Monday, October 20, 2014

Trying to be social!

The Summer of Long KnivesThe Summer of Long Knives by Jim Snowden
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

17 October... As a Goodreads newbie, I feel Imust explain the few titles I have intially added to my bookshelf. They are all, in one way or another, related to the year 1936 and in particular to developments in Germany. The reason for this focus is the fact that my current work-in-progress as a writer is a story in that setting. And so it has been instructive to read novels which were written during that time. Actually more than instructive... it was a true joy to discover belatedly the work of Dorothy L. Sayers.

I have also read the work of contemporary writers whose narrative is set in that dramatic era. One I started reading yesterday. "The Summer Of Long Knives" by Jim Snowden.

After three chapters there are some observations I feel moved to make.

1) The crisis of conscience of the protagonist, a Munich police Kommissar, is well established from the outset.

2) There are passages of scene-setting which surprise with quite lyrical eloquence.

3) In an important sequence Snowden risks peopling his storytelling with real-life characters who happen to be the most high-profile leaders of the Nazi regime. He manages to handle this challenge amazingly well, given that such a construct could easily result in disaster.

However my reading enjoyment was spoiled on almost every page by Snowden's use of language which clashes crassly with the era he describes. Turns of phrase which would be unthinkable in dialogue exchanged between people talking in the 1930s have a jarring effect. Okay, in reality they would have been talking in German. But surely the English should not include terms and references which are glaringly anachronistic. The most offensive instance came close to the end of Chapter Three. There was a description of refuse left behind after a Nazi party rally on Königsplatz in Munich... the detritus included 'gum wrappers'! As if chewing gum was widely enjoyed in Germany in the thirties!

I hope the story will keep me sufficiently enthralled to be able to ignore the language problem.

18 October... I have now reached a point one-third through the book, having finished Chapter Eleven. Although I find the storytelling more and more compelling I am still cringing every now and then when American usages intervene and there are assumptions made about life in Germany in 1936 which I find implausible. The Kommissar has a radio in his office (which I find odd) and he switches on "his favourite music station"... Sorry, but the term 'music station' is quite out of keeping for the thirties when no such genre/format broadcasters existed. Snowden's research is in some areas admirable, in others however sadly deficient.

19 October... I have now finished Chapter Sixteen and the progress bar tells me that I have read 61% of the book.

During my third reading session the Kommissar's use of radio in his automobile struck me as a probable anachronism. Even in 1937, wireless communication with police cars in England meant employing Morse code for messages and two-way radio was introduced only in the post-war years.

Apart from that I noted that when Snowden makes excursions into realms scatological, his language is colourfully contemporary, but such passages are few and can be skipped by the fastidious.

Otherwise as the plot thickens the story gallops ahead nicely.

20 October... A final reading session took me to the end of the book. I find myself in agreement with others who were well pleased by the intricate, dynamic and and finally most satisfactory plotting of the story.

And so why have I been so complaining about the Transatlantic tone adopted by the author? For many readers it might be quite acceptable, particularly those whose preferred thrillers are set in America. It is, after all, probably a question of individual taste.

I think that the several historical inaccuracies are another matter, however. My sensitivity in this respect probably owes something to my background in film and television. 'Continuity errors' in movies are an embarrassment and 'bloopers' are the cause of life-long shame. The story of the Roman gladiator in "Spartacus" wearing a Rolex wristwatch may be apocryphal but lists of movie gaffes are long.

Novelists can also err. When in London Dan Brown's protagonist seeks to take a tube train to get to King's College he makes for Temple Station. But in fact that is the station which is closest of all to King's and boarding a train there would only take him away from his destination. All in all, Jim Snowden's 'gum wrappers' and such can probably be forgiven!

My underlying point remains a simple one: the aim of an author is to immerse the reader in a world he describes, a world with its own integrity and authenticity. Any glaring improbability or crass anachronism jolts the reader out of this immersion and... in my view... spoils the fun of a good read.

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