Monday, March 31, 2008


A brief run through of some of the blog items that caught my eye this weekend.

The Rap Sheet had a veritable cornucopia of interesting items but two were worthy of special attention.

• Cosmos magazine considers the question, “Was Sherlock Holmes the original forensic scientist?” (Hat tip to In Reference to Murder.)

Here is an extract form the original article:

Murray points to evidence that Edmund Locard, a French pioneer of forensic criminology, read Holmes stories; encountering many instances of what modern criminologists call the exchange principle. This could be the hairs left on your jacket by a cat. Or it could be the zinc and copper filings from a trouser cuff by which Holmes identified a man who was part of a coin counterfeiting operation. "It's the basis of all trace evidence which you see mentioned in television shows like CSI," says Murray.
Locard gave the exchange principle a solid scientific basis, establishing in Lyon, France, in 1910 one of the earliest laboratories devoted to criminal investigation.

Read full article here and I think you will decide that Holmes was the first forensic detective or possibly Arthur Conan-Doyle or maybe Joseph Bell.

And an item was about tough bald guys on TV.

I know all about tough bald guys, especially when you have to chip in to buy them an economical hybrid Toyota Prius. I have to admit it was less concern for the environment and more the outrageous cost of fuel that precipitated this purchase. The £15 a year road fund licence and exemption from the London congestion charge were also factors.

Petrona asks some answerable and unaswerable questions including

And provides an answer with the link to The Bookseller.

My own answerable and hopefully some unaswerable questions, the Quirky Quiz, will be posted during the week. Some people are already quaking in their shoes in anticipation.

Of course there were excellent reviews and interesting items at all the usual supects, It's a Crime [or a mystery] , Detectives Beyond Borders, Crime Always Pays [with lovely photos of new arrival Princess Lily], Euro Crime, and another new arrival setting a high standard Crime Scene NI.

Finally I have started to read a book that promises to be the start of a fascinating new series from Polish crime writer Marek Krajewski.

Will their crime writers prove to be as efficient as their plumbers, and bank staff? My review will appear on Euro Crime in due course.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


ANSA) - Rome, March 25 - Based on drug seizures last year, Italy is Europe's second market for heroin, after Britain, and one of the leading consumers of cocaine, according to a new interior ministry report.

Read the full article here

Not only in Britain are we incapable of running an airport after the chaos at Heathrow's Terminal 5, but we are first in Europe as a market for heroin.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


I try to avoid reading any reviews of a book prior to writing a review for Euro Crime, or giving an opinion here on Crime Scraps.

It is encouraging afterwards to discover that other bloggers agreed with my opinions.

But sometimes I completely disagree with other peoples opinions and wonder if they have actually read the book or seen the same film. For instance Michael Haneke's award winning film Hidden [Cache] was probably the most boring film I have ever seen.
On the afternoon I watched it the audience were virtually comatose until one moment of horrific violence woke them up for about thirty seconds. They then dozed off again until the end when they all walked out into the sunlight like zombies.

Have you ever seriously disagreed with the critics' assessment of a book or a film?

Is there a prize winner that you did not rate, or a work that was slated that you thought was very good?

Next week I will post the next Quirky Quiz, the Spring Edition with some fairly testing questions and the chance to win a book which the winner can choose from a selection of great crime fiction.
A gentle reminder the clocks spring forward an hour here in the UK tonight.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Karen at Euro Crime posted about her tortuous train journey to London and back the other day.

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes about the Edwardian and late-Victorian England portrayed in its stories:"The railway is the quickest means of travel and, in the case of emergency, a special train can always be ordered to some country station; time-tables are reliable and for a train to be seven minutes late is cause for alarm."

It was of course a very different world during that Gilded Age of privilege and this extract from The Patricians, England: 1895-1902 the first chapter of Barbara W Tuchman's masterwork The Proud Tower expands on the theme.

But for the majority it was easy to be agreeable when everything was done to keep them in comfort and ease and to make life for the great and wealthy as uninterruptedly pleasant as possible.

The lordly manner was the result. When Colonel Brabazon, who affected a fashionable difficulty with his r's, arrived late at a railroad station to be informed that the train to London had just left, he instructed the station master,

"Then bwing me another."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Droves of people come to marshal Guarnaccia’s office in the Pitti Palace to ask for help. He is doing what he can for an Albanian prostitute to keep her out of prison and get her off the streets and he wants to comfort Sarah Hirsch, a lonely and nervous woman convinced that somebody has broken into her flat. His captain wants him on the case of a minor robbery at the villa of a wealthy foreigner where he feels completely out of his depth. He is glad to turn his attention to lonely Miss Hirsch until he sees that he’s too late. Her throat has been cut.
This is the first Magdalen Nabb novel that I have read which is a sad admission really in that she passed away last August, and this was the 12th book in the series.
Her protagonist Salvatore Guarnaccia is a carabinieri, what we would call a uniformed policeman, not a detective and there is a distinctly different feel to this book as opposed to the Brunetti and Montalbano stories I have read. Guarnaccia does just seem to have things happen around him rather than investigate the crimes.
The author explained her choice in an interview on
I chose to write about the carabinieri because they are part of everyday life. They don’t only turn up when there’s a crime. People are likely to have a relationship with their local Marshal. In the old days, especially in the country, he would be one of the points of reference of any small town or village. The Marshal, the Magistrate, and the Priest. Some of that still lingers. People might go to him when they want help, for instance because their son or daughter is taking drugs. This still applies in a quarter like this one, which is pretty self-contained. It probably wouldn’t apply to a city like Milan. But certainly, the Marshal at Pitti, who has just retired, knows every single shopkeeper, every family, all their problems. And they go to him--the old lady who’s lost her cat, the parents who think their son is taking something, people who want their son to do his military service in the carabinieri, people who can’t find a house. So he doesn’t go out on a case starting from scratch; he goes out there with a good solid base and he’s got a better chance of getting cooperation from the public. It’s more difficult for the police who only deal with crime.
Some Bitter Taste was an easy read has some really good social comment and the strands of the plot were cleverly interwoven, but I did not connect with the marshal or the author. I think it was like someone who has read a long standing detective series and then the TV or film version does not match up to the image they had of the characters. Perhaps I could not adjust from the almost aristocratic status of Brunetti to the more mundane Guarnaccia, or did I have in my mind the quirkily interesting team working under Montalbano and this meant I was disappointed.
......"doing all the dirty jobs we Italians don't want to do"......
......"what I can't understand is why, after the 1938 race laws, any Jews who, like you, could afford to, didn't flee."
"Marshal, we are Italians, you and I".................
I certainly did not find anything original in the plot and the cast of supporting characters such as Captain Maestrangelo, carabinieri Lorenzini and the prosecutor are not as strongly written as those in Donna Leon or Andrea Camilleri.
But I know Magdalen Nabb has a big following so I will read the next book in the series The Innocent in a few weeks to see if that has a more original plot.

Monday, March 24, 2008


I watched the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency based on the novel by Alexander McCall Smith, and filmed on location in Botswana, on BBC1 last night.

I really enjoyed the charming humour, production and superb acting. The stars Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe, Lucian Msamati as JLB Matekoni, Anika Noni Rose as Mma Makutsi were all memorable and the shots of the Botswana countryside were very impressive.

I have not read the the books and would be interested to know from someone who has if they enjoyed the film, and if the production was faithful to the novel.

We are promised a complete series next year, although the director Anthony Minghella died recently, and I do hope his high standards are maintained.

I shall certainly be watching.

As an interesting side note Idris Elba appeared in a cameo role as local criminal boss Charlie Gotso. Idris is in danger of being typecast as a villain because of course he starred in HBO's brilliant The Wire as Russell "Stringer"Bell, the brains behind the Barksdale drug dealing organisation.

Idris Elba does have a one major advantage in playing the part of a ruthless criminal mastermind having been born in Hackney, East London.


Thanks to Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders for steering me to this post about biscotti dunking at:

Donna Leon cleverly emphasises the social gulf between Paola and Guido by their attitude to dunking in the quoted passage taken from the first Brunetti mystery Death at la Fenice.

I have the suspicion that although Paola's English nanny might have stopped her dunking in front of her parents, when back in her own room I am sure nanny dunked her biscotti in her cup of English tea.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


On a much lighter more pleasant note Lisa at the always mouth watering Champaign Taste is a great admirer of the appetite of Salvo Montalbano. Her latest post at:

is both a tribute to Sicilian snack food and to the novels of Andrea Camilleri.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Maxine at Petrona was very kind about my review of Philip Kerr's A Quiet Flame.

Norman Price assesses Philip Kerr's A Quiet Flame -- the book and its context -- over at Euro Crime. If you read only one review in this collection of links, I recommend this one. Not only is it an excellent review, but it provides a strong sense of the importance of history, and of remembering.

I would add that if you only have time to read one page of A Quiet Flame make it page 335.

No spoilers but that page alone made reading the book worthwhile.

Thanks to Maxine, and of course Karen at Euro Crime for the book.


Saturday's Western Morning News, our excellent west country daily, has some interesting articles and although the lead announced that crime in Devon and Cornwall had risen by double the national average since 1997 I was drawn to a story on page 9.

I had been saddened on my last visit to Ashburton a few weeks ago to see that The Bookshelf had closed. Today we bought the Western Morning News in the newsagents a few doors away from the empty shop and later read the story on page 9.
"Free-for-all on Internet sealed fate of bookshop" was the headline and Carole Lewis, who had run the independent bookseller for 22 years, explained that cut price competition and the Internet had forced her to close her business.
She said that "independent bookselling is more of a hobby than a living these days" , and that "five small independent booksellers have closed the South West since January".
I felt a distinct feeling of guilt charged with buying books on the internet, of googling for information instead of buying reference books, and of picking up cheap offers in supermarkets.
I will miss going in to The Bookshelf and now wish I had spent more money there.
Can the small independent bookseller survive or have we by our own actions destroyed a fine institution?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The other night I watched The Good German on my movies on demand cable service.

This followed on nicely from reading A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr as it had a similar theme.

The guilt of the survivor when so many perished, and the guilt of those who did nothing, or did not do enough.

"If I am truly innocent then I would be dead" a line from the book is similar to a line in the film spoken by Cate Blanchett, who plays Lena Brandt, a Jewish girl married to an SS officer. George Clooney plays the investigative reporter Jake Geismer in an almost detached manner, while Tobey Maguire gives a brilliantly horrible cameo performance as Tully the quintessential "anything for a buck" Yank.
The plot of the film revolves around the search for Emil Brandt, Lena's husband who was involved in the V2 rocket program, but of course the film's message is of American complicity in the terrible bargain struck at Potsdam. The Soviets get Eastern Europe in exchange for the German scientists, who go off to the USA to work on the rocket program even if they had committed terrible war crimes.

The Good German, based on a novel by Joseph Kanon, is an interesting homage to the black and white thrillers of the 1930s and 1940s and apparently it was filmed in colour and then the colour drained out so that the film could be blended in with original black and white footage of war ravaged Berlin and the Potsdam conference.
I said a homage but director Steven Soderbergh takes the film beyond pastiche into parody, and in the closing scene between Clooney and Blanchett at the plane I quite expected Claude Rains and Paul Henreid to pop into the frame.
I got the impression that all that cleverness was more for the director's pleasure than the audience.
But it is quite entertaining, educational and interesting as a historical reconstruction, despite scenes that would never have been allowed in the 1940s.
I think that the main problem is that the actors are just not in the same league as Bogart and Bergman however hard they try, and you feel you are watching an economy class version of Casablanca.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


There are some new reviews posted on Euro Crime by the hard working Karen. The newish side bar with lists of Crime in translation and lists of translated crime fiction make this site an even more valuable resource.

And you can read my review of Philip Kerr's A Quiet Flame, the fifth in the Bernie Gunther series at:
A compelling and harrowing novel about a uniquely terrible period in world history.

Friday, March 14, 2008


(ANSA) - Palermo, March 11 -

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Sicilian Mafia but were afraid to ask is the subject of a new book written especially for tourists that has hit the shelves in Italy this week.

The 55-page pocket guide, entitled 'Mafia For Tourists', is available in Japanese, German, English, Spanish and French.......
See the full article at:


It seems appropriate that with St Patrick's Day on Monday and with thanks to Declan Burke I learned about a new Irish crime fiction blog, Crime Scene Northern Ireland.

The man behind the blog Gerard Brennan is obviously talented because he has squeezed out some sponsorship from The Arts Council of Northern Ireland for a novel entitled "Piranhas".

From the title I assume it is either an income tax guide or a novel about crime in post troubles West Belfast.

Gerard's latest post on Thursday was about Colin Bateman, one of the Telegraph's 50 greatest crime writers, and the site has useful links to Northern Irish crime writers so it is well worth visiting.
Happy St Patrick's Day for Monday to everyone from the Emerald Isle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I am still wondering if the decision by Mystery Ink to abandon the award for European Crime Fiction was caused by a subconcious fear that American crime fiction is no longer in such a pre-eminent position.

Thanks to web sites such as Euro Crime, Detectives Beyond Borders , Crime Always Pays, Petrona, It's a Crime [or a mystery...] and the exposure recently given to Scandinavian crime fiction by the Mystery Readers Journal American readers are realising the sheer volume and excellent quality of crime fiction produced by writers from outside North America.

The recent Los Angeles Times Book Prize nominees in the crime fiction category were Norwegian, German, Swedish, Irish and Irish born in Vermont which has probably sent a chill down the spine of American authors.
Benjamin Black, CHRISTINE FALLS (Henry Holt)
Ake Edwardson, FROZEN TRACKS (Viking)
Karin Fossum (Translated by Charlotte Barslund) THE INDIAN BRIDE (Harcourt)
Tana French, IN THE WOODS (Viking)
Jan Costin Wagner (Translated by John Brownjohn) ICE MOON (Harcourt)

WOW! What a list! Four Scandanavian crime writers and an Irish literary, mainstream fiction writer disguised as a mystery writer.

Where are the excellent American writers? Is this the equivalent of what happened in the U.K. with the CWA Awards a couple of years ago?

I put the inaccurate author designation down to American parochialism and isolationist tendencies. A few years ago somewhere in Eastern Tennessee I asked for airmail stamps to send postcards to the UK, and afterwards realised that the guy behind the counter assumed I was sending postcards to the University of Kentucky.

Tana French may be published by Viking but her intriguing first novel is set in Ireland and she was born in Vermont. Jan Costin Wagner is German but his wife is from Finland and his novels are set in Finland so I suppose he can be classified as Scandinavian.

When the CWA seperated translated fiction from that written in English we ended up with a South African born Australian Peter Temple deservedly winning the big prize with The Broken Shore.

So the Americans have not only got to worry about Europeans but some superb Australian crime fiction as well. We obviously need more niche awards and the ability to keep our eye on the ball and find out who has won each year's Ned Kelly, Martin Beck, Nordic Glass Key, Glauser and other European prizes.

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.
Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The Web site Mystery Ink is out with its nominees for the 7th Annual Gumshoe Awards.

This year’s contenders are as follows:Best Mystery:• Tin Roof Blowdown, by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)• The Unquiet, by John Connolly (Atria)•Mistress of the Art of Death, by Ariana Franklin (Putnam)• The Shotgun Rule, by Charlie Huston (Ballantine)• What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman (Morrow) [info from The Rap Sheet]

This is an incredibly strong lineup and I have three of these on my shelf and one on order.

But as usual I like to look for something controversial to get my teeth, such as they are, into, and David Montgomery of Crime Fiction Dossier was kind enough to supply me some raw meat.

After a great deal of discussion, we decided to eliminate the category for Best European Crime Novel. It was never a strength of the Gumshoes, and I'm not a fan in general of that type of niche award. (Same thing goes for Best Paperback, etc.)

Well after reading the phrase "It was never a strength of the Gumshoes" I just had to look up who had won the Gumshoe Best European Crime Novel in the three years it was awarded.

Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum and Robert Wilson were the winners, and nominees included Arnaldur Indridason, Fred Vargas and Gianrico Carofiglio.

It seems to me that the judges for that Gumshoe Award really knew their stuff and this is one award that should have been retained.

Are there too many awards for crime fiction?

What about niche awards?

I am in favour of these as long as the niche is strictly defined, and "historical" mysteries are not set in the 1950s or 1960s in order to make me feel very old.

So it is well done to Ariana Franklin for setting her historical novels in the 12th century.

What do you think are there now too many awards so that it would take weeks just to read the winners yet alone the nominees?

Or is it all the more the merrier, and eventually will we have a Best Mystery Novel written by a Male over the age 60 set north of Watford Gap prize?

[The photo shows that while Devon is a great holiday destination and a lovely place to live occasionally the tide comes in.]

Monday, March 10, 2008


We finally managed to get along to one of Otterton Mill's Thursday night musical evenings. The event was rather appropriate as I was about to post on the Irish mystery/thriller The Cat Trap and one of the two musicians was Irish.

She was Irish in the nicest possible way, attractive, plays wonderful harp music, sings beautifully and has a charming accent.

Her name was Maire Ni Chathasaigh which they told us was pronounced Moira Nee Ha-ha-sig, and I remembered the Moira and the Nee, but had to look up the Ha-ha-sig.
The other musician Chris Newman was from a less beautiful part of the world, Watford, but despite that impediment is a superb guitar player.
They are fantastically gifted and their varied program had the audience in the palm of their hands with many of us rushing to buy their CD's at the end of the performance.
Otterton Mill has a bakery, craft shops, and a fine restaurant, it is only a few miles from the World Heritage Coast at Budleigh Salterton, and is one of the many reasons that living in Devon is such a pleasant experience.
You can go to their website at:

Saturday, March 08, 2008


The photo on the right is Kevin's choice of actress to play Emma Boylan, Victoria Smurfit.

5) Kevin, do you think Ireland is more or less corrupt since EU entry?

Since joining the EU, Ireland has punched above its weight. Corruption, like the poor, will always be with us; it’s something we share in equal measure with all our EU neighbours. Fact of life.

6) The blossoming of the Irish crime fiction scene seems to coincide with the end of the “troubles”. Do you think there is a connection, or is the economic boom the catalyst?

Since the troubles came to an end in N.Ireland, the former paramilitaries[terror groups] have, it seems, turned their talents to everyday crime-drug trafficking, armed robbery, mugging little old ladies, whatever.
All the material anyone would ever need as the basis for a crime fiction book.

7) Do you read non fiction, and if so what?

I try not to confine my reading to any one genre but apart from the odd biographic or historical tome I don’t have a lot of time left for non fiction.

8) How many more Emma Boylan books do you think there will be?

After I’ve finished each book, I tell myself I’m going to change direction, find a new protagonist but Emma is a difficult lady to turn your back on. So looks like we’re an item for the foreseeable future.

9) Was becoming an author always an ambition?

No, not at all. I’m what you might call an accidental author. My background is in advertising, PR and graphics. I was in a rut, wanting to get away from the mindless shit I was pedalling, discovered that writing had the power to save my soul.

10) If The Cat Trap was filmed or on TV who would you cast as Emma, or do you want to leave that to our imaginations?

Who would I cast as Emma? Hmmm. I like Victoria Smurfit. She’s the lead detective in the TV series “Trial and Retribution”, and yes, she’s a member of the filthy rich Smurfit dynasty-[the boss’s niece]. She’s great though.
Hilary Swank, Orla Brady or Cate Blanchett would be equally great. Casting couch now in operation. Next Please!

Thanks very much Kevin for answering those questions, and the insights into the difficult choices a writer has to make, Victoria Smurfit or Hilary Swank
. Hmm.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


ANSA) - Ferrara, March 5 - An 80-year woman was denied a national health card because, according to health officials, she had been dead for 25 years, the local press reported on Wednesday.

The incident took place at the national health office in nearby San Giuseppe di Copparo, where Ultimina Dalla Pria was told that their official records showed that she had been dead since January 1, 1983.

After recovering from the initial shock, the 80-year-old told officials that she was still quite alive and kicking and had no intention of dying.''But this didn't change anything.........

This ever so Italian charming idiosyncrasy reminded me of this wonderful passage from one of my favourite Camilleri stories, Excursion to Tindari.

They saved everything-letters, greeting cards, photographs, telegrams, electrical and phone bills, .................

There was even a copy of the "certificate of living existence", that nadir of bureaucratic imbecility. What might Gogol and his dead souls, have concocted from such a document?

Had a copy fallen into his hands, Franz Kafka would surely have come up with another of his anguishing short stories.

And now we had "self-certification", how was one supposed to proceed?

What was the protocol, to use a word dear to government offices?

Did one simply write on a sheet of paper something like: "I the undersigned, Salvo Montalbano, hereby declare myself to be in existence", sign it and turn it in to the appointed clerk?

Truth once again is stranger than fiction, and how could you fail to love a country with such a wonderfully eccentric system of government.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Once in a while you read a book that is number 5 or 6 in a series and regret having missed the earlier books, and that’s how I felt when I read The Cat Trap by K.T.McCaffrey. The book features a glamorous Dublin based investigative journalist named Emma Boylan, and author Kevin McCaffrey took some time away from Emma to answer some questions.

1] Kevin do you find it difficult or strange to have a woman as your protagonist?

Yes I do find it a little odd to have a woman as my main protagonist but I did not have the bottle to go up against the staple diet of the established fathers of crime fiction, you know the hard-drinking, heavy-smoking, wise-cracking, womanising, anti-establishment, anti-authority, hot-headed, reckless, eccentric, non-conformist characters that populate our favourite mystery stories.
Having a female reporter gave me a relatively blank canvas to work

2] Do you base your characters on people you have met in Dublin, or are they from your imagination?

A little bit of everything. Sometimes I use people I know as a starting point; other times I morph the characteristics of two or maybe three acquaintances.
Then again, other characters come straight out of the ether, and there are usually the best ones because I don’t feel restricted by any preconceived notions about

3] You mentioned Ken Bruen’s The Guards in the book, what other Irish crime writers do you read?

I first came across the name Ken Bruen attached to a glowing review of my third book, “The Body Rock”, in the Evening Herald. Well, I wanted to know who this guy was that lavished praise on my writing, so I decided to check him out, brought a copy of “The Guards” and was blown away. I’ve worshipped at the altar of Bruen ever since.
Other Irish crime writers who float my boat include Vincent Banville, Declan Burke and Gene Kerrigan.

4] Do you read a lot of crime fiction and if so has any particular crime fiction author inspired you? Who are your favourites?

Yeah, I read an awful lot of crime fiction, maybe too much. My favourite international authors are Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin, Elizabeth George, Iain Banks and about 700 others.