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Does anyone really think this is better than mediocre?
on 23 March 2011
At best, I am a sporadic contributor to review forums, and when I do contribute it is almost always because I especially enjoyed the book in question. In this case, however, I'm provoked to put finger to keyboard simply because I disagree so comprehensively with those who have lavished praise upon a book which I consider to be one of the poorest crime novels I have read for some time.
I found the author's use of the present tense was at best an irritating distraction; at times, the writing feels more like a screenplay than a novel. I'm not against innovative writing, but in this case I simply didn't see the point of this stylised approach.
The characters did not seem to me to be at all well-drawn - they were far too stereotypical, lacking in depth and - at least through the eyes of this reviewer - too self-orientated to create any sense of empathy in the mind of the reader.
It's difficult to say anything substantive about the plot giving too much away - there isn't much there to start with. The basic concept of bodies rising from their graves to reveal wartime shenanigans is not new - there's a recent example in Ann Cleeves' 'Red Bones' - but the casting of the Home Guard as villains of the historic piece was, so far as I am aware, original. Unfortunately, it was also incredible. The identity of the modern murderer is difficult to guess simply because few, if any, legitimate clues are provided. There is a highly-contrived set-piece climax which is absolutely incomprehensible because even if it hadn't dramatically misfired it would have done little or nothing to protect the identity or advance the objectives of the killer.
Crime fiction always requires some degree of suspension of our innate credulity - after all, most of us go through our lives without tripping over murdered corpses - so, for example, we can readily cope with the fact that the murder rate in Peter Robinson's corner of rural North Yorkshire is much higher than in real-life inner cities. A satisfying crime novel doesn't push this suspension too far; it leaves us with at least a vague sense that the story just could have happened that way, even though we know perfectly well that it was pure fiction. The House at Sea's End went way beyond my credulity threshold.
In short, though I have been a lifetime fan of good crime fiction, I was entirely unimpressed by both the style and the content of this novel. My advice is to keep looking - there are plenty of much better reads out there.