When I was in my twenties, I would devour novels at the rate of one a week. In recent years, I've been reading poetry and non-fiction, less fiction, and have become more discerning in what I spend my time on.

However, I'm getting back into novels and had a couple recommended so picked them up over the festive season. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, should have really gripped me - a murder-mystery, some political comment and a feisty female character. However, it didn't. It needs a thorough edit, probably bringing it down by at least a third. The pace, which should carry the reader through, plummets as it over-explains, repeats itself and uses five sentences where five words would do. I understand that Larsson died shortly after handing his manuscripts into the publisher, so could not have done the edit. It's an enormous shame no-one else thought to do it in his memory.

On the other hand, another doorstopper of a work, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, should not have appealed to me at all. About an armed robber who escapes prison in Australia to end up being involved with the mafia and violence in India (and beyond, though I haven't got to that bit), I would not normally have picked it up if a friend hadn't handed it to me. Yet it is tightly, subtly and evocatively written. Another friend appeared to dismiss it as 'that hippy classic they're making a film of with Johnny Depp'. However, I think it does a better job of looking at the nature of goodness than Larsson, who is, perhaps, considered more literary.

Shantaram is based on truth, so the author claims. And the detail gives it an authenticity - at times engaging, at times horrifying - which is hard to dismiss. At first I had difficulty accepting the beauty of the book, knowing it was written by a man who had deliberately set out to cause harm to others. Roberts has since been re-captured, done his time in prison, re-invented himself. And in my head I do believe in rehabilitation, yet in my heart I found it hard to trust in the redemption of this writer. Maybe, in the end, that discomfort is at the very kernel of this disturbing book.