Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Crime Reading Group

At first glance, the last two books chosen by my crime reading group have only murder in common: Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ is a true story set in Victorian England; George Pelicanos’s ‘The Night Gardener’ is fiction, about a serial killer in Washington DC, in 1985. Both, however, foreground the social setting.

Summerscale’s fascinating glimpse into Victorian society suggests that police detectives, recruited from the working class, were supposed to concentrate on pickpockets and prostitutes. They were expected to defer to middle class suspects, not suggest they might murder family members. Mr Whicher should keep his suspicions to himself to avoid being vilified by the forelock-tugging journalists of the time.

Pelicanos’s hero, Italian detective Gus Ramone, happily married with an African- American wife, worries about his teenage son in a neighbourhood where drug crime is rife among teenage boys. Parents will empathise with the officer’s efforts to establish residency in the right school catchment area and his fears about discrimination.

Family solidarity is key, but it works two ways: the Saville-Kent kind breeds violent resentments between siblings while social status protects them from the law; the Ramone kind struggles to guard vulnerable youngsters from a downward spiral into crime.

A big advantage of a library group is books, chosen months ahead, are always made available for borrowing.

It’s great to hear different opinions and discuss styles in crime writing. Most members know much more about crime writing than I do. I can’t wait to start the next choice, ‘Vanish’, by Tess Gerritson, collected from the library today. Looks like a real ‘page-turner’.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher:

The Night Gardener;


Lewisham Library :

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