Saturday, December 22, 2007

Another book review

A novel this time: Leo McNeir's Getaway with Murder. Now, I would not have bought this book under normal circumstances - well, not at full price, anyway. But I encountered the author on the Canals and Rivers stand at St Ives while I was having a general moan to someone (who turned out to be the editor, oops) about the magazine's abysmal proofreading standards. I have mentioned this before.

Anyhow, Mr McNeir was very sympathetic, and shared my distress at slapdashness in the application of good grammar (by the way, if you spot any grammatical solecisms in this or any other post, I shall not hesitate to excuse them on the grounds that it's only a blog. Although, apart from the odd non-sentence for effect, anything else is likely to be a slapdash error.)

So what could I do but buy one of his books? Lucky to get away (getaway?) with one, maybe. And it is sweetly dedicated to me in the author's rather nice handwriting.

Does this compromise me as an honest and fearless reviewer? I think maybe it does, a little. Truth to tell, as a novel it's not great. The characterisation is laboured and the characters quite shallowly drawn, and there's too much dialogue, which thus has to do too much exposition of the plot.

It's a whodunnit with various romantic subplots, with a boat on the Grand Union making a peripheral appearance; it's not really a boating or canal book. I have to say that the twist of who actually did dunnit is ingenious and convincing, and the plotting leading up to it is (on one reading at least) faultless; you don't feel that the author has cheated by pulling a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute; the clues are, with hindsight, all there, but not too obvious. This is a very important virtue in books of this type, and often lacking in the work of much better known writers.

But the clever plotting is all but thrown away by the complete lack of suspense that comes, I think, from the reader knowing too much of the thoughts and quotidian actions of too many of the characters. Ironically, through being given too much detail, about too many characters, the reader identifies with them less. The relationship becomes superficial and it is difficult to care very much about what happens to them. A philosopher friend of mine (the one with the odd shoes) once dismissed the entire oeuvre of Kant with the words 'Old Manny: unpickupable'. This book is not unpickupable, certainly, but neither is it by any means unputdownable.

I think, perhaps, though that I am a very picky reader of novels, and there is much to enjoy in Getaway with Murder. It is largely undemanding in terms of reader engagement, and thus makes a perfect (boating) holiday read, but it is well researched and accurate on the Civil War (as far as I could tell from my limited knowledge of the period - perhaps I will lend it to Political Philosophy Pete and see what he thinks). It's good value in terms of length, it raises some interesting issues, and the characters are sympathetic and consistent, if not fully engaging. The plot hangs together well and, as I said, there is an effective surprise ending.

So all in all, it doesn't sound so bad, does it? Even though I didn't much enjoy reading it, having read this unbiased and objective review, I probably wouldn't say no to picking up another of his, for passing a few empty hours.

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