Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The Serbian Dane is an exciting political thriller written by Leif Davidsen and translated from the Danish by Barbara J. Haveland.

Sara Santanda, an Iranian author with a 'fatwa' and a price on her head, is invited by the Danish newspaper Politiken to visit Copenhagen.
Lise Carlsen the young attractive chair of Danish PEN will be her hostess. Detective Inspector Per Toftlund of the security service PET will face the task of keeping this female Rushdie safe during her visit. One complication is that Lise's shaky marriage to psychologist Ole is deteriorating fast; she and Per Toftlund will have to work very closely together on this assignment, and naturally as one relationship falters another begins. 
The Iranians through their contacts in the Russian Mafia hire highly skilled political assassin Vuk to kill Sara Santanda. 
Vuk, was raised in Denmark by Yugoslav immigrant parents, who were killed along with his sister on their return to Bosnia by Muslims. He does not kill for money but this last mission could mean that he and his girl friend Emma could start a new life.
The lives of these three people move inexorably closer together as the story progresses to its climax.

I decided that it was an appropriate time to read The Serbian Dane when I saw that Radovan Karadzic, soon to be on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, had been finally tracked down by the Serbian authorities. Vuk the anti-hero/villain is by far the most interesting character in this exciting thriller so very reminiscent of Frederick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal.  By far the best parts of the book are  reading about the details of Vuk's preparations, planning, journey across Europe and the accounts of his methods to avoid being traced or detected.

'So your government is going to be laundering money for the Russian Mafia?'
Rezi was grinning now too. But his eyes weren't smiling as he spread his hands in a gesture that said that was about the size of it.
'It's perfect,' Kravtjov said. 'It's perfect Vuk. No one loses out.'
'Except Sara Santanda,' Vuk said.
'Just silence the infidel bitch,' Rezi snarled......

PEN stands for poets playwrights essayists editors and novelists and is dedicated to freedom of expression. International PEN was founded in London in 1921 and was contemporary with the League of Nations. I would mention that none of the recent chairs of Danish PEN look anything like the attractive fictional Lise Carlsen.

This was a very enjoyable hard hitting exciting thriller with one slight hitch in the plot which perhaps could be explained by the smaller budget of PET in a sleepy country like Denmark compared with hard nosed British security. 

What is incredible about this book, which criticises the Danish political establishment for not wanting to meet the Santanda/Rushdie character and risk the export trade in feta cheese with Iran, is that it was written in 1996. 

1996 way before Bali, 9/11, The Iraq invasion, 7/7 and the Danish cartoons. 

However the Danish newspaper Jylland-Posten published cartoons on the 30 September 2005 that created world wide reaction and brought sleepy little Denmark to the forefront of world affairs.

The Serbian Dane was an ideal book to read while staying in a beautiful bed and breakfast in Lewes isolated from the world's and our problems. 

Mr Nelson, a young computer genius, who worked on naval missiles for the Ministry of Defence was called into his superior's office one day many years ago. He was told that his sister Miss Nelson aged 17 was going out with a left wing activist Mr Trotsky and he should be very careful about what he said to her in front of him. Mr Trotsky married Miss Nelson and Mr Nelson's promotion prospects were forever limited.  
[The names have been changed in this little story to protect the innocent and the naive but British Intelligence do watch our every move.] 

Monday, July 28, 2008


My review of Ariana Franklin's The Death Maze has been posted on Euro Crime here.
I did not enjoy this one quite as much as her award winning Mistress of the Art of Death which I reviewed here.

But you can read a slightly different opinion on The Death Maze and another review of Mistress of the Art of Death  here and here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


When you manage to escape from the traffic is there anywhere more beautiful than England's towns and villages?
Lewes and Winchelsea earlier this week.


When Richard von Knecht falls from the fifth floor balcony of his luxurious apartment his wife Sylvia and son Henrik are unfortunately on the pavement below.

'Aristocratic family, and wealthy. Talented businessman, stock market speculator, and one of Goteborg's biggest celebrities.'

Of course it turns out that Richard was pushed and Detective Superintendent Sven Andersson and his varied team begin a thorough investigation. Detective Inspector Irene Huss mother of teenage twins, wife, judo and handball expert is the main protagonist and most of the interest in this excellent police procedural is in how Irene reacts to the various problems around her. 

There are contrasts between Goteborg's beautiful people who have Carl Larsen paintings in the stairwell of their apartment block and a Haupt bureau in the library, and hard working cops like Irene Huss who have IKEA furniture in their more modest accommodations.

The investigation digs up unpleasant details about the wealthy von Knecht family and when Richard's office is blown up it is obvious that there is more to this than a family quarrel.
As the investigation proceeds Jenny Irene's daughter shaves her head and flirts with neo- Nazism; Detective Birgitta Moberg faces the problem of sexual harassment; Detective Tommy Persson tells a particularly moving story, and Superintendent Andersson makes inappropriate comments to the reticent and enigmatic Finnish detective Hannu Rauhala. 
Sweden's social democratic utopia has become even more flawed than in the Sjowall and Wahloo era.

Helene Tursten  just gives the reader the story of  a police investigation with its teamwork, disappointments, stresses and antagonisms as the detectives work their way systematically to a solution of the crimes. 

"Keep in touch with pathology and contact me as soon as the forensic odontologists are done with their examination."
He looked round and his gaze fell upon Hans Borg, who true to habit was sitting dozing in his chair. 

This book is a very enjoyable read and certainly an encouragement to read more about Irene Huss and her family.

Friday, July 25, 2008


We have been away for a few days at young Ms Crime Scraps graduation ceremony. 
I was able to drive over  500 miles, take lots of photos and still finish one book  Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten and get half way through another, The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidsen. 
More news on those in the next few days.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Apparently everyone loves a good detective story and that includes the judges of the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

They awarded the £30,000 prize to Kate Summerscale for The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, a book about a sensational Victorian murder case. The case was made more fascinating by the presence of Detective Inspector Jack Whicher, one of only eight  detectives in England, who virtually invented detection as he went along, and became a model  for detective fiction.  

The Daily Telegraph article can be read here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


A large part of the enjoyment of reading Detective Inspector Huss is in the relationships between the various members of the  squad. In this matter Helene Tursten's book is similar in construction if not sheer quirkiness to the work of Fred Vargas, and  the classic Martin Beck series. There is a quite different feel to it from those books with just two investigators.
The tradition of Holmes and Watson has meant that the almost all the best known of British police procedurals seem to have just the two main investigators e.g. Dalziel and Pascoe, Wexford and Burden, Banks and Cabbot, Morse and Lewis.

There is a much greater variation in the Nordic novels ranging from Jo Nesbo's almost  solitary Harry Hole, Karin Fossum's twosome Sejer and Skarre, K.O.Dahl's Gunnarstranda and Frolich, Arnaldur Indridason's threesome Erlendur, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, up to the larger teams of Helene Tursten, Sjowall and Wahloo and Henning Mankell. 

"An extra job that pays more than her regular job. Guess what her day job is."

Birgitta looked around among her colleague, who were following her report with interest. "Stripper," "day-care worker," "nurse" were some of the suggestions.
Birgitta laughed and shook her head.

"Wrong, wrong! Librarian!"

Everyone round the table looked disappointed. None of them had imagined such a genuinely musty occupation. 
Jonny Blom whispered to Fredrik Stridh, "Ha, the driest bushes burn the best!"

I would certainly not subscribe to the opinion that librarians or libraries are musty or dull. I find both absolutely fascinating and exciting. 

Is a close team working together in relative harmony a more accurate portrayal of police work than the eccentric insubordinate lone wolf ? 

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


It was George Bernard Shaw who at the 1894 performance of Manon Lescaut gave the opinion that 'Puccini looks to me more like the heir of Verdi than any of his rivals.'

Shaw knew his opera and Maxine of Petrona certainly knows her crime fiction and she has made a similar prediction here.

'there is no doubt in my mind that Helene Tursten has inherited the mantle of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.' 

'There have been many very good Scandinavian police procedurals since........but I don't think that anyone can  better Helene Tursten.'

Well I have started Detective Inspector Huss, the first in the series, and I can begin to agree with Maxine. 
This is a straightforward police procedural set in Gothenburg with a team of detectives methodically investigating a murder but with additional social commentary about Swedish society. A formula successfully begun over thirty years ago in the Martin Beck books.

'She's Finnish, married to a Swede, but speaks abominable Swedish. I found her through the recommendation of a friend of mine about two years ago. Only Finnish women can clean properly. Swedes are too lazy and Chileans and those types too ignorant.'

And we were told on a train from Uppsala to Stockholm that Lapps were the 'Swedish Apaches'. Admittedly the Lapp in question was blind drunk so his opinions could not be relied upon, but he did say that Sweden was the best country in the world to be an 'oppressed minority'.

I am enjoying Detective Inspector Huss immensely although the Soho Crime edition paperback print is slightly smaller than the optimum size for my eyes. 
I became more interested in Helene Tursten when I read the Swedish Book Review.

I discovered that she had been a nurse and then a dentist, who had been pensioned off at the early age of 39 after developing a chronic rheumatic disorder. Well dentistry's loss was certainly crime fiction's gain and working in nursing and dentistry would give you a large reservoir of characters and experiences for your stories. 


This is the second in a series of posts about the wonderful scenic county of Devon in which I get paid a vast fee by the tourist board to...... I started dreaming there for a minute.
Budleigh Salterton beach is the beginning of the World Heritage site Jurassic Coast and the inconvenient truth was that on Monday it was freezing in the biting wind. No crowds sunbathing but still beautiful.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Pondange, Lorraine, in this former iron and steel manufacturing region the conditions in the Daewoo factory, which manufactures cathode ray tubes, are abysmal. 
There is an accident and one of the workers on the production line the pregnant Emilienne is electrocuted. Marechal the foremen tries to restrain Rolande Lepetit, a tall blonde who supports her alcoholic mother and young son, as she tries to help her pregnant injured colleague. 

Rolande clouts Marechal and is dismissed later by the head of human resources. 
The workers protest go out on strike and seize the factory. During the ensuing chaos Park the CEO and the rest of the Korean management flee and the strikers lead by Nourredine and Hafed search the offices and examine the computers. Etienne Neveu is able to get into the computer files and finds a lot of  pornography as well as details of secret bank accounts in Luxembourg opened in the names of several workers. 
He also sees the arsonists who torch the factory, and runs around telling people. 
'I saw the two guys who started the fire, you know.' 

The Matra-Daewoo alliance unexpectedly wins the bid to take over the ailing state owned electronics giant Thomson. Rival contender Alcatel believes there was foul play involved in the defeat of their well prepared bid, and Roger Valentin their head of security [ a former deputy director of state security with powerful contacts] brings in a tough private cop Charles Montoya to investigate and smear the Matra-Daewoo bid. 

At the factory among those who heard Etienne say he saw the arsonists were the smooth local big wig  Quignard, who takes over the running of the factory, and Tomaso an ex mercenary who runs a nightclub and has a finger in many other nefarious activities. 
When Etienne has an unfortunate 'accident', Montoya realises that Aisha, Etienne's latest conquest who was with him during the factory takeover, and Rolande are at risk. The police meanwhile have come to all of the wrong conclusions aided of course by Quignard's friendship with the local superintendent.

Don't be fooled by the charmingly benign photograph of Dominique Manotti I posted earlier, this is a tough violent no-nonsense thriller. We are taken from the very  grim factory floor to elegant plush offices learning about the raw side of big business and the seedy side of politics. 
The novel which was not surprisingly 'controversial in its native France' [The Bookseller:Maxim Jakubowski] lifts the lid on how some companies will resort to murder, blackmail and dirty tricks to survive.
It is virtually a treatise against globalisation, EU subsidies, and the oppressive exploitation of both women and the poor Arab communities in France. 
What I liked particularly was that the almost documentary style did not detract from getting to know the various characters. The narrative and dialogue are supplemented by the participants thoughts in italics and this gives the reader a sense of being right there in the action. 
This is a complicated story with a lot of characters, lots of intrigue and wheeler dealing but well worth the extra effort to get into the plot. It is very French in its slightly quirky taut style, and much more like an intelligent thriller than a mystery.
I consider it  a worthy winner of the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger.

Author Dominique Manotti is a professor of nineteenth century economic history in Paris. Her co-translators are Amanda Hopkinson, Director of the British Centre for Literary at the University of East Anglia, and Ros Schwartz, who has previously worked with crime writers Sebastien Japrisot and Yasmina Khadra.

"Welcome to the delightful world of arms dealing. As the Marquise du Deffand said: It is only taking the first step that is difficult."

Saturday, July 12, 2008


The Crime Writer's Association made their annual awards on Thursday at a black tie dinner at the elegant Four Seasons Hotel on Park Lane. Not having either a black tie or evening attire that I can squeeze into Crime Scraps was not present. 

The Duncan Lawrie Dagger went to Frances Fyfield for Blood from Stone. I have never read Ms Fyfield, and as two of the other contenders Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know and James Lee Burke's The Tin Roof Blowdown sit unread on my TBR shelf  I am not qualified to comment, although I have read some surprise at the choice.

But I have read another of the nominees A Vengeful Longing by Roger Morris and really enjoyed his very intelligent novel, see review here.

Tom Rob Smith won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Child 44, and is yet another author educated at Dulwich College. He donated his prize money cheque to the National Library for the Blind.

Matt Benyon Rees won the John Creasey New Blood Dagger for The Bethlehem Murders, for which Child 44 was also nominated. Matt's first book was published in the USA under the title The Collaborator of Bethlehem, a change of title which must say something about the different political stances on either side of the Atlantic. Matt who lives in Jerusalem was worried about how he as going to get a 'dagger' through airport security. Another book on the Everest I call the TBR mountain.

The Duncan Lawrie  International Dagger was the award that I was particularly interested in as a registered European translated crime nut. 
I have read two and three quarters of the five nominees which I think is probably more than most apart from the judges. 
This Night's Foul Work by Fred Vargas, review here, was suitably quirky, full of character and plot to be a possible winner but  I assumed the judges would give someone else the prize after two successive wins by the medieval archaeologist.

Despite my admiration for Andrea Camilleri, and his brilliant creation Salvo Montalbano, it was clear that The Patience of the Spider was not quite up to his usual standard, see review here, and did not deserve to win.

The highly rated Stieg Larsson and the Martin Suter books sit unread on that TBR mountain, but I am engrossed at the moment in the winner Lorraine Connection written by Dominique Manotti and translated from the French by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz.
Unfortunately Dominique Manotti [photo from CWA website] had not recovered fully  from a fall from her horse, which caused multiple injuries, earlier in the year. Co-translator Ros Schwartz, who was one of the stars of Crime Fest 2008 in Bristol, accepted the award on Dominique's behalf.
Lorraine Connection is a very hard hitting taut crime thriller that covers a lot of ground with all the ingredients you expect from a French writer. 
I have about eighty pages to go and so far it appears to be a worthy winner. I will post a review next week. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


'Go west young man....." was the advice of Indiana newspaper man John Soule in 1851.
It could well apply to European fans of Scandinavian crime fiction today. 
The New York Yankees may be in a third place but the lucky inhabitants of the Big Apple have a real treat this July.

Scandinavia House's annual Summer Crime series has brought some of Scandinavia's best crime drama series to New York. From Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander mysteries to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's Detective Martin Beck novels.......

This July, Scandinavia House presents two award-winning drama series based on Norwegian crime writer Karin Fossum's  acclaimed Detective Konrad Sejer novels....Black Seconds and Beloved Poona [The Indian Bride in the USA, Calling Out For You in the UK].

Wednesdays at 6.30 pm and Thursdays at 2.30 pm this July $8 [$6 for American Scandinavian Foundation members]

The American-Scandinavian Foundation
@ Scandinavia House
58 Park Avenue (between 37th and 38th Streets)
New York, NY 10016

Tel: (212) 879-9779

Episodes are 1 hour long and in Norwegian with English subtitles.

Full details here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


My review of Jason Goodwin's The Bellini Card has been posted on Euro Crime

This novel is the third in the Yashim the Eunuch mysteries and an extremely interesting window into the lost world of a multicultural empire. If you follow the links in the review you will learn a treasure chest of information about the Ottomans and Jason Goodwin's affection for Istanbul.

Monday, July 07, 2008


[From the front flap]

'Returning to her hometown after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice cold bath, it seems she has taken her own life.
Erica conceives a memoir about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their lost friendship. While her interest grows to an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about this small town with a deeply disturbing past.....'

Fjallbacka, on the west coast of Sweden, is another of those small towns where rich people from the city buy up the nice houses and then live in them for just few weeks in the year. The Ice Princess Alex, cool, blonde and beautiful appears to have been in an unlikely relationship with the local drunken slob  Anders Nilsson, who is a talented artist, and naturally he becomes the main suspect. 
But there are numerous other possible suspects including Erica's old boyfriend Dan, her English  brother-in-law Lucas, Alex's husband Henrik and local business man Jan Lorentz. 
The sub plots involve the burgeoning romance between Erica and Patrik, and the abusive relationship of Erica's sister Anna and her husband Lucas, who is forcing them to sell their parents house.  
Every small town seems to have secrets and hidden relationships and the death of Alex will expose those in Fjallbacka with devastating results.

The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg, translated from the Swedish by Steven T. Murray,  was the first of her four books that became Swedish No 1 best sellers.
It is a very gripping and addictive read that gets better and better as the author peels away the layers of the tangled relationships to uncover the shocking truth. 
The story deals with Erica's romance  with detective Patrik  in a sensitive way showing great insight into how those in their mid 30s with past histories would still react like star struck teenagers in that situation. There is even a little humour unusual for Nordic crime fiction in the character of the incompetent bombastic police chief Mellberg.
The plot is suitably convoluted and full of suspense, and one blurb calls Camilla Swedens's new Agatha Christie.
The final disclosure is shocking and I doubt even the most well read crime fiction aficionado would be able to guess the full solution to Fjallbacka's secret. Then why do I rate this novel below my top reads this year.
Well firstly the narrative switches from one point of view to another and then to another and I found this disconcerting. Also the male characters apart from Patrik are uniformly unpleasant, and in fact three of the characters seem like clones.

But once again I am impressed by the depth of Swedish crime writing and my minor criticisms of The Ice Princess are probably caused by the fact that the book I read previously was the superb Echoes From the Dead [Skumtimmen in Swedish] by Johan Theoren which won the Basta Svenska Debut in 2007. 

A note on blurbs:

The English version of The Ice Princess has a blurb on the front cover which says,
'Heart-stopping and heart-warming' Val McDermid.
Now this book is far from heart-warming in its subject matter, and the relationship that does qualify as heart-warming occupies only a very small fraction of the 393 pages. 
Do blurb writers read or skim the book? 
Do editors cobble together a blurb from a series of comments without considering if they give a true picture of the novel? 

Friday, July 04, 2008


Happy Independence Day to the rebellious colony! 

I think it about time we in Britain had a specific holiday to commemorate the great deeds this country has achieved in the past. 

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Maxine at Petrona is always an interesting read and in a recent post on Alternative Histories she refers to those excellent books Fatherland by Robert Harris [the film version of which was a travesty of a fine book] and SS-GB by Len Deighton.
The alternative history book site  Uchronia is well worth a visit, and Maxine comments looking around the site 'I can't quite see where science fiction ends and alternative history begins'.

Which leads me on to a book that is not science fiction, or alternative history, as it was written before the events portrayed, but is a fairly accurate prediction of a future war written by a very interesting man Hector C. Bywater. 
I have read William H. Honan's fascinating biography of Bywater [now out of print] twice something I rarely do with so many new books to read.

Hector C. Bywater began as a reporter for the New York Herald, and was a spy for the British in World War I. He became the world's leading naval authority and was hired by the Baltimore sun to cover the Disarmament Conference of 1921 in Washington DC.

Bywater's most famous book 1931 The Great Pacific War written like an historical novel, but based on factual information and accurate details of warships, predicts the course of a U.S.-Japan naval war which begins with surprise attacks on the American naval installations on the Philippines, Hawaii and the Panama Canal. He also predicted the eventual result of this conflict.

'Their first move [the Japanese] in this direction was the laying of a series of minefields, the earliest of which were planted off the the Hawaiian capital, Honolulu, in the island of Oahu, and Pearl Harbor, the naval station some few miles from it.'

'......the historian may be permitted to marvel at the folly of Japan in wantonly attacking a country with whom she had no real cause for enmity.....'

1931 The Great Pacific War was published in 1925.

Hector C. Bywater died in London in 1940 under mysterious circumstances; the following year Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. 

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


I had been thinking about my five favourite reads for the first six months of the year last week. There was a discussion thread on 4 Mystery Addicts entitled Mid Year tops and bottoms. It brought home to what a difficult task it was going to be to pick five best reads at the end of the year.
I finally decided on my five but had to leave out some formidable contenders. Here are my choices for books I finished before the end of June with links to the reviews on Euro Crime.

Ken Bruen- Cross 

Andrea Camilleri- The Paper Moon 

Philip Kerr- A Quiet Flame 

Marek Krajewski- Death in Breslau  with the author interviewed here and here.

Fred Vargas- This Night's Foul Work 

I had with reluctance eliminated books by Massimo Carlotto, K.O.Dahl, R.N.Morris and Jean-Patrick Manchette from consideration and felt that anything in the second half of the year would have to be very good to break into that top group.

But the book I finished today Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy [who also translates Asa Larsson's novels] was a stunner. This book won Sweden's Best First Crime Novel award and I am not surprised, but as my review will appear on Euro Crime I won't say any more now.