Books: SHELF LIFE
Sunday 22 June 1997
Necessary Madness by Jenn Crowell (Hodder pounds 10). She wrote this when she was 17; she'd never been to London, where it's set; and it's about angsty thirtysomethings, not teens. Whew! Actually, there is no sense of place at all, just namedropping from the Streetfinder. Gloria teaches English "at a comprehensive just outside of London" (where? in a field?) to sullen 14-year-olds who proclaim each text "a bunch of bloody rot". Come again? Crowell has clearly done much more reading than living or travelling: "I went over Woolf's dominant metaphors in my mind, analyzing them"; "there was an idea very popular in the Middle Ages called the correspondence theory ... you see it in Shakespeare a lot"; "[Robert Browning] pursued communion with the world to the point of audacity". Gloria drips around coming to terms with the death of her husband and father, takes cautious steps towards intimacy, bites her nails ... and that's it for plot. A bunch of bloody rot, you might say.
The Jigsaw Man by Paul Britton (Bantam pounds 16.99). Paul Britton is a criminal psychologist, as you can see from the scowling expression and the buff- coloured coat. Britton, in fact, is the criminal psychologist, the man who singlehandedly pioneered forensic profiling in this country, the figure on which the concept behind Cracker was based. There is, to begin with, a dire and dreary horror to his professional CV: the Rachel Nickell murder (and the collapse of the subsequent case); the Heinz baby-food extortion poisonings; James Bulger, Michael Sams, Cromwell Street. But Britton turns out to be an unexpectedly interesting and sensitive writer, an anguished servant of society rather than a vulture of true crime. "It sounds terrible," he muses towards the end of his autobiography. "But now, without trying or wanting to, I learn things about people ... the shape of their personality and thinking. I find myself knowing more about them than I ever wanted to know." Britton - who was packed off at 11 to a secondary modern, then later supported his wife and family while taking a psychology degree - is far too unassuming ever to write about himself as the unwilling Zelig behind Britain's nastiest criminal investigations. Yet such is exactly the role this 51-year-old Midlandser appears now to have assumed.
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