Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I noticed last week that Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders had on his blog a very interesting book cover of The Mystery of the Hansom Cab, a Fergus Hume classic crime tale.

It inspired me to pick up and start reading The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, because of the cover with a photograph of the Flatiron Building in New York. The novel is set in 1909, slap bang in the middle of my favourite historical period. The "ragtime" era with its larger than life characters, and a mixture of apalling poverty and vast wealth I find fascinating , so I think I will enjoy this novel.

I can justify a European connection because the novel features the Viennese psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and while reading I can play my ragtime CDs by Scott Joplin, Thomas Million Turpin, and James Scott as well as marches by John Philip Sousa.

The first twenty pages are very promising......

"analysis is rather like being undressed in public. After you overcome the initial humiliation, it's quite refreshing."

That's what I tell all my patients," said Brill, especially the women....."


I so very rarely dislike the crime fiction books I read, that I thought I would look up the Amazon reviews of Ake Edwardson's work.

From Rachel Walker's review of Never End [there isn't a review of Sun and Shadow on]

Indeed I did - for despite the flaws rectified on this showing, Never End is passionless. And that's its main problem. And it's a big one. The book is dark, but cold, and the writing isn't alive. It's almost exemplary in everything but this most intangible, but crucial of ways. There's little fire in the prose or the plot, and that's why this novel is a lot harder to truly enjoy than it should be. I can forgive almost everything - as I do the plotting flaws in the first novel - except the absence of that vital spark.

I think Rachel has pin pointed succintly why I did not enjoy Sun and Shadow.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


"Sir, I have read Henning Mankell."

"Henning Mankell is one of my favourite authors."

"You're no Henning Mankell."

[With apologies to Lloyd Bentsen, and his comparison of Dan Quayle to Jack Kennedy in the Vice-Presdential debate in 1988 ]

It must be me, but I found Ake Edwardson's Sun and Shadow very very heavy going.

Ake Edwardson has worked as a journalist, and as a press officer for the UN. He has written books on journalism, and creative writing. He has even won the Swedish Crime Writers' Award for best crime novel three times.

It must be me.

Erik Winter, Sweden's youngest chief inspector faces a barrage of problems and traumas. His father dies in a Spanish hospital. His wife Angela is pregnant and suspects he has had a "sun and sea" affair, while visiting his father in hospital, and on top of that he has to investigate a particularly horrific double murder.

I should have liked Erik Winter he loves the jazz of John Coltrane, Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden, and he cooks interesting meals. He does not just reheat or go to trattorias like Salvo Montalbano, but he actually cooks . Sliced herring, stuffed woodcock, oysters, and rack of veal with mashed garlic and pesto, are prepared for Winter's wife and family.

Why did I not warm to him, or to the book?

Perhaps it is the disjointed almost television script style to the novel that prevents you really caring about the characters, or getting involved in the plot. The subplots are seemingly just there to create suspects, and the actual story is formulaic.

But the pace of the investigation of these crimes is funereal, and plainly incompetent with basic police work being ignored as we follow the problems rather than the clues and procedures.

And there are plenty of problems, Hanne Ostergaard, the police chaplain is counselling Stefan Morelius, who is suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome following witnessing an accident. Her daughter Maria is fairly uncontrollable, and Maria's boyfriend Patrik is being abused by his drunken father, while almost being a witness to the double murder.

Policeman Lars Bergenhem is suffering from terrible headaches and thinks he has a brain tumour, which means we are expected to list him as a suspect.

It must be me, but half way through the book I was getting the same terrible headaches as Bergenhem, and wondering where all these depressing side plots were going.

The one person who might have been a little bit interesting, the black policewoman Aneta Djanal, born in Gothenburg to parents who had left the troubled African nation of Burkina Faso, was not fully developed as a character.

A little bit of forensic psychology, a tape of death metal music, a trip into the Old Testament prophets, a third horrific murder, some pornographic magazines and after 500 odd pages, and some 5 months of investigation a little progress is made.

"Why hast thou shewn me iniquity and grievance, to see rapine and injustice before me? " Prophecy of Habbakuk chapter 1 verse 3

The novel ends with a predictable kidnapping, a contrived twist and an anti-climax as it rushes to the conclusion in a seemingly desperate rush to finish within a certain page count.

It must be me.

Perhaps I have read too many taut, lean, mean crime novels to wade through 505 pages of atmosphere and angst, without feeling cheated.

"The Gothenburg police are hopeless when it comes to that kind of thing"


Today's Guardian was concerned that Hollywood had glamourised Jane Austen in the new film Becoming Jane.

In 1931 the subsequent executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick, came up with the name for the statuettes that they awarded, when she exclaimed that it resembled her Uncle Oscar.
And the crime fiction connection is that the 2007 Oscar for best actress went to Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison aka Ilyena Lydia Mironoff, aka Helen Mirren, for her portrayal of our Queen.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


A reminder of America's colonial past at Tryon Palace in New Bern NC one of the nicest small towns that we have visited, and the soft shell crab was delicious.
I have been very busy this last week but should have a review of Sun and Shadow by Ake Edwardson ready some time next week. I have become so used to the lean mean style of the Italians where 300 pages is a long book, that I have struggled with this 500 page Swedish noir.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


(ANSA) - Rome, February 19 - Anti-Mafia groups expressed outrage on Monday after learning that five bosses, including three convicted of the 1992 murder of top Sicilian magistrate Paolo Borsellino, were to be given softer jail terms.The association for the relatives of Mafia victims said the decision was "unbelievable" and demanded an explanation from Justice Minister Clemente Mastella.Sicilian daily Il Giornale di Sicilia reported in a Monday article that Mastella had written to anti-Mafia prosecutors informing them that the period of tough jail conditions prescribed for the five bosses had lapsed.The daily named the five as Salvatore Biondo, Giuseppe Montalto, Lorenzo Tinnirello, Salvatore Benigno and Cosimo Lo Nigro.Biondo, Montalto and Tinnirello are all serving life for the July 1992 car bombing which killed renowned anti-Mafia prosecutor Borsellino and five members of his escort.Benigno and Lo Nigro have been jailed for life for their part in a May 1993 car bomb attack in central Florence which killed five people, injured scores of others and damaged the famous Uffizi art gallery.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


On a lighter note, I thought the fantastic cover of A Gentle Axe, reviewed so well over at It's a Crime (or a mystery....) was so evocative of Russia and St Petersburg that I would post a slightly similar photograph of mine and ask readers to identify where it was taken.

No prize I am afraid, but just the satisfaction of getting it right.

St Petersburg, and ............?

ALLEE - A very formal design of planting trees lining both sides of a path or drive.


Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has spoken to the Home Office about lowering the age at which the mandatory five-year sentence for carrying a gun could be imposed, and said his force was "absolutely determined" to end the recent spate of shootings.
The latest, in Clapham on Wednesday, has heightened fears that gun crime among teenagers in south London gangs is now out of control. Even officers used to dealing with gun crime in the area have been "shocked and appalled" by the young age of the latest victims - two 15-year-old schoolboys and a 16-year-old.
James Andre Smartt-Ford, the eldest of the three, was shot and killed at a busy ice rink in Streatham on February 3. The other two, Michael Dosunmu and Billy Cox, were both gunned down in their homes in Peckham and Clapham respectively - Michael on February 6, Billy only on Wednesday.
Police arrested a man on Thursday over Michael's murder. He is now being questioned by detectives. It was the death of Billy Cox that prompted Sir Ian, Britain's top police officer, to call an urgent meeting of his most senior colleagues to discuss the shootings at Scotland Yard.
They also looked at two other murders in south London in the last two weeks - those of Chamberlain Igwemba, 47, who was shot in a flat in Camberwell, and Javarie Crighton, 21, who was fatally stabbed in Peckham.

When I began this blog I made the comment that serious crime was increasing in Britain. It is very sad that the areas I knew so well as a child, and teenager, Camberwell, Peckham, Clapham and Streatham feature so much in the news for the wrong reasons.
What are the causes of this upsurge in violence?
I could give a very long list, but clearly the breakdown of the family, lack of discipline in schools, the denigration of religion, and the absence of police foot patrols on the streets are among the main reasons.
I don't believe poverty can be blamed because in the 1960's the community in South East London, both black and white, was comparatively poor but the discipline of parents, teachers and the police kept young people on the straight and narrow.
Even real villains like the Krays and the Richardsons tried to avoid violence against what they called "civilians". Today young criminals have no respect for the law, the police, their families or themselves, and we face a bleak future unless policies that have brought this situation about are reversed.
I will get down off my soapbox now........
Get Rich or Die Trying: Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson
The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult it is to bring it home. [The Boscombe Valley Mystery: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1859-1930]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I have started a new relationship. It is very difficult and I am nervous as to how I will get on with a new significant other. When you have been in a close personal relationship for a time you know everything about the other person there is to know.
You know their little bad habits, what they like to eat and even what they like to read. The new person is a stranger in your life and it is very frightening, but sometimes you just have to move on......

Yes I have finished reading all the Salvo Montalbano books that have been translated into English, and have begun to read an Erik Winter book by Ake Edwardson.

Will Erik be as big a part of my life as Salvo?

From the cover he does like jazz, but will it be my kind of jazz, Armstrong, Basie, Hawkins, Spanier and Goodman or more modern stuff ?
The journey of discovery begins.........

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


For some unknown reason I had missed reading number two in the Montalbano series, The Terracotta Dog. But it was quite nice to go back and see how the characters and their relationships had developed over the series.

In some ways the book surprised me in that Camilleri was able to create in one novel a historical labyrinthine mystery, and a polemic against the modern menace of the Mafia.

When mafioso Tano the Greek , a man of honour, decides to give himself up to Montalbano he begins a series of events that lead to the solving of a 50 year old murder mystery. A supermarket heist goes wrong and the loot is inexplicably abandoned. But when someone arranges Tano's prison transfer and he is shot along with his escorts it is abundantly clear what is happening. Tano's dying words lead Montalbano to a secret cave which is both a weapons dump, and the resting place of two young lovers. In death they have been embracing each other for over 50 years watched over by a terracotta dog.

The mob begin to remove a string of witnesses involved in the supermarket heist, and Montalbano himself is shot.

"They were pruning a dead branch"

During his convalescence Montalbano devotes himself to investigating the story of the two young lovers, while Mimi Augello and the team chase shadows. Montalbano is his usual abrasive self not paying enough attention to his lover, Livia, and ignoring Mimi Augello.

"There are two foreign bodies here: Catarella and me, Catarella because he is too stupid and me....

"Because you are too intelligent"

The solution to the mystery is found with the aid of a thesis, and a lot of excellent meals.

"He ate the special appetizer of shellfish, then had them bring him two sea perches so fresh they seemed to be still swimming in the sea."

In yet another thoughtful and erudite novel Camilleri entertains, and also educates us about the historical reality of that turbulent period of 1943 Sicily , and the present day reality of the Mafia.
Republic of Salo: the puppet government instituted in 1943, under the Nazi occupation in the Northern Italian town of the same name, after German parachutists boldly snatched Mussolini away from anti-Fascist partisans who had captured him. The "government" was made up of die-hard Fascists under the recently deposed and now resurrected Duce.


With Peter at Detectives beyond Borders discussing "fictional detectives of a certain age", and a young lady informing me that Mark Harmon of NCIS** can only be appreciated by women over 32, I have realised with horror that my empathy with Andrea Camilleri is probably because of his age.

"middle-aged detectives with bad, sad or questionable marital histories and, in some cases, a tendency toward alcohol and self-pity" [from Detectivesbeyond borders]

Many male crime fiction readers can identify with such detectives, and many female readers can clearly recognise such characters among their ex, current about to become ex, or even permanent male companions.

I don't think Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano [or Guido Brunetti, or Guido Guerrieri for that matter] could be in anyway classified in this group. Perhaps that is why Camilleri is not as depressing as some English and Scandinavian crime fiction.

Montalbano is indeed not young, but he has a mature, if stormy, relationship with Livia. Montalbano flirts because he is an Italian, but so far in the series [The Scent of the Night] he has been entirely faithful to Livia, physically if not mentally.
Salvo's first love is even more important than his pleasure at reading the works of Simenon, Sciascia, Montalban, Faulkner and Pirandello. It is more important than his police work, or even Livia. More important than his solitude and his special thinking time, more important than even justice and law and order itself ; his first love is his stomach.
Therefore he only exhibits self pity on those rare occasions when his fridge is empty, and the Trattoria San Calogero is closed.
Andrea Camilleri because he is an octogenarian has a library of interesting quirky characters in his life experience, and in the little cameo appearances they make in the novels we can relate to our own varied lives. Age matters.
** NCIS... Naval Criminal Investigation Service: this series which is on several UK cable channels [Five, Five US, Hallmark, FX] is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. The witty repartee, clever characters [including David McCallum from the Man from Uncle] and interesting subject matter, make this one of the best US imports we have at the moment.
The Man From Uncle: For nearly four years (Sept. 22, 1964 to Jan. 15, 1968), fans enjoyed watching the adventures of agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), who represented the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


(ANSA) - Catania, February 5 - Italians stopped for a minute's silence Monday as the funeral of a policeman killed by fans was broadcast live across the country.The flag-draped coffin of Filippo Raciti, 38, passed thousands of mourners lining the streets of Catania, the Sicilian city where he died during riots at a derby with Palermo Friday.It was greeted in a packed city cathedral by a long burst of applause and a salute from Raciti's eight-year-old son, who was wearing a policeman's uniform."May this death bring change," said his wife, Marisa Grasso.Raciti's wife and daughter stood close to Interior Minister Antonio Amato, Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri and National Police Chief Gianni De Gennaro, who wept openly. Members of the centre-right opposition also attended including former foreign minister Gianfranco Fini.In a message to De Gennaro, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called for "severe" measures to "restore normality" to stadiums. Raciti - the first policeman to die in decades of stadium violence - died from internal injuries as fans fought police with metal bars and powerful firecrackers.Soon after the news of his death, authorities suspended soccer in Italy indefinitely.

The stark reality of Sicilian life is brought home in events like the tragic death of Filippi Raciti.

Andrea Camilleri writes not only to amuse and charm, but he also wants to educate us about Italian society. I am probably guilty of enjoying his books so much that I miss their educational message.

Football is a religion in Italy, when we were staying in Spoleto, football supporters of one team [I can't recall which but InterMilan I think] drove round and round the town with flags and their car horns blaring hour after hour.