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2nd June
2009
written by Steph
AKA: Read & Return

AKA: Read & Return

Almost at the halfway point through the year, when I look back at my reading log for 2009 thus far, I can see that I’ve definitely been delving more into the mystery genre than I have in years past.  Sometimes I worry that my reading is becoming too firmly ensconced in the detective fiction realm, but then again, I think we all have our own little reading jags that we go on, and sometimes you just need to binge for a while to get it out of your system.  Another side effect of said binging is that you start to get a tad more discerning, with certain writers rising to the top and others not so much.  It’s kind of like when I first started to drink wine – to my unrefined palate, all wines tasted alike (namely, like “wine”), but after 7 years of drinking the stuff (in moderation, mind you!  Most of the time…), I finally have some definite preferences.  Similarly, every book I read helps me hone my concept of who I am as a reader, and each mystery novel I read also gives me a more specific knowledge regarding that genre. On the surface, Publish & Perish is a mystery novel I should have liked.  Dr. Ben Reese is on sabbatical at Oxford when he is awoken by a call at 2 in the morning from his good friend and colleague Richard West.  He says he has uncovered an injustice that has long been hidden, and only the two of them can bring the culprit to justice.  However, before Richard can go into further detail, the call is cut short and when Ben next hears from Richard, it is actually in the form of a telegram telling him that Richard died of a heart attack that night.  Ben flies home to attend the funeral, and whilst there begins to poke around… although there’s no direct evidence that a crime was committed, something doesn’t sit right with Ben and he soon finds himself investigating the murder of his friend. I love stodgy British mysteries, and while this one wasn’t technically set in England (though the back cover led me to believe it was), it very much had the vibe of those Golden Age mysteries that I like so much.  The murders (yes, there’s more than one) are “bloodless”, and you could as easily imagine Miss Marple investigating this case as you could Ben Reese.  Also, this one was set in and revolved around academia, another literary vice of mine, so really the deck was stacked in this novel’s favor. And yet, I didn’t like it very much at all.  By and large it was easy to read, but it was a mindless kind of reading as the story felt somewhat shallow.  When the murder is finally revealed, while the motivation made sense on some level, it was also kind of preposterous that someone would go to such extraordinary lengths given the impetus.  I’m not saying murder ever is or ever should be a viable choice, but talk about someone who needed a reality check.  The plotting up to this point is done quite well – Wright lays out plenty of reasonable suspects and tosses out lots of good red herrings, but even though you don’t feel like you’ve been defrauded when everything is revealed, you kind of think to yourself “Well, this is pretty stupid.”  However, I think my biggest problem with the book was the writing - huge problems here.  The book is mostly told from the third-person perspective, but every so often it would slide into the first-person perspective, which was REALLY confusing, because sometimes you didn’t know whose perspective you were taking. It was also really unsettling when this happened and you were then witnessing someone’s thoughts because it wasn’t always immediately clear you were in their head, and your uncertainty was heightened by the fact that sometimes the author clearly demarcated you were reading thoughts, but other times no.  And really, it wasn’t ever obvious why there were these shifts in perspective, but I found them really jarring.  They came across as sloppy rather than artful, because I really felt like the author had not bothered to be consistent in her writing (sort of as if she had abruptly switched tenses mid-sentence).  Honestly, one paragraph would be in third-person perspective, the next in first-person perspective… WHY???  Also, the dialogue felt really clunky and clumsy to me… It wasn’t exactly that I couldn’t imagine people talking the way she had her characters speak, but it was more that all of the dialogue came across in my head as though really abysmal actors were delivering it, all choppy and stilted.  The way characters would interject or have small talk, it was not believable.  Kind of like if you watch a movie that is really based on a play that has been poorly adapted for the screen; theater allows for certain liberties to be taken with language and delivery that you cannot get away with in most movies, and often you can tell when you’re watching a movie that was first a play because the patterns of dialogue feel off.  That’s what this was like. So, the plot was fine, the characters kind of flat, and the dialogue absolutely horrendous, which pretty much adds up to me bidding adieu to Ben Reeves and any future adventures he might have (for the record, he’s had six).  The book had its charms (limited though they were), but I simply wasn’t sufficiently impressed to go back for more.  There are better mysteries out there for me to expend my little gray cells on! Rating: 2 out of 5

7 Comments

  1. 06/02/2009

    I have to say the premise intrigues me. I have mostly read classics and literature this year, and that almost half of 2009 has gone by and I need to get out of my nutshell. I do have a fondness for academia setting, so this one actually might be a good weekend read for me. 🙂

  2. i’m with matt…i love an academic milieu! it’s always such a bummer when a book doesn’t live up to our expectations…and though you didn’t enjoy the book, you clearly pointed out the good and the bad (with evidence).

    thanks for the honesty and sorry this book wasn’t your cup of cocoa!

  3. 06/03/2009

    @ Matt: The premise was fine (not the most original, but not egregiously bad), but the writing was not good… to the point where there was confusion on my part because of how unclear the writing was. I like an academia setting too, but I would not read more books in this series because of the writing.
     
    @ nat: I am going to keep looking for good books set in academia, because this sure wasn’t one of them! I’ve read worse, but I’ve also read better…

  4. 06/03/2009

    Steph,
    I really like reading your reviews because you are very articulate about what does and does not work for you while reading a book. I always feel that I glean a lot from your reviews. That being said, I am sorry that this book was a bit of a disappointment. I, too, have problems when an author shifts perspectives in the middle of the narrative, it can be very distracting. Hopefully your next read in this genre is better.

  5. 06/04/2009

    Thanks, Zibilee. I’m glad you found my review helpful – I do always try to be as clear as I can about what did not work for me about a book, because I fully recognize that things that drive me bananas may not bother other readers, and pointing out these things will not discourage everyone from reading but let them know what they’re getting into. I try to be fair with books, even if they weren’t exactly my thing.
    The writing was just so limp and uninspired, and the perspective shifts were really poorly executed, and for me that was really the book’s chief failing. I hope my next read is better too (actually, it has been… it’s long, but very satisfying!).

  6. 06/04/2009

    This book sounds like a stinker. I don’t read mysteries but I think I might get out of my comfort zone and start. Any recommendations?

  7. 06/05/2009

    @ Vasilly: I fear that I’m redundant on this topic because I’ve been so excited by Tana French’s work this year. I really enjoyed “In the Woods”, her first novel, but even better was “The Likeness”. I’ve reviewed both books on this site, so for more detail about both (and what to expect), you can check those out. Technically they’re mysteries, but the writing is so good and psychologically the stories are so complex I really think non-mystery readers will enjoy them.
    Also, I read “Gentlemen & Players” by Joanne Harris earlier this year and loved that as well. It’s a mystery but very clever, with lots of twists and turns – Harris is a genius.
    And finally, I really don’t think you can go wrong with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stuff. I just started reading my way through the stories and find them fun apart from the mystery element!

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