Thursday, June 16, 2016

Going Wrong

11 Ramadhan 1437


On a day when one might be expecting to celebrate the noble art of literature I find myself bemoaning the fact that I've just completed the worst novel I've ever read. The junk in question is Patricia Cornwell's Isle of Dogs, and I don't recommend it, not one little bit. I'm still not entirely sure why I decided to finish it: partly this derived from an almost puritanical sense of the need to do justice to a novel by at least reading it before damning it; partly because of the fascination of seeing just how bad a work by a well-known writer could actually be in its entirety; and, I wonder if part of me saw reading it as a kind of added penance in the fasting month. Amazingly it got worse as it went along as it became increasingly obvious that the plot was going nowhere and Ms Cornwell had no control at all over the development of an increasingly ridiculous cast of characters. The ending is perfunctory, to say the least, with major storylines simply abandoned. How did this ever get published?

And how did I come to read it? Well, that can be traced back to the 1990s when the first few Scarpetta novels by Cornwell came out. These taut and engrossing little thrillers went down well with me and Mum and a few other readers of my acquaintance, up to around number seven, I think. At that point the formula seemed to be wearing thin. To my surprise Stephen King name-checked Cornwell in his novel Bag of Bones as a popular writer who was being badly handled and edited by her publisher. That was quite a surprise as Mr King is usually very supportive of his fellows, but made a kind of sense as it explained to some extent why the Scarpetta series seemed to be deteriorating in quality. At that point I decided not to bother reading further, but I had heard of a new set of characters being developed by Cornwell in a novel entitled Hornet's Nest and wondered if I should check this out. In fact, I was given a copy of the book, but just couldn't get round to reading it - and I'm not sure where it went. Then some four or five years back when Noi and I were browsing in a second hand book store at the Art Market here in KL we came across the copy of Isle of Dogs (featuring some of the players from the Hornet's Nest story) that I've just read along with a couple of other tasty titles. I bought the Cornwell mainly with the Missus in mind - since she'd been a fan of the early Scarpetta numbers - thinking that it would one day make an interesting read as a straightforward old-school police procedural. Noi has never got round to picking up the book, so I thought I'd better justify its purchase and re-new my acquaintance with a writer I'd once enjoyed.

I wish I hadn't.

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