A rant and some new crime fiction reviewed

TPTree Considering that blogs are widely held to be suitable forums for ranting, I thought I'd continue the "rant" elements of my yesterday's post about Hans Fallada (mainly to do with high pricing of books by a dead author but also the Independent's awful "50 summer reads" online feature received a justifiable blast for being both feeble editorially and hopeless functionally). 

This time, the rant is directed at The Times Saturday "Review" section (I don't recommend going to the link as the paper is preparing to charge for online content so you have to register, etc, to read any of it and it isn't that good on this occasion.)  On the paper's relaunch a few months ago, the dedicated Books supplement was subsumed into a broadsheet "Saturday Review" section, with the Books coverage taking up the last two or three pages of it. Ever since then, readers have been subjected to vast, tedious articles on a small range of "loved by the Times" "arty, cultural, celebrity types" endlessly recycled — nothing wrong with any of these people now and again, but it is boring to read about them too often, as they are a bit shallow. (An example of what we poor readers have to put up with is last Saturday's edition, with a huge photo of Tracy Emin, one of their regulars, on the cover with the giant-font caption "I've got my sex drive back". Please! I do not care and I am sure that most readers do not either.)

At the same time, the book reviews are reduced in number. I am mainly interested in crime fiction but I do like to read half a dozen reviews a week of newly published fiction books across the board, to keep current and to dip into the odd one. Not much chance of that any more, given the acres of space given to "celebrities" who have some vague intersection with "culture" – pop music and celebrity photography seeming to be most popular with the Times Review editors. Last Saturday, for example, had a double-page spread about celebrities writing about nature, with an enormous picture of a man I've never heard of (but a pop musician, according to the caption) in a river holding a fish and most of the rest being a photo gallery of minor TV celebs and pictures of wildlife species. Words – a poor second best. Also there is a one page feature on Philip Larkin – nothing wrong with him but The Times is always running features on Philip Larkin. The next one-page feature is a review of a cricket book.

None of this leaves much space for fiction. On Saturday, there were "main" reviews of just three books: a new edition of an old favourite of mine, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (the "review" being a pathetic rehash of gossip about Hemingway's wives rather than much of a review); a book by Megan Stack who is apparently an American journalist; and a scathing (long) review of Bret Easton Ellis's latest book by Lionel Shriver (another Times regular) – which I don't need to read as I shall never read anything by this author.

The other dozen or so books mentioned are covered by brief paragraphs. At least this week there are some crime books reviewed – three of them in a composite review of about 500 words, by Peter Millar. One book is Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer (no mention that it's a translation, by K Seegers, or that it is on the shortlist for this year's International Dagger prize) – five brief paragraphs of praise. (My Euro Crime review of the same novel is here.)  The second is The Whisperers by John Connelly, which I have not read and shan't read as it is, writes Millar in his positive but short take, a fusion of horror, the effects of modern warfare, the supernatural, museum looting and an ancient Sumerian legend. No thanks. The third review (five paragraphs again but a bit longer this time) is a very positive one of The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly, which Millar describes as "a beautifully crafted, evocative psychological thriller that oozes Englishness and is all the better for it". (I think the author is Irish though, but never mind.) He also calls it "an elegy for the blighted summer of hope that was 1997". I liked the book but not quite as much as Millar. My Euro Crime review of it is here.