Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2 questions and 2 books

If anyone's listening, I have a couple of questions for you. First, I've been learning Italian, and have gotten enough of the language to start reading noir (which the Italians call "gialli" or yellows) if the language the author is using isn't too difficult. So is anyone interested in reviews of books in Italian that are not available in English, and perhaps unlikely to be? I don't pretend to get every nuance of the stories, but armed with a dictionary (and sometimes Google Translate) I can at least follow the stories.

Second question, related to the books reviewed below, should bloggers review books that are disappointing, but not terrible? I don't want to warn readers off of books that I liked well enough to finish, but wasn't enthusiastic about (perhaps other readers might be more engaged by them)? Dead Man Upright, the fifth book in Derek Raymond's groundbreaking Factory series, but previously unpublished in the U.S, is in line with the others, in terms of style and pace until the last quarter o the book, when the unnamed Sergeant (the main character in the series) and a psychologist begin to interview the serial killer that they've been chasing. The conversations are interesting, and certainly relevant to any fictional (or real-world, for that matter) consideration of the phenomenon of the serial killer, but for me the pace and drive of the story are over.

Operation Napoleon, by Arnaldur Indridason, is a stand-alone thriller by the author of the excellent Icelandic series featuring Erlendur and the other detectives of his squad. Napoleon is, instead, about a plane that crashed in Iceland at the end of World War II, bearing some sort of secret, and the intrigue that occurs when the glacier that has been hiding the plane gives it back up to the light of day.

There's one interesting aspect of the book fro an American reader: the author evidently expects readers to accept that American military men and intelligence agents will be willing to do absolutely anything, no matter how heinous, in the pursuit of their ends. I don't necessarily disagree, but the degree of demonization is beyond that of, say, the Bourne sort of thing, and other U.S. thrillers with U.S. military and intelligence villains. But with that positive side of the story set aside, the book seemed to be repetitive and, except for the passages near the beginning when the story of a woman caught up in the drama begins to be established. The woman, Kristin, is a lawyer whose brother is unfortunate enough to witness the uncovering of the plane. He calls her just at the point when he's captured by the U.S. soldiers. What ensues, along with a threat from another angle, moves along at a good clip as a "chase" story for a while, but then gets bogged down in the details of the plane and its secret.

So conspiracy fans may get more out of the book than I did. Erlendur fans will probably sorely miss the gloomy detective and his team, as well as the procedural format of which Indridason is a master.

Is the above too negative, or am I revealing too much about the plot of the two books?


Barbara said...

I like mixed reviews. I'm always interested in how a reader was struck by a book, including "I'm not saying you shouldn't read it, but I thought this part was weak - that part was disappointing - it wasn't as good as it could have been." Some of my longest, most passionate reviews are of books that are great in one respect but not in another, which tends to make me far more outspoken than a book that is merely meh.

The times I am most likely to annoy readers is when I rave about a book I loved and they don't love it.

I would enjoy reading reviews of Italian books not in English, because I enjoy your reviews. Also, some US publisher might see it and think "hey, we should publish a translation."

Keen Reader said...

"should bloggers review books that are disappointing, but not terrible?"

YES! And please review the terrible ones too! Otherwise, how will we ever know, without being disappointed ourselves?

Those crime fiction reviewers who only post positive, usually glowing, reviews, are counterproductive, IMO, because when every book they review is supposedly great, then I simply stop believing them. That's because every novel I read is not great, in fact the *majority* are disappointing.

Reviews should reflect this real life reality.

Bernadette said...

I don't see why you shouldn't review books that aren't terrible but are disappointing. You are showing that you experience the whole gamut of responses to your reading and being honest - readers are crying out for this and I don't think authors can ask for more than honesty.

Like the Dr above me I am wary of reviewers who only ever say positive things. Either they are being dishonest in saying they've never come across a book they didn't like OR they're being honest in which case I have no interest in their viewpoint because people who like everything clearly are not very discerning.

I like people with opinions...even ones which differ from my own :)

Maxine Clarke said...

I too think it is a service to review books one hasn't enjoyed as well as those one has. I don't like insulting reviews but yours could never be like that. There are ways of saying in a review why a book has not worked for the reviewer, without being unnecessarily negative and it is useful for potential readers. (Though I tend to shy away from reviewing books I haven't liked as I have experience of their authors getting at you which can be unpleasant and is certainly unneccessary!)

I agree that the depiction of the US Americans is far too simplistically negative in the (rather naive) Operation Napoleon. (Which is nothing like as good as his Erlunder books.) Henning Mankell, too, writes very negatively about the Americans en masse in a similar way, eg in The Troubled Man (where the Americans are painted as far worse than the Russians, I ask you!). A more nuanced view comes from, eg, Persson in Another Time Another Life. The Scandinavians, in particular, do seem to have a particularly jaundiced view of the USA which is not generally shared in Europe, eg in the UK Americans are not held in poor regard, some of us even rather like you! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I, too, have been learning Italian, and after 6 years have many "gialli" under my belt. As a librarian I am very review-oriented, and have come to depend heavily on various Italian blogs such as Contorni di Noir. I'm a long-time fan of your blog, Mr. Harper, and have often chased down books after reading your reviews. So, yes, I would be interested in your evaluation of Italian noir. As for reviewing disappointing works...well, I think a brief review would be helpful. I've come to respect your opinion, and would appreciate knowing that certain titles are not up to par. Life is too short to waste on mediocre fiction. Anna F.