I have been buying books from Melville House publishers because of their wonderful cover designs for a couple of years now. This started when Melville House put of the wonderful Art of the Novella series a few years back. That the books with their wonderful cover designs turned out to be pretty darn good certainly added to my collecting addiction.
This past year I found the Melville International Crime series--books with wonderful cover designs that were also crime fiction from outside the United States. A triple-whammy as far as I'm concerned.
I Was Dora Suarez has a marvelous cover. Elegant. Eye-catching. What looks like a torn white dress in a pool of blood on first glance turns out to be a piece of paper ripped from a spiral notebook. How clever is that? And, it's the perfect visual metaphor for the novel.
I Was Dora Suarez is the story of an un-named police detective, hired back to the force from a long absence because his talents are particularly suited to the Dora Suarez case. One of the first things the detective finds is Dora Suarez's notebook, where she kept an intimate portrait of her life and thoughts. This gives the novel a fascinating twin set of first person narrations. The detective reads Dora's notebook while he investigates her murder brining both characters to life for the reader and making Dora a figure much like Laura from the famed 1944 Otto Preminger movie.
In Laura, a detective falls in love with a murder victim, or maybe we should say he falls in love with the haunting portrait of the murder victim. In I Was Dora Saurez the detective falls in love with the portrait of Dora he finds in the notebook she left behind.
So why didn't I like I Was Dora Suarez? All the signs point towards a successful reading, towards a book I would enjoy as much as I enjoyed Preminger's Laura.
I liked the detective. He's a renegade, works outside the system of accepted behavior for the British police force. The dialogue between the detective and his partner is wonderfully witty, often laugh-out-loud funny, worthy of the Raymond Chandler comparisons quoted on the back of the book. The case is certainly interesting; the characters, even the minor ones, are compelling.
My problem is that my standard for crime fiction has become that of Ed McBain and Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. The 87th Precint novels and The Story of A Crime series set the bar for police procedurals as far as I'm concerned. In both police work is interesting enough to make for compelling reading without going overboard. Mr. Raymond goes overboard in the same ways that Stieg Larsson did. I will state upfront that I didn't make it through the first Stieg Larson book, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, so my knowledge of his books comes from the first two movies, the original movies by the way. I didn't watch the third movie.
I don't like it when the crime is so complicated, so conspiratorial that it defies belief. I didn't believe former Nazis, even clever ones, are really smart enough to plan and carry out criminal conspiracies that last for decades in Mr. Larson's book and I didn't believe the ridiculous plot about a brothel deliberately infecting its clients with AIDS so that they would have to then use their infected prostitutes in Mr. Raymond's book. And that bit about the small hairless mammals used for sex acts.....come on. That never happened. I know an urban myth when I see one. Add to this the problems I have with graphic depictions of violence against the novels' heroines/victims. I know that many people read Mr. Larson's works as feminist, but I can't help but focus on just how much that poor tattooed girl has to suffer for our entertainment. Dora Suarez as well.
Terrible things happen in the world. Terrible things happen in crime novels. But when the terrible things begin to strain credibility because they are just too far beyond the pale a book will lose me.
Even if it does have a wonderful cover.