The fire crackled, a log slipped, tumbled, fell out of the fire, picked itself up in surprise, noticed people were watching, pirouetted, curtsied, and jumped back in.
Someone screamed, but it was only a seagull, not a tern or a pterodactyl, but something that has never existed, a seagull, which screamed as it thudded into the window: clearly, it had been entranced by the log’s dance.
Yup, I’ve got fed up with the way James emphasizes a pause in a significant conversation by constantly reusing one of her limited catalogue of external events. Personally, were I writing prose, I think that, if I were to feel the need to emphasise a point, the prose itself should change, the language would deconstruct or assemble in a slightly odd style (which probably just proves I’m not a prose writer). There are so many different ways of making the point that to depend on the repeated and obvious use of what has become a personal symbolic cliché is not good.
And, while we’re at the criticisms, there’s another thing that annoys me. Imagine this: a murder scene in an isolated spot, where people rarely visit, yet strangely around the time of the crime half the bloody cast were there.
The most annoying fault is to be told about that the detectives are having a conversation about their suspicions, but the conversation is not reported. This is a novel. We’re taken into the characters’ heads, deep into their private thoughts, fears and fantasies. So to be locked out of a particular event just because it might give the plot away is not just nasty, it’s deeply inconsistent. I want to ride with the detectives as they solve the crime. To be denied access to an important part of that process is poor story telling.
I can’t fault her characterisation. Everything feels natural and right about the behaviour of her created people. There are instances of bizarre behaviour, but those instances are valid in the circumstances. The motivations, the backstory, the personality, the habits of the characters, all feel true.
And the way the characters assemble, and interact, all feel true too. The dialogue, the context, the way they behave together, all is good. The social structures, the assembly of society: well, that is a very good exploration of what exists, from a posh perspective admittedly. She’s a toff, and it shows, but she describes what she shows extremely well. Far more interestingly, she wasn’t actually a toff, but a someone who came from a poor background, who faced some difficult problems as a young woman, who overcame those problems, and flourished.
Her descriptions can be excellent. She’s one of the few authors I’ve heard who approaches masters of description like Samuel R Delany.
And her language, although conservative, is perfect, to the extent that, after listening to a couple of her books, I found my own language changed in conversations. She is a very good writer of prose.
She offers rich descriptions of the way people dress themselves. Unfortunately, although I hear what she’s saying, the underlying messages, beyond the economic ones, are beyond me. It’s my problem that I don’t appreciate the meaning of styles of dress (despite being interested in social structures and despite being interested in photography), not James’.
She appears to have a deep knowledge of many professions, not just the professional knowledge itself, but how those subjects are enacted: not just of the medicine of nursing, but how nursing works in the real world. Quite a lot of this is based on her own experience, but quite a lot is not. She’s done good research well, and it shows. Now, admittedly, I know very little about any of the domains she covers, but they are presented in a consistent and convincing manner, with the foibles and errors of personalities of both people and bureaucracies. She convinces me.
She can be self–conscious and self–referential. There’s rather too many lady detective fiction writers involved: admittedly, they don’t do so well in the novels. Whether she’s being self–deprecating or having a go at her competitors is not clear to me; I suspect a combination. It’s handled well. The point is that she writes the worlds she knows, and does so well.
I’ve been listening to the audiobooks narrated by Daniel Weyman. Everything about the narration is good, with the irrelevant exception of his French accent. One does not miss a thing.
I’m a little over half way through her detective fiction, as audiobooks. I’m certainly going to keep listening, despite the scabs of the crackling fires. I enjoy her descriptions and her characters. Many of the faults are those of times in which the novels were written. The strengths outweigh the weaknesses.