Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Heart

Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Heart Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Heart by Ellis Peters
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Crime writing has come a long way since this sub-Agatha Christie fare was considered worthy of anyone's attention. It fits the stereotype of something homely, set in a Middle England familiar to the little old lady who sits in a cottage knocking out whodunnits peopled by her friends and neighbours.

It's not just the characters and settings that are familiar to the point of cliché. The writing is as cardboard as the characters: the plot plods along, nudged by pedestrian prose that artlessly explains what's going on with drab matter-of-factness. How do we know what the characters are thinking? Peters writes, "He was thinking that… etc." How do we know what the characters are feeling? Peters writes, "She felt that… etc."

Peters has no ear for dialogue either. Even in Middle England, conversations do not consist of half-page explanations in perfectly composed, if lifeless prose in which all relevant facts are explained with forensic clarity.

And the plot? It's interesting that we're half-way through before we find out for sure that anyone has actually died. If we had been dealing with interesting characters and psychological manoeuvrings, then it would have been a fascinating novelistic device. But Peters doesn't deal in deep characterisation or psychology.

I was waiting for the plot twist – maybe (view spoiler) – but it turns out that (view spoiler) after all, which is what most readers would have suspected all along.

Meanwhile reality is crudely twisted out of recognition to suit the needs of the plot. The whole story is set in a country house where a folk music conference is going on. The most popular singer vanishes early on. Later, a body is found in the grounds, which presumably are soon swarming with police, forensic scientists and an ambulance to remove the body, all of whom must have driven up the drive in front of the house. Yet absolutely nobody notices. Add to that some deeply implausible police procedures, and we're left with a thoroughly unsatisfying, if mercifully short, crime novel.

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