Invisible Murder

invisiblemurderI’m sorry. I’m an old man, and it’s a short life. So by the time I reached page 63 of Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ INVISIBLE MURDER from Soho Crime, I had to consider whether I wanted to continue reading. And I couldn’t convince myself to do so.

So this is less of a “review” and more of an admittance that I just couldn’t handle the number of characters, the stuttering storyline starts that seem to go nowhere, the moral angst between native Hungarians and the Roma (Gypsy) people, and the utter ridiculousness of the final scene that I read.

Sándor was apparently born Roma, but was adopted out of the family. He still keeps in touch with his brother, Tamás, however. Tamás has found something in an abandoned building (which is hardly likely) that may be very valuable. It is certainly very dangerous.

One day, Tamás shows up at Sándor’s apartment, and asks to use the Internet. Sándor is suspicious and believes Tamás might steal his computer (ah, there’s the classic stereotype) but allows him to use it anyway, even though Tamás could have gone to any number of Internet cafes or Internet-capable libraries (they do exist in Hungary, you know).

Sándor has to pee and must leave the room. When he returns, Tamás is gone and has stolen Sándor’s passport. Of course. He left the computer, though, so … yay?

Shortly thereafter, Sándor is confronted by the NBH, Hungary’s National Security Service. They accuse him of visiting, on his computer, innumerable websites that have ties to terrorist organizations or armed paramilitary groups. Oh, imagine that. Does Sándor tell the truth? No, of course not.

Fine, nail Sándor to the wall then, because I’ve stopped caring.

Look, I think there may be an interesting contemporary thriller lurking between these covers, but I couldn’t feel anything for the characters or their motivations. They all seemed to be overacting in what promised to be a tedious modern morality play. I won’t discount it out of hand because I didn’t finish the Danish novel, a follow-up to 2011′s THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE, but maybe that says it all right there. —Mark Rose

Buy it at Amazon.

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Comment by ediFanoB
2014-01-08 08:32:24

It does not matter how old you are. Nobody is forced to read a book from beginning to the end.
BUT of course you think twice and more about it because you spent money for it.
I turn 55 this year and I must admit, that the older I get the more pickier I’m when comes to the decision whether to read a book or not. I use my 50 page rule to decide whether to continue reading a book or not. If the author could not convince me within 50 pages, it will not happen in the next 100 to xxx pages. For me the rule works nearly 100%. There are rare exceptions where I read more than 50 pages in order to decide.

I think the most important thing is to explain the reasons why you dropped a book.
That is a helpful information for the readers of your blog.

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Comment by R
2014-01-09 10:45:59

Yeah, but how do you determine if it works nearly 100% of the time? If you don’t finish the book, you’ll never know if the author would have been able to convince you after page 50.

Comment by Slade Grayson
2014-01-09 20:39:13

Does a reviewer have an obligation to finish a book? An interesting question I found myself having to answer many times.

Let me start by saying that I don’t believe any book reviewer picks a book that he or she thinks they’re not going to like. As a very wise editor once told me, “Life’s too short to waste on the bad stuff.”

We pick the books we review because either we are fans of the author’s previous works, or something about the plot or premise of the book intrigues us. We WANT to like the book because we are investing time into it.

There were times when I had trouble finishing a book that I had committed to review. Some I finished and gave it a negative review. Some I simply put aside and never went back to, and didn’t write the review.

Just as I don’t have to watch a movie all the way through to the end to decide whether I like it or not, I don’t have to read a book to the end to decide the same thing. But I also chose to forego writing the review. The others – the ones I wrote negative reviews for – I forced myself to read the rest of the book. Either I really disliked it and felt passionate enough in my dislike that I needed to vent, or the book disappointed me because I could see the potential for something good, but the author dropped the ball somehow. But as I said, in those cases, I forced myself to read through to the end.

That’s just my own personal choice, and not meant as a slight against you, Mark. I’ll freely admit that there was one book I disliked so much, I skimmed the second half just so I could still justify to myself writing a review on it.

The 50 page rule seems about right. I can’t think of a single instance where I disliked a book in the first 50 pages, and then the book got better. I can think of many in the opposite case: I’m digging the book, and then halfway through, the author blows it. In one instance (Ian McEwan’s ATONEMENT), the book almost became one of my top ten favorites, and then the author sucker-punched me on the second to last page. It’s one of the few times I’ve thrown a book across the room in disgust.

Mark, I appreciate your honesty and I agree with you: Life’s too short.

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Comment by Mike Reynolds
2014-01-10 08:00:33

Smart thread, and interesting question. As a reviewer, I tend to follow Slade’s rules, (in so many other ways, too, but I’ll stick to reviewing for now).

As a reader of reviews, I don’t expect or assume the same guidelines drive every critic. But I do ask for a genuine engagement with what the text is trying to do–which Mark, as always, honestly and rigorously describes. The goal for me is to see what smart readers discover as they read–and I choose whether to read the work in question based more on the discovery teased out by a good reviewer, rather than thumbs up or thumbs down. (A bad review by a good reviewer may inspire me to read a book.)

(I diverge from Grayson only on ATONEMENT, which I adored, even the sucker-punch.)

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