Tuesday, May 31, 2011


In the fifth of the adventures of Nicholas Le Floch, the police commissioner at the Chatelet, he investigates the murder of the Duchess de La Vrilliere's chambermaid, Marguerite Pindron, who is discovered with her throat cut, lying next to a wounded unconscious Jean Missery, the major domo of the household.

Nicholas who is not trusted by the new Lieutenant General of Police, Monsieur Lenoir, is given a series of unconnected investigations to deal with seemingly to put him off the trail of the chambermaid's murderer. Nicholas and his associates, police inspector Bordeau, and navy surgeon Guillaume Semacgus, carry out their investigations in Paris and Versailles, negotiating the squalor of the city, and the stilted manners and etiquette of the court.
The flowery writing style of Jean-Francois Parot, and the translation by Howard Curtis, deeply immerses the reader in the time and manners of France during the reign of the young Louis XVI and his Austrian Queen Marie Antoinette.

Once I had got in to this book I enjoyed the historical detail, but unfortunately it was about 100 pages too long, and with so many characters I had to remind myself constantly of who was who. There is a useful dramatis personae at the beginning that stretches over four pages, and contains a Bourdeau, De La Borde and Bourdier just to confuse me.
There detailed descriptions of huge meals, terrible conditions in a hospital, the court at Versailles, demonstrations of automatons, and the investigative techniques used by Nicholas. There are asides concerning the improvements to be made to the Navy with references to possible problems for Britain in her North American colonies [perhaps the next book in the series?] accounts of the licentious behaviour of the upper classes, and intrigues at court. The vast amount of detail and various sub-plots overwhelm the original crime plot, and I wondered whether this was more of an historical novel with a crime element than crime fiction.

The third course was ready: bacon pies, ramekins of Italian cheese, pureed partridge, duck a l'espagnole, tendrons of veal with Bengal curry, cardons with grated cheese, and fried celery.

The author seems to agree that no one can remember all the complications in this very long book, and we get an epilogue that reiterates the plot and the crimes.

I am quite convinced that hidden among the fascinating detail, the various sub-plots and the annoying constant references to events and characters in the previous books in the series [starting this series at book five is not a good idea] there is a very good historical novel that just needed a bit of editing.

'I understand what you're saying, said Testard du Lys. 'But all this jumble of information makes me even more confused. What connection can there be between all these crimes?'

Sunday, May 29, 2011


When the International Dagger Shortlist was announced on Friday 20 May I stopped reading Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen, which didn't make the list, and switched to the impeccably researched long historical novel The Saint-Florentin Murders by Jean-Franc0is Parot, translator Howard Curtis, which did make the shortlist.

I found it difficult at first to get into this book possibly because I am still not used to reading on a Kindle, but now I am enjoying it immensely, although I have some reservations. I should finish reading this book in a few days, and then I will be able to pick my winner from the seven books on the International Dagger shortlist.

I am a bit of a history nut, and my Kindle understands this, because very frequently when switch off up comes a portrait of Alexandre Dumas; reminding me of the first adult books I read- The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After [my favourite] and The Count of Monte Cristo. Tough competition for M. Jean-Francois Parot.

After 7 years of dentistry [5 as a student, 2 as a shakily qualified dentist] I decided I could not face another 30 plus years of molars and incisors, and longed to go back to university to study History.
In those days the London A-level History examination consisted of a paper each on English and European History, and a third paper on a special subject chosen by the school or candidate. One of the special subjects was France in the Age of Richelieu and Mazarin, the years roughly 1624-1661, but although I knew a lot about this period, I decided that the convoluted politics of France were too tricky and that The Great Powers in the Far East, 1840-1941, was an easier option.
The Ancien Regime background to The Saint-Florentin Murders set in 1774, and the more recent events at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan make it clear that French political life continues to be Byzantine, and full of "characters".

The British taxpayer after providing me with a generous grant for 5 years, was rightly unwilling to fund a further 3 years study at university, and therefore based on financial necessity I chose dentistry over history. I suppose life is full of choices but would I have read as much crime fiction, or met so many interesting people if I was a history scholar.

If I might digress to ask a question. I was taught in school [admittedly in the era of chalk dust and the cane] that "my wife and I" was the correct usage. But recently I heard the urbane, intelligent and articulate President Obama refer to "me and Michelle", and earlier the slightly less urbane, intelligent and articulate PM David Cameron refer to "me and Samantha".
What is the correct usage? Do politicians have such a huge ego that they automatically think of themselves first?
Oops that is two questions.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Seven books. Two French, two Italian, one Spanish, one Swedish, and one Argentinean. Seven very different books that could be classified as; one dramatic historical mystery [still reading that one], one political thriller, one crime thriller, one horror/black humour eccentric police procedural, and three police procedurals whose authors give the reader varying levels of literary style, and different emphasis into the character of the main investigator.

How do each of these books compare with some of the crime fiction of the past few years?
Do they have the exciting plots, cynicism, dark humour, distrust of superiors, political intrigue, brooding atmosphere, social commentary, unusual protagonists, or authors with that special curiosity factor that have recently helped so much to market books?
Do they have an easy reading level, or has style taken precedence over substance?
Is there too much violence, or not enough action?
Is there a satisfactory ending?
The shortlist this year doesn't have a book by Johan Theorin, Arnaldur Indridason, Jo Nesbo or even Stieg Larsson, and as a result does not look as strong as in the previous two years.
But which book should win? [to be continued]

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Miss Jane Marple might wonder why there are yellow lines on the road, but I still think she would be happy living in this house.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Brilliant bloggers Karen of Eurocrime, Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise, and Dorte of DJ'S Krimiblog at Crime Fest, Bristol 2011.

Sunday, May 22, 2011



This blog is now dormant but you can read all the old posts and lots of new stuff at Crime Scraps Review


Last week Karen of Euro Crime asked us to speculate which seven books that would be on the International Dagger shortlist.

My short list was :

Mercy* by Jussi Adler-Olsen [Denmark] translator Lisa Hartford

These three books failed to make the CWA judges shortlist. I had not finished reading Mercy* but the intriguing start, and watching 20 episodes of The Killing may have influenced my choice of this Danish bestseller.

When the official award shortlist was announced on Friday evening to those four selections the CWA judges added:

[the link in this review to the Appreciating Camilleri article on the Picador site is no longer is active, but the article can be read here and here]
The Saint-Florentin Murders by Jean-Francois Parot [France] translator Howard Curtis

I am now in the process of reading the Jean-Francois Parot, which I downloaded onto my Kindle just before Crime Fest after reading Karen's enticing review at Euro Crime.
The links are to my reviews, and you can go to the CWA website for more information about the judges, books, authors and translators here.

Last year I posted some details about the history of this award at Deductions from the CWA International Dagger.
In the next few weeks I will discuss this shortlist, and decide to which of the books I would give the award.
Photo Ann Cleeves announces the shortlist.


The correct answers to the quiz to win an ARC of A Game of Lies by Rebecca Cantrell were:

1] Which country boycotted the 1936 Berlin Olympics and organized their own games? What prevented those games from starting?

Spain and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

2] Who was the high jumper prevented from competing in the Berlin Olympics although she held the German record, and had won the British high jump championship?

Gretel Bergmann, later Margaret Lambert, who was Jewish. You can read some of her story here and here.

There were nine correct answers, and as unfortunately I only had one prize we had to draw a lucky winner.
Mrs Crime Scraps, with her eyes closed, picked a numbered piece of paper from a hat, and the prize will be sent off next week to an address west of Barcelona, and east of Vigo.
Sorry to the unlucky eight better luck next time, and thanks for competing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


"You get some weird goings-on in France too, don't you?" remarked Detective Chief Inspector Radstock, in English, to his Parisian colleagues.

The chief of the Serious Crimes Squad in Paris Commissaire Adamsberg, his walking encyclopedia colleague Commandant Danglard, and young Estalere are in London for a jolly/seminar. On an evening stroll with DCI Radstock they are called to Highgate Cemetery to examine shoes left outside the gates. The problem being the shoes have severed feet left inside them.
On their journey back to Paris Danglard tells them the story of Highgate Cemetery, Lizzie Siddal, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his friend Bram Stoker, creator of Count Dracula.

Once home the squad are called to a horrific crime scene in the leafy suburb of Darche, where Pierre Vaudel, a reclusive semi-retired legal-journalist, has been obliterated, his body crushed to pieces.

A disaggregated body, which did not even arouse disgust, in the sense that it was impossible to associate these elements with anything resembling a human being.

Vaudel had disinherited his son and left his fortune to his gardener, a man with a history of violence.
Adamsberg's investigation will lead him to a Serbian village, and into great danger from both the mysterious perpetrator, and from those in power who don't want the case to be solved.

Fred Vargas, and her translator Sian Reynolds, have blended humour, folklore, horror, witty dialogue, bizarre plot, and eccentric characters and the end result is a brilliant reading experience. An Uncertain Place is designed to be read slowly because you won't want it to end; the literary equivalent of slow cooking, or sipping a fine whisky or wine. A tasty French bouillabaisse of a novel to be enjoyed and savoured by gourmets of crime fiction.
The crime squad characters are uniquely quirky creations, the forgetful scruffy Adamsberg, the alcoholic walking encyclopedia Danglard, the goddess like Retancourt, and Froissy, who has a panic attack when she misses a meal. You don't have to like the strange Adamsberg to enjoy this series, because although the Commissaire is central to the stories his team, and the supporting cast, are so eccentric there is always something to amuse the reader.

'I'm not going to ask you about women. I can see. Lack of confidence.'
'In them?'
'No, in yourself.'

Fred Vargas has explored the murder mystery turned it into a horror story, and then turned it back again into the quirkiest of crime stories. There are so many wonderful passages including one in which a colleague explains to Adamsberg why he alone among police officers cannot be bought by the "great snake", but I will resist the temptation to quote this one.
But one more gem from Adamsberg's time in the Serbian village:

'Show photos? Bad idea. Very bad. Hereabouts they don't like people who ask questions, cops journalists, nosy parkers. You'll have to think of something else. But they don't like historians either, or film-makers or sociologists, anthropologists, photographers, nutters or ethnologists.'

'That's a lot of people they don't like. Why don't they like nosy parkers? Because of the war?'

Fred Vargas is the pen name of Frederique Audoin-Rouzeau, a medieval historian and archaeologist, who has along with translator Sian Reynolds won the CWA International Dagger three times.
An Uncertain Place would in my opinion be a very worthy winner of a fourth award, but this year Fred Vargas, and her French eccentricity, may face challenges from Scandinavia and further afield.
We shall have a better idea when the CWA International Dagger shortlist is announced on Friday evening at Crime Fest.

The rest of the Commissaire Adamsberg series [English publication date in brackets]:

1996 The Chalk Circle Man*** and here [2009]
1999 Seeking Whom He May Devour [2004]
2001 Have Mercy on Us All [2003]

Fred Vargas and Sian Reynolds have also won the International Dagger with The Three Evangelists*.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


We have had our problems with blogger, and then my internet, and television also went down. This always seems to happen at the weekend, but I was told by a reliable source that the copper covering of the cable had been stolen?
Luckily it was a nice day for a drive, and as always the other drivers on the road were so very friendly following me for miles along the narrow roads of Devon. They were so friendly that when they eventually overtook my little car they hooted, and waved; sometimes they waved with a clenched fist and sometimes they waved with one or two fingers. Probably in appreciation of the fact that I had obeyed the speed limit. ;o)

The television is back up but I am suffering from withdrawal symptoms-no The Killing and no Spiral 3 .
No Sarah Lund, no Laure Berthaud.....
Firstly I think this season of Spiral was almost spoilt by too much gore, but the outstanding acting and wonderful casting, of even the minor parts, kept this twelve episode series in the front rank of television crime dramas. Spiral 3 was not perhaps quite as good as the previous series as at times it approached a parody of itself, but it was still very good.
Although definitely not as good as the twenty part Danish series, The Killing, which has had so much attention, and quite rightly so.

What distinguished these two outstanding series was a combination of great production and a brilliant ensemble cast.
Anyone who has ever watched a few minutes of some glitzy British hospital based series when staff, who have supposedly worked a grueling night shift, look as if they have just left a hairdressers on the way to a modeling assignment will know how bad casting and production can affect the veracity of a program.
In both The Killing and Spiral it was clear even the minor parts had been cast with the utmost care.

An ensemble cast is a cast in which the principal performers are assigned roughly equal amounts of importance and screen time in a dramatic production.

In crime fiction books the Martin Beck series by Sjowall and Wahloo, and the Ed McBain 87th Precinct books are the classic examples of the ensemble cast.

The Americans excel in this form of TV drama with a story arc that is comprised of extended multiple storylines continuing over many episodes. The Screen Actors Guild specifically gives an award for outstanding cast performance in a drama series.
The original winners in 1994 were the cast of NYPD Blue [1993-2005], and it was won in 2010 by another crime series, Boardwalk Empire. Other winners of this award have included Mad Men, The Sopranos, ER, The West Wing, and CSI.

Possibly the first of these modern American ensemble crime dramas was Hill Street Blues [1981-1987] set in an unnamed American city and filmed in almost documentary style it followed the activities of the ensemble cast of cops. In the UK we had some outstanding TV police dramas almost but not quite similar in style predating Hill Street, such as Z-Cars [1962-1978] and its successors such as Softly Softly [1966-1969] and Softly Softly, Task Force [1969-1973]. But later the very successful British TV crime series such as Prime Suspect [1991-2006] with Helen Mirren, and Morse with John Thaw, concentrated on one main character.

The team of outstanding actors in The Killing were:
Sofie Grabol [Sarah Lund], Soren Malling [Jan Meyer], Lars Mikkelsen [Troels Hartmann], Bjarne Henriksen [Theis Birk Larsen], Anna Eleonora Jorgensen [Pernille Birk Larsen] and Nicolaj Kopernikus [Vagn Skaerbaek].

The parts of the victim's parents Theis and Pernille were brilliantly acted, and it was this that made the triple story line of police investigation, family reaction, political intrigue work so well.

In Spiral the six main parts are well acted: Caroline Proust [Police captain Laure Berthaud], Gregory Fitoussi [Pierre Clement], Phillipe Duclos [Judge Francois Roban], Thierry Godard [Gilou], Fred Bianconi [Tin Tin], and Audrey Fleurot [Josephine Karlsson]. But with his popping eyes Dominique Dagnier is brilliant in a cameo role as the truly frightening Prosecutor Machard, the boss from hell.

I will miss them all; Jan Meyer's ears, Sarah Lund's expensive jumpers, Josephine Karlsson's freckles, disheveled Laure Berthaud's predatory smile, and Troels Hartmann's electioneering ploys, and I am really looking forward to the next series.
I read somewhere The Killing "redefined the genre", it didn't but it did return it to a very successful formula from the past.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Another in my new series of posts where I explore the villages and countryside of England and find places where you would not be surprised if Miss Marple suddenly appeared.

Monday, May 09, 2011


Those kind folks at Tor/Forge on Fifth Avenue, New York have given me an extra ARC of A Game of Lies by Rebecca Cantrell, which gives you the opportunity to win a copy before the publication date on July 5, 2011.

This is the much anticipated third book in the prize winning Hannah Vogel series.

You can read all about Rebecca Cantrell, her comprehensive research, and this series at Rebecca's website here.

The first book A Trace Of Smoke was set in 1931 Berlin and won the Sue Federer, McAvity and Bruce Alexander Memorial Award for best historical mystery.
The second A Night of Long Knives was set during the June 1934 purge of the SA Brownshirts and was also nominated for the Bruce Alexander last year.[won by The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear].

A Game of Lies returns Hannah Vogel to Germany as a spy, undercover as a reporter attending the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

My reviews of A Trace of Smoke and A Night of Long Knives [with links to my interview with Rebecca].
As I really enjoyed the first two books and love the brave, feisty heroine, Hannah Vogel, I am really looking forward to reading A Game of Lies and posting a review next month.

How to win a copy. Answer the following questions e-mailing your answers by 21 May to thbear08@googlemail.com.

1] Which country boycotted the 1936 Berlin Olympics and organized their own games? What prevented those games starting?

2] Who was the high jumper prevented from competing in the Berlin Olympics although she held the German record, and had won the British high jump championship?

Good luck.

Thursday, May 05, 2011


The Troubled Man is the tenth and last book in the Kurt Wallander series by Swedish author, and political activist Henning Mankell.
I have read five other books from this series; Faceless Killers, The Fifth Woman, Sidetracked, and One Step Behind, all a few years ago before I started Crime Scraps.

Kurt Wallander has moved from his apartment in Ystad to a house in the country near where his father used to live. He has got himself a dog, Jussi, and now aged 60 his career as police officer seems to be winding down. He is given only fairly routine cases while seemingly only remaining in contact with his old colleague Martinsson.
Then his daughter Linda, also a police officer, announces she is pregnant with his first grandchild. She is engaged to financier Hans von Enke, whose father Hakan von Enke, is a retired former high ranking officer in the Swedish submarine service.

'Hans said his parents had a philosophy about money,' Linda had explained.
'" You shouldn't talk about money, it should be simply there."'
'If only,' Wallander had said. 'That sounds like something well-heeled upper-class folk would say.'

Wallander, Hakan and Louise von Enke all delight in the birth of a granddaughter named Klara. But at his 75th birthday party Hakan von Enke begins to confide in Wallander about an incident during the Cold War, when the navy supposedly had a Soviet submarine trapped in Swedish territorial waters, and orders from above allowed it to escape.
Shortly after the party Hakan von Enke goes missing and Wallander takes some holiday to conduct an unofficial investigation that will uncover von Enke family secrets, and the confusion at the heart of Sweden's neutrality. Wallander's bleak personal odyssey is brought into focus with appearances by his drunken ex-wife Mona, and Baiba Liepa, the Latvian woman, who he regards as his one true love. [From The Dogs of Riga]
The feisty Linda, and her lively baby daughter Klara, are the only bright positives in this story as Wallander interviews one elderly person after the other; people whose best years are long behind them. Wallander troubled by repeated episodes of memory loss appears much older than his 60 years, and this gives the distinct impression that Mankell is bored with his character.

Is The Troubled Man too depressing for an old man to read?
Answer-definitely yes.
If The Troubled Man was simply the story of a man thinking back over his life with a plethora of regrets about the past it might be regarded as a fine but very bleak novel. But as a crime story the plot is rather thin and the solution is.............
Not a surprise considering the well known longstanding political affiliations of the author.
This a dark story of memory loss, depression, diabetes, cancer, drunkenness, lost past loves, and death. Without Linda or Klara what a total misery it would be.
I used to like the slow methodical build up in the Wallander books, but this one is almost catatonic and far too miserable for me to have enjoyed reading. It made even Leif G.W.Persson's Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End seem fast paced and lively.
That said, The Troubled Man could well be shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger, and that is the reason I persevered to the depressing finale.

She also made sure he bought a new dark suit, accompanied him to the tailor's in Malmo, and when he expressed his astonishment at the price she explained that it was a high-quality suit that would last him the rest of his life.

'You'll be attending fewer weddings,' Linda said. ' But at your age, the number of funerals increases.'

A negative view of The Troubled Man in The Guardian I have tried to be a bit fairer than this article in my comments.

Monday, May 02, 2011