Saturday, February 28, 2009

LISBETH SALANDER: IMAGE ON THE SCREEN



Friday was Stieg Larsson day in Sweden and Denmark as the movie based on the first book in the Millennium trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was released. [Information from The Local Sweden's News in English full article here].

You can read my previous posts which discuss the Stieg Larsson and Lisbeth Salander phenomenon here.

The article comments that "some critics have said virtually unknown actress Noomi Rapace .......is physically too big and muscular to faithfully play Salander, described in the trilogy as a small androgynous girl who is so skinny she looks anorexic.......But most viewers of the nearly two and half hour film said physical differences were forgotten thanks to Rapace's convincing performance."

Some authors never describe their protagonists to avoid the problem of readers not identifying with the character in any television or movie adaptation. Others have a very clear idea of what the hero or heroine looks like and describe them in detail. Stieg Larsson was one of the later type and described Salander as anorexic, 124-150 cm tall, 40 kgm in weight and although she was 26 looking like a 14 year old. It is a tragedy that we can't ask the author what he thinks about the casting of the movie, but I shall look forward to the sub-titled version with great anticipation to see how an actress who bears very little resemblance to the Lisbeth Salander I imagined comes across on the screen.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

DONNA'S DARTMOOR DOZEN: PART TWO


PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE-

Steve Mosby's CRY FOR HELP-unsettling edge of the seat stuff. I slept with the light on after I'd finished it.

CAPER- 

Again, another tough category for me since I love comic crime fiction. I think though, that my vote would have to go to Donald Westlake's THE HOT ROCK-probably the funniest book ever written. When you think it can't get any funnier, Westlake twists it even further. Brilliant stuff. I re-read it every year.

HISTORICAL- 

Joe Lansdale's THE BOTTOMS- a coming of age novel set in East Texas during the Depression. A serial killer, racial tensions, vivid evocative descriptions and memorable characters. I love his writing.

THRILLERS-

I'm not really a big reader of straight thrillers, so my choice here would be Kevin Wignall's WHO IS CONRAD HIRST?
The short answer to that question is that Conrad Hirst is a hit-man who wants out of the business, the long answer is much more involved, so much more poignant, so much more human. In the first couple of pages of the book the reader learns that Conrad has decided to kill his way out of the business, by doing what he does best, and disposing of the few people who know about him. Running in parallel is another thread telling how and why he became a hit-man in the first place. To say any more would be to spoil what is a gradual peeling away of the layers that slowly reveal who Conrad Hirst really is, and the truth of his world. A wonderful book- a look at the meaning and value of life to someone who is existing, rather than living.

CRIME IN TRANSLATION-

Arnaldur Indridason's JAR CITY [TAINTED BLOOD]. Intriguing, great characters, and a really excellent translation. But don't read it if you're feeling miserable on a rainy day :o)

THE WILD CARD-

The toughest choice, so I warn you in advance that I am definitely going to cheat here :o)
Daniel Woodrell's WINTER'S BONE set in the malevolent Ozarks-country noir with fascinating characters and the most gorgeous writing that brings a lump to my throat is one choice. One of my favourite books ever.
Or should I choose William Lindsay Gresham's NIGHTMARE ALLEY (the noir film with Tyrone Power was based on this book , but had a slightly upbeat ending that just doesn't appear in the book). Shadows and sleaze at their best. 
Or maybe I should choose one of Richard S. Prather's brilliant romps featuring PI SHELL SCOTT. The books are sexist, funny and totally over the top. Shell can fight off 6 bad guys and suffer horrendous injuries, but still has the time and the energy to bed several hot tomatoes [usually a blonde, a brunette and  a redhead] all before breakfast. 
There are some great one-liners: "she wore a V-necked white blouse as if she were the gal who'd invented the cleavage."

Thanks very much Donna for your stimulating comments along with your very interesting choices. Some more books for my TBR Everest.
More Dartmoor Dozen choices can be seen at Petrona here, and here, here, here and in the comments here.
If I have left anyone out apologies and please let me have the link and I will add it to the list.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

DONNA'S DARTMOOR DOZEN: PART ONE



After all the international interest in the Dartmoor Dozen Challenge obviously the next step was to have a talented guest blogger on Crime Scraps. 
So I like to thank  author, and panel moderator at Crime Fest, Donna Moore for giving us her choices.  I have to admit she wasn't my first choice but Helena Handbasket wanted her fee paid in Euros or US dollars! So your cheque is in the post Donna. ;o)

Donna's dozen:

ORIGINS- 

I think it would have to be Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT-alienation, despair, torment, fear and sin-add chocolate and a nice pair of shoes and that's just the perfect Friday night out.

THE AGE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES-

Well, it's got to be the man himself and probably, the story THE ADVENTURE OF THE DANCING MEN because I loved trying to work out what the little men stood for. Kept me amused for hours, although Holmes himself is often so smug that I would probably end up whacking him over the head with a meerschaum.

THE GOLDEN AGE-

I think I might be cheating here, but I'm not going to let that stop me. Although I read every single Agatha Christie and most D.L. Sayers books, when I was about 11 or 12, and loved every last one of them, today I'm not a big Golden Age fan, so my choice is the lesser known writer Norbert Davis, whose THE MOUSE IN THE MOUNTAIN was published in 1943. Doan is a chubby, harmless-looking PI who is living proof that appearances can be deceptive. In reality he's actually quite ruthless and hard-nosed. His actions and personality are what you would expect of a cynical 1940s PI. The fact that he looks like everyone's favourite uncle is something he uses to his advantage. His partner, Carstairs, is an extremely intelligent Great Dane who's so huge he should actually be a whole new species. Carstairs has never really forgiven Doan for winning him in  a craps game, and gets his own back by growling every time Doan has a drink. Carstairs growls an awful lot.

HARDBOILED-

Ah, this is more my thing. And there is an easy choice for me-Raymond Chandler. "It was a blonde-a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window." 
I love his one-liners and I'm just  a little bit in love with Philip Marlowe- a wisecracking tough guy who's moral and incorruptible and Raymond Chandler said of his hero "I think he might seduce a duchess, and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin". I think I'd be telling Phil my name was Duchess Donna. Difficult to choose which one, but probably THE BIG SLEEP- two dangerous female characters in one book. 

POLICE PROCEDURAL-

STEWART PAWSON'S CHARLIE PRIEST SERIES. I love the interplay between the police characters, and Charlie is a really nice bloke and a good policeman. Unlike a lot of other fictional policemen he gets on with his superiors and does his paperwork. His methods might be a little iffy sometimes but only when it's the only way to see justice done. He doesn't let the awful things he sees get him down, he's got an irreverent sense of humour, but he's quick to spot when anyone is troubled and treats them with respect and sensitivity. As a result, he's earned the respect and admiration of his peers, his superiors, and also his subordinates. He works hard and is a thorough investigator, but he is also quite gifted in the study of human nature. If I was ever in need of a policeman, it would be Charlie I would want to see at my front door. I can't choose which one -they are all good. 

DETECTIVES-

Gosh, tough category. I love PI novels so this is really really hard. But I'll make  a decision and choose Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor. The choice of which in the series is much easier-THE DRAMATIST. The ending made me burst embarrassingly into tears at Prestwick Airport :o) However I would recommend that anyone new to Bruen start at the beginning with THE GUARDS. And if you like irreverent policemen then his Brant series is also highly recommended. Brant is the anti- Charlie Priest. He's disgusting brash, insulting, sexist, everything-ist. He doesn't just bend the law, he stomps all over it with hobnail boots. He's great fun to read about, proabaly less fun to meet in person. I'd definitely want him on my side in a crisis though.

[Great stuff Donna, to be continued]  

DARTMOOR DOZEN GOES INTERNATIONAL


Thanks to German blogger Bernd Kochanowski the Dartmoor Dozen was picked up on the web site of the Stuttgart Zeitung here

This is part of the article translated by Google! I like the "criminal also enthusiastic".

"The, mystery readers' bloggende Bernd Kochanowski has responded to the blog of the criminal also enthusiastic Uriah Robinson a head Proviant list discovered. Robinson has over twelve books, to a hitherto Krimiunerfahrenen, which incidentally in a hut on Dartmoor eingeschneit sits, the diversity of the genre could explain. The isolation scenario is no mere gimmick. The books should eingeschneiten thriller novices so spellbound suggest that he is not the whole time with the empty cell phone battery at odds. And they should be in a row can be read without fatigue, and hunger to provoke change." 

The complete article in German with their list of chosen books is here.

Bernd's own list at his blog Krimileser can be seen here.

Thanks to Dorte of DJS Krimiblog for the information via Maxine's Friend Feed Room where the chat is all about crime.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A GOLDEN AGE? ENGLISH DETECTIVE FICTION BETWEEN THE WARS




I finished reading Inspector French's Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Croft a few days ago. 
This novel was first published in 1924 and shows it in the style, in which complicated plot and puzzle predominate at the expense of character development. Some people say that this "humdrum" style [a phrase coined by Julian Symons in his book Bloody Murder] also puts puzzle above realism and dialogue, but I think the stilted nature of the action and the formal dialogue is probably realistic for the time. 

England between the wars was a place dominated by labour disputes, poverty and massive class differences. A country in which domestic service and mining were among the main occupations. Then the readers of crime fiction novels wanted escapism and exotic characters, not that much different from today really, and that is probably why the writers who created the more eccentric detectives have survived better than those with the "humdrum" ones.

"For sheer dexterity of plot, Mr Crofts has no peer among the contemporary writers of detective fiction." S.S.Van Dine

Well I was very disappointed with Inspector French, who was a likeable enough character, but only a pipe and slippers man helped on occasions by Mrs Croft when she had a "notion". There are no terrible vices like Holmes and his drugs, foreign eccentricity like Hercule Poirot or exotic hobbies like Nero Wolfe with his orchids as well as his gargantuan appetite for the staid New Scotland Yard Inspector. He goes about his investigations in a systematic manner traveling by a bewildering array of transport [bus, tube, taxi, boat and train] to his various interviews.

The plot puzzle was also rather easy to unravel as there was only a limited list of suspects, while the action consisted of numerous trips by boat and train to European locations and rather bland interviews. 
The quaintness and dated nature of the story was exaggerated by the fact one character spent a week in Chamonix spending only £20, and the frequency of the British train service. [Freeman Wills Croft was a railway engineer and that shows as well]
The denouement was extremely melodramatic in a very stiff upper lip English way that rounded off the ambience of 1924. [The excellent Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire was set at the Paris Olympics that year when Eric Liddle and Harold Abrahams won gold medals for Britain]
I know it has been a very long time since I read any Christie or Sayers but I think I will have to go back to compare their style with that of Freeman Wills Croft.

There were a few tiny glimpses of character development and social commentary in the book that reminded you of Europe's terrible post Great War suffering. I expect the bits of the story that seem mundane and boring to us must have seemed exciting to the exhausted readership of 1924. 

'It was hard lines on elderly men when they had to give up their jobs and start life again. It was that damned war, responsible for this and most of the troubles of the times. It had probably made  a difference to the Inspector also?
"Lost my eldest," said French gruffly, and turned the conversation back to the late principal.'

As a portrait of  England, it's class structure and transport system, after the Great War and as part of the history of crime fiction this novel is very interesting and well worth reading; but as an example of a "Golden Age" of detective fiction I have my doubts. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

REBECCA CANTRELL INTERVIEWED FINAL PART: "STRICT WARRIOR CODE"


11] If SMOKE is made into a movie who would you suggest to play the parts of Hannah and Boris?

For Hannah, I like Carice van Houten (from Black Book), Naomi Watts (from The Painted Veil and King Kong), or Jodie Foster. I see Sebastian Koch, also from Black Book and The Lives of Others as Boris.

12] Many historical novels seem awkward because the dialogue seems too modern. In contrast the dialogue in SMOKE is very evocative of the era did you do anything special to achieve this accuracy?

I'm glad you liked the dialogue, thank you! I read many diaries written during the time the book was set to hear the voices and the language. I also read newspapers from the time to see what people were interested in, what jokes they thought were funny, what fashions they were wearing, etc.

If I couldn't get a line correct, I sometimes translated it into German and back into English. Painstaking, but effective. I am very meticulous with my dialogue and do numerous rewrites to make sure that each character's voice is distinctive.

13] The symbolism of the handkerchiefs of various kinds where did that idea come from?

Thank you for noticing! You are the first person to comment on it.

In the original version, I had sections written in Ernst Vogel's voice. I warned the reader that these sections were coming by having someone pull out one of his red silk handkerchiefs. Later, when I took these sections out, I liked the idea of pulling the reader visually back to him with the symbol of the handkerchief, because a character is touching something he touched. I can't say more without a spoiler.

The other handkerchiefs were chosen as character details, for example, Rudolf's lace trimmed handkerchief barely keeping the blood off his hands. 

14] Do you think that using a real historical figure like Ernst rohm was important to the story? Hannah seems even to express admiration for Rohm at one point.

Using a real figure adds a sense of verisimilitude to the book. I've received comments like "A gay man could not have climbed so high in the Nazi hierarchy". Yet, that one did.
I don't think Hannah admires Ernst Rohm, but she respects him. 
He was a very powerful, very dangerous man. Unlike many of the other Nazis, however, he also followed a strict warrior code. While the code itself might not have always been laudable, at least it was predictable, so I think she knew that she could trust him to keep his word and to behave in a predictable manner under certain circumstances. 

15] The good news is that there will be another Hannah Vogel book out in 2010 and from the title A Night of Long Knives I am assuming Ernst Rohm will be back, but will the "brave" Anton and handsome Boris feature again?

Thank you! I am quite happy that Hannah's getting at least one more book.

Ernst Rohm will be back, although anyone who knows the history knows it won't end well for him. Other characters from the first book will reappear as well, including Anton and Boris. 1934 was a much darker time, so even the characters that do reappear are changed.

I've also added more historical characters to the second book: Theodor Eicke (creator of the concentration camp system), Bella Fromm (Jewish aristocrat and journalist who helped others to flee), Sefton Delmer (British newsman and spy), and Hitler himself appears in a few scenes.

Thanks again Rebecca. Good luck with the book [which is published in May] it certainly deserves to be a great success.

Thank you for your insightful questions, and your kind words. My fingers are crossed(or, as they say in German, I'm pushing on my thumbs). 

I will be running a competition to win a signed copy of A Trace of Smoke next month.

The first three parts of this interview can be read here, here, and here; the review of A Trace of Smoke is here.  

EURO CRIME REVIEW: BRODECK'S REPORT BY PHILIPPE CLAUDEL


My review of Brodek's Report by Philippe Claudel has been posted on Euro Crime here
It is nice to be able to agree with the blurb on the front cover: "A magnificent book" Le Monde 

Saturday, February 21, 2009

REBECCA CANTRELL INTERVIEWED: "THE FLYING DEER CHARACTER"



This is the third post from my interview with Rebecca Cantrell. I decided to post the entire interview, rather than edit it, because I thought her debut novel A Trace of Smoke was outstanding, and also I found the answers to my questions very interesting; they showed what an incredible amount of thought and effort had gone into the creation of the novel. I hope you agree.

7] How much of your task as an author do you think is to entertain and how much to educate?

I set out to tell Hannah and Ernst's stories in such a way that the reader would be transported there, able to see what they saw and hear what they heard. By recreating the visceral experience of their lives, I hope to entertain the reader and let him or her form their own opinion. 
A novel is not a textbook, but it was very important to me to be as historically accurate as possible. I was very conscious of the amount of historical burden that the characters, and Berlin, had to carry. I constantly struggled with how much information was enough to give a sense of each place and each moment in time without overwhelming the reader.

8] Is the fictional heroine of SMOKE crime reporter Hannah Vogel based on a real person modern or historical?

Not really, although I do have a school friend in Berlin who is every bit as sarcastic and tough as Hannah.

9] Anton, the 5 -year old "Indian brave", is a charming creation is he based on a real child or a fictional character?

Anton too is fictional, but I borrowed his manner of speech from the Flying Deer character in Kastner's Emil and the Detectives. While I was writing A Trace of Smoke, I also spent a great deal of time with some very charming five -year-old boys. Anton is a smart and savvy little boy, but he is still five and doesn't quite have the same boundaries between reality and fantasy that Hannah does, which makes for some interesting interactions.

10] You managed to deal with fairly controversial subjects [gay clubs, male cross-dressing and homosexuality] in a very matter of fact way. Did you find this difficult?

Weimar Berlin was a time of tolerance and openness and Hannah is a matter of fact person, so there was no other way to deal with those issues in the book. I had a gay host brother when I lived in Berlin, and I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years. I still have friends in the gay community there. Those are simply parts of their life experiences.

It was much more difficult reading about the impending Nazi takeover and taking a roll call of the vibrant and brilliant people who would soon be dead.

11] Many regarded Berlin during the Weimar Republic as a decadent city and the subsequent backlash possibly helped the Nazis grab power. Do you think our very liberal society combined with the recent economic downturn will produce some kind of fascist backlash?

I certainly hope not. The United States, at least, has tended to lean left in times of economic turmoil voting in Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression and Barack Obama now.

It's also worth pointing out that the current economic downturn is nowhere near as severe as the one suffered by Germany after World War I. Not only was their economy failing, but they also had to deal with the huge loss of life in the First World war, the influenza and starvation shortly afterward, complete collapse of the currency, massive war reparations, and millions of unemployed young men who saw no hope for their future.

As decadent as Berlin was, National Socialism evolved in and always had as its greatest supporters in the more conservative Southern Germany. People can start looking for others to blame in any kind or stressful situation, or hope that a return to "traditional values" (whether or not those values ever existed) will solve all their problems. Let's hope that does not happen now.

[to be continued] 

Friday, February 20, 2009

THE RETURN OF FEEDJIT


I have gone back to the Feedjit facts page here and it seems on the basic image version no details are published on the blog itself and it is possible to optionally get your browser ignored. I hope this is correct but if this is not please let me know, and I will remove the offending widget. 
This may be tricky to check as it frequently gets the location 40 miles out, but I am not really interested in your exact location just your country's flag appearing on the site. 
Thanks to everyone who commented and gave me their opinions on this matter.  

INSPECTOR FRENCH'S GREATEST CASE: QUAINT AND DATED


I have started reading Inspector French's Greatest Case and the change of style is hard going. The author  Freeman Wills Croft was Chief Assistant Engineer at Belfast Counties Railway and some of the narrative reads like a train timetable.

The quaintness and dated nature of the story  [1924] is exemplified by lines such as:

"Is there a postal delivery between half past four and the time your office closes?" 

and "An Oxford Street bus brought him to the end of Hatton Garden...."

I am old enough to remember trams and two postal deliveries a day, but did Detective Inspectors from New Scotland Yard travel by bus in 1924? 

"A visit to Colonel FitzGeorge was undoubtedly his next step. He picked up a Bradshaw. Yes, there would be time to go that night. A train left Paddington at 8.10 which would bring him to Reading before 9.00."

It is passages like that which makes one realise that the world in 1924 was a lot closer to Jack Whicher's 1860 or Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887 than to the Ed McBain or Sjowall and Wahloo police procedurals of the 1960s. For one thing Inspector French is conducting a Europe wide investigation [London, Amsterdam, Chamonix, Barcelona] on his own by train!

I'll probably get more into the novel in a few more pages.

[A Bradshaw is a railway timetable not a Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

REBECCA CANTRELL INTERVIEWED:"FASCINATING TIME TO SET A NOVEL"



4] Do you have a favourite book or books that you would like to have written?

I don't have a favourite book. For me that's like having a favourite dessert. I like whatever I am eating or reading this minute most of all. Lately I've been reading about the golem, so I'm enjoying The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and The Golem by Elie Wiesel (and the children's The Golem by David Wisnieski, with vivid paper-cut illustrations).

On a non-golem note, I recently finished Restless  by William Boyd and loved it too. It's a mother-daughter spy thriller set in the 1930s and the 1960s.

5] How did you become fluent in German and what inspired you to write about a woman crime reporter in Germany during and after the Nazi takeover?

I was an exchange student in Berlin in the mid-1980s (now those of you who can do math know how old I am). I was there for two years of high school and a year of college. I've kept it up by speaking a bit and reading a good deal more in German, especially once I started researching A Trace of Smoke.

The story started with Ernst Vogel, the murder victim. At first Hannah was male policeman, but after 50 pages the character felt too distant from Ernst. Once I had read about the death photos in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead in Joseph Roth's What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933, I knew the investigator would be someone who saw his photo there and the first person by was a crime reporter, and his sister, Hannah Vogel. Hannah would not let her brother's death go unsolved, so I was able to tell the story from her perspective as a sarcastic, insightful woman, an unlikely sleuth and reporter determined to save  a German boy [Anton] and a German people.
It turned out to be quite a fortunate decision, as I've since read many wonderful novels set in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s with male policemen as sleuths, from Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series to Jonathan Rabb's Nikolai Hoffner, and Jeffrey Deaver's standalone Garden of Beasts.

As for the time period, the late 1920s and early 1930s in Berlin was a time of intellectual and social freedom mixed with grinding poverty and violent protests. Berlin was a center for modern art, cinema, writing, and music. And yet within a few years it would all be gone: the artists fled, in camps, or in hiding. 
Just like that an incredibly vibrant part of a modern European city vanished to be replaced by the horror of the Nazis. 

How could such a transition NOT be a fascinating time to set a novel?

6] For SMOKE you obviously did a lot of meticulous research, did you do all this during the writing process or before you started the book?

I started researching the era back in high school when I walked into a building at the Dachau Concentration Camp and saw a fading pink triangle tacked on the wall. I wanted to know more about the people who had worn them. I researched the topic more when I wrote my college history thesis.

That gave me some historical background, but for A Trace of Smoke I still needed to do a great deal more research. I read many diaries from the era, such as those of Count Henry Kessler, Bella Fromm, Viktor Klemperer, William Shirer and Ernst Rohm himself. Plus various scholarly tomes and a bound collection of Berlin Illustrierte Zeitung newspapers from 1931.

I was very fortunate in that Berlin was a center of filmmaking in 1931, so I could watch films shot on the very streets that Hannah walked, including M,  Blue Angel, Berlin: Symphony of a City, Emil and the Detectives, and The Testament of Dr Mabuse.

And my most important research was walking around Berlin in the 1980s, smelling the city, tripping on the cobblestones, and watching the brown coal smoke settle on the snow.

Rebecca's website can be viewed here.

[to be continued with more from this interview soon]  

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

REBECCA CANTRELL INTERVIEWED: "MY BEST FRIENDS WERE BOOKS"



This year I have read novels by the prize winning authors Stieg Larsson, Asa Larsson, Hakan Nesser and Philippe Claudel. I also read an outstanding debut novel A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell, set in the Berlin of 1931, which more than held its own in that exalted company. Frankly I thought A Trace of Smoke was more a enjoyable read than those other books.

Thanks you very much Rebecca for agreeing to answer some questions about your excellent debut crime thriller, A Trace of Smoke.

Rebecca: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to answer such thoughtful questions.

1] Your biography says that you have wanted to be a writer since the age of 7. Who or what inspired this ambition?

Books inspired me and my parents encouraged me. I learned to read well before kindergarten and can't remember a life before it. I loved to read and decided at seven that there could be no better job in the world than writing books. I also considered being a librarian on the side.
My original writing plan was to start like S.E.Hinton, who published The Outsiders when she was only 19. Why my parents let me read The Outsiders with all its violence and death when I was only seven is something I never thought about till now, but I did read it and I knew that I had plenty of time to become a published writer.
I am quite a bit older than 19 now, but I am finally there.

2] What writers did you read as a child and did any of them influence your style?

I read everything. My best friends were books. I would prop open the school library door so I could sneak in and read over lunch and before the bus came. I started with fairy tales (Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Scandinavian folk tales), moved on to action and fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Pyrdain) with stops along the way for detective books (Encyclopedia Brown, The Three Investigators with Jupiter Jones) and everything else I could get my hands on (lots of historical novels too, like the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series, Little women, et al by Louisa May Alcott).
I spent a lot of time on school buses and reading books tucked into my desk when I should have been listening to the teacher. I read a book every day during the school year. During the summer vacation, I read two, sometimes three. Most mornings I'd grab my book, an apple, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and disappear until sunset. I miss those days.

3] Who are your favourite authors? I know you have read Philip Kerr but are there other crime writers that you read and admire?

I have too many favourite authors to list. Right now, I love Michael Chabon and Jonathan Safron Foer. I have just finished reading Jonathan Rabb's Shadow and Light and it very much reminded me of Philip Kerr. His hard-boiled and emotionally detached sleuth walks through a meticulously researched 1927 Berlin. Plus Christopher Isherwood is always wonderful to read and re-read to get a good sense of Berlin.

[to be continued]

THE SUN GOES DOWN ON FEEDJIT


I have decided to remove my Feedjit Traffic feed because I wish to ensure the complete privacy of my readers. 
I did love those little flags but was disappointed to discover I did not have any readers in Salisbury, Woking and Surbiton.  
Was that reader with the flag in Ulan Bator, Mongolia actually in Essex?
But I did find out that I was read in FORTY SIX different countries over all five continents! 
My sitemeter is now set to private I hope. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ON THE MOOR TODAY


On the moor today but Exmoor not Dartmoor. It would have been too difficult to have chosen an "Exmoor Eight" rather than the "Dartmoor Dozen" but this moor is just as beautiful. There are wild ponies here as well but they were too quick for the camera operator... and that is snow. The ground was totally saturated as the heavy  snowfalls begin to melt and this could mean flooding further down the Exe if there is heavy rain. 
As a complete change from the type of books I have been reading over the past few weeks I have moved on to start Inspector French's Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Croft, a Golden Age mystery written in 1924. I hope it won't be too humdrum and plodding.
I will be posting an interview in the next few days with author  Rebecca Cantrell 
and next week my dozen books in the Dartmoor challenge

Monday, February 16, 2009

MODIFIED CATEGORIES FOR THE DARTMOOR DOZEN



I have just finished a very emotional and extremely harrowing read, but enough about our gas bill.
Actually I was reading and writing a review for Euro Crime about Philippe Claudel's brilliant novel Brodeck's Report and it has left me a bit breathless and drained. 

I have decided to modify the numerous categories and sub genres listed here to hopefully make matters easier for a crime fiction virgin. You might feel that I have been too simplistic or the categories are too vague, but I think that if you go much beyond twelve you will frighten off both the newcomer and the potential serious reader.  The purpose is to have  a template for saying, I think these are good examples of this type of book.

1] The Origins: 

Detective fiction in the mid 19th century by well known authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Charles Dickens. The non fiction book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale is an excellent introduction to this period.

2] The Age of Sherlock Holmes :

The great detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle probably needs a complete category to himself, but the "Age" allows me to include, if I wanted, books by R. Austin Freeman, John Buchan, Erskine Childers, G.K.Chesterton and Conan Doyle's brother in law E.W.Hornung who wrote at around this time. 

3] The Golden Age:

That enormous volume of detective fiction published during the 1920s and 1930s on both sides of the Atlantic which feature a crime puzzle to be solved by a varied assortment of detectives. The British for example Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Croft, Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers, and the Americans Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen.

4] Hardboiled:

The mainly American development lead by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, a tradition that was carried on first by Ross Macdonald and later by many others.

5] The Police Procedural:

For example the 87th Precinct books by Ed McBain, the Martin Beck books by Sjowall and Wahloo and all the series that followed them featuring a team of detectives.

6] Detectives [police, forensic and private]:

A huge category ranging from police detectives that might be included in the police procedural category but are mavericks such as Ian Rankin's Rebus to forensic investigators like Kathy Reich's Temperance Brennan and Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta, and on to "private eyes" like Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor or Sara Paretsky's V.I.Warshawski. 

7] Psychological suspense:

The Barbara Vines written by Ruth Rendell and the novels of Patricia Highsmith are the most obvious examples of this type of novel.

8] Caper and comic crime fiction:

I have included these together because they do have certain common features. Examples are the books of Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiassen, Janet Evanovich and Declan Burke.

9] Historical crime fiction:

Anything from history such as books about the classical and medieval periods by Lindsey Davis, Ellis Peters, Bernard Knight and Ariana Franklin and ranging through the years  to Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series and John Lawton's commentary on Britain from the late 1930s to the 1960s.  

10] Thrillers:

You could include legal, techno, and spy fiction in this category with authors like John Le Carre, Eric Ambler, Ian Fleming, John Grisham, and Daniel Silva.

11] Crime fiction in translation:

That vast reservoir of books written in other languages than English can be dealt with here. That gives us the chance to pick some translated crime fiction in more than one category.

12] The Wild Card category:

A chance to double up and recommend more than one book from your favourite type of crime fiction, or to include something you don't think can be classified into another group. I am cheating here but the category is available if you want to recommend two English Country House or Locked Room or Pulp Noir or "femikrimi" books. 

"Well sir, here's to plain speaking and clear understanding' 
Gutman in The Maltese Falcon

[to be continued with my book selections next week]     

Friday, February 13, 2009

A SNOWED IN ON DARTMOOR DOZEN BOOKS



The fascinating list of the various sub genres in crime fiction posted on Friend Feed here got me thinking about what books you would recommend to someone who never read any of the genre. Not quite Desert Island Books my version would be more a stuck on Dartmoor and snowed in with twelve books version. 
My younger son has being doing a Prince's Trust course on the moor this week in fairly tough weather conditions. I would have stayed indoors with my books.

Twelve books that cover most of the sub genres, and would introduce someone to the pleasures of reading crime fiction.

What would be your Dartmoor Dozen?

LINCOLN BICENTENARY YESTERDAY



Yesterday I missed posting about the bicentenary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the USA. 
I am certainly not a Lincoln scholar just a fan, fanatic Mrs Crime Scraps would say having been taken round Lincoln related sites in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana. 
Thanks to The Rap Sheet for directing me to Janet Rudolph's blog Mystery Fanfare where she posts here about Abraham Lincoln the Mystery Writer and his story "A Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder" published in the Quincy Whig on 15 April 1846. 

Apparently President Barack Obama's favourite book about Lincoln, the only other President from Illinois, is Doris Kearns Goodwin's  Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It is to be discussed tonight on BBC Newsnight hopefully by a panel of people who can distinguish Abraham Lincoln from Benjamin Lincoln, and William Jefferson Clinton from George Clinton.

The Lincoln cabinet was not always regarded with awe, as this quotation from a contemporary source states:

"I never since I was born imagined that such a lot of poltroons and apes could be gathered together from the four corners of the globe as Old Abe had succeeded in bringing together in his Cabinet". 
[David Donald:Inside Lincoln's Cabinet]

There is another crime fiction link because the left hand figure in the photograph with President Lincoln is Allan Pinkerton
Pinkerton as well as founding the famous  detective agency, which later employed Dashiell Hammett,  wrote a series of detective stories which he claimed were based on his own exploits and those of his operatives.

"In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free-honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth." 
Abraham Lincoln, message to Congress, December 1, 1862

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A TRACE OF SMOKE



It is 1931 in Berlin and Hannah Vogel, a hardened crime reporter, who writes for the Berliner Tageblatt under the pseudonym Peter Weill, is shocked to see her brother Ernst's photograph posted in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead at the Alexanderplatz police headquarters. 
Ernst, a cross dressing lounge singer at a gay nightclub, had been murdered and thrown in the river. Despite the danger Hannah begins to delve into the lives of her brother's friends, powerful lawyer Rudolphe von Reiche and young Nazi Wilhelm Lehmann. At the court while reporting on a rape case she meets the handsome banker Boris Krause, who has more than one motive for wanting to begin a relationship. 
Then her search is complicated by the arrival on her doorstep, late at night, of the endearing five year old child Anton, a "brave" devotee of the cowboy and Indian novels of Karl May, who claims his father is Ernst and calls her "Mother". 
Hannah in her investigations into Ernst's murder and Anton's parentage unearths a scandal that could effect the future of the Nazi party and puts her and Anton's lives at risk. 

Rebecca Cantrell's first novel A Trace of Smoke is narrated by Hannah Vogel and that gives the story an immediacy and sense of tension and danger that grabs you from the very  first page. In Philip Kerr's books the presence of the wise cracking "Marlowe style" detective Bernie Gunther sometimes seems incongruous, but Hannah Vogel fits right in to an accurately depicted decadent Berlin. 
The geography, attitudes and corrupt feel of the city is described in meticulous and fascinating detail. The characters and action are related with such feeling that you imagine you are there outside Wertheim's department store surrounded by chanting SA Brownshirt thugs, or in the El Dorado bar, or boating on Lake Wannsee. It is engrossing and absorbing but not always comfortable feeling.  

The enormous losses in manpower in the Great War, the devastating inflation of 1923 and the poverty and class divisions are all factors in the growing darkness about to envelop Germany. But Hannah is among those good people who hope the final journey into madness can be prevented.

I am not the only reviewer who thinks this is an outstanding book see here

A Trace of Smoke is thrilling historical crime writing that entertains, educates, excites, and provides us with a real heroine as well as stimulating thought about whether we have learned the lessons of history. 
I can't wait to read the sequel entitled A Night of Long Knives which is due out in 2010.

Rebecca Cantrell majored in German, creative writing and history at the Freie Universitat of Berlin and Carnegie Mellon University and now lives in Hawaii.

[photo of El Dorado from 

SUCCESSFUL SOLICITATION: A TRACE OF SMOKE BY REBECCA CANTRELL



Recently one of the more honest and intelligent members of the blogging community remarked how worried they had been after reviewing a book that "if I had not solicited  a free copy of the book  I'd have been much less positive". 
We are all guilty of that sometimes and therefore it is great pleasure when one solicits a book direct from the author and it turns out to be a  gem not needing an 'airbrushed' review. 
I have criticized reviewers in the past for making ludicrous comparisons of books to Casablanca or going over the top and inventing occurrences in books that never happened in their over-enthusiastic reviews for a particular book. 

Well I don't have to exaggerate or make unreal comparisons for A Trace of Smoke the memorable book that I have just finished reading, it has to be a major contender for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction Award.

Last year the ever vigilant Karen of Euro Crime spotted that A Trace of Smoke a book about Berlin in 1931 was to be published this May. I had just reviewed Philip Kerr's A Quiet Flame and Marek Krajewski's Death in Breslau so she thought it would be right up my street.

I checked Rebecca Cantrell's web site and it was obvious that her debut novel was going to be something special as the author had done so much meticulous research. 
The book  lived up to my expectations on many levels as I will explain in my review. 

[to be continued]
photo of the Mossse House from www.preussenweb.de/berlin3.htm

Sunday, February 08, 2009

WORLD FAMOUS IN UPPSALA:THE PRINCESS OF BURUNDI BY KJELL ERIKSSON

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

On a snowy night just before Christmas John Jonsson, an unemployed welder and expert on African ornamental fish, fails to come home for his supper. He later is found in the snow tortured and brutally murdered.
'Little John' Jonsson is survived by his beautiful wife Berit, his teenage son Justus, and by his brother Lennart, well known to the police as a local small time villain.
Lennart does not trust the police and begins his own investigation into his brother's murder, and a secret shared by John and Justus.
The story follows Lennart's efforts, the activities of a psychopath Vincent who went to school with John, and the systematic investigations of Uppsala's police team.
The team under the kindly direction of chief Ottosson are missing detective Anne Lindell, who is on an extended maternity leave looking after baby Erik. The other detectives Ola Haver, in charge, Frederiksson, who prefers paper to computers, germophobic Peter Lundin, Berglund, Beatrice and Riis begin a trawl through the life and contacts of John Jonsson. Lindell will later get involved both in the police work and in an emotional entanglement in what is a very good example of police procedural crime fiction.

Kjell Eriksson is an interesting author born in 1953 he was for many years a construction worker and then a gardener for ten years before giving up to become a full time writer. His politics are very left wing [possibly a member of the SKP Swedish Communist Party] and this comes over in the book in the way he talks about the nobility of labour and the goodness of John's father, a roofer and representative of Uppsala's working class.
In 1999 Eriksson turned to writing crime fiction because he "wanted to deliver and experience suspense" and "the existence of a built in voltage moment". [from translated article in Ordfront Forlag].
When he first started writing he was treated with suspicion by his friends, but now he is regarded with warmth and respect by his former co -workers.
"Mentally, I am still on our side of the river, but I utilize the principal means of expression of the west side-the written language." [Behind the Headlines, Behind the Dividing Lines:Kjell Eriksson: Mystery Readers Journal Fall 2007]
He is now "World famous in Uppsala".

Although The Princess of Burundi is the first Anne Lindell novel to be published in English it is number 4 in the series, and the next two books in English The Cruel Stars of The Night and The Demon of Dakar are numbers 6 and 7. This makes it a little difficult to get into the book because we have not got to know the characters in the way in which the author intended.
Number One in the series The Illuminated Path won the Best First Crime Fiction novel in 1999 and The Princess of Burundi won the Best Novel award in 2002.

The derivation from the Sjowall and Wahloo Martin Beck and the Ed McBain 87th Precinct team police procedurals is clear to see and is even referred to when a Rastafarian locksmith asks Frederiksson "Are you Sweden's answer to Carella?".

I thought it apt that a tribute to McBain's procedurals in the city of Isola should be located in Uppsala.

With any of these police procedural team novels it is the quality of the characters and the interaction between them that decide whether they are successful. Carella, Meyer, Kling, Gunvald Larsson, Kollberg, Bennny Skacke and Martin Beck were all memorable and I am not sure that apart from Anne Lindell and possibly Ola Haver the police are quite as interesting in this Uppsala novel.
But what Eriksson does do very well is introduce with the characters of the pathetic Vincent and the very angry Lennart a study of the split society in a university city, and how the failure to recognize problems early in school can destroy future lives.

He also places Anne Lindell firmly on his side of the tracks:
" I am certainly not sophisticated", she said quietly to herself. "Not like the detectives on TV, the ones who listen to opera, know Greek mythology, and know if a wine is right for fish or a white meat."

I have lived in two university cities and seen the vast social gulf that exists between 'town and gown' and sometimes the effect is not pleasant.

"But Berglund was certainly aware of the fact that there were two cities, two Uppsalas: Oskar's and the skankarna [a slang word for university graduates], with their academic degrees."

The Princess of Burundi is the sort of book that grows on you and while it does take a little more concentration to follow all the different strands of the story it is certainly worth the effort.

I enjoyed this book more because I had spent a day in Uppsala many years ago, the west side, and I thought it was a beautiful city. Also the constant reference to roofers reminded me of a story my father told me. My father and grandfather were both master glaziers used to working at heights. During a Zeppelin raid in the First World War my grandfather, an air raid warden, tied my father aged then about 7 to him, and they climbed over the roofs dealing with the primitive incendiary bombs.
I should point out I did not inherit any of their ability with glass or their bravery.

You can read another review of The Princess of Burundi here.