When my son was little we had a rule when trying new foods: you can’t say you don’t like it until you’ve tried it three times. That meant a number of foods that were disliked right off the bat because they were “different”, actually wound up getting a, “hey, not bad, I like it”, by the third try (mushrooms, I’m looking at you!).
While I don’t have a 3-time rule for reading, I have found that sometimes it pays to give a new book or author a second (or third) try before writing them off.
A case in point would be Dogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie Lani Diane Rich, and Anne Stuart. The first time I read it, I didn’t like it at all and may have envisioned dropping it in the wood-chipper. In hindsight, it wasn’t that the book was bad rather that it differed from what I had been expecting. When I read it again (for school) sometime later, I really enjoyed it, because I knew what to expect. If I hadn’t given the book a second chance, I would have missed a good story (thank goodness it didn’t wind up in the wood-chipper).
Fast forward to a few months ago I when was browsing the mystery section at a local independent bookstore looking for something to buy (I love Amazon, but try to do my part to keep independent bookstores in business too). I had just finished binging on Georgette Heyer’s mystery titles and was in the mood for something vaguely similar. The cover of Judith Flanders’ A Murder of Magpies caught my eye and, when I saw that it was set in London and featured a smart, funny heroine and a Scotland Yard detective, I was ready to give it a try.
Well, not ready right that minute. Honesty compels me to admit that the book may have languished on my TBR pile for a period of time after purchase.
Coincidentally, it turned out I already had two books by Flanders on my shelf at home, though I think I could be excused for not realizing that straight away. She is a journalist and acclaimed social historian, and the two books I have are reference books on the Victorian period, acquired when I was studying Victorian literature and detective fiction at Oxford.
Eventually A Murder of Magpies, which is the first in a series, made it to the top of my TBR pile and I gave it a read and . . . it was okay.
I wasn’t completely sure how I felt about the book but, my local library had the third and fourth in the series, so I decided to give them a try. I was still kind of on-the-fence, but then, curiosity about what I missed by skipping book two (A Bed of Scorpions) drove me to head over to Amazon and click “buy”.
I”m so glad I did.
I’ve read the series of four books twice now (in a short space of time) and they’ve definitely earned a place on my keeper-shelf.
I think part of my slow-to-warm response was because of the “different” factor. The books are mysteries. Not romances. Not mysteries with romantic elements. Mysteries. The books I had been reading previously all included a heavy helping of romance and I think I was instinctively looking for that in these books, though nothing in their back cover blurbs or descriptions should have led me to think that.
The series features Sam (Samantha Clair), a forty-something editor at a London publishing house, who finds herself involved in some criminal investigations alongside Jake Field, a Scotland Yard detective. Fortunately, unlike some of the cozy-mystery heroines I’ve read in the past, Sam is not stupidly involved in the crimes in a way no sane person would be. What she is, is very clever and very persistent. The crime portion of the stories is fun, as is the glimpse into the publishing world.
Flanders’ writing is smart, witty, and funny. Her characters don’t take themselves too seriously, the plots are intricate (but not unbelievably so), and the stories are sprinkled with interesting tidbits of information and a dash of social commentary. Although the books are written in first person point of view – not my favorite, because it can read like a lot like I, I, I – I didn’t even notice after a while, possibly because what was going on in Sam’s head (the POV character), was so entertaining.
Sam and Jake who, as expected, get together partway through the first book, are good foils for each other. This quote is from early in their relationship:
I sat staring at the table. What I wasn’t sure I could live with was that Jake was a reasonable man, with thoughtful, measured responses, and that I would lose most of our arguments. Wild exaggeration and sarcasm, my weapons of choice, weren’t going to be much use.
Sarcasm is my weapon of choice too, so I could definitely relate to how Sam was feeling at that point, though being in a relationship with an observant partner has its advantages, like when she came home drunk from a publishing party:
Jake was already home when I got in the evening before. Being a police detective gave him superskills, and he only looked at me for a moment before he opened the fridge.
‘Pasta,’ he said. ‘It’ll soak up some of the alcohol.’
I starred at him severely. ‘Have you been drinking?’
‘No, sweetheart, I haven’t. You have.’
True. ‘But I don’t need to soak it up. I ate at the party.’
‘Crisps are not food.’
They weren’t? I’d have to revise my whole food pyramid. As would the rest of my profession.
The books are full of characters that I could see being neighbors or friends with (excluding the criminals, of course) and there is a great feeling of community. I’m glad I didn’t give up on the series in the beginning and I hope there won’t be a long wait for the next book.
So, have you read any books or authors that it took you a little while to warm up to?