Friday, June 29, 2007


Former high ranking Algerian army officer Yasmina Khadra has done a brilliant job in bringing to life the world of police Inspector Brahim Llob. Khadra knows his subject well and takes us into a frightening mixture of terror, fundamentalism and corruption. Llob and his team, the pony tailed Lino and the giant Tuareg Ewegh Seddig use methods that are in fact "fit for purpose" in that desperate location, but would not yet pass muster in our green and pleasant land.
Lino has been unpleasant to everyone. His bitterness has even driven him to grow a ponytail.........In reality he is trying to put the fundamentalists off the scent.
My name is Ewegh Seddig and I've no connection with the Good Samaritan. Tell your badly shaved pals it's their funeral, and I won't be sending any gifts.
The language is at times brilliantly sparse and bluntly descriptive of a country where the differences between the rich and the poor are astronomical. Where corrupt politicians and businessmen think nothing of exploiting the anarchy caused by the fundamentalist terror for their own ends. Where immorality, corruption and greed are almost mandated by the conditions.
We used to fight for the FLN: I out of nationalism, he out of greed. He was a hearthrob of the Algerine Olympus, and he collected favors the way an old whore collects condoms.
"He hangs about over in Riad El-Feth. The address is "Men's Toilets."
Khadra certainly has a way with words.
Ben Ouda, a senior diplomat and connoisseur of pretty young men, is found brutally murdered. Ben Ouda had in his possession a diskette, now missing, containing evidence of a plan "the devil himself could not have foreseen." Then an academic Professor Nasser Abad is murdered, and the workshop of Abad's brother in law Athman Mamar explodes, seriously injuring the old FLN fighter and political fixer. Llob and his team are embroiled in a race against time as witness after witness meets a violent death. Is this just the endemic violence of the fundamentalists, or is there something else, or someone else behind the killings?
The trail is full of danger and excitement, and it will lead Llob from the slums of the fellahin to the gilded world of one of the most powerful men in Algeria.
This is good well written crime fiction in a new [to me ] location, which made me realise that we have not been given enough information over the years about the situation in Algeria. I also realised how long ago it was that I had read Sir Alistair Horne's book on Algeria, The Savage War of Peace, and how little I could remember about that sad war. I certainly will read more from Yasmina Khadra.
"Our country needs neither prophets nor a president. It needs an exorcist."


I have returned home after our short break in Hay on Wye with a healthy supply of books, and a not very healthy cold. I did have a slight sore throat before I left so I can't blame the Welsh border weather for this cold. In fact the worst of the rain and storms were during the drive up through Somerset.

Hay on Wye is a book lover's delight and I spent far too much money on a varied selection of books. In crime fiction I was able to pick up for a £1 each:

The Colombian Mule, Massimo Carlotto

The Fields of Grief, Giles Blunt

Betrayal, Karin Alvtegen

The Bone Yard, Paul Johnston

That should keep me busy for the next few weeks.

In the true crime field I purchased Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White, Love and Death in the Gilded Age by Michael Macdonald Mooney. This famous case features in both E.L Doctorow's Ragtime and the recent best selling crime novel The Interpretation Of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. So I will enjoy reading about the real life characters.

My history book purchases were mostly about the 1920s and 1930s, for example Mussolini's Italy by Max Gallo, and The Siege of the Alcazar by Cecil Eby. I was convinced after reading the introductions that the world situation was a lot worse 71 years ago in 1936.

"They say they are going to shoot me if the Alcazar does not surrender. But don't worry about me. "

"If it is true," replied Moscardo, "commend your soul to God, shout "Viva Espana!" and die like a hero. Good-bye, my son, a kiss."

"Good-bye, father, a very big kiss."

................................"The Alcazar will never surrender!"

Sometimes real life events are far more dramatic than any fictional thriller.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Crime fiction authors come in all shapes and sizes. They range from lady like "dames" [Ruth Rendell and P.D.James] to hard ex convicts Massimo Carlotto, and from husband and wife teams such as Nicci French to a mother and daughter combo P.J.Tracy.

But surely one of the most interesting authors is Yasmina Khadra, which is a pseudonym of the Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul. A high ranking Algerian army officer who adopted a woman's name to avoid military censorship. He revealed his true identity in 2001 after going into exile and seclusion on France.
Yasmina Khadra joins Massimo Carlotto as that rarity, authors with some gritty real life experience of their subject.
I have just started his novel Double Blank, the subtle humour and new location already have me hooked.


Crime writer Sara Paretsky, creator of detective V.I.Warshawski, has written a stimulating article entitled Mean Streets in the Guardian today.

Ms Paretsky discussed the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder, James Fennimore Cooper, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and their influence on American culture and the myth of the lone hero. I learned a lot particularly about the life of Dashiell Hammett, and his detective Sam Spade. Her comparison of VI Warshawski with the arch loner Chandler's Phillip Marlowe was also of interest. Ms Paretsky does not hide her political views, and her contempt for the "cowboys gone bad."

"Hammett created raw individualists who cared for nobody. Chandler reclothed these hard- boiled, amoral men with the trappings of the old cowboy chivalry of Natty Bumpo [Leatherstocking;James Fennimore Cooper] or the Ingalls family."

She ends her article with a little dig at "those reckless cowboys who are galloping across the world's range today, despoiling it", and compares them with a past hero.

"Whenever I go to Washington, I stop at the Lincoln memorial and look up at Mr Lincoln's wise, kind face. I wish he would come back and save the republic."

I am a real Abraham Lincoln fanatic, and have visited many of the Lincoln sites in my admiration for America's greatest president. But it is clear from his life that he was a real human being, and not some mythic idealistic superman. Lincoln was a political realist, who was determined to do anything necessary to win the war in order to save the Union.

Lincoln saved the republic with the considerable assistance of Sam Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman. Those commanders character and methods of waging war might not survive modern day media attention.

You can read Sara Paretsky's full article at:

Friday, June 22, 2007


"Baroncini poor is past; Baroncini with a business that'll create wealth for lots of people is the future"
A change of regime, "there is, above all, enormous moral and political confusion that combines the desperation of those who know they are losing, the opportunism of those ready to change sides, the guilelessness of those who haven't understood anything, and even the desire for revenge in those who are about to arrive."
But enough about Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and the Labour Party coup d'etat.
Carlo Lucarelli, ably assisted by his translator Michael Reynolds, has produced another little gem of a novel. At 117 pages it is a very short novel, which leaves the reader shouting "bravo, encore". Luckily for us the De Luca trilogy has one more volume to be translated Via delle Oche.
May 1945, the war in Italy is just over but the struggle for power, and the taking of revenge is still ongoing. Commisario De Luca is posing as one Giovanni Morandi to avoid reprisals for his time as a member of the fascist political police, but he is recognised by Brigadier Leonardi.
Leonardi, a partisan policeman, has a quadruple murder to solve, and knows that "the most brilliant detective in the Italian police force" is the man to help him in difficult circumstances. If he solves the crime it will help his career when the regular carabineri return.
De Luca and Leonardi delve into the crime and investigate a stolen brooch found at the murder scene, and the disappearance of a Count. De Luca is in a community that has been occupied by Italian fascists, Germans, Italian partisans, and the Allies. It is a complicated world with difficult relationships, and with complex characters.
At the local inn he meets the beautiful and feisty Francesca la Tedeschina "the little German" her hair shorn, because she went with a German. He shakes with fear when faced with Carnera, the local hero, a legend who defied the dreaded Black Brigades, the Brigate Nere.
Will someone recognise De Luca, and exact revenge before he solves the case?
Who does Carnera fear?
A short but very sweet historical crime novel, roll on De Luca Trilogy book 3.
In Milan alone, for example, there were at least sixteen different police forces, from the regular police, the "Questura," to the Gestapo, each doing as they pleased and sometimes arresting one another. [from the preface to the trilogy]


Thanks to Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders for the link to the Swedish site

If only I could speak Swedish! But I was able to fathom out some key points. One award is given to a foreign book translated into Swedish, and another to works in Swedish.

The foreign award is named after Martin Beck, and this is a tribute to Beck's creators those Viking Gods of the police procedural, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. I received two of the series in the post today;

1969 The Fire Engine That Disappeared, with an introduction by Colin Dexter

1970 Murder At The Savoy

I now have 9 out of the 10 books.
Colin Dexter admits that until asked to write the introduction he had never read any of the Swedish married couples books.

For a crime writer not to have read Sjowall and Wahloo is like a playwright not having read Shakespeare. It is my day for bold statements. I am pleased Colin Dexter started to read the Martin Beck series, he is in for a treat.

Some interesting names appear among the list of recent foreign prize winners.

2006 Phillipe Claudel
2005 Arnaldur Indridason [Icelandic]
2004 Alexander McCall Smith
2003 Ben Elton
2002 Karin Fossum [Norwegian]
2001 Peter Robinson
2000 Thomas H. Cook

While the list of Swedish winners demonstrates how long it takes for a book to be translated into English even if it is a prize winner. There is probably a wealth of fine crime writing that we have not yet had the pleasure of reading because it is still untranslated.
2006 Stieg Larsson
2005 Inger Frimansson
2004 Asa Larsson
2003 Leif G.W. Persson
2002 Kjell Eriksson [for Princess of Burundi]
2001 Ake Edwardson
2000 Aino Thosell
Henning Mankell won in 1991 and 1995, and Hakan Nesser in 1994 and 1996.
One of the nice things about these new Harper Perennial editions is the P.S. extras with insights about crime fiction, crime authors, policemen, and Swedish society.
"the so called Welfare State abounds with sick, poor, lonely people, living at best on dog food....." The Locked Room 1973
On suicide: "Sweden led the world by a margin that seemed to grow larger from one report to the next." Cop Killer 1974

Thursday, June 21, 2007


An interesting story at Sarah Weinman's Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Peter Rozovsky, who blogs at Detectives Beyond Borders has written a very interesting and informative article for the Philadelphia Inquirer about the new quartet of Swedish Crime Writers, who have won "a fistful of prizes".
No the picture is not Peter, but the great Swedish King and military genius Gustavus II Adolphus.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


My review of The Library of the Soul is published at:

I think you will enjoy reading Simon Buck's first published book. One particular plot development was not to my personal taste, but then I am a bit quirky.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Wim Wenders proposition that he would make a film about Palermo and not mention the Mafia just became a bit more bizarre.
Like Basil in Fawlty Towers with his German guests, and his request "don't mention the war".

(ANSA) - Palermo, June 13 - A top Palermo mafioso was gunned down in the street on Wednesday, just minutes after leaving a local police station where he had signed a register for suspects under special surveillance.Nicolo' Ingarao, 46, who was recently sentenced to nine years in jail for Mafia crimes, was shot at least four times by assailants who then fled on a motorbike. He died a little later despite the attempts of ambulance medics to revive him.Ingarao was close to his home when he was ambushed. A group of relatives and acquaintances quickly gathered at the scene of the crime, some of them shouting and weeping.Because of the high profile of the victim, Mafia investigators expressed fears that friction between different clans could be growing in the wake of the arrest of 'boss of bosses' Bernardo Provenzano last year."This murder certainly indicates a flare-up inside Cosa Nostra," said Palermo anti-Mafia prosecutor Guido Lo Forte.Noting that Ingarao was head of a Mafia 'family', experts said the murder was especially worrying as it came three days after the slaying of a relative of two mafiosi arrested for extorsion."It's perhaps too early to talk about a new Mafia war, but we certainly have to keep our guard up," Palermo's chief prosecutor Francesco Messineo said.

Monday, June 11, 2007


For crimfic reader and any others the answer to the teaser was the Atheneum at Historic New Harmony in Indiana.
From Wikpedia:
New Harmony, formerly named "Harmony," was built by the Harmony Society, headed by George Rapp (also known as Johann Georg(e) Rapp). This was the second of three towns built by the German religious group, known as Rappites. When the society decided to move back to Pennsylvania, they sold the 30,000 acres (121 km²) of land and buildings to Robert Owen, the Welsh utopian thinker and social reformer, and to William Maclure for $150,000, who then changed the name from "Harmony" to "New Harmony." Owen recruited residents to his model community, but a number of factors led to an early breakup of the communitarian experiment. The other two towns built by the Rappites were Historic Harmony in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and Old Economy Village (originally known as Oekonomie) in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.
Robert Owen was the Welsh connection, and the name New Harmony is appropiate because it is a very peaceful town. In Southern Indiana, if you avoid Interstate 64, you can drive for miles on quiet country roads through beautiful farmland and interesting small towns. The only snag was that someone put a Quilt Museum in Paducah KY, between the Lincoln Boyhood Home in Indiana and Shiloh Battlefield in Tennessee.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference...
Robert Frost

Thursday, June 07, 2007


I used to read all the Wexford series written by Ruth Rendell.

Her first "From Doon Till Death" was published in 1964 so I must have begun reading the paperbacks some time between 1968 and 1972. When the series reached the television in 1987, and George Baker did not fit in to my image of Reg Wexford, I think I lost interest in the books. I was being very unfair but such is the power of television to influence our enjoyment of an author.

Perhaps it was a kind of snobbery in that I had read Rendell before she became so popular, and was peeved that my fixed image of the detective had been spoilt to please the masses.

I returned recently to read End in Tears, the latest Wexford, and found it as enjoyable a read as the earlier books. Detective Chief Inspector Reg Wexford and Detective Inspector Mike Burden are once again investigating a murder and once again Rendell produces some of her trademark twists and turns in a classic police procedural.

Amber Marshalson, a teenage single mother from a wealthy family is found murdered by her doting father George. There is £1,000 in cash on her body and they work out that there was a previous unsuccessful attempt on her life a few weeks earlier. Wexford and Burden have on their investigative team some interesting characters, who epitomise the cultural and social problems in society in the England of 2007. It used to be only the criminals who had all the personal problems but in this novel misery is shared with Wexford's family and his detectives.

There is the problem of the burgeoning relationship between Detective Sergeant Hannah Goldsmith, a modern liberal feminist, and the more staid DC Balbir Bhattacharya.

"They made a beautiful couple, he thought....the woman so slender, her hair streaming down her back like a dark waterfall, and the tall very upright man....They might have been brother and sister, offspring perhaps of a father from Iran and a mother from Iberia."

Wexford has more personal problems as his daughter Sylvia is bearing a surrogate baby for her estranged husband Neil and his girlfriend Naomi. Dora Wexford finds it impossible to cope with this situation, while Reg tries to see his daughter's side in this conundrum.

The discovery of another young girl's body, who not only knew Amber but travelled with her to Frankfurt, has the detectives struggling to find the motive for these murders. One can imagine in the Kingsmarkham police station a large white board with the photographs of the victims, their friends, their acquaintances and relatives with a multitude of lines drawn representing all their connections. In this case one gets the impression that perhaps Wexford and Burden are not collating all the information as well as they should, but as that happens all too frequently in real life the slight air of confusion adds to the story.

Rendell takes the opportunity to highlight some of the massive differences in social class, the gap in attitudes between the generations, and the plethora of problems facing modern Britain. Hannah takes those positions on the edge once occupied by the young Mike Burden, who apart from his younger dress sense, has almost become a clone of Wexford. Reg of course produces no surprises in his views on society, where he speaks for the "silent" majority.

"Beat someone up and no matter if he never walks again, you're out after two years inside. Drunk driving and killing a couple of kids disqualifies you for a bit and sentences you to what amounts to nine months."
Frankly I made a mistake in not continuing to read this series, because they are an easy read with sharply drawn characters, intricate plots and a social commentary that clearly elucidates some of the problems our country faces.
"....and the irony was that he, a black officer of the law, was looked on with greater suspicion than a white thug."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Thanks to Maxine at Petrona for passing on this anonymous comment:

"I think even the Italian mafia in Palermo is more open to "outsiders" than public libraries are. Not only are the responses ridiculous, but even in places where ten jobs have been advertised (eg Southwark) one doesn't get called in for an interview."

I read this and while musing on the similarities between Palermo and Southwark noted that £400,000 has been spent on the London 2012 Olympic "logo".
The blurb on the back cover of An Olympic Death by Manuel Vazquez Montalban came to mind.

Private Investigator Pepe finds himself forced to work for Olympic entrepreneurs for whom the only game in town is to make a fast buck.

I think it would be virtually impossible to try and justify £400,000 or even £40,000 spent on designing a logo, but I am sure they will try. The jury will be out for at least 5 years on the 2012 London Olympics, but I would not bet on an acquittal.

Petrocchi's definition of Mafia-maffia from Philology by Leonardo Sciascia:

"An association of people from all classes of society and from all walks of life, who lend each other assistance regardless of legal or moral principles."

Clientelismo: the culture of looking after friends and family, and thereby keeping outsiders and unknowns out of the loop.

Monday, June 04, 2007


(ANSA) - German director Wim Wenders announced Friday that he will start shooting a film on life in Sicily's capital Palermo in September.Wenders, 62, said he has not written the screenplay of Palermo Story yet, but promised the movie will steer clear of tales of the Sicilian Mafia."I don't have a screenplay yet, but I know that the worst enemies of culture are stereotypes," said the Cannes Golden Palm winner.

Is Palermo without the Mafia like Venice without the canals, Sydney without the Opera House, or San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge?
This should be an interesting film.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I have just finished reading a collection of short essays by Leonardo Sciascia 1921-1989, who was born in Racamulto, Sicily.

I have commented before on the ability of the Italian authors Sciascia, Camilleri, Carlotto, Lucarelli and Carofiglio to pack in to short novels more action, events and quality writing than many who produce long 600 page blockbusters.

In this collection we have Sciascia at almost his best with tales that are taut and spartan in style, but capture the true essence of Scicily and the Italian South. It is clear that his time as a Communist Party member of Palermo's town council, and as a Radical Party MP in the European parliament has provided him with much material.

The stories are not all of an equal quality, but as the best are absolutely brilliant this is not surprising. My favorites were:

"A Matter of Conscience" a story of marital infidelity, confession and its consequences.

"Mafia Western" where the tables are turned and the mafioso in a town are bewildered and frightened as they are stalked by an avenger.

"Philology" an erudite essay on the discussions between a mafia boss and an underling.

"Do you know what the Gospel says? Unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other. "

"Is that how you react?"

"If someone smites me I gun him down."

"End-game" a tale of intrigue and the relationship between a husband and wife.

"In a well ordered and honest society, where no papers were forged, and men had to depend on their own merits and abilities, the most favorable of circumstances would have carried them both to the threshold of public office-as doorkeepers."

Leonardo Sciascia has a mischievous sense of humour and in this book you get both the sweet and the sour.

You will also find plenty of those interlocking threads that have shaped Sicily and all of Italy, Catholicism, Communism, Fascism and Mafia.

One of Sciascia's mafiosi sums up Sicily with this gem, "this is the country where the left hand doen't trust the right even if they belong to the same man."