Quick Crime Reviews: One Out of Four

Would it be fair to say that about one in four books being published today constitutes a memorable read? Judging by my current crop of crime reads, I’d say that proportion is roughly right. It may seem ungracious to say that, especially when I have yet to finish my own novel! (So they are all clearly better than me for a start.) So let me qualify this somewhat.

None of them were bad enough to make me want to stop reading them. In fact, they were entertaining and quite accomplished for debut novels. However, after just a few days, I can barely remember the storyline or the characters. I am sure they will all do well in terms of sales, however, probably better so than the last one, which I liked and remembered most. Is that because publishers or the reading public think of crime fiction as a ‘disposable genre’ – easily read, all about a puzzle and a twist and a quick entertainment, and then forgotten? Or am I being too harsh? Many of my fellow bloggers enjoyed them a lot, so why do I always need a ‘bigger theme’, an exotic location or a social context to keep me happy?

disclaimerRenée Knight: Disclaimer

Quick and easy to read, but failed to rise above the run-of-the-mill for me. Another middle-aged woman with a secret alternating with chapters from the POV of an older man who has suffered loss and is seeking revenge. A set-up which is intriguing – what would you do if you found the worst moments of your life story displayed in a novel? –  but the execution doesn’t quite live up to it.

 

whatsheleftT. R. Richmond: What She Left

An interesting concept of reconstituting a person and their last few days through all the documents and detritus of life that they have left behind. You’ll find a good variety of voices, from lecherous middle-aged professor to wide-eyed naivety. However, overall, the story strained belief – so many gathered by the river’s edge on a winter’s night! – and did not quite live up to the premise.

 

followmeAngela Clarke: Follow Me

Once you manage to suspend your disbelief that the police would be so unfamiliar with Twitter and would depend on a 23-year-old freelance journalist to be their social media consultant, this is quite an entertaining and fast-paced read, although the end is a trifle predictable. It raises some interesting issues about online privacy, but I felt that the issue of what Nas and Freddie had done in their teens was deliberately obfuscated and hidden just to create some artificial suspense.

watermusicMargie Orford: Water Music

This is the fifth novel in the series featuring social worker Clare Hart, working with abused and missing minors in Cape Town. So yes, I jumped midway into the story arc about Clare and her boyfriend, the cop Riedwaan Faizal, but I was still captivated by the interactions between the characters and the storyline. South Africa is a place where life is not easy for poor young women and children, and the author reflects that in this emotional story about an abandoned child and a missing young cellist. This is not the touristy Cape Town we like to imagine, although the natural setting is very beautiful, but a gritty story about violence against women and the consequences of poverty. Corruption at the highest levels and the conflict between police and unions in a post-apartheid South Africa are also tangentially addressed. My first Margie Orford, but most certainly not my last.

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39 thoughts on “Quick Crime Reviews: One Out of Four”

  1. I’ll keep my eye out for Margie Orford – sounds interesting, with a unique setting – I have a weakness for unusual settings in crime fiction! I’m halfway through Disclaimer, and I hate to diss books, but I feel that every character is the same! Catherine and – God, I can’t even remember her nemesis’ name – sound no different in the way they relate things – the characters don’t have a voice of their own. Did you feel that? Plus we know why he wants revenge, so it’ll need another twist later. Admittedly I am only halfway through, but the second half will have to really buck it’s ideas up for me! I guess it’s that old problem of expectations being too high – used to happen all the time with films to me as well! Hype isn’t always a good thing…

  2. I think what you say about 1 in 4 novels being memorable is very fair indeed and not ungracious at all. Just because your novel isn’t finished, doesn’t mean it isn’t as good or better than those that are. Loved your reviews here!

  3. I don’t think you’re being too harsh at all! Partly it’s a question of exposure: any trope can seem exciting and fresh when it’s the first time you’ve seen it, but the more you read, the more likely it is that you’ll have seen it done before (and just slightly better) somewhere else. Plus, I do think that crime tends to be harder to vary than some other genres; even the best detective series get a bit samey after a while. The things that would definitely make me sit up are things like a location or swathe of society that I don’t know much about–like in Water Music. That would definitely be the one I’d be most interested in, too!

    1. You are very right, that the more we read crime, the more jaded we get and the higher our expectations are (I wonder if that’s why some writers seem to get more and more graphic… which is NOT the way to revive my tastebuds at all).

  4. Completely agree with your views on Follow Me, I just struggled to believe the storyline concerning the police. I enjoyed it but it was a throwaway read.

    1. And sometimes that’s exactly the kind of read we need – especially if I am ill in bed or something like that. But, as my TBR pile gets ominously high, I wonder if I should ‘save’ those precious reading minutes for more memorable reads.

  5. I’ve only read Disclaimer out of these. Like you, I am loathe to criticise books that have been successfully published when I haven’t managed to publish my own, but… I did think it was truly awful. The motivations of the characters are turned upside down for the purposes of providing cheap twists and, not only was it insanely implausible, it didn’t even add up by its own rules. In my humble opinion! I would say that far fewer than 1 in 4 books actually stick with me. Very few nowadays to be honest. And I’m not just talking crime, I’m talking so-called literary novels too. Has this always been the case? Quite possibly, I don’t know. But, as a result, when you do hit upon a gem it seems all the more precious.

    1. I try not to read just new releases and to also reread a few books, so that I get at least a ration of 1 in 4 memorable books, for the very reason you describe! Part of it may also be my fault, for I tend to read very quickly and possibly too much.

  6. I know exactly what you mean about books that you enjoy, but then can’t remember, Marina Sofia. It’s not that they’re badly written, or even too boring. But there’s no real spark that keeps them alive when you’ve finished reading. That’s happened to me as well. But it won’t when I read your book. I can’t wait to get the chance!

      1. I look at the list of books I’ve read the last couple of years in GoodReads and often I’ve thought, “What on earth was that?” And as Margot says, you enjoy them at the time, they’re just not memorable enough. It’s the ones that you’re still thinking about months on that have a special something. Sometimes I’ve even given more GR stars to the by-now forgotten book. There should be a cooling-off period! Yes, I’ll be looking forward to your book too, Marina! I suspect it’ll be very very good…

      2. Oh, I know that feeling well – where I review something enthusiastically for Crime Fiction Lover, for instance, and then later realise that it didn’t really stay with me, while others that I perhaps gave 4 rather than 5 stars to will be the ones I mention in my Best of the Year review. In other words: take everything I say with a pinch of salt!
        As for my book – goodness, the pressure is on, then!

  7. I’m not a crime reader but I very nearly fell for that Disclaimer jacket which is most enticing! I think one in four is probably about right for any kind of novel, particularly if, like me, you can’t resist novelty.

    1. The problem with the enticing premises is that you then end up imagining where you could have gone with that starting point… but of course you can’t, because it’s been done before.

  8. I don’t think you’re being harsh at all – and yes, I do think crime novels seem to be seen as disposable with short shelf-lives at the moment, thus the desperate attempt to jump on any passing bandwagon. But there’s still good stuff out there, though sometimes it feels a bit like playing hunt the needle! The fact that you’re not easily satisfied with the mediocre is a good portent for your own book!

    The only one of these I’ve ‘read’ is Disclaimer. I abandoned it at page 11…

  9. South African Crime fiction is very often not for the faint hearted and makes our own crime problems look relatively tame. I haven’t come across Orford, but as some one who enjoys police procedurals that integrate other professions I might explore the series as a whole.

    1. I also like Deon Meyer from the South African crime fiction writers (and want to explore more of them). You are right, it’s not always easy to read, a world apart from the Home Counties-based domestic thriller we so often see nowadays. However, I do love that country and keep hoping things will look up for them!

  10. I must admit that I’ve moved away from reading contemporary crime novels in recent years, mainly because I was finding many of them rather unsatisfying in some way. I seem to have a better hit rate with vintage crime these days – that’s partly down to my love of the 1940s/’50s, but I suspect it’s also something to do with the quality of the novels themselves. The good books have survived the test of time for a reason.

    1. You make a very good point, Jacqui, that ‘classic crime’ has lasted for a reason. I too enjoy exploring them. However, as a (wannabe) writer of crime fiction, I have to keep on top of contemporary writing too. And there are some real gems out there…

  11. I think you’re being fair. When I start choosing my favourite books of the year I usually narrow it down to a quarter on my first look. Also, when you are published you will probably be *thrilled* if 1 in 4 love your book 🙂
    I stopped rating my reviews when I felt bad for a book I awarded 3 stars when it turned out to be one of the most memorable reads of the year for me. Bad, because I knew others would be discouraged from reading it.
    I’ve read Disclaimer and thought it was OK but it didn’t change my life!

    1. I don’t put stars on my reviews here on my blog, although Goodreads and the like do demand them. I sometimes go and change them afterwards, though. But I rate the stars differently than most people: very, very few get 5 stars (mind-blowing or my absolute favourites, books that have stayed with me for decades and that I reread regularly etc.), 4 stars is high praise indeed and 3 stars is anything that was good and fit for purpose. It’s only from 2 downwards that I get sarky.

  12. Well at the risk of being in the minority I really enjoyed Disclaimer and all these months later do remember it – I suppose we all get different things from different books and when you read a lot of one genre it is harder to find something unique that hits the right spot for you. That said I don’t disagree. there are an awful lot of crime fiction that does seem very samey especially as, intentionally or not, the same themes seem to come in waves.

    1. I do remember you (and Rebecca Bradley, I believe) did like it, so that was what encouraged me to read it. I don’t regret it – it was a good way to relax over Christmas.

    1. Growling and showing my teeth, you mean? I think it’s a professional hazard, if you read so many books (180 last year, planning to read about 140 this year). I suppose that’s why editors at publishing houses are hard to impress, they read even more…

  13. I actually enjoy “disposable” reads. I like books that stay with me too, but not every book I read needs to knock me out. I think my ratio is 1:5 based on last year at least.

    1. Sorry about late reply to this comment – you were absolutely right, it did get caught in the spam filter! You are right, sometimes you just need a bit of snack food, don’t you, rather than a gourmet meal?!

  14. 1. I think I picked out an Orford book but I couldn’t handle the crime at the time, but I will try another.

    2. One out of 4 sounds about like my ratio of memorable reads too. I don’t think your view is harsh at all, but I will admit I was strongly influenced by a band conductor in my formative years who ranted about how freely people gave standing ovations. 5-Star ratings and standing ovations don’t mean much if they’re everywhere. Go on, be critical!!

    1. About the Orford: like all South African stories, they can be quite emotionally draining, but she is not as graphic as some others.
      I so agree with you about standing ovations, or 5 stars, or performance ratings at work – when everything is ‘outstanding’, good becomes mediocre and where do we go for the truly exceptional?

      1. Well, you have to give yourself a 5 star performance review during your self-evaluation at work– anything else is self-defeating. Crazy, huh?

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