I got a comment on Thursday night from John Barlow, asking if I would like to read his book Hope Road, describing it as a cross between Kerry Wilkinson (whose book Locked In I had read a few weeks ago) and Kate Atkinson (whom everyone knows I adore). Never one to pass on a free detective novel, of course I took him up on the offer, and after finishing the excellent Friar and the Cipher, devoured it this weekend.
Barlow is definitely selling himself short comparing himself to Wilkinson… he is a different calibre of writer. I really enjoyed Hope Road, much to my relief, as I would have found it awkward if I hadn’t! It was well-written, with likable characters, a discrete and dark sense of humour, and a plot with twists that kept me guessing till the end.
It’s funny how you can (well, I can) accept slightly unusual characters or plot lines when a book is well-written. I always think of the extreme of Kate Atkinson’s books, because she can really push the line in terms of realistic plots, but it doesn’t matter because her characters really come to life, and are genuinely likable — if those characters are believable, then you’re more likely to accept the incredible things that happen to them. This (my) rule applies to both Wilkinson’s book and to Barlow’s — Wilkinson got so bogged down in clumsily-written realistic details, which brought nothing to the plot and slowed the pace. Plus his “heroine” Jessica was really annoying and was a bit of a Mary-Sue.
When I started Hope Road, I groaned when introduced to hot woman-slash-tough cop Den Danson (I hate corny names with double initials), thinking this was going to be yet another Mary-Sue. But actually she’s only a supporting character, and the main protagonist is a complex, interesting guy with a lot of shady history. I really took to John Ray and I want to know what happens to him next, so I am looking forward to reading the next in the series. I did find the large number of characters a bit confusing as they aren’t always that strongly framed, but I am willing to see how that aspect develops in the next book. I suspect it’s not that easy to draw up a minor character in just a few lines and it’s a skill that has to be honed.
Before I started reading e-books I generally took the writing for granted when it came to crime fiction, and apart from Patricia Cornwell (whose AWFUL AWFUL writing has been known to cause me to yell in outrage — how that woman is so successful I do not know, and can only ascribe to whatever it is that makes Twilight and the Da Vinci Code bestsellers) judged them based on their plot alone. But recently I have been subjected to a few free/cheap self-published novels (many of which I abandoned after the first painful chapters) and now have a more critical eye… anyway, John Barlow definitely gets a pass from me (knowing me for the important literary critic that I am, I am sure he is relieved to hear it).