Dialogue. It's something I'm increasingly aware of, as it should be part of the way that an author can show (as opposed to tell) the reader what the characters are seeing, thinking, considering, experiencing. Combine really good dialogue with a feasible plot and an author can transport the reader to the world that they are building within the book. Poor dialogue on the other hand yanks the reader out of the immersion experience and makes a book a less enjoyable experience. Obviously the problem with this is defining what is "good dialogue". For this reader, it's all about creating realistic persona. Putting the characters into a place, or a timeframe and making them part of that environment. It is, after all, the way that we all communicate.
THE CELTIC DAGGER is a first book, and I'd normally try to be a little less exacting than with a seasoned writer, but even allowing for slack, I had some problems with this book. Obviously from the way I started this review, firstly, the dialogue. Frequently stilted, quite formal the dialogue gave the book an odd sort of historical feel that didn't quite seem to match with the action. I never really got a firm idea of the timeframe for the story. Even allowing for the book being set in the hallowed halls of academia, there was an overly "proper" feel that didn't jell with an Australian setting, and most particularly didn't create a realistic persona for the central police detective. It ended up giving the story a sort of floating feeling - not quite of a time or place that you could put your finger on.
The plot development also got a bit scratchy at points. The concentration is neither on the police side of the investigation, nor on the private investigation side undertaken by the prime suspect. Nothing necessarily wrong with that - it's an approach that can work very well, but in this case it seemed to get a little too scatter-gun and distracted. The reasons for the brother as a prime suspect weren't really all that convincing, and overall the plot lacked tension or any feeling of momentum. Which was a pity as some elements showed real potential, but they were glossed over too quickly and the reader pulled off in other, less satisfactory directions. None of which ever seemed to contribute to moving the plot forward, rather it left it too frequently roaming.
On the upside there were some interesting ideas, and the setting in academia certainly provides a lot of potential for a highly claustrophobic environment, littered with deliciously acrimonious personal relationships. A second book set in this world could be interesting to read - with the general story telling style and definitely the dialogue more relaxed and natural, and the plot points more carefully explored.