The Light of Day by Graham Swift

One thing that irritates the bejesus out of me is protracted suspense. It’s probably why I don’t read many thrillers or mysteries. Can you see where I’m heading with Graham Swift’s The Light of Day?

Ex-cop-turned-private-detective, George, reflects on past events that bound him to Sarah, a woman he visits in jail.

And sometimes it’s at the very moment they learn the worst that they most become your friend. They thank you for it – they even pay you for it.

The ‘mystery’ is played out in two story-lines. Firstly, why George was kicked out of the police force, and secondly how Sarah, who George is seemingly in love with, wound up in jail. The story switches between the past and present, allowing Swift to create dozens of ‘suspenseful’ moments – there were too many in my opinion and I was irritated by the repetitive structure.

Thankfully, Swift’s writing is fine – although much plainer and less atmospheric than Mothering Sunday (which I adored), there were some thoughtful passages –

Coincidences happen. I only half believe in them. I’m a detective. We see what we’re ready to see.

Much of George’s business is catching philandering husbands in the act. This is used to give context to George’s thoughts on his own ex-wife, his parent’s marriage, and the historical story of Empress Eugénie’s union with Napoleon III (which although interesting, wasn’t compelling enough to have me hitting Google at the time…).

2/5 Disappointing.

I once read that it was useful for authors to give hard-nosed cops or detectives a hobby to make them more appealing as characters. Swift chose cooking and the story is dotted with descriptions of what George was having for dinner.

Chicken Marsala (though I use sherry). The secret is the scrapings from the pan.

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 24): Belfast 13°-22° and Melbourne 8°-15°.

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10 responses

  1. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  2. LOL I looked this one up on Goodreads to see what I thought of it, and I’d given in three stars. But it gets a mention in 1001 books because “Swift exposes the fragility of the veneer of civilisation and the ease with which anyone can cross over the boundaries of civilised behaviour.”
    *chuckle* I reckon it was pretty smart of him to predict the Era of Trump so many years ago…

    • I think some of the themes about being observed/ the observer, and power struggles in a relationship were interesting but ultimately the back-and-forth structure drove me insane! I read this book over days and days (it went on and on) – it’s probably better suited to an afternoon’s read.

      I’m not done with Swift (Mothering Sunday was wonderful) but nor will I be rushing for his next one.

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