Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Still Waters by John Moss

I wanted so much to love this book: the combination of Canada, koi carp and crime seemed the perfect offering, and I remembered an article about the Canadian north by the same author which suggested that here would be a crime novelist worth reading. Sadly, though, I found a number of things got in the way of my enjoyment. The subject matter – exploitative sex crime – didn’t help, especially as it led to the two principal characters dwelling on their own experience in a way that I found slightly unconvincing. My main problem, though, was that I found it all over-written, both in plot and description; I thought of giving an example here but, in fact, the individual passages are fine, it’s the cumulative effect that makes me feel I’m reading through treacle. In the same way, the nerdish-ness of the male detective, Morgan, means that the details pile up, information about Kurdish carpets bumping up against fish-y factoids until you long for a bit of old-fashioned action. Actually, I’m surprised Morgan and his partner, Miranda, ever get a result, they spend so much time sitting around thinking.

Not surprisingly, the sense of place is good – Rosedale, Toronto, and rural Ontario are much harder to evoke than, say, Louise Penny’s Three Pines, but Moss does it well. I fear, however, that the author is too much in love with both his creations – not an uncommon failing in crime novelists, but it can become intrusive. Things may settle down in the later books – this is the first of a series – but I’m not sure that I’ll be giving it a second chance, unless someone can persuade me otherwise. The fish were fun, though.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas!

From Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford

Lady Bobbin was always most particular that the feast of Christmas should be kept by herself, her family and her dependents at Compton Bobbin, in what she was pleased to call "good old-fashioned style". In her mind, always a rather muddled organ, this entailed a fusion of the Christmas customs brought to his adopted country by the late Prince Consort with those which have been invented by the modern Roman Catholic school of Sussex Humorists in a desperate attempt to revive what they suppose to have been the merrieness of England as it was before she came to be ruled by sour Protestants. And this was odd, because Germans and Roman Catholics were usually regarded by Lady Bobbin with wild abhorrence. Nothing, however, could deter her from being an ardent and convinced Merrie Englander. The maypole on the village green, or more usually, on account of pouring rain, in the village hall; nocturnal
expeditions to the local Druid stones to see the sun rise over the Altar Stone, a feat which it was seldom obliging enough to perform; masques in the summer, madrigals in the winter and Morris Dances all the year round were organized and led by Lady Bobbin with an energy which might well have been devoted to some better cause. ...

But although each season of the year had its own merrie little rite it was at Christmas time that Lady Bobbin and her disciples in the neighbourhood really cam into their own, the activities which she promoted during the rest of the year merely paving the way for an orgy of merrieness at Yule....

[E]very year at Compton Bobbin the German and Sussex customs were made to play their appointed parts. Thus the Christmas Tree, Christmas stockings and other activities of Santa Claus, and the exchange through the post of endless cards and calendars (German); the mistletoe and holly decorations, the turkeys, the boar's head, and the succession of carol singers and mummers (Sussex Roman Catholic); and the unlimited opportunity to over-eat on every sort of unwholesome food washed down with honest beer, which forms the groundwork for both schools of thought, combined to provide the ingredients of Lady Bobbin's Christmas Pudding.

Is there anything as delicious as Mitford? Christmas Day at Compton Bobbin is unrelentingly gruesome, the weather failing to live up to its allotted role by being wet and foggy, though the festive meal is enlivened by an apparent bomb threat. This is a witty froth of a book, one of her earliest, with a slender, though wholly satisfying, plot and a cast of amusing and endearing characters. One for winter reading - in front of the fire, if possible!