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.

13 thoughts on “A rant and some new crime fiction reviewed

  1. This is why I’ve stopped bothering with book content in newspapers. I get all the reviews and book news I need from blogs. Twitter also proves a useful resource/filter.

  2. Me too, Kim, but darn it, I really looked forward to reading that review section in print on Saturdays (or more often, next day on Sunday). I’d often read about books that I would not have thought to read about online as I didn’t know I was interested in it. It is such a pity how it has both gone downhill and cut its book coverage.

  3. Maxine – I so agree with you!!! And the Times is hardly the only guilty party! I am so, so tired of reading shallow stuff from and about pop celebrities (or even “non-pop” celebrities!). Far too many review columns have degenerated into “entertainment” columns, which is not why I want to read them *sigh*.

  4. I’d agree – book reviewing by newspapers is really dying. But there are some excellent online review sites/blogs (yours included of course!) – I’m not sure it’s a bad thing as it used to be that a small number of newspaper reviews had a hugely unbalanced influence on sales. Now if we could only do something about TV book clubs too…

  5. Even in a celebrity culture like ours, celebrity can have no influence on one thing: whether their language is of interest.

  6. I am so glad I am not the only one who feels the need for an occasional rant. I agree with you that coverage of books in mainstream media is pretty woeful these days. We have far fewer newspapers here than in the UK – essentially each capital city has its own version of a Murdoch daily then there is one national paper – the Murdoch ones are lucky to have 2 book reviews a week, usually a ‘celeb’ biography or the latest self-help nonsense and whatever worthy tome is on the Oprah list right now.
    The Australian, our national paper, does a big weekend paper with a literary section but the print version rarely contains much of any value. The online version is better. This week in the print version they chose – of all of these articles – http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/books-alr – to print the article about the book about Ann Frank’s possible sex life and the one on Bill Bryson’s new book.
    However in the online version they have an occasional columnist called Graeme Blundell who is a well known actor here but is also a crime fiction aficionado and every 2-3 months he does an opinion piece and a review or two. He really does love his crime fiction and I always enjoy seeing his pieces. His piece on the rise in popularity of crime fiction this week is pretty good, though why we in Australia have to tie it in to the release date for the last Stieg Larsson book in the US is irksome but that’s a whole different rant. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/crime-pays-for-writers/story-e6frgabx-1225882298797

  7. I love the rant. I don’t know what’s going on with the news in the U.S. either. I think it’s the “dumbing down of the population.” Now 7:00 a.m. TV news shows have entertainment news through at least half of the program, with these items often in the lead-in few minutes of the program. Wars are going on, people don’t have jobs or health care, schools are being cut. But the celebrity gossip goes on. Maybe it’s to distract people from reality.
    Hail to the comments about “The Whisperers” by John Connelly. I won’t be reading that either; it sounds ghastly. And woe be unto the reviewer who confused Irishness and Englishness about writer Erin Kelly. My Irish cockles are burning on that one.
    And back to Larsson Book III which is calling. This blog just made my evening.

  8. Thanks, Kathy!! And Bernadette, thanks for the links. I agree with everyone that I get much more out of online (blog and other) book reviews nowadays. I do just like to spend an hour or so lounging around on a Sunday morning reading something in print – there aren’t really any magazines for someone like me (apart from Nature!!) so that Saturday Review and The Bookseller are real treats (or were – I just saw from the Bookseller daily alert of yesterday that they are cancelling their crime fiction preview later this year – boo.)

  9. Hi Maxine
    I’m Erin Kelly’s editor and can tell you that she describes herself as British, and to all intents and purposes is English – she was born in London and grew up in Essex. She does have Irish ancestry, hence the name. I think that even if she were Irish, since the book is set entirely in England the reviewer is quite correct to describe it as a very English book. This is my first time on your blog but I have enjoyed reading it. If you’d like a copy of the Poison Tree I’d be happy to send you one.
    best wishes

  10. hi Suzie – thanks for the clarification. I was misled because The Poison Tree has featured on Irish crime fiction blogs. I have actually read, and indeed reviewed, the book – as stated in my post above, where there is a link to my review.

  11. ps I realise you have already read the book in order to review it, but you may have had a proof copy and the finished copies are rather beautiful! – Suzie

  12. A side note, the Los Angeles Times had a rather interesting link regarding newspaper reviews and the increase of publishers counting on bloggers for promotion. Hope the link works:
    Anyway, my agreement to all that is said above. I’m so frustrated that whatever book talk is out there, which isn’t much, is all about the same books. No offense to The Passage, but between that and BE Ellis, you’d think that was all there was.

  13. I look at reviews on EVERY book I read also. In addition to finding out whether or not books that I am checking out are good or not, I also find other great books to read that I would have otherwise not known about. For instance just the other day I was checking a review on a book I interested in reading and learned about Harry Taylor’s latest book, “Rogues, Riches and Retribution.” It was one of the best crime fiction books that I have read all year- very intriguing!

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