Monday, March 30, 2009



My choices have so far not been very adventurous. Conan Doyle, Christie, Sjowall and Wahloo, and then Raymond Chandler are hardly surprising picks but they are a solid introduction to crime fiction, and therefore I can be a bit more eccentric in my next choice.

The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes by K.C.Constantine [I love the title] says on the cover it is a Mario Balzic detective novel, but Mario does more talking and thinking than he does detecting. The novel is much more interested in the people and their situations than the mystery. 

Balzic is the police chief of an economically depressed fictional Western Pennsylvania rust belt town called Rocksburg. The novel written in 1983 is a study of that town, its inhabitants and their problems. 
The interrelations of husbands, wives, parents, race, religion, class and politics are more important than the plot. This novel is primarily a social commentary on the heartland of America and the many depressed small towns where the people, including Mario Balzic, are angry and cling to their guns and their religion. [With apologies to President Obama] 

The city council are negotiating with the police union and we can judge that it is a very ethnic town from their names:

"they being for the city, Mayor Angelo Bellotti; Councilman Louis Del Vito, chairman of the Safety Committe; and Solicitor Peter Renaldo; and for the police, Lieutenant Angelo Clemente.........Fraternal order of Police president Wall Stuchinsky, a state cop; and Joseph Czekaj, FOP solicitor."

Mario Balzic is half Serb half Italian, a less politically correct terminology is used, in a town with some characters who would clearly be at home in a Sciascia or Camilleri novel. 

Renaldo was in his early thirties; his father had been a coal miner and worked all the overtime he could get to make sure his son got through college and law school so he would never have to spend  a minute in  the mines, and now Balzic knew, the son despised the father for being a miner, an immigrant, and, worst of all, uneducated.

And in another passage. 

Belotti was good at what he did and what he did was make people believe it was in their interest to have him for a friend. It was a good thing he had few appetites. There was no telling what he could steal if he had more.

Good writers can say so much with so few words.

I have to declare an interest in that I love small town USA as my first trip there thirty years ago involved a bus trip through Western Pennsylvania, and we have stayed with friends in the Eastern part of the state where there are many Orthodox churches and the people all seem to have surnames with no vowels. The heartland is a wonderfully hospitable place once you get used to having the only car in the restaurant car park with everyone else driving a pick up truck with a gun rack. 

One of my favourite memories of these small towns was a poster we saw in North Carolina in 2001 which said "My boss is a Jewish carpenter". 
After seeing a few of these posters I was impressed that a Jew could build a successful business in the Southern Bible belt where the Klan had been a factor in the past.

Then I had an epiphany and realized the identity of the Jewish carpenter. 

Read The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes as a guide to the world of small town ethnic America and its values, a world away from Los Angeles, Florida and New York. 

[to be continued] 

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Time is running out to enter the draw to win a signed copy of A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell. You can read all about the book, the excellent reviews it has received and my interview with the author here
and here.

I have had one correct answer so far  but I will clarify the question:

Four men held a job in succession A, B, C, D

A. Went on to be a Professor at Harvard and died at Norwich, Vermont.
B. Served prison time for alleged war crimes
C. Was murdered along with his wife.
D. Committed suicide.

Who was A? 

Send your answers to by the end of the month please. 


A very lengthy meeting and a hundred  miles of driving yesterday and yet another Steering Group [rearranging the chairs on the Titanic] meeting next Thursday so I am a bit shredded at the moment. Many of the characters at these meetings could easily feature in a Jo Nesbo or Andrea Camilleri novel. 
I thought I had finished with committee meetings where people [who could sell Talmuds in Teheran] talk for two hours and nothing is decided years ago when I retired. But it was a good interlude to get me thinking again about the next two categories in my Dartmoor Dozen. 


I read The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler many years ago but dipping into the book again I think it was ahead of its time [1955] because it seems to me to be  more about the characters and society than about the plot. Chandler's writing is masterly as he mixes violence and humour with a subtle touch. 
Here he describes the lot of a P.I.:

'Sometimes you get beaten up or shot or tossed into the jailhouse. Once in a while you get dead. Every other month you decide to give it up and find some sensible occupation while you can still walk without shaking your head. Then the door buzzer rings and you open the inner door to the waiting room and there stands a new face with a new problem, a new load of grief, and a small piece of money.'

What clinched this choice for me is Chandler's classification of blondes ending with this passage:

'And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap d'Antibes, an Alfa Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shop worn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent -mindedness of an elderly duke saying good night to his butler.'


My choice is The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and I have written previously about this brilliant book here.

This is a police procedural, a locked room mystery and with the antics of Bulldozer Olsson and his robbery squad almost a comic and crime caper novel all in one.

There was an abundance of both men's fingerprints and traces of Mauritzon's right thumb and forefinger had even been found on one of the jam jars. 
"You realize what that means?" Bulldozer Olsson said inquisitorially.
"Yes," said Gunvald Larsson. "That he's circumstantially linked to a jar of whortleberry jam." 

[to be continued] 

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Hagen placed his hands behind his back. 
"What do you know about the Thirty Years War?"
"Not enough, I suppose."

The Redeemer: Jo Nesbo

The fat man screwed up his eyes and asked: "What do you know, sir, about the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, later called the Knights of Rhodes and other things?"
Spade waved his cigar. "Not much-only what I remember from history in school-Crusaders or something."

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett


A few weeks ago BEFORE I had read any of The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo we booked a short break at Chindit House an excellent luxury bed and breakfast in Glastonbury, Somerset. 
The house was named Chindit House, when it was part of Millfield School, by the housemaster who had fought with the Chindits in Burma.

Imagine my surprise when I reached the passage in The Redeemer:

Hagen ran his forefinger, over the window frame and studied the result with displeasure. "In 1942, a mere hundred thousand Japanese soldiers conquered Burma."

The Japanese did in the words of Harry Hole "lose the war" and in Burma that was due among other factors to the efforts of the Chindits under their charismatic commander Orde Wingate.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


It is beautiful sunshine outside and I am sitting in the sun reading about one of my favourite detectives. 

Maxine at Petrona has a list of crime fiction cliches to avoid here. I agree many of these have had their day but I do love the clash of an insubordinate detective dealing with a slow witted superior when it is done well. Andrea Camilleri, Donna Leon and now Jo Nesbo have mastered the skill of producing dialogue for the detective that teeters on the brink of rudeness.
In The Redeemer Jo Nesbo's latest novel to be translated into English Harry Hole has lost his protector Bjarne Moller and his replacement Gunnar Hagen is clearly not Harry's sort of policeman.

"But there is a third quality I prize even higher, Hole. Can you guess what it is?"
"No," Harry said in an even monotone.
"Discipline. Di-sci-pline."

Hagen goes on to lecture Harry about the Japanese conquest of Burma in 1942 based on their superior discipline, and mentions the Japanese shot soldiers who drank water outside drinking times.

"Not out of sadism, but because discipline is about excising the tumours at the outset. Am I making myself clear, Hole?"

Harry is dismissed but remains seated and Hagen asks.

"Anything else, Hole?"
"Mm, I was wondering. Didn't the Japanese lose the war?"  

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I have not posted my own Dartmoor Dozen because Uriah and Norm have been arguing about which books to put in the list. 
But if you go here, scroll down and follow the links you will find some excellent books chosen by more learned reviewers.
I have been distracted over the past few days by upcoming meetings regarding the Honeytones [who recently won a £10,000 lottery grant] and CARE Blackerton, as well as watching the series Red Riding which I did not enjoy it was too "cult" for me, with the violence and one sexual encounter leaving nothing to the imagination.

Well after all the arguments here are my choices:


I have chosen a non fiction book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale because it  tells a true story that inspired authors Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle.


Well it has to be the great consulting detective Sherlock Holmes  and the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles simply because the Dartmoor setting that would add to the terror of the story. When the mist is thick on the moor you can drive past the prison without even catching a glimpse of  it. And the really frightening thing is it can be bright sunshine near Bovey Tracey and yet on another part of the moor the mist will be very thick with visibility on a few yards.

Holmes is of course a unique creation and his relationship with Watson I don't think has ever been surpassed in crime fiction or any fiction for that matter.

"Has anything escaped me?" I asked with some self-importance. "I trust there is nothing of consequence which I have overlooked?"

"I am afraid my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth...."


Part of the appeal of the Golden Age Detective Fiction for readers was the escapist fantasy of getting away from what for many in England, between the wars, was a fairy miserable existence to the exotic world of the rich. I would therefore choose to represent this period with Agatha Christie's 1937 novel Death on the Nile
I think it is a fine example of Christie's skill at plotting with a wonderful twist in the story, a great detective probably only second to Holmes in the pantheon of fictional detectives in Hercule Poirot, and some of the politically incorrect nonsense that makes the books of this period so much fun to read. I must read this one again some time.

"I think he must be the fat one with the closely shaved head and the moustache. A German, I should imagine. He seems to be enjoying his soup very much." Certain succulent noises floated across to them.     

[to be continued]

Friday, March 20, 2009


I forgot to mention in my review of Borkmann's Point that there is a spoiler/tribute in the story to The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie. So if you are someone who does not know plot and wants to read this Christie novel it is best to do so before you read Borkmann's Point. 

Another random quote, this time from an author who with his latest novel will probably reinforce his position as one of my favourite European crime writers:

Had he been stealing money, embezzling? He could be the type to work with figures. But not the big sums. His attractive wife notwithstanding, he looked more the kind who helped himself to small change here and there. He might have been unfaithful, might even have slept with the wife of the wrong man. No. As a rule, short men with above average assets and wives much more attractive than themselves are more concerned with her infidelity. The man annoyed him. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is on holiday on the coast near the coastal town of Kaalbringen when two men are brutally murdered with an axe. The local police chief is just days away from retirement so Van Veeteren and Munster are drafted in to help with the investigation.
Then a third man is killed  by the axeman.  There appears to be no link between the victims, a drug addict jailbird, a wealthy but not very pleasant businessman, and a young doctor, the son of a local consultant. 
As the investigation proceeds a brilliant and beautiful young female detective Beate Moerk goes missing.

Hakan Nesser received the first of his three Swedish Crime Writer's Academy Best Novel Awards in 1994 for Borkmann's Point and it was well deserved. 

I like the quirkiness and slightly eccentric nature of the chess playing Van Veeteren. But it is Hakan Nesser's ability to blend a story of horrible crimes, and human despair, with sly humour that makes this book stand out from many others. 
There is virtually a memorable quote in every few pages, and while the twist in the plot might be fairly obvious, the sharply drawn characters and the overall depth of the story make up for this. 

On being shown Bausen's wine cellar all ready for his retirement Van Veeteren muses:

Why haven't I been doing something like this ? he thought. I must start digging the moment I get home! 
It might be a bit problematic in view of the fact that he lived in an apartment block, of course, but maybe he could start by purchasing the goods instead.

Mixed in with the humour as the police team thrash around like " headless chickens" there is a very bleak story of human tragedy.

"What we can be sure of , what we can rely on absolutely, is evil. It never lets us down. Good... goodness is only a stage set, a backdrop against which the satanic performs. Nothing else .....nothing." 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Following on the Quote a Day theme I thought I would put up some random quotations from time to time, and readers can guess if they wish the identity of  the authors. The photographs have no connection with the subject except this one is taken in England.

"The English may not be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers."


Leighton Gage, the author of Blood of the Wicked and Buried Strangers, you can read reviews here and here [with links to my three part interview with him], recommended the film Tropa de Elite [Elite Squad] about Brazil's special anti-drug police and their battle with the drug trafficking militias that control Rio's slums. 
I missed it when it was on locally but watched it last night when it reached my cable operator's film service. It was well worth the wait and the cost at £3.50. 

Last week I watched the first two parts of the Channel 4 series Red Riding based on the quartet of books by David Peace [interviewed here by the FT].  I wondered why the top American crime series such as Law and Order and The Wire discussed important issues while Red Riding was so one dimensional. The Yorkshire police are corrupt, venal, and brutal but it is all so bleak that so far we don't know why or frankly care. 

Tropa de Elite, which won best movie at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008, is the very opposite of Red Riding. Yes it is a brutal violent film but everything is explained with sharp clarity, despite the modern camera work, and we feel for the characters who face difficult decisions and compromises every day of their working lives. 

Andre Matias and Neto are two rookie cops, and childhood friends, in a police force that is totally corrupt, and where bodies are moved from one area to another and back again by the police in order to keep their division's murder rate down. Matias and Neto devise a scheme to use the graft money to repair the police cars in the motor shop which leads to Capitao Fabio being blamed.  All three attempt to join BOPE [Batalhao de Opercacoes Especiais] to avoid retribution or death from their angry superiors.

Capitao Roberto Nascimento, the narrator, is a squad leader in BOPE a paramilitary police force who undertake the toughest missions in the slums of Rio which are controlled by the drug gangs. He is looking for someone who can take over his squad as his wife is expecting a baby and the stress of the high risk missions is getting to him. Neto and Andre Matias are the two possibilities. 

Andre Matias is studying law along with the spoilt rich kids with fine apartments, who despise the police and whose money goes a long way to funding the drug gangs. Andre gets into a relationship with a rich fellow student Maria, but does not tell her he is a cop. 

The film poses many questions:
What do honest men do in a failed justice system?
Are Nascimento's brutal methods justified when dealing with drug dealers and their associates? 
Are BOPE just legalized vigilantes with their shoot to kill tactics?
How do you deal with violent well armed criminals except by using violent well armed police?
When the children of the rich use drugs do they understand, or care, that their money buys more drugs and arms to preserve the power of the drug trafficking militias?

The interrogation methods used by Nascimento make "waterboarding " look like something out of an Enid Blyton children's book, but what do you do in his situation. The unarmed British 'bobby' would last 30 seconds in a Rio favela and as a policeman friend said of questioning in a British police station, "We can't raise our voices we have to bore them into a confession". 

This is a brilliant thoughtful film that I really enjoyed and it made me impatient for Leighton Gage's next Chief Inspector Mario Silva book, Dying Gasp. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009


It is a beautiful sunny day in Devon and we have just returned from walking along the beach at Budleigh Salterton. We had to tip toe past large numbers of 'twitchers' with their cameras and Zeiss binoculars trained on the numerous birds that make their home, or have a rest on their journey, on the Otter estuary.

My review of Niccolo Ammaniti's brilliant novel The Crossroads is now posted at Euro Crime here. Any book with a character called "Quattro Formaggi" has got to be worth reading.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


The seventh and last 'Quote a Day' for the time being.

Van Veeteren nodded. Kropke poured out some coffee and Beate Moerk opened a carton from the bakery, brimful of Danish pastries.
"Excellent," said Van Veeteren.
"From Sylvie's, a top-notch bakery and cafe," said Bausen.
"I recommend a visit. You'll get a twenty percent discount if you tell them that you're a copper. It's just around the corner from here."
Van Veeteren removed his toothpick, and helped himself to a pastry.

From Borkmann's Point by Hakan Nesser

Friday, March 13, 2009


Sabine, an attractive 23 year old, returns to work in her office after a long break caused by a nervous breakdown. The atmosphere is totally different from when she was working  previously and she finds that Renee has become unofficial head of department. Renee had been recruited and trained by Sabine but now she acts like the captain of the ship delegating to her the worst jobs in a bullying manner, and undermining Sabine at every opportunity. 

An upcoming reunion at her old school in Den Helder reminds Sabine of her childhood when Isabel once a close friend in Primary school had turned on her later making her life a living hell. Then nine years ago Isabel, who suffered from epilepsy, had gone missing cycling home from school and Sabine can only remember the briefest of incidents from that day. 
Sabine begins a relationship with Olaf the handsome IT man at the bank, who was a friend of her brother at school. 
Olaf, Sabine's brother Robin, and Sabine's secret boyfriend Bart were all possibly involved with Isabel, and Sabine wonders if this is the reason she has repressed the memory of that day.

A number of young girls have gone missing in the Den Helder area and as Sabine delves back into the past to see if she can jog her memory  she learns that the old school caretaker Mr Groesback has named his cats after those missing  girls. But then she discovers that the very possessive Olaf has a both fierce temper, and a history of violence towards past girl friends. 

Simone Van Der Vlugt lives in Alkmaar, a great cheese making town, and this is her first psychological thriller translated into English by Michele Hutchinson. Simone is better known in the Netherlands for her children's books but she has certainly made a very successful jump across into the crime fiction genre.
The story is told by Sabine in the first person narrative with the majority of the book in the present tense and I think it could only be told in this way. It certainly works and at just under 300 pages I read it easily in a couple of days. Definitely a gripping page turner.

The book has plenty of psychological tension and several red herrings but even though I had narrowed the perpetrator down to two strong possibilities quite early in the story I enjoyed reading right to the very end.

Simone Van Der Vlugt has a talent for creating flawed but memorable characters, and an unsettling sense of menace from seemingly rather mundane situations. 
I will definitely look forward to more of her books being translated into English.

[Thanks to Harper Collins for providing the book]


He had not bothered to ask what it was all about. Drugs, presumably. Everything seemed to be about drugs these days. 
Now the watch had gone on for ten days and the only thing that had happened to the man in question was a tart and two half bottles of booze.
Gunvald Larsson looked at his watch. Nine minutes past eleven. 
Eight minutes left.
He yawned and raised his arms to start beating them round him.
At that precise moment the house exploded.

From The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo  

Thursday, March 12, 2009


It is a rather pleasant feeling when you discover that a book that you have given a very good review is also appreciated by others.
I rated Rebecca Cantrell's A Trace of Smoke as one of the best historical novels I have ever read. It has a charismatic cast of characters and an attractive protagonist in Hannah Vogel, and you can go here to see that some big name reviewers agree with me; and if you go here and scroll down you can read both my interview with Rebecca and my review of the book. 

To win such a good book signed by the author the question will have to be a little testing.

I was a Professor at Harvard University and died in Norwich, Vermont. 
I had a earlier more important job and my three successors in that position served time in prison, were murdered, and committed suicide. 
Who am I ? 

Please send your answers to 
Correct answers will go into a draw which will be made on 31 March. 


"Rather vulgar, you think?"
"No, not at all-just pure beauty. What are they worth?"
"About fifty thousand."
"What a lovely lot of money! Aren't you afraid of having them stolen?"
"No, I always wear them-and anyway they're insured."
"Let me wear them till dinner-time, will you darling? It would give me such a thrill."
Linnet laughed.
"Of course, if you like."

From Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


If they wrote about dukes and Venetian vases, they knew no more about them out their own experience than the well heeled Hollywood character knows about the French Modernists that hang in his Bel-Air chateau or the semi-antique Chippendale-cum-cobbler's bench that he uses for a coffee table.
Hammett took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley; it doesn't have to stay there forever, but it looked like a good idea to get it as far as possible from Emily Post's idea of how a well-bred debutante gnaws a chicken wing. 

From The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler  

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Thanks to everyone who took part in this quiz. I always learn something new when the "super brains" of my visitors get working on my questions.
I am keeping tally of the score and there will be only eight more monthly questions in this quiz marathon so don't be shy you can still enter in the next few months and have a chance of winning. The main contenders at present come from Australia, Denmark, Scotland, Wales and the USA.

Who and what were connected  with:

1) Kelmscott Manor- William Morris and textiles or the pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and poetry.

2) Greenway- Agatha Christie and crime fiction.

3) Hughenden Manor- Benjamin Disraeli: politics and novels.

4) Lacock Abbey- William Fox Talbot and early photography.

Thanks for all the fascinating extra information I got about Ela, Countess of Salisbury, and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, plus the film buffs who told me Harry Potter and The Other Boleyn Girl were filmed at Lacock Abbey.

I shall have to make the questions more difficult. 


I parked at the intersection of Kurfurstendamm and Joachimsthaler Strasse, Known as 'Grunfeld Corner' because of the department store of the same name which occupies it. 
When Grunfeld, a Jew, still owned his store, they used to serve free lemonade at the Fountain in the basement. But since the State dispossessed him, as it has with all the Jews who owned big stores, like Wertheim, Hermann Teitz and Israel, the days of free lemonade have gone.
If that weren't bad enough, the lemonade you now pay for and once got free doesn't taste half as good, and you don't have to have the sharpest taste-buds in the world to realize that they're cutting down on the sugar. 
Just like they're cheating on everything else.

From the Bernie Gunther novel March Violets set in Berlin 1936 by Philip Kerr

Monday, March 09, 2009


He opened the fridge and let out a whinny of sheer delight. 

His housekeeper, Adelina, had made him two imperial mackerels in onion sauce, a dinner he would obviously spend the whole night wrestling with, but it was worth the trouble. To cover his rear, before starting to eat he made sure there was a packet of bicarbonate of soda in the kitchen, bless its little heart. 

From Excursion to Tindari by Andrea Camilleri 

Sunday, March 08, 2009


I have taken up the challenge posted at Dorte's DJS Krimiblog of putting up a quotation every day for a week. 
My Quote a Day challenge begins here and if you spot a theme in the quotations you might be right:

Round about glass five Churchill said, "Of course this is bound to make the Prime Minister shape up. I think we can safely conclude that appeasement is dead. This has got to be the point at which Neville stops being a mouse and becomes a man."

Alex said, "Mice don't shape up, they just get eaten."

From Second Violin by John Lawton    

Saturday, March 07, 2009


How important is it to have a clear image of the main protagonist in a crime fiction book? 
When the book or series is filmed or goes on television if the star does not fit your mental image does it ruin the next books in the series for you? 
Do actors, television and film producers have an obligation to get as close as possible to the author's character? 

Lauren [in a comment] said that she thought in text and did not imagine the scenery or image of the characters. [Apologies if I have misquoted] I think in pictures and develop an image of what I think the character is like. For instance I found it impossible to watch John Hannah as Rebus, as he was almost the anti-Rebus as far as I was concerned. 

Maxine of Petrona mentioned in our Friend Feed discussion group that although Kenneth Branagh acted well in the recent BBC Henning Mankell trilogy he was not the Wallander of the books.  
I have discussed this previously with regard to David Suchet going the extra mile to be the Hercule Poirot of the Agatha Christie book and the idiosyncratic casting of Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander here and here.

When Rebecca Cantrell suggested Carice van Houten and Sebastian Koch as her Hannah Vogel and Boris if  A Trace of Smoke was ever filmed I was very pleased because they fitted exactly my mental image of the characters especially Ms van Houten. 
Next week you will have a chance to win a signed copy of A Trace of Smoke .   

Friday, March 06, 2009


An article in the Daily Telegraph here draws readers attention to a letter written to his publishers by Edgar Allan Poe asking them to forgive his misbehaving after a drinking binge in New York in 1842, and to buy an article because he was "desperately pushed for money". He blamed his friend William Ross Wallace "The simple truth is Wallace would insist upon the juleps....".

The article was rejected but according to the online article it did not get Poe down because he joined a "temperance movement in 1949"!
Writing crime fiction obviously aids longevity or there is a need for a copy editor at the Telegraph. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Whenever someone crosses over into a new genre I always think about the Alan Jackson song Gone Country that tells the story of failed folk and pop singers trying to jump on the Country Music bandwagon of the 1990s. 
John Banville is a very successful writer winning the Man Booker in 2005 and I wonder why he has tried to cross over and write crime fiction. The biography of Banville in the Guardian here calls him a writer "who values language above plot, suspense, pace and drama..." and I thought he would have steered well clear of a genre where plot and suspense are paramount. 

The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black [aka John Banville] was a book sent to me for review by those kind people at Picador USA. But I feel I have to give my honest opinion while trying to avoid the smart aleck approach to reviewing. 

The novel is set in 1950s Dublin two years after the events of Christine Falls [Black's first venture into crime fiction], Quirke the irascible but now sober pathologist is approached by Billy Hunt, an acquaintance from his college days, who asks him to cover up his wife Deirdre's apparent suicide. Quirke does this and then begins to probe into the circumstances of Deirdre Hunt alias Laura Swan's death. The story is told in two parts as we follow Quirke and his newly acknowledged daughter Phoebe in the present and Deirdre/Laura in a back story that explains how she set up the beauty salon The Silver Swan and tells the  sad story of her abusive relationships. 

To briefly paraphrase the plot Deirdre sleeps with Leslie, who is married to Kate, who sleeps with Quirke, who has a daughter Phoebe, who sleeps with Leslie and possibly  this is obviously what the Baltimore Sun calls "an even better infrastructure". 
The New York Times Book Review mentions "the sinuous prose, subtle eroticism" and the Baltimore Sun refers to "his luminous prose". I could go on quoting more of all this admiration but in my opinion the erotic content in this novel is about as subtle as a bash in the *******  with a hurley. 

He would bite her lips until they bled, or twist her arm behind her back and make her gasp, and once when he could not manage to do anything and she laughed it off and said it did not matter , instead of being grateful for her understanding he smacked her across the face, hard, so that her head flew back and banged off the headboard and she saw stars.

I suppose parts of this book were well written, it was Banville after all, but the plot was flimsily obvious and the mostly odious characters cliched and dull. I did not enjoy reading The Silver Swan because strangely for something Irish it was not much fun. 

The novelist daily at his desk eats ashes and if occasionally he encounters a diamond he is likely to break a tooth. Money is necessary to pay the dentist's bills.
[John Banville: The Guardian]    

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


It is March so it must be time for the next mini quiz in which you can accumulate points towards winning a Grand Prize later in the year. 
The first mini quiz was about Sweden's five minority languages and the five winners came from Denmark, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia and Wales. 

This quiz is about English houses and homes and the people who lived and worked in them:

An example, Chartwell is the home of Sir Winston Churchill, and would be associated with his historical writing and politics.

Who and what are associated with:

1] Kelmscott Manor
2] Greenway
3] Hughenden Manor
4] Lacock Abbey

Answers to please.