Jul 06, 11
Read from June 24 to 27, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 1
Edit (7/7/11): as has been pointed out in the comments I've perhaps been too harsh with my rating of this book following a misunderstanding regarding correct usage of a word. Removing my slight rant (after increasing my knowledge of the English language) I've added another star bringing it back up to 3 (I haven't actually removed that section - I've stuck it in brackets for all to see my folly, rather than burying it and denying all; I can live with my mistakes). My sentiments regarding the portrayal of the collection still stand though. Review below...
I picked this up at the wonderful Unity bookstore in Wellington after my exam last week along with a bunch of other books. Trying to narrow down a selection I went for symmetry as I'd just bought 'The Sign of the Four' comic. It's an intriguing cover and premise so hooked me.
The individual stories are well written, interesting and mostly compiled from the New Yorker where David Grann has contributed for a while. I particularly enjoyed the opening tale about the mysterious death of the world's foremost Arthur Conan Doyle expert. Presented cleanly in a matter of fact way the tale was engaging and I hadn't heard it before. Likewise, the story involving the Polish author who may or may not have been involved in the death of another man was fascinating. Most of the other stories are interesting in their own way and I liked reading them, so why the low rating?
Well, two reasons really. Firstly I just don't feel these work together well as a collection in the way they're portrayed - as tales of real life mystery. Sure, some are and they tend to be the most engaging. The story involving New York's subterranean water supply and the people who work there was interesting but no mystery, just not well known. The squid hunter? Obsession yes but no mystery. The later police procedurals detailing variously the mob, prison gangs and Haitian despots again are all interesting but not really mysteries. So although I enjoyed them in their own right as articles I'm (probably unfairly) marking them down for this. If the book had been billed as a collection of his narrative journalist articles then that would have been fine.
(Edit: offending section follows, read at your peril...Secondly and this is something that rubbed me up the wrong way more. In the Squid story, which is in New Zealand he comments that they 'passed towns with Aboriginal names'. That's incorrect. They are Maori names, Aborigines are from Australia. Though I don't find that personally offensive many would. More importantly it shows up some shoddy background research that could have been easily checked. If he's making small but important mistakes like this what else is wrong? When that happens with a reporter I start to look at the other articles in a similar light wondering where the thread is unravelling. It destroys some of that legitimacy. Harsh maybe but that's me. So 2 stars off what probably should be a 3.5 rating)
Part of me (still) thinks that rather than buying this you should put the money towards a subscription to the New Yorker.