My life has been incredibly busy and complicated in the past couple of weeks -- I've been moving house though admittedly only into an extension next door -- and I simply haven't had the energy or focus for what I'd call serious reading. In that situation I turn to crime, though luckily only of the literary variety. I've been gobbling up various examples of the genre and some of course have been better than others. Simon Tolkein was the first I tried and I think this was because I had read something about this novel on somebody's blog. I was intrigued because Simon is the grandson of the rather better known JRR and I wondered if he was just riding on this grandfather's coat-tails. But in fact this is not a bad novel, though my appreciation of it was very much diminished by the fact that I listened to it as an audio books, and it was read by the author himself. What a terrible idea that was! I simply cannot imagine why the publishers allowed him to do this. His voice was unutterably dreary, kept fading out at the end of sentences, and there was no attempt at any kind of characterisation. A great shame as the story is quite a good one -- this is a legal thriller so most of it takes place in the courtroom, at the trial of a beautiful young woman who is accused of killing her husband's first wife. It's quite well handled and keeps you in suspense for a long time, unsure whether her accuser, the son of said wife, is unbalanced or vindictive. But oh dear, Audible, if you are reading this, please don't let your authors read their own books.
Next up was a novel by Val McDermid, the name of which escapes me. It was a free paperback I picked up somewhere or other and I didn't like it much. I've never really enjoyed VMcD's novels so I don't know why I ever bother with them.
Then I went on to Nicci French, another free paperback, and I must say I found this one absolutely brilliant. It's about a single mother who is also a doctor, or more specifically an expert in post-traumatic stress. She's moved out to the country to head a unit which will specialise in treating people suffering from this condition, and while she's waiting to start her job, she's asked to take in a young woman who has been traumatised by the violent deaths of both her parents. Fiona, or Finn, is almost silent at first, but as the weeks go by she opens up and becomes a much loved member of the household. But things are not all they seem and there are many shocks and surprises along the way.
Coming straight after the McDermid, I was particularly struck by the difference between these two writers (well, three writers really, I suppose, as Nicci French, as everyone knows, is actually two people). Yes, McDermid tells a good story, but rather a hard-boiled sort of one with lots of violence and nasty sexual stuff, which is not my cup of tea at all. It was a huge relief to move onto the Nicci French, where the writing was so much more subtle and intelligent and the characters so much more multi-faceted. This was a novel that actually made you think, whereas the McDermid went in one ear (or eye) and out the other.
Now I'm onto Elly Griffiths, a newish writer whose central character, Ruth Galloway, is a forensic archaelologist. Set in the wilds of Norfolk, this novel features various peculiar personages such as modern-day Druids and Norwegian would-be Vikings as well as a rather appealing policeman from Blackpool called Harry Nelson. I must say I've rather taken to Ruth, who is intelligent, sceptical and overweight. The archaeology is quite interesting, and does actually inform the plot rather than being tacked on for effect. There are three more of these, I think, so I expect I shall be reading more of them.
I did also manage to read a Beryl Bainbridge but I've got to keep quiet about that until later this month. It was brilliant.