A jaded book-blogger, encouraged by some of his fellows in the community, has decided to visit one of his past crimes. It’s not the first time this has happened, but this time, something is different. Whereas on his first visit, things seemed perfectly fine – indeed, they seemed very different indeed – this time, after six years have passed, things have changed, and changed for the worse.
What has happened in the intervening years? Has some sinister figure somehow corrupted the original text? Or has something happened to the blogger? Indeed, is he even the same person who first came across the text?
OK, this isn’t really a review of The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers. I first reviewed it six years ago here, and as I intimated above, my blogger book-group has picked it for our monthly read. I think the rationale was because it recently won our Reprint Of The Year award, having been reprinted as part of the American Mystery Classics range. What I really want to think about here is how my opinion of it has changed so much.
It’s not my first re-read of recent times, as I’ve been looking at Paul Doherty’s Brother Athelstan books and my opinion of those hasn’t really changed. I think I enjoyed Murder Most Holy more the second time around, and By Murder’s Bright Light a little less, but it’s like a 7/10 book becoming 8/10 or vice versa (if I gave scores). But if you go back and read it, my review of The Read Right Hand in 2014 was thunderous in its praise whereas this time…
Well, this time, I found it rather tedious. The dialogue seems overblown and the almost dream-like quality of the narrative, bouncing back and forth in time with its possibly-unreliable narrative, just got on my nerves. So what has changed?
You might think that knowing what is happening meant I was looking more critically at the other aspects of the book beyond the plot, but in truth, I had utterly forgotten what was going on in the plot, so it wasn’t that.
I did wonder if my previous praise was perhaps a tad overblown because it was an early review request, in the early days of the blog, but that wasn’t the case when I checked – I’d been blogging for four and a half years at that point.
I did wonder if an iota of bias had crept into my head, due to that Reprint of the Year award. Not, of course, that it beat Tread Softly by Brian Flynn, a vastly superior book, into second place, but that given it had been reprinted only six years previously, it didn’t strike me as a book that was in demand – my votes in this award always go towards books that have been rescued from complete obscurity, something that just didn’t seem to apply here. But I did look into that before re-reading it, and it looks like, despite Martin Edwards doing an introduction, it was a small independent press that reissued it, so it might not have had that much of a reach. Of course, there’s still the issue of Tread Softly being a better book.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s me. You may have noticed we are in somewhat troubled times, and the world seems populated by idiots who will believe anything they are told and, as a teacher, despite being basically locked in at home, my workload has increased significantly. And my attention span simply isn’t what it was. And this book needs attention to be paid to it – and not just because of a couple of page-long sentences. I had to stop reading a reading a book by one of my favourite modern authors a while ago because I couldn’t concentrate on it properly – I do promise, author-who-shall-not-be-named, that I will come back to it, and I doubt you need my review anyway.
I do find it fascinating though, how a book can generate such different reactions from me on reading it a second time. Is it the nature of this book? Could any book, if read at the wrong time, generate such different reactions?
So, dear reader, over to you. Have you ever had a significant change of heart when re-reading a book? Do leave a comment to let me know…