Friday, January 16, 2009

2009 books, #2-3

I'm working in the library tomorrow morning, and at knitting tomorrow afternoon - competition results when I get back... But some books.

The moonstone, by Wilkie Collins. (Collector's Library edition). London : CRW, 2007.

This is the third time of reading, but the Kniterati were discussing it this month, and it's a favourite. I bolted through it quite quickly as I didn't pick it up until the weekend before, but it was as good as I remembered... The first 150 or so pages drag slightly, as the narrator is a bit of a pompous old fool, but as soon as Sergeant Cuff appears, the plot takes off like a rocket and it's a great read thereafter. The interlocking narratives work as well as they ever did (and there's a nice self-consciousness about that which makes you realise it's all artifice without actually minding it!), and the foundation for a thousand detective-novel clich├ęs is laid.

The thing which struck me forcibly on this readthrough was how much scientific method is dominant, to the detriment of religion. Checking the dates, The moonstone was published in 1868, nine years after The origin of species. Solving the mystery surrounding the moonstone hinges on two discoveries, one forensic and one medical - we're led to feel that if only hard facts and scientific method can be used, any problem is solvable. Conversely, the figures representing religion are shown to by hypocritical, insensitive and stupid. Miss Clack, one of the narrators, came over in this re-reading as a horrific figure, pushing religious tracts at a dying woman, rather than the slightly dotty spinster I'd had in my memory.

An old school tie, by Andrew Taylor. London : Hodder, 2008

Andrew Taylor is the master of the slightly sinister; this one was odd because it felt as if he were holding himself back; and also because the picture of "Rosington" on the cover was clearly Ely Cathedral, when the books in The Roth trilogy didn't ever really identify themselves, despite being set in a small Cathedral city in the Fens. It's a good book, but probably one for Taylor enthusiasts, or people more interested in the pure form of the Golden Age detective novel; it has a curiously old-fashioned air to it. It was only right at the end, when I read the dedications and so on, that I realised that this was Taylor's first novel; so interesting for that alone.

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