Monday, 20 November 2017

Watching The Detectives 2

Well, I've been reading them, crime fiction novels that is. I have read James Lee Burke, Henning Mankell, Agatha Christie, Edward Marston, James Patterson, Steig Larsson, Fred Vargas, Raymond Chandler, Susan Hill, Robert B. Parker, Malcolm Pryce, Minette Walters, Martina Cole, Robert Crais and L.C. Tyler. Maybe not a large enough spectrum of talented writers to form an opinion but enough to tell me what I guess I already knew. As a genre it's okay. I find I am drawn, as one would suspect I might, toward the left-of-field, slightly off-wack fictions that appeal to me rather than the more grim, so-called realistic ones. I enjoyed the film 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' but simply couldn't get into the book at all. Far too long and bit gruesome in places. Sure, murder is gruesome enough but unless you have a serious deficit of imagination you know that already and by ladling on the violence doesn't make the story anymore 'real.' No disrespect to the deceased author intended. Millions enjoyed his work so I guess the fact I am not that impressed means I simply don't get it.

More recently I have read Susan Hill's "The Soul of Discretion" and Robert B. Parker's "Trouble in Paradise." Two very enjoyable books but still not the fictions I am after. So what's wrong with them? Well, nothing really they both are well written, especially Susan Hill's "The Soul of Discretion" which tends toward literary fiction rather than the mucky poodle, the half-breed mongrel that is commercial fiction, you know, the kind of stuff I write.  Yes, Ms Hill strikes all the right notes with her novel in those terms. The characterizations are impeccable, so real, so lifelike. They are fleshed out in ways other writers, not all I hasten to add, seldom achieve.

The Soul of Discretion cover photoSimon Serrailler, as fatally flawed a central protagonist as you could wish to meet, has a satellite set of family members who orbit his sphere. From sister Cat, who, like their chilling father, is a doctor working out of a hospice which is failing to make ends meet. Then there is Simon's lover, Rachel who finds the obstacles Serrailer puts in the way of them having a truly intimate relationship insurmountable. Father to Cat and Simon, Richard Serrailler, is as dark a character as is possible to imagine. Even Ripley would find it hard to displace this unpleasant man as king of psychopaths.

DCI Serrailler is given a task to covertly investigate a certain Will Fernley, a man serving time for his criminal paedophilia. Habits that involve one extremely large yet hidden ring of paedophiles who source children for sexual pleasure, training them to perform acts that they, the paedophiles, enjoy. Numbered among this group are suspected to be high ranking members of the judiciary, members of parliament, members of the House of Lords plus a host of very wealthy leaders of business. This is unpleasant stuff but incredibly well handled by the supremely adept Susan Hill.  Yet it is not the central story that holds one's attention, or rather it is but also and in spite of that, the additional story arcs featuring the detectives family that really grabs you by the buttons. 

Family Serrailler are a flawed bunch. Rape follows as a younger offspring gives cause for concern with his interest in guns. Rachel's thoughts for Simon, her does he love me does he not, riddles her mind with doubts whilst Cat's life, her work, her concerns for her father's relationship with her stepmother and her son, the gun-loving one, drags her down into a welter of paranoid depression. I didn't warm to Detective Inspector Simon Serrailler either as an apparently incredible policeman nor as a man, as a central character. I feel that I should for isn't the point of having characters with faults is for the reader to empathize in some way with them? I didn't.

The ending, without giving it away, is not typical of how detective fiction concludes. This book is probably better read in chronological order. By that, I mean having first read book one in the series and so on. I imagine if I had I would be a massive fan. As it is, and this is a very good novel, all the same, I am not. Why? Well, it has nothing to do with Susan Hill's writing. Superlatives fail. No, it is all to do with me; me and my own warped desires in what this particular author, or what I most like about Susan Hill, desires to read. Simon Serrailler does not do it for me as a character. I do not warm to the man. What I would have loved to have read instead is a Simon Serrailler who, much like Algernon Blackwood's, John Silence, would detect ghosts. A ghost detective, not a criminal detective series.

Wishful thinking eh?

Robert B. Parker's "Trouble in Paradise" is far more typical of crime fiction but no less good for that fact. Anyone who has seen Tom Selleck's portrayal of the American Chief of Paradise, Massachusets, Police Department, Jesse Stone will appreciate how good a character he is. Selleck plays him as the author wrote him. A sort of Gary Cooper cum Clint Eastwood monosyllabic tough-talking, no-nonsense man's man. 

I gave up reading James Patterson as I found his work formulaic even if I did like his creation, Alex Cross. His short, racy chapters kept the reader captivated long enough for them to turn another page only to find another chapter which raced along long enough for you to turn another page. And so on. Mister Parker, nowhere near as successful in terms of sales, delivers a character-driven crime fiction that follows a similar style if a little more complex, a little more involved, far more credible and all the better, as far as I am concerned, to read.

Jimmy Macklin, having spent time inside, is out and looking for a fast way to make big bucks. He targets Paradise. Big mistake. After all, we know Chief Stone is the cop who, clipped of verbal response he might be, is not a man to mess with.

There is a lot of fucking going on. Jesse, now parted from his wife, Jenn, is not only fucking her but is also fucking Marcy Campbell, a real estate seller. He is also fucking Abby Taylor. Yes, there is a lot of fucking. Fucking seems to be not only the preeminent activity in the novel as villain Jimmy Macklin is also fucking long time lover Faye but also ends up fucking Marcy Campbell the real estate lady Jesse Stone was fucking only a chapter or so ago, but also a regressive literary term used to presumably show street cred yet somehow brings to mind ye olde English Anglo-Saxon adjective used in the 16 and 17 hundreds. Still, it is cool to fuck even when the fucking is fucking gratuitous.  

Macklin pulls together a band of crims all with specific roles to enable them to pull off a heist that will haul in a cool ten million bucks. But of course, there is Jesse Stone. And we all know what that means don't we? The baddie, Crow, is as bad and as mad as a villain should be. His character remains with you long after you have read the final page. 

All in all, a thoroughly good read. Captivating and engaging and very well conceived, written and executed. I shall read more but still prefer the TV films.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog