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August 2, 2014
One of the clichés of book reviewing has to do with crime fiction "transcending the genre," always seen as a good thing. After all, who wants to be stuck in the library with poor old Col. Mustard when you might be launched upon a sea of metaphor and italics? I myself am never quite sure what the phrase means, since although there are any number of writers who stick closely to the formal demands of the cosy or the police procedural, there are also many who use crime fiction as a springboard into less charted waters. Whether the genre is thus transcended or simply exploited to its fullest may be left up to the reader to decide.
We begin with several books that their reviewers enjoyed for the quality of their prose as well as for plot, characters, or suspense. Cathy Downs remarks that Reavis Z. Wortham's VENGEANCE IS MINE is a "meditation," set in the year of the Summer of Love in a small Texas town poised on the brink of change but not aware of what it will be. ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr is also set in the past, in France during the Second World War. Sharon Mensing praises the book for its complexity but warns that it does not necessarily offer a neat conclusion.
Greg Iles's NATCHEZ BURNING, the first in what is being described as an "epic" trilogy begins in the present but, like VENGEANCE IS MINE, looks back to the 1960s and to a past that many would prefer to forget, a past scarred by racial violence and assassination. P.D. Crumbaker reports that despite its length (some 800 pages), it is past-faced, involving, and challenging. Linwood Barclay makes a different kind of return to the past in NO SAFE HOUSE, in which he resurrects the personnel from his earlier success, NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, to involve them in further peril. I thought it was very much a worthy successor to that earlier book.
What Barbara Fister admired especially about M.J. McGrath's THE BONE SEEKER, set on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic is not that it transcends the genre, but that it respects the conventions and provides "good entertainment in a story that provides even more."
We are very happy to launch a new feature this month on RTE. Karen Chisholm and Craig Sisterson both have offered to post reviews of Australian and New Zealand crime fiction on a regular basis. They will be writing about books that, unlike far too many from Down Under, are available for purchase in North America, and writing about them from a local perspective. We begin this week with Karen's review of Malla Nunn's PRESENT DARKNESS. Karen says that it is "crime fiction that goes into an area of human behaviour and a history that needs to be held up to the light, remembered, examined and understood."
Never having been in Australia myself, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the representation of life in a small rural Australian town in Garry Disher's HELL TO PAY, but I found the vividness of the detail wholly convincing. This is essentially a police procedural, a most elastic sub-genre, as evidenced by Sharon Bolton's A DARK AND TWISTED TIDE, set in London on the Thames, which deals both with the smuggling into England of Afghan women and a possible mermaid in the river that is itself a dark and twisted character. Lourdes Venard enjoyed it all.
It's hard to call Donna Leon's BY ITS COVER a police procedural exactly, but it is one of several long-running series to appear recently. Jim Napier calls it "a little gem of literate escape." David Housewright's McKenzie has been around for a long time too, and Sharon Mensing enjoyed the general quirkiness of THE DEVIL MAY CARE. Caryn St Clair is of the opinion that Paul Doiron's THE BONE ORCHARD is the best of the Mike Bowditch series to date. And Diana Borse says that the seventh in Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder series, THE DEAD WILL TELL, is a treat.
Yes, of course we have a thriller for summer reading - Ridley Pearson's THE RED ROOM. Christine Zibas reports that parts of this novel provide a genuine adrenaline rush. And for something different, how about a book set in 1930s Chicago that features the usual gangsters and a witch? PJ Coldren calls Ari Marmell's HOT LEAD, COLD IRON "amazing."
There now, that should keep you all going until we meet again, just after Labo(u)r Day. Our interviewee this week is M.J. McGrath and her answers to our questions will be found in the box to your left.
For what's going on in crime fiction in the UK, the latest issue of CrimeReview may be found at CRIMEREVIEW, where our former colleagues will let you know what they think of what they've been reading.
Here's wishing everyone a lovely August,
P.S. If you wish to submit a book for review, please check here before contacting us. Please note that we do not review self-published books.
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Since RTE first appeared, some twelve years ago, the business of books has changed out of all recognition. Then, books were reviewed in the print media for the most part, though Amazon was encouraging readers to post their reviews of the books they read. Now, newspapers across North America have reduced or eliminated the space they allot to books and, with certain notable exceptions, only best-selling authors are likely to get noticed. As a result, electronic reviewing has become increasingly important and, due to the somewhat slippery question of online authorship, occasionally problematic.
For this reason and in view of a recent article in the NY Times detailing a reviews-for-hire enterprise, it's probably wise for RTE to reiterate its position on reviewing. While our reviewers receive galleys, ARCs, or finished copies of books for review, they are otherwise unpaid. Furthermore, they are asked to disclose any special interest they might have in a book or an author they are reviewing. No one, including the editors, receives any compensation for the work they do. All our reviewers are encouraged to express their honest opinions, whether positive or negative, about the books they are reviewing. None of our reviewers uses a pseudonym and all are who they say they are. Nor do we employ rating systems (stars, grades, "highly recommended," or the like) in the belief that our reviews deserve to be read in their entirety. Since RTE does not review self-published or digital-only releases, we are perhaps less vulnerable to offers to pay for reviews, but it seems a good idea to make our policy clear. Finally, in the years that I've been editing RTE, I have never once been approached by a press or a publicist to violate this principle in any way.
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