Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Friday, July 31, 2015

Summer Reading: Death of Liar by M.C. Beaton

So, let's deal with some housekeeping first: I have given upon The Story of Stuff by by Annie Leonard.

I like Leonard, I support the goals of her organization, and I think she has an important message. I just don't think she wrote a very good book. Or more precisely: I think she wrote the absolute best introduction to one of the dullest books I have ever read. Her intro is personal, witty, and engaging; the book reads like an extended Mental Floss listicle of things that can kill us. It was very disappointing, given my high hopes. To honor Leonard's good work, here's the twenty-minute movie that started it all. It's worth a watch:

To break the reading logjam that had me stuck in Leonard's prose, I went to the library yesterday and borrowed about seven books. I've finished the first already (and two GNs that will be reviewed on Thark), so here we go.

About thirty years ago I read a couple of books starring Hamish Macbeth, a constable in remote and rural Northwest Scotland. In his initial outing, Hamish was lazy and canny, and solved a cozy mystery set in a fishing school almost in spite of himself. In the second book I read (which Wikipedia tells me was the third in the series), Hamish was a little more action-oriented and solved a creepy murder that involved the corpse being picked over by lobsters in a commercial lobster farm. I never ran across any other books in the series, so when I saw this one, I was surprised to find that they have been coming out like clockwork every year - Death of a Liar is the 31st adventure.

Since I enjoyed those first two so many years ago, I picked this one up and looked forward to reading it, all the more so considering considering my especial interest in serial narrative.

Hoo, boy.

How can I put this? This books reads like it was cobbled together by an inexperienced relative from a dead author's notes. There's no pacing, the plot is incomprehensible to the point where the mystery doesn't even seem to matter anymore, and vignettes and subplots arise and pass like mayflies with no discernible impact on the story. What's worse, the prose sounds more like the summary of someone describing a story they had read than it does actual written narrative - the word perfunctory looms large as I assess it. The adage "show, don't tell" apparently does not apply here - supporting characters, their qualities and attributes, their relationship to and history with Hamish, and even some of their conversations, are all presented with the light touch of the nutritional advice label on food packaging. I certainly got caught up on the 28 books I missed!

And yet, I finished it. Hamish, roaming around the beautiful landscape with his dog and cat along on investigations, using all sorts of Scots dialect and interacting with all sorts of people, was still enough of a draw that I always wanted to find out what would happen next - not to the mystery, but to him.

But I don't think I'll be seeking out any more volumes.

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