Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sophie Hannah

A non-holiday blog entry.

About a week before we left for our holiday, I saw that there was a programme on the tv channel BBC Entertainment with a title something like 'A murder'. I thought that I would record the programme on spec; if it turned out to be no good (as some programmes do), then nothing would be lost. To my surprise and delight, the 1.5 hour programme, complete in itself, starred Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd.

The story itself was quite intriguing (although there was also a certain amount unexplained or there was a missing motive) and I noted that it was based on a story by Sophie Hannah. I downloaded a few books by this author and have been reading them over the past week or so.

I started off - I think accidentally - with the same story which I had seen televised, which in retrospect was not necessarily a good idea as I can see how much has been left out and how much chopped around. After a while, I decided to stop reading that novel and moved onto another which I found better but somewhat annoying.

I'm now in the middle of a fourth book and I'm wondering whether I want to continue reading at all. These stories are not police procedurals - there is very little procedure whatsoever. In fact, the police protagonists seem to go out of their way to ignore procedure. Most of the detection seems to be by divining as opposed to finding evidence. Maybe Hannah thinks this herself, for at one point in the book that I am reading at the moment ("The dead lie down") she writes "Perhaps it's different in the provinces, but in London police officers work on the cases they've been allocated, not on whatever takes their fancy".

It doesn't help that none of the recurring characters in the book are attractive. Normally, there is a certain amount of identification with such characters as DCI Banks and DI Cabot (Peter Robinson) or DI (ret) Rebus and DI Clarke (Ian Rankin), but I find Hannah's protagonists Sergeant Zailer (even when she was in CID, she was very rarely called DS Zailer) and DC Waterhouse unsympathetic and difficult to identify with. Their language frequently tends to the coarse, and their supporting DCs are even coarser.

The novels themselves all seem to be written with chapters alternating between a first person narrative by one of the non-police characters and a third person narrative of the action. Many of the revelations which normally would come via the police procedure appear as part of the first person narration. I don't like this very much.

I came across the following comment whilst looking on the Internet: I am getting a little bored of the neuroses of Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse – who, if you haven’t read any of Hannah’s novels are part of an ongoing plotline. I just kind of want to yell – “sort it out!” I do however, like the fact that Hannah is giving other characters on the police more time. A small part of the reason why I think I enjoy Hannah’s books so much is because of their setting and the funny little observations of people’s ‘Englishness’. I do sometimes wonder if this would translate to readers from overseas, but I suppose that you could say the same about American novels or Scandinavian crime fiction.

I somewhat disagree with the above and don't see much of the funny little observations of people’s ‘Englishness’ alluded to. I think that Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin much better observe contemporary British life (and there are many more musical references!). 

I'll finish the book that I'm currently reading but I don't know whether I'll reread any of them.

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