Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Trollope and The Yard

Over the weekend I finished my re-read of Can You Forgive Her?, by Anthony Trollope and read The Yard, by Alex Grecian.

The Yard was my Early Reviewers book from Librarything, and all the blurbs inevitably compared it to Caleb Carr's The Alienist, which is enough to make me request a book (although I always request at least five books I would be willing to read), but nothing is ever as good as The Alienist. I know not everyone is into the period-mystery-summer-bestseller thing, but I defy anyone to say that, in its genre, The Alienist is not absolutely perfectly done. (Don't read the sequel; it's terrible.)

The Yard is not perfectly done. It is set in 1889, in the early days of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad and just following the Ripper killings. A new serial killer is stalking the Murder Squad investigators. So far, so serviceable. But the scenes in Scotland Yard could have been set in 1989 - they read like any modern police procedural - and I got no sense of the investigation methods used in 1889. The Brilliant Eccentric Doctor Working For Free (which is poached shamelessly from Carr) makes a big deal over this new fingerprint thing, but after about fifteen pages devoted to that it's not used in solving the crime at all.

There are actually two sets of crimes occurring, and in both of them we are introduced to the murderer(s) very early on and get the story from said murderers' points of view throughout the book. Maybe some readers like this. I hate it; and if you're going to do it at all you need to be really, really good at pacing, because your only remaining avenue of suspense is whether the heroes catch the villain in time to prevent another murder. And it's also very hard to use this plot device without making your heroes look stupid: the reader who has more information than the hero in a mystery is likely to get irritated. I was irritated from page twenty on, when the Chapter in Italics shows up and introduces the murderer by name, but I imagine even a reader who doesn't mind that plot device would be rolling his/her eyes after the seventh time that our hero notes that they're looking for a person in [profession] whom the murder victims would have trusted, and the guy in that [profession] who works for the London police force doesn't occur to anyone. Oy.

But there is always Trollope to fall back on when... well, when just about anything happens. I rave about Dickens all the time, but Trollope is the sweetheart who loves me even in my glasses and pajamas. And the man could write female characters. Can You Forgive Her? tells the story of Alice Vavasor attempting to choose between two suitors, although there is also just buckets of political stuff going on. I don't like Alice, but I believe her; and I do like plenty of the other characters. I'm almost done with the second in the series, Phineas Finn, which is openly political and so at times mightily dry. Still I'm very much enjoying them, and loving seeing real women on a Victorian page.

What a terribly blah post. Well, I've not been very creative or witty lately. Sunday I in fact had one of my (thankfully few) Stereotypical Abandoned Wife Days, during which I sit on the couch in an ugly bathrobe and sob hysterically when I come across the last ten minutes of "Nanny McPhee" on television. (I am not ashamed of this; if the scullery maid getting to marry Colin Firth ever doesn't make me sob hysterically, I shall know that my soul has shriveled away.) Then I tried to watch the second half of "Great Expectations", but I hate the story and Pip so much that I ended up half-watching "300" and snarking to myself instead. (Michael Fassbender's forehead in that movie is an anti-smoking PSA all to itself. The man was twenty-nine and his skin looks like it could have been at Thermopylae. Cigarettes are bad, kids!)

Anyway. Days like that are inevitable, even in Australia, and as long as I have access to baths and dogs, I'll get by. It's always mildly hopeful around here, even when it doesn't come across that way.

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