Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cleverly does it

Here's another crime novel I think I might like though it's a bit outside my normal range.

Barbara Cleverly's The Blood Royal is the ninth in her series about Joe Sandilands, a detective on London's Metropolitan Police who becomes involved in cases in Europe and in Great Britain's colonial possessions.

Cleverly sets the series in the 1920s, which gives her rich territory for international intrigue, what with Russian exiles, the fraying of the British Raj, and strife in Ireland. At least two of the three will apparently figure in this novel, set in 1922.

A chapter plus into the book, I like the rich though unobtrusive detail. I was especially pleased that the prologue, while obviously setting the stage for the story to come, did not batter me about the head with teasers and cliff-hangers.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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17 Comments:

Blogger Harvee said...

Cleverly is a favorite author of mine, both for this series and her archaeology mysteries.

December 15, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Read the first one and hated it. Gave the killer away somewhere near p. 46. Much of the contents is based on assorted accounts of British officers and administrators of their years in India.

December 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Harvee, I don't know yet whether Cleverly will turn out to be a favorite. But I can say that she writes well and she seems to know what she's doing. She has created a favorable first impression, in other words.

I see that The Last Kashmiri Rose was a New York Times notable book and that The Damascened Blade won a CWA Historical Dagger. What are your favorites in the series?

December 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., as mentioned above, I'm far from reaching a verdict on this book. I should say that if I finish it, I almost surely will not hate it. I lack the patience to finish books I don't like.

December 15, 2011  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Ah. You've hit on one of my betes noires here,Peter, so I must come out of my reluctant retirement to say a word. I read one of Cleverly's 'Sandilands in the Colonies' novels and thought it fair. It did not mystify me very much, and an irritation is alluded to by Mr. Parker (whose The Fires of the Gods came home with me yesterday), namely, her research was evident, and that is something that should not be in an historical mystery.

But big trouble arose when I decided to give her a second chance by reading Folly du Jour, set in 1927 Paris. Now here was a novel researched by ransacking a few books and probably Wiki, making note of every damn famous figure in 1920's Paris. Sandilands couldn't get out his front door without running into one of usual suspects, mentioned just for the sake of mentioning them, and thus appearing quite the expert.

And so courting disaster, and I think you'll like this, Peter. Sandilands goes into a night club and listens to a glorious jazz group. He is particularly enthralled by the clarinetist -- yes, it's Sidney Bechet! And Sandilands thinks to himself that if SB went to England, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra would snap him up in a heartbeat.

Now, first, Bechet in 1922 had already been deported from England after a conviction for assaulting a woman. Second, Benny Goodman could give fine performances of classical works, but Bechet could not. For one thing, he had a vibrato as wide as the Sargasso Sea, and in a classical orchestra he'd sound like Edith Piaf in the middle of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge. And playing in a symphony orchestra does require a touch of self-discipline, an attribute which Bechet had in a measure somewhat less than that of Lindsay Lohan.

But here's the key reason Bechet wouldn't have wound up in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Sir Thomas Beecham did not found it until 1947.

What I staggered through was research that managed to be both hopelessly daft and pretentious at the same time. The only author guilty of stuff as bad I've read in recent times is Louise Penny, one of whose recent works contains plenty of small but one disastrously massive gaffe, and another which was simply based upon an absolutely idiotic premise involving Captain James Cook. I've written about the good captain, so when I got to the end of the book and this was revealed, I was damn near apoplectic.

And thus again, the question I first saw posed in a review of a Leon Uris novel in 1978: Where are the damn editors? There aren't any, is the answer. Or rather, there are, but actually editing is not in their job description, and they don't have the necessary knowledge even if it were.

December 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm gobsmacked, though I suppose that in the spirit of your objections, I should find the novel in question so I can verify your statements. You may complain yourself into an editing job.

And I'm sure Ms. Parker would support such an appointment.

December 15, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Hehe! I hated Louise Penny, too. Same reasons. Philip knows his stuff! (And he has good taste.)

December 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I can think of no excuse for shoddy research, but, handled with the right touch, frequent encounters with famous figures could have an aspect of fantasy to it and might appeal to readers of that genre.

December 15, 2011  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

First, I have to apologize to Ms Parker for my mindless error re her gender. No excuse for that. And I thank her for a lovely compliment from a fine historical crime novelist.

I agree with your last comment, Peter, although I don't think it necessary to introduce a touch of fantasy. Cleverly's novel does, because a British detective visiting Paris in pursuit of a case is simply not going to keep tripping over all these 20's Parisian luminaries. I recall thinking it surpising she hadn't chucked in the Hemingway/Callaghan boxing match, no matter that it took place in 1929.

What rather comes to my mind are the singularly fine Troy novels of John Lawton. Famous and some not-so-famous figures from the period(s) of the books turn up, sometimes as themselves, sometimes somewhat disguised, the latter introducing an element of roman a clef that adds a nice streak of fun running through the novels. But there is nothing fantastic in this. Troy's father is a newspaper magnate honoured with a baronetcy, his brother is an M.P., and so nothing could be more natural than that these figures appear, some fleetingly, some more substantially, for these are the circles in which the Troy family moves.

I must say that few historical crime novelists can hold a candle to Lawton when it comes to mastery of his period, combined with all the ingredients we look for in crime novels. A+. One aspect of his books that I should note is that he doesn't write down, by which I mean that many of the historical figures, especially those lightly disguised, may well not be known to readers who do not have a pretty thorough knowledge of the history of the period. That takes nothing away from the books and may galvanize some, given that this is a series, to bone up on the history books.

I didn't intend to write a plug for Lawton, which I have done elsewhere, but his exemplary work set in London in the 40's, 50's and early 60's furnishes a perfect example of how this can be done in the right milieu and with exhaustive research stitched seamlessly into the novel. A biography of Lord Beaverbrook, as an analogue and in part a model for Troy pere would illustrate the point nicely. So too, in a sense, does the fact that an Aitken whose was in my year at my school was a cousin of the Beaverbrook Aitken line. No surpise in that, you see. I remember him vividly because he had this odd compulsion to blurt out things that got him put in detention, at the least. His greatest feat came when the entire school, 650 boys plus masters, went out and lined the road from Heathrow to greet Yuri Gagarin. Much applauding and cheering, and then Aitken yelling, "Commie go home." Our beak, G.J.P. Courtney, was a fine headmaster and a kindly man, but the school had an escutcheon, Aitken had blotted it beyond imagining, so the old cane came out that day.

I seem to be boring you with my reminiscences, but there is in this the point that as a Londoner (now living in Canada), I used to run into people of lesser or greater renown and some lived near me. I could name what would sound like quite a lot, but that is over the years. The only place I frequented where I was sure to see the celebrated was the London Library, a venerable private library and house of literary treasures much loved by people of letters. You just get used to it.

December 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Young Aitken got six of the best that day, did he?

Philip and I.J., if I think of it, I'll try to find out on my own which book of Louise Penny's contains those mistakes. And you'll know that I share your admiration of John Lawton.

December 15, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Philip is a sweetheart and no apologies necessary. I have a lot of male fans and am very happy about that. And I'll check out Lawton. The story about Aitken is hilarious and very British.

December 15, 2011  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

You are a kind and gracious lady, I.J., as well as a fine novelist. Thank you.

December 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I do believe this is the greatest outburst of courtly bowing and scraping and tut-tutting this blog has seen. I half expect Philip to take I.J.'s hand and request the honor of treading a measure with her.

Literary history is full of women who wrote under men's names, so I got into my head that authors who use initials rather than first names were generally women who for whatever reason decided to disguise their sex. So I was mildly suprised when I found that C.J. Sansom was a man. That got me thinking that perhaps historical crime fiction appealed more to women and that a male author of such fiction might want to conceal his sex.

Of course, the preceding may be utter nonsense; I do have a tendency to overanalyze when I could be doing something useful. Sometimes, as Freud said, a set of initials is just a set of initials.

December 16, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Well, Peter, you may be right about that. We have certain perceptions about who reads what and who writes what. They are based on the books we read in the past. I rarely pick up books by female authors though I love some very much, Ruth Rendell, for example, and Rose Tremaine for historical fiction. But there is a vast distance between Rose Tremaine and the many women who write historicals. I think my objection to their books is that they cater too much to female fantasizing. Though I will say, for light reading I would buy a Lindsay Davis. Note that she has a male protagonist who is the Roman equivalent of a hardboiled P.I. In other words, she writes historical mysteries from a male p.o.v.

December 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of those common perceptions is that women read more crime fiction than men. I was impressed when a speaker (a female author, as it happens) said on some convention panel that we have these perceptions and make these assumptions, but no one really knows if they're true.

I will have to pick up one of Lindsay Davis' novels again one day. I've had trouble with them in the past because I enjoy the history on one hand and the comedy and mystery on the other, but I have trouble accommodating the two in one book. I even visited Fishbourne Roman villa in England, the building of which forms the subject of one of her Falco novels. The staff there thought highly of her and respected her scholarship.

My most recent post concerns The Big Sleep, and I think I've seen Falco referred to as a first-century Philip Marlowe.

December 16, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Yes, you're probably right. I've never liked her British settings, though. It's in Rome that Falco is in his element. And yes, I think her scholarship is excellent and unobtrusive.

December 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read a mild complaint somewhere that Roman Britain was among sites overused as sites of historical mysteries. I suppose that's because so many mystery writers with classical interests are from England.

The folks at Fishbourne said Davis had had a book launch at the site (a marvelous and wonderfully situated site). I take that as an argument in favor of her scholarship.

December 16, 2011  

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