Sunday, February 19, 2012

Precious, Sherlock and the Darcys

It occurred to me that recently I have been reading almost exclusively detective fiction. It's not a genre I've dabbled in before, so I'm pleased I managed not to crack open any duds. It's been fun: my new acquaintances have been quick reads with interesting main characters and more humour than I was expecting.

[there will be spoilers]
I've read three Sherlock Holmes novels, and find it absolutely delightful that the guilty parties are good enough sports to give themselves up without a fuss - by and large - once they've been rumbled, and obligingly tell a backstory which reveals the committed crime to have been a quite a noble and dignified activity in the end. It's all very quaint, much like watching Columbo and seeing those scenes where the FBI happily share their files with the shabby detective, with no turf wars over jurisdiction. Very olde worlde indeed. Sign of Four was particularly fun, on account of it being partially set in India, and Dr Watson's descriptions of himself falling in love.

I've read the first two novels in the The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series - my copy of The Tears of the Giraffe even turned out to be a signed one, so hurrah. I've enjoyed reading these the most: they're witty and detailed, and Mma Ramotswe's detective work is credible. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but for all intents and purposes Holmes' detective work is closer to magic than science (not to mention there was what I consdiered to be a staggering flaw in the events leading to the capture of the criminal in A Study in Scarlet, but I'll let that be). I did think McCall Smith was too kind on the reader in the resolution to the main mystery in the first book, though, but then I am prone to fatalistic readings.

Today I read Death comes to Pemberley, P.D. James' sequel to Pride and Prejudice. The Darcys' lives are upset when a man is murdered on Pemberley grounds, and Mr Wickham emerges as a likely suspect. It might not be accurate to call this a detective novel, really, as the mystery is solved through a series of sudden but unforced confessions, and anyone involved in the investigation seems entirely uninterested in asking a few obvious questions (Sherlock Holmes and Precious Ramotswe - and Columbo - would have solved the case in a fraction of the time required here). The novel's intent, though, is to evoke the language and environment of the original, and it succeeds very well. I was dubious about reading what is effectively fan fiction, but it is a believable enough excursion for the characters, and the book is written in an appropriate style. I thought the novel only really faltered in the end, when Elizabeth and Darcy have an improbable talk about the precise wordings of their key interactions in the original text, set some six years earlier. It seemed a touch too indulgent. All in all, though, the book was - that monster of a word - unputdownable...

You could do a lot worse than adding these books to your list of summer reading, so hop to it. :)

1 comment:

  1. "and obligingly tell a backstory which reveals the committed crime to have been a quite a noble and dignified activity in the end"

    I think that this is actually quite plausible. Iit's Watson, not Holmes (or Lestrade, etc) documenting the case, and he could probably conduct himself enough like a sympathetic journalist to get the full story out of a sprung criminal after the fact.