Marina Oliver: A Cut Above the Rest (2004)

>>Which characters dared to write the author out of the script? When
Dodie Fanshaw went to stay with her daughter, Elena, in Markenlea,
she had been expecting a peaceful, sedate village on the banks of the
River Thames. But then a mermaid clambers out of the river and into Elena’s
garden.Well, not a mermaid exactly – a mysterious, sopping-wet girl.
Bizarre and intriguing though she is, it’s only when Dodie and Elena
call on Elena’s neighbour, best-selling novelist Rick Wilbraham,
that the real story unfolds. There they find Anna, Rick’s girlfriend,
hysterically clinging on to Rick’s lifeless body.
Soon Rick’s pleasant riverside garden fills up with his neighbours,
ex-lovers, his publisher and agent, and Dodie can’t help herself
getting involved in this close-knit village.
A literary puzzle, but what genre is the motive? It could be Romance,
might be Financial Thriller. And the mermaid? Well, that’s just pure
Fantasy <<
(Publishers blurb).

Wow! Picking random authors from the shelves of my local library certainly
results in finding some stunningly bad and strange books. I suspect that no
other process would turn up these curios. This is Marina Oliver’s (can
that be her real name?) only mystery – she is mainly a writer of Romances
and – incredibly – writer’s guides!! Incredibly because this is very bad.
Wooden characters, leaden writing, and a sociology and feel which is
sub-sub-sub-Jilly Cooper (I am not knocking Cooper who at her best
is IMO a magnificent Romance writer). Oliver’s heroine Dodie was,
we are told, born in an East End slum, selected for a chorus line,
became a minor film starlet and has married 4 husbands 2 dead,
2 divorced at least a couple of whom were enormously wealthy
(once again I promise I am NOT making any of this up! Really
I’m not – I couldn’t manage to invent such parodic absurdity if
I tried :)).
Having said all of which I certainly didn’t dislike or hate this book
in the way I did the Victoria Blake I reviewed last week. Two reasons.
First Oliver obviously does not take this farrago of nonsense seriously.
It is all light-hearted. Second, give me a dead body in an English village
and a limited cast of suspects and I am anybody’s! Even when as badly
done as this I will read the book and take a certain amount of enjoyment
from it. A hot bath book – run a hot bath, pour in the foam, take
your coffee/wine/vodka/cigs (whatever), suspend your disbelief completely
and waste away a couple of hours.As long as you haven’t paid anything
for the book there are worse ways of relaxing.
But I am still trying to get my head round the idea of the author having
written several books of advice on novel writing! Publishing certainly
is a strange world. I often hear how difficult it is to get published.
Read this book and you are left in wonder at just how easy it is!

(November 2007)