Carver's Quest by Nick Rennison

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Carver's Quest by Nick Rennison

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: Carver and Quint travel to Greece in search of ancient treasure and the solution to a puzzling murder.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 448 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Corvus
ISBN: 9781848871793

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The year is 1870 and Adam Carver is at home in his lodgings in London’s Doughty Street when he is interrupted by an unexpected caller. This distraught and enigmatic young woman, Miss Emily Maitland, requests Carver’s help but disappears mysteriously before he can ascertain the details of her predicament. The days and weeks that follow her visit prove to be most eventful, pitching Carver and his assistant Quint into an investigation involving murder, a missing manuscript and a hidden treasure.

Does it all sound slightly familiar? Well, perhaps it is no coincidence that Nick Rennison also wrote Sherlock Holmes: An Unauthorised Biography and is a regular reviewer of historical fiction for newspapers and magazines. The comparison to Holmes is perhaps, inevitable and this particular plot does not stray too far from the tried and tested formula that readers are so familiar with. Indeed, perhaps this is what initially attracted me to the book, as I do enjoy a good Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Rennison has a particular skill for creating interesting characters, and our eponymous hero, Carver, is no exception. Cambridge educated, with a passion for archaeology, his studies are cruelly cut short when his father commits suicide and Carver is forced to fend for himself. His surly manservant Quint is the polar opposite of Carver in every respect; sullen, worldy wise and handy with his fists. They have a sort of symbiotic relationship which works well and they make a good team. Some of the most entertaining passages in the book involve Carver and Quint’s conversations, which usually culminate in an amusing deadpan one-liner from Quint.

I also loved that way that Rennison plays with words. He uses the full spectrum of our beautiful language, resulting in a wonderfully rich text, littered with little-known adjectives and phrases. My new favourite word is oleagenous, which describes one particular character in the book perfectly.

Sadly, the book has one major flaw. The plot is painfully slow. Much of the narrative is devoted to lengthy conversations and investigations, with very little in the way of action. I had to wade through pages and pages of superfluous conversations, which contributed very little to the actual plot. The shocking final denoument promised in the blurb, was rather an anticlimax and there was nothing in the book that had me on the edge of my seat or frantically turning the pages to see what happened next. As Elvis so eloquently put it, I would have preferred a little less conversation, a little more action please.

In conclusion, despite a promising premise and well drawn characters, this book had very little in the way of substance. I would like to read more adventures featuring Carver and Quint, because I genuinely liked the characters, but I hope that any future stories contain a little more peril, action and adventure.

You might enjoy The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon more. For those who enjoy this genre, Encounters of Sherlock Holmes by George Mann (Editor) is an entertaining anthology of stories set in Victorian London.

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John / Karen Magrath said:

I've just finished reading Carver's Quest and found it absolutely engrossing. In contrast to one review that found it too slow, I thought it was beautifully paced and pulled together the whole plot into an ending that was quite unexpected. Every page has descriptions and dialogue to relish and events or conversations that deepen the mysteries. I particularly loved Rennison's homage to, and subversion of, literary genres. He knows his 19th Century London, with its squalor and Dickensian characters, and he knows his Conan Doyle. The descriptions of place are vivid and tactile. His characters are utterly believable, from the drunken Dickensian Private Enquiry Agent Jinkinson to the sinister and supercilious MP Lewis Garland and the oily Reverend Dwight. One of the joys of this book is Rennison's mastery of dialogue; the people in it speak (and behave) exactly as they would in their period - and often the dialogue is extremely clever and witty, a real pleasure to read and savour. The relationship between Carver and Quint is a clever subversion of the Holmes-Watson partnership. Carver is a brave, witty, shrewd seeker after truth, but he is no peerless Sherlock Holmes; his restless chewing after the facts but his regular bafflement as things turn out to be unknowable or not what he expected, drives the plot. Quint is certainly no Watson but rather an obstreperous servant who has a somewhat ambiguous (and very blunt) relatationship to his master; he has some ties of loyalty but equally he is out for himself, seeing Carver as "a nice crib" but possibly a temporary one, and prepared to go behind his back when a social superior orders him to commit a heinous deed. It was also fascinating to read this book in the light of current events that have turned our attentions back onto Greece and we get a really vivid description of Greece in the later 19th Century, a plaything of the super powers as were and a mine for archaeologists, often little better than looters, to pillage and make their fame and fortune. How far that urge will go, and produce blackmail and murder, is the plot. It will be fascinating to read further adventures of Carver and Quint and to see how their relationship develops, along with other characters such as the ancient traveller and clubman Mr Moorhouse - is he merely a sounding board or a strange reflection of Mycroft Holmes? - and the fascinating Emily Maitland. More Mr Rennison please sir!

p.s. I should have added, it's a lovely looking book, the cover design by Leo Nicolls is a joy.