Matter of Recall

I’ve just finished Strange Affair, the second of two Peter Robinson crime novels which I’ve listened to in audio format rather than reading. I have read some of his earlier work but have not been the devotee that some of my friends are. Indeed I have one friend who deliberately saves his new novel each year for her Christmas treat and retires behind closed doors with that and a bag of fudge not to be seen again until she has finished both.

While I’ve enjoyed both books I have to say that listening to them, experiencing them in a medium in which you have to encounter every word, has made me aware of some the weaknesses of the extended series that a reader might well skim over and not necessarily notice. For instance, there are moments of verbal déjà vu when you come across the reminders of specific characteristics of the main participants, so often couched in exactly the same words as they were in the preceding book. Or you find yourself listening to the recall of episodes from earlier crimes in the sort of clunky detail that signals this is something you need to know if you’re going to understand what happens next but really you ought to have read the previous books.

I’m finding this a bit grating and beginning to wonder if one of the mark of a really good writer is the ability to orientate the reader to what has gone before in a way that is less than obvious. I remember when Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets came out cringing at the way J K Rowling handled the necessary recall from book one and then being aware as the series progressed that one indication of how she was growing as a writer was her development in this area. I’ve moved on now to Henning Mankell, also a new writer to me, and I shall be interested to see how he stacks up in this respect. Of course, it does depend on my being able to get hold of his books in audio form. Off to the library site again!

Published in: on January 11, 2010 at 5:54 pm  Comments (9)