Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

"Cambridge Blue" by Alison Bruce (Constable and Robinson, 2008)


Once the novel gets into its stride it's quite readable. We're shown who does the crimes at the start.

  • Would Jackie really have thrown the knife away? Much later some psychological justification's provided for this, but it's not convincing. And do bodies sink in river water?
  • Goodhew's mother has perhaps too minor a role. Goodhew's chess get too brief a mention. Marks' family is initially mentioned but never appears again.
  • It's strange that the police didn't initially find the junk-mail. I could have done without the junk-mail entirely.
  • The plot-unravelling on p.260 onwards happens too fast for me (but I have the same trouble with many whodunnits)

Point-of-view (PoV)

The story adopts several of the characters' point-of-views (Jackie, Lorna, Alice, Marks, Kincaide, Bryn, Victoria, Nel), but mostly Goodhew, the detective. It's not always clear whether the author or a character is commenting in passages like "Each stared at the other with a kind of respectful curiosity. Marks strummed the desk and looked like he was trying to read Goodhew's thoughts" (p.37). Around p.186 there's a passage where Goodhew's PoV is interrupted by Victoria's PoV, starting slightly back in time, then Goodhew's PoV is continued from where it left off. It works well.

On p.259 it says that "Goodhew told him" [i.e. Marks] where he thought a body had been buried but we're not told. I've read other books where the PoV character keeps the reader in the dark but it's irritating all the same.


About a dozen pages into the book I began to get a fix on some stylistic traits

  • Placement of adverbs - they immediately follow the verb
  • Phrasal verbs - the components are together; i.e. "he made up the story" rather than "he made the story up". On p.12 for example there's "Lorna swung up the hinged end of the reception counter and slid back the glass partition which led to her office" (p.10)
  • Delexical verbs - they're quite frequent; "took a step back" (p.9) (rather than "stepped back"); "The junk mail made a heavy thud" (p.10)

More variety of sentence structure would help.


There are problems at the sentence level

  • In "It took Goodhew no effort to look indifferent as a reply as he scanned the pub again. This time saw her. 'And there she is,' he said loudly, for Kincaide's benefit" (p.31) I detect several infelicities -
    • "to look" is an unfortunate choice of words, given that the person's looking around.
    • The "as a reply as" repetition is avoidable
    • "This time saw her" is a typo, but is the sentence needed anyway?
    • Is "for Kincaide's benefit" needed?
  • In "the mercurial Cam flowed on her left, grey and swift today; like cold molten metal" (p.4) why have "grey ... molten metal"? If "mercurial" doesn't convey this, why have it?
  • In "Without warning, he rose and walked towards the window, stopping just before it" (p.93) is "Without warning" or "stopping just before it" needed?
  • Does "On top of his pile of papers lay a ten-by-eight photograph, face down. He turned round it to face the assembled group" (p.107) contain a typo?
  • "They sat at the back, at the table furthest from the door" (p.125) - is "at the back," needed?
  • "He noticed that her eyes were unnaturally blue, but then her skin was unnaturally tanned, and it was hard to tell if either was genuine" (p.132). If they're unnatural they're not genuine.
  • "Although Goodhew found its new wine-bar guise about as dynamic as a house full of magnolia walls; he still felt a nostalgia for the building itself" (p.137). A strange semi-colon.
  • After a page obsessively showing a man's OCD behaviour there's show-and-tell - "Here the pristine and symmetrical ruled, as the big man struggled to keep control of his surroundings" (p.168)
  • When Victoria is making an escape "for the first time she noticed how the gateposts were topped with stone figures of eagles with books under their feet. She glanced up at them, and they glared back down, looking ready to fly off and scatter loose pages into the streets of Cambridge" (p.198). It seems a strange time to have such thoughts.
  • "But she kept walking, because she had no choice. There was nowhere else to run" (p.199). The 2nd sentence doesn't follow on well from the 1st.
  • "In one direction there were rows of chained-up, riderless bikes" (p.201). Do we need to be told that they're riderless?
  • "definately" (p.216). Typo?
  • "The only sound now came from the hand-me-down fridge freezer" (p.216). Goodhew's PoV. Hayley and Thompson's house. How does Goodhew know about the history of the fridge?
  • "There was an audible trembling in his voice" (p.275)


  • We're told the women's heights to the inch - "in two-inch heels [Lorna] made five foot five. Just" (p.11); "Alice Moran was just over five feet eight" (p.17); "[Alice] sat upright making the most of being five eight" (p.70)
  • There's much drawing and breathing - "she drew deep breaths" (p.5) "his face drew closer to her, his breath hot" (p.6) "drew closer to the door" (p.9)"he drew a sharp breath of recognition" (p.27), "drew in a therapeutic lungful of air" (p.30), "took a quick breath" (p.36), "took a breath" (p.37), "drew in one deep breath" (p.73), "drew a deep and weary breath" (p.93), "drew a couple of quick breaths" (p.195)

Effective imagery and passages

  • "On sunny days he could see [the water-cooler] sparkling from his own window and it looked turquoise, the way a lagoon looks from twenty thousand feet" (p.35)
  • "her breath came like the little huff children use to steam up windows" (p.44)
  • "It was funny how just having a name made a difference. All four of them turned their attention to the corpse's face: it was an automatic reaction to hearing her name. Lorna Spence. Oval face. Wide mouth. Freckled skin. Hazel eyes. Feathered hair./ It was a bit like a dot-to-dot game, where the name join them up." (p.66)
  • "He raised both hands from his sides and then dropped them again, a kind of pointless penguin-thinking-about-flying type gesture" (p.104)
  • "'You lose a child and you do understand each other's grief at first, but if you get out of step with each other, it's all over. Suddenly each of you is alone'" (p.171)


Far too many sentences are sloppy, distractingly so. The language suffers when the author's trying to build suspense or combine too much introspection with dialogue. I found the characters believable - Victoria and the criminals least so. I'd have liked to know more about the family life of Alice, Richard etc.

Other reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment