I've been a bit unwell this week -- nothing serious, just one of those bugs that doesn't come to much but leaves you a bit feverish, queasy, and lacking in energy. So I've been sitting around, watching old movies, and reading the first book that came to hand, which happened to be The Conspiracy Club. It only came to hand because, in the writing group I've recently joined, we have been set the task of writing a crime story, and we all took a book home with us, so that we could analyse and comment on how the novel began.
Raging emotions, dead tissue -- that was the first sentence. Does it grab you? Obviously it sets out to. In fact it's setting up one of the central themes of the book. The protagonist, Jeremy Carrier, is a psychologist (raging emotions) who gets caught up in the investigation of a series of gruesome murders after he meets an old, retired pathologist (dead tissue). Smart, though a bit gimmicky if you ask me, but the novel held my attention all the way through and I finished it in less than a day.
I had a phase of reading Jonathan Kellerman some years ago. He's a psychologist himself and mostly writes about another psychologist, Alex Delaware, who seems to spend more time helping to solve crimes than he does seeing his patients. I haven't read one of his books for years, so it was interesting to return to him and to see why they had attracted me in the past. But something even more interesting happened while I was reading this one. I got about a third of the way through and found a scene that seemed rather familiar. The old pathologist invites Jeremy to dinner, and takes him to an unremarkable looking building in a rather run down part of the city. Inside, though, is a dining room of unimaginable grandeur, presided over by a tableful of ancient millionaires, where Jeremy partakes of a huge dinner of such ridiculous richness that, in my queasy state, I actually felt rather sick.
This rather wonderful set piece seemed to ring a distant bell with me -- could it have reminded me of something else? Another novel, or a film? No idea, so I read on -- and a little later, encountered another such moment. This time, a suspect proves to be having a clandestine relationship with a married colleague, and Jeremy sees the two of them meeting on a dingy street. The woman is wearing a white fake fur coat, which swings open as she gets into the car, revealing that she is naked underneath. That did it. No question, I had read this novel before. It was published in 2003, so it must have been in the last ten years. Yet apart from those two incidents, I recalled absolutely nothing about the plot, though when the identity of the villain was revealed, I realised I wasn't exactly astonished.
I'm not sure what this says about me, about novels, or about memory in general. Obviously those were powerful images, which must have made an impression on me the first time round, while the rest of the plot, though reasonably page-turning, was in the end pretty conventional. So all this was actually quite interesting in the light of the fact that, for the first time in my life, I'm now writing fiction myself, and crime fiction at that. I honestly don't think I have it in me to write a full length novel, but I've produced two short crime stories and am well on the way with a third. And I'm loving every minute. I shan't be trying to emulate Kellerman in any way whatsoever -- Agatha Christie is a likelier role model -- but a plot is a plot, and when you come down to it, there are only a limited number of motives and means and opportunities. Fun.