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Whodunits: local is lekker?

7 March 2019

We began our Neoinklings literary coffee klatsch this morning by talking about crime fiction, and specifically detective stories.  I had recently finished A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley (actually a pseudonym for two authors), and found it very good. I also interrupted other reading for Cold Granite, which has to go back to the library, and I couldn’t help comparing them (see review below).

I liked A Carrion Death better, partly because it is local, if not to South Africa, at least to the subcontinent, since it is set in Botswana. Botswana is now the setting for two good detective series. Janneke Weidema also recommended the crime stories of Deon Meyer, which the rest of us hadn’t read, so we’ll be looking for them the next time we go to the library.

Cold Granite (Logan McRae, #1)Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A readable whodunit/police procedural set in Aberdeen, Scotland.

A couple of dead children are found, and the Aberdeen police wonder if they have a serial killer to contend with, and then other children are reported missing. The investigation is hampered by someone leaking information to journalists.

I read this one soon after reading another whodunit, A Carrion Death, which was set closer to home, and thus in more familiar territory. And perhaps that showed up some flaws in Cold Granite that I might not otherwise have been aware of.

One thing is the backstory, which, in the case of Cold Granite made me think I was reading the second or third book in a series when it is apparently the first. The protagonist, Detective Sergeant Logan McRae, has injuries, both physical and romantic, that belong to a previous book in the series, except that the previous book apparently does not exist, which makes these details superfluous to this story, unless Stuart McBride is planning to write a prequel.

It is traditional in whodunits to scatter clues to who did the crime in the book to entice the reader to guess them, and occasionally they are known to the reader before they are known to the detectives. But in this book there were too many instances of the reader being able to see things that the detectives did not, in spite of the latter being in possession of the same information. That makes the detectives look stupid and unprofessional.

No doubt in real life many detectives are stupid and non-professional, but it is a little disappointing when it is made so obvious to the reader, and that is why I gave this one four rather than five stars.

From the police procedural point of view, it also raises questions. A clue that certainly gives grounds for further investigation leads the police to jump to conclusions and arrest a suspect for charging rather than questioning. Again, that kind of thing may happen in real life, but the Aberdeen police in the novel are not led to question their own procedures as a result.

Still, it’s a good read, and the police are called on to solve some pretty gruesome crimes in a hurry before the killer strikes again, but it might have been better if the police had shown more evidence of learning from their mistakes.

If you’re looking for crime and detective stories, there are several lists on GoodReads, where you can see which ones other people have voted for, and vote for your own favourites. One of them is the Crime Fiction list, which is for any book where crime forms a dominant element of the plot. It doesn’t have to have a detective protagonist — the protagonist can also be a criminal, or a victim, just as long as it’s mainly about crime.

And for the “local is lekker” department, check African Crime Fiction.

We then discussed a couple of books where the “local” wasn’t so lekker. One of those was Vortex, by Larry Bond. The author clearly hadn’t a clue about the geography of places he was writing about (mainly in and around Pretoria), which made the plot, such as it was, difficult to follow.

One of the better ones, by a foreign author, was The Fourth Protocol, by Frederick Forsyth. It gave a good description of the countryside around Tzaneen, and, best of all, for us, a description of a visit to the military archives in Pretoria, which was almost a user’s manual.

He described the location of the archives, and his description was good enough for us to be able to find the building, so we went there. They told us that the records had now been moved to another building in town, so we went there, and had a glorious couple of days looking through a card index of South African soldiers in the First and Second World Wars. We found Val’s father and grandfather, and numerous uncles and great uncles. And having found the reference on the cards, we were able to order the documents indexed by the cards, which were often even more informative. So whatever else Frederick Forsyth was, he was a grand guide to genealogical research.

From there we went on to discuss what kinds of books, newspapers and magazines encouraged people to read. And that is where populist newspapers like The Sun shine. Yuppies may prefer the other papers where they can read about the celebs they are trying to emulate, but ordinary people want to read about people like them, such as their neighbour whose soap was eaten by a zombie.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 March 2019 6:11 pm

    I take it The Sun in your neck of the woods doesn’t have the far right politics of the one in the UK…?

    • 7 March 2019 6:44 pm

      It’s a long time since I bought one — most papers are too expensive these days — but last time I locked it seemed to be fairly apolitical, concentrating on topics like Zombie Ate My Soap and Preacher runs off with neighbour’s wife.

      • 7 March 2019 6:54 pm

        Those darn zombies! You just can’t leave your soap lying around without ravening zombies running off with it! This is a real problem in today’s society. Something must be done about it 🙂

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