I normally wait until I’ve finished reading a book before posting about it, but this is going to be more of a rant than a review!
Having finished the excellent but mammoth Traveller of the Century, I was in the mood for a little light escapism. I’ve read almost all the Sister Fidelma books since the first one Absolution by Murder came out in 1994 so I started on the latest, Behold a Pale Horse , with every expectation of enjoyment. I know Peter Tremayne‘s writing style doesn’t suit everybody, but I’ve always been prepared to put up with a slightly pedantic manner in return for a decent story, especially when it deals with an interesting period in history.
Sister Fidelma is an Irish princess, religieuse and lawyer – in 6th century Ireland it was possible for a woman to be all these things, unlike on this side of the water – and I’ve picked up a lot that I’d never otherwise have come across about her culture and society.
Sadly, though the experience of reading this latest installment is marred by constant sloppy editing from the very first page, e.g.:
“Marking him as being above the lower orders of religious brethren, he carried a staff of office topped with a small silver hook, as if it were a crozier of the type a bishop might use.” (p. 1)
“‘Colm Bán?’ She automatically corrected the name to Irish form.” (p. 12)
“A squat building of several stories high…” (p. 57)
“There was something reminiscent about the island of Éireann … something, but it was not quite the same.” (p. 68)
I saw this on Facebook the other day and it is horribly true:
When I’m proofreading I have to constantly fight the urge to recast other people’s work the way I’d write it myself, and I’m longing to take a red pencil to those sentences above:
Marking him as beingAs a sign that he was above the lower orders of religious brethren, he carried a staff of office topped with a small silver hook, as if it were asimilar to a bishop’s crozier of the type a bishop might use.”
“‘Colm Bán?’ She automatically corrected the name to the Irish form.”
“A squat building,
ofseveral stories high…” or “A squat building of several stories high…” or even “A squat building of several stories highin height…”
“There was something about it reminiscent
aboutof the island of Éireann… somethinga resemblance, but it was not quite the same.”
All the same, a good book needs good editing and the sentences above haven’t been given it! I checked back to my copy of Absolution by Murder and certainly didn’t find that many jarring phrases on a cursory inspection of the first 70 pages. So that set me wondering why.
Has Tremayne’s writing gone down hill? Possibly. Is it because nobody can afford in-house copyeditors any more? I don’t know, although I constantly hear stories to that effect. Do the publishers just not care? Hmm…
Whatever the reason, poor editing like that certainly gives the impression of a slapdash job. Taking the readers for granted. After all, people have been buying this stuff for eighteen years now. Sister Fidelma has a fan club, a website, an appreciation society. This book was written because of a request from an Italian audience to have a story set in their area. So there’s a ready-made market. This kind of mid-list, established series doesn’t bring in the money of the latest blockbuster, so why bother? People who like a nice cosy murder mystery can’t really care about good writing, can they?
I really hope that’s not the case.