Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Murder by the Book by Susanna Gregory

Poitiers, September 1356

On a warm autumn morning, two armies faced each other across a gently rolling plain.

Here we have a situation. It begins with weather, but I blame the peculiar modern psychological habit of visualizing life and art in terms of a TV episode; thus, this reads like the beginning of a show: fade in to a cheap CBC production with setting and tense stand off.

By paragraph two the battle begins. The prologue ends with a murder. I like this prologue. It is not merely an info dump to set the record straight and establish context so the forward narrative will make sense, but is entertaining in its own write - I mean right.

Chapter One:

Cambridge, June 1958

The corpse was on its back, eyes fixed sightlessly on the sky above, arms flung out to the sides and legs dangling in the river.

A mystery novel that begins with a corpse shows great promise. Mystery right away shows that this writer understands the expression: Brevity is the soul of wit. Brevity is also, I might add, the soul of the hook.

Personally, I prefer this to the Agatha Christie formula of cramming a crowd of people down the reader's throat before the murdering begins. Not that that formula doesn't have its advantages, as, even though the murder has not occurred, clues are still gushing forth - just that by the time the crime is being investigated, the reader has a hard time remembering the million details that begin the book, making it almost impossible to solve the crime. It's a sort of cheating on Ms. Christie's part, but it works - people love being surprised at the end. However, the formula in which the detective and reader enter at the moment the crime is committed is fairer, and as far as beginnings go, more hookable than the Christie method.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

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