The producers of the old Columbo series took a risk when they launched a show that began by showing not only the murder but also revealing the murderer. They got rid of the most obvious source of suspense: not only do we know whodunit, but really we know too that Columbo will uncover the truth. What we don’t know is how he will do it. The pleasure comes from the clever scripts, our enjoyment of the way criminals always underestimate Columbo, and the superb acting of Peter Falk. But for me this series is the exception to the rule. Generally I don’t like to know too much too soon, and I think this is why I slowed down and came to a halt in the middle of Nele Neuhaus’s much acclaimed novel, Snow White Must Die, when some key elements of the plot were revealed. There was still suspense as a character was menaced by someone whom we now knew was not the faithul friend that they seemed. But still I felt that the wind had gone out of the novel’s sails. I’d wanted to go on suspecting and guessing for a while longer. I put the novel down and it was some time before I went back to it. As it happened, there were still plenty of plot twists, but I think the writer took a risk, which for me did not quite come off, in spite of the novel’s other strengths. Judging by the reviews, other people weren’t put off. So perhaps I am just an old-fashioned girl who loves an old-fashioned whodunit . . . .
Some of my new books were really for my birthday, but one way and another I’ve got a good haul this year. Not many suuprises as most of the books were on my wish-list. They include a couple of books that have been highly praised this year: John Williams’s Stoner and James Salter’s Collected Stories, and I expect I’ll write about them in a future blog. I hardly ever buy hardbacks for myself, and it’s lovely to have these two very attractive volumes. I have almost finished Stoner, and, yes, it is very good. Of course there are always plenty of crime novels on my wish-list, and I’m looking forward to reading Snow White Must Die by German writer, Nele Neuhaus (her novels were originally self-published and this one has sold over three million) and Andrea Camilleri’s The Dance of the Seagull, so one writer new to me and one old favourite. I’ve also been given The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White, who lived in the City for sixteen years: I’ve have a little virtual holiday as I read it. And finally, a couple of surprise gifts. One of them is Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. I’ve had a flick through and I’ve read the first few pages: I’m going to enjoy it. It’s always nice to get something you might not otherwise have read and that also applies to Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines, a collection of essays on our relationship to the natural world. I’ve read good reviews of her work.
I love getting books as presents, and often give them too. The gift of an ebook just wouldn’t be the same.