Mud, Muck and Dead Things (2009) by Ann Granger

This is my first read by this author, which I only realised when I checked my Goodreads records. Always thought I had read at least one, but I think I was confusing her with Anne Perry.

Synopsis

‘Lucas Burton hates the countryside. To him it’s nothing but mud, muck and dead things. And he’s right. When he turns up at a deserted farm in the middle of nowhere, hoping to conduct a business deal, he stumbles across the body of a girl. And that’s just the start of his bad luck: Penny Gower from the local stables has spotted his silver Mercedes leaving the scene of the crime. Suddenly, for Lucas, things are looking very bleak indeed… Inspector Jess Campbell is on the case, but with few leads and a new superintendent, Ian Carter, breathing down her neck, she’s beginning to feel the pressure. Then another dead body is found…’

Overall Thoughts

The first chapter is arguably the best in the book, which sets up the character Lucas Burton, an ambivalent character, with his questionable business track record. Always up for a shady deal or two if he can get away with it. This chapter does not particularly endear him to you, but it shows him coming face to face with a dead body at the place he was supposed to be meeting his business contact. The blurb keeps it open as to whether he will become an amateur sleuth or more of anti-hero figure. This is probably making this book sound like a promising read, but unfortunately this promise is not realised.  

The next chapter engulfs the reader in the umpteen financial, professional, and personal problems of an owner of a livery stable, named Penny. She has some loyal helpers though, including a close friend, Andrew, who seems in love with her. This is all rather crammed into three or so pages, which reminded me of the difference between getting a story going and info dumping. The early chapters also exhibit the modern fiction tendency to take every moment as an opportunity for description involving at least one simile or metaphor and when Inspector Campbell enters the book we get the usual sad blues internal monologue, of the woes of being a police officer. I am sure policing is a very challenging and demanding job, but unfortunately these issues can be presented in quite a stereotypical and unimaginative way in mystery novels.

I have to admit at this stage that neither the writing style nor characters were grabbing me, although I hoped things would pick up (ha). The formulaic nature of the narrative is painfully apparent, and the prose style is, well, prosaic with overly regulated nods to description which don’t stimulate the imagination. There is no spark in the dialogue. The phrase which came to mind was a ‘pedestrian mystery.’ The reader is given chains of thoughts that the characters are thinking and on an emotional level these are fairly trite and cliched.

One thing which has put me off some modern crime fiction is its use of page filling strategies. The mystery plot itself is so meagre that the story has to be bulked out in various ways. Today’s read demonstrates more than one. Firstly, there is the tactic of making the reader aware of a piece of information, but then delaying how quickly the detective figure can also learn about it. For example, the reader finds out A, but witness 1 does not mention this non-self-incriminating information to the police. So the police in turn must find out the information from witness 2 or 3 at a later date. This tactic can be used engagingly but in the case of Granger’s novel, it made an uninteresting plot duller.

Another page filling strategy is to incorporate a cold case element, which in this novel is a double murder committed many years ago in a since boarded and derelict farmhouse. The narrative keeps circling back to this, with Inspector Campbell doing extensive reading of police interview transcripts. Yet, as I predicted, none of these tie into the present-day murder case and they don’t add anything of interest to the story overall.

The mystery is simple in its construction. From early on the reader clocks that the person Lucas was meant to meet has been left unnamed in the narrative, even when the pair meet up later in the book. Therefore, it is not a wild idea to presume that this unnamed person is the killer and that they will be a character we will meet elsewhere in the story under their actual name. The writer does not provide much in the way of choice, so it is easy to select the right person.

Sixty percent into the narrative there is a surprising element, yet this surprise is only temporary as the story quickly explains it, and this truncated mystification only goes to confirm the reader’s suspicions regarding the crime. Having Lucas as the prominent character on the blurb is rather misleading as his presence in the book is limited. This is not the only occasion the blurb does this, as it also implies that there is going to be a difficult relationship between Inspector Campbell and her new boss, using the phrase: ‘breathing down her neck’. But having read the story I can’t say the narrative fulfils this statement. Inspector Campbell’s boss is a bit taciturn in his limited appearances, but he is not unkind or inconsiderate. I wondered why the blurb managed to miss the mark twice and the only answer I could come up with, was that the blurb composer didn’t have much to work with.

The same could be said for Inspector Campbell and her boss when investigating the case. When they are at crime scenes together, there is not much for them to find out. This leads to Jess Campbell’s boss proposing a reasonable and very likely theory and Jess then thinking she must come up with an alternative theory, which contradicts him. This felt forced and diminishes what sleuthing skills she has. The police do not put together a painstaking case to find the killer, who instead helpfully knocks Inspector Campbell unconscious before going on a murderous rampage. If they had restrained themselves, I don’t think the police would have alighted on their guilt, which they needed pretty much thrust upon them.

The simplicity of this book might lend itself to a younger audience, but it seems like a poor mystery to give them. I don’t think I will be rushing back to read more by Granger in a hurry.

Rating: 2.5/5

12 comments

  1. I was wondering why I enjoyed this review so much when it dawned on me that most of the reviews I read of mysteries online are almost always positive. It’s a pleasure then to read a negative one, with critical analysis to back it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t go into a book aiming to dislike it, I always hope I will enjoy it. But it is nice to be able to share when a book has not been so great, as I think it gives rather a distorted impression of reading, if one only mentions the books you like (and in my case in some months I would end up not reviewing very much!). I think the important thing to do is make sure you give reasons why you didn’t like a book. It is a bit more unfair, especially with a living author, to just leave a blanket negative statement with no explanation. I think I know what I like more by doing my blog, as it causes me think more about what I am reading and to examine the mechanics which work or do not work for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Speaking for myself, really, but another reason blog-oriented reviews tend to be positive is that most of us don’t finish books we find dull, badly written and boring. (I used to finish every book I started, no matter what, but not any more!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I take your point. I used to be bad at not DNFing books, but then got better, but I fear I have got less good at DNFing books. Not sure why. I hope I have not become too picky in my reading, but maybe because of the way I write my reviews, I am more conscious of what I like and why, so I can’t ignore severe deviations from these preferences. More mindful reading is something of a blessing and a curse.

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  3. I read the first two books in her first series (Meredith and Markby) from the early 1990s. I wanted to like them because I liked the female character, but I think the 2nd one had the same problems you mentioned. This was a while back. I now see that I have the first one in a Victorian London series which I might give a try.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting – I read a few by her in the past but pre-blogging I think.
    If is difficult, isn’t it, when you don’t enjoy a book. Nowadays I tend not to blog on books I don’t like, but I am conflicted – I am trying to be positive, but it’s also helpful to people to know that they may not enjoy a book.
    If the author is dead I feel that is fair game! Or if they are so successful that my review won’t matter, or else I have some strong moral objection to the book – then I feel free to criticize.
    But at the same time – universally positive reviews don’t help anyone much. Your review is helpful.
    I’m just blithering on, but it’s a fascinating moral topic isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you found my review helpful. I would love every read to be a 5 out of 5 read, but it is just not realistic and I want my blog to be a record of my reading, which may prove of use to others, but if nothing else reminds me of what I thought about it. I think writing reviews of books which were not great are helpful to myself as they aid me in seeing what specific components make a book a good or bad read. I also know that me not liking a book does not mean others won’t read it. If I say a book was poor because it reminded me of Freeman Wills Crofts style then that directs people who like Crofts to the book. Equally someone did buy my copy of French Farce by Edwin Greenwood despite my review mentioning that passages nearly made me throw up!

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  5. Thanks for the honest review. I recall reading something by the author, and I don’t believe I’ve returned back since then. Which suggests to me I wasn’t overly-impressed…

    Liked by 1 person

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