Friday, August 31, 2007


Today the post contained a copy of Gianrico Carofiglio's new book The Past Is a Foreign Country translated by Howard Curtis, and published by Old Street Publishing. This is a non Guido Guerrieri written in 2004, and this is one to which I have really been looking forward.

The Rap Sheet had a discussion about the duplicate use of stock library photographs by book cover designers at:

And this was discussed by Peter at Detectives beyond Borders under the title Are publishers cheap?

Here the use of black on black on the cover meant that the blurb by distinguished veteran crime writer Jeffrey Deaver was far more visible than the title or the author.
Poor covers usually don't do a book justice but The Past Is A Foreign Country has already sold 400,000 copies around the world, won the Premio Bancarella, and is currently being made into a film therefore for once I don't think it will make much difference.
One should never put on one's best trousers to go out to battle for freedom and truth.
from An Enemy of the People, Henrik Ibsen


My thirty year quest to obtain all 10 of the Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Martin Beck series is over. The Abominable Man arrived the other day and I can sit and admire my completed collection.

The Harper Perennial books of which I now have three have certain advantages over my other assortment of editions. Firstly they have introductions, interviews, essays and insights into the series, and secondly the print is large enough to be read by my older eyes.

I am certain that when I get round to actually reading these books I will enjoy them as much as I did the other seven.

'One of the most authentic, gripping and profound collections of police procedural ever accomplished.' Michael Connelly

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I have now finished reading Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell but I can't take any credit for discovering this little masterpiece of noir. It was recommended by Reed Farrell Coleman in this interview with Megan Abbott.

A city boy from Brooklyn charmed by Woodrell's tale of Ozark mountain redneck angst.

Underrated is easy: Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell. That that book is out of print is in itself a crime.

I find it difficult on occasions to agree with The Independent viewspaper, but their review is pretty accurate.

"A flat out marvellous book........great literary fiction."

In the Ozark town of West Table, Missouri, the Merridews live in Venus Holler, which marks them out as "blighted white trash". Sammy Barlach, a drifter and failed everything, meets up with easy going Bev Merridew, her tomato red haired daughter Jamalee, and her beautiful son Jason. With Sammy on the team Jamalee's dreams and desire for a new life somewhere else, anywhere else, begin to take shape.

It seems simple Sammy will provide the muscle and Jason's beauty will provide the money as rich women pay for his favours.

But Jason's inclinations are more towards the "iron-pumping queer" music teacher Mr Hart, than the ladies who frequent the hairdressers where he works.

Jamalee is forced to seek work at the plush golf club and her rejection leads to tragic consequences.

This novel is all about character, atmosphere and the wonderful descriptive passages . The plot is secondary because we can be pretty certain that there are going to be no miracles in the bleak lives of these rednecks.

"You people are the lowest scum in town."........This expression of utter frankness takes over Jason's beautiful face, and he says, "I don't think we're the lowest scum in town." He didn't argue we weren't scum,just disputed our position on the depth chart.

I have never been to the Ozarks but if they are like the mountains of Western North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee or Eastern Kentucky at least these losers had the small consolation of living in a beautiful setting.

They'd been holding those kids as hostages to the welfare machine and drawing decent ransom he'd installed Jamalee to answer the phone and mimic his woman. A piece of paper had been taped to the wall above the phone, and it had files, sort of, on his kids: birth dates, eye colors, school situations, excuses: so Jamalee could talk straight to any social welfare snoops.

Daniel Woodrell wrote Woe To Live On which was made into what I think was one of the best war films of all time, Ride With The Devil directed by Ang Lee and starred Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich.

Monday, August 27, 2007


You can read my review of Voices by Arnaldur Indridason, translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder, at

Friday, August 24, 2007


The Paper Moon (Paperback) by Andrea Camilleri (Author), Stephen Sartarelli (Translator)
Availability: This title will be released on March 25, 2008.


In another diversion from my usual diet of Italian and Scandinavian crime fiction, I have just started reading Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell. Although this book is classified under the lable of "Country Noir" I have a strong feeling that West Table, Missouri might have a few things in common with Vigata, Sicily.

In the first few pages I have come across lines that struck me as very evocative of small rural towns in both the USA and the UK, and the immense social gulf that exists in them.

"Rich folk apparently love their spectacular views, pay dear for them, I'm sure, so there was all this glass."

"This mansion is not but about a rifle shot from the trailer park, but it seemed like I'd undergone interplanetary travel. I'd never collided with this world before."

"This caliber of a place makes you want to discriminate against yourself, basically, as it reveals you as such a loser."

I do envy Woodrell's ability to convey so much anger with so few words


Go to the link below for a story about some of the tragic young victims of crime in the UK.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


In Mystery Muses the writers mention some of the great lines in their chosen inspirational crime fiction books.

Such as :

Raymond Chandler's "You can't convict a couple of million bucks of murder in this man's town" from Trouble is My Business.

Daphne Du Maurier's "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" from Rebecca.

and Robert B Parker's "The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse" from The Godwulf Manuscript.

I wonder if there was ever an unsuccessful Victorian whorehouse.

I am inclined to remember characters in crime fiction more than lines, which is probably a symptom of my failing memory. What is strange that I can remember two little passages from The Thirty Years War which I first read half a century ago.

"Of the army, twelve thousand lay on the parched field of Breitenfeld and the long road to Leipzig, seven thousand were prisoners in the Swedish camp that night and soldiers in the Swedish army by the morning."


"But the Cardinal and his agents had overreached themselves, and the King of Sweden had signed the Treaty of Barwalde with his eyes open. With the help of French money he would shortly make himself independent of French policy: exploitation is a game that two can play."

Treachery, secrecy, death, bribery, and deceit.

Who says history is dull? No wonder so many people read both history and crime fiction.


It has been a fairly normal week in the rural county of Devon. If Exeter was planning to recruit cops from Baltimore they would have been put off when they realised they have to patrol our mean streets without a gun.
The murder occured very close to where we live and was a stark reminder of the changes brought about over the past 20 years.
Those who pontificate about Blair's legacy being Iraq should get out more, preferably after 11 at night and then they will see Blair's real legacy.

Monday, August 20, 2007


In between reading Massimo Carlotto, doing some reviews for Eurocrime, and waiting for the next Camilleri to be translated I have been dipping into Mystery Muses, 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers edited by Jim Huang and Austin Lugar.

This is a follow up to the Agatha and Anthony Award -winning collection of essays, 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century. A book I have not read but perhaps should when I have time.
The editors asked 100 published writers; "Did a mystery set you on your path to being a writer? Is there a classic mystery that remains important to you today?"

I was surprised at how many of the choices I had read, and a bit ashamed that I have not read some of the real classics.

These short essays are a pleasant diversion and an education on how some writers have worked on basing their style on their heroes . Most of these writers began as voracious readers at a young age, and many did not become full time writers till many years after they read their inspirational novel. Is there still hope for my writing career?

Some of the choices were fascinating such as Linda Fairstein chose Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, while Nancy Pickard chose Double Indemnity by James M Cain.
Chronologically the books chosen ranged from The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe [1843] to Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane [1998]. I have not counted up the most mentioned authors but Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers seem to feature a lot.
What book or books set you on the path to be a reader?
Well among the books I used to read as a young boy were the "Biggles" books by Captain W.E.Johns, and the Tom Merry school adventures by Frank Richards, creator of Billy Bunter. I do remember waiting so expectantly for each book to be published, and reading each book right through the first day I got them.

Like virtually everything else I read as a child these books were at one time withdrawn from public libraries as being politically incorrect.

I then made the considerable jump to read Alexandre Dumas, and I read of course The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. But I then went on to read Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte De Bragelonne, including Louise De La Valliere and The Man in the Iron Mask.

I was totally hooked on that historical period and at aged thirteen I bought my first serious non-fiction book [apart from school books of course] The Thirty Years War by C.V. Wedgewood. This very battered 50 year old paperback which I have probably read about four times and cost 5 shillings in old money is still on my bookshelf.

I don't think I will read it again as the print has strangely got much smaller than it was, and I actually think it will fall to pieces if handled.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


You can read my less than ecstatic review of Time To Kill by Brian Freemantle at:

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Karen over at the excellent Eurocrime has a post about the amateur production of Hound of the Baskervilles by the Malvern Theatre players which runs from 5-8th September.

The pleasure of being able to enjoy the stark beauty of Dartmoor is one of the benefits of living in Devon, but on a misty day it can be an inhospitable place even safely enclosed in a modern car. In August 1901 when the Hound of the Baskervilles first appeared as monthly parts in the Strand Magazine, Dartmoor would surely have seemed an even more frightening and terrifying location.

How incredibly patient the readers must have been to wait each month as the final episode was not published until April 1902.

Full details of the play at:


Six Italian men have been shot dead near a train station in Duisburg, western Germany, an attack reports say could be linked to a criminal feud.
Five bodies were found in two cars outside an Italian restaurant, while a sixth man died on the way to hospital.
A German police spokesman said the victims, aged between 16 and 39, had all been shot in the head.
All six were linked to a clan involved in a long-running and deadly feud in Italy's Calabria region, police said.
The dispute is known as the San Luca feud after the village where it began back in 1991.

Police sources said all six men were linked to the infamous Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta crime group. [from]


I was amused to find last Monday on the shelves of the Oxfam charity bookshop in Totnes a copy of The Blair Years by Alistair Campbell.

Amazon have reduced this book, which was published in the UK on 9 July, from £25 to £14.25.

But it was available in Oxfam for £5.99!

Is this a record for a rapid reduction in book price, and is this the equivalent of a movie going straight to DVD?

"Avoid the keen energy, strike the slumping and the receding." Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Sunday, August 12, 2007


The Inspector Salvo Montalbano Mystery Series (10 Episodes in Italian)
Commercial Availabilty in the DVD HomeVideo Market
Europe: Region 2/PAL(video format) DVDs (In Italian with NO English subtitles) can be ordered from the
Italian website (Search on Montalbano)

Australia/New Zealand: Region 4/PAL(video format) DVDs (In Italian WITH English subtitles - See description below)can be ordered from the Australian website:

United States and Canada: Region 1/NTSC (video format)DVDs are NOT available at this time!However, in the Washington DC area, Independent Public TV station MHz is showing episodes WITH English Subtitles as part of their International Mystery Series

I found this information on that excellent resource Italian Mysteries, and now I will have to either wait for these to reach the UK with subtitles, or work out if my DVD player can cope with Region 4/PAL?

Saturday, August 11, 2007


The Columbian Mule by Massimo Carlotto, translated by Christopher Woodall, is a harsh, raw, dark tale of drug smuggling, corruption, revenge, jealousy and murder.

Guillermo Arias Cuevas, the mule of the title, is caught at Venice airport with a stomach full of cocaine. His aunt Rosa Gonzaales Cuevas aka La Tia and her gang follow him to Italy because it is her cocaine he intended to peddle. Arias Cuevas is then used by the police to incriminate Nazzareno Corradi, who while innocent of drug dealing is involved in the deaths of two cops during a jewel robbery.

Marco Buratti aka Alligator is a club owner, ex convict and ex blues singer with an overwhelming need to right injustice and drink calvados. He conducts a fiery on off relationship with his girlfriend Virna, a waitress at his club, La Cuccia.

Alligator, Beniamino Rossini, and Max the Memory are retained by Corradi's lawyer to get him out of prison, by obtaining evidence that he was not the Italian dealer Arias Cuevas has arranged to meet.

This becomes more difficult when the mule is killed in prison by La Tia's hit men.

From then on the plot becomes much more convoluted and complicated.

We come across Corradi's beautiful Colombian girlfriend Victoria, Croatian chemists, ecstasy, super ecstasy, corrupt prison guards, corrupt cops, and the organisation that really frightens Italians.

I am of course not referring to the Neapolitan Camorra, or the Sicilian Mafia, or even Albanian gangsters, but the Guardia Di Finanza.

Alligator, Rossini, and Max are the Robin Hoods of modern day Italy fighting injustice, corruption, people traffickers and drug dealers. Of course their methods are completely illegal, especially those of Old Rossini, who being an old style gangster has no compunction in eliminating the vermin that thrive in the modern day underworld.

As Alligator and Rossini hunt through the myriad of clubs for information they come across ".......the working girls. They were all young, all from Eastern Europe, all blonde, and all had faces etched with disappointment. Italy wasn't such a paradise after all."

I would describe Massimo Carlotto's novels as faction rather than fiction. They are obviously based on his experiences and those of his contacts, and the underworld he describes with such stark honesty does unfortunately exist nurtured by political inactivity and corruption.

The Alligator is a cocktail created by a barman in Cagliari for Marco Buratti. It consists of 7 parts of Calvados to 3 parts Drambuie, with a lot of ice and a slice of apple to chew on.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I was in our excellent local Waterstones the other day, while my little car was being serviced at outrageous cost. Apparently the hourly rate for a motor mechanic is greater than that of either a Mafia hitman or a brain surgeon.

A middle aged couple were puzzling over which of the Henning Mankells they had not read, and what order to read the books. The problem of course is that publishers do not arrange to translate books in the correct order.

I realised that I had read the 5th in Massimo Carlotto's Alligator series, The Master of Knots, but not the 4th The Colombian Mule. The first three have yet to be translated by Carlotto's translator Christopher Woodall.

The Colombian Mule was one of the books I picked up for a £1, in Hay-on-Wye, and forty three pages in I am engrossed.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the perfect consulting detective for the late Victorian and Edwardian period, but I think Massimo Carlotto has probably created in Marco Buratti a detective more suited for our complicated age.

Marco alias Alligator, Old Rossini and Max the Memory are definitely not Holmes and Watson but they operate in a very different environment, where it is difficult to distinguish the guilty from the innocent; and the innocent are probably guilty of something.

Previous discussions of Massimo Carlotto at:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I will probably return again and again to E.J.Wagner's The Science of Sherlock Holmes as a source of inspiration, simply because of all the information it packs into a mere 244 pages.

A comprehensive sixteen page bibliography reveals the staggering amount of research that went into the book. The thirteen chapters cover everything from the beginnings of forensic pathology to ballistics, and from the examination of the crime scene to medical myths.

We learn about the 1569 Casket Letters which influenced the fate of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots when she had become a political refugee in her cousin Elizabeth's England. We also learn how the installation on communication cords on trains was precipitated by the murder of Thomas Briggs by Franz Muller in 1864. Muller was convicted after evidence by Dr Henry Letheby on the blood stains found in the train carriage.

"I used a microscope and also chemical tests to determine the character of the stains."

The cases discussed vary from Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper to the tragic wrongful conviction of Sally Clark. In this case a well respected paediatrician informed a jury that the chance of a repeated cot [crib ] death was one in seventy three million. The conviction was overturned when statisticians came forward to rebut the incorrect figure, and give the correct figure as one in seventy seven, but a life had been ruined.

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence." Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet.

The character of Holmes was based on Dr Joseph Bell, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Bell relied on close observation of the patient and Conan Doyle who first met Bell in 1876, was enormously impressed by his deductive powers, and clearly by his habit of saying, "It was elementary."

Perhaps all medical schools have a Joseph Bell because during the 1960s in Bristol we were told the story of our distinguished professor of Dental Medicine, who after the entire medical staff of the hospital were stumped with a difficult patient diagnosis wandered into the room and announced "Diabetes".

He had apparently smelt acetone on the patient's breath.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I am about three quarters of the way through reading The Science of Sherlock Holmes by E.J.Wagner, and it is proving a very pleasant interlude from modern crime fiction. It covers everything from blood and ballistics, to poisons and fingerprinting: delving into real life Victorian crimes as well as Conan Doyle's masterly detective stories. It is the type of book you can read right through, or just dip into as a reference guide.
But it will shake your confidence in the medical profession as there were a plethora of Victorian murderers who were medical men.
I have lived in Devon for over 20 years, but it was only last week that I saw the formidable Dartmoor Prison, which is mentioned in the Hound of The Baskervilles, for the first time. It was a very rare mist and fog free day on Dartmoor and I realised that only a few weeks earlier I had driven right past the prison and had not seen it hidden in thick fog.
".....the great convict prison of Princetown. Between and around these scattered points extends the desolate lifeless moor. "
The Science of Sherlock Holmes won a well deserved Edgar as the Best Critical/Biographical book of 2007.


Bitter Lemon Press have brought us some wonderful crime fiction from far away places, including among others the works of Gianrico Carofiglio, Leon Paduro and Tonino Benaquista. They also included my review of Reasonable Doubts by Gianrico Carofiglio on their website between those of the the Times, and the London Evening Standard.

Perhaps the enthusiastic amateur does have a part to play in our culture after all.