The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. Read more about this year’s tournament »
Arthur and Georgeby JULIAN BARNES
One Good Turnby KATE ATKINSON
When I heard I’d drawn Arthur and George in my Tournament bracket, I was pretty exciteda friend had been urging me to read it for months. So I read it first, and as predicted, I liked it a lot. The journalist in me loved the facts in this retelling of the true story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work to clear a stranger of a crime. The detailed drawings of the two main charactersparticularly in the first halfmade the book a pleasure to read, and the tales of Sir Arthur’s odd fascination with the spirit world were a neat bonus.
But then I read One Good Turn. The backdrop is Edinburgh during a theater festival, when a fender-bender turns into a beating, a woman’s body washes up on a barren beach, and a supposedly faithful husband has a heart attack while pleasuring his mistress. A dozen or so main characters roam around the city, getting into fights, falling in love, and trying to solve the crime. This was a real mystery.
In Arthur and George, it was clear from the beginning that the mystery would be solved and that the solution wasn’t the sort that could be sussed out by a careful reader. That takes away much of the fun. The weakness is especially apparent in the final third of the book, when the plot seems to slow down and the story disintegrates into a legal tug of war over the fate of George Edalji. It wouldn’t have been so dry had Sir Arthur’s skills been more in doubt; the knowledge that eventually he would tap the correct villain and clear Mr. Edalji’s name took away some of my interest as I neared the end.
Conversely, One Good Turn has a slow startit’s never completely obvious which of the many characters is the main crime-solverbut the twists and turns of the final chapters (indeed, the final lines) kept me up late, anxious to read just one more chapter rather than go to bed and leave the mystery unsolved. And when I was finished, I was pleased to be able to say that I’d had my suspicions about the character eventually pegged for the crime. Early on I’d thought, Now, that person is acting pretty funny for the circumstances. It is possible for a careful reader to solve the crime in this book, and for this sleuth, that makes a big difference.
If paired with a comparable historical rival, Arthur and George would likely have come away the winner. But in a mystery-to-mystery face-off, One Good Turn takes the prize. Arthur and George tells a good story, but One Good Turn is the type of suspenseful tale Sherlock Holmes would love.
|There couldn’t be a more idiotic reason to pick up a bookit would be like reading Wilmer Valderrama’s novels because you so enjoyed Ashton Kutcher’s.||Kevin||John||One Good Turn is a sequel to Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, which to my mind puts her at a distinct disadvantage in this face-off.|