Thursday, 15 October 1998

Anne Fleming: Death and Deconstruction (1995)

Edition: Robert Hale, 1995
Review number:  139

Death and Deconstruction has a setting which probably seems excellent for a detective novel: the annual conference of a prestigious literary society full of eccentrics, the Coleridge and Other Romantic Poets Society (known to its members as the RPS but not using the full initials CORPS which is obviously intended as a joke). At a hotel near Norman Abbey (where Byron lived), a group of individuals with nothing in common but an obsession with romantic poetry meet up; an ideal place for feuds and academic jealousies to flare up.

Before this particular conference, the society has been affected by a series of dangerous or embarrassing hoaxes and tricks - the sinking of a boat during a trip to Venice, an extra speaker invited to give a talk, destroyed manuscripts belonging to members. Sophie Charter, peripherally involved with the society, persuades her ex-husband John, a policeman and the hero of two books by Anne Fleming already, to go along to the conference incognito to try to find out what's happening.

The problem is that despite being a third published novel and with a subject close to the author's heart (she has been on the committee of the real-life Byron Society), Death and Deconstruction is very badly written. The accounts of the hoaxes are unconvincing, the strange characters in the society distinctly overdone, the academics exaggerated (you especially get the impression of a bee in the bonnet about feminist Marxist criticism). Even the quotations heading each chapter would have been better left out; not even a majority are from romantic poets as would be most appropriate. The quotes mainly come from Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets, which gives an air of a desperate search in a book of quotations. The best quotation, rather taken out of context, is Sir Thomas Browne's "I love to lose myself in a good mystery".

Literary conferences are not uncommon places to set mysteries; there are many better ones than this to choose from. My favourite is also possibly the silliest, Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb, a spoof set at a science fiction convention.

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