Monday, June 29, 2009

EUROCRIME REVIEW: GALLOWS LANE


My review of the second book in Brian McGilloway's Ben Devlin series is on Euro Crime here. There is certainly enough scope for plots in that location on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic for this series to run and run.

She put the cups down with such force that the contents sloshed on to the paperwork on the desk. Decko tutted and rolled his eyes as she left, but still thanked her politely for her help.
"Jesus,' he said once she 'd shut the door. "If she wasn't me sister , I'd fire her."

You can read a review of the third Inspector Devlin Mystery, Bleed A River Deep here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

MONTALBANO NUMBER TEN: AUGUST HEAT



While Devon basks in a summer mini heat wave I read August Heat the latest of Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano mysteries to be translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli.
I would not go as far as saying I was a Montalbano maven but I can't get enough of Camilleri's brilliant books.
You can read my article Appreciating Camilleri on the Picador Blog. [Picador were kind enough to provide August Heat, and the Camilleri article was written through the good offices of Maxine, Lady Petrona]

In a blistering Sicilian summer Montalbano manages to book a last minute holiday house for his girlfriend Livia's best friend Laura, her husband Guido and their problem child three year old Bruno. A series of mishaps occur which culminate in Bruno going missing, but Montalbano finds that he has fallen into a secret apartment built underneath the house and the child is rescued.
But this is not the end of Montalbano's problems there is a trunk in the apartment and in it he finds the body of a beautiful young woman wrapped in plastic.
Montalbano, with the assistance of the smart cop Fazio, and the less smart but devoted Catarella begin to investigate a complex case that involves the suspicious death of an Arab labourer, a mysterious disappearance and the temptation of a beautiful young woman.

In August Heat, the tenth of the Montalbano books to be published in English, Andrea Camilleri gives us another superb portion of all the charming idiosyncrasies that make this series so enjoyable. The plot may not be the strongest but the Montalbano books have never been about plot, but all about the detective's relationships with his team, his sycophantic superiors, his stomach, his housekeeper, Livia and the various other women who drift in and out of his world.

In this episode we get once again the contrast between the amusing humour and the horrific crime, but the writing is getting sharper as Montalbano ages.
This is one of the best books in the series but it has a sad undertone as questions are asked as Montalbano struggles to cope with the heat and his emotions.
Is he losing his judgement? Has he completely lost what little respect he had for the law? Has he become just another sad middle aged lonely man?

This is a brilliant short novel containing brief tributes to both Conan Doyle, and Sjowall and Wahloo, as well as numerous typical Camilleri gems.
I can highly recommend it for a pleasant summer read.

Spitaleri had come in a black Ferrari. Which increased the inspector's dislike for the developer. Having a Ferrari in a small town was like keeping a lion in your apartment's bathroom.

And at Enzo's Trattoria:

"How about a few big platters of antipasto di mare with shrimps, prawns, baby octopus, anchovies, sardines, mussels and clams?"
"Sounds good. And for second course?"

"Mullet in onions: served cold a delight."

Friday, June 26, 2009

INSPECTOR JAVIER FALCON


I have now finished reading The Ignorance of Blood finding it to be a satisfying exciting thriller and far more than a simple shoot-em-up.
Robert Wilson concentrates on the characters as well as the action while reviewing the stresses and strains on those who work in the police and the intelligence services. This is top quality writing and importantly the plot even with the numerous twists and turns is believable.
There was a program recently about the British who move to Spain and some of the problems they encounter with uncompleted housing developments, illegal building on rustic land and businesses affected by the recession. There are bigger problems....

"If we get through this I'm never going to the Costa del Sol ever again in my life," said Consuelo.
"Nothing's changed in the Costa del Sol for the last forty years. Why withdraw your custom now?"
"Because it's only now I have faced up to what these people have been doing." said Consuelo. "Almost every apartment building, every development, every golf course, marina, fun park, casino - every source of recreation for visiting tourists is built on the profit from human misery."

Robert Wilson won the CWA Gold Dagger with A Small Death in Lisbon, the book that introduced me to this author, and The Ignorance of Blood is a definite contender for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award.

"You don't want to tell me do you, Javier? What could be worse than the Russian Mafia?"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD BY ROBERT WILSON


Robert Wilson writes erudite and well researched thrillers and his Javier Falcon series set in Seville deals boldly with subjects we would rather forget in our everyday lives.
The Ignorance of Blood is the fourth in a quartet of books and it was preceded by The Hidden Assassins which I reviewed here and here.

Javier Falcon, Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidos, has promised the citizens of Seville he will catch those responsible for the bombing that occurred in the opening pages of The Hidden Assassins. Luckily Robert Wilson gives us a handy update of Javier Falcon's ongoing investigation into that bombing and the associated murders.

"In that period around the 6th June bombing there were five expressions of violence.
The first was the murder of Tateb Hassani, who was vital to the conspiracy for his drafting in Arabic script of the extremists' plans for taking over Andalucia............

The second expression of violence was the bomb itself which, as I said, was designed to point the finger at Muslim extremism, whilst increasing the prestige of Fuerza Andalucia, making them the preferred partners of the ruling Partido Popular.'

"The third, presumably were Esteban Calderon's murder of his wife," said Zorrita, which derailed the investigation into the Seville bombing."
"And four and five were the executions of Lucrezio Arenas and Cesar Benito," said Falcon. "They had to be killed once we had caught the other half of the conspiracy,because there were direct links between them. It would only be a matter of time before Arenas and Benito gave up the bombers they had employed."
"So there's a clear motive in every case.'
"Except Calderon,' said Falcon.

Javier Falcon begins to believe that perhaps Calderon, the investigating judge in the bombing case, did not murder his wife Ines [who happens to be Falcon's ex wife] but was set up by his beautiful Cuban mistress Marisa Moreno at the instigation of the Russian Mafia.
Javier and Cristina Ferrera, a detective who is an ex-nun, question Marisa on her connections with terrifying consequences for Javier's girlfriend Consuelo Jimenez.
While Yacoub, Javier's Moroccan friend who is spying for the Spanish Government Intelligence CNI is faced with a terrible dilemma.
I am now on page 225 with a long way to go but this is an enjoyable but violent novel. Even though we suspect Javier Falcon is on the right track and it seems a simple thriller you do have to concentrate to grasp the interrelations between the characters and follow the complexities of the story.

"What do you mean , they don't have CCTV? she asked.
"Why don't you have CCTV? In England I've heard they have CCTV everywhere.....even on roundabouts in the middle of nowhere."

Thanks to Harper Collins for supplying the book. To be continued.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

THE IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE



Yesterday I blithely eliminated authors with two International Daggers, two Nordic Glass Keys and a British CWA Gold Dagger between them from consideration for the 2009 International Dagger.
Today I will decide between books by Karin Alvtegen, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Johan Theorin.
Next year 2010 I have a feeling that Larsson, Nesbo and Theorin will be the main contenders again, but here goes for 2009. Feel free to tell me I am wrong, I am used to it.
Firstly any one of the four books [see links to reviews here] would be a worthy winner, but I have to be hypercritical to eliminate contenders.

Shadow by Karin Alvetegen, is a bit predictable and the basic plot is a little bit derivative. It is still a brilliant read if a bit bleak.
The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo, I don't think is quite as good as some of his other books but with Nesbo that means 9/10 as opposed to his usual 9.5/10.

I will therefore be very harsh and eliminate these two books. That leaves the Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire, with the awesome character of Lisbeth Salander, and Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin a superbly constructed novel, good characters, atmosphere and a final twist in the story.
I am a bit embarrassed having met Steven Murray and Don Bartlett the charming translators of the other three books, but Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin would be my choice.
Johan Theorin won the Nordic Glass Key and Best Swedish Crime Novel for his second book Nattfak this year, and Echoes From The Dead won the Best First Novel in 2008.

There was once a Golden Age of the English Detective Novel and surely we are now in a new Nordic Golden Age of crime fiction.
The interesting point is that where Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Freeman Wills Croft and company constructed plots that were not much more than escapist fantasy to ordinary people, the Nordic writer's plots are much closer to our everyday experience of life.

Monday, June 22, 2009

WHO WILL WIN THE INTERNATIONAL DAGGER?



There are some interesting polls at Mysteries from Paradise on how many of the six International Dagger nominated books you have read [now closed], and two polls running till 14 July at Euro Crime one about who you think will win and one about who you want to win.

I have now read all of the six nominated books and you can read my reviews if you follow the appropriate links:

Echoes From The Dead: Johan Theorin, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Arctic Chill: Arnaldur Indridason, translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb

The Chalk Circle Man: Fred Vargas, translated by Sian Reynolds

The Girl Who Played with Fire: Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland

The Redeemer: Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett

Shadow: Karin Alvtegen, translated by McKinley Burnett

How will the judges decide between such an outstanding collection of novels?

I would not like to have to make such a difficult choice but I would start by eliminating the weakest book or books from consideration.

This process is helped by the fact that first Adamsberg novel by Fred Vargas , The Chalk Circle Man [translated out of order], is not up to the standard of her later books. Fred Vargas of course won the International Dagger in 2006 with The Three Evangelists and in 2007 with Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, a later Adamsberg novel.

I would then eliminate Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason, which might seem a bit harsh because this is a very good straightforward police procedural, but it lacks the twists and turns that would make it stand out. It simply is not as good a story as his previous novels, The Draining Lake, or Voices.

Now with four brilliant Scandinavian books to choose from the elimination process gets even more difficult.
[To be continued]

A CENTURY OF NATIONS


I have had a Feedjit and Sitemeter on Crime Scraps since 18th February and yesterday I had a welcome visitor from Dhaka in Bangladesh. This was the 100th nation to visit the site since February which I think shows the world wide appeal of crime fiction.
As well as the 100 countries [I counted England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as four] there have been flags from the European Union, Gibraltar, Hong Kong and Puerto Rico.

Friday, June 19, 2009

SHADOW BY KARIN ALVTEGEN



When Gerda Persson takes her last breath at the age of 92 neither the police nor home help have managed to find a relative to take care of funeral arrangements and tidy her affairs.
The district commission's estate administrator Marianne Folkesson is given the task and finds, in Gerda's apartment, books with personal dedications from the author acclaimed Nobel Prize winner, Axel Ragnerfeldt.
Axel Ragnerfeldt is in a nursing home, a stroke having left him paralysed and unable to speak. Marianne contacts his son Jan-Erik, who lectures about his father's work, sets up charitable foundations, and sleeps with available women who come to his lectures. His marriage has become a farce, sex with his wife Louise non- existent, while he virtually ignores his daughter Ellen.
Louise spends her money on breast surgery, runs a smart boutique and remembers the time when she was a published poet. Her mother in law Alice drinks, watches television, mourns a dead child, and thinks about her own long lost writing career. Both women have been destroyed by their husbands and the overbearing Ragnerfeldt legend.

Gerda Persson was the Ragnerfeldt's house keeper during Jan-Erik's childhood and he remembers her looking after them before he left to live in the USA for a few years.

The old servant has left all her estate to Kristoffer Sandeblom, a disturbed young playwright who is ashamed that he is a foundling, and has only one friend the equally inadequate Jesper.

Marianne contacts Kristoffer and in the days before Gerda's funeral he wonders if he will find the reason his parents abandoned him. Jan-Erik, his marriage collapsing, searches his parents old house for a photo of Gerda and discovers secrets that were better left buried.
Kristoffer wonders why a man called Torgny Wennberg, an old associate of Axel Ragnerfeldt, has said he will come to Gerda's funeral, and decides to make contact with Jan-Erik.

This is a complicated and complex novel which paints a very bleak picture of humanity with its cast of socially damaged characters. The most damaged is Halina, a Holocaust survivor, who becomes infatuated with Axel and this is the precursor to the future disasters.
Author Karin Alvtegen with a series of flashbacks and backstories sets out to explain why her characters are so desperately unhappy and as she peels back the outer shell of their lives we discover some terrible secrets on the way to a brutal ending.
The translation by McKinley Burnett [aka Steven Murray, aka Reg Keeland] is excellent, as usual, and this helps makes the novel unputdownable.

The book succeeds on many levels but especially as a lesson that once you take that first shaky step away from the straight and narrow you have no idea where it may lead. This book like the other Alvtegen novel I have read Betrayal is brilliantly written and plotted; but it is very dark definitely not a cheerful read.

"We're not equals."
"What do you mean by that?'
She still had her back turned away from him.
"Because I'm content and you're not. You're always chasing after what you imagine you could become."
Gerda went back to whisking, marking the end of their talk. Axel sat speechless, contemplating her words. And realised that he'd received the most serious insult of his life.

This novel won the Danish Academy of Crime Writers Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year, and I would not be surprised if it won further awards.
You can read an excellent review of Shadow here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

THE URIAH QUARTETS:TRAVEL



The four play meme has become one the most popular on the web and features on several crime fiction sites such as The Rap Sheet, Reactions to Reading, Detectives Beyond Borders, Big Beat from Badsville and Mysteries in Paradise. Apologies if I have left anyone out.
If you type "four play meme" into google the "numero uno" position is occupied by Crimeficreader.

I have decided to dip in to this meme but as is my usual habit alter it slightly to reflect more emphasis on crime fiction. So here is my variation of a meme:

1] FOUR places I have visited in Europe partially inspired by reading crime fiction:

Perugia, Italy- Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen book Ratking
Stockholm, Sweden- Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: The Martin Beck series
Amsterdam, Netherlands- Nicholas Freeling's Van Der Valk series
Paris, France- Georges Simenon's Maigret series

2] FOUR places I have visited in the USA partially inspired by reading crime fiction:

Canyon du Chelly, Window Rock, Arizona and Acoma Pueblo, and Gallup, New Mexico- Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn Navajo Mysteries [this visit was totally inspired by the Hillerman books]

Boston, Massachusetts- Robert Parker, the Spenser books
Fredericksburg, Virginia- the early Patricia Cornwell books
San Francisco- The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

3] FOUR places I want to visit before I die.

Sicily- In view of the fact that I have lauded Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano book so many times I am ashamed to admit I have never been to Sicily. The furthest south in Italy I have been is Paestum, south of Salerno.

Venice- Donna Leon's Brunetti
Oslo-Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole
Bruges- The film In Bruges

4] FOUR of the beautiful places I have visited:

The Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg Kentucky
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Siena, Italy
Florence, Italy

That is "four by four" so all for now but I will come back to this meme in the future.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

KEEPING HARRY IN ORDER

By special request Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole novels in order.

  • 1997 – Flaggermusmannen; English translation: The Bat Man
  • 1998 – Kakerlakkene; English translation: The Cockroaches
  • 2000 – Rødstrupe; English translation: The Redbreast (2006)
  • 2002 – Sorgenfri; English translation: Nemesis (2008)
  • 2003 – Marekors; English translation: The Devil's Star (2005)
  • 2005 – Frelseren; English translation: The Redeemer (2009)
  • 2007 – Snømannen; English translation: The Snowman
  • All the English translations are by Don Bartlett

ON SHADOW


The sharp use of language and metaphor in Karin Alvtegen's Shadow to depict a bleak loveless world is quite brilliant. It might have a little bit to do with the translator McKinley Burnett.

Maybe it was a trophy he sought, something to decorate the Ragnerfeldt family living room. But when the plain pine of her talent was revealed it turned out to clash with the elegant mahogany of the bookshelf.

And an even more horribly bitter word picture:

A woman was like a distant city in the night. From far off the lights glittered like magical jewels, tempting and enticing with all their promises and possibilities. But close up the city looked like all the others. Full of buildings that needed renovation and with rubbish along the kerbs.

The blurb on the back cover tells me "Shadow is an unputdownable story.......... " and they are right.
But it is also one of those books with such strong well drawn characters that you want to take your time to appreciate the dysfunctional state of affairs.
When reading crime fiction I always tend to identify the story's characters with people I have known, and if you can do that with Karin Alvtegen's creations you are pleased you have managed to survive these real life encounters reasonably sane.

COMMISSAIRE ADAMSBERG IN ORDER



1996 - L'Homme aux cercles bleus; English translation: The Chalk Circle Man 2009

1999 - L'Homme à l'envers; English translation: Seeking Whom He May Devour, 2004, (Prix Mystère de la critique)

2001 - Pars vite et reviens tard; English translation: Have Mercy on Us All, 2003, (Prix des libraires)

2004 - Sous les vents de Neptune; English translation: Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand, 2007 [International Dagger winner]

2006 - Dans les bois éternels; English translation: This Night's Foul Work, 2008

2008 - Un lieu incertain; English translation: A Dubious Place

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

CRIME FEST 2009 PHOTO ALBUM


Euro Crime reviewers Michelle Peckham, Maxine Clarke, and Karen Meek with author L.C.Tyler, who I keep on wanting to call L.C.Herring. I wonder why?

Monday, June 15, 2009

STARTING SHADOW


I have finished The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas which had some nice twists and turns at the end and a few red herrings along the way. This novel exhibited all the quirkiness of the later Adamsberg mysteries but I don't think the plot was as strong as Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand or This Night's Foul Work.

Now on to read the last of the six nominees for the International Dagger, Shadow by Karin Alvtegen translated by McKinley Burnett [aka Steven Murray] and highly rated here by Maxine of Petrona.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

ADAMSBERG AND DANGLARD


The problem with reading series in the wrong order is that most of the information and backstory about the main characters has been covered in the following books.

Therefore some of the best moments in the novel as relationships are formed don't have the same impact and sense of discovery that they should have.

"I have to tell you, he added, with his back half-turned to Adamsberg, "that after four in the afternoon I'm not good for much-best you should know that."

And later in the story:

But Arlette [his daughter] knew he had worries at present, what with his almost empty bank account, the impossible investigation he was engaged in, and the unsettling character of his new boss.

The story is a little slow after a good start as the author establishes the eccentricity of Adamsberg and the unorthodox way he deals with Danglard and the various suspects, who include a beautiful blind man Charles Reyer, and an oceanographer who follows people, Mathilde Forestier.

Can either of them be the person who draws blue chalk circles in the streets?
Is the chalk circle drawer also a serial killer, or has someone else taken advantage of the circles to confuse the police by putting bodies inside the circle?

I am confused and intrigued by the story which has about seventy pages to go, but that is probably why Fred Vargas has won two International Daggers.

EUROCRIME REVIEW:THE JERUSALEM FILE


My review of The Jerusalem File by Joel Stone has been posted on Euro Crime here.
A short thoughtful book affirming that the problems of normal life such as jealousy and infidelity go on even in the midst of the struggle between Arab and Jew.

Friday, June 12, 2009

THE FIRST ADAMSBERG: FRED VARGAS



In order to give my opinion and vote in the two Euro Crime polls here I am now reading The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas, the only non Nordic nomination for the International Dagger this year. 
After that I will move on to read Shadow by Karin Alvtegen.

I have gone from Bill James to Fred Vargas which is a short journey from the quirkily unique to the uniquely quirky. 

The Chalk Circle is the first Adamsberg novel and was published in French in 1996. It is good to know that Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg was a weird in the first book as he is in the more recent offerings. 
Both with her plots and her characters Fred Vargas gives the reader the different, the bizarre, the strange, the grotesque, the unconventional and the quirky. Perhaps one reason they seem so different from Nordic or Anglo-Saxon characters is they have a very French view of civilization.

The difference between this situation and Adamsberg's early days in the Pyrenees was that nowadays his reputation made things a bit easier. However that didn't alter the fact that he was an outsider. The day before, he had overheard the oldest Parisian in the team saying in a low voice:

"Ah well, he's from the Pyrenees-pretty much the edge of the known world." 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

INTERNATIONAL DAGGER POLLS AND FOCUS ON TRANSLATORS



Karen of Euro Crime has two polls up here: one asks "who will win the International Dagger?", and one "who do you want to win the International Dagger?"

These questions may be a bit complicated for us males who can't multitask, but as soon as I have finished reading the last two nominated books I will be over there to vote.

This is the fourth year of the International Dagger award and it is interesting to see how the translators, those lovely people who bring us non-linguists so many great books, are doing.

Sian Reynolds [translator for Fred Vargas] has four nominations and two daggers.

The team of Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz [translator for Dominique Manotti] have two nominations and one dagger.

Steven T Murray in his various disguises has four nominations [two for Karin Alvtegen and two for Stieg Larsson], while Stephen Sartarelli [Andrea Camilleri], Don Bartlett [Jo Nesbo] and Marlaine Delargy [Johan Theorin and Asa Larsson] have two each.
Steven T Murray has won the big prize a CWA Gold Dagger in 2001 for Henning Mankell's Sidetracked in the days before the International Dagger.

Nominations by country are France 6 [including 3 straight wins], Sweden 7, Italy 2, Algeria 2, Norway 2, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland, Iceland one each.
What astonishes me is that so far there has been no German or Dutch book nominated for this prize.

NEW THE HONEYTONES WEB SITE



Those of you who were kind enough to vote for the Honeytones in the People's Millions competition last year might be interested that the group have their own new web site here.

Just click on the info, pix and stuff button and you can read more about the stars of the group. Archived posts about the group and their struggles to perform over the past 18 months are here. [scroll down] And you can read about last year's vote and get other links here thanks to Petrona.  
The crime fiction connection is that they recently performed for prisoners at Dartmoor Prison. They failed to spot the dreadful Hound of the Baskervilles but they did find a miniature poodle, called Katie. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

MORE ROSES ROSES


Megan Harpur, wife of Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur, is murdered in a station car park. She was returning from a theatre and shopping trip to London, which involved a meeting with her lover Tambo, a former colleague of Harpur and Isles now relocated to the Met. 

The story flashbacks to Megan's various 'cultural' trips to London, and moves forward to consider how Harpur and his daughters deal with the loss of a not so perfect wife and mother, as well as the investigation into her murder. Harpur has his own sources and while Desmond Isles follows normal channels, Jack Lamb Harpur's grass provides assistance to bring an almost moral ending to the case.

This is the first of Bill James Harpur and Isles mysteries that I have read and he definitely has a unique style. The dialogue varies between rapid staccato  and passages of acerbic bitterness. The characters are brilliantly unsavoury but the world of the police Bill James descibes is probably more accurate than most people in "the job" would want to admit.

"Francis do you want to attend, with companion of course, as long he-she washes under the arms? You still hetero? I pry only so we can alternate gender placings at the table, on which Sarah's fussy.
I would have asked earlier but had to mull over at length whether I really wanted a thin-lipped arrogant prat like you present on such a goodly occasion. But obviously Harpur will be there, so why not another who's had my wife? Christmas is hardly a time for mean spirits, surely."

"Thanks so much, sir," Garland replied. "It's very kind but I always go to my mother's."
"How sweet," Isles said.

A brilliant book from what appears to be a unique series, which I will hopefully dip into again when I have more time.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

JUNE MINIQUIZ NUMBER 5:THE ANSWERS



The June Miniquiz Number 5 was obviously too fiendish and convoluted because I received only one correct answer and only one three quarter correct answer. Never mind with five more mini quizzes to go before the champion is crowned and with more marks at stake in the next few rounds everyone still has a chance.

Question:

Where is the town originally called New Liverpool and what is the connection with a British Prime minister and a poker hand?

New Liverpool in North Carolina was renamed Wilmington in honour of Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington and Prime Minister in 1742. 

The poker hand was the tricky part, but Wilmington NC is on the Cape Fear River. Two well known films named Cape Fear [the latest starring Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange and directed by Martin Scorcese] have been made based on the book The Executioners by John D MacDonald. 

In the words of Carl Hiaasen:

I was born and raised near Bahia Mar, the Fort Lauderdaleyacht basin where Travis McGee moored his poker prize houseboat, the Busted Flush.
Slip F-18, as every true fan of John D MacDonald knows.

Wilmington NC, Cape Fear River, Cape Fear Film, The Executioners, John D MacDonald, Travis McGee, the Busted Flush, Poker. Six degrees of separation?  

[photograph shows the Cape Fear River at Wilmington NC. There will be another easier quiz next month]

Monday, June 08, 2009

ROSES, ROSES BY BILL JAMES


The streets of London may have at one time been paved with gold but the streets of Exeter are full of pot holes and speed bumps. 
As a result I had to spend some time getting new tyres and the wheel tracking sorted out last week.
I needed a book to read while I waited and as I had just read three books that came in at 367, 474, 468 pages respectively I picked up the much more manageable 200 page Roses, Roses by Bill James. This book written in 1993 had been featured by John Harvey in his interview at Crime Fest in Bristol, and is one of the long running Harpur & Iles  Mystery series. 

I feel guilty that I haven't read any of this iconic series before but better late than never. The first sentence sets the scene for the narrative which switches between Megan Harpur's last day and the aftermath. The dialogue has a style of its own with a brisk conversational quirkiness in which people frequently interrupt each other. 
The novel begins dramatically:

When she was killed by three chest knife blows in a station car park, Megan Harpur had been on her way home to tell her husband she was leaving him for another man.

And is full of  compelling dialogue:

"This is a dangerous and vicious city, like all the rest, and you people can't cope."
"Sometimes we have a victory, Mrs Grant," he replied.
"Marginal."
"Yes, perhaps."
"We have to look after ourselves, and look after those close to us. To be blunt you have failed us, are failing us, Mr Harpur."

I am only half way through the book but definitely enjoying it so far. 

DAYS OF WEIMAR


"Mr Goldman?" she called. "Are you all right?"
He paused by the pump and looked at her. 'No, I'm not, Mrs Langstone. How can I be? I'm frightened."
He raised his hat in farewell and a moment later was out of sight. It was only as Lydia was letting herself into the house that she realized what he had meant.
He was not frightened of the uniformed thugs in the undercroft. 
He was not even frightened for himself.
He was frightened of what the uniformed thugs stood for.
He was frightened on behalf of all those people who stood in their way.
He was frightened of the future.

Bleeding Heart Square: Andrew Taylor [page 396]

5th German Federal Election 20 May 1928
National Socialist German Workers Party NSDAP [Nazis]      2.6% of vote

United Kingdom European Elections results 8 June 2009
British National Party BNP                                                                   6.5% of vote

In Yorkshire and Humberside the BNP received                        9.8% of vote

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing: Edmund Burke 

Saturday, June 06, 2009

CWA INTERNATIONAL DAGGER: OFFICIAL LIST



Quote: "Here exclusively in The Times, the first of the 2009 Dagger shortlists are announced."

I rushed out in the pouring rain to buy my copy of The Times which had a headline that quotes our current Prime Minister, "We Fight On". 
There are the European Election results out tomorrow, and Gordon Brown will no doubt be telling us on Monday that we [the British people] want him to get on with the job despite another shattering defeat. 

But enough about politics the really important news is that the International Dagger shortlist  has only two changes from the list I posted here  chosen by Karen of Euro Crime here.

Unfortunately no Niccolo Ammaniti and no Hans Fallada, but they are replaced by another couple of very good books:


More on this in the next few days. 
UPDATE: The official CWA link is now on line here.

Friday, June 05, 2009

BLEEDING HEART SQUARE


Aristocratic Lydia Langstone escapes her abusive husband and runs away to stay with Captain Ingleby-Lewis, a father she hardly knows, who lodges at No 7 Bleeding Heart Square.
The house used to be owned by a Miss Philippa Penhow, a middle aged spinster, but she disappeared four years previously after a relationship with the new owner, the charismatic but threatening Joseph Serridge. 
Rory Wentworth, a struggling journalist recently back from India, and  fiancee to Miss Penhow's niece Fenella Kensley, is encouraged by Narton, a seedy plain clothes policeman to get a room at Bleeding Heart Square in order to find out what happened to Miss Penhow. Narton spends his time watching Bleeding Heart Square and claims to be investigating the suspected murder of Miss Penhow.

Lydia's horrible husband Marcus is involved with the British fascists, whose local leader Sir Rex Fisher is courting Lydia's sister Pammy, while Fenella seems attracted to Julian Dawlish, a rich young socialist. There are a lot of interrelated characters in this novel.
Lydia struggles to become accustomed to her new financial position and discovers there are other connections between the inhabitants of Bleeding Heart Square.

What did happen to Miss Penhow? How did  Joseph Serridge obtain her property? Why is someone sending rotting hearts to Serridge?

Multi award winning author Andrew Taylor has written a long complicated story with numerous characters in his novel Bleeding Heart Square. There are so many characters I was forced to make a list of all them, and fill in their relationships as the story developed. The narrative drive was rather turgid as Andrew weaves a spider's web of relationships with consummate skill. 
An atmosphere was created of fear and mystery and I felt I was in the deep and darkest bowels of Dickensian London. But like Woody Allen in the movie, when his life flashes before his eyes and he complains it is the wrong  life, that atmosphere seemed wrong for 1934. 
The promotional video for the book shows a very Victorian Joseph Serridge and Philippa Penhow, and the whole setting in the early part of the book except for an occasional motor car and the mention of Oswald Mosley might have been written by Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins. The character of the creepy simpering Malcolm Fimberry is straight out of a Dickens novel. 

The action does liven up in the final third of the book with an excellent account of a fascist meeting and the violence that followed. Despite my misgivings at the book's length and the complex plot it is beautifully written and it did keep me turning the pages to the end.  I just wish Andrew Taylor had more confidence in the 1934 setting and was less interested in writing a pastiche. 
My little chart of the participants allowed me to work out one important relationship, and have a fairly good idea of the final solution to the mystery in which coincidence plays a big part. 
Andrew Taylor is a highly talented writer but I think he let himself get too immersed in creating the mysterious atmosphere. This slowed the narrative to almost a full stop before he pushed on to a much better closing third of the book. This was one of those books that could have well been 100 pages shorter because the story of the menace of fascism was hidden among all the Victorian melodrama. 

"Her bleeding heart lay on the cobbles."
"I say," Ingleby-Lewis said. "Rather strong meat, what?"
"Oh-yes. I am frightfully sorry, Mrs Langstone. I hope I-"
"What about the man who was with her?" Lydia asked.
"He was never seen again."
"But who was he?"
Fimberry smiled. "They say he was the devil."  

Thursday, June 04, 2009

INTERNATIONAL DAGGER?


Karen of Euro Crime produced an excellent suggested shortlist for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger Award here.


You can read another review of the Stieg Larsson here.

Interestingly the Karin Alvtegen and the Stieg Larsson were both translated by Reg Keeland. 

I have read and reviewed four out of the six books and would find it virtually impossible to choose a winner from those, but I suspect the battle will be between a couple of Swedish books that have already won prizes in Scandinavia; Echoes From The Dead and The Girl Who Played with Fire.
But I feel Alone In Berlin [Every Man Dies Alone in the USA] by Hans Fallada is a beautifully constructed quite exceptional book that should be compulsory reading both in our schools and universities. It would not do any harm for those greedy politicians who are bringing our parliamentary democracy into disrepute to read it as well.

It is a difficult choice. 

Who do you think will win? You can find a full list of  eligible books here

[photograph taken at Budleigh Salterton on Monday, proving it isn't always raining in Devon]

FOURTH OF JUNE: FORGOTTEN VICTORY



Sixty nine years ago today the Dunkirk evacuation was completed and Winston Churchill gave his "we shall fight on the beaches......we shall never surrender" speech. 

Four years later.

Sixty five years ago today Rome became the first Axis capital to fall to Allied Armies after fierce battles over many months at Monte Cassino and Anzio. Italy may have changed sides after the fall of Sicily, but this was still the city where Mussolini had strutted and boasted of a new Roman Empire.

["I would rather see Italians terrify the world with their aggressiveness than charm it with their guitars" Mussolini 1937]

Two days later on the 6th of June 1944 the D Day invasion of Normandy took place and the Italian theatre of war was relegated to a side show. The multinational forces in Italy became a forgotten army and their hard fought victories became a footnote in history compared to Normandy.
As we prepare to remember the sixty fifth anniversary of D Day I think we should also remember the brave men who fought all the way from El Alamein or took part in Operation Torch and then battled on to Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

ATTENDEES AT CRIME FEST 2009


We were very lucky that there were crime writers at Crime Fest 2009 from both sides of the Atlantic. Here are left to right:

Leighton Gage, who lives most of the year in Brazil where he sets his Mario Silva investigations series which you can read about here and here and if you scroll down you can read my interview with Leighton. I am eagerly awaiting Dying Gasp the next book in this exciting series.

Hakan Nesser, whose Van Veeteren series is rapidly becoming one of my favourite Swedish crime fiction series. You can read my reviews here by scrolling down.

and the charming Cara Black, who lives in San Francisco, and writes the Aimee Leduc investigation series set in Paris. I hope to get reacquainted with Aimee in the next few months. 
[Photo courtesy of Leighton Gage]

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

THE JUNE MINIQUIZ NUMBER 5


This month's quiz question was inspired by a post by Martin Edwards here about New Brighton. Martin has written a series of books about Harry Devlin a Liverpool lawyer, which reminded me about the New Liverpool Restaurant.

Where is the town originally called  New Liverpool, and what is the connection with a British Prime Minister, and a poker hand? 

Please send answers to thbear08@googlemail.com by midnight BST on Monday 8 June.

There is still time to challenge the leaders from Texas, Virginia, Denmark and Scotland in this marathon quiz.     

Monday, June 01, 2009

WHAT MAKES A NOVEL FEEL RIGHT?



The last book I reviewed here was excellent The Sardine Deception by Leif Davidsen and since then I have read two books I was given by the generous Karen Meek to review for Euro Crime.

Book A, was written by an award winning author whose work I had read previously and enjoyed. The subject looked promising......

Book B, had a smaller font than I would find comfortable to read and was by a former British television journalist I had never read before and looked very long. The subject looked like it would be better handled by a local writer. I was on the point of posting Book B back to Karen, but didn't.......

What makes us enjoy one book and find another a complete waste of time? 

For me if the story is set in the past the book has to feel right and have the correct ambience for the period. The characters have to speak, think, and act in a believable way.
I have a book on my shelf that I haven't got round to reading yet entitled Arc of Justice, by Kevin Boyle a professor of history at Ohio Sate University. 
I quote from the authors notes; "readers of early drafts told me that seeing African American in the text jarred them out of the story so I substituted terms common in the 1920s". 
He goes on to rightly apologise and say he means no disrespect for using these terms, but they are essential to set the story in the correct period. 

My point is that some writers have the skill to put you right into the action and with others either the narrative or the dialogue jars you out of the story. Book A jarred while Book B was right on target. 

Do we as bloggers just fall into line and accept that someone is a prize winner and therefore we can't be critical of their books?
If so what is the point of blogging? Authors do go off the boil and become infatuated with literary style or their characters to a point where they lose the plot. 

I have started reading Andrew Taylor's Bleeding Heart Square, and am finding it difficult to get into the story. The author creates a group of Dickensian characters that just don't seem to fit into the London of 1934 and are quaintly Victorian. You need more than a mention of Oswald Mosley to create the right period feel, while I have a suspicion that the Dickens feel is deliberate and I find it mildly annoying.

But then I am only on page 114 so I am very interested in whether the narrative style is going to change or whether the Mid Victorian feel of the story will continue ignoring the fact that the setting is 1934. 

Is Bleeding Heart Square intended simply as a pastiche of Charles Dickens, or Wilkie Collins