When Books Go Bad

Book Review: Crime of Fashion by José Latour, McClelland & Stewart, 2009

There are two kinds of terrible novels in the world: those that are simple, plot-driven and enormously entertaining (often happily consumed on the sly and not unlike Hollywood rom-coms or Kylie Minogue); and there are the kind that are just plain awful, akin to being trapped in a stopped elevator with a relentless, crushing bore. I quite like the former. I admit that even at this moment I have both an Anne Rice and a Dan Brown paperback surreptitiously filed on my bookshelf (spines facing inward), just waiting for a good headcold or snowstorm as an excuse to fall into a world of guilty pleasure reading. I am very sorry to report that José Latour’s Crime of Fashion falls into the latter category.

Crime of Fashion is a mystery novel that centres around the kidnapping of a highly successful former model. It may be one of the worst books I’ve ever (partially) read. Filled with banal observations couched in mediocre prose, Latour reveals his characters with all the complex layering of an episode of Law and Order: “As did many employees in extremely hierarchical organizations – like the armed forces and the police – Tony had developed instinctive respect for superiors and… an unthinking disregard for subordinates.” What works in an hour of television does not work in 300 pages of text. And while the novel takes place in New York, Miami, and Toronto, the author skims the first two cities with the barest detail, then presents a barrage of pointless minutiae on the third. Miami is described as “hot,” yet scenes in Toronto offer not only street and location names, but also statistics on population (in both the metro and greater Toronto area) and hackneyed musings on the city’s sociocultural landscape. During a drive through Leaside, we find the following lightning-sharp commentary: “We’ve been to Chinatown, Greektown, Little India, Koreatown,” says one character, an American, to which his friend responds, “Those are business areas. It seems to me, after closing time people from all those places drive home and live side by side.” Good lord.
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Book Review: Perfumes: A Guide

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for a good smell. Whether damp soil, lilies, new shoe leather, inland water, church incense, a clean shirt or old books, almost nothing produces as visceral a reaction as scent. It conjures memory, desire, and potential; a lovely fragrance makes everything nicer, an unpleasant odor makes everything worse. So it’s no surprise I was curious to read Perfumes: A Guide.

At first glance, the book has an encouraging heft, with perfume reviews from page 51 to 366. I was slightly put off by the lack of images, but after reading a few random reviews I discovered this volume had something much better: A sense of humour. Within the first fifteen minutes of leafing through this book, I laughed out loud no less than five times. The authors are clever, imaginative, and in possession of a biting wit. Whether I recognized (or cared about) a particular subject or not, I found myself devouring every review as though I was reading a collection of short stories.

I was also pleased to find the ratings economically democratic. The book includes everything from the cheapest drugstore colognes to the most exclusive high-end fragrances, and it was nice to discover they were equally exposed to praise or censure. In a favourable review of David Beckham’s Instinct, Sanchez declares that “snobbery in perfumery is pointless,” and Turin gives Cacharel’s LouLou (a high school favourite) five stars; “Do not be misled by the fact that LouLou, when found, is likely to be cheap. This is one of the greats.” Lady Stetson also gets top marks. On the opposite side, Chanel’s Allure Homme Sport is described as “being stuck in an elevator for twelve hours with a tax accountant,” and their Gardenia as a “loud, airport-toilet floral.” Ha.
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