Notes from my Bookshelf #1: Two Very Different Takes on the Crime Genre

I recently read two very different crime novels in quick succession and, although very different in every respect (apart from the presence of a corpse or two), I loved them both, which got me to thinking about how broad the crime genre is.

One was my first foray into the investigative world of Bryant and May with “Bryant and May and the Memory of Blood” by Christopher Fowler. This was not something I would’ve chosen to read initially, but I was looking for a thriller for my mum as a Christmas present and came across it, then decided to read it myself as I was intrigued by not only the fact that the detectives themselves are elderly, but also by the context of the London theatre scene and Punch and Judy.

Basically, the story revolves around the murder of a theatre company owner’s infant son one night at a party to celebrate the opening night of the company’s new production. All of the main players are reluctantly in attendance; however, the murder is committed behind a locked door with no obvious way in or out, and is somehow connected to the presence of a Punch and Judy puppet. As the investigation unfolds and the bodies stack up, apparently mirroring the narrative of the play itself, it begins to look like the puppets themselves may be committing the murders as there is no other explanation.

Not only does the book look in-depth into the history of the theatre and Punch and Judy, it keeps you guessing until the last page – I am usually pretty good at sussing out the perpetrator by about halfway, but with this one I couldn’t figure it out.

The characters are interesting, multi-dimensional and quirky in many respects, especially Bryant and May who are unlike any other detectives I have encountered. Additionally, as this was my first read of a Bryant and May novel, I was expecting to struggle to get to know the characters and their back story, but this novel could easily stand alone from the rest of the series. Having said that, I will certainly be reading more.

At the other end of the scale is “Sorry” by Zoran Drvenkar. The story unfolds around a group of friends who decide to open an agency that rights the wrongs of their clients. However, when a serial killer hires them, they find themselves involved in a series of murders from which they cannot extricate themselves. The book is written from a number of the characters’ viewpoints and, once you get into the narrative style, it is full of shocks and surprises.

And there are plenty of shocks; in fact, often the narrative is very disturbing and graphic, but you find yourself unable to stop reading until the end. This novel has a very different feel to the Bryant and May story: it is more gripping, edgy and brutal, with all sorts of twists and turns to the plot in a “race to catch the killer” kind of way, whereas the Bryant and May is a safer, gentler and more intellectual whodunnit, and more comparable to a good Miss Marples mystery.

However, albeit very different takes on the crime genre, I absolutely loved both books and would recommend them highly to anyone looking for a cracking thriller.

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