Wednesday 14 April 2010

Any Human Face: review

I had never heard of Charles Lambert, I must admit, until I received a review copy from Picador of his new paperback original, Any Human Face. He’s written a couple of books before, it seems, and the cover carries a positive blurb from Beryl Bainbridge. The tag-line of this novel is ‘a dark, fast-paced story of love, sex, abduction and murder’, so I decided to give it a go.

It’s the sort of book often marketed as a ‘literary thriller’, but really it’s just a well-written novel with crime at its heart. The action shifts between 1983 and 2008, and a strange sequence of events is linked to a mysterious set of photographs which appear to represent crimes and criminals. The photographs change hands more than once, and it is soon apparent that some very dangerous people want to get hold of them. Eventually, the photographs come into the possession of Andrew, a gay bookseller who is an interesting but rather sad character. He decides to make them the subject of an exhibition – and needless to say, this proves to be a mistake.

A series of short scenes feature the abduction of a young girl, and there is a mystery as to the motive for the kidnapping, as well as about the identities of those responsible. This is not, however, a book which culminates in neat explanations of all that has gone before.

I found this book extremely engaging and I would definitely read more by Charles Lambert, who is a writer of genuine talent. I did feel, however, that the story began to run out of steam towards the end. Lambert eschews a conventional mystery plot structure, which is fine, but I am not convinced he found an entirely satisfactory alternative. From the point where the exhibition attracted the attention of Bad Guys, there was a sense of anti-climax. But one of Lambert’s points is that ‘people will do anything to protect what they have’ and, despite the fact that this ambitious book has some flaws, it’s a point that he makes well.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks for this introaduction to Lambert. I confess I didn't know about him, either, before your helpful and informative post. I shall have to try to find some of his work.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'll check out the book...thanks. I do enjoy books that include photography in some way, like this one does (another of my interests.)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Margot and Elizabeth. As ever, I value your comments.
Elizabeth, what are your favourite mysteries featuring photos?

Ann Elle Altman said...

Sounds like a great book. I just wanted to let you know, I received in my hands yesterday a copy of your Cipher Garden and can't wait to read and review it. I have to fit it into my reading schedule but I will - and soon.


pattinase (abbott) said...

My husband's family are Lamberts. Wonder if they are related. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Martin Edwards said...

Ann, I do hope the book lives up to expectations!

Martin Edwards said...

Patti - you never know, it's a small world.