Do you think I may have been judging Lilian Jackson Braun a bit harshly? I was just thinking that the unfortunate book in her Cat series was probably so bad because she'd already written very many over the preceding fifty years and had pretty much exhausted any plot or characterisation in that time. When you're 80 years old and have come across hundreds of personality types and encountered every imaginable twist in your life, your attitude on people and events hardens into a kind of monochrome melange, with little interest in nuance or distinction, and everything you hear is old hat and boring. Ha.
It's silly on my part to be judging octogenarian writers from such a small sample. I've come across this colourlessness only twice so far. Braun was one, and the now nearly nonagenarian Scottish writer Gerald Hammond is another. I read his With My Little Eye yesterday, and it is filled - once again - with characters who are identical in speech, thought, pedantry, sense of humour, motivation, with only names to differentiate them. Check out how one of the main character talks (he's 31 years old, by the way):
There are no buts. There seems to be a high probability that ...'s death may have involved what they call foul play and what you've just told me could be relevant. I am not going to be responsible for withholding evidence in a murder case. If you don't tell them I shall have to rescind my promise and tell them as much as I know.
Here's how a police sergeant speaks:
Everybody dies of heart failure. It just means dying. If you mean heart disease or a heart attack then say so. But there were no signs of that nature. To the initiated - that means me - he seems to have dropped dead for no particular reason, but no doubt the pathologists will find something to explain it. You knew him in life and saw his body.
Here's a 19 year-old woman speaking:
And I thought you're about the nicest man I know and, if you don't mind my saying so, you're an attractive man in the prime of life. You'd know how it really should be and I know you're not the sort who would talk about it afterwards. And I also know you've had lady friends but you don't seem to be attached at the moment.
And this is a 2011 book. Who talks like this?
In my very early teens I used to nip into the British Council every so often to borrow books. Most of the time it was some pulp like Alistair Maclean or Wilbur Smith, but occasionally I'd look at the more serious fiction shelves and ponder over the names. A. J. Cronin and Beryl Bainbridge and Muriel Spark and so on. There were also a bunch of Deightons and MacInnes and Allbeurys and - does anyone read him anymore? - John Creasey. I never read any of those then (except Deighton, whose SS-GB I really loved), so I figured I should remedy the defect when I came across Ted Allbeury's Dangerous Arrivals - less than 200 pages, to boot.
I think we can easily stick this book with the likes of Jack Higgins. You know, airport reading for the 1970s. This has a typical plot - an ex-special services fellow minding his own business has his life threatened, and of course he has to investigate, bonk several willing women, kill a few toughs and recruit some cheerfully shady fellows who owe him their lives from the war. It would be your typical white man solving a problem in some corrupt hellhole, except the corrupt hellhole here is Italy and the special services guy is British. There's a suitable amount of manly pain interspersed with food, and the Brit walks off at the end unbowed but sadder.