Though you wouldn’t know it.
I started this book in a waiting room a week ago and got kind if bored. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to fit it in because I have a different novel in mind for number ten:a mystery or thriller, so I kind of stopped reading it. Last night, however, I decided I may as well include it as the book written by a woman as most books I read have female authors and this at least gives me a chance to write about the crime fiction genre and the odd names their authors use.
I am also glad that I continued to read it because it is an excellent novel. When I couldn’t sleep at half past one this morning it filled the time nicely between then and writing this.
What is it with crime writers using pseudonyms and being identified by their initials? Sure I get JK Rowling wanted to become an adult author (and had already used up her initials), but what about everyone else? Ruth Rendell writes under two names – In The Same Genre! Does it add to the mystery if you don’t know exactly who the author is? Or perhaps they don’t want people knowing how twisted their minds are to come up with such horrendous plots?
I suppose it is also important to talk about a female author writing a female character in what seems to be a manly genre. And I certainly suppose that this is the premise for this book, it’s title makes that glaringly obvious. I can’t really say a lot about how much crime fiction is a man’s world, I don’t read enough of it as it just doesn’t interest me. I don’t like being scared right before I go to bed, and often, if I read crime fiction, I have to stay up all night to finish it so I can fall asleep knowing there’s no monster lurking out there. I learnt this the hard way reading The Silence of the Lambs, coincidentally also a crime fiction novel with a female detective. And even though I am rational enough to realise it is fiction, most crime writers create a realistic and convincing world sowing that seed of doubt into the readers mind that something like this might just happen to someone like them. I suppose that is the mark of well written crime fiction – nothing is too far fetched, things are ordinary and plausible until someone gets dead.
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is the first of two books about a female private investigator named Cordelia Gray. She has inherited the business and lands a big case about a suicide. It’s hard to review a crime fiction, I feel, because I don’t want to give anything away. So I’ll steer clear of plot and try to capture what I like about this book.
First is setting. It’s an English crime series, which it feel makes it genteel and rotten at the same time. Kind of like Midsomer Murders, there is that quaintness about it but also that underlying evil.
A British setting also makes for good British characters, always stoic with some terrible family secret to hide. You always know in British crime fiction that no one ever tells the truth first up. They all subscribe to the rule that
what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas
However, it’s usually more along the lines of
we’re all as guilty as each other so let’s just keep our mouths shut
Thirdly, there is a satisfying ending. Everything is teased out, nothing is ambiguous. And that’s how I like my crime fiction.
I have also read the other Cordelia Gray story by James, The Skull Beneath the Skin. Many people my age have probably read his novel if they chose Extension English at school and their teacher chose crime fiction. I was lucky that my teacher had a penchant for 19th Century Literature, and so came back to this later to see what all the fuss was about.
It struck me as odd that she only wrote two novels in his series. I quite like Gray as a character, she has a certain fortitude that is appealing in a detective and a no nonsense approach that helps the reader feel as though they are getting all the facts. I feel like James could have left off writing Death Comes to Pemberley and just written about Cordelia again. Despite feeling like they know all the facts it is still hard for the reader to figure out ‘whodunit’ and that does make this an excellent crime novel.
Coming up on my next blog: Still waiting.