Wednesday, October 29, 2008


In Liza Marklund's novel Paradise newspaper sub-editor Annika Bengtzon is trying to recover from the violent death of her fiance that occurred in the preceding book, Studio 69.
A mysterious woman Rebecka Bjorkstig approaches Annika to write an article about her foundation called 'Paradise', which helps people, who are being threatened with violence, disappear and start new lives.
As a hurricane  sweeps across Southern Sweden two young men are killed at Stockholm's free port and a container lorry stashed full of smuggled cigarettes goes missing. Annika is then contacted by a desperate Aida Begovic, a Bosnian refugee, who is being pursued by Ratko, one of the feared 'Yugo' mafia.  Annika temporarily saves Aida from Ratko and then refers her to Rebecka at 'Paradise' and the serious problems begin. 
Meanwhile Thomas Samuelsson, an accountant working for the city of Vaxholm, queries a contract with the foundation Paradise for their services and wonders what the future holds for him in his unfulfilling marriage to successful banker Eleanor. 

The lives of Annika, Aida, Rebecka, Ratko and Thomas will become interrelated in this exciting and slightly different crime novel. The plot involves international criminal gangs, newspaper politics, marital violence, the break up of Yugoslavia and Sweden's social welfare departments. It does cover a lot of ground but does it very well. Nothing is quite as it seems and the plot is a little difficult to follow at times with a few too many traffic directions. 
There are twists and turns along the way as Annika struggles with her almost overwhelming personal problems and the story moves to its satisfactory conclusion.
Liza Marklund has been involved in a ridiculous controversy over the use of her photograph on the cover to sell her books see here and here
But her looks are frankly irrelevant compared to the fact that the lady can really write excellent crime fiction. I read Paradise just after finishing The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo so my standards were set exceptionally high. 
Paradise was below those standards but I enjoyed reading the book and I was very impressed by the straightforward style of writing. 
The several different perspectives taken during the book worked very well. There was no disruption to the flow of the narrative and the build up of tension, which sometimes occurs when this multiple perspective is attempted, and the dialogue seemed natural to the circumstances.   

Annika's great love for her grandmother Sophia rang very true as my own younger daughter was very close to her grandmother who died recently. 
I think you need to have experienced life to be able communicate a story effectively and Liza Marklund has that skill.
I read The Bomber [in which the action takes place 8 years after Studio 69] some while ago, but the younger more immature Annika of this novel was a more interesting character. She was certainly no superwoman and became fairly hysterical under pressure but this made her a much more sympathetic and realistic character. 
There is obviously an incredible depth of talented young crime writers in Sweden.
I intend to read more Liza Marklund whatever the design on the cover. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I finished reading The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo several days ago. Now I am prepared to be criticized for the fault of constant repetition but this book was top quality crime fiction and the series is a must read for crime fiction fans. I know I am a bit of a bore on this subject but they really are very good.
Don't just take my opinion look at the knowledgeable Maxine of Petrona's review here.

Ernst Sigurd Karlsson kills himself with a shot through the mouth in his tidy bedroom. Alongside the phone in the living room is a pad with two words written on it. Martin Beck.

Meanwhile Gunvald Larsson is observing a Stockholm apartment house, while a young policeman gets some coffee to warm him. The  house explodes and Larsson heroically rescues most of the people inside.

Why was the house being watched? Was the explosion arson or an accident? 

The investigation is an ensemble operation, breaking several of S.S. Van Dine's rules for writing detective stories [listed by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise], with the conflicting idiosyncratic personalities of the detectives playing a major part in the story. Systematic police work, stinging social commentary and a lot of humour makes this book a great read. 
Martin Beck takes an ancillary role in this story apart from the details of his almost always depressing home life which leads him to lie to his wife and spend the holiday  weekend with Kollberg and his wife.
The slightly concussed Gunvald Larsson conducts his own off beat investigation while supposedly off sick. But Martin Beck and the rest of the team, Lennart Kollberg  Einar Ronn, Fredrik Melander [when he is not in the toilet] , and 'future Chief of Police' Benny Skacke end up needing the cooperation of Inspector Mansson from Malmo who conveniently finds a very helpful witness in order to solve the interrelated crimes. 
A lot of the black humour in the book concerns the team members and their relationships with minor characters such as their boss Hammar, criminal-technologist Hjelm, and the 'Laurel and Hardy' of the Stockholm police Kvant and Kristiansson.

'Except a false alarm, which you failed to report, for Christ's sake. Out of sheer idleness or stupidity. Is that right?'
'Yes ,' mumbled Kristiansson.
'We were exhausted,' said Kvant, with a glimpse of hope.
'By what?'
'Lengthy and demanding duty.'
'Christ, kiss my arse,' said Gunvald Larsson. 'How many arrests had you made during your patrol?'
'None', said Kristiansson.

If you have not read this series yet you are in for a wonderful treat and I can do no more than quote the Birmingham [UK] Post;
'Sjowall /Wahloo are the best writers of police procedural in the world.' 

Friday, October 24, 2008


Salman Rushdie said last Friday that Roberto Saviano, whose first novel Gomorrah sold over 1,200,000 copies in Italy, was at greater danger from a Camorra death threat than he had been from the Iranian fatwah. 

I decided to go and see the film of the book in our local Exeter Picture House. 
Gomorrah which won the Cannes Grand Prix is a stark gritty unglamorous look at life for the residents of Naples and Caserta under the domination of the Camorra clans. 
Five separate independent strands of the story are covered in a documentary style. 
Toto, a young boy tries to become one of the drug gang; two wild 'coked up' young men challenge the local Camorra boss; Don Ciro, who delivers money to Camorra families becomes involved in a clan war known as the 'faida di Scampia'; Pasquale, a tailor working for a factory producing high fashion, moonlights for a Chinese manufacturer with serious consequences; and a young man Roberto is involved in the Camorra's toxic waste business. 

This is not a film for the casual cinema goer as it runs 137 minutes, and portrays a image of Italy that the tourist hopefully never sees with much of it filmed  on a sink estate that made parts of Peckham look positively idyllic. 
The film reminded me of The Wire, but as if only viewed from the perspective of the gangsters, and the result is both very bleak and frightening. The almost incidental violence is terrible and realistically sudden, human life is cheap and this is not occurring in inner city USA, but in supposedly 'civilized' Europe. 
Gomorrah is an excellent exciting film  but it should be regarded more as an educational event than cinematic entertainment. In other words don't take anyone who is nervous and holidaying south of Rome, this is not the Italy of the Duomo in Florence or the Campo in Siena.
[photo of Roberto Saviano from The Independent, scene from film from The Times]

Thursday, October 23, 2008


In the final part of an interview with Leighton Gage, author of Blood of the Wicked and his latest book Buried Strangers [to be published in Jamuary 2009] he discusses among other topics the future of Brazil. You can read my review of Blood of the Wicked here, and the first two parts of this interview here and here. Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction is always a thoughtful reviewer and he has a review of Buried Strangers here

Crime Scraps: Other countries have vast disparities between the rich and the poor but police death squads seem to be unique to Brazil and other Latin American countries. What do you think the reasons for this are?

     Leighton:  I can’t speak for the other countries of South America, but I can say this about Brazil: the judiciary system is a mess; there are many corrupt judges; it takes an eternity for a case to come to trial; there is little space in the overcrowded prisons; there is no death penalty; sentences tend to be lax. More than eighty percent of all felons wind up being released before serving out their terms.

Brazilian death squads, usually composed of cops, stem from a misguided attempt to bring justice to the legal system. They’re like the vigilantes of the old American West. Sometimes, though, such squads are recruited for more nefarious purposes, purposes that have nothing to do with a perception of justice. I deal with an instance of this in Blood of the Wicked.   

Crime Scraps: You described Brazil as a very rich country with a lot of very poor people. Would entry into an expanded G9 or a seat on the UN Security Council begin a process of improving the social conditions for the poor?

     Leighton: No, I don’t think it would. Did you know that the United Nations peacekeepers currently in Haiti are all Brazilian troops? And the fact that, whenever there’s been a natural disaster anywhere in South America, Brazil has always stepped in to help? Brazil is anxious for a bigger role on the world stage, and there’s no doubt in my mind that facilitating that would be helpful to other, less fortunate peoples. Unfortunately, though, it would be unlikely to have any internal effect.

Crime Scraps: If the books were brought to the screen who would you have in mind to pay the parts of Mario, Hector and Agente Arnaldo Nunes?

Leighton: Dustin Hoffman would probably make a great Silva, Johnny Depp a great Hector and Russel Crowe would shine as Arnaldo. But you know what? I’d really like to see the film made in Brazil, with Brazilian actors and spoken in Portuguese. Yeah, I know, it’s hardly going to build major readership in the first world or make me famous. But it would be personally satisfying.

I’d like to call your readers’ attention to two Brazilian films: Elite Troop (Tropa da Elite) and City of God (Cidade de Deus). Brazilian crime films are far more “real” than most of what comes out of Hollywood. BOTW reflects that reality.

Crime Scraps: Who are your favourite crime fiction authors?

Leighton: Have you read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s  Shadow of the Wind?  Terrific Book! Eric Ambler’s work continues to appeal to me. So does much of John Le Carré and almost everything published by Soho Crime and Bitter Lemon Press. Anybody who hasn’t yet checked out their web sites – should.

Crime Scraps: What crime fiction book would you like to have written, and why?

Leighton: Picking just one is really difficult. Maybe Ian Pears’ An Incidence of the Fingerpost? A staggering achievement! 

Crime Scraps: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Brazil’s future? Do you see the countries wealth eventually filtering down to the masses?

Leighton:  Brazil, in the time I’ve known it, has gone from a military dictatorship to a true democracy. It’s a flawed democracy, often a corrupt democracy, but a true democracy nonetheless. There is absolute freedom of the press and there is absolute freedom of expression. The current President is an ex-union leader with a grade school education, committed to the redistribution of wealth.  He can’t do it alone, and he can’t do it overnight, but the country is certainly moving in the right direction. All in all, I’m intensely optimistic about Brazil’s future – just don’t ask me to put a timetable on it.

Thanks very much Leighton for taking the time to answer my questions, and I am really looking forward to reading Buried Strangers and posting a review before the end of the year. 

This interview was conducted before the recent financial meltdown. Some economists believed that Brazil along with India, China and Russia, the so -called BRIC group, had de-coupled their expanding economies from the West. From the evidence of the past few days this was wishful thinking but we can only watch and wait to see what the future will hold  for Brazil.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I read my first six Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo [Martin Beck] books many years ago, longer than I want to admit. 
In 2006 I returned to the series reading The Locked Room which I reviewed here
My admiration for these books was revived and I bought the remaining three in the series that I had not previously read. I think that if I was marooned on a desert island I would want these ten books to read and reread. 

Number 5: The Fire Engine That Disappeared
Number 6: Murder At The Savoy
Number 7: The Abominable Man

They looked very good on the shelf and I regarded them like a fine wine to be enjoyed over a period of time, rather than gulped down at one sitting.

All three were purchased in the excellent Harper Perennial editions with introductions and interesting interviews and extras. 
I have posted about this fantastic series before here and here and here
and  here.

I have now started to read The Fire Engine That Disappeared [you can read an excellent review of this book by Maxine of Petrona here] and am surprised at the almost Nostradamus relevance to the problems of today raised in this nearly 40 year old police procedural. Of course Swedish society was more advanced towards that socialist liberal utopia envisaged by their and our political leaders which they assumed would solve all worries.

'.....but nowadays there was an increasing tendency on the part of the authorities to look the other way when it came to young girls going astray. Their escapades were too numerous, the social workers too few and ways of correction either non existent or out of date.'

'Karlsson was a typical small-timer, the one who finally delivered the narcotics to schoolchildren in their lunch breaks in exchange for their pocket money and what they could steal from their parents.......'

'How many middlemen the goods had been through before they reached him, he certainly would have no idea, and between him and the root of the evil lay an enormous complex of political miscalculations and failed social policy.' 

We still have not solved these problems yet and unfortunately periods of excess such as we have just enjoyed are usually followed by a violent reaction. 

In the book the drug squad come to arrest Karlsson dressed in coloured sweaters, and Gunvald Larsson comments, perhaps  predicting future  financial problems:

'And also, one doesn't in fact salute when wearing an Icelandic sweater.' 

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Swag is defined in the dictionary as 'money or goods taken by a thief or burglar.' 
I thought it appropriate to go back and read this 1976 Elmore Leonard novel during this time of financial turmoil and bank bonuses. 

Two small time crooks Frank J. Ryan and Ernest Stickley, Jr [Stick] meet during Stick's attempted theft of  a maroon '73 Camaro from Red Bowers Chevrolet where Frank works as a salesman. Frank subsequently 'fails' to identify Stick in court and the two men embark on a string of armed robberies. They follow Frank's ten rules for success, which he had written on ten different table napkins, and 'after three months in the business......... they had moved into an apartment building where nearly half the occupants were single young ladies'.

'There were several Jewish career ladies. Frank was glad to see that.'

Of course Frank and Stick are tempted to break the 'golden rules' and they run into problems.

'Never tell a junkie even your name,' Stick said. 'The place is a dope store, full of heads. Rule Number Ten-you want another one?

Swag is set in 1970's Detroit and is full of sharp dialogue and fine descriptive writing that makes it easy to picture the action in your mind. The characters, even the supporting cast are sharply drawn, and the plot is realistic and down to earth. There are no extreme murderous devices or ancient manuscripts to decipher just good solid honest crime writing.  

One thing did strike me was that in both Elmore Leonard's Swag and Arnaldur Indridason's Arctic Chill reviewed here the crimes are mundane, almost every day occurrences, yet the author is able to create a superb crime fiction novel out of very little. 
I suppose that is talent and there is no substitute for that. Swag was a pleasure to read and confirmed for me why Elmore Leonard has won so many awards and also why so many of his books have been made into movies. 

'Stick considered a P-38 Walther. It looked pretty good, but chose a Smith & Wesson .38 Chief's Special with a two-inch barrel. After Frank finished fooling around, he picked a big Colt Python 357 with a ventilated rib over its six-inch barrel.' 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Here is the second part of the interview with Leighton Gage author of Blood of the Wicked  and Buried Strangers, the first in a new series of thrillers set in Brazil and featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva. The concluding part in which Leighton gives us his opinion about Brazil's future will be posted next week.

Crime Scraps: Blood of the Wicked reads as if you find the writing process quite easy or does it take a lot of hard work to produce that smooth Brazilian style?

Leighton: It takes a lot of hard work. There are, I suppose, some geniuses who can rattle off line after line of brilliant prose and get it right the first time. But I’ve never met one, and I’m certainly not one myself. My technique is to keep re-reading what I’ve written (both silently and aloud) until it “sounds right”. That generally takes at least twice as long as it does to get the initial story and dialogue down on paper.

When I was starting out in advertising, I heard an ancient copywriter (It’s a young person’s business, so she was probably half the age I am now) make this remark: “great ads aren’t written. They’re re-written, and re-written, and re-written.” I’d extend that to novels. Did you know that Ernest Hemmingway was reputed to have written the last chapter of For Whom The Bell Tolls twenty-seven times? He once said, and this is a quote, “First drafts are shit.” I agree with him. 

 Crime Scraps: I think Blood of the Wicked is a perfect example of crime fiction be being used as an educational resource. Do you think that this is the most important papart of your role as a writer especially as most people know so very little about BrBrazil except that it produces great footballers?

Leighton: Some writers set education as their first priority, but if a novelist does that, I think he’s misinterpreting his role. People buy novels to be entertained. My first responsibility, therefore, is to cobble together a cracking good story populated with characters readers would like to spend time with. Once I’ve done that, I’m free to educate. And I do. With every book.

Crime Scraps:  The main protagonist in BOTW is Mario Silva who is Chief Inspector for Criminal Matters of the Federal Police of Brazil. Does such a post exist and are Mario and his nephew Hector Costa based on any real people? Why did you make them Federal cops?

Leighton: If I may, Norman, let me take the last of those questions first: I made Mario and Hector federal cops so they’d have a mandate that could carry them (and my readers) to the most distant corners of the republic. That same mandate involves them in a myriad of criminal issues that are denied to Brazil’s military, civil and municipal police. Those issues include political and judicial corruption, dope smuggling, white slave trafficking, death squads and much, much more.

You won’t, however, find a Chief Inspector for Criminal Matters on the organizational chart of the Brazilian Federal Police. In the creation of that title, I have taken dramatic license.

That said, both Silva and his nephew, Hector, are very much based on two cops of my acquaintance. I can’t be more specific than that. Those gentlemen wouldn’t want me to be.  

Crime Scraps:  It is very good news that there are three more Mario Silva investigations in the pipeline can you tell us what broadly subjects they will cover? And when ththey will be published?

Leighton: Gladly. Buried Strangers debuts in the US in January of 2009. It takes place in São Paulo and will, I think, give readers more of a feel for that wonderful and terrible place. It’s about a certain kind of corruption in the medical profession, something that would be unlikely to occur anywhere in the first world.

Dying Gasp will be available in the US in January of 2010, hopefully earlier in Europe. In it, Silva and Hector travel to Manaus, the self-styled “capital of the Amazon”, where they take on the prostitution (and worse) of minors.

The Tenth Passenger, the fourth book in the series, deals with political ambition and corruption – and also with the drug trade. It some ways, it’s the most “mysterious” of the lot – a true whodunit. I’m currently putting the finishing touches  on that one.

[To be continued] 

Sunday, October 12, 2008


What a week! I was at the chiropodist on Tuesday when the next patient came in and said "Iceland's gone bust!" 
"The supermarket?" we chorused. 
"No, the bl****** country!"

Anyone who had invested or deposited money in Icelandic banks had obviously not watched the film Jar City based on Arnaldur Indridason's prize winning book [Tainted Blood in the UK] and seen what a bleak place it is. Fast food joints selling Erlendur's usual evening meal of 'sheep's head' are not a sign of massive wealth.
A letter in this Saturday's Daily Telegraph from a Emory Troops[who had lived in Iceland twenty years ago] informed readers that 'unless one wants seafood or sweaters one might have as well put their money in the National Bank of Zimbabwe'. 

If Iceland's banking system and financiers have proved unreliable, that cannot be said for their crime writers.

I have just finished reading Arnaldur Indridason's  police procedural Arctic Chill in which Erlendur, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg investigate the death of a young Thai-Icelandic boy, whose Thai half brother has gone missing.
This superb novel gives us an account of the investigation while identifying the tensions that exist  between new immigrants from Asia and the small Icelandic indigenous population. Many of the Icelanders feel that their culture will be destroyed by the incomers who themselves find it hard to cope with the language and the harsh weather. Other issues are introduced with the possible presence in the vicinity of a paedophile, marital infidelity,  and the death of Erlendur's old boss Marion Briem.
We also learn a bit more about the  detectives, Erlendur's continual struggle with past problems and Sigurdur Oli's deteriorating relationship with Bergothora. 
A separate case involving the search for a missing woman reminds Erlendur of his younger brother lost in a blizzard and as common in crime fiction the cases become interlinked as the satisfying but thought provoking conclusion is reached. 
This is crime fiction at its best and you can read two excellent reviews and comments by Maxine of Petrona here and here and by  Glenn Harper of International Noir here.

What I found fascinating about Arctic Chill was that Indridason did not need a very complicated crime to interest his readers. A seemingly mundane, but terrible, crime became a tool for covering so many incidents and ideas that he was able to draw the reader into the story with interesting realistic characters such as Sunee, the victim's Thai mother and Kjartan, the bigoted teacher. 

Arnaldur Indridason's usual translator Bernard Scudder died tragically young last year and the translation of Arctic Chill was completed very successfully by Victoria Cribb.

'.....and she talked about how Icelanders were a bit reserved compared to Thais. ........... 'And the weather's not quite the same', Elinborg said.

I will definitely be on the lookout for the next Arnaldur Indridason book. You can read an interview with the author here

Friday, October 10, 2008



I really enjoyed reading the thriller Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva which I reviewed here.

The Booklist review stated that it "vividly evokes a country of political corruption, startling economic disparity and relentless crime'. 

I agree and found myself getting involved with interesting characters who were then summarily  eliminated by the villains which gave the novel a very gritty realism. This novel was not a mystery but an exciting thriller which packed a lot into its 320 pages.

I had intended to watch the Brazilian film 'Tropa da Elite' about the Brazilian government's paramilitary force formed to tackle the drug wars in Rio's favelas this week but this proved impossible because of family commitments and the film's short run. But just viewing the exciting trailer convinced me that 'Blood of the Wicked' is an accurate and frightening picture of life for some in Brazil. Although we should not forget that Brazil is also a land of great beaches, beautiful people, fine food and stunning scenery. 

The author of Blood of the Wicked Leighton Gage was kind enough to answer a few questions in order to give us a rare insight into the making of a writer, the writing process and the future of Brazil.

Crime Scraps: From reading your biography you have had a varied and very successful career why did you decide to become a crime writer?

Leighton: There’s no simple answer to that one, Norman, not for me. If I’d undergone an epiphany, as some writers claim to have done, I might be able to point to a single event that transformed me from a reader to a writer. But, in my case, it wasn’t like that at all. It was a process, a process that took years.

By the time I was a budding adolescent, I was already into books. My earliest heroes were Robin Hood, The Knights of the Round Table, The Three Musketeers. In those days, an adult wouldn’t think of picking up Treasure Island or Kidnapped. Robert Louis Stevenson was for us kids, remember?

In my late teens and early twenties I read the hot novels, immersed myself in Mitchener, Fleming, Mario Puzo, Leon Uris, the two Irvings, Stone and Wallace. I discovered poetry, memorized a lot of it, can still quote Yeats, Houseman and Kipling by the yard. I blush to admit that I plagiarized some of that poetry and sent it to girls. None of those girls ever caught me out, which probably says something about the sort of young women I admired in those days.

In my forties, my reading matter started shifting toward histories, biographies and crime novels set in exotic locations. I discovered Eric Ambler. It still hadn’t crossed my mind that I might produce something of my own.

Then, in my mid-fifties, restlessness set in. I’m not talking about a midlife crisis, nothing as serious as that, but I was beginning to find my day job repetitive and boring. Meantime, I’d acquired long years of experience with Brazil, a huge and fascinating country that few people outside the continent know anything about. Meantime, too, I was still reading those crime novels. And thus it was that, almost half a century after I picked up my first book, I started toying with the idea of seeing my name on a spine, finding my work in a bookshop or a library.

The final catalyst came when a law enforcement professional, a childhood friend of my Brazilian brother-in-law, exposed me to the intricacies of one of his murder investigations. I was hooked. Next day, I opened a file on my computer and started making notes. After a number of false starts, and a few years to learn the craft, what emerged was Blood of the Wicked.   

Crime Scraps: You have been in the advertising industry and a documentary filmmaker do you think this has helped you make BOTW such a vivid book?

Leighton: Thank you for calling BOTW a vivid book. There’s no doubt in my mind that my professional background helped me to make it so. In advertising, I used to be charged with creating radio and television commercials. The experience taught me about dialogue and about story telling. Film making taught me a great deal more. When you’re shooting a film or video, you’re compelled to think visually, even if you’re jotting down your initial ideas in the form of words. Modern novels are all about “showing”, not “telling”, using words to help the reader “see” the action. (And hear, smell, touch and taste it as well.) Long passages of pure narrative description can kill a book. Both readers and writers have “learned” from the television/film experience. Criteria today are far different than they were a hundred years ago. A guy who writes like Charles Dickens, but isn’t Charles Dickens, isn’t going to get anything into print in the twenty-first century.

Crime Scraps: How do you go about the process of writing a novel? Do you know how it is going to end before you start?

Leighton: I start by writing an outline, a précis of the characters and the plot. It ultimately winds-up in chapter order, but I seldom initiate the creative process with chapter one.  More often than not, I outline the end before I tackle the beginning. That way, I know where I have to get to, where the final “surprise” lies, where the satisfying last words are going to come in. But here’s the dichotomy: I’ve never completed a book “as outlined”. Once I start writing the first draft, all bets are off. I keep asking myself how I can heighten the conflict, how I can ratchet up the tension. This sometimes necessitates the introduction of new chapters or the rearrangement of existing chapters. So all the way through the first draft, I’m writing the draft and re-writing the outline. Once the first draft is done, I check it against the outline and then lay the outline aside. I seldom pick it up again. Mind you, I’m not saying my process is the best one. It just happens to be the best one for me, one I’ve developed by trial-and-error. I know several authors who don’t outline at all and are able to turn out wonderful books. I’m afraid I’d be incapable of doing that. 

[To be continued]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


I have posted previously about my great admiration for Stieg Larsson's campaigning stance against Neo-Nazism here and here and here.
His early death was indeed a tragedy. But in those posts I made the point that the book itself  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo did not warrant the degree of praise that was being heaped upon it in an almost hysterical fashion. The novel certainly did not match up to the brilliant marketing campaign.

Then I read a post on The Rap Sheet by Ali Karim which stated:

'I really believe that after the second and third installments of his Millennium  series, The Girl Who Played With Fire (January 2009), and Castles In The Sky (January 2010) are released Larsson's name will become legend, mentioned in the same breath as Conan Doyle, Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ian Fleming'.  

Read the complete post here. I remain one of the unconverted at the present time perhaps because I read Nemesis by Jo Nesbo reviewed here and here and here after I had finished the Larsson and compared the two.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Thanks to crimeficreader who drew my attention to the very strong shortlist of contenders for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award 2008.

I have only read two of the six shortlisted  books but the others must be very good to have eliminated from contention A Vengeful Longing by Roger Morris which I reviewed here.
The shortlisted authors includes three past winners of the Ellis Peters:
Andrew Taylor, a previous winner on two occasions, nominated for Bleeding Heart Square.
C.J.Sansom, nominated for Revelation, and last year's winner, Ariana Franklin for The Death Maze [The Serpent's Tale in the USA] which I reviewed here

The other books are Stratton's War by Laura Wilson, Death on a Branch Line by Andrew Martin, and A Quiet Flame the fifth book in the Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr. You can read my review of that book here. That review did produce a very pleasing positive reaction from Maxine of Petrona, and the book was also very highly praised by Mike Ripley

What interested me particularly was that three of the shortlist, A Quiet Flame, Bleeding Heart Square and Stratton's War concern the period 1930-1950 and the rise and fall of fascism. 
My own recent review of Philip Kerr's March Violets was mentioned on author Michael Walter's blog because it 'not only tells you everything you need to know about the book but links it pertinently to the current Austrian elections.' Unfortunately the predictions concerning those elections were accurate and the extreme right BZO [Alliance for Austria's Future] and FPO [Austrian Freedom Party] made big gains. 
Michael Walters is the creator of the Inspector Nergui mysteries set in Mongolia.

In the last few days it has been brought to public attention that some bizarre initiation ceremonies have taken place during freshers week at the University of Gloucester. These involved new students with plastic bags over their heads being marched around and shouted at by a pathetic bully wearing a Nazi uniform and swastika armband. [see photo]

What a failure of our educational system that some fools think this is an amusing way to behave. 
That is why I am pleased that historical crime fiction is addressing real problems that affect us today as we enter a period of economic depression. 

Particularly for the German occupiers stationed in the conquered lands of eastern Europe-literally tens of thousands of men from all walks of life- the mass-murder policies of the regime were not aberrational or exceptional events that scarcely ruffled the surface of everyday life.

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland: 
Christopher R. Browning, Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Those who cannot remember the  past are condemned to repeat it: George Santayana

Saturday, October 04, 2008


My dear mother in law May Beatrice died on Thursday night at the age of 97. 
When Tom Brokaw wrote a book entitled The Greatest Generation in admiration of those who grew up in the years before and following the 1929 Wall Street crash it created some controversy and discussion.
But as an amateur historian and son in law there is no discussion from me our May was a member of the greatest generation. She was one of Britain's heroic generation that saved this country. 
Born in 1911 as a young child she saw her father go off to fight in that 'Great War to end all wars'. He never returned to 'a land fit for heroes' with his DSM, but was lost in the North Sea serving on the submarine HMS G8.
Leaving school at 14 May lived through the tough times of the Depression and then watched her husband go off to fight in another terrible war. She herself spent the Second World War working in a munitions factory near Portsmouth, not exactly the safest place in England. 
May struggled to bring up her children during the post war years of austerity, and in her later years went on to nurse an ailing husband till she was well into her 90s.
Only in the last few years did May enjoy a little of the luxury and rest she so richly deserved.
May was always grateful for any small task that was done for her, and lived her life on three principles:
1) There is good in everyone.
2) Always pay your bills as soon as you get them.
3) Never borrow money.

The comparatively easy life we lead today was built on the toil and sacrifice of her generation, and the world would be a happier place if we could follow her simple principles. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


The Snake Stone Quiz has been won after an entry was drawn by Mrs Crime Scrapsfrom the correct entries. The book will be making its way back across the Atlantic to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The answer of course was that the link between Paris, San Stefano, Sevres and Lausanne was:
All four are linked to peace treaties which involved  Turkey (or the  Ottoman Empire)

1856 Treaty of Paris,which ended the Crimean War
1878 Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Russo-Turkish War
1920 Treaty of Sèvres between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Great War
1923 Treaty of Lausanne which set the borders of modern Turkey after the rejection of Sevres by Kemal Attaturk