thing is, it’s like putting a Ferrari next to a Ford Focus. Piers Morgan is, by all accounts, a loud, brash, entertaining sort of cove and his book reflects his personality perfectly. It’s fast, snappy, compelling and a generally riveting read.

In comparison to Morgan’s Ferrari, Frith’s book is plodding and unremarkable. If The Insider reflects Morgan’s personality, then sadly so does The Celeb Diaries. It’s curiously unremarkable, not particularly revealing and basically just nice – probably quite like Mark Frith and an apt description of a Ford Focus.

OK, so perhaps I’m biassed because I know a little more than the average about the way magazines work, but I never really felt as if the book revealed that much.

Mark Frith is extremely fond of telling readers that he doesn’t drink or do anything particularly rock and roll, which is all very admirable but boy does it make for a boring read.

Yes, he gives us a little bit of insider knowledge about the likes of Geri Halliwell and Jade Goody, but it all feels a little low-rent. There’s nothing amazingly revelatory, despite the promise of sensation on the cover.

Morgan, on the other hand, is happy to regale us when he gets steaming drunk and makes himself look like a complete and utter arse and it makes for joyful reading.

Mark Frith is a remarkably successful editor and made Heat a tremendous success, but on the evidence of The Celeb Diaries, I’m not convinced he’ll be able to convert that into being a successful author.