A Trifle Dead by Livia Day – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2013 Reading Challenge. All my 2013 AWWC reviews can be found here.

A Trifle Dead

I know, I know. I said I’d only review speculative fiction books this year. I extolled the virtues of purity and staying faithful to the one true genre. I disparaged my own ability read anything else. And now I’m reviewing a crime novel.

I can hear what you’re all thinking. “Where are your ideals now, Webb?”, “So much for your love of speculative fiction, you’ll just wander around after any old book as long as it has a dessert on the cover won’t you?”

These are all well reasoned and valid criticisms, for which I have only one response, and a fairly poor one at that.


You heard me. (1)

Livia Day is the crime alter-ego of fantasy writer Tansy Rayner Roberts, whose Creature Court trilogy I enjoyed very much. I was interested to see what she’d done with the crime genre (and I’ve also been really liking the work coming out of publisher Twelfth Planet Press recently).

Lets start with what I liked about A Trifle Dead. The writing is enviably tight, with good attention to detail. Pacing was excellent, although overall the book seemed a little long I couldn’t fault the pace of the individual chapters.

I loved the use of Hobart as a character in the book (and I could only think of it as a character). Day does an excellent job conveying the sense of the city, and for those of us on mainland Australia used to thinking of Tasmania as some kind of backwater, it was a real eye opener. I would imagine that the Tasmanian Tourism Board (if such an entity exists) would be promoting the hell out of this book. It made me want to visit (and I didn’t even go to Hobart when good friends were on assignment down there for a few years. I just always assumed they’d prefer to return to civilisation for any catch up, and only saw them when they visited Sydney. I missed an opportunity I think).

But this is where I came a bit unstuck – Hobart was the only character I built any kind of relationship with. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Day’s writing of the characters. I just didn’t like any of them much. The protagonist was a bit irritating, the love interests a bit dull, the best friend a bit meh. There were a couple of minor characters that were vaguely interesting (the protagonist’s house mate for instance), but they were few and far between. I just couldn’t connect.

I found myself rooting for the bad guy, and unless there was a level of plot subtlety that I missed, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to.

Now, I’m not a “foodie” and I don’t usually read crime, so I 100% admit that I am not the target audience here. My wife, for example, is a foodie and does read crime and I have had absolutely no hesitation in recommending the book to her – I think she’ll love it. But for me the characters all seemed a bit… well, if I’m honest, silly.

From that base, things went off track. Because I couldn’t connect with the characters, I didn’t like the dialog, despite it having an excellent level of snark. The plot twists, in as far as they pertained to the main character, didn’t hold any emotional resonance, despite being quite clever.

I won’t labour the point, basically this is a well constructed book that just didn’t hit the mark for me. I still rate it reasonably well, because of the excellence of craft. But it’s not a series I’ll be following on from here (although I suspect my household will end up owning copies if I am any judge of my wife’s tastes).

However, if you love food, you are fond of Tasmania and you’re partial to a bit of crime, ignore my recommendation above and get yourself a copy of A Trifle Dead. And leave me a comment telling me what you think!


(1) OK, I’m not sure of the phonetic representation of a raspberry. That’s going to have to do. I’m sure you got the general idea.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.


Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good. OK, sometimes good.

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