Saturday, February 27, 2010

Adrian Mathews: The Apothecary's House

I borrowed a big stack of books from my sister today so I have to quickly get rid of my backlog. Starting with this, a book that turned up in our house I'm not sure how - must've been a spontaneous second-hand buy somewhere. I was seduced in by blurbs on the cover as per usual, and the information that Mathews won the Silver Dagger Award for his novel Vienna Blood.

Set in Amsterdam, we meet Ruth Braams. who is some sort of art historian - gosh what was it she was, I may look it up now - "finished her doctoral thesis on domestic typology in the work of Jan Steen" those were her qualifications, whatever that means. I think art historian is an okay term. Anyway, for an art historian working with determining rightful ownership of stuff the Nazis stole, she is remarkably uneducated in many matters, which means that her friend and colleague Myles (an Englishman in Amsterdam, who speaks Dutch, to his credit) has plenty of opportunities to tell her, and thus us, about events in history and so on that you'd think would be common knowledge. Then we have the classic problem of the novel being set in a place that is foreign to the author, cue several instances of people walking down blahblah street, to the left seeing the yadayada museum and to the right the intricate details of the statue of so-and-so.

Apart from that it's a very entertaining read in many places: hard to pinpoint now because I'm remembering mostly the faults to be honest. But oh yeah, Mathews writes great banter, I liked that. Most memorable thing for me was how Ruth gets her biscuit-dunking perfect by dunking the first one and counting until the bottom drops off, and then timing all subsequent dunks accordingly for maximum wetness without fallout.

If I find Vienna Blood I'm definitely going to read it, but for now I'm a little unsure as to why I read so many people on the Internet praising him so highly as a mystery/thriller writer, because in my opinion it could have done with some heavy editing really. A bit much and a bit messy. The end was very quoi? Could make a good film! If they skip the part where she skates down a canal to a clandestine appointment. Really.

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