The Case Of The Second Opinion

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…

12 comments

  1. I think “troubled times” matter – I’ve just read a recent, well-reviewed mystery by an established author, set in my home city, and found the obvious unreliability of the narrator really annoying. I liked the very meta plotting overall, but that involves matching wits with a real writer, not a fictional one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I know what you are getting at. My fiction reading fell off the cliff with the first lockdown in March and has not really recovered. I am making a determined effort to remedy that right now. But on top of everything else, this has been a real blow. The Rogers is a book I loved too when I read it a decade ago but I wonder if I’d have the stamina now. But from Wednesday afternoon things will be a lot better, of this I am certain.

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  3. First time I enjoyed Josephine Tey’s books quite a bit, but found on re-reading that in the main I longer did. I wonder whether in this case my reading tastes had changed or had become more pronounced having started a blog in which I have to think more about what I am reading.

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    • That’s the advantage of writing shortish reviews – I don’t feel the need to think to hard about what I’m going to write when reading the book. Certainly helps at the moment!

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  4. Yeah, my attention has been a bit fractured of late, and it has affected my reading and my reaction to some books.

    I have been a re reader for decades, and it’s always interesting what holds up. The biggest crash came a few years ago rereading Ellery Queen’s Greek Coffin Mystery. I loved it at 20. I hated it at 60. It has made me rethink rereading a few old favourites!!

    A number of mysteries have held up though. Carr usually holds up I find: the same strengths (and the same weaknesses) that I remember. Christie too, in the better books.

    There are a very few books I liked more on a second reading. The only mystery in that category is Red Harvest by Hammett. I liked Homer more the second time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well thank goodness! I thought it was just me that was experiencing a short attention span. I checked out several books from well known authors one of which was “The Thursday Murder Club” that I truly wanted to read but just couldn’t focus. I did love “The Red Right Hand” and just couldn’t put it down because I was so intrigued as to where it was leading. I was hesitant to try it at first because it was a thriller and not a classic mystery but I have been reading all of the Penzler Classic reissues and have loved everyone. I also purchased “ Tread Softly” recommended by yours truly which is how I discovered this blog by typing in( my search) for the classic mystery. I highly value Puzzle Doctors recommendations and have purchased nearly all of the Brian Flynn’s which I am looking forward to reading next. This is my first comment on this blog but I’m happy to find such companionable reading comrades. Thanks for listening.

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    • I didn’t gave a problem with The Thursday Murder Club – found it rather relaxing to be honest, although the odd pacing in the first half kept throwing me a bit. These responses are absolutely fascinating as to what people do and don’t find an easy read.

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  6. As you know from our frustrating conversation yesterday (frustrating NOT for the differing opinions but for the technical difficulties – I’ll try downloading the app next time!!), the only thing I agree with you here is that it’s really hard to concentrate on reading during COVID. I’ve discussed this ad nauseam at my own place, so I won’t belabor the point.

    Still, since you gave us this forum, I will say again how much I liked this book – and that’s during a pandemic!! so I must really like it. Your post brings up several interesting points, however: the variety of tastes amongst the reading community (I stopped cold halfway through my first read of a certain recently rediscovered Golden Age mystery writer, pondering “What’s the point?”), and the perils of re-reading. Ken B mentioned his sad re-read of The Greek Coffin Mystery, and the same thing happened to me. That book was IMPORTANT to me when I first read it at the age of 12. Now it became something less. Kate mentioned above her newfound antipathy for Josephine Tey. I can’t say I’m a devout reader of the woman, but I did love Miss Pym Disposes – which I read as a full-blown adult! -and I hate to think that a revisit of that book would change my mind. Still, I’ve recently watched a few old movies that I used to love and . . . didn’t love them anymore. Let’s blame everything on COVID!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “a certain recently rediscovered Golden Age mystery writer” I do hope that’s not blasphemy against the mighty Flynn!

      Everyone has there own tastes – I was never that enamoured with Greek Coffin, for example, but I remember loving the intricacy of The French Powder Mystery. Having said that, I’m very wary of re-reading it again, as I fear it was little more than a complex jigsaw of clues, rather than a novel in its own right.

      Other books that disappointed me a second time include Carter Dickson’s The Red Widow Murders, mostly due to the use of a thing that should never be used in a mystery novel (which didn’t bother me the first time round) and also The Reader Is Warned (which was still good, but didn’t seem as good as the first time). I wonder with that one, was it the same problem with The Red Right Hand as knowing there is a real-world explanation helped to blow away some of the uncertainty that enhanced the narrative?

      To be honest, the lack of concentration is one of the reasons for my Poirot re-read (and the Doherty books) as I know that they are comfort reads. At least with Poirot, I have turn my re-reading into something with a point to it.

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