Thursday, April 13, 2006

Brit noir

It seems morally insensitive to describe such a violent book as an immensely soothing read, but I've just finished The Mercy Seat by Martyn Waites and really, really liked it. It has the quality that all my favorite noir has, which is to say that you actually (desperately) care about the characters in spite of their stupid self-destructive impulses; and the Newcastle settings are beautifully well done. There are a few writing things I might quibble with--more point-of-view characters than I entirely approve of, and also a few instances of the thing I've always disliked but now since reading Samuel R. Delany's brilliant and rather indispensable book About Writing actually have a name for, the false flashback, where you start with a present moment and then go back to explain how the characters got there (it's a "false" flashback rather than a real one because there's no reason for it other than the writer not having really decided where the scene needs to start).

But seriously, this is like having a whole new Ian Rankin to get to know, this guy is a great writer and the book deserves to have big success. I got the recommendation from the excellent Cathi Unsworth whose first novel The Not Knowing I recently read and loved; and then the book itself miraculously turned up in the mail from my book-providing friend EP, I still can't remember if I asked him for it or he just read my mind. Very good stuff, in any case.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed it too, Jenny. I thought it was miles better than the recent "tartan noir" Stuart Macbride, But of course "Cold Granite" is MacBride's first published novel, and "Mary's Prayer" (Waites' first) was a lot worse than Cold Granite.

    I thought Mercy Seat was competent but not gripping until the end of part 2, but after that it really took off. I'm looking forward to his next. I'm also kind of wondering whether to go back and read any of Waites' interim books between Mary's Prayer and Mercy Seat -- I'm quite keen but I don't want to be disappointed!