Do you ever hit one of those patches when whatever the book you pick up it just doesn’t seem to hit the spot? That’s what this week has been like for me. With some books I haven’t even got past the first few pages, others I have regretfully put to one side after a few chapters and then there has been one that I have stuck with and will finish, but I’m not certain that I will read any more in the series.
I think I am finally going to have to call time on my attempts to read anything from the British Library Crime Classics imprint. While I was in the library at the early part of the week I picked up a copy of Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case determined that this time I would see the book through to the end. The premise concerns a murder that the police have failed to solve and to which the members of a club devoted to amateur sleuths then undertake to offer their own solutions. I got halfway through the first proffered solution, decided that I didn’t want to spend any more time with a group of (as it seemed to me) self-satisfied Smart Alecs bound to do better than the poor lower class policeman and took the book back.
OK, I know that much of what I was objecting to is part and parcel of the convention within the restraints of which the authors were working, but that didn’t make it any the more palatable. And, although I seem to be having difficulty finding them at the moment, there are too many books out there waiting to be read for me to spend time with a series that just doesn’t do it for me.
A book that I have almost finished and will complete this evening, even though it has been a bit of a slog, is Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, the first of James Runcie’s Granchester Mysteries. I seem to remember trying to get into this when it first came out and failing miserably. This time, although I feel that Runcie is trying to mimic many of the conventions that annoy me in the British Library collection, I have managed to get within striking distance of the end. Perhaps it wins out in contrast with the Berkeley. The book is set in the 1950s and part of what irritates me is the fact that much of what it depicts is a series of stereotypes of the period. I know about the fifties; I was there. If you want a more accurate portrayal of the time while sticking with the crime genre then I suggest that you try Laura Wilson’s Ted Stratton novels, which move from the war years through the following decade. They ring much more true. This has a feeling of Downton Abbey about it: the past recollected and distorted through rosy tinted glasses. I was also put off by the fact that it isn’t just one straight through narrative, but a series of stories, linked by the slowly developing relationship of Sidney and Amanda Kendall. However, I’ve stuck with it, partly because I hadn’t got anything else immediately to hand but also because halfway through Sidney is given a black Labrador puppy. I am a sucker for puppies of any sort and for Labs in particular. The occasional mention of Dickens and his exploits has kept me going. Whether or not I shall continue with the rest of the series is another matter. Does anyone know if the subsequent books are just one story? If they are also a series of shorts then I don’t think I shall bother.
Of course, part of this dry spell is of my own making. I have several books that I am hoarding for the Christmas period, including the new Tana French, The Wych Elm, the second in Mike Craven’s Avison Fluke series and forthcoming books by both James Oswald and Kate London. Come Boxing Day I shall shut up shop for the rest of the week and simply wallow in the latest offerings of four of my favourite authors. At least there is something to look forward to.