Reading Groups

The Geneva Deception – suggested topics for reading groups

The following questions are intended to act as conversation starters or as areas around which your reading group might want to focus their discussion. Hopefully, they will make your experience of reading The Geneva Deception even better:

1. The Geneva Deception starts with a murder loosly based on the infamous Roberto Calvi murder in 1982?  To what extent does knowing that something real lies behind a work of fiction, help, hinder or change your enjoyment of a story?

2. The Geneva Deception is described as a “thriller”. Is this an accurate label or does the novel cross-over into other genres, such as “crime” or even a “police procedural”? How helpful are these types of classifications in any case and how would you characterise their key differences?

3. For those of you who have read James’ other books, how has his writing style changed and evolved, if at all.  What do you like / dislike about how he writes?

4. Who are you favourite thriller or crime writers?  What similarities and differences do you see between them and James?

5. The Geneva Deception sees the return of Archie, Jennifer Brown, Jack Green and other characters who have appeared in previous Tom Kirk novels. Is the use of recurring characters sheer laziness on the author’s part, or do readers enjoy following characters across multiple novels? What other examples of recurring characters can you think of? What makes them successful or unsuccessful?

6. Allegra Damico is an ambitious Italian female police officer. How well does James bring off her character in the book? Is she credible and if so, how does James achieve this? To what extent are her and Tom similar and different characters?

7. Although Tom Kirk is the “hero” of the The Geneva Deception, he is also a thief and a killer. Does having a slightly ambiguous main character who doesn’t fit within the more conventional lines of right and wrong create a different reading experience for the reader? If so, how is this manifested and how does it make you feel?

8. Genre fiction, such as crime and thrillers, is often dismissed by critics and reviewers as being formulaic, badly written and entirely focused on plot over character.  Is this reputation deserved?  How has it come about?  Why has it perpetuated?

9. Verity Bruce, the Curator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is named after Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and the man responsible for removing the “Elgin Marbles” from the Parthenon.  What distinction do you make between his activities and those of modern-day tomb robbers and antiquities collectors?  Should the British Museum hand the marbles back to Greece?

10. What is interesting about the way the story is told? How are the episodes of the novel arranged and linked? In your discussion, you might want to identify where the turning points in the action are, the chapter lengths, the use of time stamping, the shifting of the locations etc.

11. James’ writing has often been called “cinematic”.  Do you agree and if so how does he achieve this?  Is this a good or a bad thing?

12. How would you describe the narratorial voice in the book. Intrusive, anonymous, judgemental?  What impact does a well defined or relatively invisible narratorial voice have on a reader of a crime novel or thriller in particular? 

13. The Geneva Deception describes the international network whereby illicitly excavated antiquities, often taken from the graves of the dead, are smuggled into the hands of unscrupulous collectors and museums willing to turn a blind eye to where the objects have come from.  What is it that compels people to go to such lengths to own a piece of the past? Is it better for an object to be in the handsof a collector who can enjoy it, than be decaying underground or in a museum basement?

14. Has reading the book made you want to find out more about the historical events described in the book or any of the featured art works?

15. What is the novel’s theme? Is there a central message or idea that links all the other components of the novel together?