Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I am rather ashamed to admit that this is the first book by Fred Vargas that I have read, but it won't be the last.

Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of French historian, archaeologist and writer Frédérique Audouin-Rouzeau, born in 1957 in Paris, she works at the French National Scientific Research Centre .

Fred is the diminutive of her given name, Frédérique, while Vargas derives from the Ava Gardner character in The Barefoot Contessa, and is the pseudonym adopted by her twin sister, Joëlle Jo Vargas, the painter.

She mostly writes police thrillers (policiers). They usually take place in Paris and feature the adventures of Commissaire Adamsberg and his team.

Earlier this year she won the 2006 Duncan Lawrie International Dagger with The Three Evangelists, and has been described by the Guardian as "the hottest property in crime fiction."

Her latest book, Sous les Vents de Neptune, was published earlier this year and has already passed the quarter-million mark, a huge success in France.

Sous les Vents de Neptune is to be published in 2007 in the UK as Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, and has been translated from the French by Sian Reynolds.

Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, unlikely head of the Serious Crime Squad, located in the 13th arrondisement of Paris is preparing to go on an expedition. The eight designated members of the Quebec mission will be soon investigating the scientific mysteries of genetic fingerprints, sweat, urine, semen, maple leaves, caribou and computers under the tutelage of the Gendamerie Royale du Canada.

But when a murder is reported near Strasbourg it reawakens in Adamsberg an obsession with a series of similar murders.

"Eight murders, eight people stabbed with three wounds in a row..........All eight murders solved, eight culprits easily caught, virtually weapon in hand. Seven poor sods in jail, as well as my brother, gone to perdition. Fulgence always escapes. The devil always escapes."

If Adamsberg had not intervened 30 years ago his brother would have been convicted of one of these murders. He is certain that the Strasbourg murder, and all the others going back over 50 years are the work of the terrifying and powerful Judge Fulgence. There is just one snag, Fulgence has been dead for 16 years.

While the squad are in Canada a savage murder occurs, and Adamsberg has to go on the run in a desperate race to prove his innocence, and to find Judge Fulgence.
What do I want in a crime novel? Well it has firstly to include a crime, then a sense of location, interesting characters, a good plot, and hopefully a solution.

This book certainly fits the bill, especially with its fascinating convoluted plot, and some characters who are that little bit eccentric, including an octogenarian computer hacker, and of course the menacing Judge Fulgence.
Little bit eccentric is probably an understatement, but Vargas has the charm and style to make them all seem believable.
The translation has worked excellently because the book is an easy read, it flows, and the contrast between the French and Quebecois characters is handled well.

Adamsberg is an intuitive Paris flic, who inspires loyalty in his subordinates, despite his many flaws. He makes mistakes, some very big mistakes, and this makes him seem very real, and very human. Fred Vargas has created a character with real depth in Adamsberg.

He has an assistant Capitaine Danglard, a quietly intelligent man, with a drink problem and five children. Another member of the squad is Violette Retancourt a fat, plain, large policewoman, who watches over Adamsberg and everything around her with a very shrewd eye.
Without their help, and his surprising "miracle women" the insecure detective would be lost.

The entire book is like a jigsaw that fits elegantly together, and I found myself both rushing through the pages to see what happened, while at the same time wanting the book to go on and on because of my immersion in, and enjoyment of the story.

I am definitely looking forward to reading her earlier books.

"The Quebecois," interrupted Danglard, in his gentle voice," consider France as their mother country, but they don't much like the French, or trust them. "

Monday, October 30, 2006


From the BBC:

The British tax lawyer David Mills is to stand trial charged with corruption alongside ex-Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, a Milan judge has ruled.
The judge said enough evidence existed for a trial to go ahead over a £325,000 payment to Mr Mills, allegedly paid in exchange for favourable court evidence.
Mr Mills and Mr Berlusconi were already facing trial next month on tax evasion and embezzlement charges in Italy.
Mr Mills, separated husband of minister Tessa Jowell, denies all the charges.
The trial is due to begin in March next year.

You could not invent this in a crime novel it would not be believable.


From Reuters:

A Milan court has ordered former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Tessa Jowell's estranged husband, lawyer David Mills, to stand trial for corruption.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


"If I were a believer -not one of those who only go to mass, but a believer who is perfectly convinced of his faith -I would say that Berlusconi is bad with a capital B.........he has invested all that money in television in the worst way.....he has lowered the cultural level of television and therefore of Italy.......I blame him for that, because that cultural down-turn is the cause of so many things........."

Andrea Camilleri

quoted in The Dark Heart of Italy, Tobias Jones



The new updated Bitter Lemon Press website is packed full of interesting information with photographs of their authors, and book reviews.

From the site information on and photograph of Gianrico Carofiglio:

''A new voice, and one with which I am sure we will soon become familiar is that of Gianrico Carofiglio...'' Daily Mail''
Involuntary Witness is a stunner. Two things put this novel on a higher plane. Guerrieri is a wonderfully convincing character...'' The Times

Carofiglio, born 1961, is an anti-mafia prosecutor in the southern Italian city of Bari. He has been responsible for the area’s most important indictments regarding organized crime, corruption and trading in human beings. 'Involuntary Witness' and 'A Walk in the Dark' both feature Guido Guerrieri, defence counsel of hopeless causes. These crime novels are the basis of a major television series in Italy and were top of the best seller lists for six and eight months respectively.

Thanks to Karen at Eurocrime for the update.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Over at the 4 Mystery Addicts forum they are discussing which is their favourite book of the year, and the one book they want to read before the end of the year.

I think it is proably too early to decide on a favourite or best book yet with all the dark nights in November and December to come, when one can settle down and read, and read.

But the temptation is too great for a weak bookaholic like me, not to mention my choices at this time.

Best "new to me" crime author: Arnaldur Indridason for Tainted Blood [Jar City in USA] and Silence of the Grave

Best crime book set in Europe: The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia

Best crime book set in the USA: Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan

Best Historical crime book: The Coffee Trader by David Liss

Will these contenders stand up to my further reading experiences in the next two months?

These books are certainly a lot better than my abilities at lining them up on blogger.

Monday, October 23, 2006


The end of Jane Tennyson, certainly one of television's most interesting and flawed detectives, was marked by a frighteningly true to life episode last night, and highlighted by a fantastic performance by Helen Mirren.

As this was a joint ITV and WGBH Boston production American audiences will see highlighted in this mini-series something of the real social problems that face Britain today.

It may be a real shock for those who have visited our shores and whose view of England was all Cotswold villages, Georgian town houses and Medieval castles.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Tomorrow night is the final episode of the two parter Prime Suspect, the Final Act.

The first episode was absolutely fantastic with the usual exemplary performance as Jane Tennyson by Helen Mirren. We were also treated to superb cameo performances by Frank Finlay and the late Tom Bell, and the whole production was full of menace and very noir.

I have read that episode two is just as good, I can't wait. Definitely one to be recorded and kept to enjoy again at a later date.


I am still puzzled as to why I did not really enjoy reading An Olympic Death by Manuel Vazquez Montalban.

All the ingredients were there including an interesting location, Barcelona, a city apparently full of Olympic corruption and greed.

The overweight detective Pepe Carvalho is a well known gourmet and greedy guts, with a Peter Lorre like sidekick, Biscuter, his personal chef and wine cellar manager.
Carvalho investigates the disappearance of a Greek for two French clients, to one of whom the gorgeous Claire Delmas he is very attracted. He is also hired to watch over Beba, a teenage girl dabbling in drugs and geriatric lovers.

Why did I dislike it then, I asked myself? Well on page 136 of the book we have the paragraph;

Brando was bored with all this philosophy, even if it was Greek, but he pretended to be interested. Obviously well brought-up. But in the end he said in icy tone:

"I can do without the theory of the novel. Could you get to the point, please."

I could not agree more, but to be fair perhaps I should have started the series at the beginning.
But in this book there just was not a lot happening.

Has Montalban followed the pattern clearly seen in the Patricia Cornwell books, where the author becomes so infatuated with the brilliance of their character creation that they completely abandon the idea of having a plot. The characters just wander around talking and complaining, and the reader is left wondering if they have entered an exclusive club, and how can they join.

Were the earlier Carvalho books any more lucid, and did they have more meat to the plot?

Perhaps was coming straight from the spartan and economic style of Leonardo Sciascia to the florid Manuel Vazquez Montalban just too big a jump for me.
I might return to Montalban and try one of earlier novels in the future.

Monday, October 16, 2006


For a thought provoking review of Involuntary Witness by Giancrico Carofiglio from Maxine at Petrona go to:


I will have to move IW up my TBR list.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


You can read the Guardian article on Andrea Camilleri via a link at the excellent Eurocrime, unfortunately I can't get a direct link to work.

I must be on their restricted list after complaining about their Clark County, Ohio, caper.

The author recommends the books be read in the correct order:

The Shape of Water
The Terracota Dog
The Snack Thief
The Voice of the Violin
Excursion to Tindari

with The Scent of the Night, Rounding the Mark, and The Patience of the Spider to come soon.

I feel after reading the article that Andrea Camilleri, Leonardo Sciascia and Detective Inspector Salvo Montalbano are like three musketeers in the battle against crime, corruption, and the dark heart of Italy represented by Silvio Berlusconi and other interests.


I have just come back from our local Picture House's free member's preview of Romanzo Criminale.

Move over The Godfather, and as for Goodfellas, well that was Serie B compared to this brilliant film.
The story has been done before, and we know the plot inside out, but nevertheless the film is stunning.

Three young criminals Lebanese [Pierfrancesco Favino], Ice [Kim Rossi Stuart], and Dandi [Claudio Santamaria] begin with a kidnapping and go on to form a crime organization that dominates the drug trade, with links to terroroists, the Mafia, and sinister governmental agencies. The film is cut with some interesting real news coverage of major events of the period, the Moro murder, the Bologna train station outrage and Italy winning the 1982 World Cup.
Overall the cinematography is superb, the action tense, and the cast brilliant especially Stefano Accorsi as Officer Scialoja who struggles over the years both to investigate the case, and also to control his own desires and emotions.

Rome provides a the scenic background to the tale, and Anna Mougalis and Jasmine Trinca provide the luscious Roman femininity.
Anna Mougalis as Patrizia the very high class prostitute is quite magnificent, but I think she would have terrified Inspector Morse.

Highly recommended. 153 minutes but it does not seem that long. [Italian with English subtitles]


Saturday, October 14, 2006


Something weird happened today 14.10.2006 I bought the Guardian, a newspaper I usually avoid like the plague, and in its review section is an article about Andrea Camilleri by Paul Bailey.

It must be fate?

I will read it later and see if there is any useful information to be gleaned about the Sicilian writer.

A quick perusal informs me that he had been a member of the Communist Party, and does not approve of Silvio Berlusconi. Nothing earth shattering there.

Also Camilleri was a great friend and admirer of Leonardo Sciascia, but prefers fellow Marxist Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler.

To be continued.................


Another off topic post but I can't ignore another triple award winner in Edward Wright, and I think I will have to widen my mission statement to include anything that interests me, in the crime field.

Wright's first book Clea's Moon won the debut dagger of the British Crime Writer's Association. His second While I Disappear won a Shamus, and now his third Red Sky Lament has won the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger.

I have a purely personal objection to a book set in the late 1940's winning a historical award; it makes me feel old.

I did not read Clea's Moon and did not particularly enjoy While I Disappear as I thought it was too much like a poor man's Raymond Chandler, LA Confidential, or the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

But I will probably give Red Sky Lament a read because among other reasons the subject interests me.

Los Angeles, late 1940s: all over Hollywood, the U.S. government is ordering people to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee as part of the crusade to uncover Communist influence in the movies.

Also after reading a little about Edward I am more prepared to give him a second chance, and hope his B movie star character John Ray Horn behaves a bit less like a B movie star.

From www.edwardwrightbooks.com

Ed Wright grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where his father sold hardware and his mother raised three children and taught arts and crafts. He spent a year at Hendrix College in Arkansas, then transferred to Vanderbilt University, where he majored in English lit and graduated with honors. After graduation he signed up for the Navy and served as an officer for three years, mostly aboard destroyers.

My father sold hardware, and my wife's family are Navy people so another book for the to be read pile. Not exactly a literary way of selecting one's future reading but fun all the same.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


If you want a break from crime reading and a need a really good laugh go and see the film Little Miss Sunshine.


Leonardo Sciascia states in a tailpiece to this book that he has "pruned" this short story to make it even shorter as "self- defence against possible reactions of any who might consider themselves more or less directly attacked in it...... I don't feel heroic enough to face charges of libel and slander."
I would consider that a libel or slander charge was the least of his worries in view of the subject of the book.

Lupara: literally a wolf shot, a cartridge loaded with 5 or 7 ball bearings used for mafia killings.

Chiarchiaro: a stony place

This is indeed a very short novel, but this is because not a word or paragraph is excess or extraneous to a simple and gripping story. In a superb 120 pages Sciascia distills the essence of the Mafia and its methods of control.

Sciascia has been described by many as one of the greatest modern writers, and on the evidence of this book that description is accurate.

This story has a beginning, a middle with plot development and an ending, and in that simple, perfect structure everything fits like a jigsaw puzzle.

Salvatore Colasberna, a builder is killed with a lupara shot, while a tree pruner who may have been a witness to the murder disappears. Captain Bellodi of the Carabinieri, a mainlander, leads an investigation, while mysterious unnamed figures discuss the implications in the background. Although one can guess the ultimate result of the investigation there is an atmosphere of hope that justice might be done, but also a strong feeling of the menace that is the mafia.

This a great book beautifully written, which was a pleasure to read, short but very sweet.

"An owl said to its owlets we'll all meet in the end at the chiarchiaro."

Monday, October 09, 2006


From the back cover:

On 16 March 1978 Aldo Moro, a former Prime Minister of Italy, was ambushed in Rome. Within three minutes the gang killed all five members of his escort and bundled Moro into one of three getaway cars. An hour later the Red Brigades announced that Moro was in their hands: on March 18 they said he would be tried in a "people's court of justice". Seven weeks later Moro's body was discovered in the boot of a Renault parked in the crowded centre of Rome.

From the Scotsman:

I don't see how anyone interested in the Moro case, in Italian politics, or, more generally, in the relation of morality to State action, can fail to find it required and challenging reading.

In this short book of 119 pages Leonardo Sciascia, a detective fiction writer, discusses the Moro case and its various ramifications.

At the beginning of the book in the new foreword one reads that Moro was known as the "master weaver" of Italian politics. He was Prime Minister on five occasions, and President of the Christian Democratic Party at the time of his death. My sympathies were not aroused, but as the book and the story of his captivity proceeds my respect for this complicated man grew and grew.

His letters to his colleagues in the Christian Democratic party, and his family are produced and discussed along with the Red Brigade communiques.
Moro before his captivity had believed it was sometimes right to negotiate and exchange prisoners with terrorists. He writes that a state that has abandoned the death penalty has by refusing to negotiate effectively reinstated it for him.

The "monstrous" rejection of him in a document to the newspapers issued by fifty of his former supposed friends seems typical of politicians, and by then my sympathies were entirely with Moro in his plight.

Some of Sciascia's writing is as convoluted as Italian politics, and this thin book is not an easy read.

Sciascia goes on to show us the stunning, almost deliberate, incompetence of the police and security services in their hunt for Moro. There are some disquieting parallels between this case, and the failure to observe the activities of the 7/7 bombers by the British authorities. But I have promised myself not to get involved in political discussions on Crime Scraps.

Leonardo Sciascia's The Moro Affair is well worth reading especially in view of last nights Panorama program on the BBC, concerning Mr B, Mr M and the lovely Tessa Jowell.

But I think you need to know a bit more about Italian politics than I do to fully appreciate the book. Therefore I will be reading in the next few weeks The Dark Heart of Italy; Tobias Jones, to get more background. This is one of my wife's books, and one of the rare non-literature, non-religious, non-poetry, non-Tony Hillerman books she has read.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


From Le Monde:

Chantal Pelletier is a wonderful storyteller; she captures your heart in three short sentences......A classic roman noir hero, the world weary inspector, is completely reinvented.

This novel won the Grand Prix du Roman Noir De Cognac in 2001 and I did enjoy it, as it full of interesting characters.

Maurice Laice "more is less" is a detective so depressed by his past and his bleak existence that it is a wonder he does not voluntarily join the long list of dead bodies in the book. Maurice is about as far from Guido Brunetti as you can get, and makes Montalbano, Morse, Rebus and Banks seem happy positive extrovert successes in comparison.

His lesbian boss Aline Lefevre delights in humiliating and teasing him with her sexual exploits. Her "someone special" is described as a red headed Catherine Deneuve, while poor Maurice has an empty love life, and lives in a bachelor's squalor. No wonder he is depressed.

The French do have a different attitude to sex than Americans, or the British, and I am very broadminded, but this book went too far in my opinion in its sexual content. I lived in London's Chelsea for many years, so I am not easily shocked, but describing sex with animals does go beyond my boundaries.

This was a pity because apart from this and a general preoccupation with sex, explained by the fact it is set in France, the story which ranged from Montmatre to Corsica, and involved drugs and real estate scams, was quite good.

Maurice Laice and Aline Lefevre are something different in the world of crime fiction, but I would be wary of reading any of Chantal Pelletier's books if you are in any way squeamish.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I thought it might be difficult to keep to my mission statement of only commenting on crime fiction in continental Europe. Sorry but this news was too good not to mention.

I frequently can't stand some of the books awarded crime fiction prizes, so I am really pleased that Reed Farrel Coleman, one of my favourite authors has won a triple decker of awards for The James Deans.

The Anthony, Shamus and Barry for Best Paperback Original Novel.

More Moe Prager please.