The Art of Reviewing

I am bowled over by this amazing review of “Sandman” (book 4 in the DI Marsh series). It is insightful and engagingly written. Review-writing is both a creative and intellectual effort. But it also emotional – you show your emotional response to something; you interact with characters and themes; you react to issues. The book may trigger memories or passions, including intense dislikes. Through your review you also address the author – be it in a good way, or bad (as the case may be depending on the tone of your review). The author responds to your review, albeit not in public. But there is always a response: joy, misery, exhilaration, anger, perhaps a strong desire to explain or debate your views. Alas, reviews are not for debate.

I certainly do not wish to debate this one.

This is not your formulaic, police-procedural mystery. In fact, it is easy to forget that this is a mystery at all, until nearing the final chapters. I’m almost reminded more of certain stage shows; Rent comes to mind. Legat leisurely follows multiple characters within the same town, some linked closely together while others are only connected by their habitation in the community. Yet this slow burn bursts into an explosive flame, literally, shattering the worlds and the lives of many of the characters.

DI Gillian Marsh has not taken any vacation time in years. In fact, no one can remember her taking any time off before. But she has begun questioning a number of choices in her life. Her career seems to be stuck, her relationship with her daughter is fraught, her relationship with her soon-to-be son-in-law is frosty, and she recognizes the need to make some changes before she loses the most important thing in the world to her.

An older couple, estranged from their only son for years, unexpectedly get a letter from him. Two English-Asian students struggle with racism. An older man fights nightmares from his decisions during the war in the Falklands, and tries to be a grandfatherly figure to the grandson of his friend who died there. A young woman and her friends live in a squatters’ camp that inconveniences the local lord. And slowly an Afghani assassin makes his way across Europe toward England for a date with a destiny that will affect all of them.

One of my major complaints about books, one I usually voice only privately, is that all of the major characters are safe. Although it does happen that an author will kill off a major character in a book or series, usually you can pick who will survive until the end of the book within a few pages. Not in this book. Anna Legat is merciless toward her characters. Other than DI Marsh, no one else is safe. Some survive unharmed. Some die. Some are injured. Some are mentally destroyed. But these are not cheap deaths for the sake of shock value. Legat builds sympathy and compassion for these characters. Their reasons for being in a place where this happens is understandable, even logical. Yet, even as the event approaches and the critical point becomes obvious, you find yourself hoping for the best. Will he make a different decision? Will he survive? What will she do? Can she recover from this?

Much of the book is effectively foreshadowed. The consequences of individual actions make sense in the end. What I was left with, though, was a reminder of the frailty of life. Where one sits on a train can be terminal. Any Christmas could be your last chance to see a loved one. Sometimes the worst injuries cannot be seen externally. One person’s broken heart can end up breaking the hearts of dozens of others. Yet, even the irredeemable may make beneficent choices. We all walk blindly along the precipice of life. One misstep and we fall. Yet in that blindness we accept a false security, one that allows us to keep walking even as the depths beckon and wait for us all.

SCINTILLA

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