Archive for May, 2009

Skeletons in the bookshop!

Another sparky meeting at the end of May, when we discussed Valerie Laws’ crime novel set in the North-East, The Rotting Spot.
Laws is famous for spray-painting poetry onto sheep (yes, I know she has done other things too!) and so this novel is quite a departure for her as a writer.
I was very glad to have Janet at the meeting because she was able to give her wealth of knowledge and experience of both reading and writing crime fiction. It was great, because it put this work into a context for those of us who only dip into the crime genre now and again. Janet (and others) enjoyed the novel on the whole – she felt it was very fresh and original. Lots of us enjoyed the humour and we also found there were little giveaways that the writer has a background as a poet – for example, in some of her language. For me, some of these turns of phrase didn’t work: I thought, for example, that the description of a puffin as “like Proust’s madeleine, only she wouldn’t be dunking it in her tea” (P.74) was both laboured and pretentious at the same time as being plain daft.  Others liked the poetic bits, so it just goes to show how we all get different things out of each book we read.

I found the plot rather predictable – apart, of course, from the ending. None of us saw the last page coming,  but we thought what happened was nevertheless implausible. I also felt the writer gave far too much in the way of lengthy explanations at the end of the novel, but Janet has pointed out that this is probably a necessary convention in crime fiction.

For Margaret, who was brought up around where the novel is set, Laws also did a good job of evoking the landscape.

Many of us felt the novel had the potential to be a little better than it was and that it might just have benefited from a little tougher editing. We thought some of the characters (Erica and Will) had potential for a sequel – which is so often a requirement for crime writers now, although given that this is published with the independent Red Squirrel Press it may not have to bow to the same market pressures.

Another point to admire was Laws’ very attuned ear for the Geordie dialect, which was so accurately written. As one reader pointed out, it was also refreshing to hear such a young-sounding voice.

The discussion led, as it often does, to a chat about other crime writers and what else we’ve enjoyed reading.  The crime expert’s recommendations are novels by Christopher Brookmyre (for example, Quite Ugly One Morning ) and works by Mark Billingham (his first is called Sleepyhead), who’s a crime writer as well as a stand-up comedian! Another great-sounding recommendation is Booker Prize winner John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black (try Christine Falls).  Two readers have been working through Richard T.Kelly’s Crusaders, set on Tyneside in the 1990s, but weren’t sure whether they wanted to recommend it!

I recently went to a reading in Luton by comic crime writer L.C.Tyler and as a result I bought his first novel, The Herring Seller’s Apprentice. I read it in one sitting on the train home and thought it was really funny and clever, so I’d certainly recommend that one.

Next month we’re discussing the second of the Read Regional choices, Alice De Smith’s Welcome to Life.

Next meeting: Tuesday 23rd June. 6.30pm. Doolally’s, Marygate, Berwick.



About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

May 2009
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