Monday, July 2, 2007

The worst book I've read this year ...

... is "A Small Death in Lisbon" by Robert Wilson. Actually, it's not the worst -- that distinction goes to Harlen Coben's dreadful "Promise Me" -- I just liked the best-worst symmetry of this and the preceding post.

Still, I didn't much like this book. While I admire the author's ambition and research, this is one of those yarns where meticulous geographic detail actually undermines the story.

The book is two intersecting tales about a modern-day sex murder and SS operations in Portugal during World War II, and it was deemed worthy of the Golden Dagger award. Which goes to show that I am not the best judge of these things. Two things put me off: the relentless recitation of Portuguese landmarks and street names, and the lack of a compelling protagonist in the Nazi-era portion of the tale. Since that part accounts for at least half the book, it's a serious shortcoming.

To paraphrase the old saying: I don't know much about writing, but I know what I like. What I don't like is a good yarn buried under an avalanche of minutiae.

5 comments:

Peter said...

This was an interesting post for two reasons: You had harsh words for two big, highly praised names, and you had the persistence to read to the end two novels you didn't like. I almost never have the patience to do that.

So, what keeps you reading a book you don't like?
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Dave Knadler said...

Hi Peter:

In this case, it was the high praise -- my brother, who reads every mystery and thriller in print, said "Small Death" started slowly but had a good payoff. So I kept slogging through it. As for "Promise Me," it was one of those airport bookstore purchases -- and I had nothing else to read on a flight to Daytona. Live and learn.

That said, I rarely stop reading a book unless it's absolute crap. Not sure why. Some childhood value akin to cleaning up one's plate, I guess.

Peter said...

Did your mother ever admonish you to finish a book because poor children in China would be happy if they had crime fiction to read? Although I have learned to like some of the vegetables I detested as a child, I still am an impatient reader. If I learned to like asparagus, I can learn to read past a slow opening chapter ... or page.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Lauren said...

I loved "A Small Death", but with a fairly major caveat - I move in academic (and to some extent social) circles where it's perfectly normal to discuss the impact of the past on the present in minute detail. One of the perils of working on Germany and Eastern Europe! Anyway, that's why I didn't have a problem with major characters arguing about revolution and war (and therefore contributing to the novel's info-dump tendencies), but I can how it could irritate.

I tend to finish reading everything, but that's mainly because I read so irritatingly fast. (Irritating for my budget, mainly, since I can demolish a new crime novel in under two hours. And it's a nightmare on long plane trips!)

Dave Knadler said...

Under two hours! That would be both a blessing and a curse for me. I tend to take my reading a few chapters at a time. I get maximum enjoyment from the really great authors that way, but then I suppose it means I read fewer books than others might.

This whole blogging phenomenon has taught me just how much of a dilettante I really am.