Saturday, January 31, 2009

MY FAVOURITE READS OF 2008



The books I read during 2008 were of a very high quality with only a few exceptions therefore it was a hard task to come up with only five outstanding reads. My favourite reads all had that extra special something  about them and all had memorable characters. 

They were:


The fifth in the Bernie Gunther series was set in Peron's Argentina in 1950 but with a lengthy brilliantly evocative back story of Germany in 1932. An outstanding detective story as Bernie investigates a murder with similarities to a case in his past. But it is also a novel with a message and warning from history that is relevant to the present day.


Commisaire Adamsberg and his disparate team of detectives investigate murders in Paris and strange events in Normandy. Gallic quirkiness and individuality abound in this mixture of modern mystery and medieval history.


Harry Hole investigates a bank robbery and then makes an unfortunate choice of female dinner companion in this book which is the sequel to The Redbreast and prequel to The Devil's Star. The opening of Nemesis is absolutely stunning and the narrative grips right through to the end.


This winner of the Best Swedish Debut Crime Novel has a brilliantly different investigator in the elderly Gerlof Davidson and is a master class in the use of a gripping decades long back story. But the main star of the book is the atmospheric setting on the beautiful bleak Baltic Island of Oland.  


A sensational start to this novel is a prelude to a police procedural that is both humorous and intriguing. The ten books in the Martin Beck series written between 1965 and 1975 are all masterpieces and a pleasure to read. 

Friday, January 30, 2009

JO NESBO TOP CHOICE IN NORWEGIAN LIBRARIES


The twenty most lent books in Norway last year information via the Salmonsson Agency.

1. Ligge i grønne enger (Anne B. Ragde) 
2. Snømannen (Jo Nesbø) 
3. Luftslottet som sprengtes (Stieg Larsson) 
4. Tusen strålende soler (Khaled Hosseini) 
5. Jenta som lekte med ilden (Stieg Larsson) 
6. Honningfellen (Unni Lindell) 
7. Drageløperen (Khaled Hosseini) 
8. Menn som hater kvinner (Stieg Larsson) 
9. Livstid (Liza Marklund) 
10. Hodejegerne (Jo Nesbø) 
11. Den som elsker noe annet (Karin Fossum) 
12. Frelseren (Jo Nesbø) 
13. Ut og stjæle hester (Per Petterson) 
14. Rødstrupe (Jo Nesbø) 
15. Tyskerungen (Camilla Läckberg) 
16. 1222 (Anne Holt) 
17. Tett inntil dagene: fortellingen om min mor (Mustafa Can) 
18. Sorgenfri (Jo Nesbø) 
19. Nobels testamente (Liza Marklund) 
20. Orkestergraven (Unni Lindell)

The original article in Norwegian by Per Olav Solberg is here. I could not understand it but can see five Jo Nesbo books at 2,10,12,14,18: the Stieg Larsson millennium trilogy at 3,5,8: Liza Marklund at 9.and 19: and Camilla Lackberg at 15.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

THE OTHER LARSSON CRIME WRITER: THE BLACK PATH BY ASA LARSSON



Kiruna, 1100km north of Uppsala, in the frozen north of Sweden. 
Leif Pudas is fishing through a hole in the ice from his mobile ark and goes outside without a coat to relieve himself. The moorings on his ark come loose and it blows away in the storm. He has only a few minutes to live in the extreme cold, but luckily he stumbles across his snowmobile with a tool box in the seat. He is able to break the window of a nearby ark and climb through into the interior, where he finds a woman's body.
The woman has signs of having been tortured before her  murder and Inspector Anna-Maria Mella with her colleague Sven-Erik  Stalnacke begin an investigation. 

When the woman is identified is identified as Inna Wattrang, an executive of Kallis Mining, Anna-Maria asks lawyer Rebecka Martinsson to look into the financial background of the company. Rebecka has only recently recovered from her 'breakdown' caused by the traumatic events related in The Blood Spilt, the previous book in the series. 
The separate financial and criminal investigations merge as Rebecka delves deeply into the financial life of Mauri Kallis the boss of Kallis Mining, and when a local suicide turns out to be another murder the story moves to the exciting climax. 

Asa Larsson's The Black Path is the third in a planned six book series featuring two disparate investigators workaholic tax lawyer Rebecka Martinsson, and mother of four police Inspector Anna-Maria Mella.
The previous books in the series The Savage Altar [Sun Storm in the USA] and The Blood Spilt were respectively named Sweden's Best First Crime Novel in 2003, and Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2004. The Black Path has been nominated for a Hawaii Five-O police procedural award at the Left Coast Crime Festival 2009.

This along with the nomination of Karin Alvtegen for an Edgar shows that Scandinavian crime fiction is getting some well deserved recognition in the USA.

I really enjoyed The Black Path but had a few minor reservations which were probably more related to my wandering concentration levels than any failures by the author. This dark mysterious novel covers so many of the main themes of modern crime fiction that at times I felt a bit overwhelmed. 
Mauri Kallis is a walking success story, who as a child was put in care, but has become a very rich man with business interests all over the world and a private estate where his various relatives live like feudal vassals. The 'American Dream' but in Sweden.
The murder victim Inna Wattrang is charismatic, beautiful, sexually promiscuous with rich older men, and has a 'strange' relationship with her weak brother Diddi. Diddi and Inna are the beautiful acceptable face of Kallis Mining, a face that hides the company's amoral exploitation of Africa's mineral resources and other illegalities.
 
Mauri Kallis has a 16 year old half sister Ester, the offspring of his mother and an Indian fellow inmate of the psychiatric ward, who is an artist and was brought up in a Sami family. Ester has unusual abilities but only her artistic talent is noticed and because of her age and exotic Indian and Sami background she is ripe for exploitation by trendy gallery owners.

Asa Larsson gives us a lot of the back story for these characters and others explaining some of the psychological background for their present state of mind. She gives us multiple points of view and multiple narrative threads and she does it very well. But at times I found myself wanting the investigation to move forward with more of Anna-Maria and Sven-Erik, and less of Rebecka's numerous problems, and Diddi's pathetic behaviour. 
This might be just be my impatience because this is a very good book with a very strong message about the brutality of modern global business and the exploitation of the weak. 

"....but I pulled myself together and started to speak Finnish instead, and then she thawed out."
Airi Bylund laughed.
"Oh yes, she probably thought you were a rousku, one of those bastards who can only speak Swedish."

But at least amid all the darkness the book does end with a glimpse of possible personal happiness for two of the characters. I look forward to reading the next book in this continuing series because it shows how a writer like Asa Larsson is pushing the boundaries by creating an amalgam of psychological thriller, social commentary and police procedural all in one novel.

You can read a couple of fascinating  reviews of The Black Path here and here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

THE SWEDISH APACHE


There is an interesting post at Scandinavian Crime Fiction that refers to a discussion by Mike Carlson here as to the reason why Nordic crime has attracted all this current attention from UK journalists.

The key section selected by Barbara at Scandinavian Crime Fiction  is "But it remains puzzling to me why, that when contemporary British writers have done so much to move their genre into more challenging territory it takes two Swedes [Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson ?] to get British critics to notice." 

I think the answer is simple, the media pick on something as the flavour of the moment, and in the process they drain the story of every drop of vitality they can and then they abandon it and move on. 
In their view British crime fiction has been around a long while, it has been on television in various guises for many years and therefore is not as newsworthy as something new such as Swedish crime fiction. [I have noted that two of my first creaking blog posts back in September 2006 referred to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo]
The critics think here is a 'new TV series' with a 'new detective' Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, and which is set in a beautiful location, so we must write about it. The fact that the televised Mankell books were published in English between ten and six years ago is irrelevant. 

In the case of  Stieg Larsson the interest has undoubtedly been stimulated as a result of three factors: he died tragically young, the advertising campaign, and the unique character Lisbeth Salander

Will the professional journalists/critics move on to all the other Scandinavian crime writers who have not been televised and who have not been the beneficiary of a Stieg Larsson like marketing campaign [well deserved on the evidence of The Girl Who Played with Fire] ? 
I very much doubt it as the media are quite fickle, but unfortunately the problems dealt with in the books concerning the breakdown of society, single parenthood, gangs, abuse, immigration and drugs are with us for the long haul. 

In 1990 when Sweden was probably a more homogeneous population a Sami, who was very drunk, started a conversation with us on a train from Uppsala to Stockholm. He complained that he was a 'Swedish Apache', a depressed and oppressed minority in his own country. We were rather shocked because that winter we had seen a beautiful country, which appeared snow white in more than one sense, a country where even the bag ladies dressed smartly. We were relieved that this was a short journey because he was very drunk, but as we were about to leave the train he said "if you are going to be oppressed this is the best country in the world to be oppressed."

Perhaps a lot of the interest in Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson is caused by the fact that the liberal media still believe that Sweden is some sort of socialist utopia and are intrigued by the concept that it is a 'real' country.    

Thursday, January 22, 2009

APPRECIATING CAMILLERI ON THE PICADOR BLOG



Over at the Picador Blog I see that my article on the Inspector Montalbano novels Appreciating Camilleri is no longer the most recent offering. The newest post is an article about the Nobel committee's decision to award the literature prize to the unknown Jean-Marie Le Clezio.
 
Picador are publishing a series of blog posts on Andrea Camilleri to coincide with the release of The Paper Moon the ninth Inspector Montalbano in paperback. Thanks to the good offices of Lady Maxine of Petrona they asked me to contribute. 
I got a bit carried away and wrote a much longer article but the folks at Picador did an excellent job of editing it down to manageable length. I won't criticise those writers of  door stop novels for a few weeks. 

Upcoming articles in the Camilleri series include a review of The Paper Moon by Maxine Clarke and Stephen Sartarelli discussing the delights and challenges  of translating Camilleri. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

SWEDISH RELATIVES:ASTRID LINDGREN AND KARIN ALVTEGEN



Dorte has kindly explained the relationships between Astrid Lindgren's creations, Kalle Blomqvist and Pippi Longstocking, and Stieg Larsson's creations Mikael Blomqvist and the memorable Lisbeth Salander here.

I was interested to read here that Karin Alvtegen, just nominated for an Edgar for best novel for Missing, is the grandniece of Astrid Lindgren

I think Lisbeth, the adult Pippi Longstocking, could have fitted in very well in the only Karin Alvtegen book I have read, Betrayal.

You can find an excellent summary of the numerous posts concerning Lisbeth Salander collected together by Maxine of Petrona here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

HISTORIC INAUGURATION DAY AND A LITTLE QUIZ


On this historic day when President Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States I thought I would set one of my little quizzes just for a bit of fun.

But first my thoughts today are influenced by the fact that my oldest friend is a black Jamaican. I remember very well that when we first met 46 years ago the USA was a very different place. I think that as well as congratulating President Obama on his achievement we should congratulate the American people on their long  journey since those dark days of the 1960s. 

I have a suspicion that George W. Bush will not be judged as harshly by history as he is today. He was dealt a very difficult hand to play with and made some poor decisions. But the fact that he brought African Americans into high office might be seen in a hundred years time as a defining moment in American history. 
Now the USA has a new charismatic leader with a crushing weight of expectation on his shoulders. 
President Barack Obama has an almost impossible tasks in front of him, but so did many American leaders in the past from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 
We can only wish him well. 

The Questions:

1] Who was the only American President for whom English was not his first language?

2] Who was the only American President who died outside the United States, and was not officially mourned in Washington?

3] Which American President are these quotes referring to:

'May God give our country leaders as faithful, as wise, as noble in spirit as the one whom we now mourn.'

'a majestic figure who stood like a rock of consistency'

'He taught us the power of brotherliness'

''It is believed to be the most remarkable demonstration in American history of affection, respect , and reverence for the dead.'

No prizes but hopefully it might take your minds off the dire economic situation for a few minutes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE WEBSITE


Iain at Quercus has asked me to direct readers to a new web site devoted to The Girl Who Played With Fire here. There will be more content over the next few months but there is already a link to Maxine's Euro Crime review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

THE MIND'S EYE: INSPECTOR VAN VEETEREN BY HAKAN NESSER

Update:
This blog is now dormant. You can read all these old posts and new material at Crime Scraps Review http://crimescraps2.wordpress.com


Janek Mitter, after a night of heavy drinking and lovemaking, stumbles into his bathroom to find his beautiful wife of only 3 months Eva floating dead in the bath. Mitter's problem is that he cannot remember anything except making love and falling asleep.
Chief Inspector Van Veeteren questions Mitter at length and at some stage he is sure Mitter will start to remember what happened but when will that be?

This is the first book I have read by Hakan Nesser and my excuse is that I have been waiting for The Minds's Eye [or The Wide Mesh Net in Swedish 'Det grovmaskiga natet'] the first book in the ten book Inspector Van Veeteren series to be published in English. too many times have I found myself reading Nordic books out of order.
Numbers two and three Borkmann's Point and The Return have already been published and number four Woman with a Birthmark is to be published later this year therefore I will be able to follow the series as it was meant to be read.
The Van Veeteren series is set in the fictional town of Maardam population 300,00 in a unspecified Northern European country like Sweden, Poland, Germany or the Netherlands.

I assume the fact that it is a ten book series is a tribute to the ten books in the great Martin Beck series.
There is an interesting interview with Hakan Nesser here at Detectives Beyond Borders.

The Mind's Eye won the Basta Svenska Debut in 1993, and Hakan Nesser is the only author to have won the Swedish Best Crime Fiction novel three times in 1994, 1996 [beating Henning Mankell], and 2007.
He was also nominated in 1995,1997,1998,1999, 2000, and 2001, a very formidable record.

I really enjoyed reading The Mind's Eye which is both a psychological thriller and police procedural rolled into one with a nice twist in the plot at about the midpoint of the story. Anyone who thinks Swedish crime fiction is all darkness and gloom has not read Hakan Nesser because in this novel there is a juxtaposition of the police investigation of a murder contrasted with some withering deadpan humour. The crimes are terrible but the narrative includes some humourous episodes and the almost lighthearted dialogue between the detectives breaks the growing tension. I would think that police officers who have to deal with horrific crimes have to cope with it in this way.

'Our teachers are women, our house matrons are women, our school caretakers, our gardener, our kitchen staff- all of them are women. I'm the headmistress and I'm a woman.'.......
Van Veeteren nodded and tried to sit upright. He had a pain in the small of his back, and what he wold really like to do was lie on the floor with his legs on the seat of the chair, that usually helped. But something told him that Miss Barbara di Barboza didn't like men lying on the floor of her study.

The sullen cynical Van Veeteren has a team of dedicated police officers to help him; Munster, his badminton partner, Reinhart, Rooth, deBries, Jung and Heinemann, his flock.

But in any case, his collection of police officers was not a particularly impressive bunch to be honest.
Not something to line up for a live broadcast, he thought.

Van Veeteren, who listens to Bach and Julian Bream, likes his solitude to think about the psychology and motives behind the crimes in order to work out the solution. He tries to instruct the slightly naive Munster in his method and make him think systematically.
Naturally Van Veeteren is estranged from his wife, this is almost compulsory for Nordic detectives with the notable exception of Irene Huss.

Despite his disillusion with his job and the seriousness of the crimes he is investigating Van Veeteren seems to have the ability to laugh at his situation and that is what gives this book that extra sparkle and makes it very readable.
I hope to read the other two translated Van Veeterens before Crime Fest in Bristol when Hakan Nesser will be one of the guests.

DISCUSSING CRIME FICTION?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

FOUR OF A KIND




My competitive urge to surpass Karen of Euro Crime's collection of three identical covers has inspired this post.
I found three of these covers and then The Rap Sheet  then found a fourth!

Friday, January 16, 2009

WHO IS LISBETH SALANDER?

Update: This blog is now dormant but you can read all the old posts and lots of new material at Crime Scraps Review. Please join me there.
http://crimescraps2.wordpress.com

How will we view the character of Lisbeth Salander when the present hysteria, and I use the word carefully, has died down?

hysteria: exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement

Some time ago I posted that I thought a writer to be considered one of the fifty greatest crime writers should fulfil a number of criteria. The writer should have either:
1) a large body of impressive work
2) or written one stupendous book, such as Harper Lee.
3) or created a uniquely memorable character

The interest in Lisbeth Salander which has pushed The Girl Who Played With Fire to the top of the hardback best seller lists certainly brings Stieg Larsson into consideration as a great crime writer. But we should not lose our 'critical perspicacity' as some reviewers have done with flowing phrases like this:

Johansson and Svensson are found murdered and the description of the fleeing assailant matches Lisbeth Salander to a T.

The problem is that there was no description of a fleeing assailant in the book and it was the forensic evidence that linked Lisbeth to those murders.

Other reviewers have compared Salander to The Count of Monte Cristo, a character in Star Wars, and an adult Lara Croft. The books have been labelled a modern fairy tale with allusions to James Bond, and Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking as well as her boy detective 'Kalle' Blomqvist.
We have been told that Stieg Larsson because of these references did not mean us to take Lisbeth Salander seriously.

Surely the subject matter of the books and the Swedish title of the first book, Man Som Hatar Kvinor [Men Who Hate Women] means Larsson took Salander very seriously indeed. Unfortunately the Millennium series is no clever fairy tale or allegory, and Lisbeth represents every child that has been abused and every woman that has been brutalized and humiliated. There is a particular scene in TGTPWF when Salander goes to buy an apartment and because of her appearance is treated like a naughty child and sent away without proper consideration.
We as a society feel guilty at our failings and are intrigued by the idea of a typical 'child like' seemingly helpless victim having the skills and determination to fight back against her oppressors. She is the investigator for our time just as much as Miss Marple was for her age.
I can't wait for the next book in Stieg Larsson's series, Luftslottet som spangles, winner of the Nordic Glass Key in 2008.

THE EDGAR NOMINATIONS



It is rather appropriate that the Edgar Nominations should be published here a few days before Edgar Allan Poe's bicentenary on the 19th. Thanks once again to Karen of Euro Crime for this news announced at Maxine's friend feed where the membership has reached 50. 

I have read only one of all those nominees The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, but embarrassingly  I do have The Foreigner by Francine Lin on my TBR shelf. This was sent from Picador USA for me to review, and I never got round to reading it. There are just too many books and not enough time in the day, but now I will definitely read it. 

It was nice to see Karin Alvtegen nominated I have only read Betrayal and found it gripping if rather bleak.

Monday, January 12, 2009

LARSSON ON FIRE: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE



Update: This blog is now dormant but I have moved to Crime Scraps Review where you can read all the old posts and lots of new material.
http://crimescraps2.wordpress.com


The second book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy The Girl Who Played With Fire begins, after a brief prologue, with Lisbeth Salander chilling out in Grenada on the proceeds of the Wennerstorm affair; a fortune gained by her computer hacking skills. Lisbeth there sleeps with a local youth ten years her junior, and during a hurricane saves the life of a battered wife, while working to solve Fermat's theorem before returning to Sweden. Just a quiet holiday for our feisty heroine.

Back in Stockholm her evil legal guardian Advocat Nils Erik Bjurman is plotting to escape from the spider's web Lisbeth had enmeshed him in during the first book in the trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Meanwhile Mikael Blomkvist and Erica Berger are planning to publish a themed issue of Millennium magazine devoted to sex trafficking and prostitution. The investigative work for this had been done by Dag Svensson, a freelance journalist, and his girl friend Mia Johansson, a criminologist and gender studies scholar. But before the magazine and the accompanying book can be published Johansson and Svensson are murdered and there is forensic evidence that the murderer is Lisbeth Salander. When Bjurman is also found murdered with the same gun the nationwide hunt for Lisbeth begins in earnest.

I was one of those who was very disappointed at the overhyped The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and discussed this at some length here and here.

My opinion regarding The Girl Who Played With Fire, which I finished reading yesterday, is that it was a worthy winner of the Best Swedish Crime Fiction novel of 2006 and is almost a certainty for my best five reads of 2009.

If reading 'Tattoo' was like struggling through deep snow reading the last 400 pages of 'Played With Fire' is like skating on ice. The start of the book is pedestrian, although not as turgid as 'Tattoo', but then the triple murder occurs and the book completes a metamorphosis into a police procedural crime thriller full of action and excitement as three separate groups hunt for Lisbeth Salander.
While 'biker gang' villains, Blomqvist and his journalists, and the police all hunt for Salander, she searches for the reasons that will explain her long term situation that developed after what she calls "All That Evil".
Larsson cannot resist his habit of giving us a plethora of extreme detail about everything such the size of the hard drives of a laptop and the the ages of all the police team. But in this book they add to the atmosphere and the internal clashes in the police team lead by Inspector Jan 'Bubbles' Bublanski are integral to the story. Bublanski aged 52 and Jewish, along with 39 year old Sonja Modig are the good cops while Hans Faste aged 47 is an egocentric loudmouthed homophobic bigot, who I suspect we might see more of in the third book of the trilogy. There Stieg Larsson's penchant for precise detail and repetition is infectious.

I thought this was a excellent book because in the middle of all the action and excitement Stieg Larsson has managed to indict incompetent and venal government agencies as well as the sensationalist media. These are both capable of destroying peoples lives and what I really enjoyed was that as the whole story came together the reader is made to understood the valid reasons for Lisbeth Salander's antagonistic difficult nature.

The diminutive Lisbeth Salander dominates this book even more than she did in 'Tattoo' with her determination not to take crap from anyone, but we also see her basic humanity as she shows concern for her intermittent lover Miriam Wu and her old infirm guardian Palmgren. She has been described as a 'male fantasy figure' and I agree with this, but not in a sexual way.
I certainly fantasize about having Lisbeth Salander, with her mace canister, her taser gun, her computer skills and above all her determination on my side in any argument.

I am already suffering from withdrawal symptoms roll on Larsson number three and even more Lisbeth Salander.

You can read another review here and one with some spoilers here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

CASTING LISBETH SALANDER



Last night I watched a few minutes of actor David Suchet explaining how he had read most of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels in order to play the part in the TV series. He was particularly keen to look like the Poirot of the books, walk like him, exhibit all the mannerisms and use a voice 'that came from the head' and therefore talk as he imagined Poirot would talk. He obviously felt he owed this devotion to the author, the books, the character and the audience.
Whoever cast David Suchet in the part knew that he would physically bear a strong resemblance to the image of Hercule Poirot in the books.

I have not quite finished reading Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire but I have enjoyed reading it considerably more than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. 
In the books especially in 'Played With Fire' the author goes into great detail in describing Lisbeth Salander. She is described in various parts of the book as being either 124 centimetres or 150 centimetres tall, weighing 40 kilograms and being 26 years old but easily mistaken for a 14 year old schoolgirl.

In non-metric terms Lisbeth Salander is under 5 foot tall, weighs about 6 stone, and looks 14. 

The movies of Larsson's Millennium trilogy have been cast with Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace-Noren as Lisbeth. I don't know the work of actress Noomi Rapace-Noren but she is going to have to pull off a phenomenal performance to convince readers of the books that she is Lisbeth Salander. 
I think I will stick to the image that Stieg Larsson gave us in the books. 

I will post my review of The Girl Who Played With Fire during the week but there is already a definitive and balanced review by Maxine of Petrona on Euro Crime here

Saturday, January 10, 2009

16 RANDOM THINGS OR URIAH ROBINSON REVEALED




I am not very keen on memes they usually arrive when you have a lot to blog about and never when you have the blogger's block. 
But I was tagged by Jeff Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet and asked to provide 16 interesting facts about myself. The three other bloggers tagged at the same time as me were all shining luminaries of the crime fiction world [see here] and that convinced me that I should participate. 
Asking any egomaniac to blog about themselves is rather like giving a pyromaniac a box of matches. 
Well here goes with my 16 things, a fair sample of the boring and the bizarre:

1] Two of my greatest heroes are naval Commodore Uriah Levy [his duel in 1816 with William Potter shows his incredible bravery] and another brave fighter against prejudice Baseball legend Jackie Robinson.


2] My childhood home was directly opposite the road in which Detective Jack Whicher of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale lived in the 1830s.

3] I went to the same school as Raymond Chandler and P.G.Wodehouse though not at the same time. I found out about those 'mean streets' Chandler was talking about and played Rugby, Cricket and Athletics. Hard to believe now but I could run fast, it is surprising how much 50 years and 15 kilograms will slow you down. 

4] I once was a pawn up playing a future Chess  Grandmaster.  I lost.

5] My distinguished amateur dramatics career included playing Christy Dudgeon, the submissive nitwick brother, in George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, and Bottom in Midsummer Night's Dream. 
I also played seven of the eight male parts in a radio play for a college project. The eighth male part was for the young handsome hero; I could not get that part even though I had the ideal face for radio. I was becoming typecast. 

6] I am a bit of an American Civil War buff and have dragged my wife round a lot of the battlefields, even to Perryville and Fort Donelson. Our guide at Gettysburg asked me if I knew as much about English history as I did about American. I said 'no' as we have a lot more history to remember than the Americans. 

7] My mother once told Mick Jagger he was mean and with all his money should buy a more expensive item. He had asked her if there was a cheaper saucepan in stock at my parent's shop in the Kings Road, Chelsea.

8] I could eat fish for every meal, every day, and luckily I now live close to the sea.

9] I once lost my job to a 'friend' who a few months later murdered his wife. A very sad story [the murder not me losing the job], which even after many years sends a shiver down my spine. 

10] I used to worry about being short, now I worry about important things like breathing.

11] I have only travelled to 13 countries, but have visited 26 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. 

12] I was in Chelsea in October 1981 visiting my parents when the IRA bombed the Chelsea Barracks, and in November 1981 at home in Wimbledon when the IRA bombed the house of Attorney General Sir Michael Havers. 
I learned that bombs sound very loud even if they are a mile away.

13] My son worked in Canada, Dubai and Hong Kong during 2008. My daughter worked in Swindon. I just hope they will have jobs in 2009.

14] I once won a competition and the prize was the cost of our weeks holiday in Florence returned back to us in travel vouchers. Which meant we had to go on a free holiday to Rome.

15] I was on an advisory committee that voted 16-1 to close down a major London hospital. I am not offering any prizes for naming the awkward short bearded guy who was the one solitary vote to keep it open.

16] My wife is a 'professional' author, having received payment for an article in a very erudite magazine making me proud and a teeny bit jealous. 

Well that wasn't too painful and I will tag Jeff back. 

Now to finish reading The Girl Who Played With Fire, Stieg Larsson's brilliant sequel to the rather disappointing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Friday, January 09, 2009

THAT WAS THE QUIZ THAT WAS: FINAL ANSWERS



11] There is a convoluted crime fiction connection between a Sicilian staute made from a type of fired clay, the Reverend Theodosius Longmoor and the Comte de Guy? Explain.

All I wanted here was that Longmoor [The Black Gang] and de Guy [Bulldog Drummond] are both aliases of Sapper's arch villain Carl Peterson.

Bull Dog....Dog

Sicilian fired clay.....terracotta....Andrea Camilleri's book The Terracotta Dog....Dog

But the clever entrants taught me something by giving me extra links and reminding me part of the back story in The Terracotta Dog that takes place on the eve of the Allied invasion of Sicily in which the 'sappers' played a big part.

An entrant in Tasmania gave me a brilliantly convoluted link concerning a 'Sapper' story called No Man's Land where he talks about two men in in Malta watching the sun going down over Gozo where there is a statue by the sea....Kalkara-Saint Joseph...the work of Augustine Camilleri.

The average IQ of crime fiction aficionados must be stratospheric. 

12] Who has written crime fiction novels set in:

a) Laos: Colin Cotterill
b) Mongolia: Michael Walters
c) Tibet: Eliot Pattison
d) Oland: Johan Theorin
e) Shanghai: Qui Xiaolong
f) Fjallbacka: Camilla Lackberg
g) Bologna: Michael Dibdin and Carlo Lucarelli

13] The more common names for a small female sibling, a massive loss of consciousness and a protracted  farewell, and how are they educationally linked to a Kiwi author's detective?

Little Sister [small female sibling], The Big Sleep [massive loss of consciousness], and The Long Goodbye [protracted farewell] were all written by Raymond Chandler. Chandler was educated at Dulwich College good practice for those 'mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean'. 

Dulwich College was founded by Shakespearean actor and bear baiting franchisee Edward Alleyn. 
Dame Ngaio Marsh the distinguished New Zealand crime writer named her detective Roderick Alleyn, and her father went to Dulwich College.

I was advised by the quiz winner that Marsh's passion for Shakespeare might have had more to do with the choice of name than her father's school. I also learned that the  title The Long Goodbye [actually farewell] comes from Shakespeare-Henry VIII, Act III, Scene 2.

Well that's another quiz 'done and dusted'. Thanks again to those that were brave enough to participate. 

Thursday, January 08, 2009

EVEN MORE QUIZ ANSWERS



6] An Irish port, a trailing woody stemmed plant and a heavy load are linked in crime fiction, how?

The plant is a 'vine' so Barbara Vine aka Ruth Rendell. 
The Irish port Wexford. Ruth Rendell's detective Reg Wexford.
A heavy load... a burden.... Mike Burden, Wexford's number two in the books.

7] Which crime writers were/are:

a) a railway engineer: Freeman Wills Croft
b) a civil engineer: Yrsa Sigurdardottir or Herbert Resnicow

c) an engineer born in a prison: 

This one gave everyone trouble but there was a clue to this in question 11.
Herman Cyril McNeile took the name 'Sapper' because he served in the Royal Engineers [known as sappers] and had started writing in France during the Great War when serving officers were not allowed to write under their own names.

He was born in 1888 at the Naval Prison in Bodmin, Cornwall where his father was the Governor. Sorry about that one it was just plain sneaky.

8] Which fictional detective was:

a) born in Santa Rosa, California: Philip Marlowe created by Raymond Chandler
b) changed his name from Charalambides: Nick Charles created by Dashiell Hammett

c) was educated at Eton, Balliol and Harvard and was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour:   Dr Gideon Fell created by John Dickson Carr.

d) was the son of a polish stage hypnotist: John Rebus created by Ian Rankin
e) was born in Santa Teresa, California: Kinsey Milhone created by Sue Grafton 

9] Which crime writers are involved with:

a) a large semi-aquatic reptile: Massimo Carlotto his unlicensed ex con private detective Marco Buratti is known as the 'alligator'.

b)  a barefoot contessa: Fred Vargas who borrowed the name via her twin sister Jo Vargas, a painter, from Ava Gardner's character in The Barefoot Contessa.

c) Montelusa: Andrea Camilleri uses the name for the Sicilian city of Agrigento in his Montalbano novels.

10] From what book does the following sentence come:

He compressed his lips and asked: "You know of Barbarossa, Redbeard , Khair-ed -Din?"

 The Maltese Falcon

[to be continued]  

ROGER MORRIS FREE BOOKS: A VENGEFUL LONGING


The problem: It is a cold freezing January, those credit card bills for all the presents you could not afford are about to come in and you are depressed.

The solution: Dash right over to the plog of Roger Morris here and get a free copy of A Vengeful Longing. Today is the official UK paperback launch and if you like intelligent historical crime fiction this is a book not to be missed.
You can read my review here.

Hurry there are FREE copies to be won. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

MORE ANSWERS TO THE QUIZ QUESTIONS



3] Which crime writers were:

a) a tank commander: Charles Willeford
c) an English, Games and History school teacher: Gladys Mitchell
d) a Gordon Highlander: Raymond Chandler
e) given a 20 year sentence for armed robbery: Chester Himes
f) a theatre director in East Africa: Henning Mankell
e) struck down by Blackwater Fever in West Africa: Richard Austin Freeman
f) born in Racamulto, Sicily: Leonardo Sciascia

4] What is the connection between a Cardboard box, and Engineer's thumb and a Greek interpreter ?

They are all Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb in Strand Magazine March 1892.
The Cardboard Box in Strand Magazine January 1893
The Greek Interpreter in Strand Magazine in September 1893.

5] What links a Swiss opium addict, a British navy commander and a fictional Swedish detective?

Friedrich Glauser, the Swiss crime writer was addicted to opium. One of Germany's major crime fiction prizes is called the Glauser Prize.

Ian Fleming was a British naval commander. A prize the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger is awarded by the British Crime Writer's Association for the best crime thriller of the year.

The Swedish Crime Writer's prize for translated fiction is named the Martin Beck Prize. Martin Beck is the fictional detective who features in the ten book collection by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

[to be continued] 

QUIZ THE WINNERS AND THE SOLUTIONS



I am pleased that some people had a lot of fun with the Quirky Quiz. 
The winner and runners up managed to score from 12 out of 13 to 9 1/3 out of 13.   Well done! 
The winner came from British Columbia, and the runners up from Texas and Tasmania. 
Their very well earned prizes will be on their way just as soon as the big freeze that has hit Devon thaws and I can get to a Post Office. 

Now I will start to list the answers over the next week with explanations of how you were meant to work out the connections. 

1] Who is the man in the photo and what is the connection with an English hangman?

The photo is of course the author of The Thirty Nine Steps and many other books John Buchan, who in 1935 became 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, and Governor General of Canada. Buchan established the Governor General's Awards for literature.

'An English hangman' and Canada. Arthur B. English was Canada's hangman from 1912-1935 he is said to have used the pseudonym Arthur Ellis. The Crime Writers of Canada award for the best crime fiction novel is known as the Arthur Ellis Award.

2] Arthur Ward, and a medieval order of knights. How are they linked by an 1882 Act of Congress?

Arthur Ward is better known as Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward the crime fiction author Sax Rohmer, who created the menacing Chinese villain Fu Manchu.

In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act that suspended Chinese immigration a ban than lasted 60 years. 

But a medieval order of knights......the Knights Templars

Templars.....Templar.....crime fiction....Simon Templar, the Saint

And who was the creator of The Saint?
Leslie Charteris born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin and whose father was Chinese and mother English. 
Charteris relocated to the USA in 1932 but was excluded from permanent residency by the Chinese Exclusion Act and had to keep renewing a six month visitor's visa until congress personally granted him residency rights.

[To be continued] 

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

THE GUARDIAN REVIEWS BULLDOG DRUMMOND



I read a lot of Sapper, Buchan and Conan Doyle in those twilight years between Biggles , Tom Merry and Gray's Anatomy. 
It was  Sapper, Herman Cyril McNeile of the Royal Engineers, and his Bulldog Drummond books that I really enjoyed most  because he was the exciting James Bond of my day,with his  fast cars, martinis, and dealing with villains like Carl Peterson. It is true that the ideas and opinions expressed almost everyday in an English public school in the 1950s were not much different than those in the Sapper and Buchan books, but I was slightly shocked to read much later in an introduction to Bulldog Drummond.

They spoke of England and notionally if not overtly, that meant the white man ('clean white through and through' in character too) home or colonial.... a match for any two foreigners. 
Starting at Calais were the niggers, the Frogs, the boches, the Bolshies, the dagoes and the stateless Jews..... 
Sapper, perhaps most confidently of all those authors , put the Englishman on a pedestal above all lesser breeds.

I  admit when I read the books I missed most of the xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism because I was only 12. But early last month I was surprised to read a review in The Guardian [see full review here] that ended:

So yes it is imperial fantasy just the kind of thing Guardian readers should be shaking their heads and going tut-tut about.
But being Guardian readers you will know that you are immune from the dangers of such fantasy and you can enjoy the work on a simple more straightforward level as a rattling good yarn. 

It is a good review and at least puts the book in an historical perspective but when Guardian readers are reading 'Sapper' it worries me what Daily Mail and The Sun readers might explore.