Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Less Compelling, More Amusing

More familiar writing... I just reviewed the new Deanna Raybourn, so of course the new Tasha Alexander couldn't be far behind.  I actually deliberately did not reread my previous reviews (I think there are two on here)  before writing this, so I have the benefit of reviewing this one entirely on its own merits :) As you know (or would know if you read this blog regularly and remembered it, finger-wiggle :)), I am not an unabashed fan of Tasha Alexander's style.  While I prefer her lighter touch and the more familiar Victorian England it generates, her writing has always left something to be desired.  This book is no different, with high-flown statements that don't come off as grand as they are meant to sound, tender moments that seem more awkward to me, and passages that just don't flow sometimes.   I realized while reading this that TA is a prime example of an author who violates the "show, don't tell" principle (which I may have, kind of, sort of, invented :)).  I don't care if Emily is overwrought, highly disturbed, angry, confused, horrified, grief-stricken.... I want to feel that myself.  And so many times, I'm instead caught by surprise by Emily's reactions, since, while they may be perfectly legitimate to someone experiencing them, we the readers don't  come close to that status, and instead are relegated to the post of distant observers.

But enough of that - yes, these books could be better-written.  But I have to say, I had no trouble at all getting through this one.  Yes, it's not that long, and the slightly bald style means little concentration is required.  But it wasn't that - I thought the plot - public exposure of private scandal + clues to a murder hidden in the British museum - was rather innovative, and definitely absorbing.  It wasn't just a whodunnit (though it was a straight detective story, don't get me wrong, not much history/thriller/fantasy thrown in there).  And even though the stakes were high, I never got too nervous... ok, maybe that's because of the writing :) But our main characters had more fun than worry sorting through the whole mess (or if they didn't, we did at least).  Admittedly, when the mess was sorted I found myself a little disappointed - the villain was I thought, a fairly obvious choice from the beginning, and most of the loose ends were tied up any which way, with little coherence to the main resolution.  But you know, at least there was ending, tidy, peaceful and everything necessary.

Oh and side note that's not really a side note, Lady Emily's eccentricities were considerably less emphasized in this book than some others.  Yes, she still trumpets herself on her drinking of port and smoking of cigars (with the addition of whiskey) and she' active in the suffragette movement.  But luckily, she's more occupied with detective work than anything else.  And, surprisingly, in detective work she's happy to take a backseat to Colin, not insisting on being in on all the action all the time - this is a refreshing contrast from Lady Julia's shenanigans (or at least antics).  We will never be entirely free from Ms. Alexander's less than subtle critiques of Victorian society, its social hypocrisy (actual the theme of this book), its restrictions on women, its downtrodden working class, but I guess we've heard it all so much before it just goes in one ear and out the other.  And guess what, TA? If you didn't like the time period as much as I do, you wouldn't be writing about it, so I know you must not care all that much :)  So let's all just sit back and enjoy a light and elegant tale of detection together.

Verdict: 3/5

Had to PS this one - I read my review from last year and guess what "tell, don't say"! points for consistency :)

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