Why not just have a reasonable plot about the murders and solving of them by Barnaby and Troy? This book was about 300 pages too long going into the background of various characters who (other than the culprits) nobody cared about anyway.
I don't like Midsommer Murders on T.V and after yawning my way through this rubbish can understand why, definitely won't be waiting with baited breath for the next one.
Koestler begins with a critical look at the overbearing and blinkered nature of behavioural psychology which attempts to quantify what is ultimately a subjective and therefore qualitative orientated study. He argues mental activity from decision to communication is more than simply Stimulus – Response which behavioural psychology of that period (1960s) largely focused on.
Koestler goes on to suggest the dichotomy of the individual whom is both an independent unique being and yet also part of a larger system (family, society, nation etc) drawing reference to the Janus complex.
Koestler describes the mind as having several shades of consciousness (rather than simply conscious or unconscious) describing the more mechanistic functions such as heart beat and homeostasis as the most mechanised, slowly working up to sensory motor reflexes, skills & habits and finally full awareness and decision making. Koestler highlights the more mechanised functions can be thrown into full consciousness at times of emergency, such as driving a car or riding a bike requires no real concentration until a danger is detected and full consciousness picks up the reigns to avoid disaster.
Koestler then looks broadly at evolution suggesting Darwinian natural selection and random mutation is also complemented by a form of ‘internal’ selection touching on the idea of some form of intelligent design. Simply put he suggests when a mutation or change happens (for example offspring are now born into a hard cased egg) a number of internal evolutionary changes happen to accommodate and take advantage of such change (the now egg imprisoned offspring also develop an appendage to break out of the egg) suggesting a coordinated control system.
Koestler then looks at the evolution of the human brain first drawing references to other species. Looking at invertebrates he interestingly points out a theorised ‘flaw’ in their design. Invertebrates have their ganglia (brain) underneath their digestive track rather than above as vertebrates do. He theorises this stumped the growth of the ganglia as too large it would press against the oesophagus and force the invertebrate to choose a bigger brain over the ability to eat. The spider, the smartest of invertebrates sacrificed the ability to eat solid foods (as it now simply ‘sucks’ juices from its prey) for a bigger ganglia.
Looking at humans Koestler describes the human brain seeing explosive evolutionary growth over a short period of the last 500,000 years and interestingly points out where as with other evolutionary changes in species in which newly acquired changes are used the human brain has grown to such a large size so quickly yet we as human are still learning how to use it. He draws reference to an amazing computer being very much under used and slowly the user starts to appreciate its full potential. It raises questions as to why the brain grew so quickly if it has never been fully used.
Koestler describes the brain in three sections: Oldest is reptilian - Archicortex. Homeostasis Then lower mammal - Mesocortex - can be related to the id. Feeling. Finally late mammalian - Neocortex - creates awareness. Thinking.
Koestler highlights that the explosive growth and poor linking of the Neocortex with older parts of the brain is the root cause of many mental illnesses and disorders. He also suggests more mundane mental states such as anxiety, depression, conflicting emotions and logical thought are all due to poor communication and harmonisation between these ‘three brains’.
He concludes with suggesting intra-specie killing and war is innate in humans because unlike ‘professional predators’ whom have developed natural inhibitions towards killing their own humans have not. He draws attention to the efficiency of killing in natural predators and therefore a need for evolution to impose natural inhibitions while humans never needed such inhibitions as they, until very recently, lacked and efficient way of killing their own specie. The explosion of the neo-cortex gave us the ability to craft weapons and now, without such inhibitions are free to kill indiscriminately.
Koestler concludes the book with an odd and in my opinion far fetched idea of subduing such ‘flaws’ in human brain evolution through popping pills.
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All in Forbes Abbot are agog at news of a sudden messy demise. The Inquest declares Accidental Death. Two local residents loudly claim otherwise. (How long will they last, one cannot help thinking.) DCI Tom Barnaby and DS Gavin Troy investigate, the culprit in due course apprehended.
Summed up like this, this seems the screen's "Midsomer Murders" format, for so many years enjoyed by fans. Be advised the novel is markedly different. Caroline Graham is clearly more interested in the characters than any killings and their solving. The book is over 500 pages long, no death to occur until well past p.150, Barnaby and Troy only to feature past p.200 and then often not as prominently as one might expect.
The books have far more of value to offer than the television series, where so much has been omitted and simplified. Who says so? None other than John Nettles (Tom Barnaby himself) in the Foreword to the 2016 reprint, he more than most in a position to make such a claim.
Once readers accept the novels differ so greatly from the televised adaptations, there is much to savour - penetrating character studies, often delivered with gentle humour. One resident has a laugh like a machine gun. Barnaby's boss is "a man boiling like a pudding inside his own skin". Although Barnaby loves his wife dearly, Joyce's cooking leaves much to be desired - any meat served practically requiring a Black and Decker.
Yes, there are chuckles in plenty as more and more is revealed about the characters - many to like, some to loathe. Amongst much else en route are digs about mediums and would-be novelists. Several surprises await (the final one perhaps long anticipated by canny readers).
So here is a murder mystery with a difference, the murders and investigations seeming almost incidental. So many pages precede the first death, not to mention follow the eventual arrest of the culprit. It is the effect on those around that is considered of greater interest.
This may not work for everyone. Others may welcome the slower pace, the exploration of emotions involved and how their lives will be affected.
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This has been yet another enjoyable book in the Midsomer series. Although they can be read in any order I would suggest that this one isn't the best place to start. It has even more scene-setting than the previous ones, which I'm reading more or less in order, and there is even less of Barnaby and Troy. Some readers new to Caroline Graham's books but familiar with the TV series might be surprised by how much text is assigned to the story's guest characters. At one or two points in this book I have to confess that I was wishing Barnaby and Troy would enter the scene, as I was becoming a little bored. Particularly early on it seems to take an age for them to appear. This doesn't take away any of the five stars though; I just think it's not as balanced and finely crafted as the ones that came before. But comparisons are perhaps unfair as on it's own this is a very good murder mystery and I highly recommend it.