Sunday, 27 April 2014
Mystery Review (DNF): 'Long Spoon Lane' by Anne Perry
If I’d known going in that this was the twenty-fourth book in this particular series, perhaps I might have expected some problems. But it was a book group read, recommended by one of the members, and it seemed to be right up my alley – a murder mystery set in Victorian times. Well, that sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Something light and entertaining, but with a more interesting background than the usual inner-city fare or the Marple-esque twee rural village beloved of the writers of cosy mysteries.
But all that backstory inevitably cast a pall over proceedings. This is not the sort of series where everything resets at the end of each book. It’s clear that there have been years (perhaps decades) of interaction between most of the principle characters. To say they have history doesn’t begin to cover it. To be fair, the author fills in the details pretty well, and it wasn’t too confusing. The problem was that the earlier events sounded so much more interesting than this book. The lead character’s wife, Charlotte, for instance, and her sister Emily, who are nothing more than domestic goddesses in this book, appear in some earlier existence to have done a great deal of sleuthing on their own account. Now that’s a book I would willingly read.
Then there was the subject matter of this particular story, which revolves around anarchists, corruption in the police force and a plan to introduce laws to allow the police to be armed and to have greater powers in their investigations. Since it’s well known that the British police are not routinely armed to this day, there’s no dramatic tension in that particular plot line. It seems to be merely a platform for the author to express her own views through the characters, who hold endless worried conversations about how dreadful such a step would be, and blah blah blah. Yes, yes, but it gets old very quickly.
None of this would have mattered if the plot had ripped along or the dialogue sparkled or the characters were lively, but sadly, it was not so. After the initial excitement of bombings and shootings (where our hero Pitt repeatedly displays his over-sensitive horror at such dreadful goings on in England), the plot settles into a rather dull political affair. The writing style is loosely in the manner of Victorian novelists, although with intrusive diversions to explain subtleties of social propriety which the reader is (presumably) too stupid to understand otherwise. None of the characters really came alive for me, but perhaps they were constrained by the formality of the era. There were moments where the author captured the atmosphere of London in a truly evocative way – the scenes beside the river, for instance – but mostly the writing was workmanlike rather than compelling.
I suspect that the earlier books in the series were much more readable. This felt like a tired effort, where the author had run out of ideas and possibly even interest in the series, but was soldiering on in the interests of fan satisfaction. No doubt those who’ve read the preceding 23 books will love this one, but it wasn’t for me. I got to 30% before I gave up on it. One star for a DNF.