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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Land of the Blind. Jess Walter. Coronet Books. (2003)


An interesting book that uses the form of a police procedural to tell a story that does not really fit into the genre. It does not quite succeed, it is an honorable failure. Caroline Mabry is a Spokane detective in the middle of a distinct career slump. She is on duty when a down and out is brought in, then man wishes to make a confession, Caroline lets him do so. His confession is of a murder and as it develops Caroline find herself investigating it. The two narratives overlap, the confession and the investigation, the action is low key, the reveals slight, the climax is subdued.
The most significant problem with the book is the underlying lack of momentum,the crime that is the subject of the confession and investigation is of secondary importance to the two lead characters. Both are attempting to deal with lives that have slipped away from them. The confession becomes a biography that attempts to provide the context and explanation for the man's life, addressed to the detective, it becomes an elaborate shaggy dog story. The investigation provides Caroline with a means to recover her sense of purpose. The lack of intensity in the book lowers the stakes for everyone.
There appears to have been a murder, a violent death at least, it proves to be a slippery topic and never actually central to the story. The unreliable narrative of the confession is punctuated by the investigation and a greater picture emerges. All told the form does not support the intent of the story, the cast are engaging enough to follow down to the end, it has an unsubstantial flavour.

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