Thursday, March 17, 2011

Defend and Betray

Having found that the various non-fiction books I've got on hand at the moment aren't inspiring me to read them, for a bit of a change I decided to grab something off the Public Library's fiction shelves. Wound up with Anne Perry's Defend and Betray, written back in 1992, and one of the earlier books involving her detective, Inspector Monk.

It has the benefit of being written by someone who knows how to use language, which is a plus - there are plenty of thrillers/detective stories out there that are abominably written. (Interestingly enough on page 138 of this copy some person has corrected Perry's - or the editor's - 'bare' to 'bear' in the sentence '...bear the social shame of it.')

But after a good start, the book has bogged down a bit in the middle as the three investigating characters, Hester, who worked in the Crimea with Florence Nightingale; Rathbone the lawyer, and Monk keep going over the same ground trying to find out why the character who has confessed to the murder either couldn't have done it or, if she did, must have had some so far unexplained motive.

Hopefully things will start to move forward again or it'll join the League of Books I've-read-quite-a-bit-of-but-never-finished.

Anne Perry, it turns out, is actually Juliet Hulme, who with her friend Pauline Parker, murdered Parker's mother in Christchurch in 1954. I find it a little odd while reading the book that Perry should write about murder, murderers and victims with an objectivity that must have been difficult to achieve after her notorious act as a teenager. Still, given the chance to move on in life, I guess she had to do something, and she's certainly been very successful as a novelist.

Update, 20.3.11.
I've now finished the book, and yes, it does pick up on page 252, when the trial of the woman who's murdered her husband starts. From this point on it moves forward at a good pace, and the trial scenes are well written.
Some of the character drawing throughout, however, is a bit puzzling. Her detective, Monk, and Hester and Rathbone are constantly portrayed in ways that seem to show them being in conflict with themselves, so that we never quite get to grips with them. The three get on well, and yet, Perry is always telling us something that makes it seem that they don't. This character approach is a bit odd, to me.
The sub-plot concerning Monk's previous murder investigations and his gradually recovery of memories about them is just annoying. It interrupts the flow of the main story, rather than adding to it, and I found myself skimming these sections again and again, because they broke into the forward movement. Further, in the end they contribute nothing to the main plot, and merely show more of Monk's seeming conflicts in himself. Since these aren't terribly relevant to what else goes on, they were another irritant for me.
I think Perry overwrites: in building up the 19th century London world around her characters she often adds two or three paragraphs of detail. Yes, it reminds us that these people exist in a time different to our own, but it's extraneous to the book's basic intention. We don't need to know about the hansom cabs and vehicles in the streets, just because someone is crossing a well-known London square. We don't need to know how the various jams and stuff were made. And so on. These things need to be integrated into the book more.
Further, she's always giving us characters' feelings, and yet these are often out of tune somehow with the mood of the scene, as though she wants us to know that none of the main characters is really the same underneath as they are on the surface. For a mystery, these are just excess.
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