The Rat Stone Serenade by Denzil Meyrick

Too much of a good thing…

🙂 🙂 🙂

the rat stone serenadeA hundred years ago, blacksmith Nathaniel Stuart was driven off his property in Blaan, a village on the southernmost tip of the remote Kintyre peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Of tinker stock, Stuart cursed the landowner Archie Shannon, declaring that every fifty years calamity will befall his family and their descendants until the end of time. Fifty years later, young Archie Shannon hid from his mother in the woods behind their home for a lark – and was never seen again. Now, in the present day, the Shannon family is returning to their ancestral home in Blaan for the annual general meeting of the hugely successful international company they now own. But things take a sinister turn when the bones of a young child are discovered on the Rat Stone, an ancient site surrounded by much superstition and fear…

There is so much to like about this book that I really wish I was recommending it more highly. It’s very well written, and the recurring characters of DCI Daley and his small team are done well – each with a distinct personality, each flawed, but all likeable as individuals and working well together as a team. The remoteness of this part of the world is increased when an unusually severe snowstorm cuts off the roads to the mainland and causes power cuts throughout the area. Meyrick creates an excellent atmosphere of isolation and menace, with some nicely spine-tingling supernatural undertones. With no likelihood of reinforcements getting through any time soon, it’s up to Daley and his colleagues not just to investigate the old bones but to try to stop the sudden crime wave that is sweeping through the village.

And therein lies the problem. Too much, too much! The body count is completely ridiculous! For a large proportion of the early part of the book, each chapter introduces us to someone who is then gruesomely killed. It seems like there’s a million strands each resulting in gory death for someone and for a long time, too long, the connection between all these events is entirely unclear. And with so many deaths happening so quickly, these characters are no more than names, so that when they’re referred to later in the book, I was having real difficulties remembering who they were or how and where they died.

The book is like an Irish stew – everything has been thrown in. One detective is an alcoholic trying to lay off the booze, while a couple of the others are having an affair with each other. There are dead businessmen, human sacrifices, dodgy business dealings, vicars with secrets, ex-nuns, tinkers’ curses and about three people all having visions, either supernatural, caused by drink or due to brain damage. Corpses with their skin flayed, corpses on bonfires, corpses on sacrificial stones. Every now and again new people had to arrive by helicopter or boat just to replenish the stock of people to bump off. One felt an investigation wasn’t really necessary – leave it a couple of days and only the bad guy would be left alive!

Denzil Meyrick
Denzil Meyrick

One of the detectives is given what I think is supposed to be a Glasgow accent, though it feels more like an anglicised speaker’s idea of what a generic Scottish dialect sounded like circa 1950 – a bit too Sunday Post (which will mean nothing to non-Scots – sorry! Twee, perhaps, is the closest comparison). However, kudos to the author for at least trying to keep the book feeling Scottish in tone, and I must say my ‘ear’ did get tuned in to the dialect after a while, and it began to sound more authentic. (And one of the characters lives in Kirkintilloch – my very own little hometown!)

It picks up towards the end and, while the supernatural stuff is left hanging for the most part, the rest of it is explained, even if the credibility is stretched way past breaking point. Despite all the ridiculous stuff, it’s still very readable because of the overall quality of the writing. Although I really feel this one goes so far over the top it becomes farcical, I would be willing to read another in this series. I was reminded of the artist Agatha Troy, in Ngaio Marsh’s books, who never knew when one of her pictures was finished and needed her lover Roderick Alleyn to tell her when to stop painting. I really hope Meyrick can find an editor who will perform the same function for him (the stopping bit, not the lover-ing bit!) and tell him when enough is enough. Loads of potential in this series – I hope in future books to see it fulfilled.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Longlist (and Longlisting) for Bloody Scotland and the McIlvanney Prize…

Be careful what you wish for…

Bloody Scotland logo 2

A few months back I told you all how excited I was at getting the opportunity to be involved in the longlisting for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, to be awarded at this year’s Bloody Scotland event in September. The longlist has now been announced, so I thought I’d share my experience and thoughts about the process with you…

Bloody Scotland asked for volunteers to read and rate the fifty books or so that were put forward for the award. They got three hundred or so volunteers, though I don’t know if they used them all. The idea was that each reader would read five books picked randomly from the list – picked by Bloody Scotland, that is, not the reader. Each book would be read by several readers, then the ratings – a simple score from 1-10 – would be collated to create the longlist that would go to the panel of judges.

Now, as you know, and as I am very aware, I have… shall we say… certain prejudices when it comes to crime-writing. Present tense – ugh! Alcoholism – yawn! Foul language – yeuch! Misery-fest – blarrrrghhh! So I decided I needed to find a way to judge the books as impartially as I could… which of course was a golden opportunity for…

A Speadsheet!

Bloody scotland ratings

I have to say I enjoyed using this so much I’m now using it for all the crime novels I read. Did it make a difference to the ratings? Hard to say, in truth, because each one ended up with the same rating as I would have given it with my usual off-the-top-of-my-head star ratings. But I suspect I’ve been using a system like this subconsciously for my ratings for a long time.

* * * * *

Enough about the system, I hear you cry, what about the books? Well, it turns out the initial list is produced by publishers nominating books on their own lists. Sadly, some publishers either think really bad books are really good, or they hope that somehow they’ll get some publicity or reviews out of the process. Bad move, in my opinion. So far, I’ve only published a review of one of them – Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton, which scored a perfect ten for me. And I will review The Rat Stone Serenade, which got 6. But were I to review the other three (and I may at some point, on Goodreads, at least) they would be getting thoroughly slammed. No wonder they asked for volunteer readers! If I was invited onto a judging panel and had to read 50 books as bad as most of these, I’d… I’d… well, I don’t know what I’d do, but it wouldn’t be pleasant!

custard pie

I’ve removed the names of the three worst ones, because this post isn’t about slamming them – it’s about slamming the time-wasting publishers who put them forward. Mostly small, independent publishers from the small sample of 5 books that I received – the bigger ones put forward their best, and it showed. But here’s a brief résumé of the books…

Book 1 – a crossover crime/sci-fi/dystopian novel aimed at “middle-teens”. Why would any publisher put that forward even if it was good? Sadly it wasn’t. The plot was a mess, parts of it were clearly cut and paste jobs from wiki or suchlike, it was tedious and repetitive, and it seemed to suggest that the most reasonable response to poor parenting is to encourage children to brutally murder their parents. When the kids weren’t too busy murdering each other, that is. Ugh! Truly one of the worst and most repellent books I’ve ever read. Score – a generous 1.

the rat stone serenade

Book 2The Rat Stone Serenade by Denzil Meyrick. I really enjoyed the quality of writing and characterisation in this, and it had a great, well-realised Scottish setting in Kintyre. Unfortunately the plot went way over the top – I lost count of the bodies in the end and ceased to care long before that. However, there was enough good about it that I’d be happy to try another book by this author in the future. Full review to follow. Score – 6.

Book 3 – abandoned after roughly 20 pages of swearing, bullying and violence. Characterisation terrible or non-existent, and how any book can become repetitive within 20 pages beats me, but this one managed it. So clichéd and derivative. Ugh! But at least it wasn’t as bad as Book 1, and by that stage I no longer felt obliged to plough through the whole thing – how easily our good intentions get tossed aside! Score – sadly 1, because minus 10 wasn’t allowed.

open wounds

Book 4Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton. Brilliant book, and quintessentially Scottish! A definite contender for the prize, I should think. Here’s my review. Score – 10.

Book 5 – This was an adequate police procedural which I enjoyed well enough, but not enough to make me search out more from the author. Nothing original about it, average standard of writing and the famous saggy middle. Again, why the publisher thought it should be in the running defeats me. Score – 5.

The end result was that, when I sent in my ratings, I gave feedback to Bloody Scotland to the effect that, unless the standard was in some way improved, I wouldn’t put myself through it again in future years.

* * * * *

Then the longlist came out…

bloody scotland long list

(The name of the award has now been changed to the McIlvanney Prize in tribute to perhaps the greatest of all Scottish crimewriters, William McIlvanney, who died last year. I’m delighted – I think it’s a most appropriate tribute and I would imagine winners of the award in future years will be proud of the association.)

And wow! I have to say it’s a great looking longlist! Mostly excellent, bestselling authors, but with room for some lesser known ones too. Mostly actually set in Scotland (which as far as I’m concerned should be one of the criteria). Proper crime writing for the most part, and no ‘experimental’ or supernatural ones, as far as I can see. Only one misery-fest domestic noir, and a serious lack of murdered children! Nine past tense, one present tense, from what I can see on the Kindle samples.

Quality books that the general reading public might actually enjoy, in fact! Looks like the volunteers did a fine job after all of weeding out the sillier or weaker nominations and avoiding over-hyped, over-done ‘trends’. I’d be happy in principle to see almost any one of these win. I’ve only read a couple so far, but had already planned to read a couple of the others, and will certainly look out for the rest. And I might volunteer in the future again after all…

And, not that I’m biased or anything ;), but because it was my pick and scored a perfect 10, I do hope Open Wounds wins…

What do you think of the shortlist? Have you read any of them? Will you read any of them?

Have a great weekend! 😀

C'mon, Andy!
C’mon, Andy!