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When I first wanted to read Sayers, and asked for advice on where to start, several people told me to avoid Five Red Herrings, with the result that though I picked up a second-hand copy years I ended up skipping it when I was reading my way through the books (easily done, when there was more Peter/Harriet in prospect) and didn't get round to it until now, six years after reading all the rest.

Actually, I rather liked it. Not as much as the Harriet Vane books, of course, and not as much as Murder Must Advertise or the The Nine Tailors, but at least as much as any of the others. I could have done with fewer phonetically-rendered Scottish accents, but it was a nice twisty mystery with a cast of interesting and three-dimensional characters (I found myself particularly enjoying one rather stroppy potential suspect who I couldn't help seeing as a dead ringer for one of my stroppier academic colleagues). I doubt I'll return to it again and again, but I enjoyed reading it and have definitely read worse books.

On the "worse books" front, I put Five Red Herrings back on the shelf yesterday morning and, prompted by a vague thought inspired by the excellent recent Radio 4 adaptation of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit that I should read more Jeanette Winterson, picked up Written on the Body, which I had tried to read in about 1994 and couldn't get on with, thinking that maybe I'd have more success now. I got so pissed off with it I had to stop reading halfway home because I simply couldn't bear to carry on. I may have been very wrong about very many things when I was 20, but "Jeanette Winterson's writing is all style and no substance" clearly wasn't one of them. Also, it's basically literary PWP, and I actually have no interest at all in that.


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