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I prefer to write about books that I like to read, as a result I write very few, if any, negative reviews of books. Most books that I don't like, I simply don't finish. Yes, I have finally learned how to put down a book that doesn't interest me, even if I haven't finished it. It took a long time for me to do that, kind of like unlearning to clean your plate at every meal (my parents were children of the Depression so food was never wasted.) Actually, I have always found it easier to leave food on my plate than to put down a book unfinished. But I have progressed to the point where I have a bookshelf at Goodreads named simply "Put Aside for Now."

Someone devoted a lot of thought, hard work, dedication and talent into writing a book that I have failed to complete. There is a feeling that, yes, I have failed to live up to my end of the bargain with the storyteller. Sometimes the failure is due to a lack of time, or a lack of interest, or an inability to relate to the protagonist. And sometimes it is because the book is flat out boring, but even then, I still feel that somehow I have committed the betrayal.

I could probably shake this feeling of failure and betrayal if I would just stop going back and giving a novel a second try and falling in love with it. If books I didn't finish would remain unfinished, I might be able to shift some of the blame to the writer.

However, it is unlikely that I will ever again pick up this book, read it and fall in love with it:
Murder as a Fine Art, by David Morrell.

Thomas de Quincey
Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) is an actual historical figure, an acquaintance of Coleridge and Wordsworth and writer of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (available at Project Gutenberg) among many other essays. One of those other essays was "On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts." (Also available at Project Gutenberg.) This essay was a parody, a satirical look at the lectures given at gentlemen's clubs of the era and used the Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 as the subject of a talk on murder as an art form. The essay was published in 1827 by Blackwood's Magazine and proved very popular, leading De Quincy to write multiple sequels.

David Morrell uses Thomas De Quincey and his daughter Emily in his novel, Murder as a Fine Art. Set in 1854's London, another murder occurs that is remarkably like the original vicious murders on the Ratcliffe Highway that De Quincey had written about years earlier in his essay. De Quincey, visiting London at the time, is still addicted to opium (laudanum) when he is eventually accused of committing the recent mass murder.

Morrell clearly researched the Victorian era in preparation for writing this novel, as he makes clear in his Afterword: "For two years, I lived in 1854 London." And yes, he pretty much gets the language, setting and ambiance of 1854 correct. But then he screws it all up and I don't understand why. The daughter Emily wears "bloomers." That is not a screw up, because there were women who used bloomers as a signal of their refusal to fully accept the patriarchy of the male dominated society in that age. But even the wearing of bloomers would not allow a woman to do and say the things Morrell has her do and say. There is no way in the world that an Englishwoman of the 1850s would have been able to demand to spend the night in the Coldbath Fields Prison when her father was arrested. That bothered me. A lot. But not enough to stop reading this book.

Because Morrell got some things right. The police force of that era was not made up of highly-trained bright young men. Those young men would not allow a policeman to cross the threshold of their servant equipped homes. Service as a patrolman in the police department was a bit of a dead end job and attracted its share of fairly stupid men and men whose background, like the Irish detective in this novel, barred them from other employment.

But they did not repeat to civilians that the only reason they were patrolmen was their hope for advancement to the detective ranks as did Constable Becker. Nor did their Irish background prevent them from understanding the English spoken by Londoners, as Detective Ryan's did.

The credibility stretch did not bother me, in the end, quite as much as the graphic description of violence. And that is my fault, as I should have known that the author of First Blood, upon which the original Rambo movie of the same name is based, would write a violent tale. The first chapter of the novel is a depiction of a mass murder and while I should have been able to surmise the prominent place that would be given to violence within the novel, it wasn't the first mystery I have ever read where there was a mass murder, graphically explained.

But I was unprepared for the killing of someone with a spoon to the eyeball.

At that point I pretty much gave up although I continued to read another couple of chapters. It is hard for me to give up on a novel, and even though I knew who the murderer was, I wanted to understand the motive. If you want to learn why the murderer committed the murders based on the essay, "On Murder as One of the Fine Arts," you will have to read the book yourself as I couldn't tell you if I wanted to. I never found out.

Other books that I don't feel quite as strongly about but have still not been able to finish:

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

I just can't get past the first two chapters of this book and I'm not sure why. It has garnered some very favorable reviews including one from the New York Times. Wikipedia has this to say:
NOS4A2 is a 2013 novel by American author Joe Hill and is his third novel. The book was published on April 30, 2013 through William Morrow and Company and focuses on a woman trying to save her son from a vicious killer who has set his sights on him.
Wikipedia
I love how Wiki can condense a 720 page book into two sentences. (Goodreads does a much better job and so I have linked that to the book's title.) Far more complex than presented, I am having trouble immersing myself into this mystery/thriller. But Joe Hill's pedigree is so good that I have put this one on my PAFN shelf.

 

 


Another on my PAFN shelf is The Broken Token by Chris Nickson.

Set in Leeds in 1731, this is the first of what promises to be a series about the sheriff of Leeds, Richard Nottingham, and the murder of a former serving girl. Can't tell you much else because I only made it through the first quarter of the book. I haven't given up on it yet; it has a real sense of the sixteenth century that I like. But it is not ostentatiously historical as Murder as a Fine Art. I am not sure if it just isn't compelling enough or if I haven't really been focusing on it. Probably the later as it has garnered some strong praise from readers who actually know Leeds.

 

One that I was really surprised to find on my PAFN shelf is by one of my absolute favorite mystery writers, Ian Rankin. Exit Music finds John Rebus eight days from retirement when the murder of a Russian poet takes him and his partner, and possible replacement, DC Siobhan Clark, on another journey to solve a mystery. Along the way we run into arch-frenemy, Cafferty. Of course.

So why can't I bring myself to finish this novel as Rebus is finishing his career? Perhaps because it is the end of his career that I dread.

Oh wait, Rankin has written two more Rebus novels, you say? Then I guess I will have to finish this one. Soon. Because I still haven't read any of the novels in his other series set in the world of cold cases and starting with The Complaints

 


So, what books have you given up on, or put aside for now, and why? Have any of you read any of these books, and if so, have you any encouragement to offer? Commiseration? Agreement?

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Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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