Wednesday, December 31, 2008


The problems with 'best' or 'most enjoyable' lists is that so many really good books get left off for minor reasons. Books that are just as good as the chosen ones but require a little bit extra concentration to read or books that are brilliantly written but perhaps you don't quite agree with their political message or just great books that you read early in the year and were pushed out by books read much later in the year. That happens with us over 60s as our memory falters. I find I can remember events and books I read 50 years ago but not something that happened 3 months ago. 

So here are some more really excellent books that I read during the year. 

Darkness Rising: Frank Tallis [review to appear on Euro Crime in 2009]
and last but certainly not least

What a lot of good books and I still haven't mentioned my five top of the year selections. 
I will be back next year with an interesting Camberwell criminal connection, a review of a review that indicates the death of 'Liberal England', the quiz answers, a review of The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson, and my best five books of 2008. 
I wish everyone a very Happy Healthy and hopefully Prosperous New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Just a reminder your Quiz answers should be in by midnight GMT on Monday 5 January. 
The questions really are a lot easier than they seem at first glance. 
The prizes on offer include a choice of books by John Dickson Carr, P.D. James, Reginald Hill, Rex Stout, Michael Walters, Lawrence Block and John D. MacDonald.  
The Quiz questions are here.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Everyone is listing their top reads of the year and my top FIVE most enjoyable books will appear in due course on Euro Crime. I must take the opportunity once again to thank Karen for her wonderful resource.

So this list of books is the ones that did not quite make it to the very top group. All of them would have been worthy of top status but I had to keep my choices down to five. So here are my number 6 to number 11 of the year in no particular order.

A wonderful juxtaposition of horror, humour, and academic research made this a fine debut novel. The book was made special by the relationship between Thora, an attractive Icelandic lawyer, and German ex policeman Matthew Reich as they investigate a particularly brutal murder.

The problems of an immigrant community are discussed in this story of the death of young Thai-Icelandic boy. Erlendur, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg are once again a top investigative team but I did not think this was quite as outstanding as The Draining Lake and here or Voices.

The Polish crime writer and university lecturer takes us back into the past of his beautiful but frightening city of  Breslau [now Wroclau] and introduces us to another offbeat detective Eberhard Mock. Weimar and Nazi Germany have been fertile ground for crime fiction novels and  this is up there with the best. My interview with Marek Krajewski can be read here and here. The Eberhard Mock series is one to look out for in 2009 and 2010 as the rest of the quartet of books are published.

I feel a bit awkward not including this in my top five because it was a superb read and the description of Kristallnacht and the internment of aliens on the Isle Of Man are brilliant. Lawton calls his books 'a social and political history of my time' 
which means that they are just that little bit different and better than the average crime thriller.

The next book chronologically in the Troy series; in another year the Lawtons would have been automatic top five choices as they were extremely enjoyable and well constructed novels full of memorable characters.

A really fast moving thriller set in Brazil with an intriguing team of police investigators. 
The Booklist review of this novel made comments  such as 'Gage's talents include captivating characters and realistic plots' and finished by saying that Chief Inspector Mario 'Silva just may be South America's Kurt Wallander.'
I would not go that far yet but Buried Strangers is a smooth easy read and this is another series to watch for in the future.

You will have to wait for my best of the best choices which like the books above are a very personal choice.  

Saturday, December 27, 2008


A few days ago The Rap Sheet posted Ali Karim's short but very interesting interview with Christopher Maclehose. Maclehose heads up Quercus Publishing's Maclehose Press Imprint who have the rights to Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy.

From the interview 21 December 2008:

AK: So what in your opinion makes the books 'unique' ?

CM: Lisbeth Salander, no question. 

"Stieg Larsson for all my criticism created in Lisbeth Salander one of the most interesting characters in modern crime fiction." Crime Scraps 5 August 2008

Not a difficult call I admit but....

AK: What other crime fiction delights might you recommend from the Maclehose Press Catalogue?

CM: Crime fiction umm. I would indicate Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski.

Well I reviewed that excellent book here and one of my year's highlights was an informative interview with Marek here and here
Sometimes it really is nice to be ahead of the game.


Many thanks to Barbara of Scandinavian Crime Fiction [2008's Best New Blog and a wonderful resource] for giving me an award for 'Critical Perspicacity'. The idea coming from a meme via the prolific Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

Perspicacious is defined as 'having a ready insight into and understanding of things.'

Therefore 'Critical Perspicacity' means not wasting time watching a modern day Haman give an alternative Christmas message on Channel Four. If we really want to learn about the views of a strange society, with an alternative world view from a completely different perspective the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special is still on the BBC iPlayer. Website here.

What six things do I want in my crime fiction reading:

A decent plot and some interesting sub-plots
Entertainment with a bit of humour alongside the horror
Memorable characters that I want to follow through a series of books
To be educated and learn something
To be made to think about society and the world
Photographs of attractive female authors

What I particularly dislike in the world of crime fiction are:

Books with very long sentences [193 is the record so far]
Authors using words that shout pretentious, 'prolix' for example
Poor research for example a 300 gram handgun does not weigh 3 kilograms
Blurbs that bear no relation to the plot of the book 
Reviewers who skim books and have no idea what happened in the story
Violence against women and children described in detail

I am only giving one Award and it goes to the entire Crime Fiction Blogging Community who have made this such a very pleasurable year.   

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


There were some personal highlights and low points during the year. 
May, the best mother in law in the world, died aged 97 but she had a good innings and lived long enough to see the highlight of our year, her granddaughter Clare getting a FIRST in Sociology from the University of Sussex.  
I appeared on ITV West Country News talking about the Honeytones, and my cousin's daughter appeared on Newsnight talking about the Greek riots. She is a 'real expert' on International Crime with a PhD proving that interest in crime runs in the family. 

On the blogging scene the highlight of the year was meeting up with that brilliant group of superbloggers at Crime Fest in Bristol. 
Other highlights were 'on line' interviews with K.T.McCaffrey, Leighton Gage and Marek Krajewski, [link and scroll down for multiple entries] and some nice comments made about  my review of Philip Kerr's March Violets  by the talented crime writer Michael Walters. The review is here.

Many thanks to all those who have linked to my posts on crime fiction and the Honeytones  or commented during the year. I would put links to all of your blogs but the list would be very long and I am still suffering from 'cold' therefore I might forget someone; so thanks to  everyone in the side bar plus a few others. ;0)

What pleased me about my reading and blogging this year is that sometimes I got it right, but more about those rare occasions after Christmas. 


Wishing everyone Seasons Greetings [Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa]  and a Happy Healthy Prosperous [I am a deranged optimist] New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Update:This blog is dormant. I have moved to Crime Scraps Review where you can read all my old posts and lots of new material.

My choices for my best five books of the year have been sent to Karen at Euro Crime and after I had sent them in I realized that I had not even mentioned Andrea Camilleri!
But last night I was feeling a bit better from my recent illness [bronchitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis etc I am a man I don't get mere colds it is always more serious] and watched the first Montalbano episode I had recorded from BBC 4's Euro Sleuths season.

I can therefore create a new category alongside best crime fiction TV series in 2008, The Wire [what else], of best episode in a crime series, Montalbano, Excursion to Tindari.

The cast were almost perfect and although perhaps Luca Zingaretti, was a teeny bit younger than the Salvo Montalbano I had imagined, he made up for it with a virtuoso performance, which had me fully convinced well before the end of the episode. The supporting actors were superb with Cesare Bocci and Peppino Mazzota an example of perfect casting as Mimi Augello and Fazio.
Angelo Russo brillantly exhibited all the childlike vulnerability and bungling keenness of Catarella, although with subtitles a lot of the malapropisms were lost.

Food did not play such a major part in the TV production as it does in the books but there was recompense in the fact that Isabell Sollman as Ingrid and Katharina Bohm as Livia were even more gorgeous than the characters my imagination had created.

The stunning backdrop of the countryside around Ragusa, in Sicily, was beautifully filmed and the whole production was a real treat for Camilleri fans.

All the RAI TV episodes can be watched without subtitles here but let us hope the BBC show all the rest or they are released on DVD soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Just a reminder that the Winter Festival Quirky Quiz answers should be sent to and the closing date is Monday 5 January.
Having been called a fiend and a few other things for setting the questions I have decided to add a gentle clue to question one. ;O)
Good Luck the questions are here.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I have been rather ill [bronchitis, tonsillitis, laryngitis, and a chest infection] this week and could not even concentrate to read. 
I had begun The Shadow Walker by Michael Walters, the first  Nergui and Doripalam investigation set in Mongolia, and was very impressed with the excellent beginning.
I frequently mention the locations of crime novels to Mrs Crime Scraps with the hope that we can return on holiday to Sweden, Finland and Italy or even visit Norway for the first time, but apparently the credit crunch has struck the Crime Scraps budget. 
However Mrs Crime Scraps was so impressed by the Mongolian setting of the Michael Walters series that we will be spending part of the summer in a Yurt on Bodmin Moor! Luckily it only rains 350 days a year the rest of the time it is snowing.

A review of The Shadow Walker will appear on Euro Crime in the New Year. 

Monday, December 15, 2008


On the day the £ sterling dived to parity with the Euro for the first time I read a short spy novel A Toast to Tomorrow. 
The book published in 1940 was written by two Hampshire neighbours Adelaide Manning and Cyril Coles, and based in part on Cole's adventures in British intelligence. Manning and  Coles were to go on writing together until Manning's death in 1959, but their hero Tommy Hambledon was at his best when battling the Nazis.

A Toast to Tommorrow is the story of a British agent who is washed up on a beach near Ostend in his underwear with no memory of who or what he is. He is given the name Klaus , from Nikolaus the patron saint of sailors, and Lehmann, the name of his doctor in the naval hospital where he is treated. 
On his release from hospital Lehmann wanders through a defeated Germany, on the way meeting Hermann Goering and making friends with Ludmilla Rademeyer, who becomes his elderly adopted aunt.

Then comes 1923 and massive inflation. 'This was the time when the mark soared to an astronomical figure [against the dollar], and people took attache cases to collect the bulky bundles of worthless notes which constituted their wages.'

'they are doing this so that the foreigner may buy more cheaply. Why does the government wish to benefit the foreigner at the expense of its own people?'

The people starve,and freeze while it cost millions of marks to buy a box of matches and then Lehmann meets Hitler.

'And do you think he has a chance?" [of saving Germany]
'I don't know, but .....I have come to the state where I would support  a convicted murderer or illiterate village wench if I thought either could help Germany.'

Lehmann climbs the Nazi party hierachy [he regarded Hitler not as a leader but a useful tool  for the regeneration of the country] and by 1933 is Deputy Chief of the German Police. He has learned that the Nazi leaders are corrupt and evil and then while watching the Reichstag Fire he regains his memory; he becomes Tommy Hambledon the British agent again.

There is an enormous amount of implausible coincidence in this story as well as Boy's Own 1930s style adventures, but it is worth reading because of  the accounts of Germany during the time of the terrible inflation, and of the Nazi treatment of Jews [to the Nazis anyone with a Jewish grandparent]. 
It is hard to believe it was written as long ago as 1940 because it tries to answer difficult questions at a time when survival was the priority. 
How did a civilized nation end up in the hands of a group of barbarous lunatics?

The old lady sighed. "Yet they are Germans who carry out these dreadful orders, how can they? Why don't they refuse? Germans used to be such nice people before all this happened-except the Prussians of course......"  

Friday, December 12, 2008


Harald Guntlieb, a wealthy German student, is found murdered in the University of Iceland's History department. The strange young man had a penchant for body piercing and other self mutilations, but after his death someone had gone a lot further and removed his eyes.
Hugi a young friend, and small time drug dealer, is arrested for the murder but Harald's wealthy family have doubts and send their security expert ex-policeman Matthew Reich to investigate. Matthew's grasp of the Icelandic language is limited therefore he enlists the help of  attractive lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir to conduct the enquiry. 
Harald had been researching into the history of witchcraft, the treatment of witches in Iceland, and had collected a group of fellow students into some kind of secret society. Thora and Matthew will delve into Harald's life and follow his trail across Iceland in a search of a motive and a solution to the crime.

Just when I had learned to spell Indridason along comes another fine Icelandic crime writer. Yrsa Sigurdardottir has written children's books in the past but Last Rituals is her debut crime novel. Let us hope there are many more to come because this book thrust itself way into contention as one of my most enjoyable reads of the year.
Yrsa has mastered the art of writing about brutal crimes, medieval torture, and tongue surgery but she breaks up the tension beautifully with humour and the details of mundane every day life. 
Throughout the book the sexual chemistry between Matthew and Thora fairly crackles, and the person who wrote the flap comments about the 'boorish ex-policeman Matthew Reich' has possibly never chatted up a thirty something divorced mother of two. Matthew seemed to me to be a conscientious investigator and someone who was just trying to tease Thora into a possible relationship.

Thora is a really intriguing character who is juggling her responsible job with being a good mother to her two children, Gylfi and Soley. There is an interesting sub plot running through the book as Gylfi, her son, is in a bad mood and has a problem that he is reluctant to discuss with Thora. 

It is theses numerous subplots and red herrings that make this novel such a pleasurable read. An old letter that has to be returned soon to a university in Denmark has gone missing. Harald's friends, Halldor a medical student who works part time in the morgue, Briet, a petite busty blonde, and Marta Mist, a fiery red head who intimidates the others, are acting mysteriously and possibly have information that they have not told the police. While in her office Thora is struggling to cope with the antics of Bella, the secretary from hell, who rather likes Matthew. 

Last Rituals blends lots of historical information with a modern day murder investigation and does it with a great deal of skill. Yrsa Sigurdardottir has produced a top quality crime fiction novel well up to the standards of other Nordic writers. 
I particularly liked Yrsa's sense of humour as when she has Thora regret her divorce not because of two years without sex but the fact she can no longer afford a cleaning lady. 
The subtlety of the narrative and dialogue are a tribute to the late Bernard Scudder, the translator. His early death was a great loss to Icelandic crime fiction and to the readers.
I will definitely be on the look out for the next novel from Yrsa Sigurdardottir.
You can read other reviews of Last Rituals here and here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Maxine of Petrona makes an interesting comment about the branding of the Harper Perennial Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo books as the Martin Beck series. The novels do show a teamwork approach to investigation and while Martin Beck is not so dominant a character in many of the books [The Fire Engine That Disappeared for example] he does bind the series together. 

Maxine states it very well when she says 'Beck's own life is a mirror of the world depicted by the authors.......As society degenerates from naive optimism into soulless oppression the man's dead personal landscape slowly emerges into the light.' Read the full post here.

The last few paragraphs of the ten book series sum up Martin Beck's situation, but I won't spoil them for you. 
As you will see from the covers of a Harper Perennial from 2007, and a 1976 edition of The Man on The Balcony there was less emphasis on the Martin Beck name 32 years ago. 

Monday, December 08, 2008


I am still trying to cut down my 'long list' of books to a top five of the year. They will a very personal list of the crime books I have enjoyed reading most during the year, and at the moment the task seems impossible as there were just too many great books.

But I am being distracted by the veritable cornucopia of crime fiction series on BBC TV.
On my recorder waiting to be enjoyed there are French episodes of Simenon's Maigret [see Euro Crime here], a Who is Kurt Wallander? BBC 4 documentary ,which Crimeficreader posted about here, and the three part BBC 1 Kenneth Branagh, Wallander series, which you can read about at Petrona

There is also Before The Frost [information from Euro Crime] starring Krister Henriksson as Wallander and the late Johanna Sallstrom as his daughter Linda.
Perhaps someone at the BBC has discovered that series from French and Swedish TV can fill up the schedules more cheaply than making British TV crime series.
And before I could even finish this post Karen at Euro Crime, the reference point for anyone interested in European crime fiction, has informed us that Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano  will be coming to BBC 4 see here. The central photo is of Montalbano and Fazio.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I watched a fantastic French cop thriller last night. Leo Vrink [Daniel Auteil] and Denis Klein [Gerard Depardieu] are tough policemen and are regarded as rivals for promotion.
The one whose team arrests a violent gang and ends a string of  armoured car robberies will get that promotion. The rivalry between the cops and their relationships with their informants are complicated, and when an operation goes disastrously wrong the plot takes an unusual twist.
The action is fast and furious both Auteil and Depardieu look suitably weathered and act their roles brilliantly. The women including Valeria Golino as Camille, Vrink's wife, and Catherine Marchal as policewoman Eve Verhagen, look gorgeous and the cinematography and lighting match the varying moods. This 2004 film had nine nominations at the French Cesar Awards, and there is apparently an American remake underway.
Even if you don't like subtitles make an exception for this exciting thriller I don't see how a remake could match it. 


I have been tagged by Peter of Detectives Beyond Borders for an interesting meme. I am a bit anti-meme, because they impose conditions on fellow bloggers who are usually free spirits, but this is fairly easy for me because I have listed all the books I have read this year in my journal.

The idea is that you list all the authors that you have read for the first time this year and bold face them if they are debut novels and then tag others to do the same. I will not tag any other bloggers but obviously anyone is able to perform this exercise if they wish to on their own blogs. 
I have varied the process slightly in that I have italicized debut novels and starred those authors whose books I will seek out in 2009. I have also put an exclamation mark alongside those authors whose books I really did not enjoy. 

In The Woods: Tana French
The Big O: Declan Burke*
The Cat Trap: K.T.McCaffrey*
A Vengeful Longing: R.N.Morris*
Some Bitter Taste:Magdalen Nabb
Mistress of The Art of Death: Ariana Franklin*
Manhattan Nocturne: Colin Harrison
Three to Kill: Jean-Patrick Manchette*
Death in Breslau: Marek Krajewski*
The Natural Disorder of Things: Andrea Cannobio!
The Snake Stone: Jason Goodwin*
The Man in the Window: K.O.Dahl*
Echoes From the Dead: Johan Theorin*
Death Rites: Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett
Volk's Games: Brent Ghelfi
Lorraine Connection: Dominique Manotti*
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Stieg Larsson*
The Serbian Dane: Leif Davidsen*
Detective Inspector Irene Huss: Helene Tursten*
The Ice Princess: Camilla Lackberg*
The Skull Mantra: Eliot Pattison*
The Sun King Rises; Yves Jego and Denis Lepree
The Maze of Cadiz: Aly Monroe
Dante's Numbers: David Hewson!
Blood of the Wicked: Leighton Gage*
Second Violin: John Lawton*
Deadline: Stella Rimington

As you will see I had a mostly positive experience with new authors and went on to read second books written by Jason Goodwin, Ariana Franklin, John Lawton and Leighton Gage. 
I am reading my 52nd crime fiction book of the year and another new author for me:
Last Rituals : Yrsa Sigurdardottir* 

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


I sometimes feel I am too critical of writers, publishers and editors, but only in my milder moments. 
I do have certain standards, just minor things like sanity.  
I remember pointing out last year that in one book the author, and presumably the editor, thought that 300 grams equalled 3 kilograms. 
Now apparently one cover equals three different books.  
Thanks to the Rap Sheet for the original double play ball here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Bernie Rhodenbarr has bought himself a used bookstore in New York's Greenwich Village but he is tempted back to his previous employment as a burglar. He steals  a very rare book length poem by Rudyard Kipling but his client's female go-between drugs him and when he wakes up he has a gun in his hand the police are at the door and the go-between is dead.

I read The Burglar who liked to Quote Kipling, which won the Nero Wolfe Award back in 1979, very quickly as it is easy to read and was intended as lightweight comedic  escapism between heavier stuff. I must say I enjoyed the book especially the bright first person narrative and the sharp dialogue between Bernie and his lesbian soulmate Carolyn Kaiser. 

"You like felafel?"
"I went to that place on the corner of Broadway and Twelfth. I can't figure out whether the owner's an Arab or an Israeli."

The book turned out to be more complex and involved than at first glance and of course Rudyard Kipling is not the most politically correct of writers. He was a man of his time and wrote these lines:

Your new caught sullen peoples
Half-devil and half-child
Take up the White Man's Burden
in patience to abide
to veil the threat of terror
and check the show of pride. 

That was written in 1899 and referred to the American's responsibilities in the newly conquered Philippines . 
The novel ends with an amusing pastiche of a Golden Age mystery  and the book also contains a dig at rival/friend? Richard Stark's Parker novels, one of which Bernie is reading.

I moved the paperback out of sight as my visitor approached the counter. After all, antiquarian booksellers have an image to protect. We're not supposed to read trash.

Next time I feel like a break from the 'serious' I can do a lot worse than read another Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery.


Readers might also  be interested to know that the third Swedish prize, the Baska Svenska Debut, for the best first crime novel was won by Ingrid Hedstrom for Lararinnan i Villette [Teacher in Villette].

Ms Hedstrom, a journalist, lived in Belgium for several years, and sets her story in the fictional Belgian town of Villette. The book's main protagonist is Investigative Judge Martine Poirot. 

Monday, December 01, 2008


Hot news [see here] from Sweden that the prize for Best Crime Novel 2008 [Basta Svenska Kriminalroman] has gone to Johan Theorin for Nattfak.

Johan Theorin won last years prize for the Best First Novel with the brilliant Echoes from The Dead reviewed here.

The Martin Beck Award for the best overseas translated book goes to Andrea Maria Schenkel for Mordbyn. 

This book I think was published as Tannod in German, and The Murder Farm in English and reviewed here

Andrea Maria Schenkel was the first German writer to win the prestigious Deutscher-Krimi Preis in successive years with Tannod in 2007, and Kalteis in 2008. 
Ross Thomas won the International award in successive years in the 1980s. [Information from Krimileser]