11/12/2008

A Review of a Review

One Jeff Turrentine, reviewing Kate Atkinson's pseudo-mystery Case Histories:

"In taking on detective fiction -- a genre whose circumscribed rules don't typically allow for too much character development -- Atkinson, whose inclinations are more literary, is taking a risk. No one ever wanted to know what Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade were "feeling." What's supposed to matter is plot, plot, plot."

Sure. Raymond Chandler never displayed any interest in Marlowe's feelings, and characterization in his works is sketchy at best, not to mention his notoriously crude writing. The author of such plot-driven books as The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye was in there just for the whodunit and in this department he could draw circles around Agatha Christie. John Dickson Carr repeatedly praised the fairness and cleverness of his plots, and rumours have it that the Detection Club was seriously considering his induction by the time he died. As to detective fiction, it indeed leaves no room for characterization, or just one as tiny as the argument of Case Histories. Edmund Wilson demonstrated it seventy years ago and we all know he was a trustable source and the genre didn't change at all ever since...

Having raised the bar high, Turrentine then proceeds to raise it even higher:

"Breaking detective-thriller form, Case Histories is told from multiple points of view"

I hate to break it to our enthusiastic reviewer, but multiple points of view have been used in mystery fiction for a long time. P.D. James, hardly a newcomer or an innovator, even made this technique one of her trademarks. Atkinson doesn't break any new ground here - except if you think, like Mr. Turrentine seems to, that the genre started with Chandler and Hammett and that authors coming after them followed their path to a fault. Mmmm, not quite.

How would Jeff Turrentine and his readers feel about a mystery critic reviewing John Updike's latest mainstream novel and telling us that Charles Dickens was a pseudonym for eighteen-century French playwright Fidor Dostoevsky, best known for his epic poem Don Quixote? I guess they'd be quite upset, and the local groceries would soon run out of tomatoes. But mainstream reviewers dabbling into genre fare - well, literary genre fare - are allowed to pout similar nonsense and get a free pass, as evidenced by the fact that this four-year old review seems not to have elicited any comment or response. I myself wouldn't have heard of it had I not recently read Case Histories and found it so nothing special despite the hype that I rounded all reviews available on the web, hoping they'd eventually provide me with keys to the alleged greatness of that book. They didn't, but Mr. Turrentine's article at least gave me the stimuli to write this post, and is thus somewhat redeemed for that. Somewhat.

UPDATE: Jeff Turrentine sent me a reply which you can read here.

1 commentaire:

krimileser a dit…

I'd say multiple points of view are old news. Even writer of series like Lippman, Jan Burke, Krueger use this technique. It is so common now, that a single point of view almost seems old fashioned.