Wednesday 9 January 2019

The Boy Who Lived With the Dead - review

As well as trying to do plenty of writing, I've also been doing a lot of reading lately. There are two schools of thought among my fellow authors. One view is that it's distracting, if one is a crime novelist, to read other crime novels, particularly if they are in a similar vein to one's own work. The other view is that it would a strange form of self-denial to overlook such books, and that one can actually learn from colleagues in all sorts of positive ways as well as enjoying their work. I'm firmly in the second camp.

One of the contemporary novels I've read lately is Kate Ellis' The Boy Who Lived with the Dead, which was launched just before Christmas. It's a follow up to A High Mortality of Doves, and I'm quoted on the back cover as saying that book was: "Fascinating, with a characteristically clever twist." I could say the same about this second case for Albert Lincoln, a story in which almost every single character is nursing a dark secret.

The year is 1920, an interesting time in history (another book set at much the same time is the first Charles Todd novel, A Test of Wills, which I strongly recommend). Albert is called back to the Cheshire village of Mabley Ridge, where he undertook a fruitless investigation into a child murder just before the war. The setting is a fictionalised Alderley Edge, long before the arrival of the footballers and their wives to that part of the world. I was pleased to see my old home town of Northwich getting a mention - you can't have enough Cheshire-based fiction!

The plot is, as you'd expect with Kate, pleasingly convoluted, and it's very much in keeping with the tradition of the Golden Age mystery. It would also make good television. One important point is that this is the second book in a trilogy, and the events of the first book cast a large shadow over this one. So I agree with the advice given in Puzzle Doctor's review that one really needs to read the first book before this one in order to get the full benefit of the story.

And this issue raises very interesting questions about how authors can deal with potential "spoilers" of earlier books in their later work. It's a technical point, but of great significance to readers and writers alike. It's also an issue I'm grappling with at the moment as I work on the sequel to Gallows Court. I'm not sure what Kate has in mind for the third book in the trilogy, but I wonder if there might be merit, in due course, in her three books being issued in a single omnibus edition. One excellent precedent for such an omnibus is Andrew Taylor's Fallen Angel, which is the best crime trilogy I've ever read, with a truly unique structure. Anyway, that's for the future. In the meantime, Kate's latest novel (her thirtieth - blimey!) is another accomplished piece of entertainment. 


Raymond West said...

I've just read "A Test of Wills" by Charles Todd and I enjoyed it. I didn't think that it would be so distressing, but also so depth in characters and themes. In fact, I felt a sort of bitter-sweet emotion. Anyway, I loved that book and I'll keep an eye on Ellis' book. Thank you, Martin!

P.S. I can't wait for "Deep Waters".

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks to you, Raymond. I'm a big fan of Charles Todd. Since reading that first book, I have got to know the mother and son team responsible for the series, and they are delightful people as well as terrific writers.