Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Tuesday is book blog day. For now, at least.

This is not a book blog, but I've read a few books lately that I want to review, so I'm making the next few Tuesdays book blogging days. Think of these as bonus blog posts alongside the history and the stuff about writing. And tango. Never forget the tango.

Anyway, here's the first one. Caution: may contain spoilers.

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Are you on NetGalley yet? If you're not, I really do recommend it. You get the chance to see copies of brand-new books, many by less well-known authors but including some bestselling names who are looking for early promotion of their next title. The only disadvantage is that you might be expected to write a review. Of course, nobody can make you write a review but I like to play fair. Which brings me to Two Nights by Kathy Reichs.

Ms Reichs is best known for her books about Temperance Brennan, the forensic pathologist. Two Nights, though, introduces a very different heroine, Sunday Night.

Back in the days of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, your detective story hero could just be introduced as a "consulting detective”. Nowadays they all come with a back-story and, in a crowded field, the back-stories become ever more extravagant. Sunnie Night’s past is revealed to us bit by bit in what is essentially a separate story interspersed with the main narrative. You know when you get to it, because it's all written in italics. There are literary agents who will reject on sight any book with italicised segments and I have considerable sympathy with this approach. I like my back-story to be just that. It should be the reason why our hero/heroine behaves in the way that they do and the reader should learn about it through the actions of the protagonist in the story, not as a separate author’s note. There must be exceptions, of course, (there always are) but this seems a good ground rule and Reichs less breaks it than hits it with a baseball bat, runs over it with a steamroller, and then feeds the pieces into a paper shredder.

The back story is traumatic and appalling (mad cults and mass suicide feature) but it doesn't seem to be all the baggage that Sunnie Night is toting with her. We will presumably learn in later volumes just why she was thrown out of the Army and perhaps even more about the police career that was ended when she was partially blinded in one eye. Reichs seems to have laden Sunnie down with every psychological trauma she could offer, ensuring that she will stand out from all those other private eyes in books like this. She certainly needs to, because the story, slickly plotted and entertainingly written as it is, is just another bog-standard thriller.

Night is hired by a rich woman to hunt down the terrorists who killed her daughter and kidnapped her grand-daughter. The terrorists do that convenient thing that villains in this sort of book do and try to kill the investigator. One day they’ll learn that if they just lie low and do nothing the PI, in the absence of any clues, will have to give up and go home. But no, they always have to try to off our heroine who, being a crack shot and brilliant at hand-to-hand combat (naturally) offs them in an almost irritatingly casual way. At least the cops are irritated, allowing the by-play between sassy private eye and world-weary cop that comes with this territory.

Eventually one of the villains leaves an email where Night can find it and, with an unlikely burst of insight, she realises that the terrorists plan to blow up the Kentucky Derby. This leads to the compulsory climax in which our heroine searches through the crowds at the Derby until she sees the evil villains and takes them down. It’s going to look great when it’s filmed, as it pretty well inevitably will be.

So, rubbish then? Not quite. Because writing a thriller that keeps you bowling along looks easy but is a skill that not many writers have. Kathy Reich has honed her craft to the point where even such an unpromising plot outline can turn into a more than decent read. It would be better without the italicised back-story and I’d be happier if I could feel more sympathy for Sunday Night who goes through life picking fights with everyone and seriously annoying most of the people she comes in contact with, including her readers. But if this is the sort of book you like, then you’ll like this one. I doubt anyone will love it, but I’m sure Sunday Night would agree that she wasn’t put into the world to be loved.

No comments:

Post a Comment