I love mysteries. Give me a book about somebody solving a crime and I’m as happy as a cat in a cardboard box. (My current favourites are the Peter Robinson Inspector Banks series and Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan and Tony Hill novels.)
So I was really looking forward to this first in a string of stories about a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk. And there’s a lot to like. The salt marsh setting is suitably bleak and haunting. Dr Ruth Galloway, the archaeologist, is believably and likeably, human, as is the other main character, Inspector Nelson. There’s a lot more to him than blunt Northern practicality.
But here’s the thing. I can’t get past the style. The book is written in the present tense – She goes outside rather than She went outside – and I’ve never enjoyed stories written this way. I feel as though I’m reading a film script, with all the words that aren’t dialogue no more than dashed-off stage directions waiting to be fleshed out by a director. Instead of drawing me in, they push me out of the story.
This is such a personal reaction that I hesitate to bring it up. I feel like one of those nit-pickers who dismiss a book or a film because a single factual detail was wrong. (They didn’t have boots like that in 1880! Nobody would address a court martial that way!) I can hear people say, ‘Yes, all right but did you like it?’ And all I can answer is that the story’s good, the setting is vivid and the characters are fine… and I would have enjoyed it all so much more if it had been written in the past tense.