Friday, 13 May 2011

Every Breath You Take ~ Michelle Spring

I've had a number of false starts this week with books by crime writers I hadn't encountered before.  As an article in last weekend's Sunday Times pointed out, everyone and his dog is writing crime fiction these days and, in the case of some of the books I've tried over the past few days, the authors would have been best advised to leave their dogs to get on with it.

A good crime novel is not easy to write.  It has to excel in terms of both plot and character.  The former has to be believable while at the same time having enough suspense to keep the reader turning the pages and the latter have to have psychological reality despite the fact that some of them at least will, of necessity, eventually have to be shown to be distinctly flawed human beings.  It isn't enough to excel in one area.  To write even readable crime fiction you have to be good at both.  To write outstanding crime fiction you have to be a master at both.

Well, Michelle Spring isn't exactly a master as yet, but at least her first novel featuring the private investigator, Laura Principal, Every Breath You Take, kept me reading until the end and was satisfying enough to send me back for a second helping.  Running for Shelter is on the shelf waiting.

Laura Principal, once an academic herself, now shares a weekend cottage with her friend Helen, a librarian at Eastern University.  When financial considerations force them into taking a third into their arrangement Monica Harcourt, the art lecturer who applies, leaves Laura feeling uneasy.  However, as Helen does not seem concerned by Monica's jumpy behaviour, Laura decides to go ahead with the arrangement and calls in to Monica's Cambridge home to finalise the agreement.  Glancing in through a lighted window she sees the artist tied up and brutally assaulted.  It seems that whatever Monica had been so concerned about has finally caught up with her.  In the days that follow Laura is forced to track down Monica's assailant not only in an attempt to bring about justice but also to protect herself, Helen and Helen's daughter, Ginny, as they receive threats that they may become targets of the attacker themselves.  Tracing back Monica's time at the University, Laura discovers that there have been several lecturers who appear to have been targeted in ways that have left them at best uncomfortable and at worst, unable to continue in the profession they had loved.  The misconduct that she eventually uncovers is unpalatable to say the least, but is it what lies at the heart of the mystery, or is there something else behind the attacks?  As all the best summaries say - now read on.

In terms of plot and character Spring doesn't do too badly.  I felt the plot was brought together very well.  I thought I knew who the killer was and was wrong, but even so I didn't feel as if the plot that was eventually revealed was misleading or in anyway implausible.  Indeed as an ex-acadmic myself, I'm afraid I knew that given the right characters it was all too credible.  However, I did have some qualms not so much about who the assailant turned out to be, but about the depth of characterisation that that person had been given.  (I'm having to be careful here, because I got the gender wrong, so I don't want to use singular pronouns.)  They had been so lightly sketched in that they didn't seem to have anything other than a supernumerary role until the very end of the book.  I don't think this is fair on the reader.  To pull an unexpected rabbit out of the hat at the end of a story is all very well and good, but it does have to be a rabbit that has at least been hopping about in full view for a reasonable amount of time.   I hope that that is a failing which will have been corrected in later books because otherwise I did enjoy this and it would be comforting to be able to think that some good had eventually come out of an otherwise rather substandard week's reading.


  1. Hi Annie,

    As you say, there are so many books being churned out at a relentless pace, by some quite average authors, it is little surprise that you have come up with another offering which is unknown to me.

    I do struggle with some genres, such as urban fantasy, paranormal romance and steampunk, where it seems that there are more than a few 'wannabe' authors, who shouldn't give up the day job.

    The standards of basic grammar, punctuation and spelling, are sometimes pretty diabolical and are therefore genres that I seldom read.

    Urged on by your cautious optimism about this author, I have added her to my list.


  2. "the authors would have been best advised to leave their dogs to get on with it" LOVE IT - you've got me laughing out loud.

    And yes - I like a book where I guess the wrong person, but the fairness point is really important, otherwise I feel like the book is tricksy rather than clever.

  3. I was thinking that this sounds like a book I would like until I came to your 'qualms'. It would have annoyed me intensely that the culprit was such a vague character that you couldn't even identify him/her as a rabbit to be pulled out at the end - very unfair!

    I'll wait to see what you think of her second book before adding this author to my list.

  4. Yvonne, compared with many, Spring is OK. I do know what you mean though. I had a student who was writing her own trilogy and it was so poorly written as to be an embarrassment. I was so glad I could put my hand on my heart and say I'd never taught her. And, I'm talking about basic grammar here, not just plot. I did my best to sort her out but even so the later books weren't much better than the first. But, she's just self published as an e-book. I am still cringing quietly.

    Rose, that's exactly the way I felt. However the writing was alright otherwise so I'll give one more a chance. It is so often that second book that shows whether a writer is going to grow or fade away.

    Margaret, I will read another, although it may have to wait a while. Still, I'm sure you're not without something to read in the meantime:)

  5. It's funny as I had just recently been sifting through my own mystery piles looking for something new to read and one of the books I pulled out was this one. In the end I didn't start it as I just wasn't sure about it, but I'm glad to hear you liked it even with a few qualms. It seems that oftentimes an author needs a little time, a book or two, to sort things out, though it's always nice when they get it all right, right out of the gate!