Those of you who have read my previous book reviews will know that although I started off loving James Craig’s work, especially his first book London Calling, I have recently started to lose interest. I downloaded his latest offering The Circus partly as a last chance and partly because I feel some kind of loyalty to the main character.
One of the main appeals of the Carlyle series has been the clear influence of real events. In the first book there were two brothers vying for the leadership of the country, albeit not in the Labour Party and trying to cover up murders as they went. The second book deviated slightly but still had references to the London riots of 2011 and more historically the miner’s strike of 1984. The next instalment, Buckingham Palace Blues tackled an issue too often swept under the carpet, child trafficking, although in featuring a member of the Royal Family I don’t think it was too close to reality.
The Circus has taken the idea of using contemporary events to influence the fiction and really run away with it. In the middle of a crisis involving a Sunday newspaper hacking the mobile phones of celebrities, the political establishment attempt to interfere in the investigation to avoid making their own relationship with the media public. In the midst of this a teenage girl disappears from her family home, but the police are not too concerned as they know she has still been checking her voice mails (who else is now groaning). It gets worse, when I read that the ex-Eton educated Prime Minister was caught riding the horse of a newspaper editor which actually belonged to the Met I stopped reading for a while.
Overall I never really decided whether the book is entirely satirical and therefore probably quite clever, or whether Craig has run out of ideas and therefore just writes what he sees on the news and changes the names.
The most annoying aspect of the book is undoubtedly how rushed it feels. With 10 pages left there are still a fair few serious threads from the story to be tied up, but rather than taking time to finish the book properly or even carry some plot lines through to the next book everything came together in such a hurry. This is the second book in a row where one of the main players in the story suffers from a severe medical emergency, and this time Carlyle even says “That’s convenient” which is largely what I imagine Craig’s editor said when he got the manuscript to her on time.
James Craig was obviously in a rush to get this book out before the Carlyle bubble bursts, but producing sub-standard work is just speeding up that event. The next instalment doesn’t come out until September, so hopefully the longer break will lead to a stronger book.