Saturday, October 31, 2009


I am about to finish reading Michael Genelin's Siren of The Waters and in due course my review will appear on Euro Crime.

Next up I will be reading The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson translated by Reg Keeland. I feel obliged to read and post about that as soon as possible because I nagged those very nice people at Quercus for a free review copy.

This week amid a lot of important "events" I watched two of the best "crime" films I have ever seen. Both movies Gran Torino and The Constant Gardener were brilliantly acted and this made up for their slightly predictable plots.
Predictability is not a quality associated with the superb French crime series Spiral 2. The final episode is due up next and I confidently expect to left totally confused by some twist or turn of events. This series has seen some fine acting and considerable drooling by me over the Machiavellian and very evil lawyer Josephine Karlsson, played by Audrey Fleurot.

I particularly liked the line spoken by the even more corrupt Szabo:

"Miss Karlsson if you work for me you must love money and only money."

Blogger was unobtainable for most of today and it is late so I will leave my comments on a review I read today in the Daily Telegraph till another day.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I have just received the news from blogger crimeficreader, straight from the award ceremony, that Philip Kerr's If The Dead Rise Not has won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical crime fiction award.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I have read all six of the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award shortlisted books.
My reviews:

With the huge range of historical crime fiction produced from such a wide chronological range it does seem to be rather strange that four out of the six shortlisted books cover the period 194o-1944, and another [If The Dead Rise Not] straddles the Second World War being set in 1934 and 1954.
In fact two books An Empty Death and The Dead of Winter feature the summer of 1944 when London was under attack from the V1 flying bombs, and I was regularly thrown under the kitchen table.
At the risk of being thrown under a table again I would respectfully suggest it would have been more sensible to have a shortlist exhibiting a wider range of historical periods.

Writing successful historical crime fiction is difficult because not only do you have to produce a plot with believable characters, but also to use your research to create the right ambience and historical atmosphere as well as getting the historical facts correct. Unless you are writing alternative history you cannot alter the stance of any real historical characters you use for your novel, but equally pages and pages of dialogue to establish the social conventions of the time can become boring.

The Dead of Winter, by Rennie Airth, was in my opinion the weakest of the six because of the ponderous pace, and the preponderance of stereotypes among the characters. Also why give away the motive in a prologue?

I was not sure about The Information Officer, by Mark Mills, was it a wartime thriller or a serial killer crime fiction novel, and by trying to be both it just missed the mark for me.

An Empty Death, by last year's winner Laura Wilson, was a very good read with an interesting villain, someone who we really got to know, unlike the almost anonymous killer in The Dead of Winter. But one had to 'suspend one's disbelief' over two key points in the plot, and this eventually spoilt the book.

The Interrogator by Andrew Williams was a great book to read with four interesting main characters and a plot that included a murder as well as the tension of solving a wartime conundrum. The book was also nominated for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, which it failed to win, and because the story was more about anti-submarine warfare and British naval codes than the murder I don't think it will win the Ellis Peters.

We are now left with two very good contrasting books by Shona MacLean and Philip Kerr. I have discussed the Bernie Gunther books at great length and if you click and scroll down you can read all the posts here.

Shona MacLean has written a wonderful novel that brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of Scotland in 1626. The Redemption of Alexander Seaton has been meticulously researched and the reader is drawn back in time so successfully that you constantly expect the baillie and his men to batter down your door and drag you off to appear in front of the kirk session.

Shona MacLean's book is a slower read that requires more concentration and because I like Bernie Gunther and the technique of the split story [Germany 1934, Cuba 1954] I would just pick Philip Kerr's If The Dead Rise Not by a smidgen.
I have a suspicion though that the judges will pick The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean.

Monday, October 26, 2009


D is for Dashiell Hammett, a mini biography.

Here in his own words is a biographical statement which appeared in the Black Mask magazine in November 1924 before Hammett became well known.

'I was born in Maryland, between the Potomac and Paxtuxent rivers, on May 27, 1894, and was raised in Baltimore.
After a fraction of a year in high school-Baltimore Polytechnic Institute-I became an unsatisfactory and unsatisfied employee of various railroads, stock brokers, machine manufacturers, canners and the like.
Usually I was fired.

An enigmatic want -ad took me into the employ of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, and I stuck at that until early 1922, when I chucked it to see what I could do with fiction writing.'

When in 1927 Joseph Shaw became the new editor of Black Mask magazine he boasted that Herbert Hoover and J.P.Morgan read the magazine. Hammett was one of Black Mask's most celebrated writers with reviewers comparing him with Ernest Hemingway.

His reputation is based on the five novels and his short stories:

The Maltese Falcon [1930] in which he introduced his famous private detective, Sam Spade.
The Thin Man [1932] which introduced detectives Nick and Nora Charles.

Hammett had a very eventful life with service in both World Wars, periods of ill health, alcoholism, a volatile relationship with author and lover Lillian Hellman, time as a movie scriptwriter, and a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership of the Communist Party.

In 1941 the movie The Maltese Falcon, directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, and Mary Astor as Brigid O'Shaughnessy was released. It had probably the greatest supporting cast ever with the superb Sydney Greenstreet as Casper Gutman and the villainous Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo. It is not surprising that author James Agee called this third cinematic adaptation of the novel "the best private eye melodrama ever made."

On the 10 February 2005 the United States Senate approved a resolution introduced by Senator Dianne Fienstien commemorating the 75th anniversary of The Maltese Falcon and recognizing it as a "great American crime novel."

I think Dashiell Hammett could be said to have done pretty well with fiction writing.

[Information gleaned from Wikpedia, Discovering The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade edited by Richard Layman, preface to The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, Hammett's Moral Vision by George Thompson]

Sunday, October 25, 2009


You can read my review of The Interrogator by Andrew Williams at Euro Crime.

The Interrogator was shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller [winner The Last Child by John Hart] and the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award.
I have read and reviewed all six of the Ellis Peters Shortlist and will select which book I think should win in the next few days before the award ceremony on Thursday 29 October.


Leighton Gage's webcast with Cara Black, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Michael Stanley and Stuart Neville is now available for download here:

The operative word is "download". The first three minutes and fifteen seconds are rife with feedback and technical glitches.
So the advice is click on download, bring it to your computer and start listening to it with ITunes or any other program that plays MP3s. You can then move ahead 3:15 and skip the rubbish. I managed it so it must be easy.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Tonight the clocks go back in the UK and the long winter nights will really begin.

In the Second World War we had double summer time, presumably to help the farmers, and it was light until almost 11.00 p.m but with GMT [Greenwich Mean Time] it will be dark at 3.30 p.m. in December and the number of road accidents will rapidly increase as tired workers and school children make their various ways home.
But at least it is not as dark as in Scandinavia because when visiting Stockholm, Upsaala and Helsinki in winter I recall it was dark at about 2.00 p.m or even earlier.
It is obvious that these dark winters have something to do with the high suicide rate in Northern Europe, and Martin Beck informs us in Cop Killer, " Sweden led the world by a margin that seemed to grow larger from one report to the next".
Roll on the spring.

I have started reading Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin featuring Commander Jana Matinova of the Slovak Police; Slovakia will be an interesting new location, although the blurb shows she will be traveling a lot. My review will appear on Euro Crime.

The CWA Ellis Peters Awards are on Thursday 29 October and before that I will make my own selection of the winner. After my debacle with the International Dagger [I picked Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin, and rated the eventual winner last among the shortlist] I don't want to put a damper on any book but having gone to the trouble of reading all six shortlisted books I will select what I think is the best historical crime fiction novel.

Friday, October 23, 2009


In May 1940 Jewish furrier Maurice Sobel is preparing to leave Paris before the advancing German Army reaches the city. He has converted his money into diamonds, and agreed to take two young refugees with him on the long journey to Spain, but when he answers the door expecting his traveling companions he is attacked and murdered.

Four years later during the blackout in London a young Polish girl, Rosa Nowak, is killed. The police with their resources stretched due to wartime conditions can find no reason for the killing of an innocent refugee. But when Florrie Desmoulin's, a French prostitute who saw the killer, is garroted the police realise they are dealing with an expert assassin.
Rosa Nowak was working on the farm of retired former police inspector John Madden and because he feels personally responsible he is drawn into the investigation to work with his old colleagues Angus Sinclair and Billy Styles.
They begin to collect clues from London and war-torn Europe in a battle to catch a killer who always seems to be one step ahead of them.

The author Rennie Airth was born in South Africa and has worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters. The first novel in his John Madden trilogy, River of Darkness won the Grand Prix de Literature Policiere in France and was shortlisted for four crime fiction awards.
The Dead of Winter is the final novel in the John Madden trilogy, and the final novel of the Ellis Peters shortlist that I have read.

This novel was very hard going and frankly it was very disappointing. Perhaps it was my fault because I had read these historical crime fiction novels one after the other. The Dead of Winter was probably one too many books about the same period of history although this was not the only reason.

The CWA Ellis Peters shortlist consisted of four Second World War books, three of which were set mostly in London during the years 1940-1944. I cannot believe that there were not some other worthy books set in different historical periods that could have been nominated, Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta for example.

But even making allowances for this I still did not enjoy the book because firstly The Dead of Winter starts with a prologue that virtually explained the plot.
The reader was then left wondering why the police were so slow on the uptake for about another 400 pages.

The narrative and plot development was frequently slowed by the history of minor characters, and I note that because of these distractions Sunnie at Sunnie's Book Blog give up at page 197.

The lengthy dialogue featuring some twee cockneys also frequently brought the narrative to a shuddering halt, and this coupled with a plethora of character stereotypes left me unsettled and bored.
Was around page 197 a vital fact hidden from the reader ? I suspect it was, or had all the characters called Alfie, Benny, Betty, Billy, Lily, Molly, Nelly, Solly and Sally confused this old man?

Nick Hay at Reviewing the Evidence states that "the pace, for the most part, is a little ponderous" and the book is "seems as much stolid as solid".

I am still puzzling why it was shortlisted.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Stieg Larsson's first book The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo won four prizes at Boucheron including Best British novel. This apparently was because it was published here in the UK by Quercus during the required time frame.
But it gives me a chance to post again a photo of Stieg's English translator American Steven Murray and his charming wife Tiina Nunnally in a very British setting.

I don't think it requires much expertise to predict more prizes for these two authors with the sequels.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I received this message from Leighton Gage, who as well as writing exciting thrillers set in Brazil was called a 'prince among moderators' by Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders.

Hi Norman

This Saturday [the 24th] at 12:30 PM United States Eastern time, I'll be hosting a program live on Listeners can use Skype [or any normal telephone] to call in with questions to a New York area code.
If they can't catch it live, the program will be remain archived for a month.

The guests are Yrsa Sigurdardottir [Iceland] , Michael Stanley [South Africa], Stuart Neville [Ireland] and Cara Black [France]. For more details, just go to and type my name into the site's search function. If you "join' the site , it will convert the air time to your own time zone and you won't have to figure it out. Kindly talk this one up, because it is right up the street of most of your readers. Thanks.

I am certain this will be of great interest to readers but I am not sure he has the time correct [I think it is 12.30 AM British Summer Time], but then I have been converting Phnom Penh time this week. In England we go back to Greenwich Mean Time GMT on Sunday morning and the dark evenings really begin.

[Photograph of participants Leighton Gage and Cara Black with Hakan Nesser at Crime Fest 2009 in Bristol]

Monday, October 19, 2009



I thought I would belatedly join this meme at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise and start with C is for Colin Cotterill.

You can learn a lot about Colin Cotterill by exploring his fascinating website. As you will discover cartooning and writing are two of his great passions.

I have two of Colin's books sitting on my TBR pile and am ashamed to admit I have not found the time to read either of them. This is terribly remiss of me as there are certain coincidences that lead me to believe I have to read these books soon.

I received a proof copy of Anarchy and Old Dogs at Crime Fest 2008 in Bristol but perhaps the blurb on the back was a bit too close to home for me.

'When a blind, retired dentist is run down by a logging truck as he crosses the road to post a letter.'..........' The dentist's mortal remains aren't nearly as intriguing as the letter in his pocket.'

As a retired dentist whose eyes and feet are faltering I don't think I could dodge any trucks at the moment. But I must read this book!

When I entered the quiz for that prize I had no idea that my son would be in that part of the world within a few weeks. The coincidence is a little weird in that Colin Cotterill lives in Chumphon on the Gulf of Siam with his wife, Jess, while my son Ben is at the moment at Kampot, Cambodia on the other side of the Gulf of Siam visiting his girlfriend, Jess!

'Eight years ago, Colin Cotterill became involved in child protection, and set up an NGO in the south of Thailand which ran for two years. After two more years of study in Australia in child abuse issues, he spent more time with the southern project before joining ECPAT-an international organization that combats child prostitution and pornography. He set up their training programme for caregivers.'

After reading this I think I can now forgive him running over a dentist, and I must read his books.

Modern computer technology is fantastic as earlier today I was able to not only speak to, but also to see Ben on video, when I phoned Cambodia, and Skype to Skype is free.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The project to read all the six shortlisted Ellis Peters Historical Award books before the award ceremony goes well. I have finished reading number five, The Interrogator by Andrew Williams. My review will appear in due course on Euro Crime, with thanks to publishers John Murray and of course Karen for providing the book.

On now to read number six, The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth.

The judges for this award do have a very difficult task, because out of the five books I have read you could make a strong case for three of them to win the Ellis Peters.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


The complete Anthony Awards list can be seen at The Rap Sheet, but the major awards were Best Novel to The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly, and Best First Novel to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland.
As Yogi Berra [the great Yankee catcher not the cartoon character] would say "It is deja vu all over again" for this Swedish phenomenon.


From Philip Kerr:

Dear Norman
I thought your readers might appreciate some clarification regarding the RBA prize.

First of all, European prizes are a foreign country: they do things differently there. Which is not to say it's better or worse than we do them here. It's just different.

The RBA International Crime Writing Prize is annual and is open to all unpublished crime novels. The must be submitted in manuscript. As far as I can gather there were one hundred and sixty of these manuscripts that were submitted for this year's RBA award. The prize is a little trophy and a cheque for 125,000 euros; and a publishing contract for the winning book from the prize sponsors. I don't know if there was a short list or not, I'm afraid.
But there was a panel of judges[critics and booksellers] and only one of them [I think] was employed by the RBA. It's possible I haven't got this entirely right. My Spanish isn't great, but it's not as bad as my Catalan, as you can judge for yourself by viewing the prize ceremony and my acceptance speech on the You Tube link here.

In April of this year I won a prize given by the French magazine Le Point. Mostly it was glory[not to be underestimated] but there were also a few bottles of rather nice wine, too , not to mention some useful publicity for my book. Until then I'd never wion any sort of crime writing prize [unless you count the Deutsche Krimi prize, but I really have no idea how that works or what it is] so I hope you'll forgive me if I say that I was very proud to have won the RBA. I still feel that way.

It's been my one moment in the sun during a twenty year writing career.

While I was in Spain I felt I was flying the flag for British crime writing and I was, perhaps, a little disappointed that the last issue of the CWA magazine Red Herrings mentioned nothing about my winning the prize. Perhaps they don't read the Guardian.
Hope this helps.

Friday, October 16, 2009


The full list of yesterday's prize awards at the Indianapolis Boucheron can be seen at The Rap Sheet.

The Barry Award for the Best Novel went to another Nordic mystery the superb The Draining Lake by the Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason.

The award for Best British Novel, obviously a product of the publisher, Quercus, rather than the Swedish author or the American translator, also went to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The photograph is not the closest I have been to Indianapolis, but it was taken in Southern Indiana.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


1626 Banff, Scotland:

Alexander Seaton, the hero and narrator of The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, was an aspirant to the ministry but was denied this position at his trials because of sinful behaviour. He is now a reluctant schoolmaster regarded by most in the town with a wary contempt. One of his few friends in the burgh Charles Thom is accused when the apothecary's apprentice Patrick Davidson, is murdered with a rare botanical poison. Apparently the well travelled and educated Davidson, the provost's nephew, stole the affections of the daughter of the house, Marion Arbuthnott from a smitten Charles Thom.
Charles is thrown into the tolbooth, and Alexander and another friend the doctor James Jaffray vow to prove his innocence
When a search of the victim's possessions discover accurate maps of the coastline and other strategic points the provost William Watt, Baillie Buchan, and notary public of the burgh of Banff Thomas Stewart decide to send Alexander to Robert Gordon of Straloch, who is skilled in cartography for his opinion about the maps.

Was Patrick Davidson a popish agent? Is that the reason for his murder?

There is widespread fear of Catholic plots and foreign invasions and although Robert Gordon is a suspected papist his expertise and knowledge of cartography is needed.
Alexander is due anyway to travel to Aberdeen to buy books and enquire as to the standard of Greek needed for one of his pupils to gain a bursary to Marischal College.
In a series of recollections and discussions we learn that Alexander was the constant companion of Archie Hay, the laird of Delgatie's son, who went off to fight and die for Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Winter Queen, daughter of King James in the German wars. The reader also learns the reason for Alexander's disgrace and I won't spoil that discovery for you by mentioning it here.
When Alexander returns from his journey to Aberdeen, Banff is in turmoil because there has been another murder , an event which has inflamed bigotry and lead to the terror of the witch hunt rearing its ugly head.
Alexander with the help of the mysterious wise woman of Darkwater must solve the murders and save the burgh from the Devil.

I will note at this point that a few years ago I attended a lecture at Exeter University where a friend from Dundee [who had left Scotland many many years before] jumped up at the mention of King James I of England, and shouted he was King James VI of Scotland in order to educate the English.

The Redemption of Alexander Seaton is the debut novel by Shona MacLean, mother of four and niece of the famous thriller writer Alistair MacLean, although the reader will think it the work of a much more experienced writer.
The book is brilliantly evocative of the period and one fully expects John Knox to jump off the page and start a blistering sermon at any moment. Shona MacLean, who has an M.A. and PhD in educational provision during the 17th century uses her considerable knowledge to create a real and believable world full of bleak dour characters [apart from the dead Archie Hay], who quote the Hebrew prophets and live in fear of the Kirk session.

'Hosea, chapter four:"Hear the word of the Lord ye children of Israel; for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land."'

Shona succeeds in the difficult task of pulling the reader into the mindset of the 17th century, which was so very different from that of our own time. The novel contains some superb vignettes of life in Aberdeen and at Robert Gordon of Straloch's castle, as well as accounts of the harsh treatment meted out to fallen women. It is an intelligent and exciting read with stunning descriptive passages that make you feel you are actually there in the freezing tolbooths or on the stool of repentance in the kirk in that cold miserable unforgiving Scotland of the 17th century.
If I have any criticism of the book it is that at 410 pages it is about 100 pages too long, and that there are numerous characters to remember, some of whom perhaps may possibly appear in sequels .
I also wonder why, and this book is not unique in this, the useful glossary is placed at the back rather than the front of the book. Also I suspect bayonets, as we understand them, had not been invented in 1626. But these are very minor quibbles, the novel is an excellent example of historical crime fiction in which evocation of the period, historical accuracy, and memorable characters are as important as the plot.

The Redemption of Alexander Seaton is the only Ellis Peters shortlisted novel that is not set during or relates to the Second World War, and this must make it a very strong contender for the prize.
The 17th century is such a fascinating and interesting period of history with so many uniquely characters that hopefully Shona MacLean will write some sequels.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


If you have enjoyed or been intrigued by the Philip Kerr interview you can hear the man himself speak at Daunt Books, 83 Marylebone High Street tomorrow night Wednesday 14 October at 7.00 pm. tickets are £5.


The final part of my interview with prize winning crime fiction writer Philip Kerr.

14] On page 335 of A Quiet Flame Bernie gives a long list of those he blames for the rise of the Nazis. There were obviously many factors unique to Weimar Germany but do you ever worry that this situation could arise in the next few years in the UK?

No. The British are too keen on television and shopping for anything like this to happen. But I would welcome London becoming more like Weimar Berlin in a number of respects. At the very least I should like to see a lot more nudism in London's parks. And women wearing suspenders.

15] It is said that authors need talent, hard work and luck. Which of these do you think is most important? Do you think people appreciate crime writing as much as literary writing and understand that crime fiction is by far the biggest selling genre?

You need all three. But the most important thing of all is hard work. I know I did.
The great Geoffrey Boycott [a famous Yorkshire and English Test cricketer] once commented that he had worked bloody hard to be so lucky. There's truth in that, just as there's truth in nearly everything Sir Geoff says.
I try not to talk about my work and myself too much. I think I'm a very boring person to be honest. All of what's interesting about me goes into my books.

There is always a lot of special pleading for crime writing. But I think it gets as much appreciation as it deserves. If people didn't appreciate it they wouldn't buy it. End of story.
I see lots of good reviews in the newspapers for crime writers so I guess you're talking about things like the Booker and I really don't think anyone should be upset if they don't win that. Some terrible novels have won the Booker.
Besides it seems there are plenty of awards and rewards for crime writing and I think it's a good thing if people who often write very worthy but boring books should have their own little ghetto where their books can achieve a certain kind of success.

Thanks very much for the interview Phil, and the best of luck with If The Dead Rise Not for that elusive CWA Ellis Peters Award.

Part one, part two, part three, part four of this interview.

Reviews of :

Sunday, October 11, 2009


My review of The Ignorance of Blood, Robert Wilson's final book in the Javier Falcon quartet has been posted at Euro Crime.
This series features great characters, an interesting setting in Seville, complex plots, and real tension.
Robert Wilson is one of the few authors who can write a 600 page book and retain my interest throughout the story.


The weather yesterday was not conducive to reading a novel set in dark stormy Northern Scotland, The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Rhona MacLean.
It was one of those balmy days when the English Riviera really lived up to its name.

I sat wasting an hour or more looking out from the cliffs near Babbacombe Theatre at the view I had wanted to show Mack and Marilyn Lundy. It is one of the loveliest places to waste time in the South West. There were several 'old boys' who had nodded off in the sunshine, and probably some of them were younger than me.

From yesterday's Torquay Herald:

Torbay has earned around £2.2 million of publicity so far this year.
Almost 40 journalists who visited the resort through the English Riviera Tourist Board wrote articles which would have cost that much if they had been advertising.

Members of the tourist industry heard at a special briefing that the opening of Dame Agatha's home Greenway had been of particular interest to writers who had come from as far afield as New York, and worked for magazines such as Country Life.
A film crew came over from Korea for a piece on Agatha Christie.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


More from my interesting interview with Philip Kerr.

11] If you could only take one book onto a desert island which would it be?

Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I like Gibbon. He hated Christians for their religious intolerance, you know. I am somewhat to the left of Julian the Apostate here. We should have a pantheon where all gods are welcome, but monotheism is forbidden on pain of death. I like the Romana. We should get back to throwing a few people to the lions I think. And not just Christians. Law and Order Roman style in Britannicus for ten years would suit very well.

12] Your Bernie Gunther series both entertains and educates, if they could only do one of these which would it be?

Entertain. I don't think it's any accident that Graham Greene is always a better writer when he writes 'an entertainment'. Those books like Brighton Rock will endure for a while longer anyway.
You can pull a soap box out and preach about something only if you have taken the trouble to entertain your reader. Also, they don't notice it then, too. I learned that from Goebbels.

13] Are there any more Bernie Gunther books in the pipeline?

Yes. I am plotting one now. I like plotting for several months before I put pencil on paper.

[To be continued, the final part of this interview will be posted on Tuesday 13 October]

Noticing my attention, he was moved to inform me that the Polish foreign minister, Josef Beck, had demanded a solution to the problem of the Polish minority in the Olsa region of Czechoslovakia:
'Just like a bunch of gangsters, isn't it, sir?' he said. 'Everyone wants his cut.'

The Pale Criminal: Philip Kerr 1990

Friday, October 09, 2009


Just when you thought it was safe to get on line, here is a one off short Quirky Quiz to amuse you, and to keep 'those little grey cells' busy.
The prize will be to pick a book from a selection of great crime fiction.
Please send your answers to by 12.00 midnight BST Friday 30 October.

1] What sort of co-operation might mysteriously involve a lonely American jockey, Royal cousins, a Gallic pseudonym, and the lady in the photo partner's name? Please explain.

2] Which crime writer was born in Malaya in 1907 ?

3] Who had 'a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling and eyes as empty as the North Sea.' ?

4] How might a gesture requiring attention, a type of code, or a puzzle be helpful in an investigation?

5] Who turned around to find the way home?

Thursday, October 08, 2009


8] Humour is a powerful weapon used with great effect in the books but you seemed very sad when I heard your interview on NPR [American National Public Radio] about a visit to the 150 year old New Synagogue in Berlin, destroyed on Kristallnacht.
Have you ever got depressed when writing the books or does your liberal use of humour prevent this?

I was sad because I felt so very moved by being there. That synagogue is a very sad place. I almost cried when I was there. And you're right, that is why the humour is there otherwise the books would be too depressing to read.
Also, humour is Bernie's one real act of resistance. My own, too. I have a very black sense of humour. I find things funny that other people don't find funny at all.

9] Your tribute in If The Dead Rise Not to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is brilliant, but which of today's film stars would you want to play the part of Noreen Charalambides and Bernie Gunther?
Is their a possibility of the books being filmed?

Hmm. I am not sure there is a tribute there. Noreen is based on Lillian Hellman. Who was married to a great crime writer of course. Perhaps the best. That's my tribute. Film rights were sold a while back. But frankly I could not give a toss if a film gets made or not. I almost hope that they're never made into films. Who cares? Watch Murder My Sweet with Dick Powell or Chinatown: there won't ever be two better noir movies than those two.

Crime Scraps explains:

Lillian Hellman was romantically involved for many years with crime writer Dashiell Hammett and was the inspiration for his fictional character Nora Charles. In Hammett's The Thin Man books Nora was married to Nick Charles [who changed his name from his father's original name Charalambides] and in the Philip Kerr book Noreen's husband is naturally called Nick.

And from 'If The Dead Rise Not':

She took my hand and brushed them with her lips. 'I like you kissing me. You're are a good kisser. If kissing was in the Olympics, you'd be a medal prospect. But I don't like to be hurried. I like to be walked round the ring for a while before being mounted. And don't even think of using the whip if you want to stay in the saddle. I'm the independent sort, Gunther. When I run it'll be because my eyes are open and because I want to. And I won't be wearing any blinkers if and when we reach the wire. I might not be wearing anything at all.'

10] You pay tribute in the book to Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Kenneth Fearing. Do you have time to read crime fiction and if so which of today's authors do you think will be read in 50 years time?

Sadly I am not at all sure that anyone is going to be read in fifty years time except by a small elite. Who would have thought that Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 might come true for the reason that nobody is going to be interested in buying a book? People want to watch crap on TV- The Thick Factor and Strictly Come Fucking Dumb. The book's days are numbered I fear.
We are moving into an era of great stupidity and ignorance. I don't read much fiction at all, I'm afraid. I usually read some ugly twat's cook book or a biography of Simon Cowell.

[To be continued]


My excellent and completely reliable source tells me that I am wrong, I frequently am.
Although the rest of the CWA Daggers will be awarded on 21 October, the Ellis Peters Historical Award announcement is on the 29 October.
The Ellis Peters is sponsored by the estate of Ellis Peters, Hodder and Little, Brown; the others are involved with sponsorship from Specsavers, Cactus TV and ITV3 and have a glitzy award ceremony.

On with my reading, next up The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean, the only book on the short list not connected with the Second World War, because it is set in Scotland in 1626. Unfortunately not in a time of peace as there was a major war going on in Europe at the time, The Thirty Years War.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I read An Empty Death by Laura Wilson as part of my project to read all the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award shortlist before the award ceremony on the 29 October.
An Empty Death is the second in a series featuring Inspector Ted Stratton, the first of which Stratton's War, which I have not read, won the 2008 Ellis Peters.

The story is set in London during the summer of 1944 when the capital was attacked by German 'doodlebugs', the V1 bombs. This second blitz resulted in children being re-evacuated to the country and terrible stress on a war weary population, who had thought they were finally on the verge of victory after D-Day.

The story revolves around three main characters; Inspector Ted Stratton who after rescuing a Mrs Ingram from a bombed out house, has to investigate the murder of a Doctor Reynolds who worked at the Middlesex Hospital; his wife Jenny, who is working at the local Rest Centre and whose sister Doris takes in the shell shocked Mrs Ingram, while she waits for her husband to come to collect her; and Sam Todd, a mortuary attendant, who has assumed a false identity.

Stratton soon has another murder on his plate as the body of a nurse is discovered in a disused operating theatre, while the mortuary attendant Sam Todd leaves the hospital claiming he has been 'called up' but reappears a few weeks later with a new identity as the smooth talking Dr James Dacre, with the aim of starting a relationship with a beautiful young nurse, Fay Marchant.
Jenny and Doris are also faced with an identity problem in that when Mr Ingram on leave from the army comes to collect his wife she claims he is an impostor.
Then Dr Byrne, the hospital pathologist, asks to speak with Inspector Stratton.....

Laura Wilson does a good job of creating wartime London and the dialogue, narrative and characters are superb, especially the villainous Todd/Dacre, but unfortunately there are some flaws in the plot.
The reader is asked suspend one's belief in normal sensible behaviour, because it is wartime, or because many years ago Aunt Ivy had been locked up in an asylum.

Would someone who had recently tried to commit suicide, and is clearly very disturbed, be left a few days later on their own in a house with carving knives and a gas cooker?

Would an unknown doctor be taken on, especially in wartime with security concerns, without some reasonable enquiries being made? For instance checking the medical register.

Unwin had described Professor Haycraft as 'a nice enough old buffer', .........'a fundamentally lazy person who wouldn't be too bothered about checking up on his carefully prepared references.'

I have known numerous hospital consultants [as relatives, friends, and acquaintances] and not one of them would I describe in those terms; you don't make it to consultant grade if you are either nice or lazy, in fact old doctors are a bit like old generals, awkward.

The chameleon like James Dacre, a fascinating creation, has the charm, the looks and the bare faced nerve but would he really be able to fool doctors and senior nursing staff, when he couldn't even understand the term plumbum oscillans.

Despite these criticisms I was able to suspend my concerns and really enjoy the book as simply entertainment with a nice balance of drama, tension and tragedy.

But I don't expect or think it deserves to win a second Ellis Peters for Laura Wilson.

Update: It appears that the date for the CWA Awards is now the 21 October according to Shots Magazine, and I will have to read faster. I had been informed by a very reliable source it was the 29 October.

Monday, October 05, 2009


The second part in an interview with prize winning crime writer Philip Kerr.

4] What was the original inspiration for March Violets, the first Bernie Gunther novel? Did you make Bernie a tough guy to appeal to women readers?

The original inspiration was not Raymond Chandler as a lot of people think, but Gorky Park. And I made Bernie a tough guy to appeal to myself. But I'm from a pretty tough part of Edinburgh and I am told I can be quite threatening. The window cleaner is terrified of me. I speak nicely, with received pronunciation but that's just to hide the Easterhouse thug I really am. Underneath my smooth exterior I am really a gangster. I think I would have made a very good gangster, quite frankly. Teddy Bass? Don Logan? I could shit them both.

[I think many people will be surprised that the original inspiration was not Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. I can't recall much about Gorky Park, and wonder if it featured as much black humour and sharp one liners as the Gunther novels?]

5] There is a 16- year gap between the third Gunther novel A German Requiem and number four The One From The Other. Did the rise in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial play a part in your decision to bring Bernie out of retirement?
[I might have rephrased this question if I had read at that time the complete book including the Cuban section of the story which features Meyer Lansky, hardly a character likely to reduce anti-Semitism.]

Not in the slightest. I always intended to bring him back. It's just that in the beginning I didn't want to get into that cookie cutter kind of writing in which you just write the same novel again and again and again. I wanted to write other stuff too. I have always felt that as a writer I wanted to choose my subjects the way Kubrick chose scripts. So I wanted to do Strangelove followed by 2001, followed by Clockwork Orange.
Not all of my books have worked. Some have been abject failures. But at least I tried to do something different. It's lazy not to try.

6] How much research was done before March Violets, and how much extra research is done before each novel? Is the slang used in the Gunther books your own invention or a translation of German police slang?

I did a lot of research for March Violets; about 18 months before I wrote one word. That was just lack of confidence, I think. But I always do as much as I can. It's got easier with the Internet. Books can be more easily sourced these days.

The slang is not my own invention nor is it anything to do with the police. The words are often more literal translations of real German phrases instead of their English equivalents. It's as simple as that, I'm afraid.

Writing a novel is a good excuse to go somewhere interesting. I went to Cuba to research If The Dead Rise Not. Fantastic place. Ruined by communists. I advise people to go soon before people completely ruin what's been so beautifully ruined.

7] Do you think the use of historical figures in the books is important in creating the right atmosphere? Which comes first for you the characters or plot?

Plot comes first for me. The great thing for me has been that whatever story I can create, whatever crime I'm describing, there's an even more horrible crime happening in the background that's called Nazism. Also the real villains can always walk onto my stage and trump any villain I can create, which is always very useful. The whole Nazi thing creates a wonderful echo chamber for my own poor stories. And the truth is always stranger than fiction.

[To be continued]


I am reading An Empty Death by Laura Wilson as part of my Reading the Ellis Peters Shortlist project. The story involves multiple murders in a London hospital during the Second World War, and although it has taken me some time to get into the story I am now engrossed in the various strands of the plot and the characters.
The inbred world of the medical profession and hospitals, before accountants and management gurus took over, are two of the very few subjects that I know something about because my father's elder brother, a surgeon, was superintendent of a London hospital throughout the Second World War.

Do I resist the temptation in my review to point out my minor doubts about certain aspects of the plot? After all.... and this novel is after all starting to grab me.

[The photographs date from the late 1920s, but attitudes and the hierarchy in hospitals were not much different in the 1960s]

Saturday, October 03, 2009


Scottish writer Philip Kerr, creator of Bernie Gunther, the German detective with a wicked sense of humour, recently won the world's most lucrative crime fiction prize, the £109,000 RBA Prize for his latest novel If The Dead Rise Not.
In 2008 this prize was won by another of my favourite authors Andrea Camilleri for La Muerte de Amalia Sacerdote.

Philip very kindly took time off from wondering how to spend his prize money to answer a few questions.
The interview was conducted after I had read the first half of If The Dead Rise Not set in 1934 Berlin, and the emphasis of my questions might have been slightly different if at that stage I had read the second half of the book, which is set in 1954 Cuba. Both halves of the book brilliantly evoke the bleak atmosphere of living in a country where there is a disconnection between justice and the law.

1] Did you always want to be a writer and did any particular author or event inspire you?

I always wanted to be a writer. Ever since the moment when I was able to read fluently on my own. The alternative to becoming a writer- to work for a living-seemed to horrible to contemplate. I am lucky because I get paid for my hobby. Which is the true definition of real happiness.

However, I distrust inspiration. It's an overrated experience. I am more of a compulsive writer than someone who is inspired to write. But I feel a compulsion more whenever I read Dickens or Greene, or le Carre, or -on occasion- Marty.

2] Which books and authors did you read as a child?

Early inspirations were Ian Fleming, Micky Spillane, and D.H. Lawrence. I had an interesting childhood.

3] You studied law at university, went to work in advertising, and became an Arsenal supporter, do you think this has helped you in your writing career?

Not in the slightest. Not the way you mean. But I did manage to write about a third of a novel when I worked in one agency in St. James's Square. That was useful. Also that agency was opposite the London Library and I wouldn't ever have joined the LL had I not walked past it every day.
As for football I was never any good at the game myself. Like Camus I always ended up in goal. Being a goalkeeper gives you time to think. Although not if you're the Arsenal goalkeeper obviously. Our defence has been rather porous of late.
I was a better rugby player, I think.
Most sport I despise however. Especially Athletics. I detest the Olympics above all. It's essentially fascist. Football is truly egalitarian and free and the last bastion of absolute opposition to right thinking. I celebrate the visceral tribalism of football.

I hate lawyers. There are too many lawyers and too many laws. The first thing we have to do if we are ever going to have a truly free and fair society is to take more than half of the lawyers and shoot them down like dogs. Most of the SS Special Action Groups in Eastern Europe were commanded by lawyers and judges. Says all you need to know about these bastards.

[To be continued]

Friday, October 02, 2009


Earlier this year I managed to read all the CWA International Dagger shortlisted novels and made a complete hash of picking the eventual winner. I still think my selection was a better novel than the winner.

Now I intend to read all the six CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award shortlisted books and try and select a winner before the award ceremony on 29 October.
I have already read and reviewed:

The other four books are in planned reading order:

The Empty Death: Laura Wilson
The Redemption of Alexander Seaton: Shona MacLean
The Interrogator: Andrew Williams
The Dead of Winter: Rennie Airth

I thought I was fixated on books about the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the Second World War but the judging panel have come up with a rather unbalanced shortlist, or is it that the Nazi and wartime period can provide such bizarre characters, complex plots and tense atmosphere. The six books in order from the The Information Officer are set in 1942, 1934 and 1954, 1944, 1626, 1941 and 1944. The year 1944 seems to have had a lot happening on all fronts.

Update: I should have said that my review of The Interrogator will appear on Euro Crime.


I had a pleasant surprise yesterday on returning from our allotment [the produce in the photo reminded me of the Michael Connelly title, The Narrows] in that those lovely people at Quercus Books had sent me a review copy of Millennium III, The Grand Finale, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland [aka Steven Murray].

Lisbeth Salander is back!

From the press release:

Stieg Larsson [1954-2004]

Editor -in-Chief of the anti-racist magazine Expo. He was one of the world's leading experts on ant-democratic, right-wing extremist and Nazi organisations, and was often consulted on that account.

I will have to exhibit some restraint and not start Hornets' Nest yet as I want to read the rest of the Ellis Peters shortlist before the award ceremony on the 29 October.