This is my SPOILER-FREE Book Review for
Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
This review was cross-posted over at the Fresno LGBT News Link website under the “Book Flow” tab. under “More”
Before we start, I want to say a quick word on “canon” and what it means to general readers.
The term “literary canon” refers to a body of books, narratives, and other texts considered to be the most important and influential of a particular time period or place. In layman’s terms, it is the body of work that influential people believe is “must read” in order to be considered “well read” or, at the very least, able to understand the allusions and references that make up our sense of shared culture.
But you don’t have to have actually read the things in canon to get the references… for example, just living in our modern times in the US will allow you to glean meaning from Biblical, Simpsons, or Star Wars quotes. You might never have read or watched, but you still get the memes.
Anyway, back to the literary canon. Many books that are required reading in public high schools and colleges form a basic level of general literary understanding. Part of why they are repeatedly taught is to instill a sense of continuation… the fact that my mother and my daughter both read the same books I did in middle school lets us have a generational bridge. Of course, there is a very valid argument that what has been historically part of the canon has been one-sided… mostly straight white dudes. The arguments for expanding canon are worthwhile but not the point of today’s diatribe.
Where I want to focus is on the fact that today’s book is great. And it is even better if you are even moderately well versed in the literary canon of British literature or women’s literature.
So let’s get into it.
I am going out of order because I think it matters.
T: Why THIS book?
The title. The title tickled my brain and I could not have told you why. A quick skim of the blurb told me that there was going to be sapphic love and adventure… and again, the title seemed to denote a tone of humor or at least self-awareness… it seemed to both smirk at me and invite further inspection.
The back of the book blurb:
Adele grew up in the shadows—first watching from backstage at her mother’s Parisian dance halls, then wandering around the gloomy, haunted rooms of her father’s manor. When she’s finally sent away to boarding school in London, she’s happy to enter the brightly lit world of society girls and their wealthy suitors.
Yet there are shadows there, too. Many of the men that try to charm Adele’s new friends do so with dark intentions. After a violent assault, she turns to a roguish young con woman for help. Together, they become vigilantes meting out justice. But can Adele save herself from the same fate as those she protects?
With a queer romance at its heart, this lush historical thriller offers readers an irresistible mix of vengeance and empowerment.Back of the Book
Did you catch the British literature allusion? No? That’s ok… it is actually a bit subtle unless you were a lit major or a very specific type of loner book nerd.
And don’t worry or bother to go look it up. Should you decide to read this novel, Cornwell lets you in on the “secret” quite quickly. Had I made a more careful read, I would have gotten it sooner… and in all honestly, it might have made me decide not to read the book.
Why? Well, schtick can be cute… but overly cutesy things tend to awaken my inner grump and I will often pass by something that I feel is skirting the line between clever and twee. So for me, it would not actually have been a draw… which is why I have chosen to consider it a bit of a fun spoiler and thus leave it out of my review.
A: ATMOSPHERE / Tone combined with S: Writing STYLE
There is murder, but it is not murder most foul. There is a dark underbelly of London but the shadows are more blue-grey and not sinister black. There is a tragedy but nothing is actually tragic. The tone is confessional but there is not a lot of guilt and thus no real brooding.
The diction and verbiage are older but not archaic. They feel mostly right for the time period (Victorian England) with no obvious slip-ups in terms of slang etc. Now, this book is not nearly as wordy as most Victorian novels would be, but that is a welcome respite and not a complaint by any means.
The story itself is a bit out of time with a much more modern protagonist and resolution… more on that in a moment.
The novel is a fast and easy read. I would have actually liked a few more Victorian words and phrases to really push the reader into that time period, but on the whole, Cornwell does a good job of being immersive enough to get the point of location and time across without potentially losing readers who might not want to stretch those vocabulary muscles.
P: PLOT / Pacing
As mentioned above, the plot is a bit modern. This is not a complaint. Sometimes it is fun to put modern types into non-modern situations… I mean, there is a whole subset of time-traveling books about people getting transported into the past and how they manage to deal with the juxtaposition of modern morality and older situations.
That being said, the plot was as believable as it needed to be. Sure, there were coincidences and moments where the reader is asked to not think too hard… just let yourself be borne along on the waves of the story. In the end, though simple, the plot was interesting enough to keep me reading.
One quibble: it was… very simple. Almost over simple. Your mileage will vary here, but I can totally get why some readers would find this story overly predictable and overly uncomplicated.
Note about the ending: I am not going to spoil the ending. I will say, however, that I can see why some readers didn’t like it. My take? “All your faves are problematic”
Yup. The title did not disappoint. This book was pretty much exactly what the blurb told me it would be. And it was fun to read. We don’t always need a big twist. Sometimes simplicity is best and this is, at its core, a simple fun little story that doesn’t ask too much of the reader. It is surface-level popcorn lit and sometimes that is exactly what you need.
They were fine. Forgettable but fun. Authentic? Nope. But that’s ok. This isn’t high literature. It isn’t meant to teach us things about the human experience. They were there to be interesting and to help the shtick of the story move along. Also, sapphic love is great and needs as much representation as possible, so cheers to that.
Would I Recommend It?
Sure. This book is, in essence, a bit of well-written fan fiction of a literary character that most people don’t give more than a passing thought to.
And? And you really really REALLY need to read the Author’s Note at the end of the book. It add infinite layers to the whole endeavor and really elevates the whole book. For reals, don’t skip it.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?