In one of those coincidences that probably isn’t I read a review of The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (he wrote it; the review is by KL Carey, here) as I was thinking about this post. KL enjoyed it as I did. There’s a little bit of improbability but it’s a neat conceit and overall enjoyable. I was painting the utility – part of my ‘keeping sane in lockdown’ decorating plans – when I listened to it last year and I made a note that, if there was a follow up, I’d give that a go too.
That follow up is The Man Who Died Twice. It’s been out for a while to fairly good reviews and critical acclaim so I put it on my phone and gave it a listen.
Without giving too much away (though if you are intending reading it, you may want to pass the next paragraph) Osman takes his characters and drops them into another mystery. But this time they are front and centre involved and, boy, are they involved. This is no Miss Marple more a geriatric James Bond for the ladies. And the more I listened, the more disillusioned I became.
It’s a thing, this need to ratchet up the ante to keep the punters happy. Every soap opera falls prey to it. Start on a human scale and eventually you end up with the most egregious examples of human behaviour all set in some twee West Country little village or London Square or Liverpool estate.
Happens in literature, certainly modern literature. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a decent effort, readable, page-turny even with some gratuitous violent sex. But the next two – The Girl With A Fly In Her Ointment and The Girl With A Pain In Her Arse or some such – were frankly ludicrous, over written and boring. Same characters but their jeopardy had to be bigger, their traps more impossible to avoid. What a waste of my eyesight.
It didn’t happen in Lord of the Rings; it didn’t happen in Harry Potter. Maybe because they were plotted as a trilogy/series from the outset. It’s this grafting a second and third book on top of a successful first that might be the issue.
TV’s not much better. I loved Broadchurch, part one. Part two was a waste of oxygen. Downton Abbey managed several series at an easy pace but the Julian Fellowes lost grip on the reins and, whey-hey off we went down rabbit holes of more and more bizarre storylines. Even Line of Duty, one of the great police dramas of the last twenty years fell into that trap with series six.
It takes a brave writer to give up when ahead and not let ego/flattery/the inevitable growth in the bank balance persuade them to write just one more instalment. Like cake and chocolate, there really is a point where ‘enough’ has been achieved.
And, having written this I shall begin the edit of Book Four of my Harry Spittle Saga. Hey, no one is perfect!