Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Outcast reviewed

I'm pleased to see that the first couple of reviews of The Outcast have appeared.  Maxine Clarke, who's been a great supporter of the series, has reviewed it for Eurocrime...very positively, even though she would have preferred more development of the characters in the second half.  It's an interesting question.  In writing the series, I've tried to balance the central events of each novel (which typically happen in a very tight timeframe) against the slower-paced evolution of the characters and their stories across the three books and beyond.  I don't know if I've always got the balance right, but I hope Maxine will be reassured that,  in my plans for the fourth Nergui book, some of the central characters will be facing some dramatic (and possibly traumatic) challenges... 

Thanks also to the astoundingly well-informed and ever-helpful Dave Lull for drawing my attention to a review in the Coventry Evening Telegraph.  I don't think it's available on-line but it describes The Outcast as 'a thriller which boils gently up to an explosive climax'.  Which is pretty much what I was aiming for.

Thanks as always to all those who've contributed or commented on here over the past year.  I'm planning to write a more considered round-up of my various thoughts about 2008 over the next few days (and what a strange year it's been...), including, for what it's worth, my own list of the crime books I've enjoyedmost over the year.  In the meantime, I hope you all have an enjoyable Christmas (or appropriate festive alternative) and I wish you every good wish for 2009. 


1. Maxine said...

I made a comment earlier but it seems to have been eaten. Apologies therefore if this appears twice.
Thank you for the kind words, Michael. I very much enjoyed The Outcast and I hope it achieves its deserved success. I have been astounded this year at the few reviews in the national press of many of the excellent newly published crime fiction books that I've read this year (the annual selection for Euro Crime makes me realise how many there are). Sometimes, The Times does not review a single one for two or three weeks. It is such a pity that the media does not provide more coverage, as certainly the book reviewers themselves (eg Laura Wilson of the Guardian, Marcel Berlins and Peter Millar of the Times) provide insight in their readable surveys - when they get to write them!

For my part, I like reading about the personalities more than the thrills and spills - though I realise that this isn't the way to a bestseller. My take on The Outcast probably would not be that of the majority of readers, as I am sure that "thrills and spills" go down very well with most, and rightly so (James Bond, Lee Child, et al). It is actually quite hard, as a reviewer, to know how much to separate out an objective assessment of a book with one's own personal tastes - should one do this or not? (rhetorical question).

I am very much looking forward to reading the fourth in the series, after your tantalizing hints!

A very happy Christmas to you, Michael, and I hope you receive more reviews of The Outcast, as it surely deserves wide recognition (as does the rest of the series).

2. Michael+Walters said...

Thanks, Maxine - and a very happy Christmas to you too! On the subject of character development vs thrills, you might be interested to know that my first draft of The Outcast was some 50% longer than the final version. I pared it back because I felt that the climax needed to be very pacy. But that leaves some character issues dangling nicely for the next one...

I'm intrigued by the cultural differences between UK/US audience expectations and those of, say, Scandinavian readers. I was struck, when reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example, that, for all its many strengths, it was extraordinarily discursive...I enjoyed many of the digressions, but I suspect that, if it had been written and published first in the UK, it would have received some fairly ruthless editorial pruning. For me, one of the great pleasures of, say, Jo Nesbo's books is the often very lengthy character development - but I know it drives other readers crazy!

And you make a good point about reviews of crime books in the UK. They seem to be becoming increasingly few and far between, which is why Eurocrime and its equivalents are so important.

On that note, I should perhaps take the opportunity to pay tribute to late Susanna Yager. I never met her, but she was kind enough to give thoughtful and positive reviews to my first two books - and that matters enormously to a new writer. Her contributions will be much missed among the crime fiction community.

3. Maxine said...

I have read quite a bit of Scandinavian crime fiction over the past year or two, and it is certain that Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo are not typical - at least of the translated books I've read. Maj Sjowell/Per Wahloo's "original" Martin Beck series (superb! I have two of the ten to go) are lean and mean. Mankell, A Larsson, Anne Holt, Indridason, etc all write quite short books. Also some newer authors such as Frode Gryttan seem to specialise in shorter novels. Johan Theorin is a find for me this year - his first novel is quite long so maybe he's another in the Nesbo/S Larsson mode. For me, the two Nesbos I have read so far were too convoluted - and I feel the solutions were contrived. The character of Harry Hole and his female colleague (Ellen?) is what makes this author for me. Similary, S. Larsson and Lisbeth, though she is something of a "male fantasy figure" ;-)

4. Michael Walters said...

Thanks for the interesting response, Maxine. Yes - that's a fair point about Sjowell/Wahloo...they're quite different. I read and enjoyed a couple of the books years ago, but must have a go at the full series in the light of your comments. I'm sure it's as impossible to generalise about Scandinavian crime fiction as it is to generalise about UK or US crime fiction. I suppose, though, I partly had in mind not just the discursive style of Larsson or Nesbo, but also books like Jan Costin Wagner's Ice Moon or Ake Edwardson's Never End (which I loved, but at least one reviewer thought it came close to living up to its title, as I recall...) which seem to have a slower, more contemplative feel than any UK equivalents I can think of. Even Mankell's books seem to me to be noticably slower paced (in a good way, on the whole) than, say, those of John Harvey or Ian Rankin.

And, yes, I agree with you about Nesbo - the plots tend to have a few too many twists and turns. But Harry Hole has become one of my favourite fictional cops - I think because he adds to the usual middle-aged, alcoholic template a welcome wit and sense of anti-establishment mischief.

5. Maxine said...

I agree that the Scandinavian crime fiction tends to be "non pyrotechnic" - sometimes the finales seem almost throw-away or silly (Lisa Marklund and Henning Mankell, respectively). Their strengths are in the characters, sense of place and -yes- the depressive, melancholic self-absorption. There must be exceptions, for example The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidsen is exciting. But, in general, the Scandinavian crime fiction I've read is the opposite to much of the US and other "noir" fiction that seems to be more mainstream in the crime genre.

6. Michael Walters said...

And it's interesting that there seems to be such a taste for that 'non pyrotechnic' material...there must be some lessons to be learnt by UK writers and publishers (I'm thinking about it...). 'The Serbian Dane' is sitting reproachfully on one of my many piles. Perhaps that's the next to be read. I've had a growing fascination with Denmark since visting its wild west coast two summers of our closest neighbours but it felt like another (if oddly familiar) world.

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