One thing I like and admire about John Le Carré’s work is that he is not content to rest on his (by this, his tenth published novel, considerable) laurels, but time and again ventures out of his comfort zones into unexplored territory. The departure in The Little Drummer Girl is not quite as radical as it was in The Naive and Sentimental Lover where he left the thriller genre completely, but here we find him moving away not only from his protagonist George Smiley but also the Cold War setting where he seemed to have found his narrative home and instead turn his writerly attention to the Israeli-Palestine conflict instead.
While I love me some Sword & Sorcery or Epic Fantasy, I also find myself often bewailing the many wasted chance in this genre: Fantasy – as the name already should indicate but so very often it turns out to be a misnomer – offers so many possibilities to the imaginative authors, and yet most of would give your average Harlequin Romance a run when it comes to sticking with a true-and-trusted formula. There are exceptions; but they are rare and one has to go looking for them.
If Cop Killer felt like the final volume of Maj Sjöwall’s and Per Wahlöö’s series of police procedurals (I simply refuse to call it the “Martin Beck” series like the covers of my edition do, because that goes blatantly against the spirit of the series), then The Terrorists reads like its epilogue.
Wine of Angels, the first novel in Phil Rickman’s “Merrily Watkins” series appeared in 1998. Since then, the series has developed from novels mixing mystery with the occult and the spooky to novels using crime fiction plots to chronicle the increasing decline of the English countryside and its sense of community. Which was fine with me, as it was always Rickman’s sense of locale and his atmospheric description of British village life which appealed to me most about the series.
Although this ninth is only the penultimate volume of Maj Sjöwall’s and Per Wahlöö’s consistently excellent series of police procedurals, it feels like a summing up of what has gone before, of things coming to a head and to an end. The most obvious cause of that is probably that Cop Killer harkens back to the first two novels by bringing back the murderers featured in them (which is why it is a good to not read Cop Killer before Roseanna and The Man Who Went Up In Smoke, unless you really don’t mind spoilers). Maybe somewhat less obvious, but definitely more important is the way this novel marks the culmination of the authors’ ongoing critique of the course Swedish society has taken since the late 60’s.
Now that I’m about to catch up on Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series (just one more novel to read left there), it’s time to look for a successor, which in this case mean a series of crime novels with a focus on British village life which is the aspect I always enjoyed most with the Merrily Watkins novels. Stephen Booth’s Cooper and Fry series looked promising, so I decided to give its first volume, Black Dog, a try.
By the time they reach the eighth volume of their run, most successful series will have found their rhythm and settled into their groove, chugging along at a comfortable speed along well-known rails. And there is nothing wrong with what, especially in genre literature which by definition exists to retread familiar ground and to provide its readers with the comfort of knowing what to expect – while, of course, still keeping things fresh and interesting; to achieve that balance is what makes good genre literate (and fail it either way you will end up with something that is either boring or no longer genre).