January, a miserable month for us living in the northern hemisphere, was redeemed by some excellent crime fiction reading. I read 10 books for crimepieces and perhaps because there was a stong Scandinavian presence, the common theme seemed to be murders set to the backdrop of freezing winters. However, the highlight of my month was set in a much warmer climate, the Australian Desert. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland combined sparky writing with a great sense of place and one of the best female detectives around.
The books I read in January were:
1. Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Morwood. (completed as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge).
2. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart
3. The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner
4. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George
5. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland
6. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (also reviewed for crimesquad.com)
7. The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth
8. The Final Murder by Anne Holt
9. 1222 by Anne Holt
10. Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft
Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for January 2012.
Elizabeth George is a writer whose fortunes, I think, have waxed and waned. I’ve been reading her for years, pretty much since she published her first book. Although many of her novels have a London setting I think that she has been particularly good at embracing other English settings such as Cornwall and Derbyshire. She has also created an interesting dynamic not only in the professional workings of DCI Thomas Lynley and DS Barbara Havers but also in the interweaving relationships between Lynley, his wife Helen and their friends Simon and Deborah St James. However, perhaps under pressure from her publisher or possibly to inject new characters into her books, Helen was brutally killed in With No One as Witness. Her next book was the slightly odd What Came Before her Shot Her not really a crime novel at all although it did accurately reflect the condition of London’s sink estates. Since then, her books in my opinion have been a shadow of their former selves. They haven’t been terrible, just mediocre and I personally think that she has some further great books in her.
So I succumbed to the temptation to read this, even though I have some enticing books to read waiting in my bookshelves. Believing the Lie starts promisingly by sending Lynley up to Cumbria to investigate the accidental death of a nephew of a prominent industrialist who wants convincing that there was nothing more sinister to the mishap. This was a good move because for me one of the most irritating features of the last book was the new relationship that Lynley has embarked on with his boss, Isabelle. Even more promisingly he takes with him Simon and Deborah St James, two characters that I particularly like and who have only had minor roles in more recent books. However, the subsequent investigation into the suspicious death of Ian Cresswell was disjointed and slightly surreal. There is an ongoing theme in George’s books about the inability of Simon and Deborah to have children. This was once more woven into the main narrative but seemed removed from Lynley’s own investigations. I can see that ‘children’ was the central theme of the book, focusing on the relationships between parents and their offspring and the deep-seated fractures that can tear families apart. But in my opinion there was just too much going on and there didn’t seem to be much actual crime in the book.
The redeeming feature, for me, was Barbara Havers in London carrying out her own investigations. She is, as always an appealing character and her relationship with her neighbour Azhar, again focusing on the issue of children was at least very moving. This wasn’t a terrible book. It kept me going over some severe turbulence as I was flying across the Alps yesterday. But I think Elizabeth George needs to strip back her writing and get back to basics.