Thursday, February 28, 2008

Book Review: Breath of Corruption by Caro Fraser

I had been waiting to read this book for so long but in the end I was left rather disappointed.

Breath of Corruption is the seventh book in the Caper Court Series which was published at the end of 2007. The series is set around the set of chambers 5 Caper Court, a commercial set which specialises in commercial litigation and shipping, situated in Middle Temple, and the lives of the barristers who work there. There are a core set of central characters: Anthony Cross & Leo Davies who are both members of chambers, Felicity, secretary turned successful clerk and their many and intertwined family members and relationships. This series has been described as the thinking woman's chick-lit and I would agree, despite disliking the phrase chick-lit. The first six books spend as much time describing the law, the legal settings and surroundings as they do on the human stories, meaning that 'law' is almost an extra character. For me at least I enjoyed the books so much more because of their legal issues and also (as the author had been a lawyer herself) their factual correctness. Also, as I work up the road, I have also been to the vast number of places in the series.

So it was with eager anticipation that I finally got round to ordering Breath of Corruption from Amazon (having tried but failed to find it in the book shops of Holborn Circus, High Holborn or Chancery Lane) and settled down to read it last night. My initial instinct when I opened the package was one of puzzlement; where the first six books had seemed to look like 'proper' novels (i.e. the right size, thickness, page texture and so on) this new edition seemed wrong. Too thin, too tall, font spacing odd - it screamed amateur.

It was hard to initially put my finger on what I didn't like about the book once I had finished it. Ostensibly all the components were present. It was still set in Caper Court, the main characters were there in name, the plot vaguely revolved around the law and life in chambers. It was as if someone else had written it though; had decided that they were fed up with waiting to find out what happened next and would continue the story themselves - and that they fell flat because they didn't have a clear idea of how to carry on the story, that they didn't want to make life too hard so they made it half the length, left out all but a handful of characters and invented many new ones and as they had no real legal knowledge their legal setting, description and detail were left lacking. Only Fraser appears to have written it herself - she claims to have been a shipping barrister prior to being a novelist and the first six books left me no reason to doubt her. I now wonder if all the legal detail was in the editing.

On reflection though, the thing which disappointed me the most was the reduction in detail and factual description. In the first six books the legal details transform ordinary stories about relationships to something which I consider more interesting. Fraser portrayed law as interesting, romantic, meaningful, a part of history. She made me love my job more and the historical buildings and framework within which I work. In the books the characters visited the same bars as I do, the same courts, the details of the cases were laid out in such detail perhaps only a fellow lawyer would really bother to read it all and feel such affection for it. Reasons why I read, re-read and re-read again the first six books. The seventh had none of this detail - there was no timelessness to the references. Instead legal detail and real passion for the law gave way to contemporary references (some of which were out of date by the time I read it, 3 months after publication) and two-dimensional relationships. New characters (not a new theme by any means as each book introduced new figures) remained detail-less and face-less. Important characters from the sixth book were not even mentioned in the seventh. In short, I was bitterly disappointed.

... .... ...

EDIT - I feel a little bad. I also left a shorter review on the author's blog and I received this in response:-

"OK. Point taken. It’s been a tough two years, and this book wasn’t as good as it should have been. I’m planning to reintroduce characters such as Sarah to the next one, and take more time over the plot and sub-plots. I hate criticism, but I think in this case it’s well-deserved. Sorry. Watch this space. Caro"

Many a time I've wanted to be able to give an author honest feedback. Such are the wonders of blogging I suppose, but I feel a little bad at being so disappointed by her hard work. Having said that, criticisms of the 7th book are only positive things about the first 6.


James said...

Wow that is pretty amazing that the author responded to your comment. The internet really does make it a small world.

Cumbrian said...

What I find remarkable is having the ability to read a novel in one evening. Perhaps speed reading combined with the ability to absorb and retain what one has read is a requirement for those who live and breathe the law. I'm doing well if I manage to complete the average novel in a week. I also have the problem of having to justify spending so much time in the fantasy world of fiction. For some reason factual books seem to offer a more worthy way of passing the time. Perhaps I'll be given a better brain next time round.

Rachel said...

At roughly 200 pages this novel was a lot shorter than the average novel as well as being of a genre which is very easy to read.

An english degree followed by a law degree followed by my current job is no doubt the reason for my speed reading ability though.

I do read factual books as well, particularly biographies and so on, but given that a lot of my working time is spent reading and researching I enjoy escaping into the fictional world every night as well.

Anonymous said...

nice scoop Rachel! well done!