Wrong Alley

Andrew Taylor, Bleeding Heart Square (2008)

Sometimes tastes are unpredictable, even my own. I took this book from my local library and judging by the back cover, it was right up my alley: historical crime novel, check; London seedy backwaters, check; colorful (potentially dangerous) characters all mixed and matched together in a strange lodging house, check.

Yet I didn’t “get it”. There were just too many people and too many plots. I had a feeling that no single plot could sustain the writer’s interest alone, so he felt the need  to pile them all together in one book. And there was a big misunderstanding between me and the book from the very beginning.

Not big, huge.

Judging by the cover, when do you think this story is set? If you’re like me, I’d say anywhere between 1850 and 1890. I expect Victorian gothic, hoop skirts and tall hats, thick fog and horse cabs.

Oops, it didn’t strike me early enough that the story was set in the 1930s. Aren’t all cover designers aware that they should put some lone man smoking and wearing a fedora and a long coat in a black-and-white setting, so that exhausted readers will have a clue about what they’re choosing?

Mmh, and why didn’t they keep the cover art from the original hardcover, I ask?

Anyway, I never quite managed to correct my wrong first impression. All the more as a lot of the seedy characters seem heavily inspired by Dickens, which made me even more confused. The point I guess was to highlight the huge gaps between rich and poor in Depression London, and to explain the shift towards extremist movements, may they be Communists or Fascists.

I feel a bit stupid about my prejudices. If they relaunch the book in commercial paperback edition with a new cover (and a fedora, please!), I might be tempted to give it another go.


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