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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

COLD TO THE TOUCH by Frances Fyfield

In my last but one posting (Wolf Hall) I mentioned my problem finding a title for my new novel.

My most recent post was on the theme of sychronicity.

So I find it almost exquisitely pleasing that one of the key people on my own ‘title committee’ came up with the name for this post’s book - which I had already nearly finished reading, when I stumbled across Mind Tricks. Shazam!

My very dear friend Barbie – who came up with the absolutely perfect title Cold To The Touch - is also a good friend of Frances Fyfield’s, so we're friends-in-law. We all had coffee together once.

All of which I tell you, so it is properly open and transparent that this is the first book I have discussed on here where I have a personal link to the author.

It’s also the first crime novel I’ve written about, because apart from the necessary obsession with Raymond Chandler in my late teens, crime is not a genre I’ve ever been particularly drawn to. Frances Fyfield’s books may have changed that.

I read Blood From Stone – for which she won the 2008 ‘Golden Dagger’ CWA Duncan Lawrie prize, the Man Booker of the crime fiction world - because I liked her so much when we met. And I enjoyed that so much I read this one. Now I’m going to ask Barbie what to pick up next.

What I particularly admired about both books is their cool, measured tone, which bespeaks Ms Fyfield’s former life a solicitor working for the Crown Prosecution Service.

That ability to step back from grisly scenarios and situations, and describe them vividly with great attention to detail, without it ever becoming lurid, makes compelling reading.

It also bypasses one of the reasons I have steered clear of crime and thrillers in the past: I can’t bear gratuitous ghastliness. There are so many horrid real things on the news, I just can’t understand why anyone would seek out additional fictional ones (I feel the same about violent films).

I’ve never quite recovered from reading Last Exit to Brooklyn and the tiny snippet I read from a review of American Psycho has added a truly horrific image to my mental lexicon that I have never been able to erase.

But as I don’t want to be condemned to a literary diet of Miss Read, I have to step outside my comfort zone sometimes. And, of course, I do also understand that it’s necessary to describe and explore the human capacity for cruelty. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, however much I would like it to.

Done well, it throws light upon such behaviour, helping us understand what makes people do it - and making us consider whether, in the perfect storm of events, we could possibly sink that low ourselves.

Perhaps it’s also our post-religious way of warding off the evil eye. By studying evil, we can avoid it.

But my own phobias about violence and cruelty weren’t tested by this book. While there is a lurid murder in it, its real subject is human character and relationships.

Examining – with forensic detachment, but not without empathy - how the small details of our lives and circumstances, can lead to catastrophic events and shape how we deal with them.

It is also a quick and satisfying read. And I absolutely did not guess whodunit.

Reading satisfaction: 8
Un-put-downable-ness: 5
Recommend to best girlfriend: 7
Recommend to mother: 10
Recommend to niece: 6
Recommend to gay best friend: 7
Recommend to man pal: 8
Recommend to Helen Razer: 5
Read on public transport: 8

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