Sunday, May 01, 2011

Read a review, win a book

My review of Gerard O'Donovan's novel The Priest appears in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, and it was a tough one to write.

An aspect or two of the book drove me nuts, and this distressed me for two reasons: I don't like knocking books, and I feared that my quibbles might seem like idiosyncratic nit-picking.

But I saw my editor preparing his bamboo shoots and thumb screws, so I wrote the review, and I'm glad I did. My complaints only brought into sharper relief the novel's most interesting aspects: It's about a serial attacker/killer, but it does not get inside the attacker/killer's head. Nor, despite the horrific injuries the attacker inflicts, does O'Donovan dwell on them in loving detail.
***
A reader from the state of Fatti maschii, parole femine knew that Pope John Paul II's visit to Dublin forms part of the backstory to The Priest. Her womanly words win her a copy of the novel. Congratulations.
***
My editor excised from the review one damned I'd used as an intensifier. What would he have made of this story?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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21 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Nice review and it gave me enough information to know that this doesn't quite sound like my cup of tea without spoiling the book in case I do end up getting it at an airport or something.

May 01, 2011  
Blogger Michael Malone said...

Good work, Peter. To add to your comments on the "niggles" you had with this book - surely an editor worth his/ her salt would have dealt with most of them.

And thanks for the link to Al Guthrie's f*&^ing story. Hilarious.

May 01, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Excellent review. And I swear I read this before, only by another author.

May 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I don't so much dilike reviews that include spoilers as I detest reviews that are nothing more than plot summaries.

May 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Michael. I suspected, without necessarily having a basis for doing so, that the plotting troubles and the overuse of "I mean" in dialogue are results of first-book jitters. O'Donovan's second book is due out in the U.K. and Ireland this summer. It will be interesting to see if the edges are smoothed out in that one.

I also wondered if such expressions as "toe the line" and "rock the boat," about which I complained in the review, might sound fresher to Irish ears than to American ones. I decided not to raise this question in the review because I was writing about a U.S. edition intended for U.S. readers.

The Guthrie story is not the only good one on that site. It just happened to be the best for my purposes.

May 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J. thanks for your kind review of my review. Was it O'Donovan's book that gave you sense of déjà-vu? Sure, shelves are full of police procedurals whose protagonists have processional rivalries, and also of serial-killer stories here. But this book combines them nicely.

Or did you swear you'd read my review before, except by another author? After I wrote it, I looked up some other reviews of the novel, and I found one similarly impressed by O'Donovan's decision to write about a serial attacker without getting inside his hear.

I would find it hard to believe that your comment referred to Allan Guthrie's story.

May 01, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Sorry about the confusion. I meant the plot of the novel. Sometimes details of what I've read tend to run together, and I cannot give you the other author's name, but I have a notion it was a Scandinavian novel. It also had a serial killer, young women victims who had crosses (or perhaps another religious symbol) carved into them, and their jewelry collected by the killer. I suspect that both authors worked out some far-fetched religious symbolism to account for the obsession with crosses.
Thrillers tend to end up being formulaic, and such repetitions may happen unintentionally.
Still, for the reader this sort of thing is a turn-off.

May 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I alluded in my review to the profusion of novels with serial killers and overheated religious symbolism. To his credit, O'Donovan avoids the lurid pitfalls of writing about such subjects.

May 01, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I thought you said he did deal with serial killings, young female victims, and crosses carved into them. It's the plot similarities that bother me. I'll take your word for it that he's not being lurid, but isn't that scenario lurid enough? Maybe he should have avoided the subject altogether.

May 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blogger is eating comments again, so let's try this one more time.

I.J., the novel does include everything you suggest (though the attacker is not a serial killer, according to what is apparently a commonly accepted definition that sets three as the minimum number of victims for a killer to be called serial. I think just two of the victims die in this book.) But I think the restraint with which O'Donovan treats the subject singles his book out from other on the subject.

This interview with O’Donovan suggests that he may have been up to something more than mere exploitation, that he really was, as he claims, perhaps mischievously, trying to put the cross back at the heart of Irish writing.

May 01, 2011  
Blogger Susan said...

I enjoyed reading your review of the book, Peter! It does sound a little like first-time out problems with the dialogue. Did you find it a problem to not get into the head of the serial attacker/killer? did the mystery and attacks make sense, or did the attention of the cross not seem organic to the mystery/killer?

I seem to remember that Jo Nesbo uses the cross in one of his mysteries - but I've read all 5 over the past year, and some of the workings are a bit muddled now.Were you referring to him when you talk about someone else using the cross in their mystery?

You have made me interested enough to look for this mystery, and compare what I find with what you see.....thanks!

May 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Susan, why not take a crack at answering my quiz question and winning a copy of the book?

I saw not getting into the attacker's head an interesting plus for The Priest, something that distinguished O'Donovan's book from others in its subgenre.

And yes, Jo Nesbo was one of the authors I had in mind when I thought my mysteries that involved odd injuries and religious overtones. A spate of mysteries from the Nordic countries from the mid-1990s on included such themes, though often the "religion" was devil worship. Books by Asa Larsson and Helene Tursten come to mind as well.

None of this implies criticism of the novels, by the way; I liked all three.

A sixth Nesbo novel has been translated into English, The Leopard. I don't know if religion plays a role, but the opening scene, at least, offers the most extravagant injuries I have ever seen in a crime novel.

May 01, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Canada is ahead of the U.S. in Nesbo publications, by the way. The Leopard is available there now. I saw copies in Montreal two weeks ago.

May 02, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I'm thinking about this "lurid" business. I've done it myself. I think there is a distinction in how it is used, because I was not bothered by the Scandinavian novels you mentioned, except for the Asa Larsson ones. Those, I think, are strictly and blatantly commercial horror.
Murder is nasty, and I see nothing wrong with playing up the nastier aspects, even to the point of feeding into questionable reading habits by some. But the rest of the novel must stand on its own without constant dwelling on blood and gore. In other words, the blood and gore must serve a purpose in making the crime and the perpetrator more realistic.

May 02, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Someone asked Henning Mankell at a reading why he makes his killings so horrible (though one only sees their after-effects). One such killing, the questioner said, made her want to put down the book.

Mankell shrugged and said, "Because these things happen."

Extreme violence has turned me off only once, and that was because it felt superfluous rather than excessively violent.

May 02, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Your book review is good. I, too, agree that sometimes in writing less is more. Snappy dialogue or even a quick remark, response, curse or whatever sometimes fits a mood more than does a lengthy sentence.

On the religious-related brutality, I agree that it's a bit overdone in some of Asa Larsson's books. I like her writing but think it does go overboard in that department.

Also, one of Anne Holt's books, I recall, has very brutal murder methods, some with religious overtones. (A therapist-friend thinks it's because of the lack of sunlight in Scandinavia, that morbid, macabre writing arises; however, that doesn't explain this phenomenon in books by writers in other regions.)

I won't bid for this book, as my TBR list is chaotic at this point. For every book one reads, five good ones are recommended.

May 03, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, more can be more when the writing is good and when the author knows exactly what he or she is trying to to. I love Bill James' Harpur and Iles novels, for example, and I've just read Crash by J.G. Ballard, and all are full of musing and telling and contemplating and strange gushes of words.

My complaints about O'Donovan's book were different, though. I was not expressing a preference for terse over lush style; I was saying that in some passages that called for terseness, where O'Donovan clearly wanted to capture the brisk back and force of heated discussion, he did a bad job. Basic fiction-writing classes warn against stuffing too much action and description into dialogue tags, and I'd say there's a good chance O'Donovan will fix the flaw in future books.

I hope I don't dissuade anyone from reading the book. Readers of serial-killer stories especially might enjoy O'Donovan's lower-key handling of the theme.

May 03, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I knew that's what you intended. I was referring to snappy dialogue only, which can be a drag if it's drawn out with extra words.

May 03, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Right. It's in the scenes where O'Donovan clearly wants rapid-fire exchange, where the rhythm is part of the meaning, that the clunky dialogue tags do so much damage. This is basic stuff. The book could have used more copy-editing than it got.

May 03, 2011  
Anonymous Liz said...

Glad to have won.

I enjoyed The Priest and shall enjoy having a copy to share with friends. Look forward to Dublin Dead.

Best of luck to O'Donovan w/ both books and any future ones.

May 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, congratulations, and keep on reading!

May 09, 2011  

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