Monday, May 12, 2008

Not all Brits Write the Agatha Christie Way!

I got off track with this blog from the first line and had to start over. I was going to talk about my experiences with Minette Walters's books as a bookseller, and then I got off on a rant about corporate buyers who don't have a clue what happens in their individual stores which turns into mass quantities of titles that don't sell in certain regions (which means lots o' returns in that region). Then I started talking about booksellers who become advocates for titles. Having said all of that, so you see where my line of thinking has gone in relation to this author, I'll just jump right in!

When I worked at my first store, between the ages of 19 and 22, I came to realize pretty quickly (and to my disappointment) that I could not possibly read everything that I wanted to. Yes, it still bothers me today and results in lots of book hoarding (actually that resulted from the thought that I wouldn't have any money as a college student and I needed to save some to read in the dorms!). Anyway, I often came across those titles mentioned above - books that obviously sold in mass quantities somewhere, but just not our store. Our customers simply didn't buy them. Why? I can't tell you. I can tell you this, I also came to realize that if even one bookseller would back those books, they would have practically flown off the shelves in some cases.

Minette Walters was one of these authors. I, like so many, once upon a time assumed that all mysteries were the product of Agatha Christie's influence. They may just be, but there are so many different sub-genres that if you don't like the traditional British mysteries, it doesn't mean that you don't like mysteries at all. It's not that I don't like AC, I cut my teeth on her, it's just that I prefer harder mysteries - not true hard-boiled or noir, per se - just harder than the traditional who-dunits.

By the time I worked in the bookstore, I had plenty of book browsing experience under my belt and knew that the mystery section was so much more than those traditionals. I learned, though, that not all of my customers had come to that conclusion. For this reason, I think a lot of the shoppers at that store avoided the section altogether. Had I had more time, some of the titles that I saw floundering there, would have gotten the love and attention that they needed from me. I was able to change some folks' perceptions, I just wish I could have done more. Perhaps then it wouldn't have taken me so long to quit lumping the Brit books into the same category and 5 years to discover that I, in fact, love Minette Walters! Sad to say Shape of Snakes was one of those floundering titles that kept falling off the shelves thanks to the three overstuffed faceouts I had. Maybe I should have taken the hint and read it then!

Nope, it took a glossy red covered ARC, courtesy of one of my friends who still worked in the bookstore, to get me totally hooked, and turn me into the long overdue advocate I always should have been for Walters's books.

Devil's Feather is a multi-layered mystery. On the one hand, you have Reuter's reporter Connie Burns whose investigation into a certain British mercenary may have had terrible results. She is kidnapped while working in Africa, but refuses to give any details. She rents a home in Dorset and discovers that the previous owner died under less than straightforward circumstances. The two stories collide as Connie becomes more reclusive and paranoid.

Walters is a master of psychological suspense. The one thing you learn straight off the bat is that her narrators are not the most reliable of people. You're never quite certain if you can trust the main character which makes the books that much more intense. Her books are brutal and violent, sometimes downright gory, and always harrowing.

And so, it may be long overdue, but I have become an advocate for Minette Walters titles and can say without a doubt that she is one of the forerunners in the psychological suspense sub-genre. If you're looking for a gripping page-turner that will keep you reading into the wee hours, she's gonna do it for you! I have since bought about half a dozen of her books including The Dark Room, her latest Chameleon's Shadow (both reviewed at bookbitch.com) and the reprints of Scolds Bride, The Echo, Sculptress, and Ice House, all of which are on my immediate TBR shelf for this summer - just see if you don't get chills reading these this summer!

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