The Department of Sensitive Crimes

The Department of Sensitive Crimes (Detective Varg #1) - Alexander McCall Smith

[I received a copy of this book through Penguin’s “First To Read” program, in exchange for an honest review.]

I thought this would be the introduction to a series with investigations a little on the strange side, and quirky characters. The cases indeed had a bit of oddity (a man knifed at the back of the knee, a boyfriend who may or may not exist…), but I didn’t enjoy the characters and their interactions much.

I think the breaking point for me (well, not really a point, since it kept going on throughout the whole novel…) was the way their thoughts and conversations were meandering. In a way, they surely did mirror how our thoughts in general go from A to E through convoluted paths and associations of ideas; the problem is that this doesn’t translate very well into written form, unless perhaps you’re called James Joyce, and even then, I wouldn’t bet on it systematically. As a result, the characters took their sweet time getting to the fact, and to be honest, I found that their reflections about their own lives intruded all in the wrong places, such as between two paragraphs pertaining the investigation. The amount of useless dialogue lines kept breaking the flow of the story, and didn’t endear me to said characters.

Another problem was the nature of some of those conversations, taking gratuitous jabs at people: reflections about the size of a policewoman’s buttocks (such a professional conversation, that), or calling a secondary character a midget, or being not even vaguely sexist—even coming from the female investigator, Anna, when she addresses the matter of the young woman in the second “crime”, and declares “Hormones come into it” (to which Varg agrees with a heartfelt “Don’t they always?”). I mean… No? Just no? Was this really necessary? What was it meant to achieve?

All in all, I was disappointed here. I was expecting a sort of quirky, adorkable atmosphere, but it felt at best bland, and at worst somewhat rancid.