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.

It is also problematic that this is very obviously a book written by a man who has only a passing understanding of (or perhaps concern for) women. Male characters are described according to their abilities and personalities while women exist in the realm of the physical. An aging female character worries about her sagging bustline (her job as a successful attorney offering no consolation), and the kidnappee is “superbly proportioned.” It does not help that these saggy and/or proportional females seem more than content living in only two dimensions.

As for the fashion in Crime of Fashion, well, it’s just what one might expect. Passing references to Manolos, Dior, and pashmina wool indicate the most basic and commercial knowledge of the subject and industry. Commentary by the model character on the possible reappearance of the “A and H-lines popular in the mid-century” made me wonder if the author had stepped into a mall at any time in the last six years. I won’t even touch the allusion to a supermodel named “Linda Moss.” Oh no, you di’nt. Apparently, the author does not feel, as I do, that a complete lack of knowledge about fashion should deter him from using the word in the title.

This book feels like a combination of lazy research and an utter lack of human insight. All it did was make me angry – and not in a fun, academic way, like The English Patient or The Shipping News (there is, after all, great sport in debating the merits of literature). My apologies to the author (believe me when I say it truly pained me to write this review), but I did not finish reading Crime of Fashion and I never will.


5 thoughts on “When Books Go Bad

  1. Just to be clear:

    Calling Dan Brown or Ann Rice novels “terrible” is a general descriptor I apply to anything I consider a “guilty” pleasure and is strictly my opinion. Because, you know, I’m sure they’re both terribly affected by the opinion of a practically anonymous person on the internet and are even now shedding bitter, mortified tears (into great big piles of money)…

    Also, I’m not at all commenting on the plot of this novel (which may be the greatest thing since Jane Eyre and, I have since discovered, has been called “serpentine” in at least five different reviews) but only the prose.

    That is all.

  2. Aha dude who can’t write strong female characters? Colour me shocked.
    This made me laugh. Read more terrible books, please.
    (PS i have read every Dan Brown book except for the new one. Please don’t tell my Literature professors).


  3. My sympathies are with you. I absolutely hate it when a book is so bad that you have to walk away from it. The fact that it irked you so much that you couldn’t even finish it stays with you as if you’re some kind of quitter and couldn’t even finish it. I have had that only happen to me once and I still look upon that book with great disdain, never forgetting how much I loathe it.
    On another note, I too have read all of the Dan Brown’s except the latest, and I absolutely love how bad they can be. ;-)

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