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The end of our affair? Surely not.

Such a great disappointment occurs when a favourite author fails to grab your attention.

Akin to the symptoms of withdrawal from addiction, the torment of going cold turkey.

And it is not for want of trying.

The compulsive reader perseveres. But without success. So they take a break, then return to tackle a few more pages.

Determination rules.

Ploughing on past the first chapter or two convinced that things will get better.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” you murmur, adapting the time-honoured phrase of couples on the verge of a break-up.

Surely a long-term relationship such as ours cannot have come to this? But you fear the answer.

Let’s not give up.

I’ve heard of  rabid bibliophiles who have tossed a book aside after a few dozen pages. Instant dismissal, no second chance to engage.


Unwilling to make an effort to salvage that affair which entwines author and reader.

Unprepared to make the investment of time; and why not when so many other promising treats await?

Maybe it’s a case of not being in the mood. Perhaps being caught at a bad moment.

So you flick on in desultory fashion through a few more unseductive pages. Waiting, hoping, to be gripped.

Wanting so hard for the allure of so many of the same author’s previous volumes to seize hold and not let go until the final page.

And that has been the sorry and frustrating situation since delving with the usual high expectations into the latest offering from Val McDermid – “the queen of crime”, as the cover of Past Lying rightly declares.

To which it adds that this is another “thriller” in the Karen Pirie series. The sixth, in fact.

Other cover shout-outs from the usual suspects assure bookshop browsers that this weighty saga – all 494 paperback pages of it – is “chilling” and “atmospheric.” That the plot is “ingenious” and “wonderfully tricksy” as well as being “devious and delightful.”

Oh for it to be so. Here I am on page 82, at the start of chapter seven, and not the merest tremor of a thrill has been felt. Nor have I been chilled.

After a teasing thirteen-line prologue we are taken on a midnight tour of  Edinburgh’s city streets three weeks into the Covid lockdown. And, guess what, nothing’s happening. Zilch. Nada. Sweet FA.  Atmospheric? Maybe. Chilling? Far from it.

The semblance of a mystery emerges when a librarian cataloguing a deceased crime writer’s effects discerns a resemblance between the writer’s final manuscript and a cold case being handled by our old friend, DCI Karen Pirie.

And that’s when our interest starts to wane.

To check on the librarian’s hunch, DCI Pirie has to read the suspect manuscript. Which means readers have to accompany her on this tedious rask.

Together we wade through a morass of psuedo crime writerly prose. Page upon page of it.

As Daisy, Karen Pirie’s sidekick, comments at one stage, “If it wasn’t for the prologue you wouldn’t know it was supposed to be a crime novel.”

Precisely.  My thoughts, too, about Past Lying.

And so it continues – on and on and on.  Forced to trudge through a mediocre slab of allegedly top-notch crime fiction before there is a glimmer of the more promising tale supposedly hidden within.

The tedium is marginally alleviated by  occasional banter about the privations of lockdown and occasional sniping about crime fiction and those who write and sell it.

To get to page 82 without a hint of the “tricksy, atmosphere, ingenious and devious” tale that has been promised is too big a demand to place on readers.

A quick flick ahead shows there is no relief for at least another forty pages.

No thanks.

I rarely discard a book without seeing it through to the end.  But not this time.

A painful decision, and doubly so because it is the work of an author I have greatly admired and fervently followed down the years.

A colourful cover

Adverse reviews are not my forte. Why promote books that myself, and probably many others, are unlikely to enjoy?

But I did wonder what other readers  feel not only about this book but also about this device of a book within a book.  A sort of literary BOGOF.

Let me know.

Meanwhile hopes are high for  Val McDermid’s next; we must keep the faith.

For now, however, it is back to the TBR pile where the unadulterated pleasure of Lessons in Chemistry awaits.






Move over Matthew, you’re no match for Vera

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