Sunday, November 16, 2014

Down Cemetery Road: Mick Herron

This is book 1 in the Zoë Boehm series, yet Zoë is not the main character and really only shows up for about 50 pages at the end of the story. At Amazon.com, the books are referred to as the Oxford Series, and perhaps that is a better description. I won't know until I have read one or two more in the series. And I will do that, because Mick Herron has become another must-read author for me.

From the author's website:
After a house explodes in a quiet Oxford suburb, and a child disappears in the aftermath, Sarah Tucker – a young married woman, bored and unhappy with her life – becomes obsessed with trying to find her. Very soon she’s questioning everything she thought she knew, as her attempts at investigation reveal that people long thought dead are still among the living, while the living are joining the dead … What begins in a peaceful neighbourhood reaches a climax on a remote and unwelcoming Scottish island, as the search for the missing child launches Sarah onto a journey with a companion who is himself being hunted by murderous official forces…
“Good characterization, dialogue and well-paced narrative make this confident first novel frighteningly plausible.” – Daily Telegraph
After a very unappetizing prologue, the book opens with a dreary dinner party. (See the post on Toxic Dinner Parties in Fiction at the Clothes in Books blog. This event could definitely be added to that list.)
On discovering a fire, the instructions began, shout Fire and try to put it out. It was useful, heart-of-the-matter advice, and could be extended almost indefinitely in any direction. On discovering your husband's guests are arseholes, shout Arseholes and try to put them out. This was a good starting point. Sarah was one glass of wine away from putting it in motion.
This book is about a serious subject (actually, more than one) and much of the action is very tense, but the story is told with humor. I find Mick Herron's writing compelling and entertaining, and the characterization and dialogue are very good. There are some quirky characters, and a lot of very evil, scary characters.

The first book I read by Herron was Slow Horses, and that was in the espionage fiction genre. This is not specifically espionage ficiton, but close enough. There are covert operations sanctioned by the government taking place and if innocent people get involved, so be it.

 A conversation between Sarah and Zoë...
"Who said I loved him? That was over years ago."
"So why all this?"
"Because when a woman's partner gets killed, she has to do something about it. It doesn't matter what she thought of him. She has to do something about it."
"I don't get you."
"The Maltese Falcon," Zoë said. "Believe me, Joe'd have understood."
One could accuse this of being a schizophrenic story, switching from a story about a bored housewife obsessing about a missing child to a thriller with covert operatives chasing down people who threaten to uncover secrets. I felt that it held together well and the story was exactly as it should be.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Soho Constable, 2009 (orig. pub. 2003)
Length:       316 pages
Format:       Trade paper
Setting:       Oxford, England 
Series:        Zoë Boehm #1
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       From my TBR pile.



11 comments:

  1. Great review. I hope to read some of Herron in 2015 - when I find the things! Humour, espionage, quirky characters, dialogue - all plusses for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do think Herron's books have some elements you would like, Col. Hope you locate them soon.

      Delete
  2. Must admit, I am always a but suspicious about books that try to splice different styles as that usually ends in disappointment (for me at least) - you were clearly impressed though and that's food enough for me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did like this book a lot, Sergio, even though I was sure what to expect when I started it. I hope to get to the 2nd on in this series soon just because I want to see how it is structured.

      Delete
    2. Sorry, "I was NOT sure what to expect"...

      Delete
  3. Tracy - This does sound like an interesting fusion of sub-genres. But if Herron makes it work, then it's innovative and I always respect that a lot. And I do like that bit of dialogue you shared; I can see why you were impressed with Herron's writing style.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Margot, this is "sort of" along the same lines as an Eric Ambler story where the innocent bystander gets involved. But not, because she involves herself. Mainly I think that Herron is able to tell a good story.

      Delete
  4. Tracy, I'll probably reach for SLOW HORSES before DOWN CEMETERY ROAD. Its espionage tag makes it seem more promising of the two.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right, Prashant, SLOW HORSES is more clearly espionage fiction and I liked it a lot. I hope I get to the sequel to that book (DEAD LIONS) in the next few months.

      Delete
  5. Thanks for the shoutout Tracy! And Mick Herron is definitely on my list for when I start getting more books again - I just don't know which one to go for first. Advice?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a hard question, Moira, because I liked both SLOW HORSES and this book so much. I think SLOW HORSES is a bit more straightforward, if you prefer that. I would love to hear your insights on both books.

      Delete