Last December Barbara of Scandinavian Crime Fiction was kind enough to give me an award for 'critical perspicacity'.
The definition of perspicacious is 'having a ready insight into and understanding of things'.
I wasn't sure I qualified then and a year later I am even less sure, but it did give me an opportunity to post about five vital ingredients and one pleasurable extra I would like to find in a crime fiction book.
1. A decent plot, and some interesting sub plots.
2. Entertainment and some humour amongst the horror of the crimes.
3. Memorable characters that I wanted to follow in future books.
4. To be educated and learn something.
5. To be made to think about society, and the world's problems.
6. Photographs of attractive female authors.
I would try in any review to point out whether or not the book in question meets those exacting standards. But there is also that quality of writing that makes a book a good read and draws the reader easily into the world the author has created. Some writers just have that ability, and some writers learn it over a period of time.
What makes a book a 'page turner' and therefore an enjoyable read, and what on the other hand makes a book seem forced, staged and unnatural and makes reading it hard work?
I have just started reading Black Out by John Lawton and the quality of the writing, the convincing dialogue and the evocative portrait of wartime London he creates are quite brilliant.
How should a book reviewer go about the task of reviewing a book:
A] Firstly read the book, because some reviewers apparently avoid this basic task, and just skim the book.
B] Give a brief plot summary without giving away to much to the reader.
I have read reviews [not by any of our gang on Friend Feed] that make it hardly worth while bothering to read the book. I have even read book covers and blurbs that tell you so much about the plot that reading the book is a bit of an anti-climax.
C] Say whether you liked reading the book or not.
Some people only review books they like, but I want to read critical reviews especially written by people whose opinions I value. A critical review is a public service to other readers and perhaps even to the book's author, who might take the criticism to heart and write a much better book next time round.
D] Give the reasons why you like, or dislike the book?
I like X's books because the publisher sends me free books, or I met X at Crime Fest and he or she treated me a steak dinner with three bottles of wine. That is at least an honest approach and possibly a bit of wishful thinking.
But I think that pointing out that the book has an inspirational character, such as Mr Geung in Colin Cotterill's books, or the wonderful humour in the books might be more convincing reasons for a potential reader.
Or for instance I dislike book Y because by inferring that the Gestapo are just like a normal police force, but with smarter leather coats, the author has created entirely the wrong atmosphere for a serious book.
E] I also like to include a quote from the book in order to give the reader a taste of the type of humour or style of narrative, but that can be tricky if the review is negative owing to copyright restrictions.
D] Give some information about the author especially if they are interesting, or look like Liza Marklund.
With struggling newspapers abandoning book reviews or relying on the five line synopsis, the blogosphere is filling the gap and providing people with the information and opinions they need to decide what to read.