Saturday, October 30, 2010


Here at Crime Scraps HQ I am frequently confused, but I do have certain old fashioned standards.
Boring standards such as reviewers reading the books they review, and publishers playing fair with their customers.
I know I am not a time traveller so I was surprised to read at the back of my copy of Red Wolf by Liza Marklund that her gripping new thriller, The Bomber, will be available in the Spring of 2011. New????
I am sure I read this book in English some years ago before I started blogging? The Bomber was published in English in 2002/2003, and is certainly not a new thriller.

Here are the Annika Bengtzon books in chronological order, along with their dates of publication in Sweden.

1] Studio 69 [1999]- action takes place 8 years before The Bomber.
2] Paradise [2000]- takes place after Studio 69.
3] Prime Time [2002]- action takes place after Paradise.
4] The Bomber [1998]
5] Red Wolf [2003] -action takes place after The Bomber.
6] Nobel's testamente [2006]- action takes place after Red Wolf.
7] Livstid [2007] a sequel to Nobel's testamente.
8] En plats i solen [2008] sequel to Livstid

Books 6,7, and 8 have yet to be translated into English.

Author Liza Marklund along with Malin Crepin who will play Annika Bengtzon in Yellow Bird's film /TV versions of the novels.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar, translated from the Spanish by Martin Schifino, features one of the most horrific murder methods I have read, but despite this the short police procedural leaves you feeling you want to read more from this author. The plot has a nice twist at the end, but it is the evocative atmosphere, Galician location, humour, characters and culinary details that make this novel, and detective Leo Caldas, a fine addition to the variety of European crime fiction.
It was the winner of the Brigada 21 Prize for best first crime novel, and also the Sintagma Prize.

Inspector Leo Caldas takes part in a regular radio program, Patrol the Waves, which he hates because the phone calls concern the work of the city police rather than the homicide section. But this makes him well known in Vigo, and this celebrity does help when he introduces himself to potential witnesses.

He is called to attend a twenty floor high rise on Toralla island where Luis Reigosa, a young jazz saxophonist, has been found dead in his luxurious apartment. The body has horrific burns in the stomach and groin region, and Reigosa had been tied by his wrists to the headboard of the bed.
Leo Caldas, and his subordinate Rafael Estevez, start an investigation that will lead them to jazz clubs, gay bars and involvement with Vigo's influential upper class.

Rafael Estevez is a hulking six foot five "bull in a china shop" from Zaragoza, who is finding it difficult to cope with the changeable Galician weather, the people and the steepness of the streets. He is a stern Aragonese, who loses his temper at the slightest hint of opposition, and has been banished to Vigo as a punishment for some previous incident.

'Is Estevez with you?
'Yes,' ratified Caldas. 'Shouldn't he have come?'
'He shouldn't have been born,' replied Soto and rang off.

There is a amusing confrontation when Estevez, after being stung by a weaver fish on his foot, takes his shoe and sock off in a gay bar, and has to fight off admirers offering him a foot massage.

Leo Caldas like Andrea Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano, is a man who enjoys fresh seafood, and wine, so it is doubly convenient that his father owns a vineyard, and that he lives near the Galician coast.

'I thought you wouldn't,' muttered Caldas, helping himself to a piece of potato and placing the sardine on top of it, so that the potato would soak up the grease and salt of the fish.

Author Domingo Villar writes scripts for film television and is also a radio food critic so it is no surprise that food plays such an important part in a Caldas investigation.

He'd gone for a small dish of beef stewed on a low heat, with potatoes seasoned with olive oil and a mixture of paprika and cayenne pepper, and a good portion of scallop quiche, served just the way he liked it: the pastry thin and crispy, and the scallops simply cooked with browned onions. Carlos had opened a bottle of wine for both of them before dinner.

It is all very civilized compared with the average British cop , who is lucky if he gets a hurried bacon roll during a case.
Villar pays homage to some of the great crime writers as the saxophonist with the blue eyes has on his night table The Terracotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri, and bookshelves packed with novels by Montalban, Ellroy, Chandler, and Hammett; all this detail adds to the successful chemistry created in the book.

I remember from our trip to Santiago del Compostela, a few years ago, reading the graffiti written in English:
'This is not Spain-Freedom for Galicia'.

Villar uses the contrast between the laid back local Caldas, at home in the environment, and the exiled Estevez totally stumped by the manners, food, and climate to emphasize the internal differences in Spain. A fascinating short novel which packs a lot into a mere 167 pages.

As a starter Leo Caldas ordered half a kilo of goose barnacles which he had reserved over the phone, and as a main course a huge sole he chose from the display counter.

I am definitely going to read the second book in the series, Death on a Galician Shore, when it is published in English next April.
You can read excellent reviews of Water-Blue Eyes by Maxine at Petrona, Jose Ignacio at The Game's Afoot, and Glenn at International Noir Fiction.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


What to read next?
After reading two Swedish door stops from Roslund and Helstrom [506 pages], and Leif G.W. Persson [551 pages], do I take a break from Northern European angst or read another more attractive Swedish author, whose book contains a mere 508 pages?


October's Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Carnival was a bumper edition with 40 contributions from 22 contributors.

Monday, October 25, 2010


This post continues my thoughts at the post Between Summer's Longing.....

I have now finished reading Leif G.W.Persson's 551 page novel Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End. [BSLAWE].
The plot begins with the apparent suicide of John Krassner, an unpleasant American journalist, who is writing a book "The Spy Who Went East" based on his even more unpleasant uncle's exploits in the CIA.
The eponymous spy is the Swedish Prime Minister, who is assassinated at the end of BSLAWE.
The plot of BSLAWE follows two separate timelines covering the secret police investigations of Krassner, and the investigation of his suicide by the Stockholm police.
The rest of the book is commentary with a very large cast of characters appearing and disappearing at various intervals, and the narrative frequently halted by complex back stories.
There are accounts of numerous meetings between the unnamed special advisor to the Prime Minister, and Berg the head of the SePo [secret police] in which they talk a lot but little is decided.

One feature of the novel is the author's very dark, and sometimes self-deprecatory sense of humour.

Then Berg had started his climb towards the top of the police pyramid while Persson had played it safe and chosen to remain down below. Twenty years later, and in Persson's case twice as many pounds round the middle,.....

A real old time constable, thought Berg affectionately when he saw Persson's fat rear end disappearing through the door.

Those familiar with Swedish crime fiction will note the names Guillou and Marklund also are mentioned in the book.

I don't know whether Professor Persson is deliberately cultivating his image as an irascible old misogynist, but the behaviour of some of his characters especially Berg's obnoxious deputy Claes Waltin is interesting to say the least.

If the hair on her head were allowed to grow a little, she could be almost perfect, with two small braided pigtails. Little Jeanette aged thirteen........

Why can't he fuck like other people anymore? thought Assistant Detective Jeanette Eriksson, who this weekend was spending more time bent forward across his knees with her redder and redder backside straight up in the air than her lover, Police Superintendent Claes Waltin, was spending between her legs.

The other main character Lars Johansson, head of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation is a much more pleasant personality;

"What's he like? What do you mean?"
"I mean, what's he like as a detective?"
"He's the best ," said Berg. For he is, of course, he thought with surprise at the same moment he said it.
"What's he good at? The special adviser nodded at him to continue.
"At figuring out how things stand," said Berg.

Johansson stands almost alone as a competent policeman among the lazy, the incompetent, and the corrupt who serve in both branches of the police force. We read about the idiotic Stockholm chief constable and his ludicrous seminars on "The Scientific Detective", secret policemen who while on surveillance go off to buy burgers, the covering up of crimes committed by off duty police officers, and the invention of threats to inflate the departmental budget.
The book rambles over international espionage, conspiracy, murder, and abuse of state power, and while it can be funny, subtle and nuanced it is also brutally crude in places.

While I was reading I kept thinking of a chef who wanted to include all his best dishes in one banquet, and although some dishes were memorable the whole meal became indigestible because there was just too much food presented to the diner.

Was BSLAWE a police procedural, an insider's exposé of incompetence, a political thriller, a satire, a black comedy or a blend of all of these?
I am certain there was a very good 300 page crime fiction thriller, or police procedural hiding among the 551 pages, but for me it was swamped by too much material and too many different stories.
Will I read the sequel 'En annan tid, ett annat liv' which won Best Swedish crime fiction novel in 2003 if it is translated into English?
Probably because just when you thought Professor Persson had depressed the reader quite enough with a dark turn of events, he kicks you in the guts with yet another appalling twist right at the very end.
Not an enjoyable read, but I do want to know what happens to Lars Johansson........

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The nominations for the basta svenska kriminalroman [best Swedish crime fiction] for 2010 have been announced. They are:

Camilla Grebe & Asa Traffe: Bittrare an doden
Lars Kepler: Paganinikontraktet
Olle Lonnaeus: Mike Larssons rymliga hjarta
Kristina Ohlsson: Tusenskonor
Leif G.W. Persson: Den doende detektiven

A book by Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist will be published in English next April; and Leif G.W. Persson's Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End [the book I am reading at the moment] is available in English translation.

The nominations for the svenska oversatta kriminalroman [Martin Beck Award] are:

Faisa Guene: Sista Bestallningen psa Balto
Arnaldur Indridason: Morka strommar [Myrka] not translated into English.
Deon Meyer: Devil's Peak
Iain Pears Stone's Fall

I think the awards will be made on the 20 November.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I have reached page 353 of Leif G.W. Persson's Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End, the story of a crime, and it is growing on me, although I have found it an uneven read.
I wondered at first whether this could be because of the translation by Paul Norlen, or the sometimes convoluted writing style of Professor Persson, but then decided it was simply because I enjoyed reading one of the two threads of the story much more than the other. Persson has such a very dark sense of humour, that I did feel a trifle guilty at times finding some of his material amusing.

The plot concerns the apparent suicide of an American journalist John Krassner, who probably jumped out of the 16th floor window of student accommodation in Stockholm. The story follows the two separate investigations of his past activities and his subsequent death alternating between two different timelines and threads. One investigation is run by SePo, the Secret Swedish State Police, whose operation is lead by Berg, and carried out by Waltin, who is a particularly unpleasant character.

He had spent the last thirty-six hours with Jeanette Eriksson, and they hadn't even set foot outside the door. With the exception of a few brief meals and a few hours' sleep, he had for the most part screwing her the entire time, and everything had gone according to plan. Women were naturally submissive.

The other investigation is lead by Lars Martin Johansson, head of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, who is a much more nuanced and subtle character.

It became clear when they sat down at the table in her small kitchen that he didn't need to worry about the food and drink that he hadn't brought with him. Excellent assortment of pickled herring, gravlax, and smoked eel, an excellent potato casserole with just the right creaminess, golden-brown meatballs, and little sausages that sizzled as the hostess lifted them out of the oven. There was lots of beer and wine besides.
She must be rich too, thought Johansson, loading up another spoonful of scrambled eggs with finely chopped fresh chives. Nice to look at and fun to talk with. Prepares food like Aunt Jenny herself, motherly as well, patient, and......probably wealthy.

I was a little surprised in view of the author's close connection with the police, he has served as a professor at Sweden's National Police Board and an adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Justice, that he describes in detail the bigoted attitudes of members of the police. After all he is an establishment figure in comparison to investigative journalists Stieg Larsson, and Anders Roslund and ex -criminal Borge Hellstrom who have written so interestingly about the abuse of state power by the police.

Perhaps the attitudes of cops are the same the world over, and it intrigues me when my local police contacts always refer to being "in THE job" creating an emotional wall between themselves, their families, and the rest of society.

The back cover blurbs are full of remarkable praise such as:

"One of the best Swedish crime novels of all time." Expressen
"This is a masterpiece." Il Sole 24 Ore

Is this deserved? The book is amusing in places, so far very cleverly plotted, and has some memorable characters and situations, but like many blockbusters it could have done with a bit of editing.
On to read the endgame now as there are still 200 pages to go, and I hope to finish before winter's end.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I am an old fashioned grumpy, and I like my libraries to look like a library, and not to be used for other purposes. A library should be a place that raises the human spirit, and gives a feeling of well being and contentment.
Last month I went to a Christie conversation at Paignton Library and Community Hub.

Some of the overseas visitors had just been to Agatha Christie's beautiful home at Greenway, and coming on to the library must have been an interesting contrast.

Greenway is situated at an idyllic location on the River Dart, Paignton's £6.5 million lottery funded library is not.
The traffic roars past the library, and the surrounding area must be one of the bleakest places in what is one of England's loveliest counties. I think libraries should be places to seek enlightenment and to have moments of quiet reflection reading a newspaper, or a book, or looking up facts in reference books or even on a computer.
I am sorry to say Paignton's library is like a busy train station that seems to have been designed by Albert Speer, and Wayne Rooney after a night out on the tiles. The upper floor was being advertised for rent at £17,000 a year, which would leave the train station downstairs on its own.
The library is also a community hub with offices for the police, a benefits office, and a small cafe. The toilet facilities were clearly inadequate for use by large numbers of visitors; and this had been recognised because the staff had their own facility protected by a code entry system.
But my main criticism is that the library/hub is situated on a site which is isolated by a stream of fast traffic. The pedestrian crossing is situated at the point where the vehicles reach maximum speed, and an elderly person weighed down by a few books would need to be fairly nifty on their feet to get across.
I suppose after the pending budget cuts we will be lucky to keep any of our libraries in any form, so perhaps I should not complain.
[The three photos of the library, and one of Greenway, don't actually convey the cheerlessness of one, and the beauty of the other.]

Sunday, October 17, 2010


The old stories are sometimes the best and anyone who has ever been involved in drug and alcohol programs has heard this story, here used in Three Seconds by Roslund and Hellstrom, in one form or another.
[Although during my own membership of a special professional panel on drug and alcohol abuse our main concern was those dentists who thought that six cans of strong lager for breakfast was a suitably nourishing start to the day.]

Every day in every prison, every waking hour was about drugs: how to get them in, and how to use them without it being discovered by the regular urine tests. A relative who came to visit was also a relative who could be forced to smuggle in some urine, their own, urine that was clean and would test negative.
Once in his first few weeks in Osteraker, some mouthy Serb got his girlfriend to piss into a couple of mugs, the content of which was then sold for a great deal of money. None of them tested positive, despite the fact that more than half of them were under the influence, but the tests did show something else, and that was that every man in the unit was pregnant.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Apparently some Swedish novel was named crime fiction book of the decade at Boucheron 2010.

I have done my own very simple analysis of the years 2000-2009 in Swedish crime fiction to discover who was the Swedish crime writer of the decade.
My system involved awarding three points for a Nordic Glass Key, two points for winning the Basta Svenska Kriminalroman, and one point for a nomination.

The result was inconclusive as it produced a triple tie for first place!

Stieg Larsson- 8 points [Glass Key 2006, 2008: basta svenska 2006]
Hakan Nesser- 8 points [Glass Key 2000: basta svenska 2007: nomination 2000, 2001, 2009]
Anders Roslund-Borge Hellstrom- 8 points [Glass Key 2005: basta svenska 2009: nomination 2005, 2006, 2007]

Having finished reading the thriller Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom I have started another Swedish blockbuster, Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End by Leif G.W.Persson.


Thanks to The Rap Sheet for this news from Boucheron 2010 I wish I was there.
Congratulations to a couple of authors who last year kindly agreed to be interviewed on Crime Scraps.

Philip Kerr has won a Barry at Boucheron for Best British Novel with If The Dead Rise Not. You can read my interview here, part one, part two, part three, part four and part five.

Rebecca Cantrell won the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award for A Trace of Smoke. This is a book I have promoted from the moment I viewed the trailer, and read its dramatic first sentence.

Echoes of my footfalls faded into the damp air of the Hall of the Unnamed Dead as I paused to stare at the framed photograph of a man.

My interview with Rebecca Cantrell part one, part two, part three, and part four, and my review of A Trace of Smoke, and the sequel A Night of Long Knives.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Thanks to Shots Magazine for this information about the 2010 Ellis Peters Historical Shortlist.

The 2009 shortlist had five out the six books from the Second World War era, with the action occurring in 1934/1954,1941, 1942, 1944, 1944, and as a relief 1626.

This year's shortlist also lacks a little in chronological balance:
Heartstone- C.J.Sansom
Heresy- S.J.Parris
Revenger- Rory Clements
The Anatomy of Ghosts- Andrew Taylor
To Kill a Tsar- Andrew Williams

The books are respectively set in 1545, 1583, 1592, 1786, 1881, 1945.
Perhaps someone has been watching the Tudors?

I am a bit of a history nut, but as I have only read one these books I don't think I have the time to read the remaining five before the judges make their decision on 4 November.
Last year I read the complete shortlist and was very chuffed to pick the winner Philip Kerr's If The Dead Rise Not.

The only one of this year's shortlist I have read is the excellent Washington Shadow by Aly Monroe. I should point out this charming author named a law officer in her book after me, and the paperback edition features my review for Euro Crime.
I am therefore a little biased, and would love to see Aly Monroe win this prestigious award with her second book.
The competition however is fierce with previous winners Andrew Taylor [2001 and 2003], and C.J. Sansom [2005] in opposition.
I shall be most interested in who wins, and hopefully will find the time [and finances] to read more of the shortlist before the decision date.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


This blog is now dormant but you can read all the old posts and my new posts at Crime Scraps Review at:

Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, smoothly translated from the Swedish by Kari Dickson, is a tense exciting thriller featuring two main characters.

Piet Hoffmann lives several lives, in one he is a happily married to Zofia with two children, Hugo and Rasmus, that he adores, running a successful security firm. In another he is a police informer, code name Paula, who has infiltrated Wotjek Security International, the front organization for the Polish mafia which runs a massive illegal amphetamine operation.
When a drug buy at Vastmannagatan 79 goes wrong and Piet Hoffmann's Polish associates murder an undercover Danish policeman the crime has to be covered up. Piet Hoffmann has more important work to do.

With Paula we can cut them down at one fell swoop. If he's given immunity with regard to Vastmannagatan. If he's allowed to operate fully from the inside.

Piet Hoffmann will be arrested in possession of 3 kilos of amphetamine, and once inside Aspas high security prison he will eliminate the opposition, and take control of the "closed market" of prison drug sales worth millions of kronor. His criminal record will be doctored to ensure he has the right credentials to command respect inside the prison walls.

The murder at Vastmannagatan is investigated by Ewert Grens, a lonely difficult deeply disturbed detective still grieving and struggling to overcome a traumatic event that occurred many years before. But Ewert Grens has one attribute, he is a man who never gives up.

His back was as sore as it usually was after sleeping on the sofa, his stiff leg ached when it reached the floor. He was slowly falling to bits, one day at a time, fifty-nine-year -old men who exercised too little and ate too much generally did.

Three Seconds is the fifth book by award winning journalist Anders Roslund and ex-prisoner and drug user Borge Hellstrom, one of the founders of KRIS [criminals return into society] and it won Swedish crime novel of the year in 2009. Their first book The Beast 2005 won the Nordic Glass Key, and The Vault 2005, Redemption 2006 and The Girl below the Streets 2007 were all nominated for Best Swedish crime novel.

Three Seconds is a brilliant tense thriller told from multiple perspectives, and with a narrative that drives the story forward to an exciting climax. My review copy [courtesy of the very kind Maxine of Petrona] has a typical publisher blurb on the back cover calling Roslund and Hellstrom 'the true heirs apparent to Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell as masters of Scandinavian crime' along with two other Larsson connected promotional plugs. I do hope the Quercus marketing campaign is going to concentrate on the interesting characters, the excellence of the plot, and the inside knowledge Roslund and Hellstrom bring to their novels rather than the fact that they, and Stieg Larsson are all Swedish.

Obviously any 500 page Swedish crime thriller is going to be compared with Stieg Larsson's trilogy, and while Three Seconds does also deal with corruption within the Swedish police and state, the meticulous detail related concerning library books, toilets, tulips, guns, explosives and sniper rifles is all relevant to the plot and reminded me much more of Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal than Stieg Larsson's sometimes totally irrelevant shopping lists.
Three Seconds was one of those books that seemed to dominate my life, and while I wanted to find out what happened when I reached the very satisfactory ending I felt a bit lost.
Thankfully I have a copy of The Vault [Box 21 in the USA] on my TBR shelf to deal with my addiction.

The Roslund and Hellstrom duo said in the excellent interview conducted by Ali Karim at The Rap Sheet [part one and part two] that their main job was to entertain. Three Seconds certainly does that, and is one of the most tense exciting crime thrillers I have ever read, proving once again the depth of writing talent that there is in Sweden.

Sven looked at the two men beside him. They were the same age, balding, not particularly jolly, tired but thorough, and perhaps the greatest similarity, they had lived for their work until they became their work.
The younger generation that were just starting out were not likely to be ever the same. Grens and Krantz were the sort of men who no longer had a natural place.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


There is nothing quite like the blue sky on a summer's day in an English village: hold on I took these photos yesterday on 11 October. This is what they call an Indian Summer, and we must enjoy it while it lasts.

I quite expected Hercule Poirot to appear, because this was all very Agatha Christie. If you ignore the modern cars and the satellite dish on the thatched cottage.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


...... a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.
Neville Chamberlain- Broadcast 27 September 1938

...a nation with five hundred criminal groups that fought every day for a slice of the domestic Polish capital cake, eighty-five even larger criminal groups with international connections, police who frequently took part in armed battles, and a nation that raked in more than five hundred billion kronor every year from the production of synthetic drugs.
Ewert Grens remembered the smell of tulips.
Three Seconds: Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom

Ali Karim has a two part interview with the authors of Three Seconds, Roslund and Hellstrom at The Rap Sheet, part one and part two.

From the informative interview:
Ali Karim: Poland has been the centre of some of the best grade illegal amphetamine production.
Hellstrom: I have known for years that Poland is both a transit country and also a land of many amphetamine factories.

Friday, October 08, 2010


On my recent travels I spotted this grouping in a shop window.
Tony Blair, a maker of myths, a journey to..........., our kind of traitor.
A political statement, a conspiracy theory, or just a display of three books?

Laws are like spider's webs: If some weak creature comes up against them, it is caught; but a big one can break through and get away.
Solon, Lives of Eminent Philosophers

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Bernadette at her excellent blog Reactions to Reading has finished the Scandinavian Reading Challenge devised by Amy at The Black Sheep Dances.
Bernadette comments there is no "next Stieg Larsson" but a group of great writers all with there own different styles, story telling abilities, personalities and sense of humour. I totally agree.

I am now engrossed in reading Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, the novel that won this year's Best Swedish Crime Novel. [Thanks to Maxine of Petrona for this review copy]
My shelves have several more top Swedish crime fiction novels waiting to be read, and I [thanks to a nice commenter on this blog who enjoyed a Swedish summer] have 7 more Beck DVDs to watch.

The period between the wars 1919-1939 was regarded as the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and was dominated by the great British writers [Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Francis Iles etc], Americans who wrote in a similar style [John Dickson Carr, S.S. Van Dine], or the more hardboiled style [Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett].

Will we look back on this period in time, and decide it was a new Golden Age of Crime Fiction dominated by Scandinavian, and especially Swedish writers?

Stormakstiden- The Swedish era of great power in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


I am always flattered when after a personal communication an author sends me their book for an opinion.
When I received Shooters and Chasers from author Lenny Kleinfeld I noted it already had very positive blurbs on the back cover from Chicago natives Joe Mantegna [The Godfather Part III, House of Games, and TVs Criminal Minds] and William Petersen [TVs CSI Crime Scene Investigation].

The revered Chicago architect Wilson Willetts is gunned down and it appears to be a street mugging gone wrong. The alleged mugger Meelo Garcia, is identified by a witness and is found to have the victim's wallet, and the murder weapon, in his car; so it looks like an open and shut case.
But Meelo claims to have been in his motel room at the time of the murder, because "Oscar" told him to stay there, and then he tells a bizarre story of being set up as the patsy in the case.
Homicide detectives, Mark Bergman and John "Doonie" Dunegan are inclined to believe Meelo, especially when the headless body of a possible defence witness turns up in Indiana.
Wilson Willetts had entered a design for the new LAFAM [Los Angeles Fine Arts Museum] and was in competition with two other architects backed by wealthy and very influential people quite capable of arranging such a complicated set up.
The professional killers behind both the set up and in arranging the murder, Arthur Reid [Oscar] and Dina Velaros, are in the tentative pre-love affair stage in their relationship but still have time to try and cover their tracks, as DNA and ballistic evidence mounts that the crime was committed by a Meelo look-alike. Arthur wants to retire and produce $600 a bottle fine wines, Dina wants Arthur. These almost sympathetic villains are hunted by the detectives Mark, young and handsome, and veteran Doonie, very married with a bad back, who travel to LA and California's wine country in their quest to track down the murderer and his employers.

Shooters and Chasers is written in a very different style from the British books I had just read [Val McDermid and Agatha Christie] and naturally it took me a little while to adjust to the American police procedural/crime caper style, and Lenny's slightly wacky world of lawyers, crooks, DAs, cops, cock fights, boutique wine makers, wealthy architects and other assorted eccentrics.
Shooters and Chasers was almost like a collaboration between Elmore Leonard, and Ed McBain, and as such it was great fun and an exciting read.
The book is well researched as evidenced by Dina's relationship with ERMA her $9,000 German sniper rifle; while I found the clever technique of using shifting points of view retelling the same events from different perspectives, with overlapping timelines, really worked to help create a first novel with a clever plot, lots of action, witty dialogue and many memorable characters.

Shooters and Chasers is Lenny Kleinfeld's first novel, and is available on the Amazon UK both in hardback and Kindle.

Many of the owners were cops, fireman and small businessmen. The majority ethnicity was Irish, the culture was Catholic, and the religion was the Cook County Democratic Party.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Money corrupts, money buys, money crushes, money kills, money ruins, money rots men's consciences.

Francois Mitterand, 21st President of the French Republic, 1981-1995

I finished reading Dominique Manotti's superb thriller Affairs of State last night, and it reminded me of the TV series Spiral in its portrayal of the way the French business and political elite are protected by a network of favours owed, and a web of secret arrangements. It also reminded me of reading accounts of the French Mutiny of 1917 when it was noted that the biggest social gulf between officers and men was apparently not in the armies of Imperial Britain or Imperial Russia, but in the army of Republican France.
I am not sure how true that was but after watching two series of Spiral, and reading Dominique Manotti, 'liberte, egalite, fraternite' does sound rather hollow.

'Francois ? Pontault here. I hope you are enjoying your little party....'
'You're not calling me just to say that?'
'.......because it's not going to last long. Turkey has just announced that a Boeing 747 cargo plane has vanished from its airspace.....'

Affairs of State is set in 1985, and the astonishing amount of complex action for a 200 page book means that I am not going to attempt a plot synopsis.
However the story does involve illegal arms deals with Iran, the RGPP [the Paris police intelligence service], an unaccountable Elysee special unit, the International Bank of the Lebanon, investigative journalists, lawyers, a high class brothel, international corruption, endemic abuse of power, and a large cast of characters, two of whom are particularly memorable.

Investigator Noria Ghozali, a new recruit of North African origin, who has escaped a restrictive and abusive home background to face racism and sexism within the police force.
It is her investigation which begins to shake the pyramid of corruption, and an intriguing character who I hope will feature in future books.

And Francois Bornand, a great womaniser, close advisor to the President, pro-American, fiercely anti-Communist, and a man for whom the terms, amoral and corrupt are far too benign.

In a flashback to 1943:
He follows Thomas with his eyes and says nothing. Vichy, the new homeland, building the Europe of tomorrow, destroying Communism, the enemy of Western civilisation, is he the only person who believes in it?

Dominique Manotti, ably aided by her translators Ros Schwartz and Amanda Hopkinson, has written a sharp indictment of the French political elite and proved that a complex plot, with well drawn characters and real excitement can be generated within a shortish [by modern standards] novel.
It is interesting that the novel was written in 2001, about events in 1985, contains a strategic lesson within its pages that possibly should have been obeyed by other nations.

'France is not Iran's enemy......'
'That won't be sufficient.'
'.......but in the Middle East, the age-old balance between Arabs and Persians must be maintained.'

More reviews of Affairs of State by Maxine of Petrona, and Glenn at International Noir Fiction.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Away in the beautiful English countryside for a couple of days I had to put aside the bulky 500 page exciting blockbuster I was reading and take with me a much lighter two hundred page thriller, Affairs of State by Dominique Manotti.
Manotti's Affairs of State was translated by Ros Schwartz and Amanda Hopkinson, the same team that won the 2008 International Dagger with Lorraine Connection.

Dominique Manotti, a professor of nineteenth-century economic history in Paris, paints a picture of French society, politicians, and law enforcement officers that makes the bosses of a Mexican drug cartel look honest by comparison.
More on Affairs of State later this week, but I just loved the quote that precedes the prologue.

Money corrupts, money buys, money crushes, money kills, money ruins, money rots men's consciences.

Any ideas who said that? Answer tomorrow.

Friday, October 01, 2010


Last week I had to go away for a couple of days, and the question of what book to take arose. Do I take the hardback I was reading, or do I pick up an easy to pack paperback book from my TBR mountain?
This is where the marketing and publishing of Agatha Christie's vast output of novels is so good. The 2007 signature editions are just the right size to be slipped into a bag or case and a readable length.

I went to Agatha Christie's Greenway home twice last year, trudged up and down Torquay seafront photographing Christie sites, and went to a conversation last month about Agatha Christie at Paignton's Library and Community Hub, but I had not actually read any of her books for about 40 years.

It was time to remedy that situation by reading Five Little Pigs, which was named by John Curran, author of Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, as one of her ten best novels.

Caroline Crale was tried and convicted of the murder of her husband, painter Amyas Crale, but because of mitigating circumstances the sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. She died only a year after the trial.
Sixteen years later her daughter, Carla Lemarchant, returns to England from Canada and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate the murder. When Carla was twenty one she had been given a letter her mother had written before her death insisting on her innocence.
If Caroline did not kill Amyas Crale there were five other "little pigs" who could have done it.
The suspects:
Philip Blake, a close friend of Amyas, a stockbroker, who went to market.
Meredith Blake, an amateur herbalist, who stayed at home.
Elsa Greer, a three time divorcee, now Lady Dittisham, who had her roast beef.
Cecilia Williams, the devoted governess, who had none.
Angela Warren, the disfigured sister, who cried all the way home.

Poirot, interviews the barristers, solicitors and police superintendent, before going on to speak to the five suspects, and persuade them all to write their own accounts of the events that occurred sixteen years previously. The novel is beautifully structured, as Christie produces what amounts to a character study of each of five very different suspects, and then in a classic denouement Poirot reconstructs the murder leading the reader to the wrong conclusion, before unmasking the real perpetrator.

On the evidence of Five Little Pigs, written in 1942, Agatha Christie is an underestimated writer, because not only is this novel entertaining with its clues and puzzle to solve, but contains character studies and a lot of social commentary.
Perhaps it is because she sells in such vast quantities that other authors enjoy taking pot shots at her novels.
P.D. James objects to 'her cardboard cut out characters', and the American Edmund Wilson objected to her on the grounds that he liked murders that happened 'for a reason, rather than just to provide a body'. [from an article by Lucy Mangan in today's Guardian]

But in Five Little Pigs her characters are sharply drawn, believable [for 1942] and quite sensitive to the way society is moving.
Miss Williams the governess for instance.

Poirot said: ' You hold no brief for men?'
She answered drily:
'Men have the best of this world. I hope it will not always be so.'

And later.

'I feel very strongly about the marriage tie. Unless it is respected and upheld, a country degenerates.'

Five Little Pigs is a brilliant example of Agatha Christie's detective fiction, with just the right number of suspects, red herrings, interestingly flawed characters and teasers to leave the reader entertained, and satisfied by the experience.

Hercule Poirot said:
'Have you ever reflected, Mr Blake, that the reason for murder is nearly always to be found by a study of the person murdered?'
'I hadn't exactly--yes I suppose I see what you mean.'
Poirot said:
'Until you know exactly what sort of a person the victim was, you cannot begin to see the circumstances of a crime clearly.'