Books

A crime novel so incompetent it might have been written by a child

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

First, a quote from the novel under review. The context: it is a flashback scene of the behaviour of a character at a birthday celebration for her aged mother. She is confessing her bulimia to a crowded room:

‘I make myself sick! I vomit! I vomit! I vomit! I lock myself in the lavatory while you’re all stuffing your faces and I put my fingers down my throat! I vomit! I vomit! I vomit!’ she had cried aloud, as she waved her long, prehensile hands in the air.

We shall skate over the use of the word ‘prehensile’ to describe hands, which are all, unless deformed, prehensile anyway, and concentrate on the character’s speech. Somewhat histrionic, would you say? A little bit unlikely? We all know bulimics, but in the vast majority of cases we do so unknowingly, for it is a condition that is suffered in shame and silence. As for the rhythms of speech, has anyone ever heard anyone talk like that? And, for your information, the character’s name is, hilariously, Frigga. Ever met anyone called that?


It is the novelist’s job to spin a new world out of recognisable elements. Even if the novel is set in another galaxy, or another dimension, there must be some connection to the reader’s experience of the world. And there should be a degree of expertise, enough knowledge about certain systems to encourage plausibility. So when, as happens here, we meet a practising doctor so incompetent that he can only, upon examining a corpse at 8.45 a.m., determine the time of death as ‘some time between 12.30 and 8’, our disbelief is awakened.

But then, by the time we reach that particular sentence, our disbelief will have been on the qui vive for about 70 pages, ever since the opening line of the book (‘ “George!” said Esmeralda, in a more than usually irritable tone’), which, in its clunky, honking way suggests an enthusiastic 12-year-old trying his or her hand at a work of fiction for the first time.

The odd thing is that this is not Nigel Williams’s first go at writing a novel. It is, at the very least, his 17th, and you would have thought that he might have learned some of the basic tricks of writing, and not only those outlined above, but others, such as avoiding weird lurches of register, basic errors of fact (Mars is not in another galaxy), flogging jokes to death and sloppy grammatical howlers. It is, like almost every other book by Williams, set in south-west London, involves poison and people with names like George and Esmeralda, who drink parsnip wine, whatever that is. And I suppose if you liked Williams’s other books you’ll like this; maybe even think that it is, as the blurb suggests, ‘screamingly funny’. But frankly, I’ve never read a worse novel in my life — and I am including A.A. Gill’s first novel — and why an editor didn’t send this back with the words ‘do it again’ is beyond me.

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Show comments
  • Poor chap. He’s probably fighting the cortisol already.

  • Hugh Jeego

    “Prehensile hands” has to be the most stupid thing that someone claiming to be a writer ever committed to the page.
    Surely the editor should have sent it back with the words “don’t do it again, ever”.

    • Always_Worth_Saying

      Maybe it was a joke?

    • ArtieHarris

      Prehensile: adjective

      1.

      adapted for seizing, grasping, or taking hold of something:
      a prehensile tail.

      2.

      able to perceive quickly; having keen mental grasp.

      3.

      greedy; grasping; avaricious.

      • Hugh Jeego

        Thanks, I was fully aware of the meaning of the word. Hands are by their very nature prehensile, therefore, use of the adjective is entirely superfluous, and is in fact, tautological.

        • ArtieHarris

          ” Hands are by their very nature prehensile, therefore, use of the adjective is entirely superfluous, and is in fact, tautological.”

          Well, you could surely describe quite legitimately someone’s hands as being greedy, grasping or avaricious.

          As such, you seem to be mistaken in your beliefs.

          And this claim of yours is risible …

          ” “Prehensile hands” has to be the most stupid thing that someone claiming to be a writer ever committed to the page.”

          Just saying.

          • Hugh Jeego

            I dispute your definition, That’s not what the Oxford English Dictionary says that prehensile means. 😉 And anyway, hands can be neither avaricious nor greedy, although I’ll grant they can be grasping. As are all hands, therefore, the term prehensile is superfluous.

            I may have exaggerated my claim. For effect. But it’s still pretty stupid.
            Anyway, this argument is silly, because you may be winning 😉

        • Bosun Higgs

          Well…..pleonastic, actually. Only a statement can be tautological, for instance “No bad novels are good”.

  • pj

    This is why Brit lit is in such an appalling state . Big boys don’t offer publishing contracts to new writers and then this is the kind of assanine bs on offer . No wonder everyone’s reading off the grid .

    • Bosun Higgs

      “Asinine”

  • blandings

    “It is, at the very least, his 17th,”

    I would have thought you’d have learnt your lesson by now and stopped reading.
    Maybe you’re getting more of a kick out of this than you’re letting on.

    • grammarschoolman

      As a professional reviewer, presumably he didn’t choose it.

      • blandings

        You don’t get a say in what gigs you take on?
        How plebian!

  • ArtieHarris

    Nice. Very funny. Made me laugh a lot.

  • alanaforsyth

    James Patterson has other people write his books, and he adds his name to them, and so does Tom Clancy. They’re all lazy bums whose minions are churning out crap. After one Patterson novel, I’m done with him. Never again. Bought his book because of his reputation, but there was no ENDING. It got awful reviews, too, on Amazon. I can’t remember the name of it. Wait, I’ll go find it. Here it is: I, Michael Bennett. Aggravated me and few others. http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Bennett-Book-ebook/dp/B005S9KFSA/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

    • WFB56

      Tom Clancy may have someone else write his books for him because he’s dead.

      • oldoddjobs

        That’s no excuse.

  • ushouldna

    This review would have been funnier if you had been able to end it ‘…and I am AA Gill’.

  • ushouldna

    To be fair, Lez, you’re not such a great writer yourself. I remember how you squealed with rage on facebook when you told me how much better your book was than mine and then I reminded you that my book was number 236 on the Amazon bestseller’s list and yours was number 278,000.

    • MacGuffin

      Oh, the Amazon best seller list! What a measure of literary quality that is.

  • Cornelius Bonkers

    I’m regularly disappointed with novels – is it just me? The authors of most blurbs ought to be prosecuted under the Trades Descriptions Act (if there is still such a thing). Our saviour is Houellebecq – God bless him!

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    Hello Every One out here, Are you seeking for a love spell to being back the one you love??

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  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Every good book is different, while every bad book is the same.

  • Max Patrick

    This qualified GP (me) would have great difficulty giving a time of death. It’s a skilled pathologist’s job.
    How many unexpected deaths do you think GPs interpret?
    It mostly happens on TV shows where the local doc is already a character so it’s cheaper to use the same actor.

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