Thursday, 23 February 2012

Buried too deep: John Sandford's crime novel:  Buried Prey

All last week I was  on a demanding immersion course in Spain, so I put the  lacklustre nature of the first half of this book  down to tiredness. After page 200, though, when the killer's point-of-view was introduced,  it suddenly picked up. It was no effort to  finish it during the  return journey.   I was all ready next day, it being the  third Saturday of  the month,  to discuss it at  my local  crime readers' group.

Maybe it would have helped if it hadn't been the twelfth book in a series with a particular Minneapolis-based detective;  the author was assuming a certain amount of groundwork. But, as a newcomer, why should I be interested in Lucas Davenport, who seemed a bit of a wuss in his wool suit,  most unsuitable, ha-ha, as it happened,  for kneeling in mud. This was activity much in demand in his line of work.

To make matters worse it's a cold case - two small skeletons surface during land clearance and they turn out to belong to Lucas's first case, when he thought his colleagues had named the wrong killer but he lacked the authority to follow up his hunches. Not only has reader no stake in the case, not having known the victims, who are sisters, but  their  mother turns out to be a callous publicity-seeker, bizarrely launching a career on the back of her  TV appeals.  It's only when we get to know the killer, still at large, that the reader's attention is engaged.

It made me think about the role of the serial detective  in crime fiction, of which publishers are much in favour. In a sense these adult novels resemble  popular children's series;  the same central character or gang, whether Tracey Beaker or Harry Potter or (giving away my age) The Famous Five, is  already known to the reader. For adults, whether it's Sherlock Holmes, Ian Rankin's Rebus or Val McDermott's Tony Hill, the effect's much the same - the burden of interest falls on the plot. Granted  we want to know how our hero/heroine's  singular  abilities will help  solve the crime, but the focus must always be the nature of the events.  

This isn't  necessarly a bad thing, although style and wit are always welcome, but it means the action should take hold of the imagination early on.  Otherwise, even loyal fans begin to yawn and newcomers may not persist - unless, of course  like me they have an incentive that's quite extrinsic to the book itself.

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